Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

May 24 2016 1:44 PM

Being Uncomfortable Doesn’t Mean You’re Unsafe

I traveled to Europe last week, where I enjoyed such delicacies as tea and scones with clotted cream in England, paella and local wine in Spain, ancient Roman architecture and art, and, perhaps most refreshingly, blissful silence on the transgender bathroom usage.

Many of the restrooms I used while away were single-stalled and not gender-specific. Even those that were gender-segregated had shared space around the sinks—and guess what, no one was assaulted, mugged, or given the evil eye. I felt perfectly safe peeing next to another human being who just happened to have different bits. 

May 20 2016 12:31 PM

Oklahoma Lawmakers: Religious Students Must Get Their Own Trans-Free Bathrooms

Oklahoma legislators introduced a measure on Thursday that is at once vexingly bizarre and wonderfully clarifying. The bill, SB 1619, would declare a “State of Emergency” in Oklahoma in response to the Obama administration’s directive barring public schools from discriminating against trans students.

Been there, done that, you might think—but wait: The precise mechanism by which the bill legalizes anti-trans discrimination is unusually inventive. Rather than explicitly excluding trans students from school bathrooms, SB 1619 grants non-trans students a right to use trans-free bathrooms. The reason? Non-trans students may have “sincerely held religious beliefs” that using the same bathroom as a trans person violates their religion. And accommodating these beliefs is necessary “for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”

May 20 2016 10:48 AM

How the Gay Twist in Neighbors 2 Turns the “Bromance” on Its Head

Spoilers for Neighbors 2 ahead.

Early in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, and other frat bros from the original 2014 movie assemble around a poker table. Square jaws and goofy bravado intact, they are a little more domesticated, but no less tribal and demented. Everything is as it should be.


Then something odd happens. Suddenly, several of the men break into a ukulele-led rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” and Darren (John Early), a newcomer to the group, takes a knee in front of Pete (Franco). It’s a proposal. Of marriage. Pete says yes, the men kiss, and the camera never cuts away. The proud brothers break into a chant of “USA! USA!!”

The scene is ingeniously direct. There are no weird jokes, just a cute proposal inflected with priceless post-frat touches (see: Mraz, ukulele, inexplicable patriotism). The infectious moment almost distracts us from what’s really going on. Recall that in the original Neighbors, Pete hooked up with women and was carefully coded as heterosexual, even though his most intense emotional (and really, physical) bonds were clearly with his frat brothers. This is the “bromance” contract Neighbors observed: The love between the two men in question (in this case, Efron and Franco) must never become sexual. In turn, the audience, usually young men, giggles rather than asks questions.

By bringing Pete out of the closet without so much as a wink, Neighbors 2 tries to tear down that wall. The proposal scene is beautifully engineered to catch audiences off guard and then disarm them with genuine sweetness and giddy emotion. The sequence feels like a stinging rebuke to years of skittish comedies about male bonds, up to and including the original Neighbors—an unforced triumph in a movie that could have been much safer.  

We can trace the modern bromance movie back about a decade, roughly to the years following 2007’s Superbad, about two teenage outcasts with filthy mouths and an undying love for each other. Comedy about male friendship wasn’t new, but these movies and their mutually adoring heroes felt like a shift after a decade of virulently homophobic frat-pack flicks—Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball, etc.—in which same-sex kisses and man-on-man contact were the ultimate transgression. Seth Rogen, a co-writer and co-star of Superbad who also leads both Neighbors movies, helped usher in this new tide along with his Apatovian ilk, from Pineapple Express to the less subtle I Love You, Man. The movies proved to be a formidable challenge to the Will Ferrell-Vince Vaughn anti-laugh factory. Before long, they became a bit of an assembly line themselves, and they brought their own problems, but they seemed at least to reject many of American comedy’s most toxic gay-panic instincts in favor of newly introspective male relationships.

Or so I thought. Lately, Rogen doesn’t seem so sure. In a widely quoted Guardian interview promoting Neighbors 2, he said:

It’s funny looking at some movies we’ve made in the last 10 years under the lenses of new eras, new social consciousness. There’s for sure some stuff in our earlier movies—and even in our more recent movies—where even like a year later you’re like, “Eh, maybe that wasn’t the greatest idea.” …
There are probably some jokes in Superbad that are bordering on blatantly homophobic at times. They’re all in the voice of high school kids, who do speak like that, but I think we’d also be silly not to acknowledge that we also were, to some degree, glamorizing that type of language in a lot of ways.

Looking back, he’s not wrong. Superbad, now nearly 10 years old, was the first feature Rogen wrote (with his writing partner Evan Goldberg), and the jokes tended to hinge on the fear of sucking dicks, drawing dicks, or just being near dicks. It’s the kind of movie where a character named Fogell inevitably becomes Fagell. There are plenty of other examples in the oeuvre. Take, for instance, Channing Tatum’s cameo as a bottom-boy sex slave in This is the End. Or The Interview, with its truly idiotic scenes where Eminem comes out as gay and James Franco kisses Kim Jong-un. Neighbors itself toggles between gay baiting and gay panic, as when two frat bros grasp each other’s balls during a fight but then have a near breakdown when one of them gets an erection.

But even as they relied on these sometimes-homophobic crutches, the movies really were getting at something new. To a viewer like me—who nearly melted in a college-town theater when Superbad’s wistful teen boys stared into each other’s eyes and declared, “I love you, man”—it felt as if they were priming the audience to accept new modes of male intimacy. It couldn’t be a coincidence that the bromance hit a zeitgeisy high at the same time American pop culture began to question its ideas about male closeness and kneejerk ridiculing of gayness. Gay panic didn’t disappear from Hollywood comedies, but this gentle progress certainly made a difference.

Still, a clear taboo remained, a new code that still seemed to forbid explicit romance. That brings us back to Neighbors 2. Rogen, who reprises his role as a young father warding off the excesses of the Greek house next door, picked up a screenwriting credit this time around, along with his writing partner Goldberg. Goldberg was apparently the one who suggested that Pete “should just be gay,” since he basically was already. Rogen agreed, and so Neighbors 2’s unlikely reveal was born. In their passing acknowledgement that one of these guys could love another one romantically, they dismantled one of the bromance’s foundational constraints. Just like that.

Alas, Neighbors 2 arrives a little too late to mark a sea change—the genre as I have defined it is now in decline, giving way to a long-overdue wave of female-star vehicles and a far less welcome resurgence in frat-pack tendencies. But the moment is still worth celebrating, because it shows how the movie’s homosocial progenitors really did open up new possibilities. It’s hard to imagine the marriage subplot (and that unabashed same-sex kiss) could have made it into a studio comedy aimed at young men a decade ago. We can thank these films for some of that evolution. And on that hopeful note, should there be a Neighbors 3, perhaps Rogen and Goldberg can explore why Pete didn’t get engaged to Teddy (Efron), who showed pretty much the exact same signs of being smitten with his frat brother in the original movie. That’s a wedding I’d truly like to see.

May 19 2016 2:46 PM

Chaos in the House as Republicans Bend Rules to Save Anti-LGBTQ Bill

Remember, way back in July 2014, when President Barack Obama issued an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity? You may not, because by 2016 standards, that’s pretty uncontroversial stuff. But Republicans in the House of Representatives certainly do, and many of them are working very hard to reverse it.

In April, Republican Rep. Steve Russell slipped an amendment into the National Defense Authorization Act that would legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination by government contractors. When the House approved the NDAA on Wednesday, Russell’s provision remained. So, on Thursday, openly gay Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney put forth an amendment to nullify Russell’s amendment.

May 19 2016 12:45 PM

One of Trump’s SCOTUS Picks Supported a Revolutionary Pro-Trans Constitutional Ruling

On Wednesday, Donald Trump released a list of judges he might nominate to the Supreme Court, should he win the presidency. Predictably, the list waspacked with reactionary conservatives who would likely use their position to advance the Republican Party’s agenda from the bench. I initially included Judge William Pryor, a George W. Bush appointee on the 11th Circuit, in that group; Pryor has, after all, issued rulings against contraceptive coverage and clean election laws.

But as ACLU attorney Daniel Tilley pointed out to me, Pryor also has one strikingly liberal case under his belt: He supported an absolutely revolutionary opinion in 2011 holding that anti-trans discrimination qualifies as sex discrimination and is thus generally forbidden under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Pryor didn’t write the decision—it was authored by Pryor’s 11th Circuit colleague Judge Rosemary Barkett, a liberal firebrand—but he did join it in full, suggesting he endorsed its logic and conclusion. If that’s true, then Pryor, as a Supreme Court justice, would be almost certain to invalidate the recent spate of anti-trans legislation, including North Carolina’s odious bathroom bill.

May 19 2016 10:33 AM

Gender Dysphoria Is Killing Transgender Teens. Why Aren’t We Talking About It?

A 2011 survey of 6,500 transgender people published by the National Center for Transgender Equality revealed that 41 percent of transgender individuals have attempted suicide at least once. Fifty percent of transgender youth will attempt suicide before their 20th birthday.

In an attempt to make sense of these staggering statistics, I spoke to Michael Mancilla, a licensed clinical social worker at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. He told me the story of a 15-year-old patient he had seen the previous day. The patient, a transgender male, was admitted following an aspirin overdose, his third suicide attempt. After speaking to him, Mancilla learned that the attempts were temporally linked to the patient’s menstrual periods. The hormonal changes and the physical and emotional dissonance caused by menstruation were severe enough to lead to suicide attempts.

May 18 2016 10:14 AM

How a 1964 Civil Rights Law Makes North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill Illegal 

The United States and North Carolina are currently engaged in the fiercest legal battle over Americans’ civil rights since the era of integration. At issue this time around are the rights of transgender Americans, specifically, the right of trans students and employees to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity without fear of legal punishment. This battle largely boils down to the meaning of sex discrimination, which federal law forbids in education and employment. The federal government argues that sex discrimination is an expansive concept that encompasses the ways we express our gender. North Carolina insists that sex discrimination is narrow—little more than a ban on mistreatment because of an individual’s “biological sex.”

Gillian Thomas, an attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, is the country’s foremost expert on the meaning of the “sex discrimination” prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars workplace discrimination. Thomas recently published Because of Sex, the definitive account of Title VII’s sex provision. We spoke on Tuesday about the original intent of the law, its evolution in the courts, and its extension to North Carolina’s new measure. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

How did a ban on sex discrimination in the workplace wind up in the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

In its original form, the law addressed discrimination based on race, national origin, color, and religion. And then, just as the bill was about to be sent to the full House of Representatives for a vote, Congressman Howard Smith of Virginia—a virulent racist who was rabidly opposed to the bill—announced that he wanted to add a sex provision.

It wasn’t a total surprise; Smith had, for many weeks, said he was thinking about adding the amendment. Incongruously, he was a longtime supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and the National Women’s Party. Women’s groups started pressuring him, saying: Listen, if this bill passes, black women will enjoy more protection in the workplace—by virtue of their race—than white women. So Smith was worried that white women might have less coverage, but he also did have a real, genuine support for women’s rights and believed that if this bill was going to pass, women should be a part of it.  

May 17 2016 1:56 PM

Why Hasn’t Hillary Clinton Come Out in Favor of Trans Bathroom Access?

Hillary Clinton has a choice to make. She needs to decide whether or not she will fight for transgender Americans’ efforts to secure access to the bathrooms that accord with their gender identity. If she fully supports such efforts—which already have a strong ally in President Barack Obama—she will eventually have to say so. Alternatively, she could withhold her full backing while continuing to make vague statements of support for transgender people.

This is the tack she took last Friday. In a statement to the Washington Post, spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said: “Hillary Clinton applauds the Obama administration for taking actions this week to stand up for the rights of LGBT people—and particularly for the rights of transgender people—across the country. As president, she will fight to make sure all Americans can live their lives free from discrimination.” The statement is interesting both for what it says—that she supports trans people and the president—and for the fact that it does not specifically say that she supports trans people using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

May 16 2016 8:45 AM

North Carolina’s Catch-22

HB2, North Carolina’s law forbidding transgender people from using public restrooms that comport with their gender identity, puts trans people in an impossible double bind and infringes on their autonomous decisions over medical treatment. Although Gov. Pat McCrory claims that trans people who have “undergone a sex change” (his term) will be able to change their birth certificate and therefore use the public bathroom corresponding with their gender identity, transgender people will in fact be impeded from having surgery and will therefore be barred from accessing bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

How so? HB2 conditions entrance to a multi-occupancy single-sex public restroom on sex as “stated on a person’s birth certificate.” A separateNorth Carolina law provides that the gender marker on a birth certificate can only be modified if an individual has undergone what North Carolina labels “sex reassignment surgery.” (The increasingly preferred term is gender confirmation surgery.) But under the prevailing medical recommendations, a person only qualifies for certain surgeries if they have lived consistently for 12 months in the gender role that conforms with their gender identity. That often includes using the restroom corresponding with one’s gender identity. Therefore, HB2 interferes with the medical requirements for obtaining surgery in the first instance.

May 16 2016 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Restrooms of the Future

Imagine, if you will, that you feel nature's call one day in a public place.

Following the arrow on the sign marked "Restrooms," you round a corner and come upon two doors. To your mild surprise, neither door carries the traditional "pants" or "dress" emoji that you're used to seeing. You take a moment to examine the doors and consider your next move.

Both doors are marked with the updated version of the accessibility icon, so if you're looking for an accessible stall, you know you're covered either way.

But which of the two doors is the right one for you?

The sign on the door closest to you has an ideogram: of a user. The door is marked "Single" in a language you can read, with a little "lock" icon just to make it clear. That probably means it locks, you think to yourself. Looking around, you might even find there are multiple private rooms available in a busy location.

The sign on the other door shows multiple users. And instead of "Single," it reads "Shared." That one is probably more like other public restrooms I'm already familiar with, you conclude.

But ... Shared? Regardless of gender? What are the implications of that? There could be either men or women in there, you realize. (Or even other genders, it might also occur to you.)