Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

June 27 2016 2:49 PM

Gays Against Guns Brought ’80s-Style Activism to New York Pride

Pride is a party, a pick-up scene, a consciousness-raising event, and a political rally. At New York City’s gay pride parade on Sunday, politics were particularly prominent. As the New York Times noted, among the groups marching down Fifth Avenue, were “a shuffling contingent of figures dressed in all white, veiled in gauzy fabric and wearing placards with names and faces. They represented the 49 people gunned down this month at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.” This is as close as we’ve come in years to the kind of “political funeral” that activist groups like ACT-UP often staged during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The Times also dedicated a paragraph to another group whose style and tone owes much to the AIDS era:

The march also included a group that called itself Gays Against Guns, whose members lay on the pavement at various points along the route for a so-called die-in. The group urged stricter gun control laws and condemned the National Rifle Association, which, according to one poster, the group said should “sashay away,” borrowing a catchphrase from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

As many as 750 supporters of Gays Against Guns were said to have marched, and by staging regular die-ins along the parade route, they consciously made a connection with ’80s AIDS activism. They even chanted slogans like “How many more have to die?” that were heard in the smaller parades that snaked through the city 30 years ago.

We sometimes act as though the National Rifle Association is so powerful that it’s untouchable. Back in the 1980s, people believed the same of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ACT-UP proved them wrong.

June 25 2016 12:49 PM

British MP Who Campaigned to Stay in the EU Comes Out on Pride Weekend

It’s Pride weekend in Britain, and one Conservative MP used the occasion to shine a little bit of rainbow brightness into the gray days after the Brexit referendum.

Justine Greening, the MP for Putney in southwest London who serves in David Cameron’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development, came out in rather a clever tweet.


The reception from other senior Conservative politicians was impressively warm, with luminaries including Cameron, openly gay MP Crispin Blunt, and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, an out lesbian, tweeting their support. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne declared it the “[b]est news in last 48 hours!”

As Barbara Speed reported just after the May 2015 general election, the U.K. Parliament has more openly queer legislators than any other country’s. Back then, 31 of the 650 MPs were openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual—including a whopping 12.5 percent of the Scottish National Party delegation. Now there’s at least one more.

June 24 2016 3:11 PM

Obama Makes Stonewall America’s First LGBTQ National Monument

In early May, news broke that President Barack Obama’s administration, through the National Park Service, was making moves to designate New York’s Stonewall Inn and a surrounding slice of Greenwich Village a national monument. It would be the first to mark a site of importance in LGBTQ history. On Friday, on the eve of New York’s Pride festivities—which began and continue as a celebration of the movement-launching riots that spilled out of the bar in 1969—the president confirmed the designation. Going forward, no tour of the nation’s most cherished historical and natural treasures will be complete without a stop at one sacred to LGBTQ Americans.

As part of the announcement, the White House released a moving video, featuring Stonewall veterans and other activists, detailing the history of the event and the nation’s still-incomplete progress toward recognizing its queer citizens with the equality they deserve. Even if you know the story, it’s worth a watch simply to hear our president acknowledge queer people's struggle in such a direct and authentic way.


For a look at the site itself, which will center on the small, triangular Christopher Park across from the privately owned bar, check out Slate’s featurette, produced ahead of the formal announcement:

It will not be lost on queer people—nor should it be on anyone—that this honoring of a gay bar and the people who needed it comes less than two weeks after another such place, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida., entered history as the site of the worst mass shooting America has ever seen. I and many others viewed gay bars as a physical and spiritual center of queer life long before the Pulse massacre. But reporting from Orlando this past weekend—including from a number of gay bars in the area—my admiration for the feeling of comfort and scenes of beauty they provide was strengthened beyond words.

This weekend, as we celebrate the right and proper honoring of one gay bar and enjoy the pleasures of many others, let’s take a moment to reflect upon their power—for getting us drunk and laid, yes, but also for forming family and spurring activism, for transforming bar stools and back rooms into a kind of home.

June 24 2016 8:00 AM

This Year, Pride Is More Important Than Ever

My first Pride experience is etched in my memory like a vibrant, Technicolor dream. I mean, who could forget thousands of nipples making their way down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue? I was 17 and fresh out of the closet. I had formed my first queer clique, an eclectic group of Latina, black, and white dykes and trans kids with spiky hair and attitudes. It was the late ’90s and there was defiance in the air. The girls of the Clit Club and ACT Up were alive and well, and Matthew Shepard’s death was a gaping wound that still hadn’t healed.

My friends convinced me to accompany them to the New York City Dyke March. I had no idea what to expect. I stood on the sidewalk near the route’s end point at Washington Square Park until the traffic quieted and the distant sound of whistles turned into a loud chant and a wall of women walked in unison, and without shirts on, right down the middle of the street. Thousands of topless women of all shapes and sizes and a garden variety of exposed breasts and bellies. I shivered despite the warm temperature, because to see myself reflected in so many women was to know that I was where I was meant to be. For the first time, I felt a part of a community—one that was incredibly powerful and beautiful. I would have cried if I hadn’t been an adolescent acutely aware that doing such things meant losing my street cred.

June 22 2016 5:36 PM

At Orlando Vigil, Teresa Jacobs Called Out Passive Homophobia for the Killer It Is

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—In the aftermath of the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub on June 12, Orlandoans have been searching for words to make sense of the loss of 49 lives and to help reconcile present reality with a past belief that, as one resident put it, they lived in a “happy little town.” A majority—understandably grasping for some shred of positivity—have settled on love and unity. I watched many people write those exact words on makeshift memorials (posters, sidewalks, T-shirts, even a couch) across the city over the weekend.

Shooter Omar Mateen being a notable exception, blame was relatively absent from the conversations I heard and joined. But at the One Orlando candlelight vigil on Sunday evening—a gathering that began as a small Facebook event organized among friends and ended up drawing around 50,000 locals to downtown Lake Eola Park—one speaker broke with the well-meaning platitudes to offer a necessary jolt of anger.


June 21 2016 3:56 PM

First Weekend Since: Scenes of Grief and Healing in the “City Beautiful”

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—The massacre at Pulse, the gay nightclub that became the site of the worst mass shooting in modern American history early on June 12, has left a dead zone in the middle of the city. On Friday, within the restricted crime scene perimeter, several businesses, including a bike shop, a taxi dispatch station, and a Dunkin Donuts were still inaccessible; cars of survivors were still stranded. For many folks in Orlando, the area feels hallowed, suffused with the queasy energy that’s released when a space of joy is violently transformed into a house of death.

June 20 2016 5:38 PM

At Orlando Victim’s Funeral, City Stands Watch While Mourners Remember

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—Sunburns began early on Saturday, the morning of the funeral for Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, 32, who was murdered alongside his boyfriend Juan Guerrero, 22, and 47 other people at the Pulse nightclub here on June 12. (Plans reported earlier in the week that the two victims would share a joint funeral could sadly not proceed due to differing mortuary needs, a source with knowledge of the situation explained. Guerrero was laid to rest separately on Thursday afternoon.)

A few hundred folks from Orlando and the surrounding area gathered on the downtown corner of Orange Avenue and Jefferson Street—just down the road from the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, where Leinonen’s service would be held—with rainbow-streaked posters, umbrellas, flags, and even a few large banners of the kind that lead parades. The people were gathered there not only to pay their respects, but also to prevent an act of disrespect from violating the grief of Leinonen's family and friends.


The infamous Westboro Baptist Church had announced earlier in the week that they would protest the funeral (in addition to others) with their usual “God H8s Fags” signage. Though the city was required by law to grant the group a demonstration permit, Orlando locals were not inclined to accommodate them further.

Orlando residents gather to block the Westboro Baptist Church's protest.

J. Bryan Lowder

By 10 a.m., 15 minutes before WBC’s advertised arrival time, an ad-hoc division of labor had formed among the protectors, who, taking advantage of closed streets, had organized along the southeastern legs of the intersection with the church at their rear. Most occupied themselves by forming a makeshift wall with their bodies, hand-scrawled messages of support and the other items held high, facing diagonally across the intersection toward Westboro’s police-assigned protest zone. Others filled the famously Southern role of providing sustenance in times of crisis. A number of people passed around bottled water from coolers, and a gray-haired woman in a Grateful Dead concert T-shirt and khakis offered granola bars. Tupperware filled with homemade baked goods circulated above a woman in tie-dye as she knelt to chop up a watermelon in the middle of the street. I turned down offers of sunscreen more than once. An occasional misting from one of those handheld fan/sprayer devices was unavoidable.

Nicole Doria and Amanda Reh were standing alongside their bikes when we met, which lent them an air of being ready for action. Reh, a queer yoga teacher with dreads and intricate tattoos running down her arms, said that she came out “to show the world that hate will not last.” Doria, glancing in the direction of the WBC contingent, added, “Those people who I’m not going to mention, they breed hate, they don’t have a great message, and they can’t win. We’re showing them that they can’t win because we have so much love.”

Counter-demonstrators dressed as angels block the view of Westboro Baptist Church protesters near Leinonen’s memorial service outside the Cathedral Church of St. Luke.

John Raoux/AP Photo

While the core message of most of the posters around us was indeed Orlando’s surfeit of love, a few were more defiant, especially on the subject of religion. “God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts,” explained one sign. Another declared, “Need Prayer? Westboro Baptist does not define me.” My favorite secular entry read simply: “Keep on dancing.”

If the protectors had an elite force, it was the angels: around a dozen people dressed in white with oversize wings made of cloth and PVC pipe on their backs. It was they who took the front line when four members of WBC finally piled out of their vehicle, placards in hand, just after 10:15. Until the Westboro contingent’s arrival, the protectors had maintained a relatively reverent, subdued tone; now, they snapped to attention and the mood grew tense. “The relevant question of the hour,” one of the WBC representatives called out: “Why did God destroy Sodom?” Cries of condemnation rang out in response, but some in the crowd reminded others that WBC exists to provoke—and often sue—counterprotesters. So the approach shifted to song. Strains of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” were eventually replaced by one of the most painfully gentle renditions of “Amazing Grace” I have ever heard.

As 11 a.m. and the start of Leinonen’s funeral approached, a few dozen attendees proceeded down Jefferson through the middle of the intersection toward the church. WBC continued to scream insults from their corner, but as the weary smiles and raised fists of many of the mourners attested, the protectors had succeeded in proving another popular slogan: “Love wins.” The protesters began packing up just after 11, drawing cheers. As the protecters started to disperse in kind, a middle-age woman wove through the crowd with a bag calling for trash. Quick as lightning, a nearby man answered, “Well, I don’t have any, but I think there are a couple of articles across the street.”

Nightclub Shooting Florida
Mourners at Leinonen's memorial service.

John Raoux / AP Photo

* * *

Inside St. Luke’s, Leinonen’s family and friends celebrated his life, and—importantly for a man who founded a Gay-Straight Alliance at his Seminole, Florida, high school well before such things even seemed imaginable down here—honored his wholehearted embrace of queer identity.

Catherine McCarthy, who attended the service, had been friends with Leinonen since their freshman year of high school (a relationship she’s written about publically in a gorgeous eulogy). Speaking with me just after the Mass had ended, McCarthy recalled that Bishop Greg Brewer walked in with his arm around Leinonen’s mother, Christine, who became a face of familial grief as she appeared on cable news searching for her son in the days after the attack, and that he welcomed all, “no matter your relationship with God.” The Rev. Dr. Reggie M. Kidd, the acting dean of St. Luke’s, did not shy away from the fact that this was a funeral for a gay person killed in a hate crime. According to McCarthy, Kidd said, “It’s no mistake that we are at St. Luke’s, who was the traveling companion of Paul.” “I took that to be a wink,” McCarthy explained. Joshua Goldstein, another friend of Leinonen’s, agreed: “There were several nods and outright statements directed at the LGBT community.” “It felt like they were saying, we’re talking to you,” McCarthy added.

To underline the point, McCarthy explained, Kidd made an effort to acknowledge the specific experience of the LGBTQ people in the room:

“He talked about how we are here today because we remember that life is very precious and fragile, and he just looked at these men in Pride tank tops and he said, ‘No one understands that more than you. You who go out into the world and are beaten and yelled at and violated. You have this uncertainty—will I come home tonight?’ ”

“It feels like there are people that may have been in denial about the fact that gay people still have to deal with this kind of crap,” Goldstein said. It will be harder for people to maintain that kind of ignorance after Pulse.

Recollections from Leinonen’s loved ones focused on his seemingly boundless well of affection for those he held dear. McCarthy said that everyone acknowledged the bond between Leinonen and Guerrero, and in a particularly moving moment, an ex-boyfriend, Jose Arriagada—who said Leinonen taught him English “one word at a time”—recounted meeting Guerrero and blessing the new relationship. “I think that’s a testimony,” McCarthy observed. “Drew was truly friends with pretty much all of his exes. I would be like, How do you do that? and he would say, ‘I just love them.’ ”

Goldstein said that multiple eulogizers described him as a “social glue,” a kind of central node in Orlando’s relatively tight gay community. But his reach wasn’t limited to central Florida. At the service, McCarthy recognized friends from Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Houston, Denver, and San Francisco. “We felt his presence even when he was far away,” she said, a smile giving way to a wince. “And I hope we’ll still feel it even though he’s really far away now.”

June 20 2016 3:31 PM

Jonathan Groff Returns to San Francisco for the Finale of HBO’s Looking

“Sometimes the end is a new beginning,” declares the newly released trailer for Looking: The Movie, the 90-minute finale of the HBO series about a group of young gay men, which will air on Saturday, July 23.

The main characters from the show’s two-season run—Jonathan Groff as Patrick (Groff exited the cast of Broadway’s Hamilton to film the movie), Murray Bartlett as Dom, and Frankie J. Alvarez as Agustín—are all present, along with their besties, exes, and potential husbands-to-be. Judging from the trailer, the plot centers on Patrick returning to San Francisco from his new home in Colorado, and his freaking out (some things never change!) over his feelings for his ex-boss/ex-lover Kevin (Russell Tovey) and barber Raúl (Richie Donado), the sweet guy who got away.


“Sometimes you’ve got to leave things behind so you can move forward,” the always wise Raúl tells Patrick in the trailer. It’s good to see writer-director Andrew Haigh and the talented cast of Looking wrap up these stories so they can move on with their careers.

Disclosure: Slate editor Julia Turner’s husband worked on the show.

June 20 2016 10:01 AM

Harassment Is Still a Massive Problem in the American Workplace

On Monday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace released a comprehensive and startling report on harassment in the United States. Authored by EEOC Commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic, the report chronicles the ongoing struggle to stamp out harassment—racial, sexual, and otherwise—in the American workplace. Notably, the task force included findings on sexual orientation and gender-identity-based harassment; the EEOC has led the charge to prohibit both under existing federal law barring sex discrimination.

Nearly one-third of the 90,000 charges of discrimination received by the EEOC last fiscal year included workplace harassment. That includes sexual harassment, from Mad Men­­-style boorishness to anti-trans persecution—as well as racial and ethnic harassment. While calling this form of harassment “understudied,” the report notes that an alarmingly high number of workers—perhaps up to 60 percent—have experienced race or ethnicity-based harassment at the workplace. Consider the disturbing story of Contonius Gill, a black truck driver for the North Carolina-based A.C. Widenhouse, whose co-workers called him “nigger,” “coon,” and “monkey.” One co-worker gave Gill a noose and said: “This is for you. Do you want to hang from the family tree?” When Gill complained about the harassment, he was fired. (He complained to the EEOC, and a jury ultimately awarded $200,000 in damages to him and a similarly wrong colleague.)

The numbers are just as distressing for LGBT workers. Surveying various studies, the report shows that 35 percent of gay and bisexual people who are out at work suffer from harassment. Up to 58 percent of LGBT people have heard derogatory comments about sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. In one study of LGBT employees, 41 percent of respondents reported being verbally and/or physically abused at work or having their work spaces vandalized. In a survey of trans workers, 50 percent of respondents reported workplace harassment, including 7 percent who reported being physically assaulted at work because of their gender identity, and 41 percent who reported being asked unwelcome questions relating to their gender identity. Forty-five percent reported having been referred to by the wrong pronouns “repeatedly and on purpose” at work.

June 20 2016 8:30 AM

Enough Mean-Queen Putdowns: The Vicious Finale Was All About Love and Kindness

Vicious, the British sitcom about a gay couple in their 70s, which aired a special hourlong series finale on PBS Sunday night, was often dismissed as a parade of past-their-sell-by-date stereotypes about bitchy, old queens. This was a wrong-headed reading of the show and its ambitions. Vicious—a by queers, for queers, straight viewers might get something out of it exploration of a long-term gay relationship—always had a strong, loving heart beating beneath its mean-queen surface. As my Slate colleague J. Bryan Lowder observed before the Season 1 premiere, partners Freddie (Ian McKellen) and Stuart (Derek Jacobi) laced all their interactions with a drizzle of camp, and that transformed their life together into “a stylized game that is both refreshingly frivolous and deeply serious.”

Over two seasons, the couple’s bitchy barbs generated an appropriate quantity of laughs for a retro Britcom, albeit one written by an American Anglophile. The finale, though, pretty much dispensed with the apparatus of comedy and instead focused on the love and kindness that Freddie and Stuart (and the 13 preceding episodes) had previously kept hidden under layers and layers of arch putdowns and distinctively gay snark.