Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Jan. 16 2017 1:11 PM

America May Be Heading Into an STD Epidemic—and Gay and Bi Men Are Going to Be the Hardest Hit

Earlier this month, Poz magazine’s Benjamin Ryan drew attention to a concerning new study out of Northern California’s heath system: Using data gathered from July 2012 through June 2015, researchers found that, among a cohort consisting mostly of same-sex attracted men on the HIV-prevention regimen PrEP, “quarterly rates of rectal gonorrhea and urethral chlamydia increased steadily and about doubled after one year.” In other words, guys on the fantastically effective pill-a-day Truvada program were avoiding HIV infection—there were no new transmissions for regimen-adherent patients over the study period, in fact—but they seemed to be getting other sexually transmitted diseases relatively often. There are a few plausible explanations for the measured increase in this particular community, including the quarterly or at least semi-annual STD battery a PrEP prescription requires (more testing almost certainly means more diagnoses compared to men who infrequently or never get tested), and emerging evidence that many men, emboldened by PrEP, are engaging in more condomless sex. Either way, gay and bi men have reason to be alarmed.

This news came on the heels of a recent STD Surveillance Report from the CDC, which showed that the total combined cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis reported in the U.S. in 2015 reached record highs. Those most at risk were gay and bisexual men (regardless of their PrEP status), as well as the youth of America: Young adults aged 15 to 24 accounted for half the gonorrhea diagnoses and two-thirds of the chlamydia cases. Men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for the majority of new gonorrhea and syphilis cases. And all this while strains of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea were recently discovered to be on the rise among MSM.

As a journalist who covers sexual health and as a gay man who has sex, it seems to me that our community is on the cusp of a major STD epidemic. And although gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are certainly not the scourge HIV once was, I can’t help but feel a kind of old-fashioned, Larry Kramer-tinged guilt, like my community is to blame because of our more open relationship to sex. They say not to read comments sections online, but I couldn’t resist peeking at articles covering the CDC news. On a piece from USA Today, one person wrote: “Lot's of young whores out there today,” while another said, “looks like gays are determine[d] to do themselves harm.”

But is this accurate? Is “bad” sexual behavior among gays and other groups to blame for the trend? The answer is surely complicated, but if we want to better fight the rise in STD rates, we have to try to understand what’s driving it in the first place.

Jan. 13 2017 6:11 PM

Side Eye: Boys Kissing Boys Who Don’t Actually Like Boys

Side Eye is an occasional Outward column in which we’ll look askance at questionable behavior from fellow members of the queer community. Seen something in LGBTQ-land that deserves a shady squint? Alert bryan.lowder@slate.com with “Side Eye” (or just “oh, gurl, did you see”) in the subject line.

In today’s column, we look askance at a vexing, Hollywood-based cluster of man-on-man kissing—an activity we normally applaud, but in this case must submit to a firm inspection.

Bryan Lowder: Andrew, before we get to the weirdness that is this mini-trend of straight actor men kissing each other, we should probably explain to our readers why we are addressing straight people under the Side Eye banner, which was invented for intra-queer analytical shade. Simply put, they are acting like gay people! And since they seem to want to dip their well-appointed toes into our world, I am willing to treat them with the bracing honesty that I would a sister queer.

Jan. 13 2017 1:49 PM

How Can Literature Resist Islamophobia? One Writer Answers: Gay Muslim Furry Romance.

Kyell Gold’s new novel may lie at the most unlikely intersection in literary history: a gay immigrant Muslim romance involving furries--that is, people who feel a close identification with anthropomorphic animal characters.

“I wrote this book in part as a response to the wave of Islamophobia in this country,” Gold explained in an author’s note, “never dreaming at the time that it would crest as it has now.”

The Time He Desires is the story of Aziz, a cheetah in a faltering heterosexual marriage who explores the boundaries of his sexuality with the help of a gay fox. Aziz is a Sudanese immigrant, and engages in a struggle with his desires that will be familiar to queer readers. Gold’s been writing furry romance novels full-time for several years, after bouncing from chemical engineering to business school to zoology. After he was laid off in 2010 with a generous severance package, his husband said, “if you’re going to be a full-time writer, this is the time to start.”

Jan. 10 2017 2:55 PM

John Kerry’s “Lavender Scare” Apology Obscures the State Department’s Shameful History

Monday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry issued an apology for his department’s past discrimination against LGBTQ people. It was unprecedented, unexpected, and unspecific, a rather stiff parting hug to the community before the incoming administration kicks us in the shins.

Kerry was apparently responding to two letters, one issued by Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland on Nov. 29 and another (echoing Cardin) sent by the Human Rights Campaign on Dec. 22. Both letters explicitly evoked the postwar panic known as the “Lavender Scare” in which the federal government purged thousands of gay and lesbian employees from its ranks on the pretext of their being “security risks.” Cardin’s letter, citing historian David Johnson’s extraordinary book on the subject, details the persecution at length, with special attention to the Senate’s role in it. Both letters recommend that the State Department memorialize the victims of its discrimination with an exhibit at the National Museum of American Diplomacy.

While arguably better than nothing, Monday’s apology is baffling. It’s the first time the federal government has ever acknowledged these events, but Kerry’s statement is only legible as such to those familiar with the history. To everyone else it is, at best, cryptic and, at worst, misleading. The first hundred words of the statement (half of it) burnish Kerry’s legacy on LGBTQ issues. There follows one sentence, vague and defensive, to describe the scare: “In the past—as far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades—the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place.” Then the apology. There’s no mention of the requests for memorialization.

Jan. 9 2017 8:45 AM

The Girls Who Love Queens: Drag’s Biggest Audience May Soon Be Young Women

Gay men have long been perceived as drag’s only true, die-hard audience. But a new wave of young women is challenging that conventional wisdom, joining gays as some of the biggest consumers of drag culture.

At bars, clubs, conventions, and especially across social media, young women “drag fans” are appearing in unprecedented numbers. Many are minors, too young to attend club events—so they wait patiently on sidewalks to glimpse their favorite queens, or view bits of shows on Snapchat. They are determined. Ignoring barriers of age, gender, and sexual orientation, they make enough noise to draw attention from RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty like Michelle Visage and local queens alike. But what accounts for this phenomenon?

Jan. 6 2017 8:30 AM

Please Note: The Legislator Behind Virginia’s New Anti-Trans Bill Is Completely Nuts

Virginia Del. Bob Marshall, a Republican, introduced an anti-trans bill on Tuesday that would severely limit transgender people’s access to public bathrooms. The measure somewhat mirrors North Carolina’s notorious HB2 by prohibiting transgender people from using government facilities, including school bathrooms, that align with their gender identity. But it has a twist: Under Marshall’s bill, a trans person who changes the gender on his or her birth certificate is still punished—because everyone must use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their “original birth certificate.”

Marshall’s bill is deeply malicious and utterly futile. Even if it passes Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vowed to veto it. (Indeed, McAuliffe issued an executive order barring LGBTQ discrimination by state contractors shortly after Marshall introduced his measure.) How unhinged must Marshall be, you might wonder, to propose such a cruel and fatuous bill? Let’s assess the evidence.

Jan. 5 2017 5:26 PM

If Trump Is an LGBTQ Ally, How Could He Pick Anti-Gay Dan Coats as Head of National Intelligence?

The New York Times, reporting that former Sen. Dan Coats is being tapped for director of national intelligence, called the staunch homophobe “a mild-mannered conservative.” Perhaps the Times has a short memory or didn’t do much research on Coats—or perhaps its characterization is a sign of just how far rightward the right wing has recently careened. But Coats’ appointment would be one more mark of how empty—or dishonest—Donald Trump’s claim that he’s an ally of the LGBTQ community was.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Coats fought against LGBTQ equality far more stridently than his conservative colleagues in Congress. Coats was a leading opponent of Bill Clinton’s 1993 effort to let lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops serve openly, fighting instead to retain a complete ban, a position more extreme than then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell’s willingness to allow gays and lesbians to serve as long as they hid their sexual orientation. Coats claimed that equal treatment would “seriously undermine the effectiveness, the normal discipline [and] the good order” necessary to retain military capability. He even equated permitting openly gay service with condoning sexual harassment. Lifting the ban, he said “would allow the kind of conduct that took place at the Tailhook convention to be exempted from any military regulation.” Tailhook was a major scandal in which more than a hundred military officers were accused of sexually assaulting 83 women and seven men at a drunken Las Vegas officer symposium in 1991. Coats’ implication was that the mere presence of gay or lesbian people in uniform was tantamount to sexual assault—the kind that, in reality, was routinely perpetrated by straight commanders.

Jan. 5 2017 1:39 PM

California’s Prop 60 Failed, but Condoms in Porn Is Hardly a Dead Issue

California has required condoms in porn since 1992—or maybe it never required them at all.

For years, this confusion over what state law requires has resulted in the one of the world's largest AIDS advocacy organizations, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, locking horns with the adult industry in a series of bitter legal battles. The sparring climaxed in a ballot measure this past fall that would have written mandatory condoms into state law once and for all. That gambit failed, but the issue is far from resolved.

Jan. 4 2017 1:47 PM

In 2017, Queers Need to Remember the Power of Outreach

Over the past twelve months, the queer community has experienced a number of shocks that chilled our optimism about LGBTQ life in America. The June shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando cast a shadow over nightlife, exacerbating fears for our communal safety and our frustration that, almost 50 years after Stonewall, queer spaces are still subject to violence. And the November election sent gay couples rushing to say their vows, just in case the new administration and emboldened GOP majority attempts to reverse marriage equality.

Stepping back from these relatively fresh events, however, it’s easy to see how much we’ve gained in recent years. We’ve seen unprecedented progress for the LGBTQ rights and quality of life by almost every measure, from legal victories like the Supreme Court’s decision to support same-sex marriage to the upward trend in our cultural visibility—Emmy recognition for RuPaul, a growing embrace of queer and trans people alike in shows like Transparent. But the past year presented discouraging reminders that we still have many battles to win on the street; despite progress on the macro level, there are a lot of individual hearts and minds still to be reached. Certain events—most prominently the nation’s election of Donald Trump and his resulting choice of a strongly anti-queer transition team and cabinet—suggested that the outside world still doesn’t understand us. And moreover, our responses suggested that many queers still don’t understand the outside world—many of us live in a kind of bubble, underestimating the hate aimed in our direction, the number of people who feel it, and the power they possess.

Jan. 4 2017 12:40 PM

The Lesson of Mississippi’s HB 1523: “Religious Freedom” Must Mean Religious Freedom for All

Ted Cruz recently gave his supporters a belated Christmas present when he announced that he planned to re-introduce a bill called the First Amendment Defense Act. Like other opponents of LGBTQ equality, Cruz has come to realize that rather than denigrating the common humanity of gay and transgender people, or trying to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, they are better off using religion as their weapon of choice.

Although their bill is labeled the First Amendment Defense Act, it is flatly inconsistent with the language of the First Amendment, which states in pertinent part that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The problem with FADA is that not only does it authorize—even encourage—discrimination against LGBTQ people, but it “establishes” only some religions and some religious views, not the religions or religious views of many others. Believe me, I know—my clients, the Campaign for Southern Equality and Episcopal Vicar Susan Hrostowski, have been fighting a similar law (HB 1523) passed in Mississippi.