Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

July 31 2014 4:33 PM

Does International Development Really Spur LGBTQ Rights?

Earlier this month, the Overseas Development Institute held a conversation on LGBTQ rights and international aid. The most surprising statement came from former Ghanaian Minister of Information Elizabeth Ohene, who opposed LGBTQ rights in international aid by using a specious overgeneralization. She suggested that a better quality of life for everyone translates to more positive sentiments on LGBTQ issues, and thus to a better quality of life for LGBTQ people. “Better education, better health care, and a better standard of life … probably has something to do with the emergence of a majority [positive] opinion for LGBT rights today,” she told the audience at ODI’s London headquarters. “In much the same way, I suggest an improved quality of life in developing countries might very well lead to a better position of LGBT rights.” In other words, first development … then LGBTQ rights.

This is baseless for two reasons. First, correlation is not causation: An increase in quality of life is not the only parallel with LGBTQ progress. Other changes often play a more significant role in LGBTQ advances, regardless of the seemingly obvious. For example, a very vocal, visible, and organized civil society fueled progress for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Having the room to publicly organize and speak, rather than simply enjoying an overall higher quality of life, was crucial to this success. (Even then, the United States still has far to go when comparing the socioeconomic outcomes of LGBT couples to heterosexual couples, and when it comes to securing legal protections fortransgender individuals.)

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July 31 2014 3:44 PM

China Isn’t Christian—So Why Are Its Gays Undergoing Electroshock Conversion Therapy?

In 2009, China banned the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a treatment for Internet addiction. The country’s health ministry concluded that the practice had “no foundation in clinical research” and that there were serious concerns about its safety and effectiveness. While electric shocks can no longer be used in China to keep people off the Internet, however, they can still be used to keep people of the same sex off each other.

That’s the news this week out of Beijing, where a Chinese man who received involuntary electroshock therapy as part of a gay conversion treatment istaking his case to court. The 30-year-old, Xiao Zhen (a pseudonym), is suing both a psychological counseling center for administering the shocks and the Chinese search engine Baidu for advertising the center’s services. Intriguingly, Xiao isn’t just suing under the theory that electroshock therapy is cruel; he’s arguing that homosexuality should not be treated as a disease or a disorder.

July 31 2014 9:08 AM

Sex Verification in Women’s Sports Is Humiliating and Unnecessary

When the Indian team entered Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland, last week for the opening ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth Games, one athlete was missing: Dutee Chand, a sprinter disqualified shortly before the Games because of excess levels of testosterone in her blood.

Chand was not found guilty of doping. Because of privacy concerns, the Indian authorities have not released details about the athlete, and indeed, they did not even name Chand, who soon confirmed that she is the athlete in question. The Sports Authority of India had simply declared: "Preliminary investigations indicate that the athlete is not fit for participation in a female event due to female hyperandrogenism." This follows the regulations of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, which since 2011 has declared that naturally high levels of testosterone make women athletes ineligible for women's competitions.

July 30 2014 2:51 PM

The Most Complex and Enduring Mystery of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms Has Now Been Solved

Because it’s no longer considered couth to bash trans people as disgusting and disordered—unless you write for the National Review—transphobic commentators have started channeling their animus into concrete complaints about the trans movement. Usually, these center around trans people’s desire to use public restrooms with dignity and comfort by lobbying for gender-neutral bathrooms. This campaign flummoxes the likes of Fox News, which frequently puts forth a well-worn talking point: Are gender-neutral bathroom signs just too confusing to ever be used in practice?

Now, the marvelous Sam Killermann has a solution to Fox et al.’s problem: A whole new sign that jettisons the traditional male/female pictogram for—wait for it—a drawing of a toilet, free of any gendered baggage.

July 30 2014 12:12 PM

These Two Men Have Been Together for 50 Years. Now They’re Asking Ohio to Let Them Marry.

Marriage equality has not yet come to gay couples in Ohio, unless you want to include your same-sex partner on your death certificate. Henry and George, a gay couple who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, are hoping to change that.

Because the gay marriage question is now firmly in the hands of the judiciary, “Henry and George” serves less as a campaign ad and more as a public service announcement. It comes at a good time, too. Anti-gay conservatives are currently doubling down on their claim that the modern definition of marriage—a loving, supportive, emotional attachment between two people for life—is unstable and “incoherent.” To their minds, a marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, because true marriage must involve penile-vaginal penetration. Without that specific form of intercourse, anti-gay activists insist, a same-sex marriage is really just “graphically misshapen” friendship.


Nothing about Henry and George’s 50-year union strikes me as “graphically misshapen,” and calling that union a marriage doesn’t seem particularly incoherent. In fact, these two men strike me as excellent role models for anybody, gay or straight, who hopes to devote their life to one other person. And I suspect a majority of Ohioans—and Americans—would agree with me.

July 30 2014 8:46 AM

Do We Still Need Gay Resorts Like Provincetown?

The morning before my recent vacation, I had brunch with a visiting Parisian. I told her, “We’re going to Provincetown,” then sensing that its fame hadn’t yet reached Europe, I explained: “It’s a gay resort on Cape Cod.” This seemed to shock her. (Relatedly, is there any greater thrill than shocking a French person?) “Can straight people go there?” she asked. I laughed. “Of course! It’s full of straight people.” I left it at that, but now I wish I had added one more thought. “It’s full of straight people, but the default setting is gay.”

There are other places with a similar orientation—Fire Island, New York, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Asbury Park, New Jersey, to name a few on the East Coast—but in the era of marriage equality and assimilation, do gay people still need seaside refuges?

July 29 2014 3:15 PM

When Did the Arguments Against Gay Marriage Become So Silly?

In the 13 months since the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, gay marriage advocates have been handed an unbroken string of judicial triumphs—continuing this week with another circuit court and another state attorney general landing on the side of equality. This winning streak might seem to represent the inevitable victory of the gay marriage movement’s passion and logic, and to some extent, it does. But it’s also the result of the anti-gay-marriage movement completely collapsing around its own terrible arguments.

As Yale Law Professor William N. Eskridge brilliantly argued two years ago, there’s really only one internally logical argument against gay rights: the idea that gay people deserve the state’s moral opprobrium. Yet this reasoning was functionally voided by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans way back in 1996, when Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that no law motivated primarily by animus against gays could pass constitutional muster. The animus test has its flaws, but it has largely succeeded in keeping baldly moralistic arguments—gay people are gross, or sinful, or sick—out of the courtroom.

July 29 2014 11:50 AM

Ask a Homo: Butch and Femme 

Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the gays of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other queer conundrums. Today a reader inquires about roles: Do lesbian relationships always involve one partner who’s masculine of center and another who’s feminine?

If there are questions you’ve been dying to ask a member of the real rainbow coalition, this is your chance. Send your queries—for publication—to slateoutward@gmail.com, and please put “ASK A HOMO” in the subject line. Note that questions may be edited.

July 29 2014 10:12 AM

Are Anti-Gay Activists Bigots? A Brilliant, Disturbing New Book Says Yes.

Earlier this year, I took part in spirited debate about the nature of anti-gay animus with the Atlantic’s Connor Friedersdorf. I took the position that anybody who opposes equal rights for gay people is, by definition, a bigot; Friedersdorf struck back in a whip-smart rejoinder, insisting that we can draw a bright line between true bigotry and garden-variety homophobia. Friedersdorf and I went back and forth on the matter, but never arrived at an answer to perhaps the most important question of all: What, exactly, is a bigot?

In his brilliant and disturbing new book The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists, Stephen Eric Bronner answers the definitional question in exhaustive, disarming detail. Bronner, who serves at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and on the UNESCO Chair for Genocide Prevention, isn’t just interested in certain niches of prejudice. His book is concerned with a deeper analysis of bigots themselves: Why they hate, who they hate, how they hate. And his startling conclusion is that bigotry in the 21st century isn’t withering away—it’s finding new targets and camouflaging itself better than ever.

July 28 2014 6:00 PM

The Latest Proof That Opposing Gay Rights Is Bad Politics

When should the gay rights movement declare political victory? Some think success will come when gay marriage is legal nationwide; others are holding out for an LGBT omnibus equality bill. But my sense is that the true political triumph will arrive when conservatives can no longer scare up votes and dollars by running against gay people. Once there’s no political capital to be gained from opposing gay rights, no politician will oppose gay rights.

When will that moment come? Sooner than you might expect. On Saturday, the Huffington Post ran a fun story pondering why Republicans went totally silent on President Barack Obama’s executive LGBT nondiscrimination order. One GOP congressman claimed he hadn’t heard about the order. When pressed, Speaker of the House John Boehner simply sighed, “The president signs a lot of executive orders.” Republican Sen. Rob Portman, a supporter of the Senate’s flawed, failed bill, gently chided Obama for leaving out Portman’s preferred (and widely maligned) religious exemptions. But not a single member of Congress took the bait and slammed Obama on the merits of the order.