Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Oct. 2 2015 5:47 PM

In Freeheld, Ellen Page and Julianne Moore Bring Amazing Realness to a Sad, True Story

When the documentary Freeheld won the Oscar for best documentary short in 2008, the powerful story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree—a lesbian couple from New Jersey who were forced to fight the state over control of Hester’s pension as she was dying from cancer—got the cinematic treatment and acclaim it deserved. At least that’s what I thought as I went to see Freeheld, the new Julianne Moore/Ellen Page feature version, which sets out to tell the story again. One hundred and three minutes later, I understood why director Peter Sollett had made the attempt: Freeheld is one of the most powerful pieces of agit-prop art I’ve ever seen, precisely because of its astonishing fidelity to the true story of Hester and Andree.

We first meet Julianne Moore’s Laurel Hester on a New Jersey boardwalk. She appears to be admiring her sweet Farrah Fawcett hairdo in a hand mirror while simultaneously tolerating the inane attentions of a couple of annoying dudes. In fact, she’s a police detective, using the compact to keep an eye on an undercover cop who’s scoring heroin across the street. The guys are cops, too—they’re just pretending to be loitering, though they’re genuinely annoying—and when their shenanigans make her take her eye off the drug deal, the undercover cop is in danger. Without thinking of her own safety, Hester gives chase and bravely saves her colleague while the other detectives are bumbling around. Once the bad guys are in cuffs, she lights a cigarette.

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Oct. 2 2015 4:49 PM

One Last Lesson From the Pope’s Disastrous Meeting With Kim Davis

It now seems fair to conclude that Pope Francis’ meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was a mistake. Vatican officials engaged in damage control of the highest order today, with Reuters reporting one official describing “a sense of regret” over the meeting, which has subsequently cast a shadow over the pontiff’s entire visit. Not-quite-coincidentally, today has also seen new accounts of a second papal meeting being injected into the media bloodstream, this one with Yayo Grassi, an openly gay Argentine man in a committed partnership, who has been described as a longtime friend of Pope Francis’.

You don’t have to fully accept the Vatican account of the meeting, which has suggested that the pope was not well-informed about Davis or her situation, to believe that the Vatican is unhappy about the reaction it has engendered in the press and social media. From their actions, it’s obvious they would prefer to stress the relative openness of the pope toward the LGBTQ community, rather than the church’s official teachings on gender and sexuality. Apparently, the pope would rather be seen as a nice fellow who hugs his gay friends than as a right-wing Davis supporter. For those of us living in America, a meeting with Davis held an obvious and predictable symbolism. Perhaps, it was less clear to the pope and his people how much Davis has become a stand-in for everything that divides us.

Oct. 2 2015 1:42 PM

A 750-Page Journey Through Gay American History

There are a few books every year I wish I had written. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman just leapt to the top of that list. It is, unquestionably, a landmark book and will likely be the template by which subsequent scholarship on our collective lesbian and gay history will be judged.

Faderman has long been, with Martin Duberman, Jonathan Ned Katz, John D’Emilio, Bonnie Zimmerman, Esther Newton, and a handful of others, one of the premiere historians of lesbian and gay America.

We are fortunate to have her (as we are them). The Gay Revolution proves why.

Oct. 1 2015 11:36 AM

Hillary Clinton’s Email About Gay Parents Should Seriously Trouble Her LGBT Supporters

In late 2010, the State Department made an exceedingly innocuous change to U.S. passport application forms. Instead of listing “Mother” and “Father,” these forms would now list “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.” The change, the department declared, was “in recognition of different types of families”—namely, families with same-sex parents.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was furious. In a recently released email, Clinton proclaimed that she would not defend the decision, “which I disagree w and knew nothing about, in front of this Congress.” She then wrote that she “could live w letting people in nontraditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father.” Failure to act immediately, she fretted, would lead to “a huge Fox-generated media storm led by Palin et al.” (The department quickly reversed the decision, apparently appeasing the secretary.)

Hillary email

State Department


It’s easy to sympathize with Clinton’s concern about a conservative media maelstrom and insist that, at most, Clinton displayed cowardice, not animus. Four years ago, defending LGBT rights was still a somewhat risky proposition; even President Barack Obama was still too timorous to say that gay Americans should be afforded their constitutional right to marry. But if Clinton was only nervous about political blowback, her choice of words is curious. Why note that she “disagree[d]” with the decision? Why say—hesitantly, almost begrudgingly—that she “could live” with letting gay parents use a gender-neutral form?

Clinton’s decidedly non-inclusive language might be forgivable if she had a sterling track record on LGBT rights. She doesn’t. Clinton only came out for marriage equality in 2013, in what the Economist dubbed a “farcically late conversion.” Even then, she seemed to endorse the Dick Cheney position that states should be allowed to decide whether or not to deprive gay people of their fundamental right to wed. A painful interview with NPR’s Terry Gross only aggravated matters, as Clinton tried to claim that a federal gay marriage ban somehow granted states the right to recognize same-sex unions. (The act, signed into law by her husband, actually impeded states’ efforts to legalize gay marriage, which the Supreme Court recognized when striking it down.)

Since then, Clinton has polished her LGBT message—but not to everyone’s satisfaction. Many of her gay donors are frustrated with her perceived lack of enthusiasm about LGBT rights. She supported the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling—but declined to explain why she suddenly believes marriage is a constitutional right and not an issue for the states. In July, Clinton endorsed the federal Equality Act, a sweeping LGBT nondiscrimination law. But then, in September, the Washington Free Beacon published a damning story alleging that, in 2000, then-President Bill Clinton questioned his wife’s commitment to gay rights. (Hillary, Bill reportedly told the historian Taylor Branch, found gay rights “harder to swallow” and experienced “discomfort” around “gay people who were kind of acting out.”)

What’s bizarre about Clinton’s checkered history with LGBT rights is that, as I’ve written before, she really should be a gay rights icon. Clinton is the frontrunner in a Democratic primary in which the vast majority of voters will passionately favor LGBT rights. She’s not responsible for her husband’s gay marriage missteps—and even if she were, she could simply express regret about them and move on. The same goes for her ostensible discomfort around gay people in 2000: Clinton could easily apologize for her erstwhile narrow-mindedness. Over the last few years, in fact, most of her Democratic colleagues have done exactly that. Why is Clinton still unwilling to confess past error and get in front of the issue?

The conventional wisdom is that, when it comes to gay rights, there are two Hillary Clintons: Clinton the politician, a cautious moderate, and Clinton the person, who of course supports civil rights for gays. I’m not quite sure that dichotomy holds up to scrutiny. It was, after all, Clinton the person who wrote that she “disagree[d]” with a tiny paperwork revision to accommodate same-sex parents. And it was Clinton the politician who told the United Nations that “gay rights are human rights” in 2011—shortly before the passport kerfuffle.

I don’t doubt that Clinton now earnestly believes in the LGBT cause. But I do suspect that hers was a more recent conversion than she’d like to admit. That’s fine: Plenty of good people, including politicians, were blind to the urgency of the issue until this decade. But Clinton should acknowledge her previous misgivings and fervently affirm her allegiances going forward. Her donors and supporters have been quietly pushing for a more honest and vehement stance all summer. Clinton—both the person and the politician—would do well to listen.

Sept. 30 2015 3:02 PM

Transparent’s Zackary Drucker and Hari Nef on the Current Trans Moment

It’s strange to eavesdrop on a conversation between someone of 32 and someone of 22 and realize that they’re speaking as if a vast generational chasm exists between them. Are the experiences of someone born in 1992 really all that different from someone born in 1982? When the parties in the dialogue are trans women, the answer is, apparently, yes: Attitudes to trans people have changed so much in the last few years that the decade between 22-year-old Hari Nef, a writer and model who will appear as an actress in Season 2 of Transparent, and 32-year-old Zackary Drucker, an artist who is also a co-producer and adviser on the Amazon show, means they each came of age in different worlds.

My opportunity to listen in on Drucker and Nef’s conversation came in the Fall 2015 GOOD, which is the magazine’s first fashion issue. The piece is accompanied by gauzy photos of the two women, who acknowledge the current fetishization of a certain kind of photogenic trans person. “As trans women with white privilege, we may be given more opportunities, and we have this dire responsibility to pass the mic,” Nef says. “We need to advocate for trans women of color, and we need to do more than talk about it. The danger is so disproportionate right now to how much shine we’re getting, and I’m more scared than I am triumphant.”

Sept. 30 2015 2:39 PM

Why Pope Francis’ Meeting With Kim Davis Is Such a Disaster

I woke up this morning to reports that during his recent U.S. visit, Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk best known for refusing to issue lawful marriage licenses, interfering with the ability of her deputies to issue lawful marriage licenses, and making unauthorized changes to the lawful marriage license forms for her county. When I saw this news, my heart sank. In one 15-minute meeting, the pope undermined the unifying, healing message that many queer people and our supporters were so eager to have him bring.

This blow hit me particularly hard because I had written so hopefully about the pope’s address to Congress. Although I’ve directly benefitted from the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage even more than most other Americans in the queer community, LGBTQ issues have never been my first priority. I believe that America’s ability to grapple with and seek solutions for our toughest problems has been weakened by the constant activity of culture war activists, people on both sides who draw attention to flavor-of-the-month scandals, outrages, and personalities. These minor matters have been capturing national attention month after month, year after year, for as long as I’ve been politically sentient. In that time I’ve seen the climate degrade, inequality increase, prison populations bloat, the labor market change permanently for the worse, and unwinnable wars be embarked upon (and lost). If the pope was against same-sex civil marriage but was also willing to address those other issues, I was 100-percent on board.

Sept. 29 2015 3:08 PM

Some North Carolina Republicans Want to Protect Anti-Gay Christians—And Outlaw Islam

In spring of 2015, anti-gay conservatives were nervous. The Supreme Court, it seemed, was poised to affirm gay people’s fundamental right to marry. In left-leaning states, same-sex couples were using LGBT nondiscrimination laws to sue the Christian business owners who refused to serve them. In marriage equality states, Christian clerks were resigning to avoid issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. There was, it seemed, a conflict between the right of gay people to live free from discrimination and the right of anti-gay Christians to discriminate. And gay people were winning.

So conservatives in North Carolina decided to do something about it. The heavily Republican state legislature proposed an Indiana-style “religious freedom” bill (or RFRA) that would effectively legalize anti-gay discrimination and nullify any existing protections for LGBTQ people. Although the bill was obviously designed to protect the Christian business owners eager to refuse service to gays, it was pitched as a general law protecting all forms of religious liberty. Republicans in the state favored it by a large margin. Ultimately, the bill fizzled—though conservative legislators succeeded in passing a similar law allowing anti-gay magistrates to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Republicans are currently attempting to revive their RFRA in a modified form by repealing nondiscrimination measures across the state.)


Why is this history important? Because for all that North Carolina Republicans ranted and raved about the urgent necessity of broad protections for religious liberty, 40 percent of Republicans in the state think the practice of Islam should be outlawed.

It should come as no surprise to close observers of the “religious liberty” debate that most conservatives were only ever supporting religious liberty for anti-gay Christians. Portions of the GOP remain startlingly Islamophobic; one in three Iowa Republicans, for instance, also believes Islam should be criminalized. During the RFRA kerfuffle, GOP leaders and commentators had to walk a careful line, pretending they wanted to do more than just disadvantage gays without dwelling on the rights of Muslims. They accomplished this equivocation by pontificating generically about the importance of religious liberty, while issuing dog whistles to demonstrate their bills’ true intent. (Case in point: When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed his state’s RFRA, he tweeted a picture of devout Christians and anti-gay activists at the signing ceremony.)

The truth, however, is that most anti-gay conservatives don’t care much about the rights of Muslims—except when they can be used as a political pawn. Tea Party water-carrier the Federalist provides a nice example of this phenomenon. Before the RFRA brouhaha, the magazine published two quasi-defenses of Islamophobia. One, titled “Stop Pretending Terrorism Has Nothing To Do With Islam,” alleges that the religion has a higher “propensity for violence” than other religions (including, implicitly, Christianity). Another, alarmingly titled “Is Islam A Terrorist Religion?”, claims that “Muslim societies” are predisposed to “tyranny, oppression, misogyny,” and so on.

Then the Indiana backlash began, and the Federalist became a righteous defender of Islam. A Federalist article by my old friend Matthew Schmitz asked, “Why Are Indiana RFRA Opponents Fanning The Flames Of Islamophobia?” Schmitz accused progressives of engaging in “a wildly irresponsible attempt to exploit fear of the ethnic and religious other” because they noted (sardonically) that, if taken at face value, RFRA would allow Muslims to discriminate, too. The magazine which previously asked, point blank, whether Islam is “a terrorist religion” was, thanks to RFRA backlash, suddenly concerned with (nonexistent) anti-Muslim rhetoric.

American Muslims seem to understand that the GOP only considers them useful as political football. Over the last 15 years, Muslims have scampered swiftly away from the Republican party: In 2000, 78 percent of Muslims supported Republicans; by 2011, 70 percent identified as Democrats, and only 11 percent leaned Republican. Muslims are leaving the GOP en masse, and the party’s base seems as intolerant of Islam as it is of gay rights. For many of them, “religious liberty” means little more than the freedom to kick a gay couple out of your store.

Sept. 29 2015 2:11 PM

Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood Takes A Small Step Forward for Black Gay Men

More than 3.6 million viewers tuned in to VH1’s season two premiere of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywoodearlier this month. A reality show focused on the Hollywood hip-hop music scene, the series has in the past followed former successful R&B artists, video vixens, actors, and girlfriends of dwindling rappers through the glitz, glamour, and delusion of their wild world. This new season of Love and Hip Hop delivers more of the same, featuring returning stars like R&B songstress Teairra Mari, rapper Soulja Boy, former B2K heartthrobs Fizz and Omarion, and fan favorites Moniece and Hazel-E. But like any ensemble reality show, Love & Hip Hop has its fair share of several newbies vying for a spot in the opening credits each season, including, this time, rapper Miles (Siir Brock) and producer Milan—two folks who happen to be in a relationship and also happen to be men.  

This is no small thing for the largely straight show. Before Miles and Milan, the New York version of the franchise featured a lesbian couple, Erica Mena and her then-girlfriend Cyn Santana, but this is the first time a gay male couple has been featured. From this, it was clear that Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood is not just out to entertain its viewers this season—it is here to challenge them as well.

Sept. 29 2015 9:10 AM

Meet the Women of Transcendent

Cable network Fuse is expanding its queer programming his fall with Transcendent, a new reality show following a team of cabaret dancers at club Asia S.F., all of whom happen to be trans women. Why put themselves on stage this way? One of the performers, Bionka, says of the club: “At Asia S.F., I found how to present on the outside what I feel on the inside.” Here’s an exclusive clip of the women in action:

While the show (which will premiere on Wednesday following Outward favorite Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce) gets its sparkle from the ladies’ sultry moves, Transcendent’s heart is all about sharing a view of the trans experience—and it’s impressively honest. The first episode highlights community issues, including the difficulty of finding trans-friendly doctors, of dating men who are embarrassed to be with trans women, and of coming out to family. In a smart casting move, the show also features a woman, L.A., who is at the beginning of her physical transition; the other women help her along, both by getting her medical assistance and, in a particularly insightful scene, challenging her when she jokes about being a gay boy. If the season premiere is any indication, Transcendent is poised to be one of the most interesting and informative trans-themed TV shows to date.


Transcendent begins Wednesday, Sept 30 at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT on Fuse.

Sept. 28 2015 1:58 PM

A Trans Prisoner Sued Her Prison—and Won a Victory for Trans Inmates Across the Country

In 2014, trans Maryland inmate Sandy Brown was transferred to the Patuxent Institution—a maximum-security prison—for a mental health assessment. Upon discovering that Brown identified as a woman and had both breasts and male genitalia, correction officers decided to place her in solitary confinement. The prison staff decided that Brown posed “a possible threat to the security of the institution”—simply because she was trans. It then held her in solitary confinement for no particular reason, long after her assessment was complete. During that time, officers watched her in the shower, told her she would never be a woman, and called her “disgusting.” Officers also came to her cell to harass her, calling her a “fag” and encouraging her to kill herself.

Brown sued Patuxent Institution for mistreating her—and won a massive victory for trans inmates across the country. In an emphatic ruling, Judge Denise Oakes Shaffer affirmed the rights of trans inmates under a federal law called the Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA. Her ruling gave Brown only a modest award of $5,000. But it also put prisons across the country on notice that trans inmates don’t lose their rights because of their identity.