Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM

LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships

The MacArthur Foundation awards its “Genius” fellowships annually to those individuals who “show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future.” So it’s exciting to look at this year’s list of recipients, which was announced on Wednesday, and find two truly exceptional figures from the LGBTQ community—Alison Bechdel and Mary Bonauto.

Many readers will know Bechdel from her critically acclaimed 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which captures (among many other things) her coming out experience and the discovery that her father himself was homosexual and closeted. As we covered here, the book recently enjoyed a second-life as an off-Broadway musical. Bechdel’s second memoir, Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama, was similarly well-received; Bechdel discussed that book and its themes with Outward’s June Thomas in 2012.

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If Bechdel comes from the artistic sector of queer luminaries, civil rights lawyer Mary Bonauto is an ideal representative of the crucial legal activism side. Thought it’s easy to forget in a world where Windsor dominates the lede of most gay marriage stories, Bonauto and her partners at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) were responsible for building out much of the legal framework that made later gay rights victories possible, especially in terms of the state-by-state approach which laid the groundwork for successful federal challenges. As Slate’s Justin Peters succinctly put it in a profile of Bonauto last summer, “she has had a hand in pretty much every major gay marriage legal victory over the past 20 years.”

Genius can be a subjective term, but in the case of these two remarkable queer women, it’s clearly well-deserved. 

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Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM

Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 

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. This week, a wonderfully supportive mother asks if she should share the pride she feels for her gay daughter with unsuspecting strangers on the street. 

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.

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Other Questions Asked of Homos:

Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM

What Is Straight Ice Cream?

The culture wars have been fought on all manner of terrain over the years, but as far as I know, Rocky Road is new ground. Sugary shots were fired in New York City over the weekend as Gallo Nero, an Italian restaurant located in Manhattan’s West Village, posted an advertisement for its ice cream offerings that seemed to mock its famous neighbor the Big Gay Ice Cream shop. The sign, featuring two rather drab looking cones of different flavors leaning suggestively toward each other, proclaimed that here customers could find “The Big STRAIGHT ice cream.”

While it’s difficult to discern whether the Gallo Nero ad was malicious or just a badly played joke—statements to local media have been cryptic—the notion of “straight” ice cream is a fascinating one. Gay ice cream, at least as the “Big” guys define it, means frozen creations that are often named after campy gay icons like Bea Arthur and rambunctious flavor combinations (apple butter and bourbon butterscotch; key lime curd and graham crackers) that are clearly homosexual. Gay ice cream is also generally served in the presence of drag queen unicorn.

Sept. 12 2014 6:01 PM

Why Is Facebook Cracking Down on Drag Names?

On Wednesday, drag queens and similar performers began complaining of problems with their Facebook profiles. Artists from across the country reported being forcibly logged out of their accounts and informed that they would need to update their profiles with their legal names in order to lift the suspension.  

According to New York City-based drag performer and Outward contributor Miz Cracker, at least 20 of her drag colleagues have had their profiles challenged over the last three days, with notices continuing to be issued at the time of writing.

Cracker described her experience in an email:

I found out that my account had been suspended on Wednesday night, right in the middle of a show, when a fellow queen texted to ask “Why is your Facebook profile gone?” Facebook was letting me know that I had a choice: I could either select a name they liked, or lose touch with the contacts, creative content, and memories that my name has earned me over the years.

Many artists, including Cracker and Sister Roma—a member of the San Francisco-based activism and performance group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence—acceded to Facebook’s directive; Roma switched her profile to her birth name, Michael Williams, with her drag name listed as an alias in parentheses. Others have set up new profiles with truly fake names as an act of protest or deleted their accounts entirely.

Sept. 12 2014 3:32 PM

Yes, Those Straight Guys Who Wed for Rugby Tickets Are Mocking Marriage. What’s New?

Oh, the irony: Gay folk are upset about someone attacking the dignity of marriage by getting married. That's the line homophobes use to oppose marriage equality: Same-sex marriage somehow magically undermines the institution of mixed-sex marriage.

Yet the dignity argument is the one that’s being trotted out in response to the news that a couple of apparently straight New Zealand bros, Travis McIntosh and Matt McCormick, got married as part of a radio publicity stunt. The reward offered for two friends willing to show just how strong their friendship is? Tickets to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. The ceremony took place, appropriately enough, at Eden Park, Auckland's famed rugby venue.

Sept. 12 2014 3:11 PM

Congressional Republicans Vote to Continue Discrimination Against Gay Veterans’ Spouses

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted 13-12 to continue to deny equal benefits to gay veterans who live in states without gay marriage. Currently, all active servicemembers and their same-sex spouses receive equal benefits—no matter where they live—under an order from the Department of Defense. But a statutory quirk instructs the Department of Veterans Affairs to look to veterans’ state of residency to determine their marital status. Thus, a gay servicemember who marries in California but resides in Texas will be denied access to various benefits.

The bill being considered on Wednesday would have fixed this unforeseen problem with an easy tweak, extending benefits to all veterans with a valid marriage license. Every Democrat on the committee supported the bill, but only one Republican, Rep. Jon Runyan, broke ranks to join them. The other GOP members cited a vague concern for states’ rights. Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Florida, explained that “deference to the state is not motivated by hostility, it is motivated by adherence to the Constitution,” and claimed that “it is not appropriate to usurp the states’ power to democratically define marriage for their citizenry—not for personal belief, and not for bureaucratic convenience.”

Sept. 12 2014 12:20 PM

A Great Ruling on Gay Conversion “Therapy” That Also Protects the First Amendment

There’s a special kind of misery that occurs when a court reaches an unquestionably correct ruling for entirely the wrong reasons. Advocates of gay rights and free speech have been feeling that singular grief due to a spate of well-meaning but wrongheaded court rulings upholding the constitutionality of ex-gay conversion “therapy” bans. According to these rulings, such bans aren’t really speech at all, but simply “conduct.” Thus, they fall outside the protections of the First Amendment and don’t implicate any free speech concerns.

But on Thursday, a unanimous panel on the 3rd Circuit put the kibosh on this ill-starred line of reasoning, upholding New Jersey’s gay conversion “therapy” ban under a very different rationale. In an opinion by George W. Bush appointee D. Brooks Smith, the court held that, in fact, talk therapy by medical professionals is indeed a form of speech, not mere “conduct.” Because the speech occurs in the heavily regulated setting of doctor-patient treatment, however, therapists’ First Amendment protections are somewhat diminished. The state, after all, has an interest in protecting patients from harmful medical care, whether that care comes in the form of surgery or speech.

Sept. 12 2014 9:00 AM

A New Study Supports Female Athletes Unfairly Excluded From Sport

I’ve had the pleasure of having a few pieces published on in Slate, in particular in Outward. None have had as much response, good and bad, as my rant against the current International Olympic Committee policy that bans women with high natural testosterone levels from competing in women’s events.

Many of the commenters on my earlier piece about the exclusion of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand from the 2014 Commonwealth Games seemed not to have read the article. No, I was not calling for an end to women’s sport. No, I do not think that people should just decide what gender to compete in. No, it is implausible that men will declare themselves women just to get a great WNBA contract. No, banned athlete Dutee Chand was not doping. No, it clearly is not obvious who is a woman for the purposes of sport, as decades of failure have so clearly demonstrated. And no, there is absolutely no history of a man competing as a woman—all the examples cited were ambiguous cases, or intersex women, or women whose chromosomes didn’t comply with the tidy binary that our society enforces on men and women.

Sept. 11 2014 4:47 PM

Smithsonian Preserves LGBTQ History for a Post-Homophobic Future

Earlier this month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced that it would be adding hundreds of new objects to its existing LGBTQ collection, including a tennis racquet from transgender trailblazer Renée Richards, the diplomatic passport of Ambassador David Huebner (the first openly gay ambassador confirmed by the Senate), and memorabilia from the groundbreaking NBC sitcom Will & Grace. And now, thanks to a great documentary short produced by MSNBC, those of us not in Washington finally have an opportunity to check out the new materials.

Predictably, some—like the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins—have criticized the museum for preserving the history of a group of people they'd rather forget; but as the MSNBC segment shows, museum curators aren’t afraid of a little public pushback. Indeed, as archive specialist Franklin Robinson, Jr., explains, the collections are more about informing the future than pleasing the present:

50 years from now when LGBT civil rights will be something that we don’t even think about, you know, people will ask, “Well, what was the big deal?” And you can say, “Here it is.” These are the primary materials from which history will be written, and if you don’t save it now, then it’s gone.
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Kudos to the Smithsonian for defending the view that “American history” must include all Americans. 

Sept. 11 2014 3:40 PM

New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Steps Toward LGBTQ Inculsiveness

While LGBTQ pride marches continue to generate a modicum of controversy each summer, the most rancorous season when it comes to queer people and parades is early spring, when St. Patrick’s Day celebrations take over avenues in the Northeast and beyond. As of 2014, LGBTQ groups were officially banned from participating in Boston and New York’s parades; queer people were technically allowed to march, but they were not permitted to display anything announcing their identity.

That will change in New York next March, when OUT@NBCUniversal, the LGBTQ affinity group of the network that broadcasts the parade, will officially join the march under its own banner. A spokesmen for the parade’s organizing committee said that other groups would be allowed to apply in future years.

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