Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

March 30 2015 4:00 PM

The Cast of Broadway’s Fun Home Visits the Real Fun Home

In early March, just before rehearsals for the Broadway production of Fun Home, the musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, were due to begin, Michael Cerveris, the actor who plays Alison’s father, organized an outing to Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. The bulk of the cast has been working together for years—most performed in the off-Broadway version at the Public Theater and several in early workshop performances before that—but they had never visited the buildings, roads, and landscapes of the town where the show is set.

The house that was once the Bechdel family home, in which the majority of the show is set, is now a rental property. Alison Bechdel and her partner, Holly Rae Taylor, along with Alison’s brother Christian arrived in Beech Creek the day before the actors and hosted a Sunday dinner for some family members who live in the area. Alison hadn’t been inside the house since 2006, when she visited with the New York Times’ Ginia Bellafante shortly after the book was published. Being there “was very trippy,” she told me. “Everything was the same, even the ancient range hood over the stove. A switch plate on the wall, a scrap of linoleum on the stair—it was all so intact and vivid.”

Beth Malone, Joel Perez, Holly Rae Taylor, Christian Bechdel, Emily Skeggs, and Alison Bechdel.

Photo by Michael Cerveris


On Monday afternoon, when the actors—Cerveris; Beth Malone, who plays Alison in middle age; Emily Skeggs, who is Alison as a 19-year-old; and Joel Perez, who plays several characters—arrived, Alison, or “the Real Alison Bechdel” as she is known to the cast, took them on a tour of the town. Tour stops included the funeral home—the Fun Home of the title—the house Bruce Bechdel was renovating at the end of his life, and the cemetery where he is buried. Alison had visited the grave the day before. “I'd had my personal emotions separately,” she told me “Bringing [the actors] there adds this other layer of strangeness, but it felt really good to share that with them. They seemed moved to be there.”

Three Alisons on the stairs.

Photo by Michael Cerveris

Once the Bechdels and Taylor departed, the actors spent the evening and night in the house. Judging from their photos from the trip, they spent a good portion of their time in Beech Creek re-creating scenes from the show in the rooms where the events they now sing about eight times a week originally occurred.

Fun Home, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron is now in previews on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre, opening on April 19.

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March 30 2015 1:10 PM

Indiana’s New Law Allows Discrimination. That Was the Point.

In the latest controversy over religious liberty and gay rights, last week Indiana became the 20th state to enact a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Many have denounced the law for inviting discrimination against gays and lesbians, and a number of organizations have threatened to move events out of Indiana or to limit their business in the state. 

In signing the bill, however, Gov. Mike Pence dismissed this criticism. He declared that the law “is not about discrimination.” In an interview this weekend on ABC’s This Week, he added that the purpose of the law was to bolster First Amendment rights, not to discriminate. But this response indicates that the governor has either misunderstood or misrepresented a crucial aspect of the law he’s just signed. 

March 30 2015 10:46 AM

Lessons From One Year of Same-Sex Marriage in England and Wales

This article originally appeared in The Conversation.

It’s exactly a year since the first lesbian and gay couples were married in England and Wales and almost 10 years since civil partnerships were introduced. This fundamental advance in legal recognition has been hailed as a dramatic transformation in the lives of the United Kingdom’s lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

But what real-life impact has the right to marry or enter a civil partnership actually had on lesbian and gay couples – and why has initial take-up of same-sex marriage been so low?

March 27 2015 12:20 PM

Georgia Legislators Admit It: “Religious Liberty” Bill Is About Anti-Gay Discrimination

One of the most irritating aspects of the campaign to legalize anti-gay discrimination in the guise of “religious liberty” is the fact that anti-gay activists are so snidely mendacious about their true aims. Legislators from Arizona to Indiana have openly conceded that the intent of their bills is to protect business owners, like florists and bakers, from having to serve gay couples. Yet the right-wing media continues to sneeringly insist that anyone who detects discriminatory intent behind “religious liberty” legislation is, in one writer’s childish words, “a complete idiot.”

On Thursday, however, the façade fell away. During a Georgia House Judiciary Committee debate over the state’s new religious freedom bill, Rep. Mike Jacobs—a Republican!—called anti-gay legislators’ bluff. Jacobs proposed a simple amendment to the legislation clarifying that it must not be interpreted to legalize discrimination. Conservative representatives cried foul, asserting that an anti-discrimination amendment would defeat the purpose of the bill. When the amendment narrowly passed, conservatives quickly tabled the bill, postponing its consideration indefinitely. A religious freedom measure with an anti-discrimination provision, they decided, was not a real religious freedom measure at all.


This kerfuffle is both illuminating and, frankly, satisfying for those of us who have maintained that discrimination was the actual purpose of these bills all along. After the campaign to defeat Arizona’s religious liberty bill succeeded, the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway called those of us who viewed the measure as discriminatory—that would include me—“ignorant,” “dumb, uneducated, and eager to deceive.” Never mind the fact that Arizona legislators openly declared that the bill’s purpose was to let businesses turn away gay couples, baking discrimination into the measure’s legislative history in a way state courts can’t ignore. In the topsy-turvy sophistry of the far right, heeding committee minutes qualified as “ignorance,” while ignoring the stated intent of a bill qualified as intelligence.

But if anti-gay conservatives have any intellectual integrity, Thursday’s Georgia dispute should put an end to this charade. Jacobs, the representative who introduced the anti-discrimination amendment, is no flaming liberal; he is a moderate Republican who was legitimately concerned that a broad measure protecting businesses’ “religious exercise” could function as a license to discriminate. If Georgia’s religious freedom bill truly wasn’t designed to legalize discrimination, this amendment would have been utterly uncontroversial. Instead, it spurred heated opposition from conservatives, who refused to support any religious liberty bill that explicitly forbade discrimination.

There’s one interesting (and revealing) coda to the Georgia conflict. Erick Erickson, a viciously anti-gay Christian commentator, has long supported the Georgia legislation in the name of religious rights.* But on Thursday, his wording suddenly shifted: Now the Georgia bill was about protecting Christians’ rights. This unsubtle revision may be due to the fact that Jacobs, the sponsor of the anti-discrimination amendment, is Jewish. In a vitriolic blog post following the vote, Erickson slammed Jacobs as “the man who wants to deny protection to Christian businesses.” Not religious businesses—Christian ones.

You’d have to be deaf not to hear that dog whistle, and you’d have to be blind not to see the desperation in Erickson and co.’s maneuvering. On Wednesday, I noted that millions of devout believers are standing up to defend their faith against those who seek to co-opt it for discriminatory purposes. Included among these millions are myriad religious groups and faith leaders—including the esteemed Anti-Defamation League—who are insulted by the notion that bigotry is a component of religious liberty. Champions of intolerance are losing, and losing badly. For a while, they found a way to shroud their goals in duplicity. Now the guise has collapsed—and everyone, even Georgia Republicans, can see the glaring animus driving this callous campaign. 

* Correction, March 30, 2015: This post originally misspelled Erick Erickson's first name.

March 26 2015 1:03 PM

Devout Christians Protest Indiana’s New Anti-Gay Law. We Need More Of This. 

Despite their frequent claims to the contrary, anti-gay Christians do not hold a monopoly on the interpretation of their faith. Although conservatives have strived to depict marriage equality as a grave threat to religious liberty, millions of devout Christians across every denomination enthusiastically support equal dignity for gay people. The future of gay rights in America is most likely in these Christians’ hands. Atheists, agonistics, and Reform Jews already overwhelmingly support full LGBTQ equality. At this point, only tolerant Christians can push back against the absurd and insulting idea that the only valid reading of the Bible is an anti-gay one.

Earlier this month, the Presbyterian Church demonstrated that this pushback is already in full swing by voting to recognize same-sex marriage in order to honor “the love of gays and lesbian couples.” Now another mainline Protestant denomination has taken a firm stance in favor of gay equality. On Wednesday, the Disciples of Christ asked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to veto a new bill legalizing anti-gay discrimination, threatening to move their 2017 General Assembly to another state if the bill became law. Pence signed the legislation on Thursday morning in a closed-door ceremony. But the Disciples have not backed down, and—if they follow through on their promise—will deprive the state of nearly $6 million in revenue.

March 26 2015 11:44 AM

When Deciding Gay Marriage, SCOTUS Should Listen to John Roberts’ Confirmation Hearing

With the Supreme Court about to take up the momentous question of whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry in Obergefell v. Hodges, dozens of briefs have been filed with the court explaining why it does. The excellent arguments made in those briefs should resonate with all but the most closed-minded on the issue of marriage equality. And among those arguments, one in particular should resonate with Chief Justice John Roberts—that the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia is clear that the laws challenged inObergefell infringe on the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry. In a perhaps long-forgotten portion of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2005, Roberts (then a judge on the D.C. Circuit) engaged in an interesting discussion of Loving with then-Sen. Joe Biden, a member of the committee.


In Loving, the court struck down the laws of the 16 states that still prohibited interracial couples from marrying. The court’s ruling had two independent bases in the 14th Amendment: that the laws were racially discriminatory in violation of the equal protection clause and that they denied interracial couples the fundamental right to marry, impermissibly infringing on the liberty interest protected by the due process clause. As a general matter, the Supreme Court has explained elsewhere that “the Due Process Clause specially protects those fundamental rights and liberties which are, objectively, ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’ ”

March 25 2015 11:57 AM

Looking for a Final Chapter: HBO Cancels Looking

Looking aired its second season finale Sunday night, and today we learned that the show will not be back for a third. But that doesn’t mean viewers will be left wondering if Patrick, Agustín, Dom, and co. ever found love and self-actualization. Fortunately for everyone who loves closure, their stories will be wrapped up in a special episode.

According to a statement from HBO:

After two years of following Patrick and his tight-knit group of friends as they explored San Francisco in search of love and lasting relationships, HBO will present the final chapter of their journey as a special.  We look forward to sharing this adventure with the shows loyal fans.

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

March 25 2015 11:26 AM

Ask a Homo: Boyfriend in the Closet

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, an openly gay man seeks advice on how best to support his closeted boyfriend.

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.


Other Questions Asked of Homos:

March 24 2015 3:33 PM

The Library Is Open for the Philosopher-Queen 

As a master drag queen and host of the popular drag competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul makes his living working on a stage. So it was striking to see Mother Ru begin her interview last Friday at the New York Public Library—part of the institution’s excellent LIVE from the NYPL series—on a note of awkwardness. Dressed in a fetching boy drag ensemble, Ru took the stage after being introduced by Paul Holdengräber, series host and interviewer for the evening, to wild applause from a significantly gay audience who had been primed for her arrival by tracks from Britney Spears and Ru herself. The library, as the great drag saying referring to the art of playful insult called reading goes, was very much open.

As the clapping faded, however, it quickly became apparent that Ru was not only at little unsure of how to handle this particular spotlight, but was also a fascinatingly weird match for Holdengräber, a man of a rather more staid and highly literary caste. Indeed, the host began by posing an Oscar Wilde quote about self-styling and mimicry to Ru, as if to somehow get a handle on her gayness by invoking one of the relatively few queer writers taken seriously outside “the family.” Ru expressed appreciation for the gesture but seemed somewhat confused by the formality of it all. And to be fair to Holdengräber—who was clearly doing his best, having apparently never met a queen before—Ru himself seemed unable to take the “luminary interview” format seriously, immediately launching into a meta-discussion on the constructedness of the scenario. “It’s hard to get intimate with an audience,” Ru confessed, adding later, “I’ll make it seem like I’m being very candid and very open.”

March 24 2015 2:00 PM

Personal Anecdotes Shouldn’t Dictate Policy on Same-Sex Marriage

Here we go again. In what appears to be a mini-meme, another child of a same-sex couple has “come out” about her experience and is trying to turn her pain into policy. (A quartet of these folks, who are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold same-sex marriage bans, were profiled by Zack Ford at ThinkProgress last month.) Now, in a piece for the FederalistHeather Barwick argues that same-sex marriage should be prohibited. While no one’s story should be discounted, her arguments aren’t coherent. No one should be beguiled into thinking otherwise.

Barwick was the child of a mother and a father, but both parents knew that her mom was a lesbian, so—surprise!—the relationship didn’t last. After the couple split, dad rarely came around. “He wasn’t a great guy,” Barwick says. Her mom ended up in a long-term relationship with another woman, and, it seems, Barwick was raised “surrounded by women who said they didn’t need or want a man.”