Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Aug. 22 2014 3:25 PM

Spoiler Special: Love Is Strange

On the Spoiler Special podcast, Slate critics discuss movies in full, spoiler-filled detail. Below, Slate film critic Dana Stevens talks with Outward’s June Thomas about Love Is Strange, the new film from director Ira Sachs starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an older gay couple facing homelessness. Can a movie about gay characters be more than a capital-G Gay Film? Can a small, quiet study of everyday moments succeed in an environment of summer blockbusters? Why has such a gentle film been rated R?

Thomas and Stevens discuss these and other questions below. You can also check out past Spoiler Specials in our archive, and you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Note: As the title indicates, each installment contains spoilers galore.

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Aug. 22 2014 8:30 AM

Love Is Strange Paints an Accurate Portrait of Anti-LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination 

It’s a story that sounds as if it were taken directly from today’s headlines. A gay couple, together for nearly 40 years, marries in front of close friends and family in a small ceremony after their state extends that freedom to same-sex couples.

This is how Love Is Strange, the new feature film from Ira Sachs opening Friday, begins. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play—wonderfully—Ben and George, who marry after sharing the better part of a lifetime together. Sadly, the couple’s post-wedding happiness is short-lived. The decision to marry the love of his life comes with a heavy price for George. He is fired from his longtime job as the choir director at a Catholic school. Though family and friends step up to help the couple through this difficult chapter, Ben and George are forced to make painful sacrifices, including living apart.

This is increasingly what workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people looks like. In July, the ACLU and a number of LGBTQ organizations made the decision to withdraw support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA, due to an unprecedented, sweeping provision allowing religiously affiliated organizations—including hospitals, universities, and schools like the one where George worked—to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The provision says that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is different—more acceptable and legitimate—than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex.

Aug. 21 2014 4:14 PM

Love Is Strange, but the Movie’s R Rating Is Stranger

Love Is Strange, a new film directed by Ira Sachs starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, will open tomorrow, and reception of the movie—which follows a longtime gay couple’s unexpected struggle with homelessness after they marry—has been highly positive. Slate’s Dana Stevens called the film a “delicate portrait of a long, loving relationship put to the test,” and the New York Times’ A.O. Scott praised Sachs for “beautifully captur[ing] the small pleasures and petty irritations [the two men] live through, and also their pride at having survived, together, for so long.”

That critics have uniformly described Love Is Strange as “small,” “delicate,” or some other variation on mild or quiet might lead you to infer something about its tone—something that stands in stark contrast to the R rating the Motion Picture Association of America has given it. 

Aug. 20 2014 2:53 PM

Armagayddon Comes to Ireland

In the United States, even opponents of gay marriage are resigning themselves to the apparent truth: Soon (perhaps as soon as next year) marriage equality will be the law of the land. But in other countries, fear of gay weddings persists. Ireland will have a referendum on the issue in 2015, and as the national debate intensifies, citizens who are worried about marriage equality will likely become ever more paranoid.

It’s that trend that Irish advocacy group LGBT Noise satirizes in their very funny new video, “Armagayddon.” The short features a “normal” couple who, in the wake of marriage equality and a homo-ized Ireland, have barricaded themselves into their home and locked their young son in a box, presumably a prophylactic against gay contamination.

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Recording a home video of their experience for future historians, the wife says: “Ireland was practically unrecognizable.” Her husband adds: “We tried to blend in … but the weddings were unbelievable! I felt completely underdressed.” Armagayddon, indeed. If nothing else, LGBT Noise’s video gives fair warning to real Irish folks who might actually view gay marriage as apocalyptic: Change is coming, and if you’re smart, you’ll have a new suit made so you can greet it properly. 

Aug. 20 2014 12:42 PM

Ask a Homo: Musical Theater and Gay Men

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. Aside from discovering a nascent love of both men and New York City in the movie version of Rent, my personal affiliation with musical theater is pretty weak. But there are plenty of gay men who truly adore Broadway. This week, we explore the history and motivations of that great gay archetype, the musical theater queen. 

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:

Aug. 19 2014 4:00 PM

The FRC Abuses Robin Williams’ Death to Support Ex-Gay Therapy

When a figure as beloved and respected as Robin Williams passes away, it’s only natural that writers scramble and stretch to find distinctive means of marking the event. Praising certain performances, recounting personal encounters, or even using the opportunity to raise awareness about issues (like depression) that challenged the deceased are all good tacks. What’s clearly inappropriate, though, is using a man’s death as a launchpad for flights of bizarre associative logic concerning your own pet cause—which is exactly what Family Research Council Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg did yesterday when he used Williams’ attendance of substance-abuse-related rehab to defend, somehow, ex-gay therapy.

Aug. 19 2014 8:30 AM

Could Overuse of Suicide Statistics Be Hurting Vulnerable Queers?

In the wake of actor Robin Williams' suicide, the Washington Post wrote about the phenomenon of social contagion and the need to take special care not to cover suicide in ways that romanticize it. Social science research, dating all the way back to the work of Emile Durkheim in the late 1800s, has shown that suicide, seemingly the most personal of choices, is influenced by cultural factors that contribute to its prevalence. One classic way this can work is through copycat suicides, where one highly publicized tragedy is followed by more deaths by those who identify with the original victim. A different sort of identification can be found when young, isolated gays and lesbians read about the increased risk of suicide for those in their exact position. In light of that, it's time to talk about the ways activists and writers casually employ suicide statistics in discussions of the LGBTQ community, and the potential harm this could be causing.

Gays, lesbians, and transgendered people (and, to a lesser extent, bisexuals), really are more likely to think about or attempt suicide than the average person. While hard data on actual suicides are difficult to come by (death certificates don't list sexual orientation), it's probable that they also commit suicide in greater numbers. Young people who are rejected by their parents or bombarded with anti-gay sentiments at home and those who are bullied at school are particularly vulnerable to depression and self-harming behaviors. The problem is real, and we have to discuss it and write about it if we want to fix it.

Too often, though, articles on all sorts of LGBTQ topics will include a line about suicides as a sort of emotional intensifier—a way to raise the stakes and make the topic feel more urgent. It's this practice—which comes from a sincere desire to communicate the urgent need for action on queer causes—that we need to take a harder look at. We need to weigh the potential good of increasing feelings of urgency in our audience against the potential harm that comes when young people read, over and over again, that they are at an elevated risk for suicide. Vulnerable people engage in copycat suicides when they identify too strongly with other suicide victims. Common sense says that this same principle would apply to vulnerable gay, lesbian, or trans youth who go looking for information about others like themselves only to find repeated mentions of how likely they are to try to end their lives.

Aug. 18 2014 12:33 PM

A Win for Gay Rights Over “Religious Liberty” in New York State

At the heart of the so-called religious liberty debate lies a very simple question: Do religious people, mainly Christians, hold a special right to defy anti-discrimination ordinances and refuse service to certain people based on their identity?

In a firm and momentous decision, the New York State Division of Human Rights has now answered that question with a resounding no. The division recently heard the case of Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy, a lesbian couple who hoped to marry at Liberty Ridge Farm, a wedding venue in Schaghticoke, New York. But Liberty Ridge’s owners, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, denied their request due to their sexual orientation.

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The Giffords later claimed that it was their “right” to refuse service to Erwin and McCarthy. But in fact, their actions were plainly illegal. New York state law bars places of public accommodation from discriminating based on sexual orientation—and the Giffords were quite honest about their reasons for turning away Erwin and McCarthy. As a result, the Giffords must pay a $10,000 fine for violating the law, plus $1,500 to both Erwin and McCarthy for “mental pain and suffering.”

What’s so important about the division’s decision, aside from the central holding, which is fair-minded and correct, is that it neatly peels away the myriad rationalizations and pretexts behind the “religious liberty” to discriminate. In an area of the law that can get soggy with abstract theories, facts matter a great deal—and the division finds plenty of them. During legal proceedings, Liberty Ridge tried to rebrand itself as a “distinctly private” establishment, a kind of members-only club open only to a select few. Not so, held the division:

[Liberty Ridge Farms] is a for profit business and directs its publicity to the general public. … LRF engages in widespread marketing to the general public through advertising at a bridal show and on the internet … LRF is encouraging members of the public to lease the use of its facilities and purchase its services. Thus, there is no exclusivity and LRF is not “distinctly private.”

This somewhat dry legalese masks a vital point. Under anti-discrimination law, when you open your business to the public, you open your business to all of the public. You don’t get to pick out certain classes of people and treat them differently, as the Giffords attempted to do. The Giffords don’t operate a church; they run a business—an LLC, in fact—and they are out to make a profit. If they don’t like following the laws that govern LLCs, they can simply forfeit their profit and establish a house of worship, or close their business to the general public.

If you think refusing to serve gay clients is merely an act of dissent, then you’ll probably be outraged by the division’s decision. If you don’t believe religious people carry some free-floating right to flout laws they dislike, however, you should cheer this ruling as a pivotal precedent. Christian business owners like the Giffords have every right to disapprove of gay people and same-sex relationships. But their religion does not entitle them to turn away gay people at the door. 

Aug. 18 2014 8:30 AM

Is Kink a Sexual Orientation?

It’s summertime, so of course the anti-sex crowd has decided to cool down with a fresh wave of sexual hysteria. The latest panic is that kinky people will lure vanilla children into our sexual hellscape through trendy pop cultural depictions of BDSM, such as Fifty Shades of Grey. This nonsense is annoying, but it’s also nothing new.

It does, however, raise a question that is often discussed in sexual subcultures but rarely mentioned in the mainstream: Is kink a sexual orientation? I think it is—and if I’m right, the pearl-clutching mobs’ concern that fictional depictions of BDSM will lure sexually normative people into our lifestyle are as absurd as the fear that Brokeback Mountain would tempt straight people into the subversive fringe lifestyle it portrays. (Shepherding, of course. What did you think I meant?)

Aug. 15 2014 11:12 AM

Dead Teen’s Organ Donation Rejected Because He Was Gay

It’s a sad fact of life that some of the greatest injustices sparked by anti-gay animus arise after death. The government seizes money that belongs to your widow. The state tries to keep your spouse off your death certificate. A pastor cancels your funeral because of your “blasphemous” lifestyle.

Here’s a new inequity to add to the list: The FDA rejects your organ donation—simply because you’re gay.

That’s what happened to A.J. Betts, a 16-year-old Iowan who committed suicide after a year and a half of ceaseless bullying on account of his orientation. Betts had always hoped to donate his organs after he died, and though some were successfully transplanted, his eyes were turned away and tossed out. Why? According to the Food and Drug Administration, a male donor who has had sex with men in the last five years “should … be ineligible” to donate some tissues, including eyes. (This policy is especially perplexing given that donors are screened for HIV before any organs are harvested.) Because Moore’s mother couldn’t prove whether Betts had had sex, his eyes were discarded.

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