Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Aug. 28 2015 1:45 PM

Texas’ Gay-Bashing Attorney General Is in a Stunning Amount of Legal Trouble

Days after the Supreme Court brought marriage equality to America in Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a formal opinion of dubious accuracy encouraging anti-gay clerks to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Paxton also noted that “numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs” if any gay couples sued to vindicate their rights. And in a Facebook post, Paxton criticized Obergefell as “a dilution of marriage” and a “lawless” ruling.

Encouraging public employees to disobey a binding Supreme Court decision isn’t really what attorneys general are supposed to do. But it turns out Ken Paxton is no ordinary attorney general. Soon after his Obergefell tantrum, Paxton was indicted on felony security fraud charges. According to the indictment, Paxton told friends to buy shares in Servergy, pitching it as a groovy company he was psyched to invest in. But as it turns out, Paxton wasn’t acting out of the goodness of his heart: He was allegedly making secret commissions on the transactions he secured. (Paxton had already admitted to acting as a securities broker without registering with the state, paying a $1,000 fine for the misdeed.)

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Aug. 28 2015 10:30 AM

The Georgia GOP Is in a Civil War Over Anti-Gay “Religious Liberty” Bill

I am a big fan of Sen. Josh McKoon, the rabidly anti-gay Georgia Republican legislator who sponsored a failed “religious liberty” bill last spring. Like most conservatives, McKoon initially peddled the laughable line that his bill wasn’t intended to undercut LGBT rights. But when a moderate Republican called his bluff, proposing a simple amendment to clarify that the bill did not legalize discrimination, McKoon let the façade drop. “That amendment,” he fumed, “would completely undercut the purpose of the bill.” With those words, McKoon finally admitted what so many would notThe whole point of “religious liberty” bills is to nullify LGBT nondiscrimination measures.

Since then, the Georgia GOP has split wide open over McKoon’s bill. Religious conservatives in the party vehemently support it; business-minded moderates, who fear an Indiana-style backlash, vigorously oppose it. (The latter camp is led by Jewish Rep. Mike Jacobs and supported by the Anti-Defamation League, which has led to some disturbing dog whistles.) Now McKoon is lining up his soldiers for the next charge—and, in doing so, dropping all pretexts about the true intentions of his bill. In a remarkable speech, McKoon pilloried companies like Delta, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot, which are headquartered in Georgia andspoke out against the bill. 

Aug. 28 2015 9:18 AM

Do the New APA Guidelines for Transgender-Affirmative Care Go Far Enough? 

On Aug. 6, the American Psychological Association announced 16 basic guidelines for transgender-affirmative psychological care. The culmination of three years of work, they offer an introduction for clinicians seeking to provide sensitive care for transgender and gender-nonconforming clients. These guidelines do not replace more specific assessment and treatment standards established by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Rather, the guidelines give a clear explanation of terms and concepts, recommendations for supportive therapy and research, and some acknowledgement of the violence, abuse, and stress many transgender and gender-nonconforming people face. The guidelines are impressive for their breadth and integration of research, but it is unclear what they will actually do to improve experiences for transgender people currently seeking support and treatment. As the APA authors put it, the guidelines are “aspirational.” What, if anything, will—or can—they accomplish?

The issues couldn’t be more urgent. This year, at least 17 transgender women have been murdered in the United States, 15 of them transgender women of color. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a study of more than 6,000 transgender people, revealed critically high rates of family rejection, bullying at school or work, assaults by police officers, housing discrimination and homelessness, and refusals by doctors and other health care providers to provide treatment. Forty-one percent of participants said they had attempted suicide—at least twice the rate for cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, and nearly 10 times the rate in the general population. The rates were highest for transgender people of color, ranging from 39 percent to 56 percent. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other clinical providers work with transgender people in clinics, hospitals, schools, universities, shelters, and prisons. They can provide life-affirming recognition or devastating rejection.

Aug. 27 2015 11:05 AM

Ask a Homo: I Oppose Gay Marriage. Why Do Gay People Call Me a Homophobe?

Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the queers of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other conundrums. Today, a correspondent wants to know why gay people consider him a homophobe just because he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

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:

Aug. 26 2015 6:12 PM

6th Circuit Orders Anti-Gay Clerk to Begin Issuing Marriage Licenses Immediately

On Wednesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stay a lower court’s decision ordering Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, to resume granting marriage licenses. Davis—a taxpayer-funded public servant—refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects gay people’s right to wed in Obergefell v. Hodges. She then declared that she would refuse to grant marriage licenses to any couple, to avoid giving them to same-sex couples. Several same-sex couples sued, but Davis insisted that the state was violating her rights to free speech and free exercise of religion by forcing her to grant licenses to gay people. A federal district judge ruled against her but put his decision on hold until the 6th Circuit weighed in.

Now the 6th Circuit has come out emphatically against Davis. To justify keeping the district court’s ruling on hold, Davis would have to prove that she has “a strong likelihood of success on the merits.” But, the court held, “in light of the binding holding of Obergefell, it cannot be defensibly argued” that Davis “may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court. There is thus little or no likelihood” that Davis “in her official capacity will prevail on appeal.”


To justify its holding, the court cited a string of cases that held that “where a public employee’s speech is made pursuant to his duties, ‘the relevant speaker [is] the government entity, not the individual.’ ” That’s exactly right, of course: By taking a job with the government, Davis became a public employee required to serve the whole public. She does not maintain an individual right to refuse to serve some people simply because of her own religious beliefs. Davis isn’t arguing for a right to free speech. She’s demanding that the state finance her own discrimination. And under the U.S. Constitution, that is a losing argument. 

Update: Aug. 27, 2015: Despite the 6th Court’s ruling, on Thursday Kim Davis once again refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Davis' lawyer told the Lexington Herald-Leader that she will petition the Supreme Court to intervene.

Aug. 26 2015 1:50 PM

No, Duke Freshman, Fun Home Is Not Pornographic

Here’s an experience I’m not especially proud of: When I was in middle school, my peers and I would page through newly assigned class texts in search of the naughty bits. We thrilled at the briefest episodes, delighting in literal ripped bodices and passing encounters. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the novels that surrounded those scenes. But I do remember the pleasure we took in lingering over them, the joy we found in the mere implication of eroticism.

Those books weren’t really “dirty.” In fact, they weren’t even sexy unless you were a sex-starved pre-teen. It took a collective feat of will to make those snippets exciting, a conscious effort to ignore the tens of thousands of less stimulating words that surrounded them. In pursuit of pleasure we became close, if ungenerous, readers.

I’ve been reminded of those dark days for the first time in years this week as I followed the misadventures of an older group of students. In a widely reported story, a small number of incoming Duke undergraduates announced that they wouldn’t be reading Alison Bechdel’s memoir Fun Home, which had been recommended (but not required) as common summer reading.  They objected to the book on moral grounds, complaining that its sexual imagery—and, implicitly, its queer themes—clashed with their religious sensibilities.

Aug. 26 2015 12:40 PM

We Should All Be Outraged by the RentBoy.com Bust

Because I view the legalization of sex work as a vital human rights issue, I was irritated to see on Tuesday that the federal government had raided and shut down RentBoy.com, a male escort service. The Department of Homeland Security and the NYPD justified the bust by alleging that RentBoy was an “Internet brothel” that “made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution.” That may be true. But for those of us who hold less than puritanical views on sex work, it’s hardly a principled justification for such a dramatic takedown.

The arguments against legalizing prostitution tend to be specious, moralistic, condescending, and inane. Opponents of legal prostitution understand that they can no longer pitch their argument in terms of protecting women from their own bad decisions without sounding paternalistic. So instead, they argue that prostitution must be criminalized to protect women from exploitation by others—namely, pimps and traffickers.

Aug. 26 2015 10:52 AM

A Lesbian Officer Maligned in Ted Cruz’s Religious Liberty Ad Tells Her Side of the Story 

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is centering his campaign around support for anti-gay “religious liberty,” claiming that Christians forced to tolerate gay people face religious persecution. On Sunday, Cruz released a video profiling “victims” of LGBT nondiscrimination measures. It was all nonsense, but one segment was particularly inaccurate: Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk alleged that he was “fired” by his lesbian commanding officer for “expressing a traditional view of marriage.”

That commanding officer was Lt. Col. Liz Valenzuela, a married mother of two who served two tours of duty in Iraq. I spoke to her on Tuesday about the conflict with Monk, her experiences with homophobia, and the Cruz video.

Aug. 25 2015 2:59 PM

Marine Who Allegedly Killed Trans Woman Claims He Was Defending His Honor

Only Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton knows exactly what happened in the hotel room where Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old trans Filipina, was found dead. Pemberton, a 20-year-old Marine, says he was unaware that Laude was trans when he accompanied her to a motel room. He claims that, upon discovering her penis, the two engaged in an altercation. He then choked her until she stopped moving and left the room, convinced she was unconscious but alive. Soon after, she was found dead, apparently strangled and drowned in the toilet bowl.

Pemberton acknowledges that he put Laude in an arm lock until she stopped moving. But he denies that he killed her. Prosecutors say Pemberton told a friend, “I think I killed a he/she.” Pemberton says he acted to subdue Laude then fled out of fear that her friends might come to the room and attack him. The judge can decide who’s telling the truth. (Jury trials are not available in the Philippines.)   


But whether or not Pemberton is found guilty, his trial has already proved deeply troubling. Pemberton testified that he felt like Laude had “raped” him. He was “repulsed” and “felt violated and angry.” His attorney said Laude acted to defend his honor after discovering Laude had a penis. She argues that Pemberton was “a victim of the fraud committed by a sex worker”—Laude—and lashed out upon discovering that he’d been “scammed.” (Laude’s family denies that she was a sex worker.)

This argument rests on the flawed premise that trans people have an affirmative duty to disclose their genital status to any potential sex partners. But what’s even more disturbing about it is that it is, at bottom, a trans panic defense. Under this strategy, the killer of a trans person can raise three rationalizations for committing murder. First, he can claim that the sexual advance of his victim put him in a state of temporary insanity, leading him to kill. Second, he can claim his victim’s sexual advance was a provocation that partly justified her murder. Third, he can claim that his victim’s gender identity raises the risk that she might somehow cause him serious bodily harm. (The gay panic defense is nearly identical—just swap gender identity with sexual orientation—and equally nonsensical.)

These laughable excuses are sometimes well-received by juries. In the United States, the trans panic defense helped to mitigate the punishment of a high-schooler who shot a trans classmate, execution-style, in front of his entire class. It also reduced the sentence of a man who bludgeoned a trans woman to death with a fire extinguisher. The gay panic defense has a similarly illustrious history: Most notably, it was successfully deployed in a case where a man decapitated, dismembered, and immolated an openly gay man. (The police investigator on the case said that “people who live this lifestyle need to be aware that this will happen.”) 

The American Bar Association has issued a resolution calling for the abolition of the gay and trans panic defenses—although thus far, only California has heeded its call. For now, these absurd, unprincipled defenses remain available to most attorneys in the United States. And in the Philippines, Pemberton is absolutely free to deploy the trans panic defense to mitigate the severity of his crime. If he can convince the judge that he grew violent because Laude deceived him, his prison sentence could be reduced by up to 28 years. That would send a clear message to trans victims of violence across the Philippines: You had it coming.

Aug. 25 2015 9:00 AM

The Duke Freshmen Refusing to Read Fun Home Are the Ones Who Need It Most

When Duke University chose to have its incoming first-year undergraduates read Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home, the selection committee knew they were courting controversy. Bechdel’s book explores questions of sexual identity with unusual frankness and clarity, and it does so in a long-maligned medium. Acknowledging that these themes trouble some, Simon Partner, a professor of history who had contributed to the choice, suggested toDuke Today that the book’s very complexities helped make it worth reading. “I think this [controversial material], in turn, will stimulate interesting and useful discussion about what it means as a young adult, to take a position on a controversial topic,” Partner told the paper in April.

Now, some students have taken a very public stand on Fun Home, but they’ve done so by refusing to engage with the book in the first place. The Duke Chronicle reports that a freshman named Brian Grasso “posted in the Class of 2019 Facebook page [on] July 26 that he would not read the book ‘because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality,’ igniting conversation among students.” In the ensuing conversations, some students reportedly agreed with Grasso, claiming that they objected to the book and its content on moral grounds.