Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

May 25 2017 3:37 PM

The Architect of Marriage Equality on Why the Freedom to Marry Is Going Global

On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that laws prohibiting marriage between two people of the same sex violate constitutional guarantees of equality. The court ordered parliament to amend the civil code within two years to comply with its decision. Once it does, Taiwan will become the first jurisdiction in Asia to allow same-sex marriages.

The triumph in Taiwan was especially thrilling for Evan Wolfson, the architect of marriage equality in the United States. After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Wolfson closed up his campaign, Freedom to Marry, and became an ambassador for marriage equality. Wolfson has traveled the globe promoting LGBTQ rights and working with local activists to change both laws and public opinion. On Thursday, I spoke with him about the Taiwanese ruling and the path forward for international marriage equality. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.

Mark Joseph Stern: What’s your reaction to the ruling?

Evan Wolfson: I’m exuberant. For the last several years, as I’ve been crisscrossing the world sharing the lessons from our campaign, one of my lines has been, “We now had the freedom to marry in 22 countries and six continents—and the continent we don’t have is not Antarctica.” Now we have our first win in Asia and the freedom to marry on all seven continents.


May 24 2017 4:38 PM

For Many Queer Adults, Parenting Still Isn’t Part of the Picture

It’s 2017. Why aren’t members of the LGBTQ community having kids in greater numbers? I mean, our neighborhood is crawling with gay and lesbian couples, yet only one other couple besides ourselves are raising children. So much for the "gay-by boom" that some were expecting in the wake of visibility and marriage equality.

Though the numbers of gay men, bi people, and (more so) lesbians raising children has climbed in recent years, it continues to lag well behind the rates for straight couples. For this month’s column, I spoke to a number of gay men and lesbians whose lives don’t include raising children. I wanted to know how they’d come to their decision, and whether they thought they might one day be open to changing their minds. What does it mean to be LGBTQ, without kids, today? And what might it mean further into the future?

May 24 2017 12:27 PM

A Landmark Victory for Trans Rights—Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

The Supreme Court’s historic decision establishing marriage equality for same-sex couples nationwide marked a major shift in the recognition of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as a central part of the fabric of American society. Transgender people, however, continue to face barriers to full equality. One such barrier has been much discussed: State laws and school board policies—like the one adopted by a school board in Virginia against Gavin Grimm—that bar transgender people from using school restrooms.

Another barrier is, ironically, the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with stigmatized medical conditions—unless that stigmatized medical condition is “gender identity disorder” (GID). The story of how the ADA’s GID exclusion came to be, and why one federal court says it must now end, tells us much about the next civil rights frontier: Transgender equality.

In 1989, on the floor of the Senate, Republicans William Armstrong and Jesse Helms urged their colleagues to vote against the ADA because it could protect what they characterized as “immoral” medical conditions. “If this were a bill involving people in a wheelchair or those who have been injured in the war, that is one thing,” Helms quipped, using language we might now expect from President Donald Trump or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “but how in the world did you get to the place that you did not even [ex]clude transvestites” and people “engaged in activities that most Americans find abhorrent”? For Helms, the ADA flew in the face of an employer’s right to set up “moral standards” for his business—the right to ask his employees, “Are you HIV positive? Are you this or that?”

May 19 2017 12:38 PM

Meet 9MONSTERS, the Gay App Where Grindr Meets Tamagotchi

One of the more charming elements of gay male culture is our tradition of assigning ourselves certain labels based on body type and sexual proclivities. I’m talking about groupings like pups, otters, silver foxes, and bears. (Google if you’re curious!) Jokingly, I once told a friend that I was a wolf, since I had always been drawn to the friendly/sexy energy of the bear scene but didn’t see myself as one physically—polar, muscled, or otherwise. I didn’t feel like a cub, otter, chub, or chaser either. Truth was, I knew I could pass for at least one of these common categories, but I was reluctant to conform. I made the wolf thing up instead because they’re hairy, too, and I just liked the animal. As it turned out, it took traveling all the way to Tokyo to find out that in my wolf identity, I was not alone.

According to 9MONSTERS, a gay hook-up app popular mainly in South East Asia, I was definitely a wolf—specially a Muscle Wolf Level 11, by the time I left Japan after about a two month stay. I first heard about 9MONSTERS from a guy I met in Tokyo’s gay district, Shinjuku Ni-Chome. He described it as a game, though his explanation was convoluted. Maybe I’d had too many drinks, but I didn't get it; eventually, he told me to just give the app a try.

May 18 2017 1:50 PM

Why Republican Governors Keep Signing LGBTQ “Conversion Therapy” Bans

On Wednesday, Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill prohibiting mental health professionals in the state from attempting to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The Nevada measure comes on the heels of a similar New Mexico ban approved by Republican Gov. Susanna Martinez. Nevada and New Mexico join California, Vermont, Oregon, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and the District of Columbia in outlawing the widely discredited practice of LGBTQ “conversion therapy” for minors.

May 17 2017 3:32 PM

I Faced Homophobia in Med School. Not All Students Have It Better Today.

When the surgeon called me a faggot, how was he to know the medical student in the operating room with him at the time was one of my best friends?

My relations with the surgeon had gone sour the prior year, midway through my own surgery rotation as a med student. During a teaching session about the adrenal gland, he casually referred to Brazil nuts (which are around the same size as the glands) as “nigger toes.” When I reacted with shock to his comment, he expressed surprise I that would object, given that there were no black people in the class to hear him say it.

At that, I got up and walked out of the classroom.

Knowing I’d be in for a rough few weeks if I didn’t try to ease tensions, I waited around until the class was ended to speak with him again. I explained that I hadn’t meant to be insubordinate, but given the choice between an angry confrontation and leaving, the latter had seemed better. I left the conversation with the sense that I’d smoothed things over, and the remaining times I scrubbed in on cases with him seemed to pass without evident friction.


May 15 2017 12:32 PM

Why Print Shops Shouldn’t Be Forced to Make LGBTQ Pride T-Shirts

Suppose you operate a T-shirt printing shop and a customer requests a shirt with a Bible verse. When you ask which verse, the customer answers: “Leviticus 18:22: Homosexuality is a detestable sin.”

If you politely decline, are you guilty of religious discrimination?

The case is hypothetical but similar to two real-life cases: In one, a man asked a Denver baker to make a Bible-shaped cake with that paraphrased verse. In the other, an LGBTQ organization asked a Lexington, Kentucky print shop to make a rainbow-design T-shirt with the words “Lexington Pride.” Both declined, although the baker was willing to sell a Bible-shaped cake and include an icing bag so that the customer could write the verse himself.

Last week, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Lexington print shop, holding that they were not legally guilty of sexual orientation discrimination. The court was correct for the same reason the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was correct when it ruled that the Denver baker was not guilty of religious discrimination.

May 11 2017 12:25 PM

How Sodomy Became a Convenient Distraction in Britain’s Parliamentary Election

Sodomy probably wasn’t what Tim Farron, leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, thought he’d be talking about during his first week on the campaign trail. After all, when on April 18 Prime Minister Theresa May called a parliamentary election for June 8, she did so ostensibly to secure an endorsement from the people before negotiations with the European Union on Britain’s exit begin in earnest. Farron, who has sought to position the Liberal Democrats as the anti-Brexit party in contrast to the pro-Brexit Conservatives and Brexit-confused Labour, could reasonably have expected Europe would be the order of the day. Alas, sodomy.

May 10 2017 5:45 PM

Texas House Passes Bill Allowing Adoption Agencies to Turn Away Same-Sex Couples

On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives passed HB 3859, a bill that would allow state-funded adoption, foster care, and family planning agencies to impose their religious beliefs onto prospective parents, families, and vulnerable young people. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, HB 3859 would bar Texas from taking “adverse action” against any private agency that refuses to provide services to young people in their care, or to place young people with an otherwise qualified family, if doing so would conflict with the agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs”—which the bill itself does not limit or define.

The bill’s definition of “adverse action” is broad and all-encompassing. If an organization or one of its workers act on their religious beliefs, even if doing so means engaging in discrimination, the state cannot withhold state funds, redirect grant money, or take “any action that directly or indirectly adversely affects the [agency] against whom the adverse action is taken… [including] to place the person in a worse position… [or] deter a reasonable person from acting or refusing to act.” Notably, the bill does not just apply to religious organizations who provide these services—it applies to any agency that claims to hold a particular religious belief.

May 10 2017 3:07 PM

West Virginia Supreme Court Rules Anti-Gay Assaults Are Not Hate Crimes

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s hate crime law does not cover anti-gay assaults, or any crime committed on the basis of sexual orientation. Its 3–2 decision marks a setback for civil rights advocates’ efforts to persuade courts that laws prohibiting violence and discrimination on the basis of sex also protect LGBTQ people. The loss, however, is a narrow one—and the poorly reasoned majority opinion is unlikely to affect the growing consensus in the federal judiciary that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is always “because of sex.”