Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Feb. 5 2016 1:53 PM

Why Berlin Is Opening a Shelter for LGBTQ Refugees

Berlin’s first center for queer refugees will open next month, helping 120 of the German capital’s estimated 3,500 LGBTQ asylum seekers, mostly gay men and transgender people, to resettle outside the shelter system, where they are vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.

The problems being experienced by LGBTQ refugees first came to the attention of Schwulenberatung Berlin—a counseling center for LGBTQ people,including queer refugees, which is based in the city’s Charlottenburg neighborhood—18 months ago. Under normal circumstances, refugees who claim asylum in Germany would be able to move into private accommodation three months after entering a government-run shelter. But in 2015, more than 1 million refugees entered Germany, overwhelming Berlin’s State Office for Health and Social Affairs (Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales, or LaGeSo), which is responsible for the welfare and resettlement of asylum seekers. Berlin is currently home to 150 shelters; sports halls and sites not fit for purpose, such as Tempelhof Airport, have been converted into refugee camps. The volume of applications means asylum requests are being processed more slowly than usual or become lost in the system, and refugees aren’t being resettled in private housing as quickly.


Feb. 5 2016 9:10 AM

Teaching LGBT Issues in the New Era of Medical Education

In October of 2015, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services—the agency responsible for covering a third of the U.S. population and dictating U.S. health care practices—issued a mandate requiring that all electronic health records include specific fields about gender identity and sexual orientation. This unprecedented move means that virtually all future medical records must address the spectrum of sexual and gender issues. With this decision, the government has guaranteed that physicians will have to ask all their patients about their gender identity and sexual orientation during medical visits.

The mandate comes as a response to the frequent omission of these issues and the resultant lower-quality medical care received by LGBT patients—a 2010 National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 7,000 transgender and gender non-conforming people revealed that only 28 percent of respondents were out to their medical providers and 50 percent said they had to teach their providers about transgender care. A Lambda Legal survey performed the same year uncovered that 56 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents and 70 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents had experienced barriers to health care, including being denied care and experiencing physical or linguistic abuse.


Feb. 2 2016 1:46 PM

Drag Race Is Back—But Is That Definitely a Good Thing?

While responsible adults were waiting for the results of Monday’s Iowa presidential caucuses, some of us were distracted by late-breaking news of another race—RuPaul’s Drag Race. The eighth season of the wildly popular drag reality competition show isn’t set to begin on Logo until March 7, but as in years past, Ru deigned to revel her cast of queens a few weeks before the premiere. It was an important debut: Many fans (including this one) were largely disappointed by last season, which seemed to trade the delightfully rough edges of typical bar drag for a kind of overly polished, stylized simulacrum that ultimately left viewers feeling cold. (That I had to look up the winner, Violet Chachki, shows how little of an impression the season left.) After viewing the season trailer and individual queen introduction videos, I’m cautiously optimistic—while casting is only part of the equation of a successful season, it’s a big part, and this cohort has promise.

Feb. 2 2016 11:22 AM

I Want to Believe ... That The X-Files Didn’t Just Pull the Trans Prostitute Trope

Recently resurrected fan favorite The X-Files sent itself a love letter this week in the form of “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the third episode of the 10th season we waited 14 years to see. The show takes great joy in this episode, parodically lambasting many of its ’90s-era monster-of-the-week outings.

In those occasional money-saving trips into the bush, Mulder and Scully would wave their flashlights around wildly as they ran through the forest, fleeing or chasing dangerous creatures. The monster, typically represented by overly filtered shaky-cam footage, would pursue our heroes through a suspiciously Vancouver-esque representation of upstate Somewhere U.S.A., poorly disguised by motion blur, low frame rate, and limited color. You see, some monsters see only in red and orange, whereas others are limited to just greens or blues. Many monsters would make up for their poor-quality vision by breathing loudly or growling.

Fast-forward to 2016, and, unfortunately, in “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster, the only monster was the episode itself.

Feb. 1 2016 2:53 PM

Utah Legislator Proposes Anti-Gay Bill That Would Rob Foster Children of Potential Parents

Last November, Utah Judge Scott Johansen ordered April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce’s foster daughter removed from their home and placed with a heterosexual couple. Hoagland and Peirce were eminently qualified, but Johansen decided that the child would do better with straight parents—despitescores of studies debunking his theory. The decision was eventually reversed, an inevitability given that the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision effectively wiped out anti-gay adoption laws. But now Utah Republican Rep. Kraig Powell would like to restore those old rules, by making it official state policy to favor heterosexual adopters over same-sex ones.

Powell’s bill would target any same-sex couple that hoped to adopt or foster a child from the state foster care system, which currently holds about 2,700 kids. Since Obergefell v. Hodges, Utah has stopped considering sexual orientation when placing children with foster parents. Should Powell’s bill pass, that would change: Judges and agencies would be required to “grant preference to rewarding custody” to straight parents over gay ones. The state could still permit gay couples to foster and adopt, but only those children whom no straight couples wanted. Powell argues that the bill is necessary to ensure that children are exposed to both male and female role models—although the gender diversity theory against same-sex adoption has been empirically debunked time and time again.

Feb. 1 2016 1:30 PM

Ali Forney Center Seeks to Buy “Harlem Hate Church”

For the queer Internet, the Atlah World Missionary Church has been something of a dark joke since it first made headlines in 2014 for its hateful street-facing sign, which often features Christian messages like “Jesus Would Stone the Homos.” But for residents of Harlem like me, the church and its congregation—led by the Right Rev. James D. Manning—has felt more like an immediate threat. Just recently, I was walking up Malcolm X Boulevard with a friend, and while he paused to get a photo of the crazy residing at 123rd St., I found myself almost unconsciously hurrying a half-block ahead for fear of drawing the wrong kind of attention. Religious groups are allowed their theology, of course, but when they threaten actual violence, that’s something the surrounding community does not need.

Lucky for us, it appears the “hate church” is not long for this sinful world. Last week, DNAinfo revealed that the church owes more than $1 million to various creditors, and a state judge has ordered that the property be sold at a public foreclosure auction on Feb. 24. Manning is protesting the nine federal tax liens and unpaid utility bills, saying the church is exempt from such concerns—but the courts disagree. Barring some legal stop-gap, Atlah will come to an end later this month.


But the good news doesn’t end there. The Ali Forney Center, a wonderful nonprofit dedicated to fighting LGBTQ youth homelessness, has mounted a fundraising campaign with the goal of buying the church and converting it into housing and a base for a youth-run catering business. This expansion would enhance AFC’s presence in Harlem, which currently comprises a nearby drop-in center and housing for 24 local clients. Carl Siciliano, the founder and executive director of the AFC, characterized the Atlah sale as a golden opportunity for social justice in a statement from the organization:

The biggest reason our youths are driven from their homes is because of homophobic and transphobic religious beliefs of their parents. Because of this, it has been horrifying for us to have our youths exposed to Manning's messages inciting hatred and violence against our community. It has meant the world to us that so many Harlem residents have stood up to support our young people, and are now urging us to provide urgently needed care at the site of so much hatred. If we are able to obtain the space it would truly be a triumph of love over hatred.

The campaign, which only began over the weekend, had raised half of its $200,000 goal at the time of writing. According to AFC, this initial amount will be used “to obtain additional support from local government, major donors and foundations.” And of course, if for whatever reason the planned purchase cannot be completed, the organization has pledged to “increase its housing and vocational services for homeless LGBT youth in another site.”

If you’re into the beauty of a little poetic justice, you can donate to the effort over at the AFC’s site

Feb. 1 2016 10:42 AM

Inspired by the U.S. and Ireland, Italian LGBTQ Activists Are Focusing on Gay Unions

Gay rights protests in Italy? If you remember recent stories about the backward state of LGBTQ rights in Italy—perhaps occasioned by Guido Barilla’s disparaging comments about gay families or Dolce & Gabbana’s equally puzzling comments about gay children—the photographs of hundreds of thousands of people protesting for gay rights across Italy may seem surprising. But since the Barilla boycott in 2013, Italian LGBTQ activists have slowly learned to be more vocal in challenging normalized homophobia. Inspired by strategies used by LGBTQ groups in the United States, they are in the process of dismantling Western Europe’s last bastion of “traditional marriage.”

A law providing for civil unions, which would represent the first recognition of gay couples in Italian history, is due to come to a vote in the next few weeks. Last Saturday, a protest known as #wakeupItaly drew thousands of people in more than 100 cities in Italy and abroad. The organizers asked participants to bring alarm clocks to stress that it’s time for equality and that Italy needs to catch up to bring gay rights in line with what has already been enacted in other Western countries.

Feb. 1 2016 8:05 AM

Beyond Stonewall: How Gay History Looks Different From Chicago

In 1970, gay activists in Chicago achieved a surprising victory. They successfully pressured the owners of the city’s biggest gay bars to drop their policy of throwing out any same-sex couple that danced together. And they couldn’t have done it without a little help from the Black Muslims—or at least their insurance agent.

For one night, the activists urged their fellow citizens, just boycott the gay bars. “Come to the Liberation Dance at the Coliseum and see what it’s like to do your thing in public,” read the flyers. It was a bold strategy, but there was a problem: The venue required an insurance policy, and every insurance agent the organizers approached said the risk was too great that the police would raid the dance, cart the attendees off to jail, and levy fines. Only on the day before the dance did the activists find a broker who’d sell them a policy—a black man whose company had insured the Nation of Islam’s annual convention at the same venue several weeks earlier.

In my work as an historian of gay American life, nothing I had read about gay liberation prepared me for this story. It made so little sense. After all, in those days the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad, was known for propagating strictly defined roles for men and women—the very roles that gay liberationists were committed to defying.

But as I dig further, I realized the two groups were linked by more than an insurance agent. They also found themselves depending on the same local community of radical attorneys because they shared a common enemy: the police. The Liberation Dance took place just five months after the police assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, leaders of the Black Panther Party of Illinois—an incident that unleashed a passionate response among Chicagoans of all races who recognized that police harassment and infiltration of radical groups simply had to be resisted. The gay liberationists’ young attorney, Renee Hanover, who had once been kicked out of law school in 1964 for being in a lesbian relationship, had defended members of the Blackstone Rangers and other militant black power activists against trumped-up criminal charges. And, of course, the Black Muslims knew a thing or two about how to deal with the police.

The story of how gay Chicagoans got their dance offers a vision of gay history—of distinct radical groups forging improbable, often messy alliances to achieve limited, but tangible, progress—that doesn’t fit the “first brick” heroic mythology we’re used to. But it’s far more in line with the often stunning reality of gay political organizing and empowerment in this country. If we want a comprehensive account of that history, these are the kinds of stories we need to know—so why do they remain so unfamiliar, even to a professional historian like me?

Jan. 29 2016 12:22 PM

Planned Parenthood Is Helping Transgender Patients Access Hormone Therapy

For transgender Americans, finding safe, affordable, and nonjudgmental medical treatment can be a struggle. Hormone therapy, which typically consists of testosterone (for patients seeking to become more masculine) or estrogen plus androgen blockers (for patients seeking a feminizing effect), is among the most commonly used treatments in medical transition. Across much of the country, it can be difficult to find doctors who are willing to prescribe the drugs required for hormone replacement therapy, and medical practitioners who choose not to prescribe hormones to these patients may be ignorant or insensitive to patients who come in to request them. Fortunately, a large national organization with a name most people are already familiar with has stepped up to bridge the gap in access to treatment for transgender patients. Planned Parenthood affiliates are increasingly offering HRT as one of the many vital health care services they offer to underserved communities.

Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of communications told me via email that at least 26 Planned Parenthood locations are currently offering testosterone or estrogen therapy to transgender patients and that the number of affiliates offering these services is growing. 

Jan. 29 2016 12:12 PM

The Prancing Elites Return: Season 2 Moves Beyond the Basics

Last week, the Prancing Elites—a small-town queer dance team with a big national following—launched the second season of their binge-worthy Oxygen network reality series, The Prancing Elites Project. In the midst of a whirlwind press tour, the Elites joined me at Oxygen’s New York offices to talk about what’s ahead: how they’re handling their newfound roles as public figures and mentors, what fans can expect this year, and what the world should know about Elite life.

In case you’re late to the game like I was, Prancing Elites follows a team of five Alabaman dancers—Adrian Clemons, Kareem Davis, Timothy Smith, Jerel Maddox, Kentrell Collins—as they struggle to find a place for themselves. The Elites should be famous simply for their skills in J-Sette (a hybrid majorette/hip-hop dance style)—but their identities have had a way of upstaging their talents. Black, gay, and gender non-conforming, the group faces an uphill battle against manifold discrimination. In season one, we see them repeatedly rejected from venues with the curt explanation that families and children will be present. They are banned from parades, and in a particularly poignant scene, reduced to walking alongside a route in silent protest. And so we come to know the Elites—both in the show and in the press around it—not so much as individual J-Setters, but as a band of outsiders.

But where season one offers a broad-strokes portrait of the Elites’ struggle with the outside world, season two is poised to give a more in-depth look at the team’s personal experiences—their struggles as artists, their conflicts with family, friends, and one another. “Last season you were only able to get an introduction and a little glimpse of who the Prancing Elites are as a team,” Jerrel Maddox told me. “Now you’ll be able to see who we are as individuals.” This more intimate perspective is made possible in part by the show’s longer run time. Oxygen high-kicked its episode length to a full hour, probably because last season was the network's highest-rated new series of 2015.