Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Oct. 12 2015 5:30 PM

Latrice Royale Is Back on Logo, This Time Spreading Home Truths About Gays in Prison

Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race have fond memories Season 4 contestant Latrice Royale’s big laugh and massive charm, and many will recall the emotional revelation that she’d served time in prison. Now the fan favorite is back on the network that made her famous—both in her boy identity of Timothy Wilcots and in scenes from her autobiographical one-woman show—as the narrator and key figure in the documentaryLogo Presents: Gays in Prison, which is now available online.

Although told in the classic basic-cable style that’s more like 48 Hours than the kind of hard-hitting documentary that might appear on Showtime or HBO, director Christopher Hines makes many important points about the treatment of gay and trans individuals in the criminal justice system. Even the fluffier, early segments that focus on the specifics of life behind bars—we learn that gay inmates “are finding love on the Internet,” that many have consensual sex while locked up, and that plastic bags are often used as rudimentary condoms—are studded with serious observations about prison rape, the targeting of trans women and feminine-presenting guys, and the high rates of HIV transmission among people in prison. (I wish that Hines had used fewer clips from gay porn movies to illustrate those sections, however.)

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Oct. 12 2015 3:12 PM

A Farmer’s Powerful Advice to His Gay Son in 1959: “Don’t Sneak.”

StoryCorps—the acclaimed American oral history project associated with NPR—has made collecting, preserving, and sharing the experiences of LGBTQ Americans an explicit part of its mission for a while now under the OutLoud initiative. As my colleague June Thomas covered in an interview last year, StoryCorps founder Dave Isay has long been an advocate for the community—not least because his father, Dr. Richard Isay (who came out later in life), was central in pushing the American Psychiatric Association to stop treating homosexuality as a mental disorder. On Friday, StoryCorps OutLoud, with assistance from the It Gets Better Project, released an animated version of one of their most moving queer recollections—the story of Patrick Haggerty, a man who, as a teenager in 1950s rural Washington, began to realize he was gay, and how his dairy farmer father reacted to this emerging identity in a profound and surprising way.

Haggerty’s experience is particularly poignant in light of the celebration this past Sunday of National Coming Out Day, an annual event meant to encourage openness and inclusion around LGBTQ identities. For many queer folks, coming out represents a prime moment of self-actualization, a sort of second-birth into a fully realized expression of authentic sexuality and/or gender identity. But as much as we should celebrate the bravery it takes to come out in a still-oppressive society, it’s also worth honoring those—like Haggerty’s father—who recognize our queerness before we can own it ourselves and chose to treat us with kindness and dignity rather than hate or fear. 

Oct. 9 2015 4:35 PM

What Stonewall Got Right

Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall, a fictionalized retelling of the June, 1969 riots in New York widely credited with launching the “pride” phase of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, received blistering reviews, squeezed out barely a drop in the box-office bucket, and left town (or at least my town) virtually unnoticed. While movie critics lambasted the scattered and flat filmmaking and the sometimes trite writing with its white liberal platitudes, LGBTQ activists called out the downplaying or outright erasure of queer people of color from the narrative, largely through the focus on Danny, a fictional strapping white boy from Indiana in whose hands Emmerich places the “first brick.” With all this criticism you have to wonder, is there anything at all redeeming about the film? What, if anything, does Stonewall get right?

While the outrage is largely deserved, the movie deserves a note of praise for one element that’s been lost in the fray: The portrayal of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.. Bill McDermott, chief development officer at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and former director of development for the Stonewall Community Foundation, said he was moved by the hardships youths like Ray/Ramona, Cong, and Orphan Annie faced. (It’s worth noting that Emmerich himself said queer youth homelessness was part of why he made the film.) Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, who was a homeless youth and participated in the Stonewall Rebellion, said the movie was fairly accurate in terms of LGBTQ homeless youth being the main engine behind the movement. The portrayal throughout the movie of the abuses the young people suffered at the hands of almost everyone—parents, police, bar owners and employees, vindictive johns—made their rage palpable and gave context to the pressures that lead up to the riots.

Oct. 9 2015 12:50 PM

Ask a Homo: Dad, Pop, or Just Parents? 

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. In this episode, a queer-friendly pediatrician wants to know how to refer respectfully to same-sex parents during their first visit.

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:

Oct. 8 2015 1:40 PM

Michigan’s Defense of Its Same-Sex Marriage Ban Cost Taxpayers $1.9 Million

On Wednseday, Michigan agreed to pay a jaw-dropping $1.9 million of taxpayer money to attorneys who represented the gay plaintiffs who sued the state—successfully—to secure their right to marry and adopt. Under federal law, plaintiffs who sue the government to vindicate their civil rights and win in court are entitled to attorneys’ fees. The lead lawyer in the case, Carole Stanyar, spent four years fighting to bring down the state’s anti-gay laws—without pay. She was awarded $763,875, praising the compensation law as an effective way to “empower and encourage the vindication of civil rights.”

Every state that chose to defend its discriminatory marriage laws wound up paying out a pretty serious sum. As Al Jazeera America reported, Kentucky paid gay rights attorneys $2.1 million; Pennsylvania, $1.5 million; Wisconsin, $1.05 million; Virginia, $580,000. Several states, including Florida ($700,000), are still fighting these fees in court. And for the most part, these figures don’t factor in the money states spent on their own attorneys, who were tasked with defending blatantly unconstitutional laws. 


Many of these states have, one hopes, learned their lesson from these payouts, and will no longer fight to deprive gay people of their constitutional rights. Mississippi, however, is not so chastened. Somehow, the state still has an anti-gay adoption ban on the books, and has decided, against the odds, to defend it in court. Looks like Mississippi taxpayers aren’t quite done compensating gay rights attorneys.

Oct. 8 2015 1:28 PM

Reader, He Married Him: LGBTQ Romance’s Search for Happily-Ever-After

Mitch Tedsoe got down on one knee. “Sunshine, will you marry me?” he said, looking up at his beloved. Sam Keller couldn’t say yes fast enough. And thus began Mitch and Sam’s happily-ever-after—or “HEA” in genre shorthand.

Only a year earlier, Sam’s answer would have had no legal meaning in Iowa, the setting of romance author Heidi Cullinan’s Special Delivery. By the time Cullinan first published the novel in 2010, however, Iowa had legalized gay marriage. And so, when it came time to compose her final sentences, Cullinan could write a marriage proposal between two men. An ending that would have been purely fictional in the recent past suddenly attained the glow of real possibility.

The Supreme Court’s federal marriage equality ruling in June isn’t just changing reality for LGBTQ people across the country. It’s also changing how their experiences are reflected in romance, the billion-dollar genre that depends on a HEA. Increasing transgender visibility and a growing awareness of nonbinary gender identities and sexual orientations are also shaping what stories are told—and how they end, whether or not that includes a marriage. There’s nothing more deflating than reading—one of the most intimate, solitary of acts—and seeing nothing of yourself on the page. Losing yourself in a book requires finding at least a shred of yourself in the story. These days, more and more queer folks are doing just that.

Oct. 8 2015 8:00 AM

The Grace Jones Theory of Gender and Sexuality

It’s a well-known fact that artists often create their work in response to their life experiences—especially their upbringings. This is particularly true of Grace Jones, the iconic singer, model, muse, actress, and performance artist. Though she’s long been known for her fierce style and love of gender play, Jones grew up in an intensely repressive Pentecostal family in Jamaica. It was only when she moved to the United States that she began to test the limits—a path that would eventually lead to her breaking them down entirely. In this passage from her recently published memoir, Jones recalls her first encounter with gay culture via her brother Chris, and she offers her own view of how our categories of sexuality and gender can be as hindering as they are helpful.

Excerpted from I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones, out now from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster.

I started to go out to the gay clubs with Chris. My dad was very uncomfortable at the time with Chris being gay. It was one of the worst things for a pastor to cope with in quiet, very repressed suburbia when you wanted your children to set an example for the religious community you were building, to appear pristine and deadly straight within the church family. Pentacostal Christianity is the kind of religion where you command no respect if your own family is seen as being different, or somehow stained.

Oct. 7 2015 12:43 PM

Conservative Christianity’s Discovery of Transgender Issues Worries Trans Christians

On Monday, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors held a gathering at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, which was billed as the “first ever” evangelical conference on the subject of something they’re calling “transgender confusion.” According to someone who attended the event, the result was a one-sided succession of rants against modernity and cultural change that made little or no attempt to address how religious congregations could go about welcoming individuals who are transgender and/or struggling with gender dysphoria.

None of the presenters at the conference was themselves a transgender Christian—they were all cisgender men. There are transgender Christians out there, though, and they reconcile their faith with their gender identity in a variety of ways. Some are living as the sex assigned to them at birth, according to the requirements of their faith, others are members of liberal churches that accept and affirm transgender congregants, and still others fall somewhere in between the two. One thing all the transgender Christians I spoke with shared, however, was a feeling of trepidation at the prospect of traditional religious circles paying increasing attention to trans issues.

Oct. 7 2015 11:53 AM

The Queen Diva Is Back

While prestige shows like Transparent, Orange Is the New Black, and Looking get all the glory, one could argue that these days, some of the best LGBTQ programming on TV—particularly for gender-variant folks and people of color—is happening in the often-mocked genre of reality shows. There’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, of course, which regularly offers up a tucked and painted menagerie of queer gender expressions under the banner of a drag competition. And then there’s Oxygen’s The Prancing Elites Project, a scrappy little series that follows an equally scrappy gay and trans black dance team from the deep South as they try to practice their art amid intense prejudice and personal challenges. Last, but definitely not least, is the Fuse network, which is offering two explicitly LGBTQ-themed reality shows this fall: Transcendent, a portrait of a group of trans cabaret performers, and Season 4 of an Outward favoriteBig Freedia: Queen of Bounce.

Freedia is one of the icons of a genre of raucous New Orleans-based music and dance called “bounce,” and his show is ostensibly about the struggles of turning his small dance company and personal brand into a successful business. But just beneath that narrative framework, Queen of Bounce addresses a range of LGBTQ themes. Chosen family is the most prominent, since Freedia functions as something of a matriarch for his dancers, attempting to provide for them and keep them focused on the work despite difficult personal circumstances. Gender expression is also key: In the season premiere last week, Freedia visited an LGBTQ youth group in New York and was asked to share his “preferred gender pronouns.” (Freedia, who identifies as a gay man, obviously styles himself toward the feminine end of the spectrum and goes by the nickname Queen Diva, so it’s not a bad question.) “Whatever you choose,” is Freedia’s nonchalant answer—while she’s perfectly comfortable with the many fans who use feminine pronouns, he’ll also respond to a hey bro! when necessary.


This season, we’ll presumably learn more of Freedia’s life story; the artist is working with a co-author on his memoirs (and, this being a reality show, under an impossibly tight deadline for maximum drama). And with those revelations will come more insight into a unique queer life—a story that’s all the more important to hear because it’s real.

Catch Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce on Fuse Wednesdays at 11 p.m. ET/10 p.m. CT

Oct. 6 2015 1:51 PM

Campbell Claims Gay Families Eat Canned Soup in New Ad

With a cute (sigh, I guess) new ad from Campbell—makers of the weak gesture toward chicken noodle soup that’s only passable when you’re deathly sick—the rebranding of gay people as “wholesome” continues apace. The 30-second version of the spot features a couple of gay dads feeding their son a new Star Wars-themed broth while fighting over who gets to say Darth Vader’s “I am your father” line. Part of Campbell’s current “Made for Real, Real Life” campaign, the juxtaposition of mass-produced canned soup and safely apolitical pop cultural references with a gay family successfully incorporates the latter into the context of “real” America. Or something like that.

An interesting note about the actors: Out observed that the real, real life couple, David Monahan and Larry Sullivan, are making something of a career out of affording corporations the gay-friendly cred they crave—the pair recently did a similar turn in a commercial for Sabra hummus. You could look at this as yet another example of a cynical market coopting gay life for financial gain, but I think there’s actually a little joke going on. We all know that no real, real life gay man would ever allow canned condensed soup or prepared hummus anywhere near his home.