Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

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:

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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.

Aug. 24 2015 4:16 PM

NOM Releases Donor List After Shielding Its Supporters From Criticism for Years

A general rule of democracy is that transparency and accountability are good, and secrecy and cowardice are bad. On Monday, transparency won: The heavily indebted National Organization for Marriage finally turned over the names of the donors who bankrolled its successful 2009 effort to ban same-sex marriage in Maine. NOM fought in court to keep its donors anonymous for more than five years. In 2014, it received a record $50,250 fine from the Maine Ethics Commission for violating state laws during its Maine campaign. Earlier in August, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court denied the group’s request to keep the names hidden. Now the information is out there—and the results are in no way surprising.

Although NOM always claimed to have grassroots support, the bulk of its Maine money came from just six donors. The most notable donor is John Templeton Jr., the former president of the Templeton Foundation, who died in May. Templeton—who, along with his wife, contributed $1 million to the Proposition 8 campaign—gave $300,000 to NOM’s Maine effort. The Knights of Columbus also gave $140,000, while Sean Fieler of the anti-gay Chiaroscuro Foundation gave $1.25 million.

Aug. 24 2015 2:36 PM

Let’s Debunk the Nonsense in This Pathetic Ted Cruz Ad About Anti-Gay “Religious Liberty”

Ted Cruz’s campaign to secure the GOP presidential nomination is sputtering toward irrelevance, as his target demographic—extremist anti-establishment conservatives—jump to the Donald Trump camp. Polls show Cruz flagging well behind Trump, even in his quasi-home state of Texas. To boost his numbers, Cruz has lately utilized a time-honored GOP strategy in which Trump has declined to engage: gay bashing. Or, as Cruz describes it, support for “religious liberty.”

As my Slate colleague Josh Voorhees recently noted, Cruz has centered his campaign around a handful of people who inflicted their anti-gay views on others and faced legal repercussions for doing so. In July, he interviewed a couple who refused to rent out their wedding venue to a same-sex couple, gushing that their discrimination “inspired” him. On Friday, he held an Iowa rally featuring “SPECIAL GUESTS VICTIMIZED BY GOVERNMENT PERSECUTION.” Now he has released a video profiling some of “victims.” Let’s watch it and debunk its jiggery-pokery point by point.

Aug. 24 2015 10:06 AM

Watch John Oliver’s Hilarious, Passionate Plea for a Federal LGBT Civil Rights Law

I don’t frequently watch John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight because I don’t particularly enjoy receiving a sneering, self-righteous lecture about something I already understand. But Sunday’s episode—which delved into LGBT rights across America—was startlingly great, in large part because Oliver toned down the snarky indignation and focused on a vital legal issue: the need for a federal LGBT civil rights law.

Oliver’s spiel is doubly impressive because he nails both the law and the underlying morality of the Equality Act, which would guarantee civil rights for every LGBT person in America. Conservatives often seize on confusing legal distinctions to obfuscate the necessity of such a law. But Oliver cogently walks us through the logic here. Does federal law already protect LGBT people from discrimination? Probably not. Do most states? No. Are “religious freedom” measures actually designed to nullify LGBT nondiscrimination laws in progressive cities? Yes. Is the Republican Party still vehemently devoted to depriving gay people of basic rights? Yes: Not a single GOP congressperson has endorsed the Equality Act.


But more important than these legal and political questions are the real human stories of degradation and humiliation that lie beneath every instance of discrimination. Oliver profiles the gay couple who was legally ejected from a Texas restaurant and told “we don’t serve fags here.” He discusses two lesbian moms in Michigan whose doctor legally refused to treat their baby because her moms are gay. And he describes the Colorado baker who refused to serve a gay couple because of their orientation. 

The costs of discrimination are high. To be demeaned and debased—and see the law of your country condone that debasement—wounds your dignity and implies a second-class status. The Equality Act would go a long way toward redressing the anti-LGBT discrimination that occurs in America every day. Good for Oliver for bringing it the spotlight it deserves.