Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

July 28 2015 4:32 PM

Listen to Polari, the Lost Art of Gay Conversation

Of all the cultural forms that gay men have created and elaborated since coalescing into a social group around the late 19th century, Polari, a full-fledged gay English dialect with roots among circus folk, sailors, and prostitutes, has to be one of the most fascinating—not least since it has faded along with the need for discretion and secrecy. While some words remain in common use—zhush or zhoosh (to adjust or embellish something to make it more pleasing) and trade (highly masculine or straight-acting sex partners) come to mind—the richness that we know once defined Polari is difficult to capture in 2015.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Putting on the Dish, a fantastic short by London-based filmmakers Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston, which shows two gay men having an exchange on a park bench, entirely in Polari. The scene takes place in the early 1960s—about the time that Polari began a rapid decline in usage, mainly due to the decriminalization of sodomy in the United Kingdom that started in 1967.


The conversation is only vaguely decipherable to this very gay viewer, so it’s probably totally inscrutable to a total outsider. Luckily, YouTube commenter Amelia Bee has offered a rough outline, which the filmmakers have approved:

Two gay men are on a bench. One comments that he doesn't like the book Clockwork Orange. Using coded language they check to see that one another is gay before letting their guard down and speaking frankly, ogling other men as they pass by, etc. They gossip about a promiscuous mutual acquaintance that got thrown in prison after getting caught having sex with men. The one on the left then laments that he nearly got locked up himself once, after the cops came knocking right as he finished going down on a guy, but narrowly escaped by telling them there was a “poof” inside and ran as they arrested his lover. The one on the right is rightfully disgusted by this revelation and leaves.

It’s a poignant scene, made all the more so by our knowledge that this exquisite mode of communication will soon only exist in museums and preservation documents like this film.

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July 28 2015 2:58 PM

On I Am Cait, and TV’s Other Trans Family Narratives, the Drama Is Outside the Frame

In her review of I Am CaitSlate’s TV critic Willa Paskin found Caitlyn Jenner’s new show, which debuted on E! Sunday night, guilty of a sin that is unpardonable on reality television: “dullness.” To those familiar with a genre that requires conflict to be manufactured in the moments before each commercial break, I Am Cait seemed remarkably drama-free: No tables were overturned, no voices were raised, and no hair was pulled—in fact, Jenner’s coiffure was augmented when her daughter Kylie gifted her with some pea-green hair extensions.

This shouldn’t have been surprising. Although Caitlyn Jenner spent nearly 25 years embroiled in the drama of reality TV’s first family, her new show is part of an entirely different subgenre from the Kardashians’ franchise: It is an educational transgender family narrative. Like two other shows currently on the air, ABC Family’s Becoming Us and TLC’s I Am JazzI Am Cait is an upbeat story of a woman accepting and sharing her true self, in which the necessary drama derives not from something that happens to the subjects while the cameras are rolling, but from the threat that every viewer knows is lurking in the world beyond the set.

July 28 2015 9:04 AM

Judge Bemoans Sanctuary Cities, Marijuana Legalization in Hearing on Trans Bathroom Access

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Doumar held a hearing to resolve a few questions in the legal battle over Gavin Grimm’s right to use the restroom. Grimm, a trans high school student, identifies as male in every way, including on his driver’s license. But the school board in Gloucester County, Virginia, passed a rule barring him, and any other trans students, from using the correct restroom at school. (At the hearing, speakers called Grimm a “freak” and compared him to a dog that urinates on fire hydrants.) Now Grimm is suing, arguing that the rule qualifies as illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.

This case should be straightforward. The Supreme Court has held that a ban on sex discrimination also bars sex stereotyping. In other words, the government can’t mistreat you just because it thinks you’re identifying with the incorrect sex or expressing the wrong gender. Based on that ruling, a growing number of federal courts have held that “sex discrimination” encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity and trans status. The Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission all agreed, holding that federal bans on sex discrimination obviously include trans discrimination.


The Gloucester County School Board singles out trans students and subjects them to differential, stigmatizing treatment on the basis of their gender identity. That is sex discrimination. Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 forbids schools that receive federal funds from being “subjected to discrimination … on the basis of sex.” With this clear statutory command—and the case law to back it up—Doumar should have issued an injunction preventing the school board from kicking Grimm out of the right restroom.

Instead, Doumar kicked Grimm’s sex discrimination claim out of court. “Your case in Title IX is gone, by the way,” Doumar told Grimm’s ACLU attorney Joshua Block, according to Dominic Holden’s disturbing report of the hearing in BuzzFeed. “I have chosen to dismiss Title IX. I decided that before we started.”

Doumar delivered this news before an attorney from the Justice Department—who had come to argue that Title IX protected Grimm—had even spoken. It only got worse from there. Doumar claimed he had “no problem with transgender” but had “a lot of problems with sex.” He explained that he was “convinced” that Grimm “is a biological female who wants to be male.” And throughout the hearing, Doumar asserted that being trans is “a mental disorder.” (Block pushed back, noting that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states being being transgender is only a problem when trans people can’t properly express their gender identity—to which Doumar retorted, “Where did you get your medical degree?”)

The 84-year-old Reagan appointee also propounded upon his other concerns of the moment, most of which were utterly irrelevant to the case at hand. When the Justice Department’s attorney rose to answer questions, Doumar criticized the government for inconsistently enforcing marijuana prohibition. “I am sorry for the Department of Justice,” he said. “Sanctuary cities. Where are we going?” He quoted Rousseau and Voltaire, complained that Congress passes new laws too quickly, and said he gets “perplexed, very perplexed.”

“I am worried about where we are going,” Doumar declared. “Maybe I am just old-fashioned. … Where the U.S is going scares me. It really scares me.”

As Holden reports, the judge—who once said HIV-positive people “should be shot” if they have unprotected sex—closed the hearing by saying, “Oh well, things are changing.” Then he exited the courtroom.

Although Doumar rejected Grimm’s Title IX claim, he indicated that he would allow the student to pursue his equal protection claim—which is, frankly, a weaker argument. The ACLU will likely appeal Doumar’s decision to the relatively liberal 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. There, Grimm has a better chance of finding judges who follow the law rather than their own fears and puzzlements. As for Doumar, the jurist has served a long career in an honorable profession. It is time for him to retire.  

July 28 2015 8:30 AM

Pride and the United Nations

In the past few months I’ve been getting to grips with my new role as British ambassador to the United Nations. It’s been a fascinating challenge. The issues I face with my colleagues are among the toughest in the world. At times, making progress on them is frustratingly slow. Thankfully, it’s hard to be deterred when you’re surrounded by the energy, vibrancy, and diversity of New York City. It really is a place where you feel anything and everything is possible.


I saw this so clearly during the New York Pride march last month. It was a privilege to be part of such a historic celebration, just 48 hours after the Supreme Court ruling. It was an inspiring day; a day that so many had fought so hard, and for so long, to achieve. I was incredibly proud to march with colleagues and friends on the United Kingdom float. It was a fitting celebration of the activists, leaders, donors, friends, and allies who made LGBT rights a reality in the United States.

July 27 2015 7:42 PM

The Boy Scouts Move One Step Closer to Being “Morally Straight”

In a year that has seen a major legal victory for same-sex marriage and growing exposure for a range of LGBTQ issues, queer people and their allies have one more reason to smile today. On July 27, the Boy Scouts of America’s top leadership voted to end its ban on openly gay adult leaders. (The organization allowed openly gay scouts in 2013.) This is a huge step forward for the typically conservative BSA, a century-old American institution that has been battling public pressure on this issue since affirming its right to discriminate in a Supreme Court case in 2000. However, this policy change won’t bring an end the BSA’s difficulties on LGBTQ issues—in fact, it’s just the beginning of a larger cultural shift that’s sorely needed.

July 27 2015 3:20 PM

Judge Lessens Jail Time for Hate Crime Assailants, Claims Gay Victim Was Just “Jumped”

In 2013, a gay man was standing on the sidewalk in Washington, D.C., when siblings Christopher and Christina Lucas led a group of men toward him. They then attacked the man, knocking him onto the sidewalk, repeatedly punching and stomping on him while shouting homophobic slurs. Christina Lucas then leaned over the man with a sharp object and slashed his face, calling him a “faggot motherfucker.” The man suffered facial fractures, scarring, and possible long-term brain injury.

A jury found the Lucases guilty of a hate crime. Under D.C. law, they should each have received between four and 15 years in prison. D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams initially sentenced both to four years, suspending all but one. In July, however, she altered the sentences, giving Christopher one year and Christina only six months.

July 24 2015 4:21 PM

The Infamous Heels Return in a Delightful Gay Porn Parody of Jurassic World

You may recall that back in June, our national conversation about Jurassic World was largely focused not on the terrifying Indominus Rex, but on a pair of heels—nude-colored stilettos, to be specific. These were worn with aplomb throughout the inevitable dino-mayhem by Bryce Dallas Howard in her role as Claire, the uptight park manager. While viewers were divided on whether the heels represented a sexist stereotype or a miracle of style under pressure, we can all agree that they were iconic—so much so, in fact, that they have now reappeared (in white pump form) on the feet of a drag queen in Jurassic Porn, a gay Thai parody film first noticed by Matt Baume over at the Advocate. (The trailer below, while definitely not X-rated, is perhaps slightly NSFW, depending on your company’s opinion of three shirtless guys making out.)

This unlikely and yet wholly necessary bit of erotic cinema loosely follows Jurassic World’s script, showing the be-bobbed, heel-wearing drag queen recruiting an animal trainer to help tame a pair of dinosaurs whose genes seem to have been spliced not with tree frog DNA, but with rubber. They are still ferocious, though, so it’s fortunate that the trainer is so good at his job that he quickly has them dancing rather than tearing the porn stars to shreds. And lest you forget this is a skin flick, a chase scene rather abruptly gives way to a shirtless make-out session among the staff, which was decidedly not part of the original film. Will a giant water monster emerge to splashily spoil the fun? Maybe! You’ll have to pay $5 via PayPal to find out.

July 24 2015 4:15 PM

Thanks to the Supreme Court, Some Straight Marriages are Finally Legal in Tennessee

When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States, Robin Lovett and Lee Owen were ecstatic. They’ve been a couple for about two years, and while they aren’t currently engaged, marriage is a future possibility. Still, many people who know the couple had no idea the same-sex marriage decision affected them. That’s because Robin is a cisgendered bisexual girl, and Lee is a bisexual trans guy. In Tennessee, where both of them were born and raised, this means that Lee is legally barred from amending his birth certificate to reflect his male gender identity, despite living as man, and despite the fact that many of the people who know him are unaware of his trans status.

“We’re a nice boy-girl couple. We go to church together, we do community service together, we’re the kind of couple conservatives want to see married,” Robin explained, smiling wryly.

There are only four U.S. states in which transgender men and women are prevented from changing the gender designation on their birth certificate. (According to Lambda Legal, the other three are Idaho, Kansas, and Ohio.) Some trans people in these states may be able to change the gender marker on other forms of identification, such as a driver’s license, but the prohibition on changes to birth certificates can cause complications in many common situations where a birth certificate is the document most commonly used to establish U.S. citizenship, and it may be necessary in order to start a new job. While, in theory, the gender marked on a birth certificate is of historic interest only, in practice, gender mismatches between documents can lead to all sorts of bureaucratic headaches. Trans individuals whose paperwork does not “match” may open themselves up to discrimination or to suspicion of identity fraud. Until the June 26 Supreme Court decision, in Tennessee, the gender on a person’s birth certificate determined whom they were and were not legally allowed to marry.

July 24 2015 1:24 PM

Texas Supreme Court Rules Houston LGBT Rights Ordinance Must Be Put to a Vote—or Repealed

In a startling and dubious ruling on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court held that Houston’s LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance must be put to a popular vote—or repealed. The decision effectively revives the vitriolic, acrimonious campaign against the ordinance. And it sends Houston a clear message from the state supreme court: We don’t like your law.

Houston’s equal rights ordinance has had a troubled history from the start. In May 2014, the Houston City Council passed the ordinance to protect gay, bi, and trans people from discrimination in housing, employment, and city contracts. Opponents of the measure quickly gathered signatures to force a referendum on the law. At first, the city secretary found the petition to be valid. But further examination revealed some irregularities. A jury found that many of the signatures were forged, and a judge agreed, throwing out the petition because, when the forgeries were excluded, it had too few signatures to move forward. Following the judge and jury’s findings, the city attorney ruled the petition invalid.

July 23 2015 5:03 PM

Murdered Trans Woman India Clarke Cannot Get Respect Even in Death

With the discovery of her body near a Tampa, Florida, basketball court on Tuesday morning, India Clarke became the 10th transgender woman to be murdered in the United States this year—and the ninth transgender woman of color. (And that, of course, only counts those homicides that have been reported.) As of Thursday, local police are still searching for a suspect.

Clarke’s death is obviously a tragedy in itself—part of what many advocates are calling an epidemic of trans killings—but the sadness of her loss is being compounded by how callously local officials and news outlets are treating her memory in refusing to honor her trans identity, which is clearly communicated on her Facebook profile. As BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden reported earlier this week, Tampa law enforcement is openly and crassly disputing Clarke’s transgender status.