Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

July 30 2014 2:51 PM

The Most Complex and Enduring Mystery of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms Has Now Been Solved

Because it’s no longer considered couth to bash trans people as disgusting and disordered—unless you write for the National Review—transphobic commentators have started channeling their animus into concrete complaints about the trans movement. Usually, these center around trans people’s desire to use public restrooms with dignity and comfort by lobbying for gender-neutral bathrooms. This campaign flummoxes the likes of Fox News, which frequently puts forth a well-worn talking point: Are gender-neutral bathroom signs just too confusing to ever be used in practice?

Now, the marvelous Sam Killermann has a solution to Fox et al.’s problem: A whole new sign that jettisons the traditional male/female pictogram for—wait for it—a drawing of a toilet, free of any gendered baggage.

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July 30 2014 12:12 PM

These Two Men Have Been Together for 50 Years. Now They’re Asking Ohio to Let Them Marry.

Marriage equality has not yet come to gay couples in Ohio, unless you want to include your same-sex partner on your death certificate. Henry and George, a gay couple who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, are hoping to change that.

Because the gay marriage question is now firmly in the hands of the judiciary, “Henry and George” serves less as a campaign ad and more as a public service announcement. It comes at a good time, too. Anti-gay conservatives are currently doubling down on their claim that the modern definition of marriage—a loving, supportive, emotional attachment between two people for life—is unstable and “incoherent.” To their minds, a marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, because true marriage must involve penile-vaginal penetration. Without that specific form of intercourse, anti-gay activists insist, a same-sex marriage is really just “graphically misshapen” friendship.


Nothing about Henry and George’s 50-year union strikes me as “graphically misshapen,” and calling that union a marriage doesn’t seem particularly incoherent. In fact, these two men strike me as excellent role models for anybody, gay or straight, who hopes to devote their life to one other person. And I suspect a majority of Ohioans—and Americans—would agree with me.

July 30 2014 8:46 AM

Do We Still Need Gay Resorts Like Provincetown?

The morning before my recent vacation, I had brunch with a visiting Parisian. I told her, “We’re going to Provincetown,” then sensing that its fame hadn’t yet reached Europe, I explained: “It’s a gay resort on Cape Cod.” This seemed to shock her. (Relatedly, is there any greater thrill than shocking a French person?) “Can straight people go there?” she asked. I laughed. “Of course! It’s full of straight people.” I left it at that, but now I wish I had added one more thought. “It’s full of straight people, but the default setting is gay.”

There are other places with a similar orientation—Fire Island, New York, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Asbury Park, New Jersey, to name a few on the East Coast—but in the era of marriage equality and assimilation, do gay people still need seaside refuges?

July 29 2014 3:15 PM

When Did the Arguments Against Gay Marriage Become So Silly?

In the 13 months since the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, gay marriage advocates have been handed an unbroken string of judicial triumphs—continuing this week with another circuit court and another state attorney general landing on the side of equality. This winning streak might seem to represent the inevitable victory of the gay marriage movement’s passion and logic, and to some extent, it does. But it’s also the result of the anti-gay-marriage movement completely collapsing around its own terrible arguments.

As Yale Law Professor William N. Eskridge brilliantly argued two years ago, there’s really only one internally logical argument against gay rights: the idea that gay people deserve the state’s moral opprobrium. Yet this reasoning was functionally voided by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans way back in 1996, when Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that no law motivated primarily by animus against gays could pass constitutional muster. The animus test has its flaws, but it has largely succeeded in keeping baldly moralistic arguments—gay people are gross, or sinful, or sick—out of the courtroom.

July 29 2014 11:50 AM

Ask a Homo: Butch and Femme 

Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the gays of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other queer conundrums. Today a reader inquires about roles: Do lesbian relationships always involve one partner who’s masculine of center and another who’s feminine?

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.

July 29 2014 10:12 AM

Are Anti-Gay Activists Bigots? A Brilliant, Disturbing New Book Says Yes.

Earlier this year, I took part in spirited debate about the nature of anti-gay animus with the Atlantic’s Connor Friedersdorf. I took the position that anybody who opposes equal rights for gay people is, by definition, a bigot; Friedersdorf struck back in a whip-smart rejoinder, insisting that we can draw a bright line between true bigotry and garden-variety homophobia. Friedersdorf and I went back and forth on the matter, but never arrived at an answer to perhaps the most important question of all: What, exactly, is a bigot?

In his brilliant and disturbing new book The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists, Stephen Eric Bronner answers the definitional question in exhaustive, disarming detail. Bronner, who serves at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and on the UNESCO Chair for Genocide Prevention, isn’t just interested in certain niches of prejudice. His book is concerned with a deeper analysis of bigots themselves: Why they hate, who they hate, how they hate. And his startling conclusion is that bigotry in the 21st century isn’t withering away—it’s finding new targets and camouflaging itself better than ever.

July 28 2014 6:00 PM

The Latest Proof That Opposing Gay Rights Is Bad Politics

When should the gay rights movement declare political victory? Some think success will come when gay marriage is legal nationwide; others are holding out for an LGBT omnibus equality bill. But my sense is that the true political triumph will arrive when conservatives can no longer scare up votes and dollars by running against gay people. Once there’s no political capital to be gained from opposing gay rights, no politician will oppose gay rights.

When will that moment come? Sooner than you might expect. On Saturday, the Huffington Post ran a fun story pondering why Republicans went totally silent on President Barack Obama’s executive LGBT nondiscrimination order. One GOP congressman claimed he hadn’t heard about the order. When pressed, Speaker of the House John Boehner simply sighed, “The president signs a lot of executive orders.” Republican Sen. Rob Portman, a supporter of the Senate’s flawed, failed bill, gently chided Obama for leaving out Portman’s preferred (and widely maligned) religious exemptions. But not a single member of Congress took the bait and slammed Obama on the merits of the order.


July 28 2014 2:35 PM

Fourth Circuit Calls Virginia’s Gay Marriage Ban “Segregation,” Strikes It Down

On Monday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Virginia’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, the latest victory for marriage equality in a unbroken string of triumphs since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013. The opinion included no stay; until the Supreme Court steps in, then, gay couples in Virginia may get married starting now.

The judges of the 2–1 majority labeled the state’s ban “segregation” and held that, because it targeted a disfavored minority and implicated a fundamental right, it should be subject to strict scrutiny. It’s clear that, to the majority, laws like Virginia’s represent little more than bald bigotry:

[I]nertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.

Although the court struck down only Virginia’s marriage ban, the 4th Circuit also has jurisdiction over Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The latter three states still ban gay marriage—but today’s ruling throws those laws in serious jeopardy.

The majority opinion, written by Judge Henry Franklin Floyd and joined by Judge Roger Gregory, is most notable for its systematic dismantling of Virginia’s painfully prejudiced, laughably lousy arguments against gay marriage. The state centered its arguments around the idea that because gay couples cannot have biological children together, they simply don’t deserve to get married. When asked why infertile straight couples can still marry, the state responded that these couples set a “positive example for couples who can have unintended children, encouraging them to marry.” Here’s Floyd on this puzzling theory:

We see no reason why committed same-sex couples cannot serve as similar role models. … Allowing infertile opposite-sex couples to marry does nothing to further the government’s goal of channeling procreative conduct into marriage. Thus, excluding same-sex couples from marriage due to their inability to have unintended children makes little sense.

Floyd also had some fun with Virginia’s other major argument—the claim that gay marriage somehow increases out-of-wedlock births among straight people, a societal ill since children do better with married parents. The idea that gay marriage spurs out-of-wedlock births, the court rightly notes, is pure nonsense, bigoted magical thinking barely concealed as legalistic casuistry. But the second half of the state’s formulation is quite true: Children do tend to do better with married parents. Thus, Virginia’s marriage ban actually harms children, denying them the right to have legally wedded parents.

In his bitter dissent, Judge Paul Niemeyer edges toward what we might call full Scalia, repeatedly demeaning the value of gay people’s relationships and families. Gay marriage bans, Niemeyer writes, are necessary to secure “stable family units” and to “giv[e] children an identity.” Without gay marriage bans, the “political order resulting from [these] stable family units” will be shattered, and states may be forced to recognize “polygamous or incestuous relationships.”

This last quote directly cites Scalia—in dissent. That’s what so odd about Niemeyer’s decision: As an appellate judge, he’s bound by the Supreme Court’s precedent. That precedent insists that a gay marriage ban “demeans the [gay] couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects,” violating “basic due process and equal protection principles.” But Niemeyer seems to be living in a world where Scalia’s dissents became law and the state retains unfettered power to disparage gay people’s lives. Luckily for us, Scalia’s dissents were just dissents—as is Niemeyer’s opinion. Welcome to the fold, Virginia.

Update, July 29, 2014: Gay couples in Virginia will not be able to marry for at least 3 weeks while defenders of the state's ban prepare an appeal.

July 28 2014 1:10 PM

Why Cosmo’s “28 Mind-Blowing Lesbian Sex Positions” Blows My Mind

Lesbians and gay men are used to “translating” material written for straight people so that it applies to us. Horoscopes that predict the reader will soon meet a dreamy person “of the opposite sex” or official forms that appear to define a family as mom, dad, and 2.5 kids are converted with a minimum of effort. But some things defy mental recoding—sex advice is one of them.

July 25 2014 4:57 PM

OSU’s Marching Band Is a Homophobic, Sexist Mess


The Ohio State University Marching Band is pretty high-profile as marching bands go. In recent months their catchy halftime show drill patterns—imitating everything from Michael Jackson dance moves to classic video games—have drawn attention from social media and the press, including Slate’s own Brow Beat. If that weren't enough, they were even featured in one of Apple’s stylish iPad commercials earlier this year.



As a veteran and fan of the marching arts, I was thrilled to see the OSUMB generating some wider interest in the genre—which is why it broke my heart to read news that the band’s director, Jonathan Waters, was fired this week as a first disciplinary blow against what appears to be a deeply ingrained, creepily sexualized culture of misogyny and homophobia among staff and student musicians alike.