Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Aug. 23 2016 8:30 AM

Truvada on the NHS: How Public Health Care Shapes the British Debate Over PrEP

As night follows day, a court decision declaring that Britain’s National Health Service should fund the provision of PrEP for at-risk people was met with irresponsible and homophobic media coverage. More commonly known by the brand name Truvada, if taken daily, PrEP can helpprevent someone who is HIV-negative from getting the virus.

The Daily Mail—whose high horse is usually tethered nearby for occasions such as this—labeled PrEP a “promiscuity pill” that would cost “taxpayers up to £20 million a year” ($26 million) and “encourage men to have sex with multiple partners without condoms and may even lead to higher HIV rates.” Both the Mail and the Times claimed the money spent on PrEP would divert funds from other conditions. The Wright Stuff—a morning TV talk show that makes The View seem like a Mensa summit—led with the crazed chyron, “FREE £20M HIV DRUG FOR GAYS WHO WON’T USE CONDOMS?”

Aug. 22 2016 11:26 AM

Texas Judge Issues Nationwide Injunction Blocking Trans-Friendly School Guidelines

On Sunday night—the evening before the new school year begins in Texas—a federal judge in Fort Worth issued a nationwide injunction, preventing the Obama administration’s trans-friendly school guidelines from taking effect. The guidance, issued jointly by the Department of Education and Department of Justice, would have barred schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against trans and gender-nonconforming students. But U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor blocked the new guidelines from taking effect, holding that the federal government had exceeded its legal authority—and that the policies would harm students who are forced to use the same bathroom as their trans peers.

O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, makes clear throughout his ruling that he did not approve of the administration’s new guidelines, which would have allowed trans students to use the bathroom and locker room that aligns with their gender identity. His decision includes a brief section alleging that the Obama administration promulgated its trans-friendly guidance too quickly under a federal law governing agency rulemaking. But the thrust of O’Connor’s ruling is much broader: The judge holds that Title IX’s ban on “sex discrimination” in federally funded schools may never legally be interpreted to protect “transgendered students.” (That’s the judge’s unfortunate phrasing.)

Aug. 19 2016 5:01 PM

North Carolina Tells Court Trans People Aren’t Really Trans, Just “Delusional”

North Carolina filed a brief on Thursday, opposing the federal government’s motion to halt the enforcement of HB2 as a legal challenge makes its way through the courts. The brief begins with a typo, calling itself a “BRIEF IN OPPPOSITON” [sic], and only goes downhill from there. Most of North Carolina’s arguments in defense of its indefensible anti-LGBTQ law are familiar by this point. But Thursday’s brief also puts front and center a claim it has heretofore deployed only as subtext: Not just that trans people don’t deserve rights, but that trans people don’t exist at all.

North Carolina begins by defining sex as “defined in terms of the complementary roles that males and females play in reproduction.” Sex, the brief claims, “is accordingly a ‘binary,’ either-or proposition: a person is either male or female, and the hypothesis of a ‘third’ sex is contrary to a sound medical and physiological understanding of the human person.” Wait a minute, you might think: Aren’t some people, often called “intersex,” born with both male and female attributes? Yes, the brief admits, but this condition is “extremely rare,” so the law must ignore its existence altogether. (One wonders if the brief’s drafters ever paused their writing to watch intersex Olympian Caster Semenya compete on TV.)


Aug. 18 2016 5:33 PM

Federal Judge: Religious Liberty Includes a Right to Fire LGBTQ Employees

It finally happened.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Sean F. Cox found that Hobby Lobby’s broad guarantee of “religious freedom” to businesses exempts religious employers from the federal ban on workplace sex discrimination. Cox ruled that, under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for-profit corporations may claim a legal right to fire employees for being transgender. His decision marks the first time a court has used Hobby Lobby’s holding to abridge LGBTQ employees’ rights under nondiscrimination law—an extension of “religious liberty” that anti-LGBTQ advocates insistedwould never occur.

The case arose when R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes’ funeral director, Amiee Stephens, announced plans to transition from male to female. Thomas Rost, her employer, promptly fired her, explaining that he could not tolerate her “dress[ing] as a woman” at work. On Stephens’ behalf, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the funeral home under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, including gender nonconformity. While courts have divided on whether anti-trans discrimination is always “sex discrimination,” it is widely accepted that Title VII forbids employers from firing workers for failing to conform to certain sex stereotypes. Moreover, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has explicitly held that sex discrimination encompasses anti-trans discrimination—a ruling that is binding precedent here.

Aug. 18 2016 11:57 AM

Court Holds Bisexual Asylum-Seeker Isn’t Actually Bisexual, Drawing Withering Dissent

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued an outrageous decision, holding that a bisexual Jamaican asylum seeker isn’t actually bisexual and can thus be deported back to Jamaica. The three-judge panel’s reasoning is profoundly flawed and rather offensive, betraying a profound skepticism toward the legitimacy of bisexuality itself. This ignorance drew a typically unsparing dissent from Judge Richard Posner, who slammed the immigration judge for her ignorance and borderline bi-phobia.

At issue in the case is the decision of an immigration judge allowing the United States to deport Ray Fuller, a 51‐year‐old Jamaican citizen who sought asylum in America due to his orientation. Jamaica is widely recognized as one of the most homophobic countries on Earth; same-sex intimacy remains criminalized and anti-gay hate crimes are stunningly common. Yet the immigration judge inexplicably held that bisexual people are not persecuted in Jamaica.

Aug. 18 2016 10:59 AM

Twinks, Bears, and U-Haul: TV’s Bizarre Version of “Gay Culture”

In the last few years, television has gotten better at including LGBTQ characters, but its representation of gay culture is still rather limited. While some shows—like Difficult People, Happy Endings, and The Fosters—reveal an understanding of the way queer people live now, others seem content to repeat outdated stereotypes and to obsess about gay men’s sexual types and lesbians’ use of U-Haul as a verb.

This video looks at what television talks about when it talks about “gay culture,” all the way from Melissa Etheridge to Cher and from twinks to bears.

Aug. 18 2016 9:46 AM

In Take My Wife, Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher Are Partners in Life and Comedy

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when “standup comedian” became television’s most relatable profession, but it must be somewhere between Seinfeld making the comedy club seem like just another workplace and Maron recreating the WTF podcast’s revelatory interviews with comics. Of course, relatability requires viewers to see themselves in the shows’ neurotic comedy nerds, who thus far have mostly been white, straight, dudes.

That’s why Take My Wife, a new sitcom streaming on Seeso feels fresh, if not exactly revolutionary: Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butler are struggling standup comedians who are also a lesbian couple—as are the real Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butler who play heightened versions of themselves in the show.


Aug. 17 2016 1:55 PM

BYU Is Punishing Gay Students Who Report Their Rape

Brigham Young University has a well-documented rape problem, one that’s different from the sexual assault crisis that plagues many other campuses: When female rape victims report their assault, they are often punished for breaking the school’s stringent honor code, while their rapists frequently walk free.

Now a shattering report in the Salt Lake Tribune confirms what many sexual abuse prevention advocates feared: Gay and bisexual students also face punishment, suspension, and even expulsion for reporting rape by someone of the same sex.

Aug. 17 2016 1:53 PM

In Sports, as in Life, Equality Matters

Hey, Daddy! is a monthly column exploring the joys and struggles of parenting from a gay father’s perspective. Got a topic idea or question for Daddy? Send your letter along to johnculhane@comcast.net.


With the Olympics having clicked over from swimming to track, the moment seems apt to reflect on sports. The quadrennial event (about which Slate writer Justin Peters summarized my feelings with eerie exactitude) has made me think about my own relation to sports—and sports culture—and how I’m transmitting that perspective to my two daughters.


To some extent, my view of sports is determined by its distance from the way my husband David considers the subject. Before reading the paper each morning, he dons a hazmat suit, plucks out the sports section with a pair of long tongs, and deposits it in the nearest medical waste bin. Sports commentators to him are nattering nabobs of nothingness, and tennis—my favorite spectator sport, at least as long as Roger Federer keeps playing—is a needlessly strenuous variant of Pong. He’s not anti-activity—he can garden, or hike, for hours—but he has less than no interest in any kind of organized sport, especially at the professional level.

Our neighbors assume that I’m as far from a sports lover as they are. There’s some reason for this. I’m barely conversant with what’s going on with, say, football (probably my least favorite sport of all), and neither of us is ever invited to any of the weekly football-watching parties. It’s the stuff of broad comedy that my first job out of college was to cover high-school football for a local Gannett newspaper. My most memorable act of buffoonery was to record the stats with a felt-tipped pen, only to see the results bleed into blue pulp during a steady rain. I then made up some numbers, and no one seemed to notice, or care.

Why would I even take such a job? Because football was the price I had to pay in order to cover sports I did like—especially swimming. And it’s my connection to swimming that has given me a perspective on sports that differs from David’s.

My experience with swimming has been close to perfectly positive. My father, who excelled in high-school swimming in the Bronx, started a summer team when I was 13 years old, and I took to it immediately. (Well, I didn’t really have a choice. But I loved it right away.) By today’s start-the-sport-in utero-or-don’t-bother standard, getting into athletics as a teenager is insanely late. But if the goal is lifelong interest in a sport, my delayed start was perfect. I had just enough native talent in the butterfly to be competitive in the arenas where I competed (local dual meets, first, then through college and into Masters swimming), and I was lucky enough never to have been in programs that burned me out. I could sate my enormous love for competition with a sport that puts a premium on individual effort, where I could literally enclose myself in a bubble. I was part of a team, but on my own terms.

And swimming was enormously helpful in another way, too. When I was trying to navigate through the many obstacles in my late coming-out process, I joined Philly’s gay swim team, the FINS. The team was a bunker of sorts, providing the security I needed to march up the steep steps toward a fully realized, authentic identity.

My college teammates, too, have proved universally steadfast; my coming out didn’t seem to surprise them, and “hoops of steel” continue to connect us. In fact, as I write this I’ve just emerged from a 4-mile swim (on a crystal-clear lake in the Adirondack Mountains) as I prepare for our annual alumni reunion event, a 2-mile swim in the James River.

I’ve also been a coach, having worked with everyone from pre-competitive swimmers, to national level athletes, to fussy Masters swimmers. And now both of my kids are competitive swimmers. Layering my new role as swimming parent atop my experiences as a swimmer, a coach, and a somewhat sports-averse gay man has helped me see why swimming, in particular, is a great sport for kids—whoever those kids happen to be.

The most obvious benefit is that the kids learn to set goals, and then to figure out (with a coach’s help) how to meet them. The clock, which is the only thing that matters in swimming, is remorseless. And since—as even Michael Phelps knows—there’s always someone faster and slower than you, learning to deal with losses and to concentrate on your own improvement is part of the deal.

In team sports—as great as they can be for teaching kids the value of working together toward a common goal—it’s harder for kids to chart their own progress. Swimmers do get some experience with teamwork, though, because of relays and the need to work on those all-important exchanges. (Unfortunately, relays are disappearing from age-group meets, a development I bemoaned here.)

Perhaps more important, though, is what swimming teaches both girls and boys about sports and gender. I was even aware of this, on some level, in high school. Patty Dillon could kill us all in practice, and, forced to swim on the boys’ team, she advanced to the finals of the regional high school championship. In college, the best female swimmer kept pace with the fastest men when her schedule forced her to train with us rather than her teammates. And my daughters already know how Katie Ledecky destroys all the guys in practice.

Today, swimming has more gender mixing than ever, and most people associated with the sport embrace it. At many colleges (including my own, William and Mary), the men’s and women’s teams now compete at meets together, with the sexes alternating events. Mixed-gender relays—two men and two women—were added to the 2015 swimming world championships, and there’s talk about making them part of the Olympics. And you won’t find a sport where the elite men are more supportive of their female teammates. Their admiration for the impossibly fast Ledecky borders on reverence, and Rowdy Gaines—the greatest, most enthusiastic sports commentator I’ve ever heard—has both condemned the dusty rule that keeps women out of the 1,500-meter freestyle at the Olympics (they swim the 800, while men do the 1,500) and offered this perfect comment about Ledecky’s swimming: “A lot of people think [she] swims like a man … She swims like Katie Ledecky, for crying out loud.”

Any sport so welcoming of girls and women is also a natural habitat for gay kids who are trying to find a place for themselves in the still-macho world of competitive sports. Only tennis is similarly evolved in this way, with equal prize money at the major events, enormous stars who draw as many fannies to the seats as the men, and actual, head-to-head competition between men and women (in mixed doubles, now an Olympic event). As Billie Jean King never tires of stressing, when girls are treated equally, it’s good for boys, too.

Did I push my kids into swimming? Sure, to an extent. But when my one daughter told me a couple of years ago that she didn’t want to swim (and said, “Dad, I think you want me to swim”), that was that. I was glad, though, when she decided to return to the sport this year, even though she doesn’t especially like competing. (Her sister is more the shark, after her competitive dad.) Because swimming sends exactly the message this ambivalent, gay “sports dad” wants to send my children:

Sports are great, if you compete on your own terms. And there are no better sports than those that value boys and girls, and gay and straight swimmers, alike.

Aug. 12 2016 11:25 AM

Ballroom Culture’s Rich Alternative to the Trans/Cis Model of Gender

In April, the boundary between transgender and not-transgender was officially written into American English when the Merriam-Webster dictionary formally adopted the word cisgender (n. ”Someone whose internal sense of gender corresponds with the sex the person was identified as having at birth”). Like the word straight, cisgender expands what we can discuss about gender and sexuality by naming something that had previously been unmarked or simply considered “natural.” Simultaneously, by recognizing that everyone has an internal sense of gender—not just trans people—the word normalizes transgender experiences.

Yet it’s worth taking a moment, as we stand on this important linguistic threshold, to survey another possibility, a different way of dividing and describing our experiences of gender, which has existed (and still exists) parallel to the ideas of transgender/cisgender-hood. I’m talking about the femme queens and butch queens of the ballroom world, a community founded by black and Latino queer people.