Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

April 28 2017 4:27 PM

The Problem With Gay Conservatives Isn’t Political Ideology, It’s a Lack of Empathy

On Thursday, I attended an event at the Metropolitan Republican Club of Manhattan in which four conservative gay white men sat on a panel on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side to sing the praises of Donald Trump and the contemporary GOP. The panelists included Fred Karger, a gay Republican who ran for president in 2012; Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans; Chadwick Moore, a former Out editor who recently came out as conservative; and Lucian Wintrich, a disciple of the disgraced Milo Yiannopoulos, and a fellow gay provocateur who now covers the White House for the right-wing blog, Gateway Pundit. The question of the evening was whether conservatism, with its alleged emphasis on individual liberty, is a more natural home for LGBTQ Americans than progressivism. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

April 28 2017 4:00 PM

Why Some Conservatives Think LGBTQ People Deserve to Get Beaten Up

Last Thursday, Republican Sen. Mike Enzi spoke to a group of middle and high school students in Greybull, Wyoming. During Q&A, a sophomore named Bailee Foster asked Enzi what he was doing “to improve the life of the LGBT community in Wyoming.” Enzi responded by explaining that “in Wyoming you can be just about anything you want to be, as long as you don’t push it in somebody’s face.” He continued:

I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it. That’s the way that he winds up with that kind of problem.

Enzi has since apologized for his “poor choice of words,” but some conservatives have defended him as a brave truth-teller. On Thursday, Erick Erickson penned an article titled “You Will Get Punched and Others Have Rights Too,” asserting that Enzi “has enraged the BLT&GQ community by declaring a simple fact.” Erickson wrote that “the dude wearing the tutu shoulders some of the responsibility,” and although did not “deserve it,” he still “should have known better.”

“And spare me the tirade about Matthew Shepherd,” Erickson added, without further elaboration.

April 28 2017 3:08 PM

When Gays Decried Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme Became an Early Student of Modern Backlash

At the 1992 Academy Awards, where The Silence of the Lambs would become only the third movie ever to sweep five coveted Oscar categories, the focus wasn’t inside the theater. It was on the protestors outside. Breathless reports that gay groups like Queer Nation and ACT-UP had infiltrated the production and would disrupt the ceremony with “some sort of guerrilla tactic” were the talk of Hollywood. Hundreds of people gathered outside for the culmination of a year’s worth of protests against the depiction of Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill, the flamboyant killer tracked by Clarice Starling. Organizers demanded the industry depict regular gay lives, not lunatics with yapping poodles. (As one spectacular refrain went, “We're queer; we're groovy; put us in your movie.”) A nervous Hollywood reacted by wearing red ribbons for AIDS victims.

April 27 2017 9:02 AM

Why Trans People Have a Constitutional Right to Change Their Birth Certificates

In a pair of new lawsuits filed this month, Lambda Legal powerfully explains why the Constitution requires that transgender people be permitted to change the gender marker on their birth certificates to accurately reflect their identity. While an increasing number of jurisdictions permit people to more easily change the gender marker on their birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, or other government identification documents, several jurisdictions still require proof of surgery in order to change the gender marker. And a handful, including Idaho, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico, do not permit gender marker changes to a birth certificate under any circumstances.

As outlined in the Lambda lawsuits, which challenge the Idaho and Puerto Rico policies, identification documents such as birth certificates are in many ways the gateway to accessing a whole panoply of societal benefits, including employment and housing opportunities. And these restrictive policies act as gatekeepers—burdening transgender people’s ability to participate in and enjoy public life. For instance, in order to obtain employment, people are often required to submit proof of identity and employment authorization, including a birth certificate. If the gender listed on the birth certificate does not comport with an individual’s expressed identity, intimate information about their identity, including their transgender status, could be outed, subjecting them to discrimination or even violence. The Supreme Court has suggested that the Constitution’s substantive due process protections circumscribe the government’s ability to disclose such intimate, sensitive information.

In fact, some courts have already ruled that laws strictly limiting a person’s ability to change the gender marker on a government identification run afoul of constitutional privacy protections. In K.L. v. Alaska, a case brought by the ACLU, an Alaska court ruled that the state’s failure to have a policy permitting individuals to change the gender marker on their driver’s license impermissibly interfered with transgender people’s right to privacy under the state constitution. Similarly, in another ACLU lawsuit, a federal court in Michigan concluded that Michigan’s restrictive policy for changing the gender marker on a driver’s license implicated the fundamental right to informational privacy under the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

April 26 2017 2:46 PM

Becoming a Parent Means a New Family Member—and a New Sense of Self

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.

A few months ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor who was about to send his son to a ludicrously expensive private high school. The tuition would be out of reach but for the generosity of my neighbor’s own father—now elderly, with plenty of money. My neighbor then volunteered that his dad saw sending his grandson to private school “as an investment in his gene pool.” For a moment, he'd forgotten that he was talking to someone who is an adoptive parent (with kids in public school, too). When I reminded him of our family situation, he mumbled something about how the whole “gene” reference was a "shorthand" for wanting to pass something along to the next generation—it wasn’t really about biology. But I don't think he meant it.

I thought about this exchange as I was reviewing the many thoughtful comments and long emails that last month’s Hey, Daddy! column on the adoption/surrogacy choice generated. I’ve rarely been met with such deep and respectful engagement, both with me and with fellow commenters. As I read and considered the feedback, I realized how constitutive of identity these decisions about family formation become. How do we define ourselves, and what part of that definition is a consequence of how we become parents, and choose to parent? How much of my identity is reflected back at me through my children's actions and interests? And is the importance of reflected identity part of why so many people still value biological parenthood over alternatives?

April 25 2017 8:01 AM

At the Dawn of Gay Liberation, Same-Sex Marriage Was a Radical Idea

Adapted from Awakening: How Gay and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America by Nathaniel Frank, published by Harvard University Press, $35. Copyright @ 2017 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.

In the queer urban enclaves of the 1970s, many of those who were active in LGBTQ politics and socializing shared the view that marriage was not for them—or for their movement. Some dismissed marriage as a bourgeois, exclusionary institution, an ill-advised shackling of their hard-won sexual freedoms. For them, the wish to be able to marry signaled conformity to a heterosexual culture that had spurned them and had little to offer. For many lesbians, marriage was seen as patriarchal and oppressive to women; they saw little reason to embrace an institution that not long before had rendered women the property of men. For still others, marriage meant an abandonment of the push for an alternative social vision that broadened the definition of family beyond the conjugal pair, an alternative that had sustained many in the face of societal exclusion.

Yet some same-sex couples felt emboldened by the 1960s fervor to seek out precisely the institution that other gays and lesbians eschewed. Jack Baker and Michael McConnell met in 1966 at a barn party; a year later, Baker asked McConnell to move in with him. McConnell said yes but told Baker that, to make an honest man of him, he would have to figure out how the two men could marry.

In 1969 Baker began law school, in part to research marriage law, and joined “Fight Repression of Erotic Expression” (FREE), a gay student group. Finding that Minnesota state law nowhere stipulated that only opposite-sex couples could wed, Baker felt he could keep his promise to McConnell, and the pair applied for a license at the Hennepin County courthouse. Claiming the law prohibited “the marriage of two male persons,” the clerk rejected the application.

April 21 2017 2:25 PM

In Our Gender Diverse Era, Parents Should Practice Humility With Their Kids

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Lisa Selin Davis writes that her daughter, who wears boys' clothes and has short hair, is definitely not transgender. Davis applauds her daughter’s rejection of traditional feminine style, but wishes that other people would stop thinking the child might be transgender, a curiosity they indicate with regular questions  about her pronouns and gender identity.

On its face, this is a reasonable concern. The movement toward accepting and understanding transgender children shouldn't narrow the boundaries of how cisgender boys and girls express themselves. Wearing boys' clothes doesn't turn a girl into a boy, or vice versa, and all children should have room to experiment with clothes and toys and styles freely rather than feel forced into the limited menu of gender-conforming options only. There's just one problem: Davis' kid deserves room to explore and experiment out of the public eye, without mom declaring her gender must be female and then broadcasting it, along with the complicated presentation that leads people to mistake her for male or transgender, to millions of readers.


Let me be clear that I have no way of knowing what this child's gender identity is, or what it eventually will be. After reading an earlier parenting essay by Davis, however, I do have questions. In the piece for Parenting, Davis wrote: "As she started to announce in ways both subtle and direct that she’s a boy, and ask me questions like ‘Why can’t boys have vaginas and girls have penises?’ the ratio of heartwarming to heart-sinking has shifted." I'm curious as to why this anecdote didn't make it into the New York Times piece, and why Davis presents her kid's gender as definitely and persistently female if these sorts of complicated and complicating questions were present within the last few years of this kid's history.

Perhaps the people who keep asking whether this child identifies as a boy are doing so at least partly based on the mixed signals the kid is sending out, rather than prejudice borne of too much trans acceptance? Perhaps leaving the question open, rather than writing about it in a way that attempts to foreclose uncertainty might be advisable? In five years, this kid could be an extremely girly girl who is embarrassed to have once been a gender nonconforming tomboy, or a consistent tomboy, or a genderqueer-identified youth, or a trans guy. I don't know which it will be, but I don't have confidence that Davis does either.

When I was a child, my mother never wrote an op-ed about my gender for a newspaper. She did, however, express very strong opinions about my gender, and these didn't quite match how I felt inside. My mother told me, repeatedly, that I had always loved dolls and never liked toy trucks. While it's absolutely true that I had a favorite doll (Janet, named after my mother, who I took with me everywhere), I can also remember looking longingly and with jealousy at Hot Wheels ramps and big multi-packs of Hot Wheels cars in the toy store, wishing that we had some of those at our house. I never asked my mom for them directly, though, because I thought my mom knew something about me that I didn't. Much the same thing happened with jewelry when I was a little older. I agreed that I "liked" necklaces and earrings without ever once feeling happy or attractive when I was wearing them. My mother's myth of my girlness was stronger than I was when I was young, and so I believed in it even when it failed to match up with my true experience. I eventually transitioned to male in my late thirties, and while it's not my mom's fault that it took me so long, I can't help wishing there'd been more room for my gender to be complicated earlier.

What I would ask from parents who don't know what to make of the changing gender landscape is pretty simple: Don’t assume that your child who deviates from some of the norms of their assigned gender is transgender, but also don’t take their adherence to some of those norms as proof positive that they are cisgender, either. Give your children room to experiment and play without it meaning anything in particular, and without expecting certain behaviors to mean the same thing for every kid. Listen to your children and take them seriously, while understanding that they may change their minds. Let them know that it's okay to explore, to change. Don't write op-eds taking a position about what their gender identity definitively is. You might be wrong. They might be wrong, for a time. The marvelous thing about youth is its capacity for creativity, growth, and flux.

Of course, children also need limits, boundaries, and guidelines. I don't mean to suggest a radically child-centric approach that eschews sensible rules. A kid who is forced to wear clothes they don't like once in a while will be fine, even if they ultimately turn out to be transgender. Every loving parent gets things wrong sometimes. What I'm suggesting is a little more humility, and more acceptance that as children grow, they tend to do so in directions their parents could never foresee.

April 20 2017 4:45 PM

How Can You Help Queer Chechens Under Attack? Start by Tagging the President on Instagram.


When faced with the kind of brutality currently being shown to gay and bi men in Chechnya, the natural impulse is to look for something—anything—that we can do to stand against it. But for a situation so remote and opaque, it’s hard to know where to begin. OutRight Action International has one easy suggestion: Tag Chechnya’s strong-man president on Instagram.



Yes, the Chechen leader overseeing a country where kidnappings, detentions, tortures, and killings of innocent queer men have become startlingly frequent in recent months has an active Instagram! Ramzan Kadyrov (@kadyrov_95) uses the social media platform to share pictures of uniformed schoolboys, ribbon cuttings, and pictures of himself smiling, giving thumbs up to the camera, and speaking into microphones. He does not, however, share pictures from the facilities where suspected queer men are reportedly being held and tortured with electrodes until they implicate others, in a campaign of terror that shows no signs of abating.


April 20 2017 8:15 AM

How the Catholic Priesthood Became an Unlikely Haven for Many Gay Men

Adapted from The Sex Effect: Baring Our Complicated Relationship With Sex,out now from Sourcebooks.

Back in March, Pope Francis sparked a wave of headlines when he hinted at the possibility of ordaining married men as priests. Since there’s no evidence that church practice will actually change, reactions to Francis’ comments were premature. But the speculators ignored one interesting point: Opening the priesthood to married men would probably reduce the high percentage of priests who are gay.

While doing research for my book The Sex Effect, I came across many scholars who suggested that preventing priests from marrying altered the makeup of the priesthood over time, unintentionally providing a shelter for some devout gay men to hide their sexual orientation. By continuing to disqualify women and married men, the priesthood attracts men who desire to forgo sex for the rest of their lives in an attempt to get closer to God. Because the church denounces allgay sex, some devout gay men pursue the celibate priesthood as a self-incentive to avoid sex with men, which can help them circumvent perceived damnation.

April 19 2017 4:11 PM

Meet Pauli Murray, a Gender-Variant Pioneer for Equal Protection Under the Law

Being “in between” was both a curse and blessing for Pauli Murray, born Anna Pauline Murray, in 1910. Growing up in a segregated North Carolina, Murray displayed at an early age an artistic mind and a preference for the boys’ section of the clothing store. Variously tormented and buoyed in her life by her status as a woman, being of mixed race, and as a self-professed “boy-girl” who believed in her bones that she was really a man, Murray endured to become a journalist, an activist, a professor, a priest, and a lawyer who made monumental contributions to civil rights and women’s rights.

So why do we know so little about Murray, who, for example, laid out the seminal legal argument that Ruth Bader Ginsburg pursued to extend the Equal Protection Clause beyond the protection of white men? In 1971, Ginsburg, building on an influential law article Murray co-wrote, successfully persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment should apply to protecting both women and other minority groups from discrimination.

Barnard historian Rosalind Rosenberg, author of an exhaustive and transfixing new biography, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, sheds light on the dearth of information. The main reason: The executor of Murray’s estate, who holds the rights to 135 boxes of Murray’s most intimate reflections in the form of diaries, as well as correspondence, legal briefs, and other archival material, was highly protective of how Murray would be portrayed following her death in 1985. “I think that’s why it’s taken so long for anyone to try to delve a little bit more deeply into her life,” she told me.