What the Appointment of LGBTQ-Friendly Anthony Scaramucci Means for the White House
The appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director introduces a weird and interesting wrinkle into Donald Trump’s sporadic efforts to position himself as a champion of gay rights. It could also be an indication that the administration’s social conservatives, led by Vice President Mike Pence, will see themselves increasingly marginalized.
It’s easy to forget now, but at certain points during the 2016 campaign, Trump presented himself as more LGBTQ-friendly than Hillary Clinton. Following the Pulse shooting in June 2016, Trump tweeted: “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” A few months later, he held up an upside-down rainbow flag that read “LGBTs for TRUMP” at an event. He declaredthat transgender people should “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate” and said that Caitlyn Jenner could use whatever bathroom she preferred at Trump Tower. And he had his friend Peter Thiel speak at the GOP convention.
None of this was particularly surprising, since Trump seems to hold no clear personal animus toward LGBTQ people and professed his support for gay rights laws as early as 2000. But after his November victory, Trump outsourced many personnel decisions to the Republican Party and Vice President Pence. An outspoken evangelical conservative, Pence stacked the transition team with anti-LGBTQ zealots (and Thiel, probably to appease Trump). When Trump began appointing White House advisers like Steve Bannon and cabinet members like Jeff Sessions, it became clear that an aversion to LGBTQ rights would not be disqualifying in this administration.
The Senate Just Confirmed an Anti-Gay Blogger to the Federal Judiciary
The Trump administration’s assault on LGBTQ rights scored a major victory on Thursday when the Senate confirmed John K. Bush to the powerful 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Bush, perhaps Trump’s most controversial nominee to the lower courts, has a long history of making homophobic and sexist comments during his years as an anonymous blogger. Yet every Republican senator (except the absent John McCain) voted to confirm him. Bush, who is 52, will serve a lifetime appointment.
Bush’s record overflows with offensive, archaic, and bizarre comments, many directed toward women and sexual minorities. In 2005, he used the word “faggot” in a speech to a private club, quoting Hunter S. Thompson. In 2008, he referred to then–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as “Mama Pelosi” and urged Congress to “gag the House speaker.” When the State Department introduced gender-neutral passport applications to accommodate same-sex couples, Bush complained in a 2011 blog post that the move was worthy of “outrage”—though “not Obamacare-level outrage.” He added that the change means “both parents are subservient to the nanny state—more precisely, a nanny Secretary of State.” Bush also credulously reported a story from World Net Daily, the discredited promulgator of birther conspiracies, alleging that then-Sen. Barack Obama played a role in the detention of a WND reporter in Kenya who’d been investigating the future president’s half-brother.
The Lonely, Heroic Work of a Gay Libyan Refugee Living in America
Late last week, in a West Village townhome, Hass Agili scrolled past the Facebook messages containing death threats and hate speech, past the harrowing notes disgracing him and his family, and tapped on a message from a college student living outside Tripoli. For privacy reasons, we’ll call him Ali. He’s 18 years old, and the cover photo on his Facebook profile is an image of Hass standing in front of the Statue of Liberty.
Their message chain is written in both Arabic and English, mixed with heart emojis and screenshots from secret LGBTQ Facebook pages with posts praising Hass. Exchanging messages with Hass, a gay Libyan who successfully gained refugee status and resettled in the United States, is like talking to a celebrity, says Ali. Ali asks Hass for advice on how he, too, can escape Libya, and wants to know what the U.S. Supreme Court ruling partially reinstating the travel ban means for potential refugees like him. Ali risks his life by sharing so much with Hass about how he survives as a gay person in Libya. If anyone were to find these messages, he would be outed and likely killed. Ali is just one of many gay Libyans now coming to Hass for help.
“They are really scared and desperate to get out,” said Hass.
Out of the nearly 85,000 refugees admitted to the US in 2016, Hass was the only Libyan, and there hasn’t been another since. He’s now 34 years old, living in New York City with a Social Security number and refugee status that expires this month. As required by law, Hass applied for a green card, and now he waits on the status of his application.
“I worry that the Trump administration and repercussions from the travel ban might affect my application. But nobody will tell you anything. There’s nothing I can do but wait and see,” said Hass.
Liberals Have Turned Trump Into a Gay Villain Because Our Worst Villains Must Be Gay
Now that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have met in the flesh, our obsession with imagining the president as a gay man has reached a climax. Frank Bruni used his Thursday column in the New York Times to publish a work of fan fiction, “Donnie and Vlad: A Love Story,” about the “irrepressible,” unrequited, and ultimately “gross” affection of the commander in chief for the leader of Russia. As the men talked behind closed doors for over two hours at the G-20 summit, Twitter got to work.
The joke is not that old, but it feels ancient. The Lithuanian mural atop Bruni’s piece of Trump and Putin kissing went viral over a year ago; Trump smooched a shirtless Putin on Saturday Night Live in November; and Stephen Colbert was assailed for calling Trump Putin’s “cock holster” in May. In the press, where it’s generally untoward to tease a president in explicitly sexual terms, Trump is said to have many “bromances”—attempted, “budding,” ongoing, and failed: with Tom Brady, with James Comey, with Rodrigo Duterte, with Andrew Jackson (d. 1845), with Morning Joe, with Kim Jong-un, with Narendra Modi (actually a romance, no b), with Rupert Murdoch, with Elon Musk, with Benjamin Netanyahu, with Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, with Xi Jinping. And with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar El-Baker. And, of course, with Putin. (Trump has not, according to the press, had a ro- or bromance with Peter Thiel, who is gay and just his “tech pal.”) These references occur regularly in straight news coverage as ostensibly neutral descriptions. They’re also very, very popular with political cartoonists.
The trope is deployed not because it is novel but because it is not. It is hammered like a schoolyard taunt, with a smug assurance that Trump has been duly “trolled.” Like a lot of liberal comedy right now, it serves a fantasy of resistance through snark. (Think of Seth Rogen’s dumb Twitter messages to Donald Jr., recently glorified on Colbert’s show, or the news—ecstatically received in February and then chronicled as legend only three months later—that Melissa McCarthy had humiliated Sean Spicer.) Sexual politics aside, our glee in calling Trump gay says more about us than it does about him.
The Silliest Advice in That Asinine New York Times Op-Ed Promoting Democratic “Centrism”
On Thursday, failed campaign strategist Mark Penn and money-laundering Trump supporter Andrew Stein declared in a New York Times op-ed that the Democratic Party must “move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left.” Penn and Stein’s ornery manifesto urges Democrats to imprison more opioid addicts, champion “tough anti-crime measures,” end sanctuary cities, and crack down on undocumented immigrants. The whole op-ed is really just an endorsement of centrist white nationalism filled with catastrophically asinine proposals that, if adopted, would enrage most Democratic voters. (Why, after all, should the diverse and progressive Democratic base cater to the prejudices of white ethno-nationalists who are already fleeing the party?) Yet the silliest line in the whole affair involves not race but gender: Penn and Stein exhort Democrats to abandon “transgender bathroom issues” for their own good.
We’ve seen this advice before. Shortly after the presidential election, the Times published an op-ed by Mark Lilla calling for “the end of identity liberalism.” Lilla criticized Clinton for her “rhetoric of diversity,” as well as her focus on the concerns of “African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters.” To drive home his point, Lilla proclaimed that “America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.” Straight white men who’ve never had to think twice about using the bathroom in safety are obviously very perturbed that the Democratic Party backs transgender rights.
What’s so strange about this particular complaint, however, is that trans bathroom access is a winning issue for Democrats—even in red-leaning states. A February poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 53 percent of Americans oppose laws forcing trans individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex assigned to them at birth. Only 39 percent of respondents approved of such measures. Meanwhile, 65 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents oppose regulations limiting trans bathroom access. Summarizing the data, PRRI Chief Executive Robert P. Jones explained: “This is a case where it really is Republicans kind of pulling away and being more of an outlier to the rest of the country.”
We May Be One Step Away From a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy for Trans Troops
In 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House having assured an LGBTQ audience, “I have a vision, and you’re a part of it.” Included in Clinton’s pledge was a promise to lift the ban on military service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans “with the stroke of a pen.” Surprised by the strength of opposition to inclusive service, the new president instructed his defense secretary to announce a six-month “cooling off” period to allow for consultations with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who led the resistance to open service. Smelling blood, social and political conservatives used this window to launch a massive culture war battle that cast gay people as immoral hedonists who, as sexual predators, threatened to undermine our military and hence the nation’s security and the survival of the republic.
Late last week, President Trump’s Defense Secretary, James Mattis, announced a six-month delay of a year-old plan to allow capable transgender Americans to enter the military and serve our country in uniform. In a memo that cites the “readiness and lethality of our armed forces” as the overriding standard for determining who may serve in the military, Mattis nevertheless gestured at the real reasonfor the delay, which was, once again, sought by the service chiefs: to incorporate the “views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials now arriving in the Department.” That is, to allow for the crass politicization of military personnel policy.
Although Trump promised in his campaign that no one would be a better “friend” to the LGBTQ community than he would, the president has now capitulated without a fight to what amounts to clear obstructionism by the service chiefs.
Once again, social conservatives smell blood. The Family Research Council released a statement praising the delay as “a good first step” toward derailing inclusive policy altogether—at the hands of Congress. Its vice president, a retired Army general, used the occasion to toss out wholly unfounded and even made-up figures about how much a trans-inclusive policy could cost the military in expenses for “new body parts.” (To see the most reputable estimates for the actual cost, in contrast to the “alternative facts” asserted by the far right, see here or here.) FRC argued that somehow a policy of equal treatment will “create an unfairness that will undermine unit cohesion and morale.”
What Would Queer Life Be Like If AIDS Had Never Happened?
If they had lived, who would we be? That’s the question driving the Father’s Project, a crowdfunded video-based art project by the Mexican activist and filmmaker Leo Herrera. When we think about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its impact on the LGBTQ community, it’s easy to focus on the numbers of lives lost, especially at the height of the dying in the 1980s and early ’90s. But those deaths also took with them a generation’s worth of knowledge and creative potential, leaving the next generation poorer, searching for role models and cheated of their rightful queer cultural inheritance. Herrera and his collaborators’ project takes the daring leap of imagining that this void never formed in the first place, that our “fathers” lived long and productive lives and that queer culture remained an incubator of innovation rather than a site of incomprehensible tragedy.
Because Herrera is currently at work on the project, we don’t yet know exactly what this “queer utopia,” as he calls it, will look like, but the tone is something akin to “Cruising meets Black Mirror meets Beyoncé’s Lemonade.” I emailed with Herrera about his aims and process as he was en route to film in Provincetown, Massachusetts—a fine example of what he calls queer people’s talent for “carving utopias” if there ever was one.
Can Emoji Be Gender-Inclusive? Paul Hunt Has Designed His Way to an Answer.
Last May, Google laid out a proposal for gender equality in emoji. It wasn’t right, the authors wrote, that male emojis got to be police officers and construction workers while female emojis were limited to brides and princesses. The pitch, which the Unicode Consortium approved, added man options for the heretofore feminized emojis (haircut recipient; sassy hand lady) and woman options to the masculinized ones (rower; British royal guard). The emoji establishment finally became an equal-opportunity employer.
That wasn’t enough for Paul Hunt, a 40-year-old typeface designer at Adobe. As one of the company’s liaisons to the Unicode emoji subcommittee, Hunt read the public comments on Unicode’s plan to add two gender options for nearly every human emoji. “Some of the people that responded brought up the point that it’s well and good to try to have parity for men and women in emoji, but that’s not the whole story,” he said. “To have true gender equality, we would need to think about how to provide representation for people who do not have a binary gender identity.”
Religious Freedom Laws Are More About Suppressing Visibility Than Protecting the Pious
Discrimination threatens LGBTQ visibility by encouraging subterfuge. I know from experience.
When David and I were foster parenting our daughters, I was in court for a remarkable exchange. Even though the status hearing to discuss the birth mother’s progress wasn’t supposed to be about us—except to make sure the girls were in an appropriate place—the attorney for the birth mother went down an unexpected path. He asked the city worker for the names of the foster parents. Taken aback, she provided them, and the attorney then repeated them, loudly, for the benefit of the court: “John and David, Your Honor.”
Same-Sex Marriage Finally Comes to Germany
On Friday morning, the German parliament approved amending the country's laws to allow for same-sex marriage. The vote, in which 393 members voted in favor, while 226 voted against and 4 abstained, was in reponse to a proposal put forward by the Social Democratic party. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had previously opposed the measure—and indeed still voted "no" herself—had, in a surprise pivot, told her Christian Democrat party to "follow their conscience" on Monday. And to the joy of German gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, as well as Pride revelers the world-over, they followed it to the right conclusion.
German MPs pop confetti after legalising same-sex marriage. ❤️🧡💛💚💙 pic.twitter.com/KXz297wNYY— triplejHack (@triplejHack) June 30, 2017
Merkel had long indicated that she had a "hard time" with same-sex marriage, particularly with regard to the raising of children. But apparently a recent dinner with a lesbian couple who care for eight foster children softened her view. According to the L.A. Times, Merkel signaled her shift at live event put on by Brigitte magazine on Monday:
“I had a life-changing experience in my home constituency,” Merkel explained during a question-and-answer session with the audience. She said she had been invited to dinner with a woman and her partner who were caring for eight foster children. She saw that the children were well cared for, and it dawned on her that her party’s arguments against same-sex marriage were no longer valid. “If the youth welfare service entrusts a lesbian couple with eight foster children, then the state could no longer use child welfare as an argument against adoptions,” she said.
As the BBC points out, Merkel also has political incentives for allowing the vote now, despite opposition within her own party. A recent poll found that 83 percent of Germans supported marriage equality, and with an election coming up in September, the change will take one campaign issue off the table: "The Greens, the far-left Linke, and the pro-business Free Democrats all back same-sex marriage," explained the BBC. "In fact, they have refused to enter a future coalition deal unless reform is agreed on."
Queer German families will likely care less about the motivations than the effect. Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe, one of Europe's major LGBTQ advocacy organizations, cheered the move in a statement on Friday: “After years of waiting and hoping, rainbow families in Germany will now receive equal recognition under the law," she said. "This is a historic milestone that can inspire even more change for LGBTI people.” The move means that couples will now enjoy joint adoption rights, in addition to all the other rights tied to marriage.
Germany's entry into the marriage equality fold follows on the heels of a major court decision in Taiwan in May ordering that country to amend its laws to allow for same-sex marriage within two years. Germans are expected to be able to wed as early as the end of 2017.
This post has been updated.