Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Jan. 17 2017 6:41 PM

After Years of Horrible Treatment in Prison, Chelsea Manning Will Soon Be Free

When it comes to Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who was sentenced to prison after leaking a trove of classified government data to Wikileaks in 2010, the question of whether her actions made her a patriot or a traitor is one reasonable people can debate. That debate will undoubtedly continue after the announcement on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence—an unprecedentedly long one for a crime that usually receives terms of one to three years. (Manning will go free on May 17.) What’s indisputable, however, is the unconscionable nature of Manning’s treatment as a transgender woman during her incarceration.

Chase Strangio, Manning’s ACLU attorney, referenced the trauma Manning has experienced in a press release praising the decision. “Since she was first taken into custody, Chelsea has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement—including for attempting suicide—and has been denied access to medically necessary health care,” he said. “This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life.” Prominent transgender writers and advocates agreed.


The ACLU represented Manning in suing the Department of Defense in 2014 over the agency’s refusal to treat Manning’s gender dysphoria. Though doctors diagnosed Manning with the condition—which is typically treated with a combination of social gender transition (clothes, pronouns, etc.), hormone replacement therapy, psychotherapy, and, depending on the patient’s personal preference, gender confirmation surgeries—the Army has resisted providing even the most basic of these medically necessary treatments for years. Manning has consistently been forced to maintain male hair-grooming standards (though light makeup and female undergarments are allowed), and she was only granted access to hormones in the spring of 2015. Her request for surgery was granted in September of last year, but only after a five-day hunger strike, and no procedure has yet taken place.

After Donald Trump—who has called accommodations for transgender members of the military “politically correct”—won the election, it became clear that Obama’s power to commute and pardon in the last days of his presidency might be Manning’s only hope. Strangio put it bluntly in a Jan. 11 blog post calling for the commutation: “Her trauma is escalating; her life is in danger. President Obama is likely the only person who can save her.” The ACLU and more than a dozen other LGBTQ advocacy groups communicated that grim reality to the president in a December 2016 petition, which garnered more than 100,000 signatures.

Clearly, Obama heard the plea. In a few months, Manning will return to a world in which freedoms for queer and trans folks have improved considerably since her confinement began. Let’s hope that those improvements remain in place to greet her in May, and, despite the politics of the incoming administration, continue to grow in the future.

Jan. 17 2017 8:30 AM

Mississippi Governor: Some Gay People Become Straight, and Lots of Them Bully Christians

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is not a fan of the First Amendment. We know this because last April, Bryant signed HB 1523, a disturbing law singling out three specific anti-LGBTQ religious beliefs and granting their holders a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, medical treatment, public accommodations, adoptions, and marriage licensing. When a state provides special rights to certain people by endorsing certain beliefs in a way that burdens nonbelievers—as HB 1523 clearly does—it runs afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. That’s what U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in June when he blocked the law, and it’s what challengers to the statute are arguing in the next round of litigation at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Now the attorneys whom Bryant has tasked with defending HB 1523 have struck back in a wildly unhinged brief that reads more like a deranged rant than a legal argument.

Jan. 16 2017 1:11 PM

America May Be Heading Into an STD Epidemic—and Gay and Bi Men Are Going to Be the Hardest Hit

Earlier this month, Poz magazine’s Benjamin Ryan drew attention to a concerning new study out of Northern California’s heath system: Using data gathered from July 2012 through June 2015, researchers found that, among a cohort consisting mostly of same-sex attracted men on the HIV-prevention regimen PrEP, “quarterly rates of rectal gonorrhea and urethral chlamydia increased steadily and about doubled after one year.” In other words, guys on the fantastically effective pill-a-day Truvada program were avoiding HIV infection—there were no new transmissions for regimen-adherent patients over the study period, in fact—but they seemed to be getting other sexually transmitted diseases relatively often. There are a few plausible explanations for the measured increase in this particular community, including the quarterly or at least semi-annual STD battery a PrEP prescription requires (more testing almost certainly means more diagnoses compared to men who infrequently or never get tested), and emerging evidence that many men, emboldened by PrEP, are engaging in more condomless sex. Either way, gay and bi men have reason to be alarmed.

This news came on the heels of a recent STD Surveillance Report from the CDC, which showed that the total combined cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis reported in the U.S. in 2015 reached record highs. Those most at risk were gay and bisexual men (regardless of their PrEP status), as well as the youth of America: Young adults aged 15 to 24 accounted for half the gonorrhea diagnoses and two-thirds of the chlamydia cases. Men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for the majority of new gonorrhea and syphilis cases. And all this while strains of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea were recently discovered to be on the rise among MSM.

As a journalist who covers sexual health and as a gay man who has sex, it seems to me that our community is on the cusp of a major STD epidemic. And although gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are certainly not the scourge HIV once was, I can’t help but feel a kind of old-fashioned, Larry Kramer-tinged guilt, like my community is to blame because of our more open relationship to sex. They say not to read comments sections online, but I couldn’t resist peeking at articles covering the CDC news. On a piece from USA Today, one person wrote: “Lot's of young whores out there today,” while another said, “looks like gays are determine[d] to do themselves harm.”

But is this accurate? Is “bad” sexual behavior among gays and other groups to blame for the trend? The answer is surely complicated, but if we want to better fight the rise in STD rates, we have to try to understand what’s driving it in the first place.

Jan. 13 2017 6:11 PM

Side Eye: Boys Kissing Boys Who Don’t Actually Like Boys

Side Eye is an occasional Outward column in which we’ll look askance at questionable behavior from fellow members of the queer community. Seen something in LGBTQ-land that deserves a shady squint? Alert bryan.lowder@slate.com with “Side Eye” (or just “oh, gurl, did you see”) in the subject line.

In today’s column, we look askance at a vexing, Hollywood-based cluster of man-on-man kissing—an activity we normally applaud, but in this case must submit to a firm inspection.

Bryan Lowder: Andrew, before we get to the weirdness that is this mini-trend of straight actor men kissing each other, we should probably explain to our readers why we are addressing straight people under the Side Eye banner, which was invented for intra-queer analytical shade. Simply put, they are acting like gay people! And since they seem to want to dip their well-appointed toes into our world, I am willing to treat them with the bracing honesty that I would a sister queer.

Jan. 13 2017 1:49 PM

How Can Literature Resist Islamophobia? One Writer Answers: Gay Muslim Furry Romance.

Kyell Gold’s new novel may lie at the most unlikely intersection in literary history: a gay immigrant Muslim romance involving furries--that is, people who feel a close identification with anthropomorphic animal characters.

“I wrote this book in part as a response to the wave of Islamophobia in this country,” Gold explained in an author’s note, “never dreaming at the time that it would crest as it has now.”

The Time He Desires is the story of Aziz, a cheetah in a faltering heterosexual marriage who explores the boundaries of his sexuality with the help of a gay fox. Aziz is a Sudanese immigrant, and engages in a struggle with his desires that will be familiar to queer readers. Gold’s been writing furry romance novels full-time for several years, after bouncing from chemical engineering to business school to zoology. After he was laid off in 2010 with a generous severance package, his husband said, “if you’re going to be a full-time writer, this is the time to start.”

Jan. 10 2017 2:55 PM

John Kerry’s “Lavender Scare” Apology Obscures the State Department’s Shameful History

Monday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry issued an apology for his department’s past discrimination against LGBTQ people. It was unprecedented, unexpected, and unspecific, a rather stiff parting hug to the community before the incoming administration kicks us in the shins.

Kerry was apparently responding to two letters, one issued by Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland on Nov. 29 and another (echoing Cardin) sent by the Human Rights Campaign on Dec. 22. Both letters explicitly evoked the postwar panic known as the “Lavender Scare” in which the federal government purged thousands of gay and lesbian employees from its ranks on the pretext of their being “security risks.” Cardin’s letter, citing historian David Johnson’s extraordinary book on the subject, details the persecution at length, with special attention to the Senate’s role in it. Both letters recommend that the State Department memorialize the victims of its discrimination with an exhibit at the National Museum of American Diplomacy.

While arguably better than nothing, Monday’s apology is baffling. It’s the first time the federal government has ever acknowledged these events, but Kerry’s statement is only legible as such to those familiar with the history. To everyone else it is, at best, cryptic and, at worst, misleading. The first hundred words of the statement (half of it) burnish Kerry’s legacy on LGBTQ issues. There follows one sentence, vague and defensive, to describe the scare: “In the past—as far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades—the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place.” Then the apology. There’s no mention of the requests for memorialization.

Jan. 9 2017 8:45 AM

The Girls Who Love Queens: Drag’s Biggest Audience May Soon Be Young Women

Gay men have long been perceived as drag’s only true, die-hard audience. But a new wave of young women is challenging that conventional wisdom, joining gays as some of the biggest consumers of drag culture.

At bars, clubs, conventions, and especially across social media, young women “drag fans” are appearing in unprecedented numbers. Many are minors, too young to attend club events—so they wait patiently on sidewalks to glimpse their favorite queens, or view bits of shows on Snapchat. They are determined. Ignoring barriers of age, gender, and sexual orientation, they make enough noise to draw attention from RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty like Michelle Visage and local queens alike. But what accounts for this phenomenon?

Jan. 6 2017 8:30 AM

Please Note: The Legislator Behind Virginia’s New Anti-Trans Bill Is Completely Nuts

Virginia Del. Bob Marshall, a Republican, introduced an anti-trans bill on Tuesday that would severely limit transgender people’s access to public bathrooms. The measure somewhat mirrors North Carolina’s notorious HB2 by prohibiting transgender people from using government facilities, including school bathrooms, that align with their gender identity. But it has a twist: Under Marshall’s bill, a trans person who changes the gender on his or her birth certificate is still punished—because everyone must use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their “original birth certificate.”

Marshall’s bill is deeply malicious and utterly futile. Even if it passes Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vowed to veto it. (Indeed, McAuliffe issued an executive order barring LGBTQ discrimination by state contractors shortly after Marshall introduced his measure.) How unhinged must Marshall be, you might wonder, to propose such a cruel and fatuous bill? Let’s assess the evidence.

Jan. 5 2017 5:26 PM

If Trump Is an LGBTQ Ally, How Could He Pick Anti-Gay Dan Coats as Head of National Intelligence?

The New York Times, reporting that former Sen. Dan Coats is being tapped for director of national intelligence, called the staunch homophobe “a mild-mannered conservative.” Perhaps the Times has a short memory or didn’t do much research on Coats—or perhaps its characterization is a sign of just how far rightward the right wing has recently careened. But Coats’ appointment would be one more mark of how empty—or dishonest—Donald Trump’s claim that he’s an ally of the LGBTQ community was.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Coats fought against LGBTQ equality far more stridently than his conservative colleagues in Congress. Coats was a leading opponent of Bill Clinton’s 1993 effort to let lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops serve openly, fighting instead to retain a complete ban, a position more extreme than then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell’s willingness to allow gays and lesbians to serve as long as they hid their sexual orientation. Coats claimed that equal treatment would “seriously undermine the effectiveness, the normal discipline [and] the good order” necessary to retain military capability. He even equated permitting openly gay service with condoning sexual harassment. Lifting the ban, he said “would allow the kind of conduct that took place at the Tailhook convention to be exempted from any military regulation.” Tailhook was a major scandal in which more than a hundred military officers were accused of sexually assaulting 83 women and seven men at a drunken Las Vegas officer symposium in 1991. Coats’ implication was that the mere presence of gay or lesbian people in uniform was tantamount to sexual assault—the kind that, in reality, was routinely perpetrated by straight commanders.

Jan. 5 2017 1:39 PM

California’s Prop 60 Failed, but Condoms in Porn Is Hardly a Dead Issue

California has required condoms in porn since 1992—or maybe it never required them at all.

For years, this confusion over what state law requires has resulted in the one of the world's largest AIDS advocacy organizations, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, locking horns with the adult industry in a series of bitter legal battles. The sparring climaxed in a ballot measure this past fall that would have written mandatory condoms into state law once and for all. That gambit failed, but the issue is far from resolved.