Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Oct. 20 2016 12:56 PM

Louisiana Is Trying to Prevent Immigrants From Getting Married

When Victor Anh Vo went with his fiancée to obtain a marriage license, he instead received a nasty shock: The couple was legally barred from getting married. Both Vo and his fiancée are American citizens of legal age—but Vo was born in a refugee camp and has no official birth certificate. As a parish clerk informed the devastated couple, that disqualifies him from obtaining a license, because Louisiana law forbids anyone without a birth certificate from marrying within the state.

This requirement is no ancient rule. It was enacted just last year during a fit of legislative xenophobia driven by paranoia that immigrants were committing marriage fraud in Louisiana. Now a coalition of attorneys from the National Immigration Law Center, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, and the law firm Skadden, Arps is challenging the measure in court. Their fight to overturn the law is the first big marriage equality battle post-Obergefell, and it poses a nearly identical question: Can states deny individuals their fundamental right to marry because they don’t think certain people deserve to get married?

Oct. 20 2016 11:12 AM

Becoming a Man in the Age of Trump

Donald Trump has a clear idea of what a real man is, and it’s not pretty. A real man is someone with the courage to openly disparage people for their ethnic heritage. Someone who will bluster, lie, or stonewall rather than admit to gaps in his knowledge and understanding. Someone who will succeed in business at any cost, whether that means stiffing his contractors, avoiding taxes despite great wealth, or declaring bankruptcy and spinning it as a clever negotiating tactic. But above all, a real man is someone who shows his power by alternately demeaning women and bragging about his conquests.

I’m new to being a man. For more than 30 years of my life , before I decided to transition, I was living as a woman. How to be a good man, and what it would mean to call myself a real man, are questions I’m still trying to answer to my own satisfaction. The rise of Donald Trump—and the backlash against the toxic masculinity he embodies—has made these questions exponentially more complicated.

Oct. 19 2016 1:27 PM

Parenting in the Shadow of Trump


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.

I’ve known for some time that this month’s column would have to be about parenting during this election season—and about trying to decide how much to talk about politics with my just-turned-12-year-old twins. Originally, I’d anticipated that politics would mean the candidates’ positions on various issues. But that was before it became clear this campaign would be largely issue-starved.


Once, I had this idea I’d write about the awful things Trump had said about major groups of people—women, Mexicans, Muslims, black Americans, refugees—and how his speeches weren’t even suitable for children. But the Clinton campaign made that point for me, running ads showing horrified kids, sprawled out on some of our nation’s finest carpets, listening to his bluster. More recently, Trump’s attacks on women and their looks spawned an even more upsetting Clinton ad depicting girls absorbing this sick, slanderous stew.

Those now seem like the good old days. Lately, I’ve been completely tongue-tied when trying to think of anything I might want to say to the kids about the Trump endgame. Then I saw this:

And there it is. The apotheosis of the anger, the violence, and the vitriol that will be the tragic legacy of this horrifying campaign season. If any two images can carry the full freight of the culture war Trump has set ablaze, it’s this pair. The Confederate battle flag isn’t just for racists any more. Now it also signals an angry male identity that lashes out at urban, millennial, educated elites. And who better to represent that bundle of despised stuff than the rainbow flag? All of those people might as well be gay. We know they’re alien. Trump’s mostly left LGBTQ people alone, but it hardly matters. The angriest partisans on the right are fully engaged, and they’re not picky about the specific targets.

What could I possibly tell my kids about all this—an election in which much of the national sentiment can be summed up in one figure kicking another in the gut? We let them watch the second debate with us and two other couples. I looked on in despair as the six children—all girls, ages 11–16—had to witness the dark sludge oozing through the screen. I conveniently remembered it was a school night and shooed our kids to bed about halfway through.

They didn’t ask questions about any of it the next day, and I was grateful for that. I’ve been trying to pry something out of them (and from their friends) about what they think of the election; mostly, they’re mum. But on Sunday, driving with a couple of their friends back from their birthday party weekend, one of my daughters asked if we’d move to Canada if Trump won. Apparently, this possibility gets discussed at school. I found myself saying “maybe”—and, for the first time, almost meaning it.

The truth is, this isn’t going to end with Trump, whether or not he wins. The dogs of war have been slipped, and the violence will rise up on both sides. Already in North Carolina—lately ground zero in the culture war—a GOP headquarters was firebombed by unknown, angry activists. A graffito on a nearby building demanded that “Nazi Republicans Leave Town Or Else.” The retaliatory ugliness is predictable, scary, and not easy to tamp down once unchained.

And there’s already a new Confederate versus Rainbow image: This one shows the tables turned, with the Rainbow Avenger kicking the Confederate Creep right in that same, sensitive spot. This is what we’ve come to, three weeks before what is sure to be a dismal Election Day, even when Hillary Clinton wins. And then we’ll have to hold our breath to see if Trump will slink away to sell more of his crappy products, or whether he’ll carry out his threat to question the results. A woman at a Mike Pence rally threatened a revolution if the election were stolen by voter fraud, a boogeyman that Trump has been wildly ginning up lately. Another Trump supporter suggested a “coup,” and said that Hillary Clinton “should be in prison or shot.”

I’ve been giving some thought about how to introduce these deeper concerns about divisiveness and outright violence with the kids. In a way, it’ll be simpler than engaging in political discussions on more nuanced topics, like climate change or the president’s role in the make-up of the Supreme Court.

But getting them to understand how divided and how angry our political leaders and the broader society have become is a big part of any conversation about the underlying issues these days. It’s not enough to understand that climate change is real, and what’s likely to happen—they also need to know how sclerotic and obstructionist Congress has become. (“Sclerotic” will also be a useful vocabulary-builder.) And the indefensible refusal to consider Supreme Court nominees has to be part of any conversation about why the Court’s membership matters so much. (Even 12-year-olds know that eight is a bad number for a court; when I asked what they thought of a nine-member court minus one, they said: “But what if there’s a tie?”)

The harder thing to explain is the why of all this divisiveness. How can I connect the dots for them from these points: congressional obstructionism; Trump’s success in using a racist, xenophobic attack on the president’s citizenship to launch his vile political career; and the explosive hatred that’s gotten almost impossible to avoid?

Honestly, I don’t know. Explanations having to do with how politicos have exploited the anxiety of uneducated white voters who see their economic and social position eroding can only take me so far. In the end, it will be about trying to cultivate empathy, and hoping that they’ll come to understand the anger without excusing it. In Philadelphia, one way to do has been to talk honestly of the many homeless people we regularly encounter, and how they might have been brought to this place. And it’s past time to get them involved in actually doing stuff to make a difference.

Bumper stickers rarely spawn civil discourse. Maybe the small consolation of this rock-bottom election season will be to remind us of the human toll of all this hatred, and to help us show kids a different way.

Previously in Hey, Daddy!

Oct. 19 2016 12:11 PM

An Attorney and a DA Are Seeking Justice for Tennesseans Convicted of “Homosexual Acts”

Nashville attorney Daniel Horwitz was helping a man expunge his criminal record when he discovered something unexpected: a conviction for violating Tennessee’s Homosexual Practices Act—from 1995.

“Subject was engaged in sexual intercourse with another male subject,” the misdemeanor citation reads. The charge could have landed the defendant—whom I’ll call John Doe—in jail. Instead, Doe took a plea deal and avoided jail time by admitting that he had, indeed, had sex with a man, a practice forbidden by the law. Horwitz told me he was “aghast” to see the charge.

“I had no idea that Nashville was still prosecuting sex between consenting same-sex adults as a criminal offense well into the mid-’90s,” Horwitz said. He immediately began working to expunge Doe’s record—which should have been an easy task, because today, the conviction itself is illegal. In 1996, the Tennessee Court of Appeals invalidated the Homosexual Practices Act as a violation of the state constitution. Seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court held that laws punishing same-sex intimacy also violate the federal constitution.

Oct. 14 2016 11:47 AM

Four Lesbians Were Wrongly Convicted of Child Abuse. Why Haven’t They Been Exonerated?

On the night of Saturday Oct. 15, every LGBTQ person and ally—and anyone who wants to see unequivocal proof of how messed up the American criminal justice system is—should plant themselves in front of a TV set and watch Southwest of Salem. The documentary, which airs on Investigation Discovery at 8 p.m., tells the story of the San Antonio Four—a group of Latina lesbians who were wrongly convicted of gang-raping two girls in the mid-’90s. Each served more than a decade in prison.

Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez, all now in their early 40s, were found guilty of aggravated sexual assault on a child after two of Ramirez’s nieces, then 7 and 9, claimed the four women had raped them with various objects while they were staying in Ramirez and Mayhugh’s home. As Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explained in a 2013 Slate piece, the case was a product of “a weird, panicked time in recent American history, when the word gay or lesbian was too often conflated with pedophile.” Despite inconsistencies in the girls’ stories; the fact that their father was angry at Ramirez, his former sister-in-law, for rejecting his romantic advances and coming out as a lesbian; and evidence of overt and coded homophobia in the women’s trials, all four ended up behind bars.

Oct. 13 2016 10:09 AM

Former YouTuber Troye Sivan Is Making Music That’s Unmistakably Great, Unashamedly Gay

“Many YouTubers are prolific, industrious self-starters,” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson has observed. “But a precious few of them are genuinely creative.” Indeed, for what is supposed to be a highly personal and introspective form, YouTubing—video-blogging about one’s life, likes, and musings—is fundamentally derivative. “For a lot of popular YouTubers, it’s much easier to see what sort of videos their peers are doing and then, y’know, just do them too,” Lawson added. It is a creative form that repeats itself.

This is not only true of, say, videos where YouTubers eat ”weird” British candy, play word or music games, or take questions from their audience. YouTubing, as I’ve previously written, has become an important outlet for young gay men, and yet the way YouTubers talk about being gay is often terribly vague and clichéd. In part, this is because the form relies on meme and mimicry (with coming out videos adhering to set formats), but, since the dominant audience for these videos is teenage girls, there is also a tendency to translate gay stories into something universal, and by extension optimistic and bromidic, stripping them of their essential queerness.

It is with this in mind that Troye Sivan’s emergence as a singer and songwriter beyond the world of YouTubing is so significant. Born in South Africa but raised in the suburbs of Perth, Australia, Sivan began YouTubing in earnest four years ago, building up an audience of more than 4 million subscribers. Sivan came out as gay three years ago, in a video that has thus far attracted more than 7 million views. Over the course of the past 12 months, however, his creative attention has moved away from YouTube, where his account is largely inactive.

His debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, was released in December 2015. It received generous critical notices and sold rather well in the English-speaking world, reaching the top 10 of the Billboard 200. He’s appeared on The Tonight Show, sung at the Billboard Music Awards, and been nominated for a MTV Video Music Award. This weekend, Sivan begins a North American tour, on the heels of another tour that took him to Europe, Asia, and Australasia. All this while his fellow (or perhaps that should be former fellow) YouTubers are doing such important things asgoing through their old iPhones.

Oct. 12 2016 12:33 PM

Your Trolliest, Least Politically Correct Questions About Trans Identities, Answered

As Slate’s primary comment moderator, I see a lot of rude, poorly worded, or clueless questions about transgender people. Sometimes they are even sincere! Although all these questions have answers, they are often presented as if they represent a sort of trump card—inquiries that I, as a transgender person, won’t have heard before. So, as a public service to the people asking these questions—and those who, like me, grow tired of re-answering them—I’ve collected them into one big politically incorrect trans FAQ. They are hereby settled definitively for all time.

Doesn’t everyone have an obvious, natural birth gender, which is the only gender grouping that they could ever really be said to be part of?


There are a large number of conditions (called intersex conditions) that make the task of assigning every baby a binary gender at birthimpossible and/or arbitrary. Some of these conditions are chromosomal, others are hormonal, and it’s not impossible that even subtler intersex conditions exist and that these lead to trans people experiencing what we call gender dysphoria, a deep, pervasive discomfort with aspects of one’s birth gender. One day, we may better understand the biological and cultural underpinnings of sex differences, but right now we can definitively say that nature has given us a more complex system than a simple binary of male and female.

Oct. 12 2016 10:52 AM

Gov. Pat McCrory: I’d Make Caitlyn Jenner Use the Men’s Locker Room

North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is currently tanking in the polls due largely to his support for HB2, an extraordinarily nasty law that bars most transgender people from using government bathrooms and repeals local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances. But instead of salvaging his campaign by rescinding his support for HB2, McCrory has decided to go down with the ship. During a Tuesday debate between McCrory and his Democratic opponent, the governor declared that Caitlyn Jenner should be forced to use the men’s restroom.

“In the private sector in North Carolina, she can go wherever the private sector wants her to,” McCrory said of the famous transgender athlete, gesturing to the fact that HB2 nullified existing protections for transgender people in some cities. “If she’s going to a shower facility at [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] after running around the track, she’s going to use the men’s shower.”

What’s fascinating about this comment is that, by its own terms, HB2 requires trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. That’s an onerous requirement, because many states severely restrict trans people’s ability to alter their birth certificates. Some explicitly prohibit anyone from changing their birth-certificate sex, including North Carolina’s neighbor Tennessee.

Oct. 11 2016 12:33 PM

“If Homosexuality Had Been Legal, None of This Would’ve Happened”

In 1974, Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of Britain’s Liberal Party and one of the country’s leading political figures, found himself in the dock of the Old Bailey, accused of conspiracy and incitement to murder Norman Scott, an ex-lover who had an inconvenient habit of telling people about their affair. British journalist John Preston tells the Thorpe story in A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment, published today (and reviewed here). I spoke with Preston about what the scandal revealed about British attitudes to homosexuality, the establishment, and how much things have changed over the last 40 years.

How would you explain the importance of Jeremy Thorpe to American readers?

He represented a new breed of politician. If you look at the standard-issue British politician of the 1960s and '70s, they were overweight, gray-haired, doughy-featured men in badly fitting suits—and they're all men until Mrs. Thatcher came along. Thorpe was dashing, he was charismatic, and he had an air of great charm and irreverence. He didn't seem to take things as seriously as his colleagues did, and that was very attractive. He was a genuinely liberal figure; he wasn't a hypocrite. He voted for the Homosexual Law Reform when it came up in the House of Commons; he was very, very opposed to apartheid when a lot of British politicians--including Mrs. Thatcher--were either tacitly or overtly for it. And Thorpe had this ostensibly mad dream of leading the Liberals back to the prominence they'd enjoyed back in the 1920s. The bizarre thing is he almost made it, because when Britain collapsed into almost-bankruptcy and near-anarchy in the 1970s, Thorpe was within touching distance of power. He could've been deputy prime minister in a coalition if he'd played his cards a bit more adroitly. And yet just five years later he goes on trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder. It's an amazing arc.

Oct. 10 2016 9:00 AM

In Hispanic Heritage Month, Let’s Remember Gay Rights Pioneer Tony Segura

In the very earliest years of America’s East Coast-based gay movement, long before Stonewall, a Cuban immigrant was arguably the central organizer for the struggle. His name was Tony Segura, and this National Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s time to give him his due.

Born in Cuba in 1919, Gonzalo Segura Jr. would occasionally use his given name, but more often he went by Tony. He came to the United States at 15 and attended military school, then Emory University, before arriving in New York City to work as a research chemist. Documentation of Segura’s early life remains sparse, but in a 1977 oral history recorded by the pioneering LGBTQ historian Jonathan Ned Katz, which can be found in Katz’s papers at the New York Public Library on two audiocassettes, Segura explained that his homosexuality had dawned on him only gradually. As a teen, he assumed he would eventually be attracted to women and would “marry and procreate.” Was he upset to realize he was gay? “No. Never.” He did, however, learn to “keep it to myself” as a simple survival tactic.