Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Sept. 4 2015 4:38 PM

Kim Davis Is a Gift to Gay Rights

On Friday morning, same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky, finally got the marriage licenses, which, the Supreme Court ruled, must be provided to them. Kim Davis, the county clerk who refused to issue licenses because of her anti-gay beliefs, is in jail, where she will remain until she agrees to issue licenses or resigns. Her defiance delayed marriages in her county by roughly two months. Those months were difficult from the couples who were humiliated and stigmatized by her discrimination. But they were an immense victory for the broader cause of gay rights—in particular, the battle between nondiscrimination and “religious liberty.”

Ever since nationwide marriage equality began to seem inevitable, cultural conservatives have sought to use hazy claims of “religious liberty” to fight back against LGBT rights. Bakers in Colorado and Oregon who denied service to same-sex couples—and faced fines for their discrimination—may not have hadany real legal argument. But they were appealing figures whose cases pointed toward a concrete goal of conservatives: granting businesses a special right to turn away gay couples.

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Sept. 4 2015 11:49 AM

Why You Can’t Just Go to Another Clerk or Bakery

You wake up to the awful clamoring of the alarm clock, hit the snooze button, and drift back into a light sleep. You dream of a beautiful field of wildflowers, rich with color and bright sunlight; you can almost smell the ripeness of the flora and feel your toes in the freshly cut green grass. All of a sudden, a giant fence with sharp pikes explodes out of the ground just inches from your nose. Your path is blocked. You can’t get through.

The alarm goes off again, this time waking you in a cold sweat. You jump out of bed, shake the unsettled feeling from your dream-turned-nightmare and hop in the shower. You get the kids ready, making their lunches and feeding them breakfast, with lots of kisses and tickling to spare. You kiss your wife goodbye—it’s her day to drop the kids off—and set out to work.

Sept. 3 2015 6:16 PM

I Hated GLAAD’s Annual Counting of the TV Queers. Now I’m Sad It’s Going Away.

On Thursday, GLAAD released its ninth annual Network Responsibility Index, which rates TV networks on their LGBT-inclusive primetime content, and announced that it would be the last such report. As GLAAD CEO and president Sarah Kate Ellis explained in a slightly less than crystal-clear column inVariety, the organization decided that counting the TV queers wasn’t a satisfactory way to measure the medium’s diversity.

She’s right. As I wrote last year, calculating the percentage of a network’s primetime output that has an LGBTQ individual somewhere on the screen is pretty useless as a test of the quality of queer representation. Of course, that doesn’t mean the report is completely pointless: Fox and ABC Family, the two networks that received “excellent” grades in 2015, really do deserve praise for supporting shows like EmpireBrooklyn Nine-NineGlee (which in its final season was the gayest thing I’ve ever seen on television and ever expect to see), The Fosters, and Becoming Us. But creating non-straight, non-cisgender, non-white TV characters is only the beginning. It’s important to look at what those characters do.

Sept. 3 2015 1:28 PM

Kim Davis, Anti-Gay Kentucky Clerk, Found in Contempt of Court and Taken Into Custody

Update 4:30 p.m. ET: According to the AP, five of the six deputy clerks in Rowan County will be issuing marriage licenses on Friday, Sept. 3. The sole holdout is Kim Davis' son.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Bunning held Kim Davis in contempt of court. Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, stopped issuing marriage licenses after the Supreme Court’s decision brought marriage equality to her state. Bunning ordered Davis to resume issuing licenses—a fundamental component of her taxpayer-funded job—but she refused. An appeals court and the Supreme Court declined to stay Bunning’s decision, but Davis, at the advice of her extremist lawyers, defied his order “under God’s authority.”


The lesbian couple who asked Bunning—a George W. Bush appointee—to hold Davis in contempt only requested fines. But ThinkProgressIan Millhiser reports that Bunning stated financial sanctions would not be sufficient to make Davis comply and worried that anti-gay advocacy groups would pay them for her. Thus, he has placed her in custody until she agrees to issue licenses.

Under Kentucky law, a county’s judge executive may issue marriage licenses “in the absence of the county clerk.” Presuming Davis is jailed, then, the judge executive may step in to help the gay couples who faced the brunt of Davis’ discrimination. 

Update 4:30 p.m. ET: According to the AP, five of the six deputy clerks in Rowan County will be issuing marriage licenses on Friday, Sept. 4. The sole holdout is Kim Davis' son.

Sept. 3 2015 12:29 PM

A Tennessee Judge Is Refusing to Let a Straight Couple Get Divorced—Because of Gay Marriage

When Thomas and Pamela Bumgardner decided to get divorced, they likely assumed the process would be straightforward. The Tennessee sexagenarians have no children and provided no reason why Chancery Court Judge Jeffrey Atherton shouldn’t grant their request. Yet Atherton ordered four days of testimony from the couple—then held that their marriage wasn’t “irrevocably broken” and denied their divorce. His justification?

The conclusion reached by this Court is that Tennesseans have been deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court to be incompetent to define and address such keystone/central institutions such as marriage, and, thereby, at minimum, contested divorces.

The high court, Atherton concluded, must explain “when a marriage is no longer a marriage.” Until then, he contended, state courts cannot decide marriage and divorce cases.

Obviously, this is a stunt—and a childish, dishonorable one at that. By using his esteemed position to protest binding Supreme Court precedent—from the bench!—Atherton is violating two basic components of his job. First, he is (rather cruelly) refusing to allow the Bumgardners’ divorce for no good cause other than his own political chagrin. Second, he is implicitly rejecting the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, using it as an excuse not to perform those duties that he is required, by law, to perform.

It may come as no surprise that Atherton secured his judgeship through election, supports homeschooling, and works as a Baptist deacon in his spare time. But many right-wing judges are capable of following the rule of law while personally objecting to the precedent they must follow. Judges can, in keeping with judicial decorum, imply that the Supreme Court should reconsider a past decision. But Atherton has gone far beyond the limit of his position, not only protesting Obergefell by halting his judicial duties but also to taking a blameless couple hostage in the process. He has, in short, proved himself unfit for the bench. The Tennessee legislature can impeach and remove Atherton during its upcoming legislative session. It should do so as soon as possible.

Sept. 3 2015 11:01 AM

What LGBTQ Students Want Their Teachers to Know

For those young people fortunate enough to go to college, the years of classes, grades, and campus life are a time of questioning, learning, and expanded horizons. But as a video shared today by the Chronicle of Higher Education shows, teachers and professors can also learn from their students—especially about how to create the conditions that would allow students to get the most from their education.

In “Ask Me,” 14 members of Campus Pride share what LGBTQ students want their teachers to know. In most cases, the advice boils down to asking how they identify and showing respect. As several of the speakers point out in the final segment—about what gets them excited to learn—it’s impossible to focus on class if students are worried about their safety or how they’re going to empty their bladders without being harassed. 

Sept. 2 2015 11:49 AM

A Lavender Reading of J. Edgar Hoover

In the Aug. 19, 1933, issue of Collier’s magazine, Ray Tucker offered a scathing indictment of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner to the FBI). Such a critical take was unsurprising given Collier’s progressive editorial stance. A weekly magazine of news and culture, Collier’s was one of the most popular periodicals in the United States in 1933, with a circulation of 3.7 million. In the course of lambasting the “boy detectives” of the BOI for their domestic surveillance operations, Collier’s made one of the earliest print references to the oft-debated sexuality of the Bureau’s young director, J. Edgar Hoover.

In appearance, Mr. Hoover looks utterly unlike the story-book sleuth.  He is short, fat, businesslike, and walks with a mincing step. … He dresses fastidiously, with Eleanor blue as the favorite color for the matched shades of tie, handkerchief and socks.

Hist, Who’s That?” has proved of lasting interest to historians primarily because of its loaded description of Hoover. Claire Bond Potter and Richard Gid Powers have pointed to the depiction of Hoover’s “mincing steps” as a particularly caustic nod to his supposedly feminine gait. However, a closer look at the article reveals a bolder allusion to Hoover’s femininity and sexuality than the portrayal of his step, albeit a more hidden one. 

Sept. 1 2015 1:11 PM

Transgender Muslim Told She’s Not Woman Enough to Pray in the Women’s Section

On Aug. 24, Sumayyah Dawud, a transgender Muslim, uploaded an hourlong video to YouTube in which, her face covered with a full-face niqab veil, she tells the harrowing story of how officials at the Islamic Cultural Center of Tempe, Arizona, told her she needed to dress and pray like a man or provide medical proof that she is an anatomical woman.

The Phoenix New Times, which picked up the story, later provided more documentation about the ordeal. Dawud, who has been legally female since 2011, converted to Islam in 2013. As she recounts in the video, earlier this summer, toward the end of Ramadan, some community members went to the mosque’s board of directors saying they were uncomfortable that she prayed in the women’s section. (During prayers, men and women are separated at most mosques, including at the Tempe ICC.) Dawud provided government identification, which showed she was female, but she was told the board needed medical proof. As humiliating as that sounds, and as degraded as she felt, she acquiesced, providing medical documentation from her primary-care physician.Nedal Fayad, the chairman of the mosque’s board of directors, promised her that the documents would remain confidential, and she believed the question was resolved.


Sept. 1 2015 10:59 AM

Kentucky Clerk Defies Court Order, Refuses to Issue Marriage License to Gay Couple

On Tuesday morning, David Moore and David Ermold returned to Kentucky’s Rowan County courthouse to obtain a marriage license. Kim Davis, the county clerk, had already twice denied Moore and Ermold a license because of her anti-gay Christian beliefs. But a federal judge ordered Davis to resume issuing marriage licenses, and both a circuit court and the Supreme Court declined to stay his ruling. Davis was out of legal options on Tuesday when Moore and Ermold requested a license.

Yet still, she turned them away. When the couple approached Davis, she told them that “we are not issuing marriage licenses today.”


“Under whose authority are you not issuing licenses?” Moore asked.

“Under God’s authority,” Davis told him.

Davis comes out to speak to another couple denied license

Posted by Hillary Thornton WKYT on Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Davis is now at real risk of being held in contempt of court. That’s disturbing for two reasons. First, it seems increasingly plausible that Liberty Counsel, the far-right fringe group representing Davis, is pushing her toward martyrdom to further their own anti-gay cause. Second, as some gay rights advocates have warned, the image of Davis being hauled off to prison would add a dangerous amount of fuel to the Christian persecution complex. I cannot imagine this standoff ending well for either side.  

Update, Sept. 1, 2015: U.S. District Judge David Bunning has ordered Davis and her staff to appear at a contempt of court hearing on Thursday morning. The lesbian couple who asked Brunning to hold Davis in contempt of court requested only fines—not jail time.

Sept. 1 2015 9:00 AM

As a Sweater-Vest-Wearing Lesbian, I Stick Out Like a Sore Thumb in Tennessee. I Hate It.

I haven’t seen another human being wearing a sweater vest since I left Massachusetts, a situation I find highly unsettling. I’m a lesbian who wears men’s clothing, so it might come as a surprise to some that I’m not used to standing out in a crowd. But making a fashion statement has never been my intention—I just want to feel comfortable. Until I moved away from the liberal bastion where I was born and raised, it never felt as though I was making a statement with the way I dressed. Here in Tennessee, even the men look nothing like me—it’s a sports jersey and jeans crowd, where dressing up for a Friday night out means donning a Hawaiian shirt. As for masculine women, while there are some sporty tomboys around, I can’t tell who’s playing for my team and who’s just playing on a sports team. And none of them—male, female, or otherwise—wear sweater vests.

I never expected to miss living in a queer mecca. I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time. I’m not what anyone would call an aficionado of gay culture—quite the opposite. I used to roll my eyes at any suggestion that queer people need to be around our own kind to feel comfortable, and I still have more straight, cis friends than queer ones. I had no idea how great it felt to be surrounded by other people like me until I didn’t have that anymore.