Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

June 24 2016 3:11 PM

Obama Makes Stonewall America’s First LGBTQ National Monument

In early May, news broke that President Barack Obama’s administration, through the National Park Service, was making moves to designate New York’s Stonewall Inn and a surrounding slice of Greenwich Village a national monument. It would be the first to mark a site of importance in LGBTQ history. On Friday, on the eve of New York’s Pride festivities—which began and continue as a celebration of the movement-launching riots that spilled out of the bar in 1969—the president confirmed the designation. Going forward, no tour of the nation’s most cherished historical and natural treasures will be complete without a stop at one sacred to LGBTQ Americans.

As part of the announcement, the White House released a moving video, featuring Stonewall veterans and other activists, detailing the history of the event and the nation’s still-incomplete progress toward recognizing its queer citizens with the equality they deserve. Even if you know the story, it’s worth a watch simply to hear our president acknowledge queer people's struggle in such a direct and authentic way.


For a look at the site itself, which will center on the small, triangular Christopher Park across from the privately owned bar, check out Slate’s featurette, produced ahead of the formal announcement:

It will not be lost on queer people—nor should it be on anyone—that this honoring of a gay bar and the people who needed it comes less than two weeks after another such place, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida., entered history as the site of the worst mass shooting America has ever seen. I and many others viewed gay bars as a physical and spiritual center of queer life long before the Pulse massacre. But reporting from Orlando this past weekend—including from a number of gay bars in the area—my admiration for the feeling of comfort and scenes of beauty they provide was strengthened beyond words.

This weekend, as we celebrate the right and proper honoring of one gay bar and enjoy the pleasures of many others, let’s take a moment to reflect upon their power—for getting us drunk and laid, yes, but also for forming family and spurring activism, for transforming bar stools and back rooms into a kind of home.

June 24 2016 8:00 AM

This Year, Pride Is More Important Than Ever

My first Pride experience is etched in my memory like a vibrant, Technicolor dream. I mean, who could forget thousands of nipples making their way down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue? I was 17 and fresh out of the closet. I had formed my first queer clique, an eclectic group of Latina, black, and white dykes and trans kids with spiky hair and attitudes. It was the late ’90s and there was defiance in the air. The girls of the Clit Club and ACT Up were alive and well, and Matthew Shepard’s death was a gaping wound that still hadn’t healed.

My friends convinced me to accompany them to the New York City Dyke March. I had no idea what to expect. I stood on the sidewalk near the route’s end point at Washington Square Park until the traffic quieted and the distant sound of whistles turned into a loud chant and a wall of women walked in unison, and without shirts on, right down the middle of the street. Thousands of topless women of all shapes and sizes and a garden variety of exposed breasts and bellies. I shivered despite the warm temperature, because to see myself reflected in so many women was to know that I was where I was meant to be. For the first time, I felt a part of a community—one that was incredibly powerful and beautiful. I would have cried if I hadn’t been an adolescent acutely aware that doing such things meant losing my street cred.

June 22 2016 5:36 PM

At Orlando Vigil, Teresa Jacobs Called Out Passive Homophobia for the Killer It Is

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—In the aftermath of the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub on June 12, Orlandoans have been searching for words to make sense of the loss of 49 lives and to help reconcile present reality with a past belief that, as one resident put it, they lived in a “happy little town.” A majority—understandably grasping for some shred of positivity—have settled on love and unity. I watched many people write those exact words on makeshift memorials (posters, sidewalks, T-shirts, even a couch) across the city over the weekend.

Shooter Omar Mateen being a notable exception, blame was relatively absent from the conversations I heard and joined. But at the One Orlando candlelight vigil on Sunday evening—a gathering that began as a small Facebook event organized among friends and ended up drawing around 50,000 locals to downtown Lake Eola Park—one speaker broke with the well-meaning platitudes to offer a necessary jolt of anger.


June 21 2016 3:56 PM

First Weekend Since: Scenes of Grief and Healing in the “City Beautiful”

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—The massacre at Pulse, the gay nightclub that became the site of the worst mass shooting in modern American history early on June 12, has left a dead zone in the middle of the city. On Friday, within the restricted crime scene perimeter, several businesses, including a bike shop, a taxi dispatch station, and a Dunkin Donuts were still inaccessible; cars of survivors were still stranded. For many folks in Orlando, the area feels hallowed, suffused with the queasy energy that’s released when a space of joy is violently transformed into a house of death.

June 20 2016 5:38 PM

At Orlando Victim’s Funeral, City Stands Watch While Mourners Remember

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—Sunburns began early on Saturday, the morning of the funeral for Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, 32, who was murdered alongside his boyfriend Juan Guerrero, 22, and 47 other people at the Pulse nightclub here on June 12. (Plans reported earlier in the week that the two victims would share a joint funeral could sadly not proceed due to differing mortuary needs, a source with knowledge of the situation explained. Guerrero was laid to rest separately on Thursday afternoon.)

A few hundred folks from Orlando and the surrounding area gathered on the downtown corner of Orange Avenue and Jefferson Street—just down the road from the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, where Leinonen’s service would be held—with rainbow-streaked posters, umbrellas, flags, and even a few large banners of the kind that lead parades. The people were gathered there not only to pay their respects, but also to prevent an act of disrespect from violating the grief of Leinonen's family and friends.


The infamous Westboro Baptist Church had announced earlier in the week that they would protest the funeral (in addition to others) with their usual “God H8s Fags” signage. Though the city was required by law to grant the group a demonstration permit, Orlando locals were not inclined to accommodate them further.

Orlando residents gather to block the Westboro Baptist Church's protest.

J. Bryan Lowder

By 10 a.m., 15 minutes before WBC’s advertised arrival time, an ad-hoc division of labor had formed among the protectors, who, taking advantage of closed streets, had organized along the southeastern legs of the intersection with the church at their rear. Most occupied themselves by forming a makeshift wall with their bodies, hand-scrawled messages of support and the other items held high, facing diagonally across the intersection toward Westboro’s police-assigned protest zone. Others filled the famously Southern role of providing sustenance in times of crisis. A number of people passed around bottled water from coolers, and a gray-haired woman in a Grateful Dead concert T-shirt and khakis offered granola bars. Tupperware filled with homemade baked goods circulated above a woman in tie-dye as she knelt to chop up a watermelon in the middle of the street. I turned down offers of sunscreen more than once. An occasional misting from one of those handheld fan/sprayer devices was unavoidable.

Nicole Doria and Amanda Reh were standing alongside their bikes when we met, which lent them an air of being ready for action. Reh, a queer yoga teacher with dreads and intricate tattoos running down her arms, said that she came out “to show the world that hate will not last.” Doria, glancing in the direction of the WBC contingent, added, “Those people who I’m not going to mention, they breed hate, they don’t have a great message, and they can’t win. We’re showing them that they can’t win because we have so much love.”

Counter-demonstrators dressed as angels block the view of Westboro Baptist Church protesters near Leinonen’s memorial service outside the Cathedral Church of St. Luke.

John Raoux/AP Photo

While the core message of most of the posters around us was indeed Orlando’s surfeit of love, a few were more defiant, especially on the subject of religion. “God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts,” explained one sign. Another declared, “Need Prayer? Westboro Baptist does not define me.” My favorite secular entry read simply: “Keep on dancing.”

If the protectors had an elite force, it was the angels: around a dozen people dressed in white with oversize wings made of cloth and PVC pipe on their backs. It was they who took the front line when four members of WBC finally piled out of their vehicle, placards in hand, just after 10:15. Until the Westboro contingent’s arrival, the protectors had maintained a relatively reverent, subdued tone; now, they snapped to attention and the mood grew tense. “The relevant question of the hour,” one of the WBC representatives called out: “Why did God destroy Sodom?” Cries of condemnation rang out in response, but some in the crowd reminded others that WBC exists to provoke—and often sue—counterprotesters. So the approach shifted to song. Strains of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” were eventually replaced by one of the most painfully gentle renditions of “Amazing Grace” I have ever heard.

As 11 a.m. and the start of Leinonen’s funeral approached, a few dozen attendees proceeded down Jefferson through the middle of the intersection toward the church. WBC continued to scream insults from their corner, but as the weary smiles and raised fists of many of the mourners attested, the protectors had succeeded in proving another popular slogan: “Love wins.” The protesters began packing up just after 11, drawing cheers. As the protecters started to disperse in kind, a middle-age woman wove through the crowd with a bag calling for trash. Quick as lightning, a nearby man answered, “Well, I don’t have any, but I think there are a couple of articles across the street.”

Nightclub Shooting Florida
Mourners at Leinonen's memorial service.

John Raoux / AP Photo

* * *

Inside St. Luke’s, Leinonen’s family and friends celebrated his life, and—importantly for a man who founded a Gay-Straight Alliance at his Seminole, Florida, high school well before such things even seemed imaginable down here—honored his wholehearted embrace of queer identity.

Catherine McCarthy, who attended the service, had been friends with Leinonen since their freshman year of high school (a relationship she’s written about publically in a gorgeous eulogy). Speaking with me just after the Mass had ended, McCarthy recalled that Bishop Greg Brewer walked in with his arm around Leinonen’s mother, Christine, who became a face of familial grief as she appeared on cable news searching for her son in the days after the attack, and that he welcomed all, “no matter your relationship with God.” The Rev. Dr. Reggie M. Kidd, the acting dean of St. Luke’s, did not shy away from the fact that this was a funeral for a gay person killed in a hate crime. According to McCarthy, Kidd said, “It’s no mistake that we are at St. Luke’s, who was the traveling companion of Paul.” “I took that to be a wink,” McCarthy explained. Joshua Goldstein, another friend of Leinonen’s, agreed: “There were several nods and outright statements directed at the LGBT community.” “It felt like they were saying, we’re talking to you,” McCarthy added.

To underline the point, McCarthy explained, Kidd made an effort to acknowledge the specific experience of the LGBTQ people in the room:

“He talked about how we are here today because we remember that life is very precious and fragile, and he just looked at these men in Pride tank tops and he said, ‘No one understands that more than you. You who go out into the world and are beaten and yelled at and violated. You have this uncertainty—will I come home tonight?’ ”

“It feels like there are people that may have been in denial about the fact that gay people still have to deal with this kind of crap,” Goldstein said. It will be harder for people to maintain that kind of ignorance after Pulse.

Recollections from Leinonen’s loved ones focused on his seemingly boundless well of affection for those he held dear. McCarthy said that everyone acknowledged the bond between Leinonen and Guerrero, and in a particularly moving moment, an ex-boyfriend, Jose Arriagada—who said Leinonen taught him English “one word at a time”—recounted meeting Guerrero and blessing the new relationship. “I think that’s a testimony,” McCarthy observed. “Drew was truly friends with pretty much all of his exes. I would be like, How do you do that? and he would say, ‘I just love them.’ ”

Goldstein said that multiple eulogizers described him as a “social glue,” a kind of central node in Orlando’s relatively tight gay community. But his reach wasn’t limited to central Florida. At the service, McCarthy recognized friends from Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Houston, Denver, and San Francisco. “We felt his presence even when he was far away,” she said, a smile giving way to a wince. “And I hope we’ll still feel it even though he’s really far away now.”

June 20 2016 3:31 PM

Jonathan Groff Returns to San Francisco for the Finale of HBO’s Looking

“Sometimes the end is a new beginning,” declares the newly released trailer for Looking: The Movie, the 90-minute finale of the HBO series about a group of young gay men, which will air on Saturday, July 23.

The main characters from the show’s two-season run—Jonathan Groff as Patrick (Groff exited the cast of Broadway’s Hamilton to film the movie), Murray Bartlett as Dom, and Frankie J. Alvarez as Agustín—are all present, along with their besties, exes, and potential husbands-to-be. Judging from the trailer, the plot centers on Patrick returning to San Francisco from his new home in Colorado, and his freaking out (some things never change!) over his feelings for his ex-boss/ex-lover Kevin (Russell Tovey) and barber Raúl (Richie Donado), the sweet guy who got away.


“Sometimes you’ve got to leave things behind so you can move forward,” the always wise Raúl tells Patrick in the trailer. It’s good to see writer-director Andrew Haigh and the talented cast of Looking wrap up these stories so they can move on with their careers.

Disclosure: Slate editor Julia Turner’s husband worked on the show.

June 20 2016 10:01 AM

Harassment Is Still a Massive Problem in the American Workplace

On Monday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace released a comprehensive and startling report on harassment in the United States. Authored by EEOC Commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic, the report chronicles the ongoing struggle to stamp out harassment—racial, sexual, and otherwise—in the American workplace. Notably, the task force included findings on sexual orientation and gender-identity-based harassment; the EEOC has led the charge to prohibit both under existing federal law barring sex discrimination.

Nearly one-third of the 90,000 charges of discrimination received by the EEOC last fiscal year included workplace harassment. That includes sexual harassment, from Mad Men­­-style boorishness to anti-trans persecution—as well as racial and ethnic harassment. While calling this form of harassment “understudied,” the report notes that an alarmingly high number of workers—perhaps up to 60 percent—have experienced race or ethnicity-based harassment at the workplace. Consider the disturbing story of Contonius Gill, a black truck driver for the North Carolina-based A.C. Widenhouse, whose co-workers called him “nigger,” “coon,” and “monkey.” One co-worker gave Gill a noose and said: “This is for you. Do you want to hang from the family tree?” When Gill complained about the harassment, he was fired. (He complained to the EEOC, and a jury ultimately awarded $200,000 in damages to him and a similarly wrong colleague.)

The numbers are just as distressing for LGBT workers. Surveying various studies, the report shows that 35 percent of gay and bisexual people who are out at work suffer from harassment. Up to 58 percent of LGBT people have heard derogatory comments about sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. In one study of LGBT employees, 41 percent of respondents reported being verbally and/or physically abused at work or having their work spaces vandalized. In a survey of trans workers, 50 percent of respondents reported workplace harassment, including 7 percent who reported being physically assaulted at work because of their gender identity, and 41 percent who reported being asked unwelcome questions relating to their gender identity. Forty-five percent reported having been referred to by the wrong pronouns “repeatedly and on purpose” at work.

June 20 2016 8:30 AM

Enough Mean-Queen Putdowns: The Vicious Finale Was All About Love and Kindness

Vicious, the British sitcom about a gay couple in their 70s, which aired a special hourlong series finale on PBS Sunday night, was often dismissed as a parade of past-their-sell-by-date stereotypes about bitchy, old queens. This was a wrong-headed reading of the show and its ambitions. Vicious—a by queers, for queers, straight viewers might get something out of it exploration of a long-term gay relationship—always had a strong, loving heart beating beneath its mean-queen surface. As my Slate colleague J. Bryan Lowder observed before the Season 1 premiere, partners Freddie (Ian McKellen) and Stuart (Derek Jacobi) laced all their interactions with a drizzle of camp, and that transformed their life together into “a stylized game that is both refreshingly frivolous and deeply serious.”

Over two seasons, the couple’s bitchy barbs generated an appropriate quantity of laughs for a retro Britcom, albeit one written by an American Anglophile. The finale, though, pretty much dispensed with the apparatus of comedy and instead focused on the love and kindness that Freddie and Stuart (and the 13 preceding episodes) had previously kept hidden under layers and layers of arch putdowns and distinctively gay snark.

June 17 2016 3:39 PM

Two Marines Are Under Investigation for Posting an Anti-Gay Threat on Facebook

The Marine Corps is investigating two active-duty service members involved in a Facebook post that threatened violence against gay people. “Coming to a gay bar near you!” read the photo, depicting a corporal in uniform with his finger on the trigger of an assault rifle; the man who posted the photo also wrote, “Too soon?”

A Marine posted the photo in a closed, men-only Facebook group, CampMENdletonResale, which has more than 25,000 members and bills itself as a safe space for men affiliated with the military—because the military doesn’t offer near enough opportunities and spaces for unchecked masculinity to fester. “We use this group to support each other, ask questions, have a laugh, let out some steam, and occasionally sell things to each other,” the group description states. “Because of the unique membership of this group, it allows people to be open and honest with each other and gather the support from people that they trust.”


So what purpose did this photo serve? Was it to have a laugh at the expense of queer people in mourning and fear, or maybe to let off some anti-gay steam? Someone reported the post to the group’s moderator, who deleted it and banned the post’s author from the group. Kudos to both, as well as to whoever sent the post to Marine authorities—there is no excuse for laughing off the threat of a potential hate crime. The Marines have identified both the man in the photo and the one who posted it. The I Marine Expeditionary Force of California, where the men are based, has promised to take “appropriate action” against them, according to a statement made to the Marine Corps Times.

In the days since Sunday’s massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub’s Latin dance party, there have been several instances of anti-LGBTQ threats of violence. The FBI is investigating a post on the San Diego Craigslist men-for-men page that read “Orlando was long overdue … San Diego, you are next.” Camp Pendleton, the origin of the Camp MENdleton Facebook group, is located in San Diego County, but law enforcement agents have not identified a connection between the two posts. In Brooklyn, New York, on Monday, police arrested a gun-owning man who assaulted a bar’s bouncer, called him gay slurs, and threatened to “come back Orlando-style” to “shoot this place up and get my 50 just like Orlando, Florida.”

But dangers to a community don’t always assert themselves in specific violent threats. Orlando gunman Omar Mateen was the product of a society that tolerates homophobia and transphobia in its pop culture, schools, and laws. We shouldn’t be surprised when those phobias turn to violence. We shouldn’t downplay the danger of a spray-painted message of “down with the gay agenda” appearing on a sidewalk in a historic gayborhood, as it did in Washington, D.C., soon after the news of Orlando hit. While Mateen was committing 49 murders and wounding 53 others early Sunday morning, someone else was burning a rainbow flag outside a D.C. bar. The forthcoming Mila Kunis comedy Bad Moms is turning Boys Don’t Cry, a movie about the real-life rape and murder of trans man Brandon Teena, into a punchline about ugly bras. Just days after feigning support for LGBTQ people after the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history, Republicans in Congress blocked a bill that would have enforced a 2014 executive order barring federal government contractors from discriminating against employees for their sexual orientations or gender identities.

Good on the Marines for investigating the men who made a direct threat to the lives of LGBTQ people on Facebook. But if we want to stop those threats from popping up, we need to take a hard stance against the everyday acts of homophobia and transphobia that nurture them.

June 17 2016 1:01 PM

Mississippi’s Anti-LGBTQ Law Is About to Go Down in Flames

These may be extraordinarily dark times for the LGBTQ community in America, but a bright spot is on the horizon—and out of Mississippi, of all places. No, the state’s Republican-dominated legislature hasn’t wised up and repealed its horrific anti-LGBTQ segregation law. But a federal judge has agreed to consider a constitutional challenge to the legislation at a hearing next week. And here’s the really good part: The woman in charge of the challenge is Roberta Kaplan, whose track record of knocking down anti-LGBTQ laws in Mississippi is pretty damn stellar.

Kaplan launched her challenge to the Mississippi law, HB 1523, by questioning an especially troubling provision that allows clerks to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples while still issuing them to opposite-sex couples. When the state refused to cooperate with her requests for information, Kaplan reopened a previous case that had challenged Mississippi’s same-sex-marriage ban. That litigation ended with an injunction barring the state or its officers from discriminating against same-sex couples; Kaplan simply asked the judge, Carlton W. Reeves, to extend his previous order to prevent Mississippi’s clerks from turning away same-sex couples.