Friday, October 11, 2019

Coming Out

logo_ncod_lgToday has been designated as National Coming Out Day.

2019 marks the 43th anniversary of my coming out to my family. They took it well; we now joke that Mom turned to Dad and said “Ha! You owe me five bucks.”

But every day is a coming out in some small way for me even though I know my co-workers and friends and even people who don’t know me but who read my blog, my plays, or my Facebook page know I’m gay. (If you didn’t already know, well, hey, guess what…) I don’t make a big deal out of it; I don’t have a rainbow sticker on my car, I don’t announce it to people when I meet them, and I don’t think I fit into the cultural stereotypes that seem to be a part of our society’s identifiers as gay; for instance, I usually buy my clothes at the next aisle over from auto parts, and the only reason I know show tunes is because I’m a theatre scholar; it comes with the job. Cultural stereotypes work if you own them. As one of my characters in my novel “Small Town Boys” says when someone finds out he’s gay: “Yeah, I know.”

I am still getting used to being out in some way or another. I have unfriended people I’ve known all my life who said they were sad to hear I am gay, and I am sure there are people who say things and call me names behind my back. Well, they would probably do it if I wasn’t gay; people who find nits to pick are looking for them.

What I hope for with this day is that people who are afraid of coming out will take some comfort and assurance by seeing others say it. It may not prompt them to come out; each of us must do it in our own way and at our own level, but even if they never do they may know that they are never alone. We’re a tribe and we support each other even when we don’t know you because we really do.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sunday Reading

It’s Not Over Yet — Emma Green in The Atlantic on how LGBTQ rights are still up in the air.

Roughly half of Americans think federal law bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite four years of nationwide same-sex marriage, despite rapidly growing cultural acceptance for LGBTQ people, despite extensive annual Pride celebrations—these Americans are wrong. Now that all of this summer’s glitter floats have been dismantled and the rainbow confetti has been cleared, lawyers, legislators, and judges have turned back to the ongoing fight over whether federal law does, and should, specifically protect LGBTQ people from being fired, denied a rental lease, or refused service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This year will mark several important milestones in the battle over LGBTQ discrimination. In the spring, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a sweeping bill that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in all aspects of public and commercial life, without any religious exemptions. While the bill has basically no chance of gaining traction in this Senate, if Democrats sweep Congress in 2020, it will likely be high on the party’s priority list. In the fall, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens, about a former funeral director who was fired after coming out to her employer as transgender. The justices will consider whether existing workplace protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

And yet, the legal status of LGBTQ rights remains murky. As the movement has gained cultural momentum, activists have largely moved away from a posture of compromise—they believe they can win full protections for LGBTQ people in any context, without exceptions. A small but significant group of conservative religious leaders has been working the middle ground, trying to build support for a bill that would protect LGBTQ people but leave space for institutions, such as Christian colleges and Catholic hospitals, to operate according to their religious teachings. But they’ve faced resistance from their right, with prominent pastors and conservative legal groups opposed to any kind of bill that would mark sexual orientation and gender identity as special legal categories.

As America has largely moved on from its gay-rights moment, with many Americans believing everything got taken care of with same-sex marriage, legal advocates on both sides have been left with bitter disagreements about where the country should go next—and the possibility that the status quo will perpetually remain in place.

Americans don’t agree on whether LGBTQ discrimination actually happens. Conservative advocates argue that LGBTQ people face little to no discrimination, and that their identities have been normalized—LGBTQ folks are featured on TV shows and in movies, and many businesses have voluntarily crafted their own nondiscrimination policies. Ask LGBTQ people themselves, however, and they consistently see discrimination in their daily lives: A recent study from the Williams Institute at UCLA found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people reported much higher rates of being bullied, fired, or denied a job, promotion, or lease compared with heterosexual people. In a 2015 survey of transgender Americans, 30 percent of respondents with jobs reported experiencing workplace discrimination of some kind within the prior year; a quarter said they encountered some form of housing discrimination.

Still, these experiences can be subtle or hard to document. And the incentives for bringing a formal, legal complaint vary wildly, depending on where someone lives: 20 states fully prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while 28 states don’t. (Two others—Wisconsin and Utah—bar some kinds of discrimination, but not others.) “Because it doesn’t look just like Jim Crow,” said Doug NeJaime, a law professor at Yale University who focuses on LGBTQ legal issues, conservatives argue that “it then doesn’t merit attention.” But, he said, “there’s lots of reasons why discrimination against LGBT people looks different than other forms of discrimination … [That] doesn’t mean it’s not discrimination that needs to be remedied.”

Early legislation proposing civil-rights protections for gays and lesbians was often hedged: Advocates focused on issues such as workplace discrimination, where they thought they had a greater chance of victory. Roughly five years ago, however, the strategy among advocates began to shift: Public perception had become much more favorable, and leaders believed they could set more ambitious political and legal goals. Activists began calling for a comprehensive bill without religious exemptions.

As all of this was happening on the legislative side, the courts were also working through what the law already says about LGBTQ rights. In the past 30 years, the Supreme Court has ruled sex stereotyping illegal; declared sodomy bans unconstitutional; struck down state measures blocking civil-rights protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals; and, of course, legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But even as the inevitability of legalized gay marriage was becoming clear in the early 2010s, “the narrative really began to take hold that you could be married on Sunday and fired on Monday and lose your housing on Tuesday,” Sarah McBride, the national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBTQ-rights advocacy group, told me. “That really brought into starker contrast the absurdity of the lack of explicit protections.”

This question has been particularly fraught for transgender people, such as the plaintiff who will go before the Supreme Court this fall. LGBTQ legal advocates have argued with mixed success that sex stereotyping, or discriminating against people based on their failure to live out societal norms for men and women, necessarily includes discrimination against transgender people. They argue that those who discriminate against transgender people because of their gender identity are already breaking the law—a claim the Supreme Court will soon consider in the Harris Funeral Homes case.

Because advocates are arguing that trans protections already exist in the law, but still need to be written into the law via the Equality Act, some critics have accused them of hypocrisy. Activists “are talking out of both sides of their mouths,” wrote Greg Baylor, the senior counsel for government affairs at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm that advocates for religious liberty, in an email. “While arguing in court that Title VII already includes sexual orientation and gender identity, they are simultaneously urging Congress to add these categories.”

Mara Keisling, the head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told me she is “confident the courts will eventually come down on our side.” Until that happens, however, “we do need these laws to explicitly name us, if for no other reason than it is better public education,” she added. “And public education is one of the most important parts about ending discrimination.”

Ironically, as LGBTQ rights have expanded, it has become harder for advocates to make their case to the public. Before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, “people could see very clearly the fact that same-sex couples couldn’t get married,” McBride said. “People have a more difficult time understanding the way civil rights work in our country, the absence of protections.” The movement has also developed powerful allies from Wall Street to Hollywood, and those alliances have been used against advocates. “The way in which the business community has embraced LGBT rights has played into the narrative that some on the right want to put out, which is that the LGBT community is not some vulnerable minority,” NeJaime said. “The irony about antidiscrimination laws is: Vulnerable groups don’t get protected until they’re actually … [able to] muster the political power to gain momentum.”

Still, that momentum has redoubled the resolve of LGBTQ activists. Maybe they won’t win at the Supreme Court this time, or get nondiscrimination legislation passed through this Congress. But, they believe, theirs is a cause of progress. They will eventually win it all.

And that has left a number of their opponents very, very nervous.

When the Equality Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this spring, there were no amendments on the floor—it was just an up or down vote. “It’s what a lot of people would call a messaging bill,” said Tyler Deaton, a Republican strategist who works with GOP politicians to support LGBTQ rights. It was a powerful message indeed. The legislation won the vote of every Democrat in the House who participated in the roll call, along with eight Republicans—a clear sign of its broad support. The bill also sent another message: The days of compromise are over.

In recent years, claims of LGBTQ rights have been repeatedly brought into direct conflict with claims of religious conscience. Just this week, the Trump administration proposed a new rule that would allow federal contractors to make hiring and firing decisions based on their religious beliefs and practices; progressive advocates believe the rule will be used to target LGBTQ people. The most notable court cases have involved wedding vendors: conservative, religious cake bakers, photographers, and florists who don’t want to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. The outcomes of these conflicts have been mixed, but they’ve made progressive LGBTQ advocates even more determined to eliminate the “gaping religious exemption,” as McBride put it. The Equality Act specifically bars any group from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, to try to opt out of the bill’s protections.

For religious groups and institutions that teach that homosexuality is a sin, and that men and women were created as such by God, the prospect of this kind of legislation is worrying. “It would be years of litigation—that’s what we would look forward to under the Equality Act as currently drafted,” Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), told me. For the nearly 140 Christian institutions that are members of her organization, she said, the bill “would put federal funding, it would put accreditation, it would put hiring rights, it would put campus student-life policies all at risk.” Fundamentally, these kinds of groups want to be able to preserve what they see as religious integrity in their own spaces—and they object when that is described as bigotry. “The Equality Act as currently drafted has caused Christian institutions to really wonder about whether their particular educational contribution is valued in America,” Hoogstra said.

Hoogstra has been part of a coalition pushing an alternative to the Equality Act called Fairness for All. Her organization, along with groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventists, believes federal LGBTQ discrimination protections are inevitable—the Equality Act’s passage “was a proof point,” Hoogstra said. They want the final law, whenever it passes, to reflect their needs. Broadly speaking, Fairness for All–style legislation would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but provide exceptions for certain religious institutions, including schools—much like exceptions that were written into parts of the original Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

So far, this effort has not won any of the public Republican support necessary to make Fairness for All a plausible competitor to the Equality Act. Many Republicans may not see this as a worthwhile way to spend political capital, or remain opposed to establishing any LGBTQ rights in federal law. But the bill’s boosters still see the possibility of a strong coalition between religious-freedom advocates and LGBTQ-rights supporters. “If you canvass LGBT activists or professional LGBT organizations, some of the people that are the most favorable … are heads of equality organizations in red states,” said Tim Schultz, the president of the First Amendment Partnership, a group that has worked on crafting consensus between LGBTQ-rights advocates and religious conservatives.

LGBTQ people in these states generally have no legal recourse against discrimination outside of local and municipal ordinances, which provide only a patchwork of protection. Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, an advocacy group in the state, said he doesn’t necessarily support sweeping religious exemptions, but “I do support us being in dialogue and having a respectful conversation with people of faith … We need to make sure that small-business owners understand that there is not a big agenda out to … hurt them or their businesses.”

Before Fairness for All has truly even launched, however, those seeking an accord have faced major backlash from their backyard. When the evangelical World Magazine broke the news that the CCCU and the National Association of Evangelicals, which claims to represent roughly 45,000 churches, had voted to support the Fairness for All effort, a prominent group of conservative religious leaders signed a letter of condemnation. Laws that provide specific protections for sexual orientation and gender identity “empower the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions,” they wrote, and “treat reasonable religious and philosophical beliefs as discriminatory.” The signers included Franklin Graham, the evangelist Billy Graham’s son, who has been known to make inflammatory comments about homosexuality; but also Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm, who is often seen as a moderating voice in the evangelical world. The NAE has since backed away from full support, citing its “desire to appropriately acknowledge and respect differences among evangelicals.”

All of this complicates the picture of what might come next. If the Democrats make a full electoral sweep in 2020, holding on to the House, taking back the Senate, and winning the White House, it seems likely that the Equality Act will be on their agenda—and it’s unlikely the party’s leadership will be open to finding a middle ground. Meanwhile, the groups totally opposed to this kind of legislation are preparing for legal war. The hard dichotomy between religion and LGBTQ rights is false—a majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are themselves religious, and many faith groups welcome and affirm them in their congregations. When it comes to the legal and legislative battlefield, however, that nuance all but disappears.

It’s as true in culture as it is in physics: For any action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and America seems to be going through one such moment now. In the past five years, public support for people refusing to serve LGBTQ people when it violates their religious beliefs has crept up steadily: Almost a third of Americans, and nearly half of Republicans, say this should be legal, compared with 16 percent and 21 percent, respectively, in 2014. The story of the LGBTQ movement has lately been one of triumph, but it’s not clear whether that will continue. Graham, of Georgia Equality, told me he believes some kind of federal legislation will eventually protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, “but I’m not optimistic that it will happen quickly,” he added. In this political environment, the possibility of moderation and dialogue seems almost antiquated. “It really feels,” he said, “like everything is a battle for the soul of the nation.”

Elizabeth Warren’s Populism For Professionals — Benjamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker.

There is a distinct flavor to an Elizabeth Warren campaign event. The energy will be high. The candidate may take the stage at a run; at intervals during her speech, she will clench a fist, thrust it skyward, and cry out, “Yes!” The program will unfold so punctually that certain amused reporters will time its elements with stopwatches on their phones, the way old-timey football writers measured the hang time on punts. When it is time for audience questions, Warren will call out ticket numbers from a raffle-style blind draw (“Four-four-four-two? Who has four-four-four-two? Oh, there you are!”) with a little bit of tension in her voice: Who will ask the questions, and how long they will take to get to the microphone? They do not take long; Warren’s crowds want to impress her. At the end, the campaign’s well-documented selfie line will form, and everyone who wants a photo with Warren will get one. The country can’t really be slipping toward a sloppy authoritarianism if there are this many adults devoted to doing all the little things carefully, can it? Not every Warren event takes place in New England, but they all suggest a New England of the mind.

On Wednesday afternoon, Warren did happen to be in New England, on a Franconia, New Hampshire, farm with a majestic view of the White Mountains. Five hundred white folding chairs had been neatly laid out on the lawn, as if awaiting a wedding. The crowd was a bit bigger than that (“The count is seven hundred,” a press aide whispered to me), and, from walking through it, I would guess that the audience was more than ninety-five per cent white. There were retirees, students, schoolteachers, a few young families on vacation. A youngish man with a blond ponytail wore a T-shirt that read “Warren has a plan for that.” That was the slogan Warren settled on this past winter and spring, when she was introducing a new policy idea seemingly every week, and steadily climbing in the polls. This posture, the politician as expert, seemed to offer some reassurance to Democratic voters that there was an adult in charge. “A woman of substance,” a warmup speaker called Warren, a candidate with “reasonable plans.”

But Warren does not sound, as Hillary Clinton often did, like someone whose aim is to seem reasonable. She runs hotter than that. In her stump speech, she does not read out inequality statistics, as Bernie Sanders does, but instead turns them into an emotional drama, at first through the by-now-familiar story of her mother donning her lone formal dress to apply for her first job, at the age of fifty, to save the family house. Warren remembers her mother crying outside her bedroom door each night and being obviously “terrified.” In Franconia, when Warren addressed the threat of climate change, she did not talk about degrees of warming but about the parental experience of “vulnerability.” (It reminded me a little bit of the way that George W. Bush talked about the threat of terrorism, as part of a successful effort to persuade suburban so-called security moms, in 2004.)

She is running a famously single-minded campaign, with an emphasis on wealth and corruption. In Franconia, the word she kept returning to was “money”; her villain was not Donald Trump, whom she referred to only once, in a parenthetical, before taking questions, but the Koch brothers. (“Oh! You’ve heard of them,” she said, in a tone of mock surprise.) Democracy, she said, has been captured by politics, and politics by greed; big, structural change is required. Toward the end of her stump speech, Warren said, heavily, “Boy, we’re also running out of time on this democracy.” I glanced out at the crowd. Seven hundred people were sitting attentively, in neat rows of white chairs—men in late-model Birkenstocks and women in navy jumpsuits—ready to line up to ask precise and well-planned questions. It was the picture of a prosperous, working democracy with plenty of time.

At this summer’s debates, Warren seemed to make a point of insuring that there was as little space as possible between her and Bernie Sanders. When MSNBC’s hosts asked the candidates whether they supported abolishing the private health-insurance system—an article of faith for Sanders but controversial with the general public, and very unlikely to happen anyway—Warren raised her hand. The two progressives have so loyally stuck to a nonaggression pact between them that it is at once obvious and difficult to fully comprehend that they are not actually competing for the same voters. According to a national Morning Consult poll from last week, the second choice for Sanders voters is not Warren but Joe Biden; Warren is the second choice for those voters who support Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, who are ideologically more moderate. (Among Warren’s voters, Sanders was the second choice of twenty-five per cent, only slightly more than the twenty-two per cent whose second choice was Harris and the improbable seventeen per cent whose second choice was Biden.) When the election analyst Nathaniel Rakich, of FiveThirtyEight, wrote last month that the Democratic field was finally sorting into some general lanes, they were not defined by ideology—Biden and Sanders seemed to be competing for each other’s voters. In another lane altogether, Harris, Warren, and Buttigieg were competing among themselves. Rakich wrote, “Perhaps what is happening here is that this is the ‘well-educated white liberal lane,’ as polls have generally shown these three candidates doing well with those demographic groups.” You might, more broadly, say that the primary race so far has somewhat less to do with ideology or race than with class.

Warren’s campaign rests on the theory that the past decade has transformed the way class is felt in America, so that instead of the uneducated against the educated, or the heartland against the coasts, it is now also possible to run a widely inclusive, populist campaign against the ultra-rich. If you keep your eye on what the capitalists get away with, you can run on economic populism with the support of doctors and lawyers and the P.T.A. “Your first fifty million, you get to keep. Good for you,” Warren said on Wednesday, explaining her signature wealth-tax proposal. From the ultra-rich—only “a tenth of a tenth of a per cent” of Americans—the government would take two per cent of every dollar after the first fifty million. By the way, she went on, most Americans already pay a wealth tax. “How many people here own their own homes?” Warren asked, and virtually the whole crowd put its fingers to the sky. Looking affirmed, Warren told them that their property taxes were effectively wealth taxes, just for a lesser level of wealth. She wanted to go after the guys “with the Rembrandts and the yachts.”

The Times ran a report from Warren’s campaign this week about the uniquely anxious place she occupies in the imagination of Democratic voters, under the headline “Many Democrats Love Elizabeth Warren. They Also Worry About Her.” The anxieties were that she would make a poor general-election candidate because she is too liberal, because she is a woman, because her disputed claims of Native American ancestry make her seem like a fraud. Most campaign reporters have heard these anxieties. But a different way to describe them would be to say that they are about the gap between the campaign and its cause—about voters’ uncertainty that a wealthy white Ivy League professor can lead a class-based crusade against wealth and its corruptions. Whether the law professor is the right person to pick a fight over the Rembrandts and the yachts.

But Warren is the only candidate in the race whose fortunes have materially improved over the past six months, which suggests that the vein she’s found has less to do with what is permanent within the Democratic electorate than with what is changing. When FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver analyzed polling data from Emerson College last month, he found that Warren, alone among the major contenders, drew support from 2016 Sanders and Clinton voters in equal measure. The signal story of the past decade—of the financial crisis, of Donald Trump, of the #MeToo movement—is about how wealth, power, and depravity have been concentrated in the hands of a very few. The Warren campaign is a test of how broadly that story has resonated, and how much the country has been transformed. As the selfie line formed in Franconia, I saw a new national poll on my phone, from the Economist and YouGov—Biden had fallen to twenty-one per cent, in their accounting, and Warren was up to twenty per cent. Not the front-runner—at least not yet—but the race’s central figure.

Doonesbury — Read much?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Reading

It Started With A Bookstore — Jim Downs in The Atlantic on the origins of gay liberation.

On July 4, 1965—four years before Stonewall—39 activists from D.C., New York, and Philadelphia marched on the place where the Declaration of Independence had been signed roughly two centuries earlier. They wanted to remind the nation that their rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” had been denied. Dressed in formal attire—the men in coats and ties, and many of the women in skirts and dresses—they carried signs that read Equal Treatment Before the Law and Homosexual Bill of Rights.

For the next four years, the organizer of that protest, Craig Rodwell, along with his comrades, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen, marched in Philadelphia. Their demonstrations became became known as “the Annual Reminders.” But in the summer of 1967, Rodwell also decided to do something that was, in its own quiet way, more radical than marching. He wanted to open a bookstore.

Rodwell was the vice president of the Mattachine Society, a gay male political group. “I was trying to get the Society to be out dealing with the people instead of sitting in an office,” Rodwell had explained to Lahusen for an interview in her book, The Gay Crusaders. “We even looked at a few store-fronts. I wanted the Society to set up a combination bookstore, counseling service, fund-raising headquarters, and office. The main thing was to be out on the street.” When the Mattachine Society rejected Rodwell’s plans to open a bookstore, he resigned from the group and decided to do it alone.

The Stonewall protests two years later would draw broad attention to the struggle for gay liberation, but that struggle did not start in 1969. There were protests, and thriving gay communities, before that night in New York City—and Stonewall’s success was rooted in those earlier efforts.

Activists like Rodwell understood the value of visibility; he was among the architects of New York’s gay-pride parade. But some were struggling not just for rights or liberation, but for something still more revolutionary. They were fighting for what they called “gay power,” the authority to define their own identity. Their efforts produced the intellectual revolution that lent the Stonewall protests their power, and which helped ensure that long after the protests were over, the changes they wrought would endure.

The victories of Stonewall, then, had the unlikeliest of birthplaces: the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop.

In 1967, there were no gay community centers, save San Francisco’s Society for Individual Rights, that offered cultural programming and recreational activities. There were no gay bookstores that included shelves of gay books. In fact, there was no such thing as serious gay nonfiction. Libraries had systematically cataloged homosexuality as a deviance or a disorder. There were the occasional novels—notably, The Well of Loneliness, published by Radclyffe Hall in the United Kingdom in 1928—but mostly there was pulp fiction and porn, and novels that had queer subtexts.

Rodwell wanted a bookstore that would provide LGBTQ people with intellectual engagement. He also wanted the store to offer psychological-counseling services because, in 1967, the American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as a mental illness in its diagnostic and statistical manual. For many queer people in the 1960s, the search for books, which offered some clues about homosexuality, was how they navigated their way out of the closet. “When I first wanted to find out what it meant to be gay, after I first put the label on myself, being a reasonably well-educated girl, I thought, ‘Oh well, I’ll go to the library,’” Gittings later recalled.

Those who went looking typically came up empty-handed. Gittings found little about being gay, and the sources she did uncover rang false to her. “There was nothing about love,” she said. That was the void Rodwell set out to fill.

He boarded a bus and headed to Fire Island, a Long Island beach town that had become a gay hub, with the hope that he could earn enough money working as a bartender to open the store. Three months later, he arrived back in New York City. “The cheapest storefront in the Village that I could find was $115 a month, and they insisted on the first month’s rent plus two month’s security,” he later recalled. “That was $345, or one third of the money I had saved. But I did it!”

Rodwell opened the first-ever gay bookstore in the world at 291 Mercer Street, between Waverly Place and East Eighth Street. “I wanted a name that would tell people what the shop is about,” Rodwell said. “So I tried to think of the most prominent person whose name I could use who is most readily identifiable as a homosexual by most people, someone who’s sort of a pseudo-martyr. And Oscar Wilde was the most obvious at the time, so I called it the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop.”

Rodwell planned the official opening for a few months later, on November 24, 1967. His mother arrived from Chicago the day before and they stayed up all night setting up the store. His plan to offer counseling services never came to fruition, but the store itself proved unexpectedly radical. The few identifiably queer books that could then be found in libraries—by Hall or Wilde or any other queer writers—were scattered by differences in genre, nationality, and date of publication. As Rodwell and his mother placed books by queer authors on the same shelf, they redefined the meaning of homosexuality. It was no longer simply a deviance or a disorder. It was, instead, a coherent category—with shelves of books to prove it.

The bookshop became an immediate hit within the gay community. The store was packed, especially on Saturday afternoons, when Rodwell served free coffee and pastries. News of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop traveled around the country, and around the world. Gay readers wrote to Rodwell, asking for book suggestions and praising him for making LGBTQ novels, newspapers, and pamphlets available. Young men wrote, asking for advice on how to come out.

European tourists told their friends, who made it a point to visit the Oscar Wilde Bookshop on their trips to New York. American soldiers stationed in Vietnam ordered books and asked for magazine subscriptions to The New York Hymnal, a journal Rodwell founded and edited. A handful of Americans and Europeans wrote to Rodwell asking for help on how to establish their own stores, which led, for example, to the creation of Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia. (The store title was taken from the title of James Baldwin’s 1956 homoerotic novel.) The bookshop had not only became a major touchstone for New Yorkers but also symbolized the promise of gay liberation to many others throughout the world.

On June 28, 1969, Rodwell was walking home from a bridge game with a friend when he heard noise coming from the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar that had been owned by the Mafia and frequently raided by the police. At first he ignored it, but then he noticed that a crowd had formed around the police wagon; people were resisting being handcuffed by the police. Rodwell climbed onto the steps of the highest stoop and yelled, “Gay power!” and “Christopher Street belongs to the queens!”

Rodwell was hardly alone. Take Barbara Gittings, who marched with him in Philadelphia. Gittings served as the editor of The Ladder from 1963 to 1966. She used the paper, which had originated as a means of increasing membership in the Daughters of Bilitis, to construct an intellectual community, connecting readers from San Francisco to Cleveland to Philadelphia. The paper ran stories on the psychological profession’s emphasis on men and the “blackout on female homosexuality,” featured forums where readers debated the merits of books by Betty Friedan and Mary McCarthy, and ran interviews with lesbian thinkers and activists.

Gittings featured a black woman, Ernestine Eckstein, the vice president of the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, on the June 1966 cover of The Ladder, at a time when racism plagued the LGBTQ community. Gittings signaled her ambition for the paper by adding the subtitle, “A Lesbian Review.” Her successors advanced this mission, and in 1969, when Barbara Grier was editor, she proposed to make The Ladder into the “Atlantic Monthly of Lesbian thought.”

After stepping down from The Ladder, Gittings remained committed to the power of books to advance LGBTQ activism. By 1970, the excitement ignited by Stonewall led to an explosion of new groups, from political organizations to professional and academic associations to gay churches. While hosting a weekly 15-minute gay-news segment on the New York radio station WBAI in 1970, Gittings came across a reference to a gay group that had grown out of the American Library Association (ALA). Despite not being a librarian, she asked to join, and was welcomed. She was then tasked with organizing a bibliography of all the books that positively promoted homosexuality. Her list included 32 books. At the annual meeting of the ALA in Dallas in 1971, the gay group gave a book prize, set up a kissing booth to attract attention to their cause, and organized sessions such as, “Sex and the Single Cataloguer: New Thoughts on Some Unthinkable Subjects.”

Creating a bibliography and organizing panels at the ALA radically transformed the definition of homosexuality. Like Rodwell’s work at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, Gittings and others in the ALA challenged the clinical and criminal meaning of the term, and illustrated how homosexuality could also refer to books positively. More to the point, homosexuality, they asserted, was not just a term that medical, legal, or religious authorities assigned to gay people, but one that gay people could publicly, politically, and professionally define for themselves. It was an intellectual revolution, one that changed who got to use the term, how it was used, and what it meant.

In 1972, Gittings agreed to be on a panel at the American Psychiatric Association to discuss the medical profession’s insistence that homosexuality was a mental illness. The panel, “Psychiatry, Friend or Foe to Homosexuals, A Dialogue,” included Gittings, Frank Kameny, and two psychiatrists. The problem was that the gay activists scheduled to be on the panel weren’t psychiatrists, and the psychiatrists weren’t gay. Having Gittings and Kameny speak to an audience of medical professionals was, indeed, radical. Since the medical profession’s invention of homosexuality as a category at the end of the 19th century, queer people had not been able to formally participate in discussions about their identity.

Yet Gittings felt it would be more effective to have a panelist join the discussion who was both gay and a psychiatrist. The APA agreed with her suggestion and asked her to find someone. She eventually did. The doctor wanted to remain anonymous during the presentation. So he wore a wig and a mask, used a microphone that disguised his voice, and appeared on the program as “Dr. Henry Anonymous.”

The day of the session the room was packed. Gittings and Kameny disputed the standard theory that gay people were “sick” as a result of “the absent, distant father, and the all-encompassing mother.” That theory had no basis in evidence, Gittings argued, but was nonetheless “ballyhooed to the public” and the medical profession as scientific truth. Dr. Anonymous, who later revealed his identity as John Fryer, said, “As psychiatrists who are homosexual, we must know our place and what we must do to be successful. If our goal is high academic appointment, a level of earning capacity equal to our fellows, or admission to a psychoanalytic institute, we must make certain that no one in a position of power is aware of our sexual preference and/or gender identity. Much like the black man with light skin, who chooses to live as a white man, we cannot be seen with our real friends, our real homosexual family, lest our secret be known, and our dooms sealed. There are practicing psychoanalysts among us who completed a training [as] analysts without mentioning their homosexuality to their analyst.”

Gittings later recalled that the session “went off marvelously!” Two years later, in 1974, the APA voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

While Gittings, Rodwell, and others continued to define homosexuality on their own terms, refusing to allow those in positions of authority to be the sole authors of their identity, the revolution was not over. Discrimination continued. Decades of activism lay ahead. But the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising offers an opportunity to remember the courageous work of Rodwell and Gittings, and other activists like them. There were thriving gay communities and public protests that preceded Stonewall, fighting for, in their words, “gay power.” The Stonewall uprising amplified the work that Rodwell and others had been doing before 1969. And it was those networks of activists, and the intellectual revolution they set in motion—reclaiming and defining their own identity—that transformed Stonewall from an isolated event into a turning point in the struggle for gay liberation. The protests themselves eventually ended, but the books and articles these activists published endure, and continue to inspire new generations.

Charles P. Pierce on those two nights in Miami.

MIAMI, Fla.—After two nights of DNC SummerSlam, here is my overriding opinion.

If you think Marianne Williamson is nutty bananas, please remember who got nominated to be president* by one of our two major parties, and subsequently elected to be president*, in 2016. Let us compare and contrast, as Sister Marie dePaul used to say.

He’s going to be beaten by somebody who has an idea what this man has done. This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes. So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me, please. You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win. —Marianne Williamson, 2019

“They won’t even give him stairs, proper stairs to get out of the airplane. You see that? They have pictures of other leaders who are … coming down with a beautiful red carpet. And Obama is coming down a metal staircase. I’ve got to tell you, if that were me, I would say, ‘You know what, folks, I respect you a lot but close the doors, let’s get out of here.’ It’s a sign of such disrespect.” —Donald Trump, 2016.

So, as an informed electorate, we’ve lost the right to mock any candidate for anything they say.

The two-night exercise in Miami was not a waste of time. The field, at least at its upper levels, shook itself out into a fairly conventional primary campaign in a very unconventional time. In fact, there are several candidates—Jay Inslee being the most obvious example—who would have been serious contenders in any normal electoral context. Inslee is the governor of a very successful state. He’s all over the critical issue of the day—the climate crisis—that needs to be hammered into the national consciousness over and over again. He’s energetic and forceful. And he has approximately the same chance of becoming the nominee, let alone the president, than Williamson does. Because the context of this election exists in a place that American democracy never has been before—a kind of other-world, where facts are malleable, and truth is a labyrinth of dark corners and blind alleys.

Until that is broken down, none of the Democratic candidates can truly be called a front-runner. They must disenthrall themselves from the notion that there necessarily is a winning constituency out there that can be relied upon to vote in its own self-interest. They must unlearn what they have learned about what appeals to the voting public in this country, and develop a healthy respect for the political salience of unreason and weaponized ignorance. The idea that politics necessarily is the art of persuasion will not easily adapt to this context, and the fact that the idea goes back to Aristotle means little or nothing. Aristotle didn’t count on social media or hack-farms from across the sea. Realities are created with a click of a keystroke and abandoned just as easily.

So, when Kamala Harris put that shot below the waterline on Joe Biden Thursday night, and when she reopened busing as a way in to the compromises that the Democratic Party has made over the past 40 years in the largely vain attempt to chase the voters who represent Biden’s primary reason for running, she opened another new context for this election just as Elizabeth Warren has opened a new context with her attacks on the compromises the Democratic Party has made over the past 40 years to chase that Wall Street coin. The only way to campaign against Change And Die is to respond with Change or Die. To paraphrase a famous Republican of the past, the campaign is new and so must the candidates run anew. They must disenthrall themselves, and then they can save the country.

Doonesbury — This Rascal for Hire.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunday Reading

Masha Gessen in The New Yorker on the unimaginable reality of American concentration camps.

Like many arguments, the fight over the term “concentration camp” is mostly an argument about something entirely different. It is not about terminology. Almost refreshingly, it is not an argument about facts. This argument is about imagination, and it may be a deeper, more important conversation than it seems.

In a Monday-evening live stream, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, called the U.S.’s detention facilities for migrants “concentration camps.” On Tuesday, she tweeted a link to an article in Esquire in which Andrea Pitzer, a historian of concentration camps, was quoted making the same assertion: that the United States has created a “concentration camp system.” Pitzer argued that “mass detention of civilians without a trial” was what made the camps concentration camps. The full text of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet was “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.” Hackles were immediately raised, tweets fired, and, less than an hour and a half later, Representative Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, tweeted, “Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.” A high-pitched battle of tweets and op-eds took off down the much travelled dead-end road of arguments about historical analogies. These almost never go well, and they always devolve into a virtual shouting match if the Holocaust, the Nazis, or Adolf Hitler is invoked. One side always argues that nothing can be as bad as the Holocaust, therefore nothing can be compared to it; the other argues that the cautionary lesson of history can be learned only by acknowledging the similarities between now and then.

But the argument is really about how we perceive history, ourselves, and ourselves in history. We learn to think of history as something that has already happened, to other people. Our own moment, filled as it is with minutiae destined to be forgotten, always looks smaller in comparison. As for history, the greater the event, the more mythologized it becomes. Despite our best intentions, the myth becomes a caricature of sorts. Hitler, or Stalin, comes to look like a two-dimensional villain—someone whom contemporaries could not have seen as a human being. The Holocaust, or the Gulag, are such monstrous events that the very idea of rendering them in any sort of gray scale seems monstrous, too. This has the effect of making them, essentially, unimaginable. In crafting the story of something that should never have been allowed to happen, we forge the story of something that couldn’t possibly have happened. Or, to use a phrase only slightly out of context, something that can’t happen here.

A logical fallacy becomes inevitable. If this can’t happen, then the thing that is happening is not it. What we see in real life, or at least on television, can’t possibly be the same monstrous phenomenon that we have collectively decided is unimaginable. I have had many conversations about this in Russia. People who know Vladimir Putin and his inner circle have often told me that they are not the monsters that I and others have described. Yes, they have overseen assassinations, imprisonments, and wars, but they are not thoroughly terrible, my interlocutors have claimed—they are not like Stalin and his henchmen. In other words, they are not the monsters of our collective historical imagination. They are today’s flesh-and-blood monsters, and this makes them seem somehow less monstrous.

Anything that happens here and now is normalized, not solely through the moral failure of contemporaries but simply by virtue of actually existing. Allow me to illustrate. My oldest son, who spent his early childhood in a Russian hospital, was for many years extremely small for his age. I spent useless hours upon hours in my study in Moscow, where we then lived, poring over C.D.C. growth charts. No matter how many times I looked, I couldn’t place him—he was literally off the chart. As far as the C.D.C. was concerned, my son, at his age, height, and weight, was unimaginable. When he was four, I took him to see a pediatrician in Boston. She entered his measurements into her computer, and a red dot appeared on the chart. I felt my body finally relax; my child was no longer impossible! He was on the chart. Then I realized that the pediatrician was working with an interactive chart. (This was in the early aughts, and there weren’t any available to me at home.) She had just put him in the system. His little red dot was still below the lowest, fifth-percentile curve. He was still the smallest child of his age. But a sort of cognitive trick had been performed. My son’s size had been documented, and this made him possible.

Donald Trump has played this trick on Americans many times, beginning with his very election: first, he was impossible, and then he was President. Did that mean that the impossible had happened—an extremely hard concept to absorb—or did it mean that Trump was not the catastrophe so many of us had assumed he would be? A great many Americans chose to think that he had been secretly Presidential all along or was about to become Presidential; they chose to accept that, now that he was elected, his Presidency would become conceivable. The choice between these two positions is at the root of the argument between Ocasio-Cortez and the critics of her concentration-camp comment. It is not an argument about language. Ocasio-Cortez and her opponents agree that the term “concentration camp” refers to something so horrible as to be unimaginable. (For this reason, mounting a defense of Ocasio-Cortez’s position by explaining that not all concentration camps were death camps misses the point.) It is the choice between thinking that whatever is happening in reality is, by definition, acceptable, and thinking that some actual events in our current reality are fundamentally incompatible with our concept of ourselves—not just as Americans but as human beings—and therefore unimaginable. The latter position is immeasurably more difficult to hold—not so much because it is contentious and politically risky, as attacks on Ocasio-Cortez continue to demonstrate, but because it is cognitively strenuous. It makes one’s brain implode. It will always be a minority position.

Frank Bruni in The New York Times on the gay truth about Trump.

I’ll never buy Donald Trump as gay positive. But I’d bet on gay blasé.

“I think it’s absolutely fine,” he said when asked in a Fox News interview about displays of affection between Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten. “That’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it’s good.”

He not only picked an openly gay man, Richard Grenell, to be the American ambassador to Germany but also reportedly moons over Grenell’s good looks. “He can’t say two sentences about Grenell without saying how great of a looking guy he is,” an unnamed associate of Trump’s told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. When Trump catches the ambassador on TV, he gushes, “Oh, there’s my beautiful Grenell!”

During the 2016 campaign, he spoke out against a North Carolina law forbidding transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and said that Caitlyn Jenner could use the commode of her choice in Trump Tower.

And then, of course, there was his speech at the Republican National Convention, when he carefully enunciated “L.G.B.T.Q.,” pledged to protect those of us represented by that consonant cluster and, upon hearing applause, added, “I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

I’m glad he enjoyed it. We L.G.B.T.Q. Americans aren’t enjoying him. Far from protecting us, he and his administration have stranded us, packing federal courts with judges hostile to gay rights, barring transgender Americans from military service and giving a green light to Americans who, citing religious beliefs, don’t want to give us medical care or bake us a cake. When several United States embassies — including the one in Berlin, over which Grenell presides — requested permission to fly the rainbow flag this month in honor of Gay Pride, the State Department said no.

It’s an ugly story, and it pretty much sums up Trump’s approach to governing. His treatment of gay people perfectly reveals the flabbiness of his convictions and his willingness to stand at odds with a majority of Americans if it pleases the smaller number who adore him. He’ll suffer our anger for their ardor. Decency and principle don’t enter into it.

And he is at odds with most of the country, very much so. Take the Trump administration out of the equation and the march toward gay equality continues apace. As gay and transgender Americans prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising on June 28, we inhabit a state of cognitive dissonance, staring at a split screen: insults from the White House on one half of it, positive reinforcement from elsewhere on the other.

Democrats’ embrace of Buttigieg, the first openly gay politician to land in the top tier of presidential candidates, illustrates the trajectory beyond Trump. “As recently as five or 10 years ago, I think, a project like this would have been dismissed out of hand,” Buttigieg told me in a recent interview, referring to his campaign. “It was unsafe for Democrats to support same-sex marriage at the beginning of this same decade that we’re living in now.” President Barack Obama didn’t endorse it until 2012, Hillary Clinton until 2013. A Supreme Court ruling legalized it nationwide in 2015.

Being gay, Buttigieg said, hasn’t been any impediment to his bid for the White House so far. “It led to there being more interest and attention early on,” he said. “Perhaps the most interesting thing is how often it doesn’t come up — all the interviews in which it’s not mentioned. At this point, it’s safe to say that that’s most of the time.”

I was given an exclusive advance copy of a new report by the Victory Institute, a group that promotes L.G.B.T.Q. candidates. It found that the number of known L.G.B.T.Q. elected officials at the municipal, state and national levels in America rose 24.9 percent, to 698 from 559, over the past year. And while some of that is attributable to more politicians coming out, much is attributable to more being voted into office.

With the congressional elections last November, the number of openly L.G.B.T.Q. members of Congress rose to an all-time high of 10 — eight in the House and two in the Senate — up from seven. That same month Jared Polis in Colorado became the first openly gay person to win a governorship. He told me that his sexual orientation was absolutely not a factor in his race: “There might be some people who care about it, but they wouldn’t be considered swing voters, so they’re not relevant in terms of who you have to win over. It never comes up in terms of scrapping for the votes you need in the middle.”

In Chicago in April, Lori Lightfoot became the first openly gay person to win the mayoralty of one of the country’s three most-populous cities. “The fact that I could run as an out lesbian, married, in an interracial relationship, with a child, would have been unthinkable not that long ago,” she said when I spoke with her recently. “You can’t stop progress. You just can’t. It’s like trying to stop a ball from rolling down a hill.”

According to the Victory Institute survey, there are three openly L.G.B.T.Q. members in Oklahoma’s State Legislature and four in Montana’s. They’re all Democrats, but Republicans are changing, too. In Colorado, five Republican lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that banned anti-gay conversion therapy for minors, and six Republicans, including some of the same ones, voted to make it easier for transgender people to have the gender on their birth certificates changed. Polis signed both measures into law on May 31.

While media attention focuses on proposed state legislation to deny rights to L.G.B.T.Q. people, there are probably more examples of bipartisan pushes to protect or expand those rights.

According to Freedom for All Americans, an advocacy group, more than two dozen Republican lawmakers in 15 states recently sponsored legislation to protect gay or transgender people from discrimination. They include the chairman of the Republican Party in Florida and the State Senate majority leader in West Virginia. Republican lawmakers were crucially involved in blocking discriminatory measures proposed in Texas, Tennessee and Georgia, the group said. In South Dakota, where Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, four different measures to permit discrimination against transgender people were defeated this year.

That reflects Americans’ values more accurately than the Trump administration does. In a Quinnipiac University poll in April, 92 percent of Americans said that employers should not be allowed to fire someone based on his or her “sexual orientation or sexual identity.” When Americans are asked whether a full spectrum of civil rights protections should be extended to L.G.B.T.Q. people, the number falls — but a majority of 53 percent still say yes. And in poll after poll, most Americans say that transgender people should be able to serve in the military, with 70 percent of them indicating support in one survey.

Yet the Trump administration keeps tugging in the opposite direction. Trump has nominated and the Senate has confirmed many jurists with explicit, unabashed hostility to gay and transgender rights, including, just days ago, Matthew Kacsmaryk, who received a lifetime appointment as a United States district judge for the Northern District of Texas. This is a man who in 2015 wrote that gay rights were part of a sexual revolution that was “rooted in the soil of elitist postmodern philosophy” and “sought public affirmation of the lie that the human person is an autonomous blob of Silly Putty unconstrained by nature or biology, and that marriage, sexuality, gender identity and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.”

The choice of Kacsmaryk is hardly an aberration, said Sharon McGowan, the chief strategy officer and legal director for Lambda Legal, an advocacy group that has been tracking these appointments to the federal bench. “The arc of history may bend toward justice,” she told me, “but history will not be kind to those who are complicit in what has been happening over these past two years.” She meant in the White House, in the cabinet and on Capitol Hill, where a stubbornly retrograde social conservatism holds sway.

“It’s a 180-degree turn from the Obama administration,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a transgender man. Therein lies part of the explanation: If Trump’s predecessor did things one way, he’s inclined to do the opposite. “It has been shocking to me,” Minter added. Trump’s relatively benign comments before being elected did nothing to prepare Minter for the ban on openly transgender people in the military and for his administration’s edicts, efforts or declared intentions to eliminate protections for transgender people in the Affordable Care Act, allow health care workers to cite religious beliefs in refusing to treat gay or transgender people, let federally funded housing shelters deny access to transgender people, make it easier for adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples and more.

“I wonder if they’re doing it out of this weird muscle memory left over from the days when launching an attack like this would be useful if you were under fire on other issues,” Buttigieg told me. “If people were displeased with Republicans on the economy, throw out a marriage referendum to fire up your base!”

He noted that the difference now is that the Trump administration doesn’t really crow about these steps. “Their assault on equality is not something they’ve been willing to fully own,” he noted. “I think that’s revealing, that they speak in one language while acting in another. It suggests that there’s a part of the White House that isn’t proud of this.”

Trump himself continues to murmur words kinder than his deeds, such as his tweet three weeks ago exhorting Americans to “celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made.”

But the contributions Trump is focused on are the votes and donations from the so-called religious right, given in gratitude for his opposition to abortion and his anti-gay actions. “Because he doesn’t have the ability to broaden his support, he’s playing to a narrow base, and at the center of that base is this right-wing faction that’s often garbed in religion,” observed Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, a group that led the successful push for same-sex marriage. “He’s throwing them any meat he can find.”

We’re the meat. Hes the Silly Putty, content to mold himself or be molded in different shapes for different reasons. His vitriol toward immigrants isn’t echoed by most Americans, but it pushes convenient buttons. Middle-class Americans weren’t gaga for his tax overhaul, but corporate America was, and he indulged that constituency.

On issue after issue it’s like that: He doesn’t act or speak for the majority, but he accomplishes some narrower purpose, and gets away with it partly because gerrymandering, the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College have led to a government out of sync with the governed.

Trump is on the wrong side of history. But he doesn’t care — so long as it’s right for Trump.

Doonesbury — High there.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Matter Of Pride

Via the Washington Post:

Pride Month kicks off in Boston on Tuesday with a lights event, a paint night — and preparations for a possible “Straight Pride Parade” this summer.

The event to celebrate heterosexuality in one of the nation’s most gay-friendly cities is meant to poke fun at the “identity politics” of the political left, organizer Mark Sahady wrote in a Facebook comment.

The parade organizers have designed a flag and designated actor Brad Pitt as their “mascot.”

“For them everything is based upon identity and whether or not one is categorized as a victim or an oppressor,” Sahady wrote on Facebook. “If you get victim status then you are entitled to celebrate yourself and expect those with oppressor status to defer to your feelings.”

Apparently this poor shlub feels that being white and straight is now a “suppressed minority” and he’s entitled — yes, really — to his own pity party.

LGBTQ pride isn’t about flaunting being LGBTQ.  It’s about rising above the oppression, both physical and societal, that we face every day in every venue, and achieving equality in things most straight people take for granted.  So, pal, instead of whining about other people working to get to where you are, you should be grateful that you didn’t have to.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sunday Reading

Yes, It Matters — Lucas Grindley in The Atlantic on Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality.

Pete Buttigieg plays harmonica, guitar, and piano! He speaks Norwegian! Whoa, he actually speaks eight languages! I heard he even wrestled a bear live on CNN. None of the gee-whiz stories solidifying into the Buttigieg canon make any difference to me in deciding which of the Democratic candidates will get my vote. But as a gay man, I do care that Buttigieg is gay.

In my lifetime, it has been illegal for me to serve in the military, illegal for me to marry, illegal for me to adopt children, and even illegal for me to have sex. Society barred me from the first three; until 2003, the fourth meant risk of a fine or a prison sentence in some states. This discrimination did not just happen in a history book—it happened to me, and it happened to Buttigieg, too.

I am two years older than Buttigieg. We could have grown up with the same cartoons, listened to the same music, felt the same fear when we heard that Matthew Shepard had been murdered. We’ve lived through discrimination, and the fact that laws have changed doesn’t alleviate the trauma of our past. Ask our gay elders whether they’ve recovered from losing their friends and colleagues who died by the tens of thousands during the AIDS crisis. That pain is fresh.

During an interview with an LGBTQ magazine, Buttigieg described himself as “somebody whose marriage exists as a function of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Our position in society is hardly secure. The fight for equality isn’t won. It still matters that I am gay, so it matters to me that Buttigieg is gay.

Today, if Buttigieg or I wish to donate blood, we must abstain from sex for one year, or our blood is deemed unfit for use. Gay people are still classified as so great an HIV risk that it’s easier to reject our blood.

In many states, it remains legal to fire gay people for being gay. And if you’re tired of hearing about that fact, imagine how tired I am of living it. There is no public-accommodations law at the federal level that stops landlords from refusing to rent me an apartment if I show up for the home tour while holding my husband’s hand.

Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend when the Indiana governor signed a law in 2015 allowing businesses to turn away gay customers. That law didn’t stick, but the governor is now our vice president, Mike Pence. He stuck. Forgive me if I like the idea of having someone in the White House who understands what I’ve been through, and who would protect me from the people who would turn me away.

An NBC News poll published in March found that 30 percent of Americans said voting for a gay or lesbian candidate would make them “very uncomfortable” or give them “some reservations.” How polite. That’s the third I worry about whenever I consider kissing my husband goodbye in public.

For the first time in my life, I’m now represented in government by another gay man, Brian Sims, the outspoken Pennsylvania lawmaker who went viral for flipping off Mike Pence. (He represents my corner of Philadelphia in Harrisburg.)

Sims told me that being gay put Buttigieg in “learning situations” that give the candidate “heightened insight into issues far beyond human sexuality.” Sims believes that a “multidimensional identity can help educate, enlighten, and ultimately solve many of our most pressing cultural problems.”

Identity matters. Like most Democrats, I have not yet decided who to vote for in a primary that is still months away. But I believe it matters that Cory Booker is a black man, that Kamala Harris is the daughter of an Indian mom and a Jamaican dad, and that Buttigieg is gay. These facets of their identities mean that they can understand the powerless, as victims of power, and that they can understand the alienated, having been marginalized.

Beyond questions of empathy, Buttigieg being out is germane because he’s a role model to those who want to come out.

Gay men are largely missing from positions of power. An out gay man has never served on the U.S Supreme Court. Not a single out gay man served on the federal bench until President Barack Obama took office. There is not and has never been an out gay man in the U.S. Senate. Buttigieg came out in 2015 on his own terms, but that counts as progress only in an unfair system. Mike Michaud didn’t have that luxury just two years earlier when running for governor of Maine; he faced a whisper campaign.

There is one (and only one) out gay man leading a Fortune 500 company: Tim Cook came out in 2014 after becoming CEO of Apple. I notice that absence and hear it like a whisper that says I don’t belong whenever I’m in a conference room dominated by straight males. I confess there was a time when I monitored the way I sat, my gestures, even whether my voice was loud enough.

“When you are a member of a marginalized or often invisible community, there is something especially powerful about seeing someone like you that isn’t actually you,” said Erin Uritus, the head of Out & Equal, a group for LGBTQ business people, when I asked her about Buttigieg. “When LGBTQ young people wonder what is in store for their future and they can look to Tim Cook or Rachel Maddow or Pete Buttigieg, their entire world opens up.”

Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different had I grown up with a gay role model. “I can’t even begin to quantify the transformative power of visibility in belonging,” Uritus said.

The movement for equal rights has made tremendous strides. But we are not immune from persecution, especially not young people. Researchers at the Williams Institute estimate that 4.5 percent of the American population is LGBTQ. They also estimate that 40 percent of youth in homeless shelters are LGBTQ.

You can be sure that LGBTQ people are paying attention to how society treats Buttigieg as a candidate. The questions on their mind: Is it safe out there? Is this really possible?

“Anytime a member of our community breaks through a barrier, it’s extremely significant,” said Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island when I asked whether it matters that Buttigieg is gay. Cicilline ought to know; he was also the first out mayor of Providence—or any state capital. “For young members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom may be suffering discrimination or bullying or even being ostracized from their own family, seeing a member of our community run for president helps them know it’s going to be okay.”

“As we continue the fight for full LGBTQ equality,” Cicilline said, “Mayor Buttigieg’s candidacy is an important measure of the progress we’ve made.”

As a gay man, I will definitely factor that progress into my vote for president.

The Fix Is In — Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker on William Barr’s choices for the Mueller report.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the intellectual polymath who represented New York in the United States Senate for twenty-four years, developed a well-founded skepticism toward government secrecy. Bureaucrats and others, Moynihan knew, could always conjure reasons to keep information under wraps, and the ratchet of secrecy generally worked in only one direction. Secrets begat more demands for secrecy, at ever greater peril to the public’s right to know what was happening in its name. Secrecy, Moynihan wrote in his 1998 book of that title, thus became “a hidden, humongous, metastasizing mass within government itself.”

That swelling mass may yet envelop the Mueller report. When President Trump nominated William P. Barr to be Attorney General, late last year, it was clear that one of his principal responsibilities would be to determine how much of the forthcoming report from Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel, would be disclosed to the public. At each stage in the process, Barr has narrowed the range of information that he says he will allow the public to see. At his confirmation hearing, in January, he pledged that he would be guided by a commitment to “transparency.” Last month, though, after Barr received Mueller’s four-hundred-or-so-page report about possible ties between President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian interests, and the President’s attempts to cover them up, the Attorney General, on his own initiative, created a series of roadblocks to public disclosure.

Under the Department of Justice regulation that sets the rules for the release of a Special Counsel’s report, the Attorney General is supposed to consider the “interests of the public in being informed of and understanding the reasons for the actions of the Special Counsel.” But Barr erected a quasi-legal structure that gives him enormous leeway to censor much of the Mueller report. According to a letter he sent to congressional leaders, Barr established four categories that were off limits for public disclosure. They are: “Material subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) that by law cannot be made public”—that is, matters subject to grand-jury secrecy; classified information; matters relating to other pending investigations; and, finally, “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

The first category, about protecting grand-jury secrecy, sounds straightforward, but it isn’t. The Supreme Court has never precisely defined the scope of Rule 6(e). In its narrowest (and best) interpretation, it means that grand-jury testimony cannot be released to the public. But some courts have suggested that it covers any subject that was discussed in the grand jury—potentially a much broader category. Barr did not disclose what definition he plans to adopt, but a broad conception could keep substantial amounts of Mueller’s report out of public reach. Barr had the option of petitioning the federal district court in Washington, D.C., to relieve him of the demands of grand-jury secrecy. (Such a ruling allowed wide public disclosure of grand-jury matters during Watergate.) But there is no sign that he sought this kind of permission.

The classified-information category is the least controversial. Still, the intelligence agencies are notoriously overzealous in classifying their own information. (This is a major theme of Moynihan’s book.) If Barr were to defer to them on this issue, that act would virtually guarantee widespread deletions in the report.

The third area, concerning information about other investigations, such as those under way in the Southern District of New York, provides another expansive loophole for the Justice Department. Indeed, Mueller himself has already redacted significant amounts of information from his own court filings on this ground. Because prosecutors do not reveal the scope of ongoing investigations, there is essentially no way to check Barr’s work in this category; we will simply have to trust him. This area is a black box—and Barr controls its contents.

The fourth category is an invention on Barr’s part; there is no law or regulation prohibiting disclosures of this kind. Moreover, the words are subject to wide interpretation. What does “unduly” mean in this context? Who is a “peripheral” third party? What counts as an infringement on someone’s reputation? It’s all, apparently, up to Barr. And this category also raises the most provocative question. As is now well known, Justice Department policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting President. Thus, because Mueller cannot indict Trump, the President, by definition, becomes one of those third parties mentioned in the regulation. Considering this scenario, is it possible that Barr could also prohibit disclosure of any information about the President? This would be an outrage, but it’s a potential outcome of Barr’s four-part test.

The Attorney General also reported to Congress what he said were the principal conclusions from Mueller’s report. According to Barr, Mueller found no evidence of criminal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he apparently regarded the evidence on obstruction of justice by the President as too ambiguous to make a final call. News reports last week suggested that some members of Mueller’s staff think that Barr slanted the evidence in the report in order to make Trump look good. What is certain is that Barr took Mueller’s equivocating as an invitation to make his own decision to exculpate Trump. The Attorney General had no business volunteering such a judgment about an investigation he did not conduct, but, when it came to obstruction of justice, he could not resist riding a favorite hobbyhorse.

In June of 2018, while he was still a private citizen, Barr, of his own accord, wrote a nineteen-page memo to senior officials of the Justice Department asserting that, in light of the President’s inherent constitutional powers, Trump could not have obstructed justice. This memo probably played no small part in Trump’s decision to choose Barr in the first place. Barr has now turned his outsider’s judgment (which is likely wrong on the merits) into an official vindication of his new boss. In all, Barr has taken every possible step to lessen the sting of the Mueller report—and, so far, to block it from view altogether. Senator Moynihan was educated not only in the halls of academe but in the streets of New York, and he might well have reached an earthy conclusion about this Attorney General and his President: the fix is in.

Doonesbury — Gimme Shelter

Friday, April 5, 2019

It’s Progress

Via Eugene Scott at the Washington Post:

The LGBT community has seen public opinion shift in recent years on a range of issues, including same-sex marriage and equal rights. A recent poll shows one more issue illustrative of this trend: Voters have become much more accepting of gay Americans seeking the highest office in the land.

There was a time when South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality — he is gay — would have made him unelectable in many parts of the country.

As recently as 2006, when Buttigieg was 24, most Americans said they would be “very uncomfortable” or have “reservations” about a gay person running for president.

That has changed dramatically.

According to a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they would be either enthusiastic about or comfortable with a candidate who is gay or lesbian. To put that in perspective, 85 percent said they were enthusiastic about or comfortable with a female candidate.

That doesn’t mean that Mayor Pete is a shoo-in for the nomination or the White House, but at least it’s not a big deal that he’s gay.

And yes, it’s only a poll and when asked in the abstract, I’m pretty sure the respondents are pretty much shrugging it off; “yeah, sure, what the heck.”  It won’t be until he’s actually in contention, as in the nominee, that the knives and the hatred will avail itself via the usual suspects.

The other consideration is that as a nation we’ve lowered the bar for acceptable traits for a president.  If having a narcissistic racist sexual predator who dodged the draft five times, married three women and screwed around on all of them and still has an approval of over 80% of his party in the White House, how hard can it be for a successful mayor, veteran, and happily married man to win over the hearts and minds of a nation?

We may find out.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Reading

Invasive Pythons — Charlie Pierce on the GOP shenanigans in Florida’s recount.

Before we descend into the madness that is Florida and the way it conducts itself during elections, we should get a bit of a look at what’s at stake so we can understand a) why the Republicans are fighting so hard; b) why the Democrats should match their ferocity, and c) why Marco Rubio is peddling his self respect one Tweet at a time on the electric Twitter machine. As part of the latter effort, Rubio tweeted out a video from a guy who was a Seth Rich Truther. But we are concerned at the moment withother swamps and other critters therein. From the Miami Herald:

In a series of morning tweets, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg claimed “the public deception is underway” as a South Florida Water Management District government board meeting started in Miami. Eikenberg accused officials of trying to derail the project by tying up the land for two more years and failing to give adequate notice for the decision. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast echoed those concerns during public comment, saying Ron DeSantis, the Republican who has railed against the sugar industry and maintains a narrow lead in a state governor race facing a recount, asked him to deliver a message: Postpone the vote. “The governor-elect as well as federal legislators would like to be briefed,” said Mast, a fellow Republican whose district includes coastal communities along the St. Lucie River repeatedly slammed by blue-green algae blooms ignited by polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.

DiSantis [sic], who is headed for Recount City with Andrew Gillum, and Rick Scott,who is presently tied up pretending to be Juan Peron in his battle against Senator Bill Nelson, both have opposed extending the leases on the land held by the literal sugar daddies. Everybody—including Senators Nelson and Rubio—have argued for the necessity of letting the leases run and then establishing the reservoir on that land. The state has been an environmental catastrophe this year, so much so that even Scott, who would sell his grandmother for parts if he thought the old girl would bring a price, got concerned.

This past summer, that outrage was compounded by a saltwater red tide, also fed by coastal pollution, that littered beaches with dead marine life and became a central issue in a heated election. DeSantis, who claimed to be the “only candidate who fought Big Sugar and lived to tell about it,” and voted against sugar subsidies while in Congress, has been embraced by some environmentalists. His opposition to the industry helped him win an endorsement from the Everglades Trust and a hearty congratulations from the Everglades Foundation, which does not endorse candidates but has lent support, including a press conference with outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the closing days of his race against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. The tight Nelson-Scott race is also going to a recount. District officials said they complied with meeting laws and would have listed Thursday’s vote in the meeting agenda sooner but only reached a deal with Florida Crystals late Wednesday. Board chairman Federico Fernandez, who seemed genuinely surprised by the negative reaction, said he was assured the decision met requirements.

This is part of the reason why the fight in Florida has gone to knives as swiftly as it has. Along with the climate crisis, quick-buck development scams and environmental predation have been devouring Florida for decades and the political establishment there never has been able to unite against these threats to the ordinary citizens.This time, apparently, it has. So the reservoir now becomes something that may be at stake in whatever backroom maneuvering is undertaken in the pursuit of the two contested political offices. And, my lord, is that becoming a tangled disaster. Once again, Broward County is haunting the nation’s dreams and, once again, we find ourselves in the preposterous position of having one of the candidates controlling the process of settling an election in which he is involved. The count in the Senate race has closed to within the state’s requirement for a statewide hand recount, and Scott went into a frenzy trying to stop it. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Rick Scott filed suit against Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes over the county’s delay in completing its count of the votes from the midterm election. Scott sued as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, not in his capacity as governor of Florida. Scott followed up by lashing out at Snipes in an extraordinary press conference at the Governor’s Mansion on Thursday night. Broward County lags the rest of the state in completing the first, crucial phases of counting ballots from Tuesday’s midterm election. As of 8 p.m. Thursday, the same time the governor summoned reporters to the mansion, Broward County was the only one of the state’s 67 counties that had not reported to the state that it had completed its tabulation of early votes. Early voting ended Sunday in Broward.

Scott, acting in his capacity as governor in furtherance of his attempt to become senator, sicc’ed the state police on the election officials in Broward. Armed police officers were headed to the counting houses. In a late-night press conference, Scott wentall the way up the wall.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott told reporters on the front steps of the stately Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. The targets of Scott’s wrath were Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor, and Palm Beach supervisor Susan Bucher. Both officials are Democrats; Scott is a Republican. Scott unleashed the attack as his slim lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race continued to evaporate. It stood at 15,092 votes, or .18 percent, on Thursday night. President Trump chimed in on Twitter, describing, without any evidence, a “big corruption scandal” involving election fraud in South Florida. Scott took the unusual step of delivering a partisan political attack from his taxpayer-funded residence, which is reserved for official state events.

A reminder: what we are talking about here is the counting of votes, which is the basic fundamental process for every election. We are not talking about recounts and chads and all that other nonsense that is surely coming down the pike because this is Florida, man. We are talking about counting the votes. And Scott is using his authority as governor to ratfck that process with armed law-enforcement personnel. Somebody get this guy a white suit with some braid, and a balcony on which to stand. And he’s doing so with the entire Republican political apparatus up to and including the White House supporting him by enabling and weaponizing what are so far baseless charges. There is a great deal at stake here. We should wait and see what gets traded away and what gets held hostage and which firmly held political positions are used as currency. The gators and cranes and invasive pythons in the Everglades should be watching, too.

The Queer Coming-of-Age Film Comes of Age — Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic.

“My God, are we gonna be like our parents?” That’s the fear voiced by one of the five motley high-school students locked in detention in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club—and that’s the crucial question underlying most movies about adolescents coming of age. The onscreen antics of teenagers might take the form of giddy flirtations (Grease), drunken ramblings (Dazed and Confused), or feisty self-renaming (Lady Bird), but the kids’ objectives are usually the same: to fashion an identity by rebelling against the authorities—and expectations—that raised them. This quest is, however, circular. The losing of virginities and conquering of cliques may require transgressions in the moment, but by the time the credits roll, the teens have generally started prepping for a productive adulthood against which their own children might someday revolt.

For some kids, though, rule-breaking is less a route toward self-definition than a requirement built into existence. That’s the reality recognized by a recent crop of popular films centered on the queer teen, a figure who until now has been cinematically marginal: casually stigmatized in crass banter, relegated to playing sidekick in someone else’s rites of passage, or claiming the foreground only for small art-house audiences. The first major-studio movie about adolescent gay romance, Greg Berlanti’s spring hit, Love, Simon, uses teen-comedy tropes to portray homosexuality as no big deal in a well-off, relatively woke slice of America. But other recent films, set in less tolerant places and eras, hint that integrating queerness into a schema that has been overwhelmingly straight isn’t so simple.
Two prominent depictions of Christian gay-to-straight “conversion therapy,” the star-studded Boy Erased and the Sundance winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post, forgo the notion of puberty as a full-circle journey. So, in more oblique ways, did Moonlight, the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars, and the 2018 Best Picture contender Call Me by Your Name. Whether persecuted or nurtured by their surroundings, queer teens fundamentally flip the Breakfast Club script: Their fear is not that they’ll become their parents, but that they face a future in which that isn’t a possibility. If that sounds potentially freeing, it is also, in these movies at least, a special kind of terrifying.

In literature and elsewhere, the go-to queer narrative is the coming-out story, which might seem well suited to the on-screen LGBTQ teenager on the brink of autonomy. After all, high-school movies are always, on some level, about outing: The protagonist struggles—nervously or defiantly or both—to announce who she really is to the world. But the queer teens now taking center stage are understandably gun-shy about this rite. Almost in passing, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird highlights the difference in what’s at stake. For Saoirse Ronan in the title role, bucking the dutiful-teen image is a performative thrill; her boyfriend (Lucas Hedges), who she discovers is gay, isn’t ready to upend parental expectations in what feels like a more irrevocable way.

Putting that apprehension in the foreground, this year’s gay-teen movies summon external forces to yank identity struggles into the open. In Love, Simon, Simon (Nick Robinson) is blackmailed by a classmate who discovers the secret Simon had hoped to keep through high school—and the kid eventually outs him anyway. Family members, peers, and school staff rally in support of an almost caricatured romantic-comedy finale for Simon: Young lovers ride a Ferris wheel, happily ever after. Simon never dreamed he’d remain in the closet; he just wanted to time his emergence to his arrival at college. That the mortifying disruption of this plan turns out to be kismet is not unlike what happens to the straight teens of Sixteen Candles and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, who have their private crushes revealed against their will.

The recent conversion-therapy movies redraw the blueprint more radically with the simple recognition that for a lot of queer youths, exposure really can spell catastrophe. In Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, set in the 1990s, the title character (Chloë Grace Moretz) is furtively hooking up with another girl at prom when the car door is flung open by Cameron’s male date. In Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, Jared (Hedges again), the Arkansas son of a hard-line preacher (Russell Crowe), diligently resists acting on his same-sex attractions—but is still outed, in extremely traumatic circumstances, when he goes to college in the early 2000s. The unmasking of these characters doesn’t represent a capstone of self-actualization; it kicks off a communal effort to constrain who they might become—to stop same-sex attraction before it “gets worse,” as one Boy Erased church elder puts it.

Change, usually the liberating mantra of coming-of-age movies, represents oppression and conformity in these films: It’s what the Christian brainwashing camps insist is possible for gay teens, something very near the opposite of the discovery of a true self. The comic pop-culture trope of the regimented high school morphs into a grimmer setting of hapless yet powerful adults and trapped kids. Even the homework is a perverse twist. For The Breakfast Club’s crew, being forced to write an essay about “who you think you are” offers each teen a pretext to break out of a stereotyped public image. But mandatory self-analysis, when truly futile, begins to resemble torture: Jared must annotate his family tree with the sins of his forebears (alcoholism, gambling, gang affiliation), and Cameron draws an iceberg showing all the supposedly malign influences below her surface (enjoyment of sports, lack of positive female role models). “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?” Cameron asks.Seeing through the quacks in charge and confirming the truth of their own desires—which both of them ultimately do (Jared with the eventual support of his mother)—isn’t a prelude to fruitful rebellion or an upbeat transition away from home. Jared the earnest church kid frets about his parents’ love more than anything else. Cameron takes on light punk airs, joining ranks with the pot-smoking skeptics in the program she’s sent to, but she’s not fighting the system to achieve acceptance. Though both characters end up as runaways of sorts, they don’t seem to be running toward any particular adulthood they may be dreaming of. Survival has to come first.

Set further in the past, the breakout queer-teen movies of the previous two years each consider—from opposite perspectives—how a person’s initial environs might follow them forever. In Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, the black youth Chiron (played in turn by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) suffers bullying and parental abuse as he grows up amid Miami drug dealers and addicts in the 1980s. Moments of grace and fellowship are precious, and he’s shown acting on his same-sex desires in only one fleeting teenage encounter. In his high-school years, he does rebel—but by savagely beating a classmate, making a display of masculinity that brings him in line with the heterosexual status quo. Years later, he hasn’t diverged from the script that shaped his youth—he’s become a drug dealer—and whether he may belatedly be ready to pursue his desires is left open. Life itself may have erased this boy.

A contrast to Chiron in so many ways, the white and wealthy Elio (Timothée Chalamet) of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name avails himself of a few different scripts over one blissful ’80s summer in the Italian countryside. Like a stereotypical 17-year-old, he sneaks around in pursuit of sex behind his worldly parents’ backs, at first with girls and soon with Oliver (Armie Hammer), the handsome graduate student spending the summer at his family’s villa. Yet what looks like brave same-sex exploration on his own terms is suddenly cast in a very different light at the film’s close: Elio’s father indicates that he’s been aware of the affair all along. In fact, he’s been jealous of it, having yearned in vain for similar experiences.

Can Elio be who his father wishes he’d been? The film holds out, for a moment, the utopian possibility that a queer kid could be propelled forward by the possibility of fulfilling unmet parental dreams, rather than disappointing deeply entrenched ones. Yet a shadow flits across that uplifting prospect. Elio is soon heartbroken to learn that Oliver, who has returned to his grad-student life, is marrying a woman. “You’re so lucky,” the older man tells the younger one over the phone while reflecting on their tryst. “My father would have carted me off to a correctional facility.” In the film’s pointedly open-ended final scene, Elio just sits and cries. Presumably he’s contemplating the mystery of his future, one in which the men who might have been his role models appear to have surrendered some part of themselves. Even in Elio’s liberation, there’s no clear path for him to walk.

Most teen stories, of course, are open-ended on some level. Puberty breaks everyone’s life in two, and what comes after graduation is necessarily unwritten. But for gay kids, a ready synthesis between the old order and the new sexual self doesn’t obviously await. Willingly or not, they’re swept into an unfolding historical saga. These characters thus come to inhabit their misfit status—a dislocation that’s permanent and deep, rather than fleeting and cosmetic—reluctantly, quietly, and often with gestures toward external conformity.

In look and feel, these movies mimic their muted heroes. Mostly gone are the hijinks and raunch of typical teen comedy, eclipsed by struggles to belong that tend toward stately, notably pretty melodrama. A sensitive camera eye helps capture teens’ interiority, a social vista, and the chasm between them. Yet the critic D. A. Miller has convincingly argued that mainstream gay movies’ “mandatory aesthetic laminate, which can never shine brightly enough with dappled light,” is also a sop: meant to make homosexuality palatable for a broad audience.

Certainly it’s curious that in an age of unprecedented visibility for LGBTQ communities, the queer teens chosen for the cinematic spotlight appear so allergic to, well, seeming gay. Simon is self-mocking as he at one point indulges in a daydream of being accompanied by a rainbow-clad cheering squad when he leaves the closet, and he keeps the only out kid at school—sardonic, femme, and black—at arm’s length. Elio pokes fun at the flamboyant older gay couple who visit his parents, and Jared’s arrival into a life of writing New York Times op-eds and attending Brooklyn dinner parties is shown glancingly, in an epiloguelike time jump. Whether the implied assimilationist impulse reflects the filmmakers’ or the characters’ caution is up for debate. Either way, the caution serves as a reminder: There’s a reason slogans like “It gets better” have tried to give queer kids the kind of optimistic narrative arc that pop culture has offered straight teens for so long.

And even in their mannered quietude and their relegation of politics to subtext, these films carry a disruptive message. Boy Erased ends with Jared telling his dad that he, not Jared, is the one who needs to change. When Simon’s father repents for all the gay jokes he’s told over the years, the gesture is warm but wan. The parental apology suggests why coming of age feels so heavy in these movies: It’s the world, not just the teen, that’s struggling to mature.
Doonesbury — Veterans Day.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday Reading

The Return of American Anti-Semitism — Alexandra Schwartz in The New Yorker.

The violence that took place this Shabbat morning at the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh is the fear of every synagogue, Hillel, day school, and Jewish community center in this country. It is the ancient Jewish expectation of persecution—when, where, has it not been with us?—married to American reality: a country saturated with guns and habituated to quotidian massacre, plagued by age-old racism and bigotry, which have lately been expertly inflamed by the holder of the highest office in the land.

For the past few years, American Jews have glanced warily at Western Europe, where anti-Semitism, never dormant, is once again on the rise. The British Labour Party has been riven by accusations of anti-Semitism among its leadership. French Jews have emigrated to Israel in unprecedented numbers. In Sweden, synagogues and Jewish centers have been firebombed. After 9/11, American synagogues and community centers became barricaded spaces, outfitted with concrete sidewalk barriers and metal detectors, so that going to services felt like going to the airport. The concern then was an external threat.

There has long been a casual assumption that homegrown anti-Semitism could not happen here, that “The Plot Against America” would remain the fantastical counter-factual that Philip Roth intended it to be.

And yet, the warning signs have become increasingly clear. Since the 2016 Presidential campaign, anti-Semitic vitriol has exploded on the Internet. Neo-Nazis tweet swastikas and Hitler-era propaganda of leering, hook-nosed rabbis. Holocaust deniers discuss “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in plain view. Jewish journalists and other public figures have had their profile pictures Photoshopped onto images of lampshades and bars of soap. The name “George Soros” is no longer invoked as a dog whistle, but as an ambulance siren. “The Jewish question” is debated on alt-right blogs and news sites. In the run-up to the election, anti-Semites began to put Jewish names in sets of triple parentheses—a yellow star for the digital age, by which to un-assimilate the assimilated. Jews rushed to claim and defang the symbol, turning it into a voluntary declaration of pride, but the scar of its origins remains. For a time after Donald Trump’s election, I collected screenshots of racist and anti-Semitic hate speech I came across. Then I stopped. The proof was everywhere, plain as day.

It seems clear that anti-Semitism has burrowed into the American mainstream in a way not seen since the late nineteen-thirties and early nineteen-forties, when it also fused easily with conservative isolationist fervor and racism. In “These Truths,” her masterful new history of this country, my colleague Jill Lepore writes about the anti-Semites of that period, who saw “mass democracy and mass culture as harbingers of the decline of Western civilization.” In 1939, the German-American Bund held a pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, attended by twenty-thousand people; you can watch footage of it here, and, as vile as it is, I suggest that you do. Amid the sieg-heils, you will see Fritz Kuhn, the Bund’s leader, railing against the “Jewish-controlled press” as he lays out his vision for a “socially just, white, Gentile-ruled United States.” “We, with our American ideals, demand that the American government shall be returned to the American people who founded it,” he says, to cheers.

Not long ago, I came across a description—published in the March, 1939, bulletin of the men’s club at New York’s Ansche Chesed synagogue—of a counter-rally held a couple of weeks later, at Carnegie Hall. “Stressing that racial intolerance was un-American, speaker after speaker denounced the activities of the German-American Bund,” the bulletin reports. “The need for protecting our democratic processes was on the lips of everyone and strong sentiment of solidarity to protect democracy and racial and religious freedom that goes with it was prevalent throughout.” That sense of solidarity, which, for me, as for many, is at the moral center of the American-Jewish experience, was explicitly attacked in Pittsburgh on Saturday. It has been reported that, a few weeks ago, the alleged gunman furiously railed on social media against HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was founded, at the turn of the last century, to help the waves of Jewish immigrants who left imperial Russia for America. The organization later worked to resettle Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, and currently serves immigrants and refugees of all backgrounds. It is a bitter irony that that sense of common cause has now been further strengthened, as the Tree of Life joins Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center, in Bloomington, Minnesota, and so many other houses of worship as points on a dark map of ongoing American tragedy.

Single, Gay, and DadAvichai Scher in The New York Times on the trend of gay fathers going it alone.

Julius Ybañez Towers was taking a walk around the Harlem Meer in Central Park with his twin 10-month-old sons and two dogs. A woman stopped to compliment him for giving his wife a break.

“There’s no wife,” he told the woman. “I’m a single gay dad from surrogacy.” He smiled at the confused look on her face.

Mr. Towers, 40, is still rare, but he is part of a growing movement. Surrogacy agencies across the country report a surge of interest from single gay men in the last few years.

Shelly Marsh, a spokeswoman for Men Having Babies, a nonprofit that helps gay men navigate the surrogacy process, said that the increase in interest from single men is part of a broader surge in gay families.

“Our volume has increased substantially over the last few years,” Ms. Marsh said. “But more so, single men are learning that they do not need to wait to find someone to fulfill the dream of having a biological child.”

Most single gay men pursue what is known as gestational surrogacy: the surrogate is implanted with a fertilized embryo taken from a separate egg donor. The surrogate is not genetically related to the child. She also has no maternal rights, so intended parents are legally protected from her keeping the baby.

For that legal protection however, the birth must happen in a state where it’s legal to pay a surrogate and that recognizes the contract. New Jersey recently approved compensation for surrogates; Washington State’s announced it would do so in January. New York, along with Michigan and Louisiana, are the only states where it remains illegal to pay a woman to be a surrogate mother.

Where it is legal, the total cost of the procedure — from paying the agencies, the donor, the doctors, the surrogate and the birth — can be anywhere from $80,000 to $200,000. None of this is covered by insurance.

But for Mr. Towers, having biological children was a long-held dream that he was willing to work toward.

He grew up in what he called a humble home in Palm Bay, Fla., where he said he was bullied at school. “Growing up gay in a homophobic town, and in tough financial times, it was hard to see how I’d have my own kids,” he said.

His parents strung together several low-wage jobs, and he’s the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He put himself through law school at University of Pennsylvania. He was a corporate attorney in Manhattan for 15 years and is now pursuing a master’s in public health at Columbia University.

Gradually, after the death of his mother, a failed relationship and two dog adoptions, he realized that he was ready to take on fatherhood, even by himself.

“I wanted to have children more than I wanted a partner,” Mr. Towers said. He viewed being single as a positive because he alone would control the decisions about surrogacy and parenting. Yet control was still an illusion.

Because it is illegal to pay a surrogate in New York, Mr. Towers’s quest to become a father began all the way across the country. Through an agency in Portland, Ore., Northwest Surrogacy Center, he found a woman there who was willing to carry a fertilized embryo. The embryo itself was made with the eggs of an anonymous donor from an agency based in California. These eggs (which, according to the agency, came from an astrophysicist) were fertilized at Oregon Reproductive Medicine, a clinic in Portland.

After a failed transfer of a single embryo, Mr. Towers and his surrogate decided to transfer two embryos in hopes that at least one would take. They knew it could mean twins.

“I realized I couldn’t control everything,” Towers said. “I left it to fate at that point.”

Nine months later, he traveled to Portland for the surrogate’s scheduled C-section and held his sons, Asher and Galen, for the first time. Asher had a short stay in the intensive care unit, so Mr. Towers stayed in Oregon for three more weeks, until the twins were ready for the long flight home to New York.

As unpredictable as the medical prospect of surrogacy may be, some gay men prefer that to the possibility of facing discrimination in adoption.

Dennis Williams had his son, Elan, via surrogacy four years ago. Mr. Williams, who is 46 and black, said he chose surrogacy because the prospect of persuading a woman to allow him to adopt was daunting. “As a single, gay black man,” he said, “I figured I’d be at the bottom of the list for most women.”

Mr. Williams and his former partner had a failed egg donation from a woman they met through a friend. After he and his partner broke up, Mr. Williams still wanted to be a father. The donor, a black lesbian who didn’t plan on having children, agreed to try again for Mr. Williams.

Once he became a father, Mr. Williams said, he felt as if he finally fit in with his big family in Kansas, where he grew up. “I was no longer an anomaly to them,” he said. “Once I had a son, it drew me closer to the tribe.”

For Mr. Towers, the race of his twin sons was more difficult to control. Both his parents are mixed race: his mother half-Filipina, and his father part Native American. He hoped to find a multiracial egg donor, but most of the donors, he found, were white.

“Some accused me of whitewashing my kids’ skin,” Mr. Towers said. “In the end, I don’t care about skin color. I’ll just have to work harder to make them understand their multiracial roots.”

One son, Asher, has the blond hair and blue eyes of the donor, while the other, Galen, has the dark brown hair and complexion of his father.

During the surrogate’s pregnancy, Mr. Towers enrolled in a twins class, did a daddy boot camp and took a baby-dog home-integration class. Even though he has a nanny seven days a week, he is on his own nights and mornings. Like any new parent of twins, he’s overwhelmed at times.

“I don’t like the feeling that I can’t do it all on my own, but sometimes I need help, even with a nanny,” he said. “Because I signed up to be a single father of twins, some people tell me I can’t complain. It contributes to the feeling I’m alone in the wilderness.”

The little moments keep him going.

After the walk around the Harlem Meer, Mr. Towers, with the help of the nanny, returned home and put the boys in their cribs.

He leaned in to kiss each of his sons on the forehead. “Daddy loves you,” he whispered.

As the boys drifted to sleep, he exhaled and stood watching them. He mentioned that he just renewed another year of storage for his remaining frozen embryos. Through a genetic screening test, he knows one embryo is female.

“Who knows?” he said. “One day, when the boys are out of diapers, maybe I’ll have a little girl.”

Doonesbury — Getting a leg up.

Monday, October 22, 2018

It Isn’t Binary

I find this disturbing in a lot of ways.  From the New York Times:

The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.

A series of decisions by the Obama administration loosened the legal concept of gender in federal programs, including in education and health care, recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice and not determined by the sex assigned at birth. The policy prompted fights over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs and other arenas where gender was once seen as a simple concept. Conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, were incensed.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.

“This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration and helped write transgender guidance that is being undone.

The move would be the most significant of a series of maneuvers, large and small, to exclude the population from civil rights protections and roll back the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.

I will be the first to admit that I do not have the scientific, medical, or psychological background to speak about this in any way other than what I know based on my own life, but just in that experience I know that gender is defined in far more many ways than what equipment I was born with.  I also know that even within the area of defining male versus female there is such a range as to make it fluid — filling the vessel it is carried in — that a mere biological definition doesn’t begin to define one or the other.

But the biggest and most important part of all of this is: what business is it of the government to define it?  I thought we were all supposed to be treated equally regardless, and the laws should be blind to such factors as race or gender.  Or, to put it more succinctly, it shouldn’t matter.  Period.

Obviously, though, it has and it does to a certain group.  What Trump and his collection of ignorant tight-asses are worried about is the undoing of prejudice and fear so that we are not focusing on some kind of binary definition of gender so that they can be comfortable knowing who’s in the next stall when they go to pee.  And frankly, if my Grade 10 psychology text book was right, people who worry inordinately about how they perceive other people are having a great deal of difficulty accepting how they perceive themselves.

If they’re going to persist in demanding that people be defined by the kind of genitalia they are born with, then I suggest we also add that we define people by the color of hair they are born with and it cannot be changed “unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Reading

LGBTQ Refugees In Turkey — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker on the plight of getting out of oppression in the Middle East.

When you are a refugee, you learn all about the hierarchy of compassion. There are the people from war-torn countries—refugees from humanitarian catastrophes so enormous that they upend the world’s imagination, such as those who have escaped from Syria. There are people who have fled a sudden campaign of violence and hatred, such as the gay men who have been escaping from Chechnya for the past year. And then there is you: unlucky enough to have suffered the kind of misfortune that can’t seem to hold onto a headline. From the officers of U.N.H.C.R.—the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency that runs refugee-resettlement operations around the world—what you hear is this: “There is no country for you.”

Ali (he asked not to use his full name) is a gay man from Iran who reached out to me on behalf of L.G.B.T. refugees in Turkey. We have corresponded and talked on Skype during the last few days. When we spoke, he tried to make clear that he doesn’t begrudge the world’s focus on the refugees from Syria. Nor does he begrudge the activism that has helped more than a hundred queer Chechens flee their country for the safety of Canada, France, Germany, and other destinations. Ali wants everyone to make it to safety. But he and other L.G.B.T. refugees currently living in Turkey feel like they have been forgotten.

Refugees usually flee their country for one where they can apply, at an U.N.H.C.R. office, to find a third country in which to resettle. The process is not the same as entering a country directly and seeking asylum there—which is an option most refugees don’t have—but it does mean that people have the legal status of refugee when they finally arrive in their destination country. And, in theory, refugees are safe while in the care of the U.N.H.C.R. But U.N.H.C.R. facilities in Turkey have been overwhelmed since the current refugee crisis began: there are more than three and a half million refugees from Syria in the country, along with more than three hundred and sixty-five thousand refugees from other countries. This means that processing times to receive refugee status, which is required before resettlement can begin, have stretched from several weeks to a couple of years. Refugees receive little to no financial or housing assistance while they are in Turkey.

When I asked Ali how old he was, he was momentarily stumped. “I’ve stopped counting the years since I came here,” he said. He did know his birthday, though, so it wasn’t hard to figure out that he was thirty-five. He grew up in Iran. He told me that he was detained by security services, held overnight, and tortured, in 2004—he would have been twenty-two at the time. This scared him so much that, for a couple of years, he stopped blogging on L.G.B.T. topics; in fact, he stopped writing altogether. But then he returned to writing, and even organized some clandestine meetings of gay men. When Ali’s parents found out about his homosexuality, they had him committed to a psychiatric hospital. When he was released back into their care, they kept him under lock and key for a year and a half, and then tried to force him into marriage. He took part in elaborate charades in order to secure a small measure of freedom. He even began making a documentary about gay life in Iran. But, when several of the friends with whom he was making the film were arrested, he realized that he had to flee. “I could be arrested and hanged at any time,” he said. Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran.

In 2010, Ali and his partner, who is from India, moved to India together. Ali felt safer, but soon his partner was being harassed and blackmailed by neighbors, who threatened to turn him in to the police. (In India, homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment.) In 2014, the two men went to Turkey in hopes of finding their way to a safe country. Like many gay refugees—and unlike perhaps any other group of refugees—Ali would have preferred to go to a country where he didn’t have relatives. But when the men finally had their refugee status, a year and a half after arriving in Turkey, they asked to be resettled anywhere, in any country that would take them.

They knew, however, that only two countries—Canada and the United States—resettle L.G.B.T. refugees as a matter of practice. By the time Ali and his partner were eligible to be resettled, it was late 2016. Canada had announced its commitment to taking in more Syrian refugees, which still made barely a dent in the number of refugees needing resettlement; it also meant that refugees from other countries were no longer getting resettled in Canada. And Donald Trump had just been elected President of the United States. Almost as soon as he was inaugurated, he would impose a ban on refugees from eleven countries that he considers “high-risk,” Iran among them. (The ban has since been lifted—or, more accurately, relaxed slightly, but the U.S. has also drastically cut the number of refugees it accepts over all.) These events led to how Ali and other L.G.B.T. refugees came to hear the phrase “There is no country for you.” This is what they hear when they inquire about their cases at U.N.H.C.R., Ali said.

Ali estimates that between seven and eight hundred L.G.B.T. refugees are now stuck in Turkey without the prospect of resettlement. Most of them are from Iran, with some from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East. Over the past couple of years, as their hopes of finding a home in the world have dwindled, their life in Turkey has grown harder. Ali was careful to again acknowledge that things are hard for all refugees—all of them have to fend for themselves; all face ever-increasing bureaucratic hurdles to securing work permits; all face increasing impatience, and sometimes hostility, from local residents. Still, Ali said, “if we were from a war-torn country and we entered Turkey, we would be safe in Turkey because there is no war here. But we are fleeing homophobic and transphobic attacks, and we face them here.”

The U.N.H.C.R. assigns refugees to small towns in Turkey, where they are expected to stay as long as they are in the country; the Turkish authorities require them to check in weekly in their assigned town. Far from the thriving queer scene in Istanbul, small towns and cities in Turkey tend to be socially conservative, and have grown only more so during the country’s recent political crackdown. Ali told me that, during the first ten days of June, five L.G.B.T. refugees were attacked in Yalova, a small coastal city on the Sea of Marmara where many of Istanbul’s secular élite historically kept summer homes. One of the victims, a trans woman, had to be hospitalized for three days following a stabbing. This is not unusual, Ali said: “People are beaten up, raped, gang-raped.”

The hopelessness is its own kind of violence, too. “We have seen people commit suicide, go into severe depression,” Ali said. “One lesbian single mother couldn’t get medical treatment for her small child here, and had to go back to Iran for it. She committed suicide there.”

Earlier this month, a number of the L.G.B.T. refugees gathered to try to figure out what to do. “After losing hope for U.S. resettlement, we see that there is no option ahead of us,” Ali said. “We decided to show our own desperation.” This was no small decision. Under the provisions of the state of emergency that has been in effect in Turkey for nearly two years, protest is effectively banned. Refugees have every reason to fear being deported if they protest.

Such was their despair, however, that, on June 4th, several of the refugees went to the offices of the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants, a Turkish organization that is largely funded by the European Union, in two cities—Yalova and Denizli—and stood in silent protest. They held placards with summaries of their stories (“Gay refugee. 5 years. 60 months. 240 weeks. 1680 days. Still in Turkey. Future: uncertain!!!”) and slogans (“We demand urgent resettlement of all LGBT refugees to a safe country!!”). More than two hundred of the refugees also signed a petition addressed to European, North American, and international officials. The online version of the petition is titled “Save LGBT refugees in Turkey who are abandoned in unsafe conditions for years with no help.”

For all the courage the protest took, it received no media coverage. A few days later, Ali reached out to me. “We are requesting the world to help us reach to safety before its too late,” he wrote.

Cartoon Censorship — Samantha Michaels on the firing of Rob Rogers.

On Thursday, veteran editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers was abruptly fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after a string of anti-Trump illustrations were spiked from the newspaper.

Rogers, who joined the Post-Gazette in 1993, says 19 cartoons or proposed drawings were killed by the paper over a three-month period, including six in a single week shortly before he was fired. “After so many years of punch lines and caricatures, skewering mayors and mullahs, the new regime at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decided that The Donald trumped satire when it came to its editorial pages,” he wrote in an op-ed on Friday.

The Post-Gazette’s publisher and editor-in-chief, John Robinson Block—who boasted about joining Donald Trump on his private jet at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign—defended the decision. “It has little to do with politics, ideology or Donald Trump,” he told the Washington Post. “It has mostly to do with working together and the editing process.”

Below are some of Rogers’ recent cartoons going after some of Trump’s most divisive and disturbing actions as president. “The paper may have taken an eraser to my cartoons,” Rogers wrote in the op-ed. “But I plan to be at my drawing table every day of this presidency.”

Full disclosure: I went to high school with John Robinson Block and his twin brother in Toledo in the late 1960’s.  His family has been running The Blade, and now they have the Post-Gazette.  (They’re probably still running “Mary Worth” on the comics page.)  They’ve always been stuffy old bores with no sense of humor or an appreciation for sharp wit.  It surprises me not at all that he would fire a cartoonist, and I’m not surprised at all that he’s a shill for Trump.

Doonesbury — She’s a natural.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Out In The Open

Ria Tabacco Mar, the lawyer for the gay couple in Colorado that were denied a wedding cake by a Christian bakery, has an op ed in the Washington Post about something I’m familiar with: staying in the closet.

Charlie Craig, one of the men that Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado bakery, turned away because they are gay, said something about shopping for a wedding cake that stuck with me: “That day,” he said, “I really let my guard down.”

I knew exactly what Craig meant. Not just because he’s my client but because I keep my guard up most days, too — just like nearly every LGBT person I know.

[…]

My spouse and I sometimes commute together. Do we kiss goodbye on a crowded subway car, risking a negative comment — or worse? Or do we wave goodbye as if we are just friends who happened to run into each other on the way? Some days involve just one or two decision points such as this, but other days require many, many more. I pick up two coffees, and a friendly barista asks which is for me and which is for my presumed husband. When I’m out with our kids, fellow parents refer in passing to their imagined dad. Is it really necessary to correct all of these people, I wonder? If I don’t, what will my children think of my casually erasing our family? And each time I let faulty assumptions slide, am I making them more likely the next time?

These calculations — weighing the risk of censure or even violence against the personal and political costs of invisibility — happen in a split second. But they exact a toll — a mental burden that can’t be quantified.

I know exactly what she’s talking about.  Thirty-four years ago next Sunday I met the man I would spend the next fifteen years with, sharing house, home, and life until we parted in 1999.  Both of us were out to our friends and family — hey, it was 1984; who cared, right? — but we still kept our guard up.  We never held hands in public, we avoided using endearments when talking in public, and if asked by an inquiring landlord or curious straight neighbor, we were housemates, nothing more.  Both of us are by nature not outwardly demonstrative so it wasn’t a large burden to keep our relationship out of the public eye, but it still inhibited us and may have indirectly led to our break-up.  There were a few other factors in play, including dealing with addiction and recovery, but who’s to say that keeping up our guard up constantly didn’t contribute to it as well.

I’ve been single ever since, and while I’m openly gay to anyone who asks and I’ve never denied it either at work or with friends, it’s still something I guard.  Like Mr. Craig and Ms. Mar, it would be nice that if I do meet someone and we feel the need to hold hands in public or share a kiss when saying goodbye at the front door, not to have to wonder if it’s going to cost something.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

It’s Not Just A Cake

David Brooks does his kumbaya business on gay rights, wedding cakes, and not making a scene.

Five years ago, Charlie Craig and David Mullins walked into a bakery in a strip mall in Lakewood, Colo., to ask about a cake for their wedding. The baker, Jack Phillips, replied: “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, cookies, brownies. I just can’t make a cake for a same-sex wedding.”

As Adam Liptak of The Times reported, Phillips is a Christian and believes that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. Phillips is not trying to restrict gay marriage or gay rights; he’s simply asking not to be forced to take part.

Craig and Mullins were understandably upset. As Mullins told Liptak, “We were mortified and just felt degraded.” Nobody likes to be refused service just because of who they essentially are. In a just society people are not discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

At this point, Craig and Mullins had two possible courses of action, the neighborly and the legal.

The neighborly course would have been to use this situation as a community-building moment. That means understanding the concrete circumstance they were in.

First, it’s just a cake.  It’s not like they were being denied a home or a job, or a wedding. A cake looks good in magazines, but it’s not an important thing in a marriage. Second, Phillips’s opinion is not a strange opinion. Barack Obama was elected president arguing that a marriage was between a man and a woman. Most good-hearted Americans believed this until a few years ago. Third, the tide of opinion is quickly swinging in favor of gay marriage. Its advocates have every cause to feel confident, patient and secure.

Okay, let me stop you right there.  Would you have told Rosa Parks “It’s just a seat on a bus”?  It’s not just a cake.  It’s a symbol of Mr. Phillips’ purposeful disregard for the laws of his state, which prohibit discrimination in public accommodation.  That includes baking a cake.  So Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullin had every right to take him to court.

Given that context, the neighborly approach would be to say: “Fine, we won’t compel you to do something you believe violates your sacred principles. But we would like to hire you to bake other cakes for us. We would like to invite you into our home for dinner and bake with you, so you can see our marital love, and so we can understand your values. You still may not agree with us, after all this, but at least we’ll understand each other better and we can live more fully in our community.”

The legal course, by contrast, was to take the problem out of the neighborhood and throw it into the court system. The legal course has some advantages. You can use state power, ultimately the barrel of a gun, to compel people to do what you think is right. There are clearly many cases in which the legal course is the right response (Brown v. Board of Education).

But the legal course has some disadvantages. It is inherently adversarial. It takes what could be a conversation and turns it into a confrontation. It is dehumanizing. It ends persuasion and relies on the threat of state coercion. It is elitist. It takes a situation that could be addressed concretely on the ground and throws it up, as this one now has been, to the Supreme Court, where it will be decided by a group of Harvard and Yale law grads.

And I’m sure that if the students at Little Rock in 1957 had said, “So you don’t want us in your school?  Well, come on over and let us show you that we’re just folks; we’ll make a nice dinner and sit on the front porch and watch the lightning bugs and you’ll see that we’re no different than you,” Central High would still be segregated, the buses in Birmingham would have back seats for coloreds, and we’d still be hearing how our nation would evolve to natural integration where everyone would get along without all that outside agitation and messy lawsuits.

It’s not just a cake.  It’s not about baking a cake.  It’s not about the freedom of religion, either, because the right to exercise your religious beliefs has to end when it tramples the rights of others to live their lives without being made to feel as if they are somehow less than the rest of society.  If you don’t want to bake a cake for gay people, then don’t open a bakery that is licensed by the state to serve the public.

And if you think that baking a cake for a couple somehow demeans or diminishes your faith, then perhaps you should take the time to re-examine your faith.

Readers of this column know that I fervently support gay marriage, but I don’t think bakers like Jack Phillips are best brought along by the iron fist of the state. I don’t think the fabric of this country will be repaired through the angry confrontation of lawyers. In this specific situation, the complex art of neighborliness is our best way forward.

Then perhaps Mr. Phillips would be well-advised to remember the biblical admonishment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  And bake the cake.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why She Won

There’s been a lot of talk about the election of Danica Roem to the Virginia House of Delegates because she’s the first transgender person elected to statewide office in the country.  Not only that, she did it by beating Republican Bob Marshall, one of the state’s most conservative delegates who proudly labeled himself as “chief homophobe” and authored an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that thankfully died in committee earlier this year.

I’d like to think that the reason Ms. Roem won had nothing to do with her gender or how she identifies herself on her driver’s license.  I’d like to think that it had to do with the fact that she ran a campaign about doing things in her district that needed doing.  There are potholes that need to be filled.  There are schools that need to be funded.  There is healthcare that needs to be provided, and the rest of the day-to-day problems that crop up that need to be dealt with and then moving forward.  What was Bob Marshall doing?  Freaking out about where people urinate.

I’d also like to think that the people in her district have grown up enough to realize that the abstract worries about things such as LGBTQ issues and walls in Texas are less important than taking care of the potholes and schoolrooms.  It doesn’t matter what bathroom you go into as long as you are ready and willing to do the job when you come out.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

National Coming Out Day

In a way it’s too bad that we still have to make a deal out of coming out of the closet even with all the advances that have been made in both the LGBTQ community and life in general.  But when we still have active oppression on the part of government entities and sex-obsessed busy-bodies who are railing about retribution based on fables and superstition (all the while some of the most ardent opponents of gay rights are paying off their rent-boys), attention must be paid to those who are still dealing with both their true nature and their place in our society.

I hope for the time when National Coming Out Day is as big a deal as National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.  That would be something to celebrate.

For the record, my coming out day was over 40 years ago, so you kids have fun.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Hold

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis puts the freeze on the transgender ban.

The Pentagon confirmed the move in a statement attributed to Mattis, saying that he will first develop a study and implementation plan “as directed” by the president in a memorandum released Friday. Soon-to-be arriving political appointees at the Defense Department “will play an important role in this effort,” Mattis added. The plan will address both the potential for transgender people looking to serve in the military for the first time, and transgender troops who already are serving.

“Our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield,” Mattis said. “To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction.”

You mean someone in the Trump administration is actually thinking something through?  Wow.

That doesn’t mean that the Pentagon won’t eventually go along with the ban, but at the very least they’re going to look at how this garbage policy will effect the troops.  And of course they’re going to weigh the political implications of it; that’s how they do things at the Kremlin, which seems to be the business model they’re following now.

Saturday, August 5, 2017