‘Will and Grace’ is More Progressive Now, But Can It Make an Impact 20 Years Later?

It’s rather strange to look back at early episodes of Will and Grace, 20 years later. What seemed groundbreaking and almost revolutionary on September 21, 1998, now feels quaint and even antiquated in comparison to modern day portrayals of LGBTQ characters on TV.

This is hardly a critique of the show. Much progress has been made in the two decades since viewers were first introduced to Will and Grace and a great deal of it happened precisely because of this lovable sitcom.

Across eight seasons on NBC, Will and Grace won 16 Emmy Awards out of a staggering 83 nominations, shifting American ideals towards a more tolerant place of acceptance for the gay community at large. Even Vice President Joe Biden commended the show at one point for helping to normalize queer relationships on screen for millions of viewers, but that was back when the LGBTQ community was starved for representation.

Although we still have a long way to go, shows like Glee, Transparent, and Orange Is The New Black have all widened the conversation in recent years to include a far more inclusive range of people from across the spectrum.

Because of this, there were concerns that the 2017 revival would struggle to compete or add anything meaningful to the conversation 11 years after the show originally ended. Back in 1998, Will and Grace was the rainbow flag bearer for an entire generation who rarely, if ever, saw themselves reflected on screen with any kind of authenticity. Fast forward to 2017 and the show’s reliance on the masc/femme dichotomy between Will and Jack, two white, gay, able-bodied men, suddenly seems far less subversive than before.

Today, the pressure’s on for Hollywood to be more inclusive and avoid stereotypes in favor of more diverse representation, but in reality, such concerns about Will and Grace are nothing new.

Will and Jack Don’t Speak For All Gay Men

Just like Friends, early episodes of Will and Grace were also problematic to a degree, and some of Will’s jokes about women, in particular, could be perceived as rather misogynistic with the benefit of hindsight. Sure, there is something to be said for the way that the show’s writers used comedy to break down various stereotypes, but some queer fans at the time also objected to the way that Will and Jack were portrayed to the heterosexual majority.

There’s a lot more to the queer experience than just “camp” or “straight-acting” gay men, yet for some people, that’s all Will and Grace seemed interested in exploring across its first eight seasons. The LA Times noticed early on how the show desexualized Will, describing him as almost “asexual” in their review of the 1998 pilot. Critic Howard Rosenberg went on to say that Will’s sexuality appears “to exist solely as a device to give him the moral authority to repeatedly ridicule the mincing manner of his bandanna-wearing homosexual friend, Jack, without being labeled homophobic.”

With each indignant tantrum that Jack put on in response to Will’s ribbing, it became easy to see why some LGBTQ viewers might have worried that his character perpetuated the stereotype that all gay men are flamboyant, effeminate queens. At times, it felt like both the audience and his fellow cast members were laughing at Jack, and not with him.

Some of this could have been offset if the show had balanced things out with a positive sexual representation of the characters, but Will and Grace didn’t even portray a gay kiss until Season 2 and that was just a fake smooch between Will and Jack.

Just Jack Being Jack

However, it’s also worth asking where this discomfort regarding Jack’s flamboyance came from in the first place. There are plenty of gay men who rightly embrace their femininity with pride and saw themselves reflected far more clearly in the likes of Jack than Will or any of his hyper-masculine boyfriends.

Femme-phobia is a real issue that still plagues the gay community even now, something which Hayes himself pointed out recently to the New York Times when he questioned how anyone could “be too gay?” The idea of setting such limits on anyone’s sexuality is both cruel and absurd, even more so when such intolerance comes from fellow members of the LGBTQ community.  

On the other hand, it could be argued that Will and Grace always sought to subvert femme-phobia. Remember that episode where Will called Jack a “fag”? After that, Jack continued to enjoy his life and embrace his sexuality with a freedom that Will and perhaps many viewers also envied over the years. If anything, such behavior only reflected poorly on Will.

Just like Karen’s squeaky voice was used as a mouthpiece to reveal how ridiculous her racist and sexist views really were, the writers also deliberately used Will’s own intolerance to point out the inherent fallacies of any femme vs masc debate.

The problem, of course, is that such intricacies might have been lost on straight viewers unfamiliar with these kinds of issues and concerns about the representation — or lack of representation — for other queer people are still absolutely valid. If you weren’t a cis white gay man, then chances are your demographic was the butt of at least one joke in the original run of Will and Grace.

The Little Sitcom That Could

However, no single show should ever shoulder the responsibility of representing every possible sexuality, and with that in mind, Will and Grace still achieved some incredible things during its time. Co-creator David Kohan once recalled that before the show premiered, he was asked by his agent to make Will straight, which speaks volumes about the obstacles that Will and Grace faced and subsequently overcame.

At a time when Bill Clinton had just set queer rights back by signing the Defense of Marriage Act, what other show championed its queer protagonists like Will and Grace? Watching a show treat the relationship between a gay man and a straight woman as something more than just a punchline was incredibly affirming for the LGBTQ community at the time and for many younger gays, Will and Grace was probably the first positive representation of queerness that they had ever seen on TV. No one was ever punished or killed on the show for being different. They simply existed and enjoyed all of the joys and hardships that life brings because of it.

In the face of competition from countless other LGBTQ shows that exist today, the Will and Grace revival was never going to make an impact as large as the original run did, but it’s still breaking new ground regardless. Not only do the new episodes incorporate queer kissing and sex in ways more befitting of the present-day climate, but it’s also leaned more heavily into the emotional struggles that gay men face, most notably in the episode “Grandpa Jack.”

The traumatizing ramifications of conversion therapy are still being felt by LGBTQ people worldwide, so it was fascinating to see Will and Grace tackle such a heavy issue on what is usually a relatively light sitcom. In one particularly heartbreaking moment, Jack’s gay grandson tells him that “It’s hard being me sometimes” and instead of reacting with a comic flourish, Hayes gives a career-best performance, telling the young boy that things really do get better and that the family you choose can be more important than the family that raises you.

Will and Grace has always been inherently political by its very nature, but whether the gang are infiltrating a gay conversion camp or actively resisting the policies of President Trump, the revival has found a way to balance this political intent with heartwarming humor, thereby proving its continued relevance in the process.  

Some of the old criticisms fired at Will and Grace still remain valid, but the cast and crew seem intent on moving things forward. Debra Messing told HuffPost that the revival represents “an opportunity to now celebrate all the other initials of LGBTQ” by “normalizing an even larger segment of underrepresented people on prime-time television.”

Let’s just hope that the second season of the Will and Grace revival fulfills this promise, reclaiming the show’s standing in comparison with the various LGBTQ shows of today that it helped inspire in the first place. If it can do that, then we might see a whole new generation of queer shows follow once again in the comfortable and expensive yet well-worn shoes of Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen.

Image via NBC

Michelle Tea Gets the Tea From … Karen Tongson

Karen Tongson is busy, but that’s what happens when you’re a brainiac genius. She’s a USC professor known to lecture on race, gender, sex, karaoke, pop culture, literature, and critical theory. In short, everything worth thinking about. She edits the Postmillennial Pop series at NYU Press, is the author of the acclaimed Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries, has another book on the way (Why Karen Carpenter Matters) plus two more in progress: Normal Television: Critical Essays on Queer Spectatorship After the ‘New Normalcy’ and Empty Orchestra: Karaoke in Our Time.

We can thank her for adding an intellectual layer to our craven binge-watching and ruining of Beyonce tunes, as well as for making the cultural landscape smarter, queerer, and more enjoyable. Here she is taking on the same 15 questions I always ask.

What is the most uncanny thing that you have ever experienced?

I’m at a loss for how to answer this, because as a critic and a close reader, I think I might register things as uncanny even if they technically aren’t, at least in the Freudian sense of the word. I guess my heightened sensitivity to strange reverberations was cultivated during an early-childhood immersed in the Catholic mysticism of the Philippines. In fact, my forthcoming book about Karen Carpenter is pretty much about how so much of the Carpenters’ music and life story feels profoundly uncanny to me, because I was named after Karen, even though we came from completely different worlds. The interweaving of our lives felt overdetermined, and we became unlikely doppelgängers (at least in my mind). I guess this is is a roundabout way of saying that Why Karen Carpenter Matters is an extended foray into the uncanny, because it tracks my efforts to come to grips with all the odd, unheimlich moments I’ve had with Karen across space and time.

What’s in your pockets right now?

My pockets are my butch purse. They usually contain my phone, a pack of American Spirits (Celadon), and my fairly streamlined Shinola wallet (with mostly just the essentials in it, but also some stray bits of ephemera like my two favorite fortunes from cookies, and a business card for a bespoke tailor in Thailand where I had a couple of shirts made this summer).

Please share the 15th picture on your cell phone.

How are you like or not like your sun sign?

I am every bit a Virgo—meticulous, anal, detail-oriented, hyper-organized, reliable—though I’d like to think I have more empathy and feeling than what is usually ascribed to Virgos according to the canonical astrological source texts. I attribute that gregariousness and warmth to living at the cusp of Leo (my birthday is on the very first day of Virgo, August 23, even though the O.G. Linda Goodman claims Virgo begins on August 24 in the 1961 edition of Sun Signs).

What is the last book you read?

Alex Gilvarry’s novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant.

Song you listened to?

Swing Out Sister’s “Breakout” (1986).

Show or movie you watched?

The short-lived sitcom Kitchen Confidential, a half-assed attempt to adapt Anthony Bourdain’s breakout book of the same name into a Bradley Cooper vehicle for Fox’s primetime line-up in 2005. All of the episodes are on Hulu right now, and in a fit of missing Bourdain, but feeling too sad to watch his own beautiful TV work on Parts Unknown and No Reservations, I fell down this shambolic rabbit hole. It only lasted one season (13 eps).

What was the last meal you cooked?

Cast iron pan-seared cod filets, wild brown rice, and sautéed rainbow chard. 

Where would you like to go on vacation right now?

Island-hopping and snorkeling beneath the limestone cliffs in the crystalline waters of Palawan in the Philippines.

Tell me about getting to meet someone you idolize or admire.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a number of people I admire and idolize, and have even talked to, and collaborated with them at some length. But for me, nothing beats the thrill of being at the right place at the right time to bump into the Argentinian tennis great, Gabriela Sabatini, when I was 16 and just starting to come to terms with the first lesbian stirrings in my loins. It was at the Virginia Slims tennis tournament in Manhattan Beach (1989), and a platonic male jock friend from high-school drove me out from Riverside to see the semi-finals. Gaby had just worked out on the court, and her hair was dripping with sweat. She was hiding from fans beneath a Sergio Tacchini baseball cap, when I happened upon her after lunching with my aforementioned boy pal, Vinnie, at the Country Club’s restaurant. For some reason, I had, in my clutches, a card-sized sample of her branded perfume, so she signed it for me. I soared with Sapphic feelings for the rest of the day. Probably the rest of that year.  

What are you like when you’re sick?

I binge watch TV in bed and consume lots of tonics (oregano oil, anything with turmeric, lots of Asian broths, ramens, stews).

What are you obsessed with or inspired by right now?

Every four years I get lost in the World Cup, and my sleeping habits adjust to the time zone of wherever the cup is being held. In 2010, I lived on South Africa time, in 2014, Brazilian time, and now Russian time. Even though my team (Germany) was eliminated in group play — a totally unpredictable turn of events, btw — I’ve remained locked into the match schedule and essentially reconfigured my entire life to accommodate it for the last several weeks. Let’s just say my wife has been incredibly irritated, especially during the earlier rounds with 5 am matches.

What are you upset about right now?

What am I NOT upset about right now? Every day has been a struggle since we began living under this regime.

If I had to pick something more specific, it would be the extent to which we are, as a nation, in some pretty deep denial about how the conditions for authoritarianism have completely coalesced. WE ARE IN IT.  All of this country’s branches of power — the congress, the executive branch, the judiciary — have been consolidated under single-party rule. Voting rights have been eroded, and the gerrymandering of districts is worsening by the day. There is also, in effect, an anti-immigrant Gestapo in the form of ICE, and white citizens are policing people of color in the public sphere. I cry. I rage. I fight.

What is the most recent dream you remember?

I have a recurring dream where I’m looking for our tuxedo cat, Corky, but am surrounded by other tuxedo cats so I’m having trouble finding him. I look for the markings on his nose, and his goofy eyes, but am frustrated each time I pick another cat up and it isn’t him. The dream makes me feel desperate, but I never stop looking.

Who are your queer ancestors?

Audre Lorde and Oscar Wilde. 

What is your dream project?

It’s top secret! I’m working on something with a collaborator right now, and we don’t want to tip our hands.  

What are you doing this weekend?

Celebrating multiple Cancerian birthdays over tiki cocktails, yakitori, and karaoke. And watching the World Cup finals, of course.

Six Movies That Need a Lesbian Sequel

Keira Knightley is currently starring in the queer film Colette, which hits theaters today, and spoke to PrideSource about past queer roles — or rather, roles that should’ve been. Apparently, the actress wants a lesbian Bend It Like Beckham sequel — which like, same.

While discussing the 2002 sports comedy, the reporter asked Knightley about a swirling rumor that the movie was originally written as a lesbian love story. She said, “I never read that version of the script!” But when the reporter said many people in the LGBTQ community wanted Jess and Jules to end up together, the actress said, “Fuck yeah! That would’ve been amazing. I think they should’ve been too. I think that would’ve been great. We need a sequel.”

Well, I wholeheartedly agree, and have always believed that Bend It Like Beckham had more lesbian vibes than a Banks concert. Here are six female-focused films that deserve a queer sequel.

She’s the Man 

Starring 2000s teen queen Amanda Bynes, She’s The Man was a playful teenaged take on Shakespeare’s classic Twelfth Night. Bynes’s character dresses as a man and pretends to be her twin brother in order to play soccer at his new school, Illyria, because the girls’ team got cut at her school. Obviously, this movie is brimming with commentary on gender identity, but there’s a girl-on-girl love story that often goes overlooked, and that’s the one between Viola (Bynes) and Olivia (Laura Ramsey).

Olivia falls for Viola, while she’s dressed as her brother Sebastian. But at the end, when Olivia finds out Sebastian has been a girl this whole time, she’s confused, and eventually just decides that Viola’s real twin brother is enough for her, and pretty much the same thing — girl, no. So, can we please, for the love of goddess, get a sequel where Olivia ruminates on the experience of falling in love with a woman and grapples with what that means for her own sexual identity?! Clearly, Olivia was attracted to fake Sebastian’s feminine energy, between his (her) sensitive side, interest in fashion, breadth of empathy, and, well, her soft, feminine features. She’s The Man 2: Lost & Dillyrius, in theaters this Fall.

Pitch Perfect

To be fair, Pitch Perfect is already a trilogy, but in the three long, a cappella-filled movies, fans never even got one kiss between Beca and Chloe! The first movie follows the alternative and sharp-tongued Beca, played by Anna Kendrick, as she falls in love with her a cappella group at Barden University. Really, the movies are friendship porn, but all three films have hinted at Chloe (Brittany Snow) harboring a major crush on Beca. From their first Sapphic moment singing a “Titanium” duet in the showers, to post-grad Chloe admitting she wishes she experimented more in college, to her double-cup groping Beca in the third installment—clearly, Chloe was thirsty for her best friend, and it may have been reciprocated.

Even Anna Kendrick has spoken publicly on the #Bechloe fandom, and has advocated for it herself. I definitely wanted to have an ending that was a Bechloe ending, and we did shoot one version where Brittany and I tricked everybody into just shooting one that was just the two of us getting together,”  she told PrideSource.  “We knew it was a long shot. It meant so much to us that there was this following around their latent relationship and, yeah, I thought it would’ve been really cool if it would have ended up coming to fruition in the end.” And if there’s ever a Pitch Perfect 4, Kendrick said she’d go to bat for the #Bechloe stans. “If we ever do a four, I will fight tooth and nail for it,” she said, “but I’m not sure it’s gonna happen.” There you have it! Pitch Perfect: Bechloe 4nicates.

Sierra Burgess is a Loser

Sierra Burgess is the kind of movie that leaves straight women and queer women feeling like they watched two completely different films. For straight women — who tend to be  um, blind — the story is about two high school girls, Sierra (Shannon Purser) and Veronica (Kristine Froseth), finding friendship through catfishing a guy at another school. For queer women, this is clearly a story about two girls falling in love and realizing men are trash (even though, to be fair, the women in this movie are trash).

Veronica is the school’s bully and queen bee, while Sierra is, according to the title, a loser. The duo helps each other out — Veronica agrees to catfish Jamey (Noah Centineo) for Sierra if Sierra helps her get smarter so she can date a college guy. After both operations unsurprisingly crumble, they’re left to pick up the pieces of the relationship they’ve formed together, and the movie ends with a knowing glance and a hug between the two girls.

So, I’m officially lobbying for a sequel that’s A, less problematic, and B, significantly gayer. C’mon, Netflix, give us the lesbian rom-com we all deserve: 2 Sierra 2 Burgess.

Bring It On 

Many-a-queer has theorized about the Sapphic relationship between the two leads of Bring It On, Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) and Missy (Eliza Dushku). However, I also clocked bubbling sexual tension between Torrance and her competition, Isis (Gabrielle Union). Basically, this movie is brimming with sexual energy between all the female leads, and all girls sports movies from the 2000s are canonically gay.

Bring It On follows Torrance and her cheerleading squad as they struggle to stand out in their upcoming competition, after learning their former team captain was stealing routines from an inner-city squad, the East Compton Clovers —an extremely woke commentary on cultural appropriation for a 2000s movie. Torrance allegedly falls for Missy’s brother, but she clearly has way more in common with Missy, and their connection seems much stronger. Hey, straight women who want to date their best friend’s brother because he’s just like their best friend but a man: You OK? Just date your best friend.

Bring It On also has multiple sequels, all of which are bad and irrelevant, so here’s my pitch: We pick up 18 years later when Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku’s characters are married and coaching their daughter’s cheerleading squad, while also reinvigorating their sex life after nearly two decades together. It’s called Strap It On.

Now and Then 

Speaking of completely unbelievable stories about friendship, this 1995 Christina Ricci-starring classic is unreasonably gay. This slice of life movie cuts back and forth between the lives of four best friends in present day (“now”) and in their childhood (“then”). Some basics: Rosie O’Donnell is in it — gay. It was written by I. Marlene King (who is gay), who also created Pretty Little Liars (gay), and was originally written with Ricci’s character, Roberta, as a lesbian, as the character was based on King herself.

Now, the movie itself has one extremely gay character, Chrissy, who is meant to just be prudish and sheltered as compared to her fellow hormonal pre-teens, but everything she says reads as a closeted cry for help. She’s the only one of her friends who’s never seen a penis, she’s the only one who’s not ready to kiss a boy, and she always blanches at any mention of kissing, sex, boys, or dating. I saw this movie for the first time this year, and I didn’t know the story, so I watched the entire movie believing that Chrissy’s storyline would end with her coming out. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened — she just remained prudish and, like, religious or some crap. Nineties kids deserve a gay Now and Then sequel, penned by the same gay screenwriter, starring the same cast: Now and Then and Gay Now.

Cadet Kelly 

Cadet Kelly is an extremely lesbian movie about a fun-loving, art school-type of bitch, Kelly (Hilary Duff), whose mother marries an ex-military officer and is forced to enroll in military school. There, she develops a bitter, competitive energy with her commanding officer Jennifer (Christy Carlson Romano), which most times just feels like they’re flirting. Similar to every other fucking story, like Sierra Burgess and Bring It On, they develop a real “friendly” bond (puke) and become best friends.

You’re telling me two girls at fucking military school, one of whom sleeps with a rainbow fucking blanket, falling in friendship-love while training with the goddamn DRILL team isn’t a lesbian story? Sometimes I feel like I’m living on a completely different planet than straight people. Anyway, Cadet Kelly 2: Jennifer’s Chamber of Secrets.

Accused Pedophile Thinks Sexual Assault Allegations Against Brett Kavanaugh Are Bogus

One could say Brett Kavanaugh was asking for it.

Although the Supreme Court nominee did not seek Roy Moore’s endorsement after decades-old allegations of sexual assault resurfaced earlier this week, the former Alabama judge has come out to defend him anyway. In a statement released Thursday, the 73-year-old said the “suspect” claims are an illustration of the “depths to which liberals will stoop to stop opposition to their agenda.”

“Brett Kavanaugh, like me, has withstood numerous investigations and vetting by the most rigorous legal and political authorities,” he said.

Moore sees a number of parallels between his and Kavanaugh’s cases.

After he won the GOP nomination to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate, nine women came forward to allege sexual misconduct dating back to Moore’s days as a district attorney in the 1970s. Some of the accusers were as young as 14 at the time of the alleged incidents.

The noted anti-LGBTQ bigot subsequently lost the Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones after leading by double digits prior to the allegations.

After being defeated by 1.7 points in the November special elections, Moore thinks the assault claims brought to light by Palo Alto University Professor Christine Blasey Ford are merely “tactics” to stonewall Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

In an interview with the Washington Post, the 51-year-old lecturer claimed Kavanaugh accosted her during a during a high school party in the early 1980s. As she was heading to the bathroom, Ford alleged he shoved her into a bedroom, pinned her down, groped her, and attempted to tear off her clothes. When she tried to scream for help, Ford claimed Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth.

Ford escaped when a friend allegedly discovered the pair in bed and leaped on top of them, allowing her to run away.

Kavanaugh has denied the report.

“This is a completely false allegation,” the former D.C. circuit court judge claimed in a statement issued by the White House. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone.”

Moore said Republicans need to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself in allowing the claims to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation to SCOTUS.

“They know what’s happening,” he told the conservative outlet One News Network. “It’s so obvious that these tactics are used just days before a very important event … but these come up right before an election or a confirmation, and I think the Republicans need to take a stand.”

Moore, who was ousted from the Alabama Supreme Court after attempting to block same-sex marriages, said liberals resort to these methods “because [they’re] effective.”

“They know that on the one hand, you offend women if you believe somebody that says they weren’t guilty of sexual misconduct,” he said. “On the other hand, if you don’t believe them, you’re condemning the person accused of guilt to prove his own innocence. It’s a Catch-22.”

But what Moore neglected to mention is that he and Kavanaugh have another thing in common: The claims are supported by decades of evidence.

The nine allegations of sexual assault against Moore were each corroborated by numerous sources, while notes from Ford’s therapist dating back to 2012 describe the Kavanaugh incident as a “rape attempt.” The accuser also voluntarily submitted to a polygraph test, which she passed.

More than 60 LGBTQ organizations have called on the Senate to postpone Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing until the Federal Bureau of Investigations can vet the allegations.

Queer and trans advocates have furthermore opposed the conservative judge’s nomination, claiming his presence on the Supreme Court would be a “direct threat” to LGBTQ rights. Citing his “troublingly lengthy far-right pedigree,” the Human Rights Campaign claimed “he was hand-picked by anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice groups in an explicit effort to undermine equality.”

LGBTQ rights groups have fought to release records from his three-year stint as White House Staff Secretary under George W. Bush, when the federal government pursued a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.

Those records have yet to be made public.

Image via Getty

George is Tired…Of Voting

The politics around voting, our right to vote, and our obligations as voters is likely a more accurate description of what I am tired of. But voting in this day and age isn’t as easy as it once used to be — for me, and for millions of others who can’t see the impact of our vote in a daily life filled with anti-Blackness which in turn equals anti-queerness.

Growing up in Black household in the north, it was always “vote Democrat.” That always made sense to me. Even as a child I could see the Republican party was primarily leaning towards the rich, with subtle and overt hints of racism. Democrats always seemed to be for the marginalized. I remember Black folks saying Bill Clinton was the “first Black president,” even though many of us know now how detrimental his policies were to Black family life.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that party lines are just that — lines drawn that seemingly feed half the nation based on who is in power, while the other half waits for the pendulum to swing the other way. But this country ain’t no clock, and I ain’t no damn tick or tock. My life matters more than who is in power, and it’s becoming harder to trust a politician of any race to help the most marginalized as I do in my work.

Trump being elected has brought out the “get out and vote” battle cry in full force. Oddly, though, I think we often forget that Obama being elected twice sent the same message— only it was to white folks filled with a pride to Make America Great Again. They acknowledged that this nation’s racist, xenophobic past was a much better existence for them — and they continue to show it daily. I feel like the 2016 election flipped the country from the covert racist to the overt — but still a bunch of racists in power.

And I get it. This country would be a much more “comfortable” place if Hillary Clinton was President…but for who? For me, the college graduate who has many privileges that people within my own queer community don’t have. Yes? But what about the people I yell so much that I care about. Would the murders of Black trans people be any less if she were in power? I don’t know. Unarmed Black men were being killed at an all-time high when we had a Black face on the white empire. And that’s not to say it’s his fault, but to say that when we “vote” hoping for this change, what is our avenue when the change doesn’t come?

We all know that our voting system in this country is flawed as fuck. It is anti-Black, anti-queer, anti-woman and a lot of other things. It is based on an electoral college that should have been abolished but won’t be, since it continues to help whites stay in power.

The 2016 election brought a lot of hatred towards non-voters. I want to be clear when I say that non-voters aren’t the issue. 53 percent of white women and 63 percent of white men voted that orange man in office. Nonvoters have very valid reasons for their disenfranchisement — primarily that they don’t see their vote as a way out of their circumstances. Voting doesn’t seem like a pathway to anything greater. When you fear survival in your community, you can’t see anything past making it home every night. And for some, even home isn’t a safe place. And that’s real shit for marginalized people.

But the real issue I take is that people pretend that “not voting” is the issue when it’s really “not voting the way that would make my life easier.” Because a lot of people voted for Jill Stein (even though she wasn’t that girl) and folks were made at them, too. But if the real issue is “non-voting,” why could one be mad when they did exercise that right? It’s because we are often too afraid of envisioning a world outside of the constraints of what voting has done in this country.

We have been conditioned to think we live in a democracy. A country where the person with the most votes loses and the election is really 50 state elections that seemingly comes down to 100,000 votes in four states that really make the determination. When you really understand that, how could one ever continue to feel power in their ballot?

This is what I will say to that: I do think that I will vote again. And I encourage others to keep voting.  I’m just not here for the rule that has made those less marginalized (Black, Queer, etc.) having to choose the lesser of two evils; the person who may be anti-Black but LESS anti-black than the other candidate. The person who may not support gay marriage but will make sure I have health care. That’s not voting me. That’s just another system of oppression. I live for the day when candidates mirror communities and the issues in them. I can see it coming, but it’s not there yet and a vote should still be one earned.

I often think about how hard our ancestors fought for the right to vote. I never wondered, though, what they thought that right would afford them. Hope, I’m assuming. Hope that fed into a faith that has kept us going since our enslavement here began in 1619. Hope that their vote would put people in place that looked like them to ensure they would be seen, heard, and given equity and equality. I wonder if they could see what was happening now, if they would still feel that right was as important as it was then.

One thing I do know is, I’m born of the blood of the enslaved and that regardless of who is in power, it is my duty to fight for us, All of us. That is a vote you can count on.

Kenya Overturns Ban on Lesbian Film in Time for Oscar Consideration

Rafiki could be headed to the Academy Awards in February after a court temporarily lifted a ban on the lesbian-themed film to ensure it could qualify.

In order to be submitted for Oscar consideration, all contenders must screen for at least one week in their home countries. Although Rafiki, which competed at the Cannes Film Festival in May, was entered as Kenya’s Best Foreign Language nominee, the deadline for submission is Sept. 30.

Just days before the deadline, the High Court of Kenya ruled that the film should be allowed to meet those minimum guidelines.

“During the seven-day suspension period the film shall only be open for viewing to willing adults only,” Justice Wilfrida Okwany told a crowded courtroom on Friday, adding: “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.”

The existence of lesbianism in Kenyan society “did not begin with Rafiki,” she claimed.

Rafiki, which tells the story of a romantic relationship between two teenage girls, will be shown at one theater in Nairobi between Sept. 23 and Sept. 30. The film is based on the short story Jambula Tree, winner of the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing.

The news was greeted with celebratory hugs in the courtroom — and later a few tears.

“I am crying in a French airport in such joy,” writer/director Wanuri Kahiu tweeted after the ruling came down. “Our constitution is strong! Give thanks to freedom of expression! We did it.”

The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) announced in April the film would be banned “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law,” Kahiu filed a lawsuit to overturn the decision. She called the ruling a “threat to freedom of artistic creativity and freedom of the media.”

The suit also calls for guidelines allowing the KCFB to “control the making and exhibition” of films made in Kenya to be struck down.

Dr. Ezekiel Mutua, CEO of the film classification board, initially praised Rafiki when the script was submitted to Kenyan censors prior to filming. He called the movie “a story about the realities of our time.”

In reversing his endorsement of Rafiki, Mutua claimed the film dramatically altered the shooting script — featuring unapproved changes. Kahiu alleged, however, that censors had attempted to pressure her into depicting the characters as “remorseful” of their sexuality, and she refused.

Mutua charged Rafiki with having a “clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya, contrary to the law,” claiming anyone found in possession of the film “will be in breach of law.”

The court ruling is a historic, first-of-its-kind victory for Kenya’s LGBTQ community ahead of an impending verdict on its colonial-era sodomy ban. Advocates have lobbied the High Court to strike down a law criminalizing homosexuality with up to 14 years behind bars, and judges are expected to weigh in some time this year.

In 2017, Kenya took a major step toward lifting the ban on gay sex when its Court of Appeals ruled that forced anal exams are illegal. Likened to torture, the tests are intended to discern whether someone has engaged in same-sex intercourse.

Mutua signaled, however, that he will continue to fight these recent gains in LGBTQ rights.

“It would be a tragedy and a shame to have homosexual films defining the Kenyan culture,” he claimed in a series of tweets. “That’s not who we are and homosexuality is not our way of life. What pleasure, pray, does a person of a sane mind find in watching girls having sex with other girls?”

The censorship board further called the ruling a “sad moment and a great insult, not only to the film industry, but to all Kenyans who stand for morality.”

Mutua first made international headlines last year when he called for two gay lions spotted at the Masaai Mara national reserve to be separated. Saying the animals “need counseling,” he claimed the same-sex behavior was “influenced by gays who have gone to the national parks and behaved badly.”

“I don’t know, they must have copied it somewhere or it is demonic,” Mutua said at the time.

‘Simply Barbra’ Commemorates 50th Anniversary of ‘Funny Girl’

Steven Brinberg has been performing as Barbra Streisand for more than 20 years. In that time, he has toured with Marvin Hamlisch, been requested by Stephen Sondheim (for Sondheim’s birthday concert at the Library of Congress), and had narration written for him by Terrence McNally. He’s now performed as Streisand in more cities than Babs has herself. His cabaret act, Simply Barbra, has earned two MAC Awards, a Bistro Award and is nominated for a 2018 Robby Award for theatre and cabaret in Los Angeles. Brinberg brings his acclaimed act to New York’s The Green Room 42 this Saturday.

“What I’m doing is sort of recreating what it would be like to see her on stage if she played in little clubs, little theaters, as opposed to big arenas where she plays,” Brinberg says of his act. “And I sing all of her songs live. I don’t lip sync.”

Brinberg updates the show regularly to keep his act current with the most recent goings-on in Streisand’s life. “When I started doing [Simply Barbra,] she’d just gotten married, and then she had another movie and another album, and now she has another album coming out and I think, possibly, a TV series,” he explains. “So it’s really handy playing someone who’s very current, as opposed to, let’s say, doing Judy Garland or someone who’s not here anymore, though I can sing like her, too. [laugh] And some other famous people.” For this performance, Brinberg commemorates the 50th anniversary of perhaps Streisand’s most famous film, Funny Girl.

But he won’t restrict his setlist to songs from the film: “I’ll always sing ‘People’ and ‘Evergreen’ and ‘The Way We Were,’ the big hits,” he clarifies. “But then I’ll do lots of songs she’s never done. I’ve done songs from Grey Gardens and War Paint and musicals and things that I’d like to hear her do.” He also includes impersonations of Cher, Julie Andrews, and Judy Garland. “I’m kind of working on a Dionne Warwick impression, because nobody does her,” he adds.

For those new to Streisand’s work, Brinberg recommends encountering her work chronologically. “The first albums that she did are just amazing. The orchestrations and the material… it’s really quite something,” he commends. “You really can’t go wrong with anything from the ‘60s and the early ‘70s and those first movies.” He also cites her specials on Netflix as a great way in: “They’re really phenomenal.”

During the decades he’s played her, he’s seen Streisand become more accessible to fans. “She was never over-exposed — any time she did anything, a movie or TV show, even an interview, it was a huge event… she wants everything to be special,” he explains. However, she still cultivates an image of herself as an “untouchable superstar,” an archetype Brinberg lampoons in his act. “Like, when I look at someone in the front row, and I’m like, ‘My God! You’re sitting so close! You can practically touch me. [whispers] But don’t do it.”

Funny Girl was released in 1968, one year before Judy Garland’s death and the simultaneous Stonewall Riots in Manhattan’s West Village. “Barbra’s first three movies were these huge, big-budget, epic musicals: Funny Girl, Hello Dolly!, On a Clear Day [You Can See Forever]. So she just sort of came up as [Judy Garland’s] era was ending,” Brinberg explains. “I can imagine [that], when Stonewall was happening, people must’ve been taking comfort in Barbra as sort of the next diva after Judy. And they, of course, had a connection from performing together, as well.”

Brinberg would like younger gay audiences to leave his show with a deeper sense of Barbra’s role in shaping LGBTQ+ culture: “If they’re really young, they might not know how important she was, and continues to be,” he explains. “But for a time, really, there was nobody bigger than she was, especially in the ‘70s, because simultaneously, she was the biggest recording star and the biggest movie star. And no one [else] has ever achieved that. She meant so much to so many people. Even if she may not seem like she’s Miss Warmth, she’s done so much good.” He cites her activism, philanthropy, and her participation in one of the earliest AIDS benefits in New York. “And Barbra really did try to get The Normal Heart made, for years and years and years.”

Given that so much of our national conversation is concerned with celebrity and politics, Brinberg believes Streisand has valuable context to add. “Barbra used to defend [herself] when some people would say: ‘Who cares what celebrities think about politics?’ or ‘Why do they have to have an opinion all the time?’” he says. “And she said, ‘It’s not just being a celebrity,’ she said, ‘I’m a concerned citizen of the world.’ I think it’s really important to hear what people you admire care about.”

Simply Barbra plays at The Green Room 42 (570 Tenth Avenue at 42nd Street, on the 4th Floor of Yotel) on Saturday, September 22 at 7:00 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit onfournyc.com. Mr. Brinberg’s worldwide tour dates are published at www.simplybarbra.com, where he can also be hired for parties. He plans to offer fans the opportunity to book his Barbra as a singing wedding officiant in the near future.

Introducing Flaming Arts Con, The First Queer Nerd Convention For The Midwest

LGBT nerds have been around a long time, but only recently have they started taking up space — both digitally and physically. Conventions such as GaymerX and Flame Con have popped up in the last five years, providing a queer centric event space for people who often feel marginalized from mainstream gaming and comic spaces.

The problem is that these inclusive events often only occur in metropolitan areas on the east and west coasts. Flame Con takes place in New York whereas GaymerX has its main convention in San Francisco (and launched GaymerX East in 2017, which also took place in New York).

Obviously not everyone has the ability to travel to one of these coastal events, and that leaves a large part of the LGBT community underserved. One organization that is trying to fill the cultural void is Flaming River Arts, a nonprofit based in Ohio that is currently organizing Flaming River Con. This convention, which will take place on September 22 in Rocky River, Ohio — a suburb of Cleveland — will be the first of its kind in the midwest.

I talked to Brittney Orcutt and Logan Dorado, the President and Vice President/Treasurer of Flaming River Arts. I asked about the upcoming convention, their previous events and what it means for them to bring their community to the LGBT folks in their area.

As Logan and Brittney told me, most of queer culture in Cleveland revolves around the nightlife scene. Which can be a problem, because bars and clubs are restricted to younger people and are “frequently unwelcoming to women, [people of color], plus size people, femmes, and anyone who doesn’t fit into the typical white gay cis narrative.”

Originally they just had the idea for the convention, but when they got into the specifics they realized they would need to create a non-profit organization as well. “So it started off as this single idea, and snowballed into a full non-profit with year round programming and events,” Brittney said.

The most successful of those events leading up to the convention was the Queer Prom, which was available for folks as young as 17 — literal high school students. Logan told me that one of the most touching aspects of the Queer Prom was “being thanked by folks who didn’t feel comfortable or were unable to attend their own high school proms as themselves in the past.”

“We did have a great turn out from high school students, and it was so fun! They had a ton of energy and kept dancing long after the rest of us needed to sit down,” Brittney added. “It was actually quite emotional for a lot of attendees to see, so many people commented on how this is the community they want, this is who they wanted to be in high school but were unable to do so.”

Given the state of U.S. politics, it’s nice to be reminded of the localized ways that people are helping each other. I asked the organizers what this specific event meant to them and why they decided to serve their community like this.

For Logan, it’s been about presenting something that wasn’t available during his childhood. “As a queer, trans, Filipino-American man, my identity doesn’t get much representation in the mainstream geek work … Founding Flaming River, hosting this con – it’s my way of paying it forward. I want to give the LGBTQIA+ community events and spaces I needed when I was growing up.”

Brittney said that for her it was about taking action on the things she spends time complaining about. “No welcoming spaces? Change it. We have spent a year planning this convention, and it’s been a labor of love. This is our gift to our community and to our city. There have been tears, panic attacks, long conversations of ‘why are we doing this?,’ But we did it, it’s here, and it’s a creation of love, pride, and joyful defiance.”

The pair said that going forward they’re looking to host more events and mentioned that other cities have shown interest in bringing the convention to their areas. “Maybe down the road we’ll expand to touring. Who knows! For now, we just need to get through the weekend!”

To learn more about Flaming Arts Con, you can check out their schedule over at Cleveland Scene.

LGBTQ Groups, Muslims Call to Ban Homophobic Preacher from Visiting U.K.

Muslim groups and supporters of LGBTQ rights are urging the United Kingdom to deny a visa to evangelical preacher Franklin Graham over statements they say amount to hate speech.

Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, is set to appear at the three-day Festival of Hope at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens conference center beginning Sept. 21. His appearance at the festival organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has received the support of at least 30 local churches — which have been preparing for his visit for the past two years.

The 66-year-old’s visit marks 36 years since his famous father, who died earlier this year, visited Blackpool. The younger Graham has said he intends to preach about the “timeless message of God’s hope, love and redemption for all people.”

But critics say a message of love is the antithesis of what the second-generation minister stands for.

Parliamentary minister Gordon Marsden claimed he has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid urging the U.K. government to block Graham’s visit. In a statement, he said the Home Office should “consider stopping any further escalation of tension and hurt towards the groups he continues to attack in his preaching by barring his ability to speak at the Winter Gardens.”

“I have had a number of constituents, including local clergy and other faith leaders, who were alarmed and appalled by the derogatory and inflammatory views that Franklin Graham has expressed towards Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, and others,” Marsden claimed.

“Blackpool welcomes every year millions of visitors of all faiths and none, as well as diverse families, members of the LGBTQ community and many different nationalities,” he added. “Our residential community is similarly diverse.”

Marsden is just the latest member of parliament to come out against Graham’s tour of the country. Fellow Labour minister Afzal Khan and government whip Paul Maynard have also opposed the speech, while more than 8,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the government to deny the right-wing preacher entry over his anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim views.

His inflammatory statements targeting queer and transgender people are extremely well-documented.

Graham has claimed LGBTQ activists are pushing an “immoral agenda” on the American public, likened transgender people to “pedophiles and sexually perverted men,” and claimed the movement for equality is a “full-scale assault against Christianity and the followers of Christ.”

On the subject of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws, Graham credited Putin with taking a “stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

Passed in 2013, those laws have led to a twofold increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ Russians.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has likewise opposed Graham’s visit due to his history of virulent Islamophobia. In a statement, the organization said he “clearly [demonstrates] a hatred for Muslims and other minorities.”

A noted propagandist in the birther movement, the conservative extremist has repeatedly claimed President Obama was “born a Muslim,” He has further described Islam as “evil” and a “religion of war,” advocating that Muslims be banned from entering the U.S. “until this threat with Islam has been settled.”

In remarks shared with The Guardian, the MCB noted there’s precedent for refusing Graham a visa to Britain.

“In the past, the government has banned individuals whom they claim are ‘not conducive to the public good,” the group stated. “[…] We would expect the government to apply its criteria here. If it does not, it will send a clear message that it is not consistent in challenging all forms of bigotry.”

The Home Office has not responded to calls to stonewall Graham.

But while the U.K. government considers the numerous requests, Blackpool residents plan to oppose his visit with a statement of support for the LGBTQ community. Should Graham visit the coastal town of 140,000 people, he will be greeted with a rainbow flag draped over Blackpool Tower — one of its most iconic tourist destinations.

In addition to holding LGBTQ-affirming church services throughout this weekend’s conference, supporters of the community reportedly plan to erect an effigy of Jesus in the town square. The 13-foot-tall deity will be fashioned with a rainbow sash.

Blackpool boasts one of the U.K.’s largest LGBTQ communities — with an estimated 10 percent of townsfolk identifying as queer or transgender.

Court Rules Nashville Pride Violated Free Speech of Anti-Gay Preachers By Asking Them to Move

A federal court ruled on Wednesday that the Nashville Pride Festival violated the free speech rights of anti-LGBTQ protesters by asking them to move.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals claimed the city unjustly discriminated against plaintiffs John McGlone and Jeremy Peters in June 2015 when an off-duty Nashville police officer ordered them to vacate the sidewalk outside the event. Wearing t-shirts with homophobic slogans, the pair stood right outside the entrance blasting their message through bullhorns.

In a majority opinion, judges from the Cincinnati, Ohio-based bench claimed the request to relocate to the park across the street amounted to a “restriction against the preachers because of the anti-homosexuality content of their speech.”

“Nashville excluded McGlone and Peters from a traditional public forum for expressing a message opposed to homosexuality and Nashville provides no compelling reason for doing so,” wrote Judge Alice M. Batchelder. “[…] Nashville’s explanation leaves no doubt that but for the anti-homosexuality message that McGlone and Peters were advancing as they stood on the sidewalk, they would not have been excluded.”

“How, then, can Nashville argue that its restriction of the preachers’ speech was not content based?” Batchelder asked.

That verdict reverses an earlier decision from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, which reached the exact opposite conclusion. In a unanimous September 2017 ruling, Judge Waverly Crenshaw claimed the First Amendment right to freedom of speech does “not guarantee the right to communicate one’s views at all times and places or in any manner that may be desired.”

Crenshaw added that the order to leave the premises did not appear to interrupt the protest, which continued throughout the day.

“In this case, the facts are undisputed that Plaintiffs continued to preach with bullhorns for some four to five hours during the Festival and their message was heard loud and clear by those passing by,” the judge wrote.

Jon Cooper, director of the Metro Department of Law for the City of Nashville, has not stated whether the metro government plans to appeal the ruling. If the city asks for an en banc hearing, the case would be re-heard by the entire Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals — which comprises 16 judges in total.

If Nashville chooses to do so, there’s a strong chance the federal court could reverse its own ruling.

Sixth Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore issued a strong dissent against her colleagues. In a written opinion, she claimed the Constitution’s guidelines on free speech require “individuals and groups to tolerate the expression of many views with which they disagree” but does not mandate that individuals tolerate “anarchy.”

Nelson Moore noted the preachers were “continuously disruptive” and “interfering significantly” with the event.

“The municipality regulated the first group’s position in a way that did not silence them or seriously curtail their communication,” the judge argued. “It simply required them to cross the street.”