Road Tripping Through Queer Intimacy in ‘4 Days in France’

Jérôme Reybaud’s film 4 Days in France opens in darkness. Then, with the glare of a smartphone, a man’s sleeping profile comes into view. Wearing only a pair of white briefs, he’s left undisturbed by his partner, who is sneaking off at dawn without a word.

Immediately, the film makes clear what it’s interested in. Namely, the way our phones have become tools through which to yearn for and connect with one another. And that’s before we follow the phone-wielding Pierre (a sly if angelic-looking Pascal Cervo) using Grindr to find men to fuck and suck as he makes his way through the French countryside, unaware that his partner is in pursuit, using that same app to track him down.

Where American queer cinema remains all too beholden to romantic pairings, 4 Days in France joins an increasingly fascinating roster of French filmsincluding Alain Guiraudie cruising noir thriller Stranger by the Lake, Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s sex club date flick Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo, and the recent pair of Yves Saint Laurent biopicsthat put queer sexual intimacy at the heart of their narratives.

But Reybaud was clear on one thing: he didn’t want to represent the queer couple on screen. That wasn’t to be contrarian, but because he finds that specific type of relationship hard to capture in film. Instead, we witness a long drawn out reunion that’s preceded by a series of meetups that test what it is that had kept Pierre and his boyfriend together all this time.

This road trip-cum-cruising story, titillating as it may sound, is less focused on staging steamy sex scenes (though there are those) than in examining the intimacies that we create when we meet with strangers. During his four day trip Pierre meets, among others, a young man who daydreams about what his life would be like as a gay man in Paris and an old bar owner who ends up rebuffing his advances.

But he also interacts with a woman he gives a ride to after her car breaks down, an old private tutor from his youth who now runs a bookshop he stumbles upon; and even a thief who eventually runs away with his briefcase.

Reybaud, who ironically does not own a cellphone nor use Grindr (his longtime partner, who does, served as an unofficial consultant in both regards), was curious to tell a story about these ephemeral connections we make with people we know very little about.

“It’s easier to talk to strangers,” he shared. “You know you won’t live with them. You can be frank. You can be open. You can say some secrets. Because it has no consequence. It’s a place of intimacy and immediate freedom and connection. Having sex with strangers in the woods at nightthe fact that there’s absolutely nothing between you (you don’t know the age, the names, etc.)makes the contact, I don’t know, deeper. Sometimes it can be described as ‘love.’ But it’s a love of just 15 minutes.”

Instead of casting cruising or hooking up via Grindr as an aspect of gay male culture that needs to be redressed, Reybaud finds beauty in it. He’s particularly interested in exploring how a different sense of place affects one’s desires. Wistfully, he points out that gay men had always found the most beautiful spaces in which to cruise, citing the grounds outside the Louvre as but one example.

As Pierre moves from the bustling city of Paris to the countryside and later still to the snow-capped Franco-Italian border, so do his preferences as he rifles through men’s profiles. It’s always unclear what he wants, whether an anonymous fuck in the woods, a tender hook up in a childhood bed, or a silent blowjob in a stable. “I wanted to catch what you can feel when you are on the road,” the director shared. Who are we when we’re outside the world we’ve made for ourselves and free from the people who help shape us into who we are?

4 Days in France asks us to see Pierre’s road trip as an attempt at finding new ways to interact with others outside of the prescribed relationship he’s left behind. There’s a sense of freedom he feels when he calls up a number he finds in a road stop restroom and a feeling of endless possibility when he flirts with a straight guy he meets on the road who stays at the same motel he’s at. He yearns for the touch of a stranger.

That latter scene in particular is the closest the film gets to staging what would otherwise be mistaken for a gay porn setup. After all, isn’t a gay guy bedding a straight bro one of the most exhilarating gay fantasies around? Reybaud admitted that getting the cute straight fool around with the all too eager (and horny) Pierre would’ve been just that: a fantasy. “It would be just for me, for my pleasure,” he added.

“A lot of French gay movies use straight actors to play gay characters,” he continues. “I don’t have a political speech about that (I really don’t care) but sometimes I feel that they just wanted to these straight guys having sex. Just out of pure fantasy on their part.” Yet he still wanted to represent the sexual connection these two strangers had made. So instead of giving us the sexual fantasy we thought we were getting, both men head to their respective roomsconveniently located next to one anotheronly to find that close proximity just as erotically charged as if they were laying in bed together.

The homage to Jean Genet’s groundbreaking short film, Un chant d’amour, is undeniable. Like in that prison-set 1950 film, actual contact may be impossible but that doesn’t mean a shared experience is out of the question. Genet’s men made do with a straw and some smoke, giving new meaning to a blow job. Similarly, Pierre and his new friend communicate solely through knocks and moans, ultimately staging the steamiest episode in Reybaud’s film. “I was happy to make a movie in which the most sensual and sexual scene was, in fact, the one using nothing but sound, basically,” he beamed.

Don’t mistake these coy moments to be indicative of any sort of prudishness. After all, the film openly shows us discarded condoms on the side of the road, refuses to cut away whenever dick pics are shared on screen, and stages frank conversations about safe sex and sexual preferences (“are you clean?”, “do you swallow?”) that, Reybaud has found, sometimes rattle older audiences more than any hint of nudity.

Bold and sexy, 4 Days in France is a welcome exploration of 21st century queer relationships. It neither romanticizes serial monogamy nor does it glamorize the cruising scene. Instead, Reybaud is quietly pushing audiences to see the two not as mutually exclusive but mutually beneficial. From personal experience, he knows there’s a way to nurture one’s special relationship with one person. “Especially,” he adds, “if you can keep, with Grindr or whatever else, meeting with strangers.”

‘Memories of a Penitent Heart’: A Heartfelt Portrait of Stigma and Shame

Filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo always knew there was more to her uncle’s story than what her family in Puerto Rico told her.

For years, she’d only known that he’d left for New York to make it as an actor. That the relationship between him and his parents had been terse. And, of course, that he’d died at a young age in the late 80s. And she knew Miguel’s lover Bob, had actually made it to the funeral but that was the last anyone there heard about him.

Now Aldarondo’s documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart, which airs on PBS Monday July 31 as part of their POV series, unearths Miguel’s story as she searches for answers about her late uncle.

At a time when Latino men who have sex with men remain disproportionately affected by HIV, despite cultural and medical progress, Aldarondo’s heartfelt documentary set at the height of the AIDS crisis emerges as a cautionary tale for younger Latinx generations, who could do well by heeding its advice when it comes to being frank about one’s sexuality and one’s sexual health.

On his deathbed, so Aldarondo’s grandmother claimed, Miguel found his way back to Jesus and sought penitence for a life lived in sin.

That contested narrative, which Memories tries to resolve once and for all to no avail, merely points out how this 31 year-old man’s religious upbringing still dictated much of how he saw himself and, for better and for worse, how his own mother saw him even in those final days. He had, after all, gotten letters from her all through his twenties, telling him how in her dreams she’d seen that while he wasn’t dead to life, he was dead to grace.

What his early onset illness revealed was the schism between his life as an out gay man in the city and the life his family wanted him to lead in the island. It only made those final months spent in hospital rooms all the more fraught with tension with buried antipathies and silent prejudices boiling up between lover and family.

Miguel’s story of family estrangement and of a life haunted by Catholic guilt instilled by his devout mother isn’t a relic of a time gone by. The kind of silence that still ruled over Aldarondo’s family when it came to talking about her uncle remains too common nowadays.

Jai Rodriguez, for example, best known for his work on the reality TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and supporter of the film, understands how much of that kind of hushed family history first pushed him to become an HIV/AIDS advocate.

“When I was 16, my aunt and my cousin died of AIDS-related issues at a time when it was so profoundly so overwhelming for us as a family,” Rodriguez told INTO. “But the stigma around itto this day my family rarely says the words ‘AIDS’ or ‘HIV’ when they reference my aunt.”

The family even struggled with being supportive when he raised funds for HIV causes. While at first he thought this was exclusive to his family, he soon saw that these were all too common reactions within the Latinx community, which, as the new campaign he’s championing, “Positively Fearless,” points out, contribute to a higher incidence of HIV infections within Latino men who have sex with men.

The numbers are sobering: one out of every four gay and bisexual Hispanic men will develop HIV in their lifetime if current rates continue.

“Although we have made some advances in the treatment of HIV in terms of prevention for the past 2 or 3 years we have seen a decline in the total numbers of newly-infected HIV infections.” Dr. Edwin DeJesus shared recently told INTO. “If you look at the numbers coming from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] from 2012 to 2014, we see the rate of new infections overall in the MSM population in the US were relatively stable.”

But those promising statistics don’t tell the whole story, though.

“When you look at the rate of new infections in the Latinx MSM population there was an increase.” In fact, according to the CDC, “in 2014, the rate of HIV diagnoses among Hispanics/Latinos was approximately three times that for non-Hispanic whites (18.4 compared with. 6.1 per 100,000 population).”

There are multiple factors that contribute to this disparity. There is, as Aldarondo’s film suggests, a long history of stigma that’s particularly prevalent in the Latinx community with regards to both homosexuality in general and HIV in particular.

According to Dr. DeJesus, while that stigma has slowly begun to dissipate, it remains disproportionately present in minority communities, and remains a strong predictor of patients not engaging in care or not staying in care.

Adrian Altamirano, who works at Street Works, an AIDS service organization in his current hometown of Nashville, shared how he’d struggled with finding helpful resources after being diagnosed back in 2015. He didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. It was only through endless Google searches that he found the CDC website that gave him the answers he was looking for, which is why campaigns like “Positively Fearless” are a step in the right direction.

As a spokesperson for this new initiative, Adrian hopes to educate and empower his peers to seek the help they need and encourage those getting treatment to have open conversations with their physicians and be honest about their meditations and any limitations they may be facing.

While Memories of a Penitent Heart tells a tale of a life that needed to excavated out of half-whispered family stories and shameful, Catholic-tinged gossip, it stands as an invitation to evaluate how certain cultural and religious doctrines continue to prevent open discussions about sexuality and sexual health. There’s still plenty to be done to get rid of these hurtful (and, in some cases, life-threatening) stigmas.

As Rodriguez stresses, we need to change the way we think and talk about HIV awareness. It’s time to think less in terms of them and us, and rally together instead. “We are all HIV equal. So if it’s our neighbor’s issue, it’s our issue too.”

Protesting Trump’s Burdensome and Disruptive Transgender Ban

Last night, the New York LGBTQ community and its allies held a rally in response to Trump’s tweets announcing that federal government “will not accept or allow transgender individuals” to protect and serve the country anymore.

This emergency rally against the reinstatement of a ban that President Barack Obama dissolved in 2016 was held at the U.S Army and Career Center the evening after his announcement.

And within just a few hours of notice, hundreds of people formed a passionate and cohesive crowd to tell the world: trans people are not a burden.

Photographer Matt Bernstein captured the evening’s strength and solidarity.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 runner-up Peppermint raised spirits at the rally.

Addressing the hundreds of LGBTQ people and allies in the crowd, the openly transgender activist expressed a hopeful message: “I been traveling the world and guess what ladies and gentlemen! People around the world and around our country do not hold the same thoughts this person tweeted out this morning.”

“They hold love and they hold openness and they cherish us,” she continued.

Actress, model, and general downtown superstar, Gia Garrison, made waves at the rally with a sign referencing another Trump tweet that stated the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Gia’s sign pushed us to question: if transgender people are a burden, then what is Trump?

Transgender veteran Erika Barker used her sign to dispel Trump’s false claims that giving transgender people access to affirming medical care is a financial “burden.”

In June 2016, the Rand Corporation released a landmark study that estimates medical services for transgender people in the military will cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 millionout of a $6.2 billion medical budget for the entire military.

That cost is not only miniscule compared to the total military budget, but is also ⅕ of what the military spends each year on Viagra for service members, according to the Washington Post.

A large portion of the crowd’s anger and motivation to hit the streets was bred from confusion.

In typical Trump fashion, the President tweeted a controversial and complicated policy change with no framework to implement it. Many people at the rally, and the service members directly affected by this potential change, found themselves wondering if transgender individuals currently serving would be forced out of the army.

When asked for clarification on that issue, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had no concrete answer. However, a report from Politico earlier today stated that until further guidance is provided by the White House and Department of Defense, transgender people openly serving in the military would continue to be allowed to do their jobs.

Another point of anger widely expressed online and at the rally is that Trump deferred from the Vietnam draft five timesfour times for education and once with a note from a doctor saying he had heel spurs.

A woman at the rally said to me, “Here is a man who avoided going to war on five separate occasions. How dare he tell somebody who volunteers to serve that they cannot because of the gender assigned to them at birth.”

Former United States Army soldier and transgender activist, Chelsea Manning, who recently had her sentence commuted by President Barack Obama, referred to the ban as cowardice.

She also used the opportunity to suggest that America “dismantle the bloated and dangerous military/intel/police state to fund health care for all,” and mocked the fact that the world’s wealthiest army couldn’t afford the comparatively modest costs to fund healthcare.

At the rally I saw women kissing, men holding hands, and genderqueer and transgender people chanting, cheering, and hugging. The message to Trump and the world was clear: when you come for the T you also come for the LGBQIAAand we are NOT going anywhere.

In the current political climate, it feels like every day brings a fresh horrorand every week a different protest mobilizes in response.

While I am furious with my government, I continue to feel proud to be part of a community that shows up for each other. I went to bed thinking about a quote by Elie Weisel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

And we are not failing yet.

Turning Up: 9 NYC Artists Talk Pride, Nightlife, and Community

With Agent Orange in the White House, right-wing extremism on the rise, and black, brown, queer and trans folks living in a state of emergency every damn day, we need justice and joy and art and politics more than ever.

As we celebrate our queer brothers, sisters, and ancestors this Pride season and beyond, it’s important to remember that being proud is about more than just rolling through and looking cute at the turn up. Queer nightlife, which we should never take for granted, is where all the arts—music, sound, fashion, design, performance—come together to create a total experience. Creativity and nightlife give us a temporary break from the duress of everyday life while allowing us to express and reinvent ourselves, connect with each other, and stage new communities.

INTO caught up with nine NYC-based artists, creatives, and club connoisseurs who embody this connection between art, queerness, politics, and nightlife. Their stories illuminate the small ways we can lift other marginalized folks up, and highlight the larger social impact queer art and nightlife can have.


Describe your art/pursuits/work in 7 words.

Sweet as sweat and roses, and everything nice.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

The Pride Flag has been evolving ever since Harvey Milk asked Gilbert Baker to design a symbol of the gay community on June 25th, 1978. A debate exists over whether inspiration for the rainbow came from Judy Garland’s passing close to the Stonewall riots and her singing “Over the Rainbow,” or whether it was inspired by the symbol of world peace from the Flag of the Races.

The original flag had hot pink, but later it was omitted based on readily available fabric colors. We need to choose our battles within our current state of idiotic political trolls. If there’s a chance to uplift another minority within our community, why not? I say I don’t really care, aesthetically speaking, so I think, sure, go ahead and update it!

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

Art should always build healthy conversations and political debates. It is a healthy and hopefully non-violent way to challenge other folks’ ideas as well as your own. Art is about creating beauty, sparking ideas, seeking out the truth, seeking out more understanding, and seeking out a world with more beauty and compassion – through love, diversity, and PRIDE!


Describe your art/pursuits/work in 7 words.

Communicator. Connector. Creator. Music. Experiences. Content. Partnerships.

What value do you think nightlife, fashion, art, and creativity bring to contemporary culture?

Creativity is the first and most important vertical in my opinion. Without innovative and socially conscious creativity, there is no added value to nightlife, fashion, and art. All of these categories are overflowing in metropolitan cities, and if there’s no story or unique quality brought to what’s being produced and put out into the sphere, then to me it’s a waste of resources and time.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

Why would brown and black need to be added to the Pride flag!? One of my favorite quotes is from a famous fashion designer (Riccardo Tisci), who said: “Black is always elegant. It is the most complete color in the whole world, made of all the colors in the palette.”

If every color is in black—and I’m pretty sure you can mix colors in the rainbow to get brown— then it’s not necessary. Instead, celebrate vibrancy and the way it resonates within EVERY color.

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

More collaboration and more platforms to celebrate queer artists, collectives, and influencers. I do believe that art already plays such an important role in the queer community, bringing people together to release and self-express through music, dance, and visual arts.


Describe your art/pursuits/work in 7 words.

I am an open-format DJ and producer.

What value do you think nightlife, fashion, art, and creativity bring to contemporary culture?

Openness. And a willingness to be weird.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

How do you feel when you spot a rainbow? Exactly. Seeing a rainbow brings us joy and excitement, which is what I feel during Pride season (and all the time, really). As a symbol it is unifying; rainbows happen everywhere. On that, we can all agree.

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

From queer variety shows to the Safe Word Society podcast, we are creating space for ourselves through art.


Describe your art practice/pursuits/work in 7 words.

Actor, athlete, hustler, optimistic opportunist, renaissance bro.

What value do you think nightlife, fashion, art, and creativity bring to contemporary culture?

Nightlife is the epicenter of culture for me; it’s where all the arts come together to create an experience. I love immersive theater, and a great party feels just like that to me. You get a bunch of creatives together in one space having a good time, and the rest of the world pays attention to what happens next.

I like to surround myself with artists who push the envelope and bring something to the table—people who are passionate about actively contributing to our culture. That’s really sexy to me. And it encourages me to grow and ask myself how I’m contributing, too.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

The rainbow flag began as a symbol to unite us and give us visibility in a world that denied us of our rights. Now, we raise the flag to remember where we came from and take pride in where we’re going. If it’s important that your flag has a few extra colors—black, brown, pink, white, whatever—I’m cool with it. It’s not about me individually; it’s about all of us owning what it means to be gay. Ultimately, we all know what it’s like to feel different.


Describe your art practice/pursuits/job in 7 words.

I’m a DJ, musician, curator, and producer.

What value do you think nightlife, fashion, art, and creativity bring to contemporary culture?

I think they bring something crucial. Nightlife, especially queer nightlife, is about freedom and celebration, and it’s where a lot of queer people get to express themselves without fear. Fashion and art also reflect and facilitate these same things, and all of these creative pursuits can be used to make statements, or they can simply be functional or entertaining. But either way they are part of the heart and soul of the human experience and provide an escape from the mundane.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

I approve of the sentiment, but I hope that we can continue to do more to rectify the marginalization and hardships that POC face rather than just raising awareness through things like this, especially in the queer community. We need to act in order to create the inclusive and fair society we want to achieve. We can’t just be conscious of injustice and leave it at that. The next step is actualization.

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

My art is music and I will mostly be DJing events over Pride. I’m looking forward to seeing people coming together to dance and celebrate and getting to be a part of that. It means a lot to me.


Describe your art practice/pursuits/work in 7 words.

Experiential, rewarding, innovative, challenging, profane, audacious, truthful.

What value do you think nightlife, fashion, art, and creativity bring to contemporary culture?

Nightlife is the essence of expression. The freedom to be who you are creatively intertwines with culture and intrinsic being in a manner that exists so effervescently. I gain artistic inspiration from some of the great nightlife attire and the people here in New York.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

The more colors the merrier! The pride flag is already a symbol for life, healing, harmony/peace, and spirit. Adding more colors with beautiful interpretations means that the community is doing as it should.

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

Art is the expression of humanity’s creative skill and imagination. The queer community is all about utilizing our imagination and skills to come together and love each other and ourselves for expressing who we are. With art, the queer community can only become stronger and connect even further to grow.


Describe your art/pursuits/work in 7 words.

Fashion stylist and graphic designer.

What value do you think nightlife, fashion, art, and creativity bring to contemporary culture?

Fashion and nightlife themselves are a reflection of social, economic, political, and cultural changes. Many people are inspired by fashion and nightlife because it exposes them to different types of people and learning about different cultures.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

I think adding colors does not make the flag more inclusive.

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

I don’t think art can make our communities come together 100%. But it does do some work towards it. Art is one of the tools that can help us send the message we want to send to other people.


Describe your art/pursuits/work in 7 words.

I am a fine art photographer.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

I actually really respect and understand the decision that was made to add black and brown stripes to the Pride flag. I feel, as a community, we are the most loving and accepting. I hate to bring up race, but for the past couple of years, many people of color have been victims to hate crimes and lethal force. We need to let those affected know that we welcome them with open arms, that we fight hate with love regardless if we too experience homophobia, discrimination, and hate.

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

Art has always brought queer and non-queer communities together. So many artists throughout the years have made queer art or have been queer. I think other outlets like TV/media, social media and politics need to better understand us and represent us better as a community.


Describe your art/pursuits/work in 7 words.

Life-giving, fun curator of extravagant events.

What value do you think nightlife, fashion, art, and creativity bring to contemporary culture?

It contributes to the landscape of expression which transcends into popular culture and, ultimately, commerce and revenue.

What are your thoughts on adding black and brown to the Pride flag? Is the Pride flag unifying?

It’s not a major deal in my eyes. I get it, but I don’t see it shifting or changing things.

How can art bring queer communities together this Pride season and beyond?

Art can showcase many talents in the queer community. It’s a way to unify the cause of our community.

Let’s Talk About Celine Dion’s Wardrobe Slaying Us Within an Inch of Our Lives

Celine Dion is the new queen of serving looks and that’s the way it is.

If you haven’t noticed, Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion has been slaying the fashion game as of late. The queen of schmaltz, whose pop ballads reigned on music charts in the 1990s and 2000s,is now a full-fledged glamazon fashion icon in 2012 that has left us asking, “Backwards tuxedo who?”

Her status as 2017’s most fashionable diva was cemented with a photo shoot and accompanying video in Vogue that saw the woman behind “The Power of Love” masquerading in ultra-glam costumes and outfits that would draw the envy of Marie Antoinette. The internet was shook.

Dion’s slayage didn’t start with the billowing Versace dress she wore to her very first Met Gala but it is when a lot of people took notice. Later that night, she single-handedly reinvigorated New York’s cart food economy and put ANTM’s hot dog photo shoot to shame when she wolfed down a New York City dirty water hot dog while in said Versace dress. She shared a snap of the historic culinary moment on Instagram.

Later in May, Dion appeared at the Billboard Music Awards to sing the most anthemic song of all time a little song called “My Heart Will Go On.” To honor the songs 20th anniversary, Dion donned an outfit just as dramatic as the song’s rousing chorus and flute solo. The pouffy-armed white and gold dress was, like the Versace, chosen for her by her stylist, Law Roach, who styles Spider-Man: Homecoming star Zendaya and currently holds a judging spot on the ANTM bench.

Since then, Dion has shown off a range of looks on her own Instagram, each time crediting Roach for her superb style.

There’s this high-fashion monk/nun combo that would make anyone convert to Celine-ism.

And this floral pantsuit that Hillary Clinton wishes she could rock.

And the time she played tribute to George Michael, Prince, Michael Jackson and David Bowie in a cute top.

Dion’s gag worthy looks are about more than just what’s draped over her body. In May 2016, Dion lost her husband, 73, and her brother, 59, to cancer in the span of only two days. Since then, she’s given emotional, teary performances and gone on the interview circuit to talk about moving on since his death. But while those were words, Dion’s wardrobe shows symbolically that she’s at peace and ready to be noticed by the public again.

Not only is Dion’s fashion fun, her attitude in her clothing is more fun than ever. Those who have fallen down YouTube holes of Celine Dion videos know that she is eccentric and fun-loving, even if that’s not always the image she projects. But, as she waves to onlookers in Paris and pops her foot up so that her stylist can finish her outfit, Dion has invited each of us into the fun of her life. But rather than inducing some kind of Instagram envy, people just seem to be happy for her. Will-wishers and messages of congratulations fill her Instagram comments.

And while her music has always been serious and dramatic, her newfound fashion sense is fun and light. Dion’s wardrobe works not only because it’s creative, but because it’s surprising and makes the public rethink her image. Usually reserving theatrics for her music, Dion’s flare for the dramatic has leaked into her looks like her “just another day at the office” cape or her goldenrod Dior couture.

People have noticed that Dion’s fashion has taken no prisoners.

Dion has emerged triumphant out of one of the most harrowing periods of her life and she has taken all of our wigs with her. She’s the underdog fashionista we didn’t know we needed. She’s a paragon of embracing life after death. She turns heads and does nude photo shoots at 49 years old. In or out of clothes, Dion has earned a new trophy on her mantle: style icon. We are truly living in the #Dionaissance.

Sakima Wants To Put Queer Sensuality On Your Pop-Loving Lips

It’s almost impossible to say something new in today’s hyper-confessional “this is me raw and unfiltered and not wearing makeup but totally photoshopped” pop landscape, but that hasn’t been a problem for UK singer and producer Sakima. On his recent EP Facsimile, the 26-year-old pop auteur did something unusual: used his bedroom-ready voice to talk frankly, openly, and explicitly about gay sex. In advance of his upcoming sophomore EP, we slid into Sakima’s DMs for a chat about his unapologetic lyrics, his reception from critics, and the queer future of pop.

Eyricka King Has Been Released From Solitary After Mistreatment Goes Viral

Eyricka King, whose viral letter detailing threats of sexual assault and alleged physical assault at the hands of officers at New York’s Franklin Correctional Facility, is out of solitary confinement. King confirmed this detail in a phone call with INTO.

King said in her first interview since being released on Thursday morning that she was “very happy” to hear that her letter had gone viral.

“When you’re behind these walls, it’s like nothing can ever get out to the public,” King said in a phone interview with INTO. “I needed someone to hear me and know what I was going through.”

After several attempts, Eyricka King, a trans woman being held in New York’s Franklin Correctional Facility, finally had her voice heard when a letter she wrote from prison was posted online and shared on social media.

In the now viral letter, King detailed threats of sexual assault she faced from a cellmate and that, when she reported it, an officer allegedly smashed her against a brick wall, rupturing her breast implant. Since the incident, King said she had been in keeplock, a kind of solitary confinement where prisoners are locked up for 23 hours of the day.

Kelly Harrison, Eyricka’s trans mother, first heard of the alleged abuse against King on Facebook after people began to tag her in posts about the letter.

King ended the letter by saying that she needs “out of the box,” and that she believed she “might die in here.”

“I was actually shocked,” Harrison told INTO about the first time she read the letter. “Eyricka is a really quiet and shy individual. She’s not a confrontational person.”

King’s letter set in motion an investigation into the incident.

According to F2L, a New York-based volunteer-led network that advocates for trans and queer people of color navigating the legal and prison systems, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has interviewed King about the incident. King is currently at Downstate Correctional, where she was held in keeplock, until today, awaiting a court date. As early as July 25, King is scheduled to take a bus back to Franklin.

She says she will not board it.

“If they try to send me to Franlin, I’m planning on not getting on the bus and letting them know I can’t go there,” King told INTO. “If I don’t put them back on the bus, they’ll probably put me back in solitary confinement.”

King said she’s willing to do “whatever it takes” to not get sent back to Franklin, even if that means being sent back to “the box,” or solitary housing.

Harrison has been fighting for King to be let out of the box since receiving King’s message of abuse. Harrison first met King 10 years ago at a ball and began to mentor her as her trans mother five years ago. Once she gathered herself, Harrison turned on her camera and made a digital request to anyone listening to help King.

In the 10-minute video, which has been shared more than 1,400 times and garnered 48,000 views at the time of reporting, a tearful Harrison pleads with viewers to contact Franklin Correctional Facility, where Eyricka allegedly suffered abuse, and advocate for Eyricka’s safety.

“The girls have nobody in the prison system to help them,” says about incarcerated trans women in the video. “It’s them against the world, it’s them against the guards, it’s them against the inmates. It’s them against Albany.”

Harrison told INTO that it is her goal to get King to another medium security facility closer to New York City.

“That is my first and only goal for right now with Eyricka, to make sure she doesn’t go back to Franklin,” Harrison said.

King’s story continues to go viral. The Instagram account, justiceforeyricka, has over 1,300 followers and has already made 14 posts about her case. Janet Mock posted about King on her Instagram, and over 4,000 people have signed a petition supporting her.

A spokesperson for F2L, the organization that received King’s original letter, told INTO that they introduced King to the Legal Aid Society, who now serves as her counsel. According to the spokesperson, who declined to be named, King’s prior court-appointed representation often misgendered her.

In a statement to INTO, the Legal Aid Society, who is representing King, said they are fighting to get King transferred to another facility, saying it is “no longer safe for her to be housed at Franklin.”

“Trans women are too often subjected to sexual and physical violence when housed in male prisons and Eyricka King’s case is the latest example. We demand that DOCCS take immediate action to ensure that Ms. King is not subjected to any further abuse or retaliation,” said Ying-Ying Ma, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society and King’s counsel.

Beyond helping King, Harrison said she hopes to draw attention to the abuses that trans women like King face while incarcerated. Harrison said she understood what King detailed in her letter because she experienced abuse firsthand while incarcerated at Franklin.

“This is something that happens on the regular in Franklin. Put in a box for 30 days, no contact with their family or the outside world,” Harrison said.

According to the 2015 report, “Coming Out of Concrete Closets,” 85% of LGBTQ respondents were put in solitary at some time during their sentence, with people of color twice as likely to enter solitary. Each day in New York state, 4,300 — or 8% of all prisoners —are held in solitary.

Trans women specifically are often put in protective custody when they experience violence. According to the report, 76% of transgender women are placed in solitary “protective custody,” as a way of separating them from their abusers. Only 11% of trans women indicated they requested to be placed in protective custody, the others were either placed against their will or experienced both at one point or another.

Solitary confinement is a harsh destination for anyone, but especially a trans woman who has just experienced abuse. The United Nations committee on torture has already called solitary confinement a “harsh” measure that is “contrary to rehabilitation” and has called on the US to ban its use.

Jason Lydon, founder and national director of LGBTQ prisoner advocacy group Black and Pink, said the practice of sequestering transgender inmates involved in violence — even if they are not the perpetrator — is “common.”

“When an assault happens, they don’t have a practice that actually maintains somebody’s safety without placing them in solitary confinement,” Lydon said.

LAS is also demanding that time be taken off King’s sentence for the time she was kept in keeplock.

In a statement to INTO, the New York DOCCS said they “cannot comment” on an ongoing investigation.

“Ensuring the safety of individuals at our facilities is our highest priority,” the statement reads. “There is zero tolerance for violence within the facilities and anyone engaged in misconduct will be disciplined and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to F2L, their current priority is supporting King during her remaining months in prison. They’re currently raising funds for King’s commissary.

As King faces a return to Franklin, and her last few months in jail, she told INTO that she wants others to recognize the dangers that transgender women face behind bars.

“You are subject to being targeted by officers and inmates. You are an outcast,” she said. “You won’t get the proper medical treatment you need. They just look at us like we’re regular men. They call us men and they make sure we remember we are men.

“This is not a place for a trans woman or anyone, ever,” she continued.

Go to FYF Fest Because We Said So

The INTO offices will grind to a halt this weekend as 99.9% of our staff (and the rest of queer LA) heads to FYF Fest for a stacked lineup featuring musical icons like Bjork, Missy Elliott, and Solange.

With six stages in play, it’s impossible to see everyone, so you’ll need to make some hard choices—and we want you to feel good about them. To help you work it out, we asked our savvy INTO team who they’re most excited to see.

Kehlani – “Get Like” (Jules)


If you haven’t been listening to SWEETSEXYSAVAGE, I’m honestly not quite sure what you’ve been doing this hot LA summer. The gem of this album is “Get Like,” and Kehlani throws down her ‘90s convertible drop top banger to make you feel like traffic is an excuse to test out those festival dance moves before anyone gets a peek. Cash me at this show gettin’ DOWN like it’s 1993 in my Volvo, ripping donuts in the parking lot, and Beyoncé-leaning out the car window feelin’ myself.

Mac Demarco – “On the Level” (Alex)

Mac is what I like to call wrong-hot. You know you’re not supposed to be down bc he’s straight and probably doesn’t shower or wear deodorant or know who Alyssa Edwards is, but it’s still ON. This song is so sexy and timeless and effortless. It sounds like he just rolled out of bed and made it. And then went back to bed. Looking forward to seeing him work his weirdo charm on the FYF stage.

Missy Elliott – “Lose Control” (Zach)

Growing up, my mom and I would drive around town listening to Missy Elliott songs, yelling lyrics like “I don’t want no one minute maaaaan” as confused drivers rolled past us. Her music wasn’t only something we could ‘Work It’ to in the car, but to us it was a moment to lose control. And to be frank, her music is probably the reason why I’m gay. So, if you want to get FYF started right then Missy is a must on the first day of the festival.

The Black Madonna (Monty)

Maybe I’m old or ignorant, but I am a person that still does not really get why DJs are so celebrated these days. But I do know that they can be geniuses. At a Prototype LA event last winter, The Black Madonna opened my eyes. She played a mind-blowing set that bounced around between house, disco, techno, and a multitude of other genres I just looked up, winding us all up to an interlude of the most surprising smooth jazz that felt like a huge gulp of water before she thrust us all back down into the throbbing pulse. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. The Black Madonna is not to be missed.

Erykah Badu – “The Other Side of the Game” (Corbett)

“On my hand I wear an ankh.”

Oh she does? I looked down at the ankh ring on my hand and immediately felt connected by our mutual love for a timeless egyptian symbol. Granted, I was coming down from a crazy shroom trip in Amsterdam (in which I circled the same block on my rented bike for two hours), but in one swoosh on an evening in 1999, Erykah commanded my full attention. Her organic, I-love-you-but-imma-do-shit-my-way vibes have evolved for over two decades, but her classic, sultry voice always endures. And while her albums are experiences unto themselves, her live shows give you the full rub of this eccentric, unpredictable force. Do you have any clue how funny she is on the mic? Do you know how eager she is to stage dive? Will you know the words when she stops her set to recite “Rapper’s Delight”? And will you be able to handle it when she scraps all of the above to fiddle on her drum machine? That’s my queen goin’ on and on.

Frank Ocean – “Nikes” (Ollywood)

Frank hit the big time in 2012 with Channel Orange, but he’s still something of an enigma. Very private and unpredictable, the mystery that surrounds him has only made him more sought after. For me, “Nikes” is an example of when music videos can cross over to become modern art. Every shot looked like a fashion photograph. For a very visual person like myself, it’s pure eye candy.

Mitski – “Your Best American Girl” (Kylee)

Go see Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski for the sheer spectacle of her boss-bitch guitar playing, but stay for her heart-ravaging lyrics of love lost. And if you’ve ever been in love with a foreigner, journey with her on the single, “Your Best American Girl,” as she comes to terms with her Japanese upbringing and the reality that she’ll never quite fit into the life of her American love. I’ll be the one in black, quietly crying into my $12 hazelnut microbrew session IPA, mourning the loss of my French lover who introduced me to this track.

Solange – “Sandcastle Disco” (Steven)

I’d describe my spirit animal as Solange—visual, thoughtful, and super groovy. I first fell in love with her through “Sandcastle Disco” and became an instant fan when I found out she designed her own album covers. I’m really looking forward to getting inspired and seeing the influences of all the women she wrote A Seat At The Table for. I’m expecting trumpets, something atmospheric, monochromatic colors, and varying moments of coordination. Nothing but a night of belting and dancing, full of sisterhood joy.

Arca – “Slit Thru” (Alex)

For every Arca track that’s haunting and beautiful there’s another that sounds like nails on a chalkboard, which is to say that I’m a fan but not a stan. The music isn’t for everyone, but there’s definitely something impressive about the fact that he’s not afraid to alienate people with harsh discordances, fucked up timings, and aggressive displays of queer sexuality. The latter is why you shouldn’t miss him at FYF—knee-high stripper boots, bondage gear, and lots of skanky gyrating add some welcome heat to the icy synthscapes.

Bjork – “I’ve Seen It All“ (Ollywood)

Whether she’s draped a dead swan across her body or wrapped a slinky around her head, Bjork always a delivers an emotional and powerful performance. Her music is not easy listening and her lyrics can be challenging, but love her or hate her, the voice is unmistakeable and she is truly one of a kind. Her one and only movie; Dancer in the Dark is a masterpiece and is my all-time favorite. “I’ve Seen It All” was the song she performed in said swan carcass, and it remains one of my favorite songs and performances of hers.

Meet the Fierce Texas Moms Standing Up for Trans Kids

For as long as she can remember, Melissa Ballard’s entire life has revolved around her faith.

Because her children were homeschooled, the evangelical church was where her family found community. The Ballards thought of the friends they made in their Dallas-area congregation as “like family.” They would hang out with other families from church almost every weekend, and their children even grew up in diapers together.

But when her son, Ashur, came out as transgender at the age of 12, everything changed. The homeschool group that Melissa was a member of told her that she was “going against God.” Slowly, her closest friends stopped returning her calls. Melissa and her family were shut out of the only community that they had. It became clear that she had only two options: support her son or force him into the closet in order to keep her relationships. She chose Ashur.

“We lost a lot of people,” Melissa told INTO. “When suddenly you’re cut off, it’s hard to deal with.”

The Ballards stopped attending church, although Melissa said that she continues to observe her Christian faith in private. Instead the family found community in an unexpected place: a therapy group for parents of transgender children. The circle started with 24 parents who began meeting after weekly sessions in order to continue the conversation. Many of the other parents in the group were like her: well-meaning, loving people who wanted help being the mothers and fathers their children needed them to be.

That group is officially called DFW Trans Kids and Families, a nod to its Dallas-Fort Worth home, but colloquially the parents are known as Mama Bears. Melissa explained the nickname matter-of-factly: “Mama Bears protect their cubs.”

The Mama Bears, who have been meeting now for two years, face their biggest challenge yet: This week the Texas legislature will meet in a special session to debate the passage of a bill that advocates believe would target their children for discrimination. After the General Assembly was unable to pass Senate Bill 6 during the 2017-18 regular session, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the legislature would go into overtime.

True to their name, the Mama Bears are ready for the fight.

The Rise of the Mama Bears

The DFW group began meeting outside the therapy circle two years ago — with potluck dinners held in members’ homes. Melissa compared it to a “social hour.” Parents would bring casserole dishes, share their struggles, and find the friends they might have lost during their children’s transition. Sometimes speakers would come and inform the parents on civil rights issues, explaining to them about the challenges their families might face in conservative Texas.

Slowly the group grew. From just over two dozen, its membership swelled to more than 200, and Melissa said that at least 100 more are unofficial members of the group. Many follow along on the Facebook page, posting everything that’s beautiful about their kids’ lives — and everything that hurts.

“We just recently updated our business cards,” Melissa said in a phone interview. “When you’re in this situation and you don’t know anything about it, you feel alone. I put: ‘You are not alone.’ So people would know that there are other people going through the same thing they are. You might be at a different stage, you might be further along the transition, or just starting out. But we all have been through it.”

The support that the Mama Bears offer couldn’t come at a more crucial time. SB 6, if passed, would have mandated that restroom access be limited to members of the same “biological sex.” That would have prevented trans students from using the bathroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity in school.

But even before the special session convenes Tuesday, two bills have already been proposed that would pick up where the now defunct SB 6 left off.

Filed by Republican Rep. Ron Simmons, House Bill 46 and House Bill 50 would prevent school boards and government bodies from enacting policies protecting trans students. The latter, HB 50, is a clone of the so-called repeal bill passed earlier this year in North Carolina, following the yearlong controversy over its last bathroom legislation, HB 2. It would nullify all existing nondiscrimination laws passed by cities and local municipalities. HB 46 sets its sights on schools, making it illegal to set policies allowing trans students to use the affirming restroom.

It’s important to note that if either of these bills passed, it wouldn’t be against the law for trans people to use the bathroom that feels most safe and appropriate. But preventing any entity from passing laws in favor of the LGBTQ community will open trans students to harassment, discrimination, and even violence.

The Mama Bears already live this reality every day.

When Bella Kaplan’s son, Brenden, was a freshman in high school, his parents had to pull him out following years of bullying. Each of these incidents might seem small, but like a thousand tiny pricks of a needle, they leave bruises—ones that may take years to heal.

The first incident Bella could remember took place when Brenden was in the 7th grade. He was seated at a lunch table while all his friends were in line, filling their hard plastic trays with turkey and mashed potatoes. After they got their food, they all piled into an adjacent table and he got up to join them. At the time, Brenden’s friends knew him as a girl, but Bella said that he had always been a “tomboy.” When the girls played with dolls, Brenden was more likely to be found playing video games.

As Brenden walked toward his friends that fateful day, a classmate called after him from the table. He was holding a banana. “Here you forgot this,” Bella remembered the boy saying. “You know you want one.”

Brenden officially came out as trans when he was 14 and began to socially transition in the 8th grade. One day a female classmate overheard him instructing a teacher to use the correct name and pronouns and yelled that he was “disgusting.” She walked down the hallway, sharing her opinion with every single student she saw. It was like that nightmare where you walk down the hallway of your high school naked while all your peers point and laugh, but this was no dream.

Brenden didn’t go to class for a week after that, and after a failed attempt to fit in at another school, Bella enrolled him in homeschool.

“I tell him that we will always keep him safe, but the older he gets, the more he realizes that we may not be able to do that,” Bella said. “Being the parent of a transgender child in Texas right now is frightening. Our government is making people feel like they have permission to spew their hate.”

Many parents say that the fear they live with every day has increased over the past year, as bigoted hate in Texas aligns with a national backlash against LGBTQ rights. At least 20 states have introduced legislation targeting transgender people in 2017, and the Lone Star State is responsible for more than its fair share of discriminatory bills. A law passed in June would allow foster care agencies and adoption centers to deny placement to same-sex parents based on the providers’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

Donald Trump, who promised to be an ally to the LGBTQ community while in the White House, has done nothing to stem the tide of dangerous extremism. Since taking office in January, the president has consistently rolled back queer and trans rights. In February, the Departments of Justice and Education nixed an Obama-era policy advising schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their sense of self.

The weight of ignorance has been a difficult burden for parents of transgender children to bear.

After the White House repealed the Obama guidance, Rachel Adams Gonzales’ daughter, Libby, asked her mother something that she had never asked before: “Now that Donald Trump is president and so many people hate transgender people, how am I going to stay safe?”

Libby is just seven years old, and it’s already been a tough year for her. Although Rachel said that her daughter has never had a problem in her Dallas elementary school, a friend of the family took his own life this year. The deceased was transgender. When Rachel explained to Libby what had happened, she struggled to comprehend it—and kept asking if he did it “on purpose.” After the tragedy began to sink in, the young girl came to a conclusion: Life would be easier if she weren’t transgender anymore.

“She said to me specifically that maybe it’s not a good idea to be transgender because if she would just live her life as a boy, she would be safer,” Rachel said. “It’s heartbreaking as a parent to have to have these conversations. No seven-year-old should have to think about whether their life is going to be so bad that they want to end it—or that there are people in the world who are going to hate them because of who they are.”

Proponents of legislation like SB 6 claim that these laws are necessary to prevent sexual predators from targeting women and girls in public restrooms. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has also pressured the Texas Supreme Court to take up a case denying benefits to same-sex couples, has claimed that failure to act will give a “free pass” to rapists and abusers.

“This is not an LGBTQ issue,” he claimed during a March press conference. “It’s not a transgender issue. It’s about preventing a free pass to sexual predators who are not transgender.”

But contrary to Patrick’s claims, women and children have nothing to fear from using the restroom with girls like Libby. Since East Lansing, Mich. became the first municipality to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive public accommodations bill more than 40 years ago, there’s never been a single verified case of a transgender person attacking someone in a public restroom. Additionally, there’s never been a confirmed report of a cisgender person pretending to be trans in order to gain access to the opposite facilities.

The people most likely to experience violence in public restrooms are the very people these laws single out: transgender folks. More than 60 percent of all trans respondents reported being harassed or assaulted in a bathroom facility, according to a 2014 survey from The Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles, a pro-LGBTQ think tank.

While these laws portend to protect women and children, what they actually do is send a message to other students that trans children “aren’t like other kids,” said DFW member Valerie Hefner.

Valerie and her daughter, Ari, live in Sherman, which is about an hour outside of Dallas. Ari uses the nurse’s bathroom at school, a single-stall facility separate from her classmates. Valerie said that this has been devastating for her daughter. When you’re 12-year-old, the bathroom is a major focal point of your social life. While her female friends gossip, do their makeup, and talk about boys, Ari has to stand outside.

“Every time they make her go to the nurse’s restroom, it puts it into the children’s heads that she doesn’t belong there,” Valerie said. “Kids are very accepting as long as parents and teachers don’t make an issue of it.”

If sending the message that trans students are “different” permits people to treat them differently, that can have devastating consequences.

Chelsa Morrison’s daughter, Marilyn, almost walked out of her elementary school after her teachers wouldn’t stop asking her which bathroom she uses. When Marilyn came out as transgender during the 3rd grade, Chelsa told the administration that she would be using the girls’ facilities. That lasted “about two weeks.” One day a substitute teacher wouldn’t allow her to go the restroom, and then when Marilyn was finally granted permission to do so, the nurse’s office was locked.

This was the last straw for eight-year-old Marilyn. She was taunted during recess by three boys who said that they would never call her by a girl’s name. The two staff members assigned to playground duty failed to intervene, Chelsa said. But this was expected. When her daughter came out, the administration simply crossed out her birth name on school paperwork and wrote “Marilyn” over it in permanent marker. You could still see the old name underneath.

Marilyn couldn’t take it anymore.

“She was going to walk out the doors,” Chelsa said. “Had there not been a teacher behind her, she would have walked home. We don’t live far from school, but you have to cross some major roads to get to our house. I don’t even want to think about what could have happened.”

Why They Fight

If Texas lawmakers continue to introduce bills that parents say make it unsafe for their children to go to school, the Mama Bears will keep standing up for their kids’ rights.

Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 legislative session, DFW Trans Kids and Families has been a fixture at the capitol building in Austin, Texas. Parents with the group have organized rallies and protests, written letters to Congressmen, and spoken out against the onslaught of bills targeting their kids, which they say would make it nearly impossible for their children to lead a normal life. It’s challenging enough to be a kid without worrying where you’re going to go to the bathroom all the time.

“We want you to know who we are,” said Jo Ivester, who lives in Austin with her son, Jeremy. “This is what a family looks like with two accepting parents and a trans son. We are human. We are worthy of respect.”

Jo, like many moms in the group, has become a full-time advocate. The Ivesters have gone door to door at the legislature, shaking hands and letting the state representatives get to know their family. It’s important to “personalize the issue,” Jo told INTO. When the General Assembly was hearing arguments on SB 6, she showed up at 7:00 in the morning to give testimony and waited all day.

Many of the other parents in the DFW group didn’t get to speak until well after midnight, their children fast asleep as their names were finally called.

Jo believes that Republican legislators can learn a lot from listening to the stories of families like hers. Jeremy, who is now 28, wasn’t bullied like many of the other students in the group. His mother describes Jeremy’s childhood as “idyllic.” He had a close group of friends who would play at each other’s houses from morning until night, almost never separated. But when Jeremy hit puberty, his golden days were interrupted: Parents stopped allowing him to come to sleepovers, saying that it wasn’t “appropriate” for him to be there. His friends pulled away.

“His body went to war with him,” Jo recalled. Throughout middle school, Jeremy was trapped in between two worlds: He wasn’t one of the guys anymore, and the girls felt he didn’t “fit in.”

Jo’s son would find his community when he went off to college in Colorado, meeting friends who accepted him without question. But after Jeremy moved back home last year, she worries that the passage of a law like SB 6 would prevent him from finishing his education—or even getting a job. One of the bills proposed during this year’s legislative session would fine trans people $1,000 every time they use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. A second offense merits a $10,000 penalty.

“It effectively says that Jeremy has to choose between breaking the law and risking financial ruin or going into the women’s restroom and making other people uncomfortable,” said Jo, who is currently working on a book documenting her son’s journey.

The DFW parents have learned that when they make their voices heard, others listen.

Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General, was one of the loudest voices fighting the since-repealed Obama guidelines on trans students after the best practices were enacted last year. He called the policies “illegal federal overreach,” filing an injunction in May 2016 to prevent them from being implemented. Amber Briggle, who is the mother of nine-year-old Max, invited Paxton over to their home in Denton to change his mind; much to her surprise, he accepted the invite.

Paxton arrived at their home last September with his wife, and the two families grilled out. Amber made kebabs and cornbread in the shape of Darth Vader. The Paxtons brought dessert. The attorney general stayed for two and a half hours, but Amber said that she was careful not to discuss politics around the children. She called it an “act of diplomacy.”

But when her son went to bed, Amber said that she “laid it all out there.”

“It’s your job to protect every Texan, and that includes Max,” Amber told him. “When the Texas legislature convenes this upcoming session, keep him in mind. The rhetoric coming out of his office hasn’t changed much. It’s still pretty transphobic. But I will say that I haven’t seen him give personal interviews on these anti-trans bills. Before the dinner happened, he was really outspoken.”

Although Paxton isn’t a member of the General Assembly and doesn’t have the power to enact policy, there are signs that the Mama Bears are winning hearts and minds in one of the nation’s most staunchly conservative legislatures.

Joe Straus, speaker of the Texas House, repeatedly opposed a bathroom bill during the regular session, claiming it would be bad for business. The Associated Press estimated that if North Carolina’s HB 2 remained on the books, the widespread corporate boycott—which included companies like Apple and Google—would have cost the state nearly $3.8 billion over the next decade. Ahead of the special session, IBM has already begun lobbying against further efforts to discriminate.

Although groups like the Conservative Republicans of Texas have called for Straus to be removed over his opposition to the bill, Straus isn’t backing down. The House Speaker recently told The New Yorker that he doesn’t “want the suicide of a single Texan on [his] hands.”

While lawmakers meet, yet again, to debate where their children should pee, the Mama Bears will do what they have always done: give a better home to kids who need it.

Not a single one of the families who first joined DFW Trans Kids and Parents two years ago have dropped out, Melissa explained. There’s a good reason why: The parents rely on these meetings as a way to feel normal in a state that sends the message that families like theirs are freaks. Moms often invite each other over for late-night swimming and wine. When Libby Gonzales finally got her birth certificate changed, Rachel invited their friends in the group over for cake. The moms made burritos in the kitchen, and the kids hung out by the pool.

“When people first come into the group, we constantly hear: ‘I didn’t know something like this group existed,’” Melissa said. “We include people of all races and ages; single people, married people, and gay people. We are a very diverse group. We have a little bit of everybody.”

The people who need the group most, though, are children. Melissa said that many of the kids who seek out the group don’t have family to support them, which is sadly commonplace. Statistics from the Williams Institute shows that 40 percent of homeless youth across the United States identify as LGBTQ. In the past two years, Melissa claimed that she can’t count how many children have called her “mama.” It’s a label she wears proudly.

“We’re just doing what we need to do to support our kids,” Melissa said. “Our families are no different than anyone else’s.”

Gun Violence and the LGBTQ Community: We Must Fight Together

Last Friday, I joined the organizers of the Women’s March for a protest of the National Rifle Association (NRA) at their Virginia headquarters, which was followed by an 18 mile march to the Department of Justice.

Like the original Women’s March on Washington last month, this march was not about one single issue, rather it pushed much more broadly. Topics included gun violence in the US and the NRA’s reticence to defend a licenced black gun owner, Philando Castille. Perhaps most importantly, it was a reminder of the beauty of peaceful protest.

The march demanded three things: the removal of recent videos narrated by conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch, an apology for the videos, and an indictment by the Justice Department of the officer involved in Castile’s death.

Photographer Hunter Abrams captured the day’s action in all its glory.

Above, members from both the New York and D.C chapters of Gays Against Guns (GAG) meet for the first time. People often ask GAG why gun violence is an LGBTQ issue—a question that highlights just how many people don’t realize that gun violence disproportionately affects LGBTQ people.

The leading cause of gun deaths in the U.S is suicide, and the LGBTQ community has unusually high suicide rates. According to the The Trevor Project, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth, and 92% of transgender adults have attempted suicide by age 25.

LGBTQ people are also the most likely minority to be victims of a hate crime (The New York Times), a statistic that was tragically reflected in the Pulse nightclub shooting—the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

“Hands up, don’t shoot” has become a widely used slogan and hand gesture birthed as a response to Michael Brown being fatally shot by a police officer on August 9th, 2014. It continues to be used during incidences of police brutality. Here, a protester playfully combined the phrase with the ‘pussy’ hat that has become the unofficial symbol of the Women’s March and Trump resistance.

This sign, like the march itself, embodies the spirit of collective minority resistance that has arisen in the past few years.

Thanks to a crew of incredible teenage girls, orange has become the official color of the fight against gun violence.

After Hadiya Pendleton was shot in the back by a police officer who mistook her for a gang member from afar, people have begun using orange to honor her and others who have died under similar circumstances. The color is a reference to the gear worn by hunters in the woods to avoid being shot or harmed.

Now every year on June 2nd, thousands of Americans wear orange to draw attention to gun violence on Gun Violence Awareness Day.

As a social media coordinator at Gays Against Guns, I am constantly posting from rallies, marches and actions. People often tell me to “get off my phone and be present,” a narrative that I reject entirely.

The definition of a direct action is “any action seeking to achieve an immediate or direct result, especially an action against an established authority or powerful institution, as a strike or picketing.” How can we achieve a “direct or immediate result” if nobody knows what we’re doing? The power to broadcast our own actions without the the media’s filter—to tell our own stories—must never be underestimated.

So stop telling me to “get off my phone” :).

We have too often seen religion used as pretext for oppression, but at this march there was a liberal religious presence that was quite the opposite of oppressive and instead found power in using faith as a tool for social justice.

While the 95-degree weather required me to wear a hat, you can bet I would have worn my hot pink Kippah if weather had permitted!

I marched for a while with a pastor from Connecticut. He expressed his anger at those whose use the bible as an excuse for bigotry. Here, a women who marched besides us reiterated those words.

The pastor told me, “How they twist and turn the words, I will never understand. It is all right there…thou shalt not kill, thou shalt love thy neighbor. I believe the religious left has a place in the resistance and I will continue to show up.

National co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, Tamika D. Mallory, spoke at the rally outside of the NRA headquarters before we marched. Mallory, who wrote an open letter to the NRA, said “We can’t be afraid. We are already dying.”

“There’s nothing more to lose, because we are already in danger every day,” she told the crowd.

The fight to obtain reasonable gun control and end gun violence can feel like a never-ending uphill battle. However, people still have tremendous power—even “superpower”—in their ability to vote. Here is a helpful guide to every member of congress and their stance on gun control.

Find out where your representative stands on gun issues — and fight back.