Gay Reporter Speaks Out on White House Christmas Party Snub: The Trump Administration ‘Ignores Me’

When Chris Johnson didn’t get his yearly invite to the White House Christmas Party, he assumed it was a mistake.

Chief political reporter for the Washington Blade, the oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the country, Johnson attends daily press briefings at the White House. He’d been invited to the White House holiday party for the past seven years under the Obama administration. It was during a Thanksgiving dinner with fellow journalists that Johnson learned his fellow colleagues had all received invitesand he hadn’t.

He emailed the next day to correct the apparent mix-up. The White House didn’t respond. Johnson followed up again on Monday and was bounced between spokespeople who eventually stopped answering his messages. When he didn’t hear anything back, he dropped it.

“They never gave me an official explanation as to why I was not invited,” Johnson tells INTO.

The LGBTQ reporter was one of two journalists to be left off the Christmas list this year. April Ryan, one of the few black journalists to sit in daily briefings, was also snubbed by the Trump administration. The D.C. bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks has clashed with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, asking her whether or not the administration “[believes] slavery was wrong.” (Note: Sanders dodged the question.)

The president famously asked Ryan to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus in response to a question about his plan to tackle crime in the “inner cities,” one of the president’s favorite subjects. She reminded him that scheduling appointments is not her job.

Ryan tells the Washington Post that she doesn’t believe she was “overlooked” by the White House in not getting invited to the holiday gathering.

“I think they don’t like me,” she says of the slight.

Johnson likewise believes that the cold shoulder from the Oval Office is the result of President Trump’s disdain for the press, as well as his administration’s disregard for LGBTQ rights.

The reporter is the only journalist with a queer media publication to sit in on daily press briefings. He claims that in the past six months, Sanders has only called on him once. After Johnson called out the habitual stiff-arm in an October op-ed, he was finally allowed to ask a question days later.

Sanders hasn’t acknowledged him since.

“I go to the White House Press briefings every day, but the press secretary ignores me,” Johnson says in a phone interview. “She looks my way sometimes, but she won’t call on me for a question. A couple times she’ll look right at me but then her gaze will go somewhere else. So the fact that I didn’t get an invite to the party is consistent with them not engaging me during the White House press briefings.”

He also believes the treatment is “consistent” with the White House’s rollback of protections for queer and transgender people since Trump took office in January. Over the past year, the White House has tried to ban trans troops from serving openly in the military (which was recently blocked by the courts), while chipping away at LGBTQ rights in employment and education.

This week, The Supreme Court is set to hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case in which the Department of Justice has signed onto support the right of businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.

When the press secretary refuses questions on these issues, Johnson says it’s a way for the White House to dodge responsibility for its actions.

“The fact that we’re being ignored shows the White House doesn’t care to address the policies it’s making that have a lot of undeniably deleterious effects on the LGBTQ community,” he claims. “It makes it harder for the American public to hold the administration accountable for those things.”

But Trump’s hostility is not directed solely at LGBTQ media. Other outlets have refused the White House’s Christmas invitation this year due to the president’s behavior toward the media. The president calls press coverage he doesn’t like “fake news.” He has referred to journalists as “liars” and “sick people,” called the press “the enemy of the American people,” and claimed reporters are “among the worst people I’ve ever met.”

Trump even tweeted a video in July of a pro-wrestler body-slamming a man with a CNN logo photoshopped over his head, which many read as an overt encouragement to physically assault journalists with the network.

Unsurprisingly, CNN claimed in a statement that it does “not feel it is appropriate to celebrate with him as his invited guests.”

Although Johnson considered sitting out this year’s Christmas Party prior to his lack of invitation, he says the annual event holds a symbolic importance. In addition to showing solidarity with fellow members of the press, he believes the tradition is an opportunity to recognize the role journalists play in democracy, as well as serving the public good.

“The White House is the people’s house, no matter who is in it,” Johnson says.

The Oval Office has not responded to comment on Johnson’s snub. After news of the shunning broke this week, Washington Blade editor Kevin Neff called it “deliberate and petty” in an op-ed.

Images via Facebook/Chris Johnson

Why Did It Take Republicans So Long to Dump Extremist Bigot Roy Moore?

The Trump-era of Republican politics has been an exercise in laying bare the agenda of the GOP. The Right’s goals have long been shrouded in euphemisms and dog whistles in the name of maintaining an appearance of civility. But Donald Trump’s influence has brought the party’s deep-seated white nationalist tendencies out into the open, unmasking the GOP’s disregard for the wellbeing of anyone but their donors.

Now the fiasco of a race to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat has uncovered something the LGBTQ community has suspected for years: Pushing us out of public life is a core tenet of the Republican Party.

Later this month, Alabama voters will choose between Republican anti-LGBTQ bigot Roy Moore and Democratic former Attorney Doug Jones to represent them in Congress. Moore looked to be cruising to an easy win. But in recent weeks, many of Moore’s supporters have backed away from him following numerous accusations he engaged in sexual relationships with underage girls. (President Trump, meanwhile, appears to still support him.)

It’s both remarkable and revolting how much conservatives were willing to put up with from Moore before they abandoned ship. Moore’s history of attacks on LGBTQ people is as lengthy as it is extreme.

When he was an Alabama circuit court judge in the 1990s he had to be removed from a custody case involving a lesbian mother because his homophobic views interfered with his ability to hear the case impartially. Moore attempted to block the woman from unsupervised visitation with her children, claiming her children would be “detrimentally affected by [her] present lifestyle.”

In another child-custody case in 2002, Moore wrote in an opinion that “homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature.”

In 2005, Moore publicly advocated that homosexuality be criminalized and referred to it as “the same thing” as bestiality. When he asked whether he thought gay people should be executed, Moore couldn’t give an answer.

In 2006, Moore penned an op-ed opposing the appointment Mark Dybul to U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, because he was an “admitted homosexual.” Moore has also stated that the Obergefell v Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S., was worse than Dred Scott. That ruling enshrined the status of African-Americans as slaves and property to be owned. Moore has claimed that the the 9/11 attack was a punishment for the U.S. “legalizing sodomy” and argued earlier this year that “transgenders don’t have rights.”

Despite this, many Republicans fell in line and endorsed Moore after he won the GOP primary. Sen. Majority Whip John Cornyn called Moore “a tireless advocate led by principle rather than politics.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz praised the notoriously anti-LGBTQ figure for “the courage of his convictions,” while fellow presidential also-ran Rand Paul lauded how Moore “spent a lifetime defending and standing up for the Constitution.”

Despite the heaps of praise from congressional Republicans, Moore’s record is hardly exemplary. Contrary to his constant grousing about his love for the U.S. Constitution, Moore has established that he has zero regard for the rule of law.

Moore was famously removed as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice. In the first instance, Moore refused to comply with a federal court order demanding the removal of an monument of the Ten Commandments from the lawn of the courthouse. Eight years later, Moore was again elected to the same post but was removed for the second time in 2016 for ordering lower court officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in opposition to the Obergefell decision.

Although Moore is one of the most clear examples of the GOP’s willingness to tolerate extremist bigots, he is far from the only anti-LGBTQ zealot to get a pass until the very last moment.

Republicans used Milo Yiannopoulosa gay man known for his white supremacy, attacks on feminists, and harassment of trans peopleas the poster boy for the so-called “alt-right” for years before his public support for pedophilia made him a pariah. One-time Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was provided a platform to express deeply bigoted views on LGBTQ people until he was caught up in a sexual harassment scandal earlier this year. O’Reilly once compared opponents of so-called “religious freedom” bills targeting the LGBTQ community to terrorists.

Oklahoma State Rep. Ralph Shortey advocated for laws legalizing discrimination against the LGBT community before pleading guilty to child sex trafficking. Evangelical activist John Perry was a close associate of Roy Moore and noted anti-LGBTQ activist Mike Huckabee, even co-writing books with each them. Perry was accused of molesting two teenage girls in 2015.

The Duggar Family (of 19 Kids and Counting fame) harassed a 16-year-old transgender girl,called trans women sexual predators, and claimed Christians should have the right to discriminate against gay people. They were very popular within Republican circles, until it was revealed that one of their sons had sexually abused two of his younger sisters for years. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert attacked gay men as sexual predators, until he was accused of molesting several young men and went to prison for the related cover-up.

And of course, our sitting vice president believes it’s acceptable to use electrical shocks to “cure” people of being gay (which he has denied) but still enjoys wide support among his party.

We need to acknowledge that the GOP’s acceptance of Roy Moore’s fanatical and dangerous brand of anti-LGBTQ hate is no accident. After all, the Republicans listed above didn’t abandon Moore when he claimed same-sex marriage is a “slippery slope to polygamy and incestuous relationships.” Their complicity is a signal that the assault on public queer life is entering a new and more dangerous phase. Currently, the Trump administration is working to packing the federal courts with judges who hold to that same brand of overt bigotry.

The same party that was fine with having someone like Moore in Congress until five women accused him of sexual misconduct has rubber-stamped that effort.

Jeff Mateer, a federal district court nominee, claims that diversity training is “brain-washing” and believes that trans children are “part of Satan’s plan.” Steven Grasz, a nominee for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, has advocated for conversion therapy and claimed trans people in bathrooms are a threat to public safety.

Stuart Kyle Duncan, nominated to the Fifth Circuit, has claimed that transgender people are “delusional” and that their existence is “junk science.” Damien Schiff, recently confirmed to the Court of Federal Claims, disagrees with the decriminalization of sodomy and has criticized anti-bullying measures as “teaching gayness in schools.” Combined with their hold on Congress and the presidency, Republicans now have the opportunity to rewrite LGBTQ policy with impunity.

This new, uncloaked brand of hatred represented by Roy Moore is the largest threat to the LGBTQ community’s safety and stability that we have seen in a generation. It threatens every inch of progress we’ve made in the last two decades.

Images via Getty

Age Play As a Consensual Way To Explore Sexual Dynamics

It seems like everywhere, people are trying to reconnect with their “inner child.” Adults are spending big money on supplies for coloring in coloring books, shelling out hundreds of dollars to sign up for adult preschools and even registering for summer camps.

What if I told you there was a whole community of adults who were building relationships around living authentically as their inner little selves? Littles are age players, a subpopulation of the BDSM/leather community who center child-like joy, wonder, and playfulness in their lives and relationships. Sound intriguing? Then age play and a little identity might be for you!

Age play, like all BDSM, happens only between consenting adults. Age play is not pedophilia. BDSM is not abuse. All actions, and dynamics described within this article take place between legal adults. This can manifest in numerous roles or identities including, but not limited to, consenting adults claiming identities of girls, boys, babies, daddy, mommy, etc.

For some, age play is part of negotiated scenes (think dungeons and play parties). For others, it is a lifestyle identity that is part of how they always relate to a partner or the world at large. Age players may (though not always) be engaged in D/s (Dominance / submissive) dynamics, Big/little (like Mommy/girl or Daddy/boy), or little/little with their sexual and/or romantic partners. Age play can be both sexual and nonsexual, and it can be sweet and rooted in caretaking or be dark depending on the preferences/kinks of the individuals involved.

Age play can be everything from someone calling a partner “daddy” while having sex, or while being spanked in a dungeon, to something more involved and ongoing, like a negotiated dynamic that extends outside of the bedroom. Having a little identity means different things to different people. Some of the easiest groups of age players to find online are ABDL (Adult Baby Diaper Lovers), and Dd/lg (Daddy Dom/little girl), but there are age players of all genders and a diversity of dynamics. For example, I identify as five, and as a boy. There are also “middles” who age play as older ages like pre-teens and teens. (Again, like any other part of the BDSM/Leather community all those involved in these dynamics are over the age of 18, and are legal adults capable of consent.)

I have been involved in queer culture and the leather community for over 15 years. My queer identity and my leather identities developed intertwined, and it wasn’t until years later (perhaps coinciding with the rise of homonormativity and assimilationist politics prioritizing marriage equality in national politics) did I realize that there was a stigma about being a leather person or a little. My daddy and I have been together for 13 years, and much of the work that I do in the world centers around working to destigmatize leather dynamics and more specifically age play. I try to approach life and as many aspects of the world as I can centering my little identity: everything from the shows I watch (cartoons!) and the clothes I wear (cute stuff!), to the vacations I go on (Disney!).

My littleness isn’t a role I can just take off. It’s core to who I am as a person, deeply rooted in the intentional exchange of power that is centered in my relationship with my daddy. My daddy sets rules that keep me safe and healthy like bedtimes and enforced “self” care. Leather and littleness is a way of being in the world, a code of ethics that drives everything from the structure of my family to the kind of art that I make.

Jesbian Bagheera is queer, POC, femme, dandy, leather, and a service little. Bagheera is the creator of the Little Leather Pride Flag and has held multiple leather titles serving as Little Miss Little 2014, and is currently Ms. California Leather 2017.

“The little community is everything to me,” Bagheera tells INTO. “Literally everything to me. It is a family of people that has shown up in solidarity and given me permission to be me. And not hide who I truly am. It has also taught me to face my fears and stand up for what I believe in. And it has shown me what friendship and kindness can be when we are all facing difficult times.”

Bagheera says she gets a lot of pleasure out of being little on a personal level and in her relationships with partners and the leather community.

“I get to be a good helper and do good in the world,” she says. “It really helps the humanitarian in me. It also helps me deal with the day to day stresses of being an adult. And it also helps me be more open and vulnerable with my partners. I truly trust my partners to a deeper level.”

When I talk about age play, the first question people generally ask littles is, “Why?” I always want to respond, “Why not?” For whatever reason, homonormative and heteronormative culture always seems to want to know the reason behind why people feel compelled to live their lives in power dynamics that involve consensually negotiated exchanges of power. Ultimately, I believe there is no such thing as a relationship between two or more people that doesn’t involve a power dynamicit’s just a question of whether that power dynamic is explicitly acknowledged, negotiated, and consented to.

People are drawn to age play dynamics and relationships because they work for them. Some littles use age play as a cathartic tool to heal from abuse; others enjoy the release of control; others just find it fun. Some bigs enjoy caretaking and world building; others are sadists who enjoy consensual SM. Ultimately, whatever reason people feel called to a life in leather and a little identity, people tend to pathologize age players, suggesting that there is something wrong with people who enjoy BDSM. But, a 2013 study first published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed people who participated in BDSM were actually psychologically healthier and happierthan the general population.

Even though age play is a part of the leather community, sometimes age players have struggled to fit into the larger community. Nik Mirage is a radical queer transboy switch who spoke with me about how important his little identity and little community are to him.

“It fulfills me, as it’s a major part of who I am and how I represent myself in the world,” he says. “Sometimes, leather folks don’t understand my mindset but are still attracted to me, and they can’t understand why I can’t just set my littleness aside to engage with them on their level. That’s the main problemthey expect me to change so they don’t have to, and I’m not about that. I know who I am, what I like, and that this is 24/7 for me for a reason: because it has to be.”

Bagheera offers hope about the growth she’s witnessed in the larger leather community accepting age players.

“The acceptance of our play in the public play spaces, as well as non-consensual invasion of space, [is growing],” she says. “Because we have a very distinct type of playsome of it can be sexual and some of it can be light hearteddungeons don’t really know how to create a space for it. Because when people think of dungeons, they think of heavy leather, rubber impact play, and sex. So, to put a little about to get spankings for coloring out of the lines in the middle of that w e don’t really fit in with the status quo. But we are slowly changing that, and slowly educating more.”

Those interested in learning more about age play, and little identities, there are numerous online communities on Fetlife (think kinky social networking site) and Tumblr. There are also books like Lee Harrington’s The Toybag Guide to Age Play.

Bagheera suggests that anyone interested in exploring age play should expect to “communicate, talk, and negotiate.”

“Experiment with friendships first,” she says. “Little headspace can be a very, very vulnerable thing. So I would be gentle and cautious. But also find a local community that is also into littles. See if you can volunteer and help out while getting to know people.”

Sassafras Lowrey is a straight-edge queer punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir booksLost Boi, A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack, Kicked Out and Leather Ever Afterhave been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com

Header image via Getty

Black, HIV+, But Not Weak or Forgotten: Artists on AIDS

Wearing a Keith Haring pin on World AIDS Day is not enough. In fact, wearing a Keith Haring pin and heading to one of the 116 venues worldwide screening ALTERNATIE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS featuring new video work by seven black artists may not be enough to memorialize those lost to AIDS either.

But for the past 28 years, Visual AIDS’ Day With(out) Art project, which promotes and advocates for HIV+ artists, the 28th annual project is once again starting a conversation.

Curators Erin Christovale and Vivian Crockett insert the artists into the conversation, or in some cases remind viewers these artists have always been part of the conversation about AIDS, history and memory.

Rapper Mykki Blanco in Stones & Water Weight challenges the idea that people living with HIV, such as herself, are weak. Blanco performs various tasks, some incredibly stressful, to say, I’m just as healthy as you. Blanco endures and succeeds in showing what research shows: HIV+ are just as strong and resilient as their HIV- peers.

Emotional strength is a theme of Goodnight, Kia from Kia LaBejia. The artist is one of the estimated 17 million children who one or both parents have died from an AIDS-related illness. LaBejia was one of them after her mother Kwan Bennett died in 2004. Like other children, many of whom have also contracted the virus, are ultimately displaced.

DeShawn is the main character in Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends Mixtape (The Demo). The ghosts of 100 men, both his ex-boyfriends and their exes, haunt the young man, who spends his days recklessly partying. This character sketch features him describing his worldview on the phone to an unidentified caller while also shrinking into a pair of shoplifted jeans.

Tiona Nekkia McClodden plays voyeur and architect in The Labyrinth 1.0, a film essay combining surveillance footage from 1970s tearooms with various film shots across Philadelphia. Based on a Brad Johnson’s poem of the same name, McClodden’s meditates on the role of erotic spaces, such as porn theaters, and cruising in a never-ending labyrinth.

Day With(out) Art 2017 trailer from Visual AIDS on Vimeo.

Reina Gossett looks at space and exclusion too in Atlantic is a Sea of Bones. Based on another poem of the same name by Lucille Clifton tracing New York-based performer Egypt LaBejia across three decades. The landscape for black and trans people remains precarious. But the characters navigate their own labyrinth, an emotional and physical one. They endure and resist in the face of violence, tragedy and loss. They continue to come together, too, in historic safe spaces like clubs.

Some works are by veteran artists who are revisiting their early work. In About Face: The Evolution of a Black Producer, Thomas Allen Harris reflects on his public television programs from the early 1980s focused on people who had been excluded from the conversation about HIV/AIDS. Harris received substantial pushback from media executives and audiences, ultimately leading him to suspend production.

Ellen Spiro revisits her 1991 documentary, DiAna’s Hair Ego, about DiAna DiAna, a hair stylist who promoted safe sex education at her salon in Columbia, South Carolina. Spiro heads back south, this time with director Cheryl Dunye, in DiAna’s Hair Ego REMIX. DiAna is still promoting safe sex during the new AIDS crisis afflicting young people of color in the south.

Christovale and Crockett in their beautiful curatorial statement believe this show is imperative. AIDS histories, even as the number of exhibitions about the era and artists like Haring, have increased, are continually whitewashed. This is as evident as the recent Art AIDS America, a travelling exhibition which was criticized for excluding artists of color.

“As curators of a program like this, it’s absolutely our responsibility to intervene in that conversation, which remains very much dominated by white men. Our varied histories are not being sufficiently honored, historicized and remembered,” the duo write. “We are asserting that these artists have been doing this work and that these histories have existed, whether or not they are recognized.ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGSis a reclamation and affirmation of what has always been here.”

The video will be available online beginning December 8.

For a list of screenings, click here.

Films:

The Labyrinth 1.0
Tiona Nekkia McClodden

Goodnight, Kia
Kia LaBejia

100 Boyfriends Mixtape (The Demo)
Brontez Purnell

DiAna’s Hair Ego REMIX
Cheryl Dunye and Ellen Spiro

Atlantic is a Sea of Bones
Reina Gossett

What Happens When You Stop Fearing AIDS & Learn to Live with HIV

I first learned I was HIV positive in March of 2005. I was 30 years old, and the news gutted me.

I can still remember the guy who delivered my diagnosis. His name escapes me, but I can still see him if I close my eyes: thirty-ish, scruffy, Mid-Westerner, wearing a rumpled plaid button-down and loose-fitting chinos. I remember his very first words to me when he came back into the room carrying my test results. He said, “I’m so sorry, I have bad news.” I remember the earnestness in his voice and the pity in his eyes.

Over the years, I’ve thought back to that moment and wondered if there wasn’t a way he could have delivered the same news while focusing less on the shock of the diagnosis and instead taken more time to try and explain to me how my life would, and wouldn’t change, as a result of my diagnosis.

It may not surprise you to learn that what I remember most clearly in the days and months following my diagnosis was the fear. It was nebulous, pervasive, and debilitating. But what may surprise you is that I never really feared dying from AIDS. No, my fears came from the knowledge that I was going to have to spend the rest of my life living with HIV.

Even in 2005, I knew that medical treatments had advanced to the point that people newly diagnosed with HIV had a better-than-good chance of living long lives (that is, as long as they had health insurance and access to care – but that’s a different article). I quickly learned that there were a number of drugs that could be prescribed to protect an immune system from the virus and lower the amount of HIV someone carried around. There was even a pill you could take once a day that did both.
Because of this reality, I never really feared that I would die of an AIDS-related disease. Which left me fearing the answers to a strange series of questions: what would it be like to live the rest of my life with HIV? Would I ever meet someone and fall in love? What would happen to my body after decades on meds? Would I ever father a child? Would I ever have sex again?

When compared to the fear of death so many HIV positive people experienced even just a decade ago, these may seem like small worriesbut for me they were real. I remember literally shaking at the thought that I would have to spend the rest of my life apologizing for my great mistake. I cried for months worried that I would become so desperate for someone to overlook my diagnosis that I would compromise myself and end up in a bad relationship rather than be alone. I feared the long-term effects, both cosmetic and clinical, that the powerful drugs that would keep me alive could have on my body. I feared not being able to afford my life-saving drugs. I feared passing along the disease to someone else, someone I loved. There was so much fear but that was almost 13 years ago.

Today, I look back on my younger self and I want to reach across time and give him a big hug because most, if not all, of those fears never materialized. I spent literally years of my life worried about everything related to living my life with HIV, and I really didn’t have to.

So, to the person who is just finding out that they are HIV positive, or to the person who knows someone who is going through this, I have some advice for you: take a deep breath. If you are like me, the news is coming as a shock. Even if you knew that you were not being 100% safe all the time – it is still a shock. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t let anyone else rush you through your process. It’s a lot to take in.

Once the shock has begun to wear off, I want to you to know, that in my experience, there really isn’t that much to fear about living life with HIV. It’s a lot like living life without HIV, except that I take a pill once a day before I go to bed. As long as I take it as prescribed, not only am I healthy but the chances of me passing HIV along to someone else shrink to almost zero.

This last part is good news because I want to tell you that, if you are like me, you won’t have many troubles finding people to date (well, at least your chances of getting laid won’t be any worse than they were before). You can still be as active as you want. And because you take your little pill every day, you can feel good that you are doing everything in your power to make sure you do not pass it along to anyone else. Hell, you can even have your own biological children if that’s your thing (although, I have to warn you, it IS expensive).

I spent years of my life lost in worry and suffering because of my fears about what living with HIV would be like. So, this World AIDS Day I want to tell you that living with HIV is a lot like, well, living.

Photography: Flickr

New York City Bans Conversion Therapy in Historic Move Condemning Anti-LGBTQ Torture

New York City became the latest municipality to ban conversion therapy on Thursday when the City Council voted 43 to 2 against the discredited practice. There was one abstention.

The ordinance, known as Introduction 1650, goes further than other legislation prohibiting conversion therapy. Nine states and the District of Columbia outlaw any attempt to “change” the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors through aversion therapy or shock treatment, which LGBTQ advocates have likened to torture.

But few municipalities have also banned adults from being subjected to conversion therapy. Introduction 1650, sponsored by Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), does just that.

Mark-Viverito claimed following the ordinance’s passage that the vote was “historic.”

“Conversion therapy is barbaric and inhumane,” the councilwoman said during the Thursday meeting. “We will ensure all individuals will be able to live without fear of coercion to change into someone they’re not.”

“Conversion therapy is a form of psychological torture, pure and simple,” Dromm added, calling it “fraud.” “And so it is fitting that New York City is banning this odious practice.”

LGBTQ advocates applauded the move, especially in a state where many people may not realize conversion therapy even takes place. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo signed an executive order in 2016 preventing insurance companies from providing coverage to conversion therapists, but a wholesale ban of the practice has failed to gain traction.

“Today, New York City took a strong and necessary stand in support of the LGBTQ community,” says Carolyn Reyes, policy counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in a statement to INTO.

“Often, people are surprised to learn that conversion therapy is still an issue in larger cities across the country,” she continues, “but NCLR recently brought a consumer fraud lawsuit against a therapist engaging in conversion therapy in Berkeley, Calif. It can happen anywhere, and we need every community across the country to stand up against it and protect the health and safety of our community.”

After coming out to his parents at 16, Mathew Shurka was sent to a conversion center in Manhattan, where he would undergo treatment for nine years.

Shurka describes this time in his life as miserable and isolating. He wasn’t allowed to contact his mother or sister for three yearshis therapist worried their presence would make him more effeminateand was prescribed Viagra to help him engage in intercourse with members of the opposite sex. Shurka contemplated taking his own life to end the abuse.

Now 29 years old, Shurka is one of the country’s leading advocates to outlaw conversion therapy. He describes this week’s action as long overdue.

“This is a huge accomplishment today,” he tells INTO. “This is the first amendment to protect the LGBTQ community from conversion therapy on the basis of consumer fraud, ultimately protecting individuals of all ages. It’s the first of its kind in the United States.”

Shurka calls upon the State of New York to take further action.

“The significance today is the willingness of New York city council members to do what Albany was unwilling to,” Shurka says. He adds that state lawmakers “have failed to pass a single LGBTQ bill” since the 2011 legislation legalizing marriage equality in the state. “Our leaders have failed to protect us,” he adds.

New York City is one of several municipalities to ban conversion therapy in 2017, which has been condemned by every leading medical association. States like Nevada, Connecticut, and New Mexico have also blocked the practice this year.

Samuel Brinton, who is behind the 50 Bills, 50 States movement to get every state to bar the anti-LGBTQ treatment, says this victory marks a big step toward reaching that goal.

“The New York City Council should be congratulated for their efforts to ban this fraudulent practice,” he tells INTO in a statement. “We look forward to the State of New York and every other state in the nation doing their part to end conversion therapy’s harm to LGBTQ youth once and for all.”

Undetectable=Untransmittable. So Why the Hell Isn’t That Catching On?

2017 has been the year of 1,001 heartbreaks. New attacks on healthcare, human and civil rights, bodily autonomy, reproductive freedom and the dignity of our communities punctuate each week. But in the midst of this darkness, there’s been an incredible renaissance for people living with HIV: a growing acceptance of data clearly demonstrating that people with HIV who are durably virally suppressed cannot transmit the virus.

The first time I heard about viral suppression as a means to prevent HIV transmission was on a forum on a popular HIV website, years before Swiss researchers released a consensus statement addressing this topic. I showed the discussion threads to the HIV-negative guy I was dating at the time. Our minds were blown. I had been diagnosed years before, and was newly motivated to get into medical care and start treatment. Suddenly, he took an interest in my labs.

Several years later, I had been appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), when Dr. Myron Cohen came in to a meeting to present early data from the HPTN 052 trial, which already showed that anti-retroviral therapy prevented transmission in 1,763 HIV sero-different couples. I broke down in tears, certain that this was about to be a game changer for me and the estimated 1.1 million other people living with HIV in the U.S.

Except it wasn’t.

For years after the data was published, public health institutions and HIV leaders tried to have it both ways: urging increased investment in medication, but refusing to change the language used to describe transmission risk. This perpetuated a confusing schism: people living with HIV (PLHIV) were simultaneously sexually radioactive while we were mathematically modeled as benign. The data was good enough to shift public health priorities but advancing human dignity of PLHIV was not a priority.

Despite the fact that acclaimed researchers reached consensus on viral suppression as an effective HIV prevention strategy as early as 2008, and that scientific data supporting this conclusion has been available in academic journals since 2011, it’s only in 2017 that the discourse of viral suppression transformed into a tangible opportunity to advance the rights of people with HIV.

This wasn’t for a lack of trying. At Positive Women’s Network – USA, a national membership body of women, including women of trans experience, living with HIV, we know that because we’ve literally been examining this question for years. A survey we conducted in 2013 found that more than half of women living with HIV (WLHIV) who were consistently engaged in healthcare had never been informed by their medical providers that if they were virally suppressed, they were less likely to transmit HIV, though some had heard this information through other sources. We asked the same question again in 2015 and found only modest improvements: 40% of WLHIV had still not been told by their own medical providers that viral suppression was an effective HIV prevention strategy. Levels of internalized stigma and negative body image were distressingly high.

Denying women living with HIV access to accurate information about our bodies, our health, and our sexual and reproductive options is a human rights violation. But it’s nothing new. This country has a long legacy of policing the bodies, sexuality and reproductive freedom of people of color, and the majority of U.S. WLHIV are Black; secondarily, Latinx. Much of the U.S. economy was built on the control of Black women’s reproductive possibilities. And over 30 states still have laws that place people with HIV at risk of prosecution on the basis of their HIV positive status. Thus, women with HIV receive medical care at the intersections of HIV stigma, racial bias, and an ever-diminishing spectrum of reproductive rights.

Reluctance from medical providers and public health officials to share information about viral suppression rests on a complex set of stigmas, but boils down to one basic idea: people with HIV can’t be trusted. We can’t be trusted to take our medications, to care about and protect others, and to tell our providers the truth about our sexual and medical decisions. It’s especially ironic given that people with HIV report protecting their loved ones as a major motivation in sexual and reproductive decision-making.

In 2017, though, we finally reached a tipping point. Following a massive lift by the Prevention Access Campaign, Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes for Health acknowledged that people with HIV who are undetectable cannot transmit HIV. Two months later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed suit a full 6 years after data was published. The Lancet ran an editorial on the U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable) campaign in November. But people with HIV have been knowing (and practicing) viral suppression as a responsible and ethical prevention strategy for years, with limited support from their providers- sometimes facing stigma and discrimination as a result of this choice. It’s a travesty that it took this long for public health and the HIV field to catch up. And have we really? How many HIV and LGBTQ organizations have retrained their staff to make sure they understand the science?

One can’t help but wonder what role racism plays in the field’s apparent distrust of people with HIV. Even today, media coverage on this topic somehow manages to quote only white people’s voices, despite the fact that 63% of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV in 2015 were Black or Latinx, and that nearly 80% of women with HIV in the US are Black or Latinx.

This World AIDS Day, let’s celebrate the advancement of Undetectable=Untransmittable and its implications for sexual and reproductive rights. But we can also allow our hearts to be a little broken that it’s taking this damn long.

Naina Khanna is the Executive Director of Positive Women’s Network -USA and a Public Voices Fellow of the Op-Ed Project.

Women-Only Worlds Should Include Queer Women Because, Duh

As a lesbian, it is my sworn duty to the queer community to watch movies and TV shows and theorize about which characters are gay. It’s part of my genetic makeup and I can’t stop it (the theorizing, not the “gay”well, the “gay” too). While some speculations are merely that, some deserve further attention, like stories that are set in women-only worlds. While this “world of women” premise isn’t new, it’s a popular narrative in 2017, considering America fell into a hellish, patriarchal sinkhole last year.

Netflix’s new seven-part series, Godless, flirts with this idea. I can’t help but feel I’m at my gayest whilst watching a show or movie set in a world of women, because my first thought is, “Someone here is queerlet’s find her!” But often times, queerness isn’t explored in female-only worlds, whichjust for probability’s sakeis nuts.

The tagline for Godless is “Welcome to No Man’s Land.” The show promised a feminist western set in La Belle, a mysterious town populated solely by women. While the show got nearly everything wrong about feminist storytelling, the only salvageable, leftover detritus was a love story between two women in La Belle. I thought, Finally! A “world of women” where lesbianism is actually addressed. Though La Belle is actually inhabited by menso many, in fact, that the protagonists of the show are malethe idea is there: in a utopian society where men don’t exist or are infrequent, women start dating each other.

Although its not totally defined, we can infer that the two queer women in Godless, Mary Agnes and Callie Dunne, began dating after the mining incident that killed all the men in town. Mary Agnes, played by Meritt Wever, started wearing her husband’s clothes after he died, leaning into her masculine, soft butch side. After the mining incident, Callie left her job as a sex worker to become a schoolteacher.

Godless differs from a land of women like Themyscira, the mystical home to the Amazons in Wonder Woman, because their queerness is conditional, or at least situational. The queer women in La Belle are only acting on their impulses because their circumstances have changed. But in Themyscira, which has always been a man-free zone, one could assume there wouldn’t be any stigma or hesitation when it comes to exploring queerness.

Unfortunately, Themyscira isn’t that place. While Wonder Woman writers have publicly agreed that Diana Prince is queer, unsurprisingly, that element wasn’t explored in Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film. While Diana and Steve Trevor have pillow talk on the bow of a boat, she does allude to girl-on-girl action back home. But other than that, even in the significant amount of time we spend in Themyscira, we’re presented with zero evidence to suggest that it isn’t a dried up land of straight women. I was left desperately searching for something, anything to latch on to, grasping for straws with Robin Wright’s character and some random background actor she speaks to once. It’s deeply dark and sad for meand I’m not alone.

Saturday Night Live explored this shared notion recently in a Themyscira-thmed sketch, in which two lesbians shipwreck on the island and demand, “Who all here’s a lez? Is it everyone or do we have a couple of allies?” The lesbians, played by Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant, puzzled by the heterosexual Amazons, shake their heads and lament, “There’s gotta be more!” Despite all of Wonder Woman’s feminist glory, its failure to acknowledge queer women was disappointing.

The 2011 Eva Longoria-led film Without Men, which scored a hefty 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, flirts with the land of women idea. Like Godless, the film features a lesbian storyline that sprouts after all the men in town are sent away to war. My qualm with both is the underlying misogynistic message that women only fall into the throes of lesbianism if there aren’t men around. In both Godless and Without Men, the female characters are defined by their relationships to said male characters. Their autonomy isn’t totally pure; it’s influenced by men.

Newsflash: women aren’t gay because they’ve run out of men to bone. With that being said, Themyscira has a really unique opportunity to right these wrongs in the next installment of Wonder Woman.

Many films and TV shows led by all-female casts fail to portray queer women fairly, or at all. While Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black avidly represents a spectrum of LGBTQ folks, many queer women felt shafted by Kohan’s new Netflix show, GLOW. The half-hour dramedy features an ensemble cast of more than 10 women on a wrestling teamnone of which are even experimenting with sexual fluidity! In all fairness, it was a short season, and no one woman was given her fair share of close-ups. Luckily, Season 2 will have Shakira Barrera playing “Yolanda aka Yo-Yo, a a Mexican American dancer/stripper and out-and-proud lesbian who joins the team.”

Then there’s the Pitch Perfect franchise, which follows an all-female acapella group with one tokenized character. Cynthia Rose, played by Ester Dean, is either being picked on for being gay, or is made to seem predatory, which spooks the other girls. As a gay woman, watching the sole lesbian in a crowd of straight women feel like she’s making them uncomfortable is bone-chilling. It’s a too-real fear of mine that’s rooted in decades of internalized homophobia, and watching it play out on screen doesn’t feel good.

I’m not asking for a lot. If you’re going to create an other-worldly island or town that’s led by, ruled by, and inhabited by women, just make them fucking gay. The whole spectrum of queer female sexuality should be equally represented in a premise that’s made up anyway. I’m not saying, “Cancel every show and movie that’s not Orange is the New Black”which would be fine with mebut grow up, screenwriters. Queer women are omnipresent in big groups of friends, families, and cults, and it’s not just because their husbands died. So let’s start acting like it.

Globetrotting While HIV+

I recently passed the 8-year anniversary (if that’s even the right terminology to use) of my HIV diagnosis.

In those years, I haven’t really let my positive status affect my life, other than the first year, which I refer to as my “adjustment period.” But once I was back on track and began traveling full-time, I never let my status put the brakes on my itinerary.

It’s very easy to fall down a rabbit hole of self-pity, but at the end of the day, HIV is a chronic illness that is controlled with medication, and most can manage their HIV with one pill a day and a few visits to the doctor each year.

So, for World AIDS Day, I thought I’d share my own experiences and tips as a travel writer moving about the world and living with HIV.

Time Zones

I’m definitely guilty of not always adhering to my medication regimen. Most of my forgetful moments happen when I’m traveling internationally.

When on a plane for 10+ hours, it’s hard to remember what the actual time is and coordinate taking your pill(s) at the right time. I’ve been careful to set alarms on my phone to remind me mid-flight to take my pill, but I’ve also just waited until I’ve landed and then just waited until bedtime (which is when I normally take my meds).

Skipping doses is absolutely not recommended, but missing a dose once, during a trip, isn’t going to disrupt your regimen. Taking 29 pills instead of 30 doesn’t mean you’re going to become any more or less HIV-positive. I’m not advocating for skipping doses, but don’t panic if it happens.

The takeaway here is that you can be a bit flexible when taking a big international trip.

Flying to Non-Friendly Destinations

There was one point in my career where I was offered a full-time position for a publication based out of Dubai. After some research, I realized I would never be able to accept the position due to the UAE’s current laws involving foreigners who are HIV-positive obtaining a work visa.

And part of the requirements involve taking an HIV-test, which I knew would disqualify me.

The UAE also technically doesn’t permit HIV-positive travelers to the country, even as tourists. But, as someone who has been there several times, I can confirm there is not some ludicrous on-the-spot testing system upon landing.

Your best bet is to not take a full medication bottle and instead, just take what you need (and a few reserve) and put them in an over-the-counter pill bottle. Even that is extreme I’ve never been searched so extensively that immigration is looking at my toiletries.

But for peace of mind, use a Tylenol bottle.

Made it back to this incredible city. #LuxuryTravel #Doha #Qatar #USAvisitQatar #Travel #Downtown

A post shared by David Duran (@mrdavidduran) on

International Stigma

Let’s be clear: HIV stigma in the United States is still very present and pervasive. That being said, when traveling overseas, sadly, the stigma is just as real and often much worse.

As someone who is traveling the globe frequently, it’s not unlikely to still encounter the “be clean” requirement stated prominently on Grindr profiles. My dating apps all disclose my HIV status because I’m pretty comfortable with it and at this point, I just don’t care about misguided or backwards opinions of others.

But I do recall a few times when I’ve been messaged through my apps by guys warning me to take off my public disclosure because I was putting myself in danger. I never really thought about it that way, but there are places where it’s best to keep your status to yourself until you are in a private conversation with a user.

The Middle East, the Baltic region, parts of Asia, and many other places have strict laws against HIV-related crimes. And although you might not be committing whatever they interpret as a “crime,” it’s best to protect yourself while visiting.

Disclosure

This one is tough. It’s easy to say to yourself, “Whatever, I’m only here for a few nights, I don’t need to disclose my status if I hook up.” Listen, as an HIV-positive human being, this is a moral dilemma I’ve faced several times, and I can’t say I’ve always made the right decision. I’ve also never placed anyone in a situation where they would be exposed to contracting the virus.

Disclosure can be one of the biggest mind f*cks for anyone who has to actually go through it and do it, and it never really gets easier.

For those of us who are traveling and hooking up, it can be even worse, mostly because not every place around the world is as open to or up to date on their HIV knowledge. And we as HIV-positive travelers can’t fault them, but instead should be doing our best to help inform them.

I know, I know, this can quickly turn what should or could have been a fun night in bed into a burdensome teaching moment, which leads to you potentially being at the mercy of self-gratification. I’m not a perfect person, and I’ve made mistakes in the past, but I’m really doing my best to not let disclosure be a “should I or should I not” question, but instead a “when and how” question, when at home or when abroad.

Traveling is a great privilege. And life with HIV is different now than 30, 20 or 10 years ago. It continues to get better. A positive HIV diagnosis doesn’t need to limit what you do, including travel. It’s easy to use it as an excuse, but there really is no excuse for doing so.

Grab your passport, set your reminders, and pack those pills as well as courage, and get out there.

Eleven Years Later, Reflecting on Lessons Learned from HIV

It was eleven years ago this week. The results were in, and I was horrified. Could I possibly be positive this time? Would I sigh a breath of relief again, as I had many times before? No. Not this time. I did not know that World AIDS Day would be that week. It was the 25th year of AIDS. 25 million people had died. I had known none of them. 40 million had been infected. I had known only one. Two, including me. My ears rang as the orderly explained the lab results. I heard nothing. I felt nothing. I was positive.

Eleven years ago, I was not out. I was married to a woman. I was a lieutenant in the United States Air Force, on track to becoming a military chaplain. Being positive did not fit my ministerial fantasy. I was not having anonymous sex regularly. But only when I could sneak away from normalcy. It was a guilty pleasure. Becoming positive was the nightmare that could never become true. I had thought God would spare me. I was positive, but my wife was not. A year later, we separated. Two years later, we would divorce. I came out. I left the Air Force. I left the ministry.

Eleven years later, I am spared. I am positive and I am alive as an out gay minister. Far from living a nightmare, I’m living a life beyond my wildest dreams. Becoming positive gave me the courage and faith to live my truth in that I was forced to tell the truth. I was made to wrestle with myself, my family and friends, and my God. I came to realize that it was shame that had infected me with HIV, rather than unsafe sex. I had believed that God hated me and I had hated myself…and I believed that others hated me. As a positive minister, I am devoted to the ministry of helping others unmask that shame and the stigma the perpetuates HIV and AIDS. By becoming positive, I found my true calling. I live my truth as an out gay, HIV-positive minister and share that truth so that others might live.

On this World AIDS Day 2017, I take a pill a day, shortly after flossing. It’s the only pill I take, but I have to use a pill box so that I don’t forget the pill after I swallow. My T-cell count is 824 and my viral load is undetectable. Maintaining this is more of a social status, than a health crisis. I practice safe sex, only by taking my pill regularly. This is my life today, eleven years later.

But this is not the typical life of a person living while positive. I am not the norm. Not in America, not in Africa, not anywhere. For most people living while positive, life is dangerous. Life is risky. Life is deadly. One in seven people living with HIV doesn’t know it. They are scared to know it. It’s easier not to know. They can’t afford to upend their lives to live a life of honesty. They can’t bear the thought of telling the truth to those closest to them. For them, dodging the bullet means living in denial. Knowing the truth would trigger a host of troubles that are better left avoided. Because of a lack of access to a whole host of services needed to sustain general wellness and well being, most people living while positive cannot afford to know that they are.

Eleven years later, being positive is more than a test result. My positive result was more than a change in health, it was a change of heart. Would I come out? Would I divorce? Would I become a minister? Would I tell my family? Would I tell my sex partners? Would I take my medicine? These are the questions that determine whether or not AIDS is a death sentence. These are the questions that have framed the stories of AIDS ever since that first World AIDS Day in 1988. The answers to these questions are what frame my observance of World AIDS Day in 2017.

Eleven years later, as I celebrate an HIV/AIDS positive life of grace and truth, World AIDS Day 2017 is a day of mourning, not just of those who have died, but of those who will die. As the rate of infections among people of color continue to rise and as life-saving medications become less available for more people, as PREP is more popular than universal health care, as “undetectable” is the litmus test for sexual health and social acceptability, World AIDS Day is a day of mourning.

We mourn those whose results are better left unknown.
We mourn those who live beyond the margins of normativity.
We mourn those whose mental/emotional/spiritual health can’t sustain a positive result.
We mourn those who cannot bear the thought of knowing that someone they love is living with HIV/AIDS.
We mourn a world where AIDS is still a death sentence.

The Reverend Michael J. Crumpler
‘06 Positive