Sam Smith is Single Again

Is there something in the air? The gays keep breaking up! This time it’s Sam Smith, the Grammy Award-winning pop singer, and his boyfriend of nine months, Brandon Flynn, an actor from Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why.

According to The Sun, the pair split because of their busy careers. A source close to Smith told The Sun, “Sam is obviously devastated. This is the most significant relationship he has ever had. Thankfully he is on tour across the US at the moment which has been a welcome distraction.”

The pair originally got together back in December, when they posted about their relationship on Instagram and were met with a lot of positivity. They went to the Grammys together, Smith met Flynn’s family, it was a whole big gay thing. Now that it’s over, some fans are very disappointed. It’s been a big couple of months for gay breakups. Who could possibly be next?

Header image via Getty

Exposed: A Tale of Two Accounts

Even in an age when sharing mundane details online is standard, it’s easier than ever to control the way others see us—until, as people often say on social media, someone gets “exposed.” Welcome to Exposed, a monthly column where author and activist Chris Stedman invites you to get a little more vulnerable.

Noah pulled up Twitter and began drafting a joke about poppers. Once he got it just right, his fingers hovered just above the keyboard as he set about the hardest part of any tweet: deciding which account to send it out from.

For years, Noah maintained two accounts on Twitter. The first he’d used since high school; it was a place for more personal posts, and he would alternate between locking it down to maintain privacy and making it open for anyone to see.

The second was born when he was in college and working with a program for high school sophomores. The organization required that he and other counselors engage with their students on social media, and Noah felt uncomfortable using his personal Twitter account, where he had posted both earnest personal struggles and salacious jokes about his involvement in kink communities for years. So he made another one that felt more “professional.”

After the program was over, he decided to carry on using his new account and anonymize the original.

Private social media accounts, often referred to as “alt” accounts on Twitter or “finstas” on Instagram, are nothing new. Since the beginning of social media, people have created secondary or secret accounts — like a private Xanga account for publishing anime fanfiction, or a secret MySpace account for sharing in-progress music — where they can post a bit more freely without having to worry about the possible judgment of onlookers like family members, coworkers, or prospective employers. For some, part of the appeal of having two accounts is the freedom to curate and select who gets to see what.

Though I don’t have an alt account, I see the appeal of maintaining a private account. For years, I kept my Twitter account very clean. Afraid of doing damage to my public activism by revealing something personal that might alienate colleagues, I primarily used my account to post updates about my work and some safe personal reflections.

But I still needed outlets for the things that felt a bit messier: for thoughts-in-development, impulsive reactions, frustrations and fears, and edgier humor. Whenever there was something I felt I couldn’t tweet, I would DM or text it to a friend, sometimes even suggesting they post it themselves if they wanted to. On occasion, they would, and as I watched people respond to my words posted on someone else’s account, I wondered what it might feel like to post a little more freely. I’m now a lot more unfiltered on Twitter, but back then I probably would have benefited from having an alt account.

For years, Noah maintained both of his accounts, and they had very clear delineations: one was for engaging with work colleagues, while the other was more intimate. On his anonymous account, he felt freer to be humorous, sarcastic, or to like tweets from accounts posting sexual content without it showing up on someone else’s timeline. He felt more able to show up online as he would with friends on his “personal” account, whereas his “professional” account was a place for how he thought he was “supposed” to be—how a future employer would want to see him. It felt like he was practicing “dress for the job you want,” but for social media: “post for the job you want.”

Yet while the existence of his alt account made him feel more able to post online without having to totally filter himself, he couldn’t help but feel like his online self was split in two. Still, it felt like a necessity, and it was better than not being able to share some of those things online at all.

But earlier this year, something happened.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, Noah went to the closing party for an iconic bathhouse in Chicago. Prior to attending, he’d read an article about it for a class, and when he arrived, he bumped into the author of that piece. They chatted for a bit, winking and flirting before parting ways.

Later, after the party had ended, the writer contacted him on Grindr and asked if Noah would be willing to give him a quote for a piece he was writing about the event. For Noah, a Master’s student studying kink communities, it felt like an exciting opportunity to be cited as an academic authority in an article on queer sexual history. But the writer ended up saying he didn’t have time to call Noah for a quote before his deadline, and the conversation turned sexual before fizzling out. Noah didn’t hear from him for months after that.

But in February, a friend sent Noah an article about the closing party, written by the person he’d met. It had been published two weeks beforehand, and to Noah’s astonishment, it contained a quote he immediately recognized as his own. While he wasn’t named, Noah was shocked to see that something he’d said at the party — just a casual, flirtatious comment not intended for publication — was misquoted and attributed to an attendee matching Noah’s physical description. As he read it over a second time, Noah felt himself getting heated in a very different way than he had at the bathhouse.

Noah immediately logged on to Facebook and accepted the friend request the writer had sent a month back, and moments later the author messaged him saying he had quoted him in the piece — an attempt to make it seem like he was just reminding Noah of something they had already agreed upon.

Noah hadn’t agreed to be quoted, however, and he was sure the writer knew it. So Noah went to his personal Twitter—which had previously been primarily for private commentary — and drafted a post calling out the author and exposing himself as the person quoted. His account now unlocked, he posted a series of tweets. Within hours, he heard back from an editor at the outlet who wanted to address the situation.

Noah had learned from mutual friends that this writer had previously quoted others without their consent and realized that he was in a position to call out this behavior. But in the process of standing up for himself and others, Noah also realized how useless the barriers he’d been maintaining were — and how intimately intertwined his work and life already were. He could use his privilege to come out as a kinky person who attends bathhouses in his free time without risking his livelihood and without it being a huge surprise to anyone in his academic or professional spheres. Not everyone who had been quoted by that writer without their consent was in the same position.

He also saw breaking down the barriers he had constructed in his social media as an opportunity to push back against broader harmful narratives that stigmatize certain sexual practices. As someone who both studies and participates in sexual communities that have been marginalized and demonized, he was always uncomfortable with the veneer of “professionalism” he thought he had to maintain. In a way, it felt like doing so contributed to the respectability norms that marginalize the communities that Noah both studies and participates in. After speaking out about the article, he realized he was in a position to challenge that oppression by bringing more of his involvement in those communities into his social media presence.

Even though I think privacy is important, I’ve also found myself censoring things I wanted to post out of fear of what people might think about me. Having worked in higher education and been involved in building coalitions across lines of religious difference, I have often worried about how I conduct myself online — feeling I needed to be kind and patient, never petty or flippant, even when dealing with trolls.

I’ve also felt like I was walking a tightrope that enabled me to talk frequently about being queer, but almost never about the sex in my sexuality. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I even tweeted the word “Grindr” for the first time.

But over the last few years, a bad breakup combined with a career change, cross-country move, and significant health issues caused me to reassess how much I was editing myself when posting online. I then decided to stop worrying so much about these boundaries. Now, when I notice myself wondering if something is “appropriate” to post, I try to push myself to post it anyway. I’ve become less interested in projecting a particular image, and more interested in trying to show up in the ways I want to. And while I’m sure some have hit the unfollow button after seeing a joke tweet about tops and bottoms from me in their timeline, I also enjoy using Twitter much more now and find myself making more meaningful connections through it.

Noah felt similarly and so, after the incident with the article, he decided to merge his accounts. Today he just uses one. Shortly after this switch, Noah presented at an academic conference, and he included his Twitter handle in the slideshow. When he got home, he noticed that his advisor and several former employers had followed him.

But he’s no longer concerned about controlling who gets to see what, and as a result, he feels significantly more open on social media in general. Even on Facebook, where his posts are much more likely to be seen by family members or old childhood friends, Noah has loosened the strings a bit. For years, he heavily relied on the list feature, which allows you to publish posts to specific lists of people while hiding them from others. For example, he had a “queers-only” list, but sometimes things would slip through the cracks, and eventually, he was exhausted by having to maintain these lists. So he finally let them go.

Now, whenever he posts on Facebook, anyone on his friends list — including his mother, old high school teachers, or distant relatives — can see it. Sure, it’s resulted in a few more conversations with his mom, like when one of her friends saw a photo of him at IML. But to Noah, swapping the discomfort of splitting himself in two for the occasional uncomfortable conversation with his mom is a worthy trade.

Want to get exposed? Email Chris at [email protected] with a short description of a time when you felt truly vulnerable — in either a positive or a painful way (or both).

Want more? Check out the previous installment of Exposed.

Image via Getty

Issa Rae Is Pissed Homophobes Are Hating on Her New Show About a Bisexual Black Man

Issa Rae has faced some criticism for her latest endeavor, Him or Her, a show that follows a black bisexual man through the trials and tribulations of his dating life. The Insecure creator will produce the series, which was created by former Daily Show writer Travon Free, based on his own experiences as a bisexual man. However, the actress and writer has already amassed criticism from men of color on social media.

In an interview with Deadline, Issa slammed her critics as homophobic.

“I remember just being pissed all day,” she said of the negativity surrounding Him or Her. “Sometimes you live in a bubble, you live in a liberal bubble where you think that everyone is open, and in my eyes progressive in a way where there are so many human experiences, black experiences, gender experiences. There are so many stories to tell.”

For Issa, the criticism is extremely disheartening. “The fear that a story like that would be told when it’s the story of so many other people is just absolutely ridiculous. The censorship and the idea that black men can’t be all things and still be black men is just absurd, it is.”

It’s rare to see bisexual men on TV, especially non-white male bisexuals. According to GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV” report, 28 percent of recurring LGBTQ characters on TV are bisexual, and only 18 percent of those bisexual characters are male. On broadcast networks, only 20 percent of recurring LGBTQ characters are black, but on cable networks, that number drops to just 10 percent, and it’s even worse on streaming services. So, you can imagine Issa’s frustration — Him or Her will not only bring much-needed representation to queer men of color on-screen, but it will also be the first show of its kind to center such a character.

Issa said Free was inspired by Insecure. “He said [an] episode of Insecure was a first time that he had felt like his story was being told in a way,” she continued. “And that conversation reflected so much of his personal experience. We were looking for fresh voices and he pitched that, and it really excited me, because I’ve just never seen anything on TV like that. I’m just rooting for his show.”

The multi-hyphenate responded to the criticism on social media too, riposting, “Oh shit y’all caught me” after a social media user said she was promoting homosexuality.

Rae is a busy woman. Not only will the award-winning writer serve as executive producer on the new HBO show, but she will also continue to helm and star in the third season of Insecure, as well as executive produce an HBO drama Sweet Life, which follows wealthy teenagers in Windsor Hills, Los Angeles.

Him or Her is still in production — no word yet on a premiere date.

Images via Getty

Pride of the Heartland: How Kansas City’s Divided LGBTQ Scene Reflects Queer Culture As a Whole

Within just a few hours of arriving in Kansas City, Missouri, I wound up at a porch party. A couple dozen gays and allies gathered to drink ahead of going out — and they were mostly white, as I expected of a midwestern party. It’s Pride in the state’s largest city, so people were decked out in their best rainbow garb. Beers were plentiful; hosts passed jello shots around. It was a perfect slice of queer Americana.

But unlike what you might find at a New York Pride, or a Los Angeles Pride, a lot of the attendees are wearing Pride-themed Kansas City shirts. Probably about half of the few dozen people there were in such shirts. KC lettering in rainbow hearts. Kansas City-themed baseball tees. It was as much a Kansas City pride party as it was a Kansas City Pride party.

I was immediately taken with and inspired by the display. If so many queer people were wearing Kansas City shirts voluntarily at this party, certainly that’s a sign of great love for their home, yes? That they were people invested in making their city — and more specifically, its queer scene — as great as possible?

“I think that’s very generous,” D. Rashaan Gilmore, president and founder of Kansas City advocacy group BlaqOut, told me. He’s being kind; I’m being naïve. “Kansas City has a self-esteem problem. And it probably pre-dates the Arch, but certainly when St. Louis got the Arch. Kansas City went through an identity crisis.”

What I learned over four days in Kansas City was that I should have paid greater attention to the demographics of that porch party. The young, mostly white crowd had reason to be proud of their city — as I would find, the city makes plenty of room for cute white queers. The Kansas City LGBTQ+ scene is effectively racially segregated and offers few exclusive spaces for trans people and/or queer women. That isn’t uncommon, of course; plenty of cities have that exact problem. What’s unique about Kansas City is that, among all the sources I talked to — black, white, Latinx, male, female, trans, gay, queer, lesbian — everyone agreed it’s a problem.

What barriers stand between Kansas City and a more inclusive queer scene, then? For one, the lack of funds available to marginalized communities within the LGBTQ+ umbrella. For another, the existing bars are entirely owned by white gays, and thus remain a space primarily for them. And most crucially, while everyone knows there’s a problem, actually doing something about it would require engaging with the problem and admitting some ugly truths. Gilmore knows from experience with BlaqOut just how tall an order that is.

“It’s Kansas City. Nobody wants to be confrontational,” he said. “I’m not saying it has to be forcefully confrontational, but we’ve got to call a thing a thing, right? We have to be able to say, ‘This is a problem. This is how we’re going to deal with it.’”

“But people don’t want to be uncomfortable.“

I ventured to Kansas City because of one Monique Heart, the ooh-ah-ah sensation and fan favorite of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10. Heart is the first queen from not just Kansas City, but Missouri as a whole, to appear on the show, and spoke frankly about her experience in the city while on the reality competition program.

“I have not done a lot of political work, because I live in a former slave state,” she said on the season’s seventh episode. She explained that she wanted to wear a take on RuPaul’s Rachel Tensions Confederate flag dress from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar for a challenge. But she was worried about potential consequences back home. “Tensions were really high in Kansas City, and I didn’t want to come back and just get shot.”

Considering the crowd and enthusiasm for Heart during her set at Kansas City Pride, it’s hard to imagine her facing any such consequences now. But it’s still very much a present reality in the city. Gilmore pointed to the March murder of 24-year-old Ta’Ron “Rio” Carson as such a threat, one in a series that has been happening for years now.

“He was just sitting on a wall” waiting for friends, Gilmore said. “An SUV pulls up, two or more individuals jumped out and they fill him full of bullets. … Talk about the world spinning because I can’t imagine anybody would not liking him. He’s the kind of person if you told me you didn’t like Rio, I would look at you like, ‘Okay, something’s wrong with you.’”

Separately, there are reports of a suicide epidemic in Kansas City, one that is affecting even some of its youngest citizens. It’s something many of my sources bring up in our interviews, sometimes off the record. When I talked to Lance Pierce, one of the founding board members of Kansas City’s Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, he acknowledged the perception of a spike in suicides, saying the issue was previously swept under the rug.

All of this suggests one thing to the LGBTQ+ citizens living there: There need to be more spaces for marginalized groups. Pierce himself said there’s a need for more positive and inclusive spaces in Kansas City. And that’s exactly what #GetWoke is trying to create.

Started just over one year ago, and originally hosted by Monique Heart herself, #GetWoke is a space for queer and trans people of color to express themselves — be it through dance, spoken word, other performance, and more. The group was founded after four murders of queer and trans POC in Kansas City, as well as in memory of the victims of the shooting in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub two years ago.

“#GetWoke got started from a group that was called Brown Voices/Brown Pulse. And as the name would suggest, it’s connected to remembering and trying to do events that would elevate awareness about the tragedy in Orlando — but also bring communities together,” explained co-founder Randall Jenson. We spoke on Saturday, after the group’s one-year anniversary event the night before. The event was a dance party, complete with performances by Drag Race veterans Jujubee and Monica Beverly Hillz, but also offered community resources to attendees for the first three hours.

“Our focus became doing events like parties, but party with a purpose, to put it succinctly,” Jenson said of the group’s evolution.

In addition to Jenson, I talked with a group of #GetWoke affiliates that included performers, producers, and one of Jenson’s fellow #GetWoke co-founders, David Seymour. When asked about the mission of the program, Seymour emphasized the need to speak to the needs of everyone who attends the event.

“What is the good that’s going to touch everybody in that room?” he asked. “That’s why we get so many people coming up to us and being so truly thankful and appreciative for the feeling, and the event, and what they experienced because they feel comfortable, they feel safe, they feel welcome, they feel happy, they feel supported.”

Even programs like #GetWoke have their limits, though.

Their Pride event cost minimum $15 to get in, with meet-and-greet and table packages costing even more. That charge is quite literally the cost of doing business; booking talent, venue, food, and more requires funding. But as noted by Star Palmer, executive director of LGBTQ assistance non-profit Our Spot KC, even $15 is a barrier for some.

“I had a ton of friends stop by and they were like, ‘They’re charging $15 to $20 to get in here. I’m not going. I’m going down here where it’s $5,’” Palmer said, referring to a non-specifically queer space elsewhere. The same problem applies to Pride itself, which costs $10 to get into when buying a ticket at the door. “LGBTQ youth represent more than 40% of the homeless population. And of that more than half are also of color. If I was who I am at 15 now, I would most likely not be able to afford to go to these events.”

Another barrier: the labeling of the group itself (which is named “Get Woke: Queer and Trans People of Color” on Facebook). “If I’m black and brown, I may not know anything about #GetWoke. Because they are certain circles and certain status quo of those individuals,” Palmer said. “I may not know what being queer is, it may be offensive to me. I may not know that.”

This, of course, doesn’t invalidate #GetWoke. Far from it; instead, it proves the limitations of just one quarterly event. It proves there’s a need for 20 such programs, all of differing sizes and for different audiences. Making one event appeal to everyone is a thankless task. It’s something the #GetWoke crew spoke of themselves during our chat.

“When we do our events, we’re thinking, ‘How do we engage with black folks? How do we engage with Latinx folks? What kind of music do we play? Do we play house music? Do we play salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia? Do we play hip-hop?’ That’s the attention that exists, just in that music,” Jenson said. “We’ve got to make sure it’s curated to different styles.”

“People are not used to thinking about everybody and what that really means,” Seymour added. “That’s everybody. Let’s face it, we’re humans. You focus on what you like and what matters to you. When you’re putting on an event for the public and especially when you’re trying to do it with intention and purpose that takes some thinking. That takes some planning.”

“People are not used to thinking about everybody and what that really means. That’s everybody. Let’s face it, we’re humans. You focus on what you like and what matters to you.”

 

Because there are so few events and spaces for LGBTQ+ people of color in Kansas City, the pressure to be something for everyone is amplified. But nothing can truly be for everyone; the city needs more specific spaces, rather than attempting to shoehorn everything and everyone into fewer events.

Palmer herself is trying to add another such space. In July, Palmer and Our Spot KC are launching a new festival, Outskrts, specifically for women, both cis and trans, and anyone who identifies as an LBTQ+ woman. (The G has been purposefully left out of the acronym.) The festival will feature performers, food, vendors, and more, but like #GetWoke, will also provide resources to attendees, particularly regarding both physical and emotional wellness. The goal with Outskrts is, quite simply, “to just offer a safe space for women. To have our own space.”

“I had a position as an outreach manager, and we did a lot of surveys. We did a lot of talking and events in the community, and that’s one of the biggest voids for women: we don’t have anything,” Palmer said. “Our last all women’s club closed, it had to be maybe eight to 10 years ago. … I wanted to create something that folks could look forward to the same as with Pride.”

More spaces for specific groups is the obvious solution. Literally everyone quoted here agrees on that point. But who finances the creation of these spaces? What systems are in place to help people of color, queer women, and trans people get the resources they need to make a more diverse Kansas City LGBTQ+ scene possible? Therein lies the rub.

“The only time we’re dealt with is very transactionally … when in terms of we’re going to fund this project or this project or that project here,” Palmer said. “There’s so many foundations here, there’s so many headquarters here but they don’t fund us, us being folks of color. I don’t care if you are LGBTQ or not, folks of color have to work twice as hard to get to sit at the table and then to be taken seriously. Which is sad. Because I know a lot of folks who work at those organizations who disburse these funds and they disburse them to the same folks.”

Gilmore was even more explicit, naming a set of groups — including the Mid-America Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the AIDS Service Foundation — that he feels could be doing more, but are just paying lip service instead. “There are five or six groups who should be taking a definitive position and a posture that says, ‘We are going to lead in this way.’ They are not,” he said. “Now, if you were to impanel all those groups that I mentioned, have all their presidents and CEOs here, I bet you each and everyone of them could point to some little thing they’re doing, and they would hold it up like a kindergartener with a gold star.”

Pierce is with the Kansas City Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and spoke highly of the AIDS Service Foundation during our interview. When I asked him about the segregation of the queer scene, he spoke of a distrust between parties involved.

“The way someone explained it to me is that unfortunately, because of our history, there are white man spaces and black man spaces. If anyone of those groups is found in the other space, there’s suspicion,” Pierce said. “It’s like if I show up at a ball, it’s like, ‘Why is he here? What’s his agenda? What’s he—?’ The same goes the other way. … You have to be really careful that you’re watching two things: your intention, and that you’re running your intention by people from other perspectives, and then your impact. Because you can have all the right people on the committee, all the right things going with your intention and then impact never translates and it does the complete opposite.”

That unease with one another, Pierce said, leads to dissension over how best to move forward. “How do we elevate our community through economic development? How do we give everybody a piece of the pie? How do we give everybody a piece of the opportunity? It’s delicate,” he said.

The truth is, even if foundations immediately moved to create new and specific spaces for marginalized communities, the divide in Kansas City’s LGBTQ+ scene would still need much time to heal. It goes beyond bars and parties and speaks to something far deeper-seated. It’s ingrained in history. As Monique Heart said on Drag Race, no matter how liberal Kansas City is, or how far people have come, Missouri will always have once been a slave state.

“We’re already aren’t great at creating spaces that people of color feel comfortable.”

 

As evidence of that deeper divide, even some of the most inclusive groups in Kansas City still have trouble with diversifying their membership. Clinton Welby, one of the creators of a men’s nudist group in the city, said that even while creating an accepting space for men to bare all with each other, diversifying the group has been difficult.

“We’re already aren’t great at creating spaces that [make] people of color feel comfortable. This is yet another instance of how do we create space that they are comfortable in a place where we’re already comfortable in,” he said, speaking for the group. “It’s something that we strive to work for when we invite everyone we have in different groups. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they’re saying, ‘I would feel uncomfortable going to this space.’”

There’s an inclination to say that such separate spaces aren’t needed; that existing spaces should be redesigned to be accepting for all instead. But the needs of the few don’t always fit the needs of the many. And when there are contradicting needs, whose are going to be the ones heard? The ones who already have a megaphone: wealthy, white, cisgender men.

I headed to the airport on my final day in Kansas City, having finished my interviews, seen Monique Heart perform, and eaten enough barbecue to sustain me on my flight home. On our way, my Lyft driver, an artist booker with a queer daughter, asked me a bevy of questions. What did I do for work? What did I think of Kansas City? What did I think of Kansas City’s queer scene? Then, after I told him a bit of what I observed in the city, and what I was thinking about writing, he asked: “Are we going to feel ashamed?”

The answer, of course, is no. Because if anyone comes away from this piece thinking Kansas City should be ashamed of its LGBTQ+ scene, then I haven’t done my job. There are problems in the scene, of course, some of them even deadly. The lack of more specific spaces is coming at a literally fatal cost. But that’s happening on a national scale. Plenty of other cities don’t have adequate space for non-gay, cis, white men. And not all of those spaces that do exist are sufficient.

As progress marches on for LGBTQ+ rights, white faces dominate media coverage. Cis male voices are heard first. Queer women don’t feel comfortable at Pride celebrations. People of color aren’t being given seats at the table. It’s our responsibility within our communities to boost those people of color, trans people, and queer women who aren’t depicted as leaders, but have actually been doing the leading all along. Because those are the people fighting hard to be recognized, as can be seen in Kansas City. They’re fighting for the queer soul of their city. But they need the help and funding to make it happen.

I’ve thought a lot about all the Kansas City shirts I saw — not just at that first party, but all weekend — since I left. I think about how, despite their frustrations, Kansas City natives like Palmer and Gilmore give so much of themselves to help make it better. Be it out of pride, shame, love, insecurity, or whatever else, there’s lots of passion for Kansas City within it. The challenge now is channeling that passion to truly, substantially change things for the better.

Header image by Bronwyn Lundberg.

Images courtesy of Khalif Gillett and Joss Barton.

There’s A New Podcast That Explores The Complexity of Cher’s Twitter Presence

Cher has been famous for literally decades. For her music duo, for her solo music career, for movies — over the years, she’s done it all. Nowadays, she is also popular for having perhaps the strangest Twitter presence.

Luckily, there is now a podcast to help us navigate the strange world of Cher’s thoughts. Comedians Andy Balloch and Justin Porter have teamed up for Cher & Retweet, “a comedic journey down the rabbit hole that is Cher’s Twitter feed.”

Balloch is a comedy writer, performer, and producer who has worked with The Bell Shakespeare Company. He now teaches improv at Laugh Master’s Academy in Melbourne and RMIT University while also performing improv, sketch and stand up around Australia.

Porter, originally from Texas, graduated from USC Film School and has taught at The Improv Conspiracy and Laugh Master’s Academy. He’s now based in Melbourne where he writes and performs sketch, stand up, and improv.

Cher & Retweet is part of a new podcasting network, Lipp Media, specifically for women and LGBTQ hosts. Cher & Retweet is the first podcast in the network and you can listen to it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Pete Davidson Wants Tan France to Dress Him for His Wedding to Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande’s fiancé—er, I mean Pete Davidson—doesn’t know what he wants to wear for his big day, but he knows who he wants to dress him. According to Queer Eye’s Tan France, Davison asked the fashion expert to get him all spiffy for his wedding to Grande, and Tan said “absolutely.”

“He asked if I’d help him, the answer is yes,” France told Page Six.

It won’t be the first time Tan spruces up the Saturday Night Live star’s wardrobe, though. In fact, the two built quite the rapport back in March. On an episode of SNL, Tan took Davidson shopping Queer Eye-style at Saks Fifth Avenue. However, the duo was shopping for outfits to impress Davidson’s ex-girlfriend’s parents—at the time, he was dating Larry David’s daughter, Cazzie David. Soon after the couple broke it off in May, he met Grande, who had just split with her ex, Mac Miller. The pop star and comedian moved quickly, announcing their engagement less than a month into dating.

Earlier this week, Tan appeared on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen and voiced his support for the new happy couple. “I’m very, very happy for them. I couldn’t be more happy,” the silver-haired stylist asserted, adding, “I think if anybody finds love that’s amazing. I will always support that.” France insisted that it’s fine to move fast. In fact, sometimes those relationships are equally as successful.

“I told my husband five days into it that I would marry him. He said the same,” Tan said, adding, “And we’re together 10 years later, so who knows?”

Hopefully, Tan will serve up the perfect tux for Davidson (with a pop of color). Back in March, the fashion expert asked the 24-year old, “When you get dressed in the morning and you walk out the house, do you think, ‘I look sexy’?” Pete retorted, “Never.” But after slipping into a fitted denim jacket and graphic tee, per Tan’s request, the groom-to-be smiled and quipped, “I feel like Timothée Chalamet!”

‘My House’ Closes Out With Tough Family Conversations

With last night’s episode, Viceland’s My House ended its debut season as the first television show to center the ballroom community. Preceding Ryan Murphy’s fictionalized FX series PoseMy House remains the only documentary-style show about ballroom, and in just 10 episodes, co-creator and executive producer Elegance Bratton has elevated a new generation of performers, examined the community as it stands today, and put some messy, but ultimately real conversations on screen.

For the final episode, Bratton and his team depicted what should go down as one of the most moving exchanges of the season: Tati 007 and her birth mother discuss how Tati’s transition affected their relationship.  While cooking Tati breakfast, her mother gets really honest about her mental and emotional state as Tati began to explore and state her gender identity.

“I was thoroughly embarrassed,” she says bluntly. “I wanted a son.” She goes on, noting Tati’s strength during that time, through what was undoubtedly a lot of isolation and uncertainty. She points out that lack of support while transitioning can adversely affect people, sometimes leading to trauma and/or suicide. But Tati persevered and her mother finally came around.

“We never talked about it until just now,” her mom says, laughing. “I wanted to but I couldn’t do it; I felt like because the love was there, words didn’t have to be spoken. But they do. They do!”

“You need to at least know,” she continues, “that mommy loves you.”

It’s a moving scene and brutally honest. It’s not something often seen on television, though it may be commonly felt or experienced. Not all familial stories with queer people of color end with the complete dissolution of relationships. To see that is important and can help others know that there is a possible point where “it gets better.”  But this scene hearkened back to another biological parent-child exchange on the show.

In episode three, Jelani Mizrahi spoke with his father in Harlem.

“I had little hints and there, some people would tell me,” Jelani’s father says, referring to whether he knew his son was gay. “And I can embrace that on our terms.” The clause seemed to hang ominously in the air: “on our terms.” When asked by a producer to expound, he went on.

“Right now, because I’m married, I couldn’t force that on my whole new life,” he says. “Hypothetically, if we was to have a Thanksgiving, and I invite him over, you come by yourself. Christmas dinner, come by yourself.”  Jelani’s facial expressions of surprise in the background of the shot are genuine.

“I didn’t know that,” he says later.

It’s a messy conversation but not uncommon. While in an ideal world everyone can and should accept everyone else as their complete selves, some refuse to do so. And while that could be the end of the relationship, other times we are forced to suture together something that works “on our terms.” It’s not always “all or nothing,” and while people certainly have the right to take those positions, it’s just as valid to figure out what works personally for you and your family. Queer people should not be forced to code-switch and divvy themselves up, minimizing parts of their identity for the approval of others; no one should. But some of us choose that as means to a specific end. Either choice (to code-switch or not) is valid and should be respected as such.

Minutes later, Jelani’s face is alight in surprise again. While his father says he has not been to a ball to see his son vogue, he says he has seen him on YouTube and Facebook.

“Oh, you have?” Jelani responds. 

“The most important part for me was I still had to realize that’s my son,” his father says. “I still have to love him and still have to take care of him.” He wipes a few tears and Jelani goads him calling him soft.

“Nah, this shit is real,” his dad says.

And that’s been the key importance of My House throughout the whole season. These are real people, exposing actual, lived experiences from today. Hopefully that’s significant enough for the show to be picked up for another season.

Follow the My House cast (Tati 007, Jelani Mizrahi, Alex Mugler, Precious Ebony, Relish Milanand show creator Elegance Bratton on Instagram.

Calls For ‘Civility’ Won’t Keep the Supreme Court From Rolling Back LGBTQ Rights

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy picked a particularly bad time to retire. The Court’s long-established moderate—and known friend to LGBTQ rights—opted to step down when the United States is highly polarized and embroiled in a debate over “civility.” That debate is likely to spill over to the Supreme Court, with some on the left beating the drum to obstruct judicial hearings by any means possible, while the “civility” crowd will insist that Democrats should “follow procedure,” evoking Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” speech.

 

The insistence on civility in the current political climate is a mistake. With the Supreme Court, it is a mistake with tremendous costs. Whoever is appointed to fill Kennedy’s robes will have more power than almost anyone else in America—Kennedy held the swing vote on critical cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, United States v. Windsor, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

 

If there was ever a time to engage in what Representative John Lewis calls “necessary trouble,” this is it. We have a duty to future generations to be uncivil.

 

Donald Trump’s election was a triumph of incivility. A man who proudly bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, made racist and Islamophobic comments a core part of his platform, and conducted himself with utter disregard for decorum throughout his campaign won by leveraging the “deplorable” vote. His followers didn’t care about his lack of civility; indeed, it was a selling point, reflecting the right’s stranglehold on the state of politics and discourse in America.

 

The right, which positions itself as filled with “values voters” and people who care about America, has defined both “values” and “America” in a way that leaves the left continually scrambling to catch up.

 

Trump’s first opportunity to change the shape of the court was a travesty, one tailored for him by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, who successfully held Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat open for over a year after his death in 2016. McConnell infamously refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s appointee, Merrick Garland, saying Americans should have a “voice” at the polls first because it was an election year, and one in which Republicans hoped they would retake the White House. Then they obliterated the judicial filibuster to force through approval of Neil Gorsuch.

 

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) threw this back in McConnell’s face on Wednesday, saying: “Wait, so the thing about ‘the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice’ wasn’t really about a concern for the American people? It was just about Obama?? I am shocked! SHOCKED!!”

 

Trump appointed a staunch conservative in Gorsuch, and will no doubt do the same again. Though he positions himself as an iconoclast, he follows the bidding of groups like the Heritage Foundation.

 

The “civility” team will argue the rule of law should be followed, pointing to incidents like the recent denial of service to Sarah Sanders at the Red Hen in Virginia. “Let the Trump team eat in peace!” cried the Washington Post. Evidently being “civil” equates to never voicing disapproval in anything other than a soft murmur. Democrats should “rise above,” give Sarah Sanders her entree, and participate in fairly-conducted hearings for any nominee even as Republicans crow about racing confirmation hearings through to seat a new justice before November.

 

It is beyond bizarre and harmful that much of this rhetoric comes from people who consider themselves progressive, and apparently do not understand the current state of emergency in the United States—which Michelle Goldberg aptly noted in the New York Times is about democracy, not manners. There is no rule of law that’s functionally operable in a country where police routinely gun down youth of color and get away with it, while children are kept in cages for the crime of seeking asylum and political candidates harass trans women in restrooms and publish video of the encounter on Facebook.

 

The rule of law in America is dead and those who wish to restore it—or an era of civility—must be prepared to fight for it.

 

Fights for the future are not won by means of “civility” and asking nicely. While people may evoke the legacies of people like Martin Luther King in their quest for civility, they should take note of the fact that civil disobedience is, by its nature, actually uncivil: It is disruptive, aggressive, flagrant, and defiant. In “Mississippi Goddam,” Nina Simone sneered at the advice to “do it slow” when “me and my people just about due.”

 

Refusing to serve members of the Trump Administration is not uncivil, any more than confronting senators on aircraft or asking cabinet members questions at a restaurant is uncivil. Incivility is harassing and assaulting abortion providers and journaliststhrowing feces at establishments who take political stances you disagree with, driving cars into crowdscheering the prospect of civil warenabling the systemic bullying of trans students, and terrorizing people with differing political opinions.

 

Calling, in this climate, for Democrats to use the time-honored tactic of bureaucratic obstructionism to drag this nomination fight out for as long as possible is actually relatively mild. And in truth, it’s very in keeping with the letter of the law, as the ACLU noted.

 

In other words: It is time to play “constitutional hardball.”

Conservatives like Mitch McConnell—who has openly admitted he is stacking lower courts with unqualified, inexperienced conservative nominees to “[change] the courts”—have been treating the Supreme Court as a partisan game for a very long time. Democrats need to give as good as they get, not in a reaction that lowers them to the level of conservative extremists, but one that acknowledges the goalposts and rule of law have shifted in the United States, and so have the stakes.

This is true well beyond the court, though losing the moderate swing vote will likely result in the almost immediate repeal of Roe v. Wade as soon as Christianists can mount a lower court challenge—and that’s just the start of a litany of terrible decisions that could roll out over decades. Challenges to bathroom bills are likely to come up before the court, as are cases revolving around employment and housing discrimination, adoption rights, access to transition services, religious imposition laws, and the right to refuse service on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation — not who you work for or whether you support Nazis.

When a ship is sinking, you don’t politely move over to make room for the water. Adherence to the myth of “civility” got us here, and it is incivility that will get us out.

Parent Fired for Objecting to Trans Slur In School Production of ‘Shrek’

Transgender eighth grader Albert Quill was on a field trip to Oakdale High School when it happened. The production was Shrek the Musical, and the auditorium was packed on April 18. Quill was there with other theater students. Gay-straight alliance students in the district had also come.

It was an enjoyable production, Quill felt. Then, things shifted.

“They made jokes about the wolf character, implying that he was trans but not accurately depicting it — like drag queen mixed with trans— and it used trans stereotypes to make a joke,” Quill recalled.

The Big Bad Wolf sang the word “tranny,” an extremely offensive anti-trans slur largely considered to be hate speech.

“It just feels uncomfortable to be around people who are transphobic and hear that sort of thing,” Quill said.

Quill wasn’t alone.

Throughout the district, parents of transgender kids got word of the play and started talking to each other. Facebook groups flooded with comments. Kids came home to their parents complaining.

Compounding that, teachers and students reported that the donkey had been played by a white student in blackface and the villain Lord Farquaad was assigned to a gay student and played in a way that was stereotypical and offensive.

Among those whose child would be impacted was Nicola Van Kuilenburg, whose transgender son James would be attending the musical the following evening. But unlike many parents who vocally objected to the performance, Van Kuilenburg’s objections got her fired.

That’s because Van Kuilenburg works for the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), the union that represents many teachers. In firing her, the union claimed that Van Kuilenburg’s advocacy represented a conflict of interest.

But parents in the district and national LGBTQ advocates say that sends a chilling message to LGBTQ students and their parents.

Van Kuilenburg’s termination has national implications. Her advocacy in Frederick County launched her into the national spotlight last year. Some claim that activism made the district uncomfortable. Now, parents and LGBTQ advocates are calling for her to be reinstated.

The issue of trans rights in the Frederick County Public Schools District is fresh and painful for many. The district adopted a transgender policy last June for its 67 schools. The policy grants students use of the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and mandates that trans students names and pronouns are respected.

At the center of the fight to pass that policy was James Van Kuilenburg, Nicola’s son. But implementing the policy wasn’t easy. A parent in the district sued to block the policy claiming it violated her 15-year-old daughter’s “fundamental right to bodily privacy.”

James fought to protect the policy in a motion to intervene filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Also coming to bat for the policy was Van Kuilenburg’s employer, MSEA. The suit was ultimately dropped.

But the very public battle over the policy took a tremendous toll on some transgender students in the district, and some parents say the district has failed to follow through on the policy.

Wendy, a parent whose last name has been withheld to protect her trans child’s identity, says her child lobbied for the policy at his own peril. He experienced such intense backlash from adults that he felt unsafe staying in school. Months later, he has yet to return. And the anti-trans slur in the musical compounded Wendy’s fears and sent a message, she said, that the district will punish those who advocate for trans students.

“I was almost speechless,” she said. “How many kids were affected by this? What is the fallout in the long term?”

Kevin Lynn was also among the parents who objected to the play. His trans child attends Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School in the district.

“Had [my child] gone and seen it and come home, I would have been far more livid because the statistics on the trans people attempting suicide is staggeringly scary,” Lynn said.

Lynn sprung into action when he heard about the slur, posting about the musical on his Facebook wall. He emailed the musical director Michael Copen and administrators.

Van Kuilenburg also emailed Copen. In the lengthy email, on which she CCed Principal Donna Clabaugh, Van Kuilenburg asks that transphobic language be removed from the script and that the school reconsider the character Lord Farquaad.

“My child’s identity is not something to be used as a comedic device,” she wrote. “Every year we see an increase in the number of murders of transgender people‐ and transgender women are in particular at risk from violence. Encouraging children and audience members to laugh at the idea of a transgender character in a musical is very dangerous.”

That same day, Copen wrote back stating that he could not alter the script due to copyright laws. Further, he said, the portrayal of the Big Bad Wolf was actually affirming.

He pointed out that the word is used when the Big Bad Wolf sings, “They ripped my cotton, granny dress, and they called me a hot and tranny mess.”

Copen wrote that the Big Bad Wolf is proud, tired of hiding their “cross-dressing” self.

“I wish you would have been here to see and hear the audience reaction to the Big Bad Wolf exclaiming their acceptance of being a ‘cross­dressing wolf,’” he said. “The reaction was an explosion of cheers for acceptance, not laughter and mockery.”

But for van Kuilenburg, this explanation fell flat. For one, she knew from news reports that productions of Shrek had ignited controversy for using anti-trans slurs in Halifax, Canada, and that scripts had been fixed. She contacted the publishing company, Music Theatre International (MTI).

The company told her that due to concerns about the offensive language, the script had recently been updated. The director at Oakdale may not have the new lyrics yet, the company said, but someone from the school had reached out to MTI, and the company sent the updated lyrics along.

Van Kuilenburg pressed Copen in a follow-up email, and he responded that he had indeed received the updated lyrics and that the slur would be removed for the evening performance.

But Van Kuilenburg and other parents were still unsettled. Parents like Wendy noted neither Copen nor any other school officials ever apologized for the slur or other offensive portrayals in the play. Nor did they express an understanding of why the play made trans students feel unsafe.

Lynn emailed the Board of Education and asked for an investigation into whether or not the district’s transgender policy had been violated.

Van Kuilenburg emailed Copen and other school officials and pressed them on the issue. In a lengthy email, she said she worried that they neglected to recognize the word “tranny” as problematic.

“It’s not too late to make this a learning experience and myself, along with some families of transgender students and local transgender adults, would be very happy to meet with you,” she offered.

Jabari Lyles, executive director at LGBTQ education organization GLSEN Maryland said his organization also reached out to Oakdale. First, they sent a letter. When they got no response, they sent an email.

A couple weeks later, Lyles learned that Van Kuilenburg had been fired.

Four days after the play and three days after Van Kuilenburg emailed Copen, the musical director wrote to Van Kuilenburg’s superiors and lobbied for her termination. He said her actions harmed him professionally, and she could be called to represent him as the UniServe Director of MSEA.

In her termination letter, MSEA appears to agree. The letter, signed by MSEA Executive Director David Helfman, tells Van Kuilenburg that her actions display a conflict of interest and create a liability for MSEA.

It accuses her of “subjecting Mr. Copen to significant public ridicule” by posting his email to her Facebook page.

“This all occurred during the course of your workday,” the letter notes.

But Copen is not a member of MSEA, and Oakdale is not a school that Van Kuilenburg serves. Van Kuilenburg used her personal email and social media accounts, not her work accounts.

Brad Darjean, President of the Professional Staff Association of Maryland, the union that represents her, further argues that the staff he represents are salaried employees. They’re not required to work certain hours, and they are free to use their personal emails and social accounts, he says.

 “Many of my union members have children assigned to school districts that they are also assigned to,” said Darjean. “So there’s concerns relative to the point where they need to function as a parent and whether or not our employer, MSEA, feels that we need to acquire their permission act as a parent.”

Van Kuilenburg’s union has filed a grievance seeking her reinstatement. The chorus of those angered by her dismissal include GLSEN’s Lyles who speculates that Van Kuilenburg’s advocacy for the trans policy with her son James proved too great a test for the district.

“I think that they thought were going to make an example out of her I guess to stifle any more LGBT organizing,” Lyles said. “If their goal was to shut us up, that’s exactly the opposite of what we’re going to do.”

In a statement to INTO, MSEA Assistant Executive Director of Communications and Member Engagement Adam Mendelson, denied that characterization.

“We are not in a position to comment on personnel matters,” he wrote. “However, this insinuation is inconsistent with both our values and our pride in the work that our members in Frederick County and elsewhere have done to ensure a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students.”

Frederick County Public Schools Spokesperson Michael Doerrer likewise rejected the suggestion that Oakdale failed to respond to parents’ concerns, noting that Copen had removed the offensive word.

“In reading that [transgender] policy from our Board of Education, it doesn’t address the issue of school plays in particular or the kind of language that is used in artistic productions, or literature, so, I’ll let people interpret the policy themselves,” Doerrer said. “In terms of what would a positive next step look like, I think we’ve made a number positive next steps”  

In the meantime, Van Kuilenburg has not only lost her income, but her unemployment has been denied. MSEA reported that she had committed “gross misconduct.” She has also lost her health insurance.

Lynn claims Van Kuilenburg was used as a scapegoat for the bad feelings of one educator.

“To be terminated because you are essentially doing the right thing and letting people know that the use of transphobic slurs is not right,” he said. “And especially because the information would have been out there had Nicola not gotten involved in it.”

Copen did not respond to a request to comment.

Van Kuilenburg says at the end of the day, she acted because she didn’t want her son James to hear an anti-trans slur.

“There was no compassion,” she said. “There was no allowing me to be a parent. There was another solution to this. They could have come out in strong support of the policy.”

Two years ago, the district surveyed students and found that queer students were at extremely elevated risk of suicide and hopelessness (trans students weren’t part of the study). The report found that 38 percent of LGBT students made a suicide plan compared to 10 percent of straight kids in the district. A staggering 62 percent felt hopeless every day for two weeks in a row compared to 23 percent of straight kids.

Wendy says Nicola and James represented hope. They weren’t just advocates in the district, they lifted the issue into the national spotlight.

“They were our people. They would speak for us,” she said. “[MSEA and the district] not only punished her for standing up for our kids, but they sent a message to all of us. They gave us a policy and said we’re not going to enforce it.”

Images via Facebook

Gay Men and Older LGBTQ People Disagree With the Black and Brown Pride Flag the Most

Oh, the gay community. A bastion of tolerance and acceptance, right? Nah.

According to a new poll, LGBTQ people over 50 and gay men are the most opposed to the black and brown pride flag, which is literally just a piece of fabric that is a symbolic representation of a commitment to make room for black and brown people in our community. But hey, guess that’s too much to ask.

As reported by BuzzFeed, a poll of 880 LGBT adults found that, overall 58 percent of people in the community oppose the stripes (yikes!) but that the demographics with the most resistance were gay men and LGBTQ people over 50, who both oppose the stripes 70 percent to 30 percent. Overall, white LGBT people oppose the stripes 62 percent to 38 percent.

OK, people, listen up.

The results were found as part of a larger survey previously released that found that most queer people in America are young, female and bisexual.

The black and brown pride flag originated in Philadelphia in June 2017 as a response to blatant racism in the Philadelphia’s “Gayborhood.” At the time, Amber Hikes, executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs and a black queer woman, told Mic that the flag was supposed to be a “local initiative” and a “local response” and wasn’t meant to start a national conversation. But it did. The flag proved to be hugely controversial online.

The original pride flag, which also had more stripes than the one we use now, was constructed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker. Baker died in 2017 and Google honored him with a Google Doodle in April 2017.

All of which is to say: gay men don’t like the black and brown pride flag?