Republicans Have Spent Over $10 Million to Oust America’s Only Openly LGBTQ Senator

There’s one phrase that’s been banned by the Tammy Baldwin campaign. The dreaded words staffers aren’t allowed to say are not any of the usual suspects—not “Donald Trump,” “alternative facts,” or even “fake news.”

It’s “blue wave.”

That term was coined amid the liberal uprising in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, when a cascade of Democratic candidates prevailed in the 2017 special elections by decisive margins. Buoyed by progressive rage, Virginia’s Danica Roem and Alabama’s Doug Jones won races that once seemed unthinkable. Roem, a political unknown who canvassed on repairing a local highway, beat incumbent Bob Marshall by eight points.

Marshall, a self-described homophobe who wouldn’t call Roem by her correct pronouns during the race, had served in Virginia’s House of Delegates for more than two decades. The upset made Roem the first openly trans person to ever win a statewide election.

In Baldwin’s home state of Wisconsin, the “blue wave” has led to a record number of women running in local elections. In total, more than 75 female candidates have tossed their hat in the ring, and 45 of those political hopefuls will be campaigning for the state legislature.

But in a half-hour interview at Baldwin’s Milwaukee campaign offices, the United States’ only openly LGBTQ Senator tells me that the only wave she’s witnessed in her reelection campaign is a “green wave.”

“I’m talking about dollars,” the first-term Democrat said. “We’ve seen a tidal wave of outside money. I think any other discussion creates a false confidence.”

That money has primarily come from three sources: the Koch brothers and right-wing mega-donor Richard Uihlein. An Illinois multi-millionaire who was the single largest donor to notorious anti-LGBTQ bigot Roy Moore’s failed Senate bid, he has dumped millions into PACs to oust Baldwin in the 2018 midterm elections.

Uihlein has donated what the local Democratic Party estimated is $17 million to elect political newcomer Kevin Nicholson. Nicholson, a former College Democrats of America president who spoke at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in favor of Al Gore’s presidential run, claimed he underwent a political conversion while stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marine Corps. During a recent interview with Steve Scaffidi of the Milwaukee talk radio station WTMJ-AM, the born-again conservative said it was there he began to question the “cognitive thought process” of any veteran who votes blue.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., has called the onslaught of donations in Wisconsin “unprecedented.”

To put those numbers in perspective: A source close to Baldwin’s campaign claimed those totals are more than the money spent against the other 25 Senate Democrats defending their seats this year—combined. The donations also began extremely early, with right-wing groups starting their spending spree as early as February 2017.

“The fact that it was happening at such a high level, at such a sustained level, and at such an early time—that’s what got us really spooked,” the source claimed.

Over $10 million has bought conservatives a lot of airtime in the months since the donations began pouring in last year. One ad accused Baldwin, who is pro-choice, of wanting to abort the next Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King. Another TV spot from the Concerned Veterans of America, which reportedly cost $1.5 million, alleged that the Senator failed to respond to reported abuses at a VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wisc. It claimed her inaction resulted in three deaths.

Politifact rated those allegations as “false,” but when lies are said loudly enough and often enough, they have a way of sticking. Polls show that while her support in Wisconsin has been holding firm, opposition has been steadily increasing. At the time of writing, she’s sitting near a 37-37 percentage split.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin compared it to someone grabbing a megaphone and screaming “that your best friend is some evil demon.”

“You’ve known them, worked with them, and trusted them your entire life,” Griffin said in conversation with Baldwin following a Saturday campaign event. “This person is your next door neighbor who you grew up with, you take turns mowing each others’ lawns, and your kids go to school together. All of a sudden these out of state billionaires come and stand on your doorstep and start screaming and yelling, telling you how godawful that neighbor is.”

“That’s what’s happening here,” he added. “Their problem is that the voters of this state know Tammy Baldwin, and that’s why you see her maintaining the numbers she’s maintaining.”

Griffin emphasized the trust Baldwin has built with voters during a meet-and-greet held with phone bankers canvassing on behalf of the campaign earlier that day. A group of elderly women said to be friends with the candidate’s aunt flew in from Seattle for the speech. As Griffin called the longtime representative “one of the hardest-working United States Senators today,” the room smelled like a tinfoil-wrapped pastrami sandwich that one of the ladies clutched to her chest during the speech.

“She knows how to bring folks together of both parties on issues and find common ground, build coalitions, and get things done,” he said.

Baldwin put forward that air of Milwaukee-like neighborliness on Saturday, befitting a city sometimes described as “southern Canada.” The candidate briefly offered thanks to supporters against the backdrop of a sea of campaign posters mononymously referring to her as “Tammy!” Her address isn’t the fiery sermon one might expect of a politician in the midst of crisis—a la Howard Dean’s career-ending Wilhelm scream. Baldwin spoke with assured calm, soft-spoken even as she preached the need to “repeal and replace those politicians who are obstacles to our progress, issues, and values.”

“One of the things the last election did was put a halt to progress,” she said. “That’s not acceptable. As citizens in a democracy, we can turn things around.”

It’s often said that former President Bill Clinton has the ability to remember the names of everyone he meets, but as Baldwin made her way around the room shaking hands with the Seattle crew, she noted who she hadn’t met yet. I hung back as Baldwin greeted everyone who would be dialing voters on the campaign’s allotted Motorola flip phones, jet-black burners with callback numbers helpfully labeled on their backsides.

When we finally shook hands a half-hour later, Baldwin proved her advertising wasn’t misleading. “Hi, I’m Tammy,” she said, despite needing no introduction.

Baldwin’s team, nonetheless, is focusing on “reintroducing her” to voters in the 2018 midterms, even after a three-decade career in politics that extends back to her 1986 election to the Dane County Board of Supervisors. She is a career public servant in the truest sense: first elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1993 before serving 14 years in the U.S House of Representatives—from 1999 to 2013. Baldwin has represented Wisconsin’s under four presidential administrations: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump.

Supporters credit her ability to get personal with voters, and her reelection campaign is emphasizing that vulnerability by showing new sides of Baldwin to constituents. Earlier this month, she opened up about her late mother’s opioid addiction for the first time. Her mother, Pamela Bin-Rella, died last August at the age of 75.

In doing so, the campaign learned an important lesson from Democrat Patty Schachtner, a Wisconsin mom with a dreamcatcher forearm tattoo elected in a Republican district last November. Although the success of outsider candidates in 2018 like Kentucky’s Amy McGrath show progressives are looking for change, Schachtner has credited her victory to a handwritten postcard campaign. Her team penned postcards to constituents trumpeting her “common sense solutions” on the issues. Schachtner won by a decisive 10-point margin in Wisconsin’s 10th, which had been held by conservatives for 16 years.

Officials close to Baldwin’s campaign said that human touch matters most.

“That’s the attitude she has: ‘If I open myself up and show myself as a human, they’ll see that these ads saying that I don’t care can’t be true,’” sources claimed.

Baldwin recalled a favorite anecdote from early in her career, when she was one of just two dozen openly LGBTQ officials elected to office in the entire world. (The Victory Fund estimated there are around 500 in the U.S. today.) During her first race for State Assembly in the early 90s, an article was published asking whether constituents would back an out lesbian in the election. She noted that she’s seen versions of that same editorial published “many, many times in [her] life in various iterations.”

After the story went to print, a man that Baldwin described as a “big-barrel chested Irishman” hastily approached her at a campaign event. She smelled trouble, but the gentleman actually came up to pledge his support in the race.

“If you can be honest about that, you’ll be honest about everything,” he bellowed, sticking out his hand to make the pact official. “You have my vote.”

The reality is that despite appearing to represent the alleged “establishment politics” McGrath railed against in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district—which allowed her to whittle down a massive 40-point deficit in the race—Baldwin has been an outsider her entire career. When she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives 19 years ago, Baldwin was the first LGBTQ lawmaker to be out at the time of her victory. She would repeat the gesture 14 years later after graduating to the upper house of the legislature.

To date, Baldwin remains the only openly queer representative in the 229-year history of the U.S. Senate. At least five LGBTQ candidates are running in the 2018 race to give her some company.

Given the significance of protecting her seat in the Senate when Democrats face an extremely difficult reelection map, the Human Rights Campaign plans to make a “major investment” in Wisconsin during the 2018 midterms. The Badger State commands an estimated 152,000 LGBTQ voters, which is an already massive total without before factoring in allies supportive of queer and trans rights. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by just 22,000 votes—meaning this population, if activated, has the potential to tip the scales in Baldwin’s race.

Griffin claimed the advocacy group would “do everything in [its] power to turn out this incredibly powerful voting bloc.”

“In a lot of ways, our power is just fully being realized and acknowledged by many elected officials,” he said. “We were five percent of the electorate in the last election. That means five percent of voters walked out of the polling booth in a swing state and told a stranger that they were LGBTQ. That’s our low bar.”

Supporters say there’s precedent for the LGBTQ community coming together to stand its ground in the face of unprecedented challenges. After Gov. Pat McCrory signed North Carolina’s infamous anti-trans bathroom bill into law in March 2015, he was unseated by Democrat Roy Cooper in the following year’s gubernatorial election. The symbolism of McCrory’s defeat couldn’t have been more pointed: Cooper was the Attorney General who refused to defend House Bill 2 in court.

Griffin called the outcome in North Carolina a “watershed moment.”

“The broad, diverse coalition that came together to oust Pat McCrory was historic and not easy—because that was a state also with a green wave, with a ton of outside money being spent in the governor’s race,” he said. “Voters saw through it. In a state where Trump won by four percentage points, voters stood up and voted against their incumbent Republican governor because he attacked our community. It was the first time in history that we ousted a statewide elected official solely because they attacked the LGBTQ community.”

Baldwin will have two months before she officially faces off against a challenger in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. The GOP primaries will be held on August 14, and there are four candidates in total. Nicholson’s biggest competition in that race is State Senator Leah Vukmir, who received the backing of the Wisconsin Republican Party by winning 73 percent of delegates during the state’s GOP convention in May.

Vukmir, described as a Sarah Palin-style conservative, has voted against protections to shield LGBTQ students from bullying during her time in the Wisconsin Legislature. Described as a “longtime opponent of marriage equality” in a press release from the Human Rights Campaign, she is a close ally to the hate group Family Research Council. The notorious anti-LGBTQ organization is headed by Tony Perkins, a key Trump advisor who adamantly pushed for the president’s embattled ban on open trans military service. Perkins has also referred to LGBTQ people as “intolerant,” “vile,” and “hateful.”

After winning the nomination last month, Vukmir said she was ready to “finish the job” in her acceptance speech—by sending Baldwin packing.

That statement was likely a thinly veiled reference to a larger transformation in local and national politics over the past decade. Ten years ago Wisconsin had two Democratic Senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, as well as a Democratic governor, Jim Doyle. It was a “blue state with a hint of purple,” sources say. But after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC overturned the ban on campaign donations by corporations and unions, Feingold and Doyle were ousted, while Kohl retired. Baldwin is the last remaining Democratic holdout at statewide office.

But attired in a simple lavender-colored blazer with her soccer mom haircut, Baldwin insisted she won’t be wiped out by the green wave. Polls agree she has continued to perform strongly, despite the odds. A March survey from Public Policy Polling found that she leads both Vukmir and Nicholson by double digits in hypothetical matchups.

If her career has illustrated the importance of LGBTQ candidates having a seat at the table, 2018 will demonstrate the importance of keeping that seat.

“If you’re not in the room, the conversation is about you,” she said. “If you’re in the room, the conversation is with you. That’s transformative. Because each of us as individuals, we don’t check our life experiences at the door like a coat check when you walk in. We bring it with us.”

Images via Getty and Flickr

‘Andi Mack’ Star Says He’s Proud to Play Gay Character

Joshua Rush isn’t your average 16-year old. Since early 2017, the teenager has played the role of Cyrus Goodman on Disney Channel’s groundbreaking queer show Andi Mack. His character came out as gay on the children’s television show, marking a historic moment for the network and for LGBTQ representation on kids’ TV. In an interview on Good Morning America, Rush said he isn’t just happy to play this role—he’s proud.

“I’m really proud to be able to play Cyrus,” he told GMA. “I think it’s an exciting role to be able to play for Disney. But I think more than anything, it’s an exciting role for these kids that are going to end up seeing Cyrus on their screen and going, ‘Oh, that’s me! I recognize that and I understand that and I resonate with that.’ I think it shows those kids that their stories are valid.”

Last week, Rush and his cast-mates attended the 11th Annual Television Academy Honors, where his show was honored as one of seven programs that inspired social change this year. The actor spoke of the messages he’s received from real-life fans who have been inspired and moved by his character’s coming out story.

“I get all these messages on my social media about people who have really resonated with the stories that we’re telling on Andi Mack,” Rush explained, “And the one that really hit closest to home was a girl saying when Cyrus said that he feels weird and that he feels different, that she felt a lump in her throat because she felt the same way. And that one, that one really hit me. That one really got me kind of emotional because it was so incredibly powerful, and it is just a reminder that I think about almost every day — that the work that I’m doing is showing people that it’s OK to be themselves.” 

He elaborated, “Every time that somebody shares their story about how the show touched them or how much they like the show — it warms my heart. It makes me feel so happy.”

Season two of Andi Mack returns to Disney Channel June 4th.

Who is ‘The Boys in the Band’ For Now?

I have not seen The Boys in the Band on Broadway, but not for lack of trying.

I’ve reached out to Polk & Co.—its PR manager—for press tickets, to no response. To date, the production has not been formally reviewed by any queer publication that I can find.

It’s Pride Month, in which we honor the enormous risks taken and sacrifices made by queer people, led by black trans women, in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Despite the political strides made by LGBTQ+ people over the last 49 years, we remain more likely than our peers to live in poverty. We should be more concerned than ever about democratizing queer representation on stage, and yet, queer people are expected to blindly risk Broadway prices to gain entry to that conversation without the benefit of a queer perspective? I think not.

So I’ve decided to review the lack of access to queer theater, as embodied by this year’s production of The Boys in the Band, instead.

Out ran a piece on April 30 on gay contrarianism through the decades and The Boys in the Band in its “Queer Quibble” section, but it’s not a review, and it ran before the production opened. Les Fabian Brathwaite comes to his verdict on gays, who “can’t like anything,” on community reactions to the 1968 production of the play, its 1970 film adaptation, and various gay films over the last few years. He says, “the beauty of the times we live in is that we don’t have to choose,” pointing to the accessibility to, and variety of, queer films we enjoy in 2018 (to his examples: BPM is available to Hulu subscribers for $8.25/mo; Call Me By Your Nameand A Fantastic Woman are $5.99 to stream on Amazon Prime; Love, Simon costs $14.99 to buy on Amazon). But the cheapest available ticket I could find to Boys in the Band is $99, a difference in price by a factor of 10 from the average U.S. movie ticket price, and certainly much more expensive than streaming. Brathwaite’s argument, predicated on false equivalences and “benefit-of-the-doubt”-ism that has nothing to do with this production, is not to be taken seriously.

I’m not going to review the production, because the issue, as I see it, doesn’t have much to do with its playwright, its actors, its designers, its technical staff, or its director, who are all doing the necessary and courageous work of advancing a living, breathing piece of theater. (I would love to know how the production handles the racial dynamics around Emory and Bernard’s relationship in 2018, though I suppose I’ll never know.) Rather, I’d like to critique the moral turpitude of Broadway decision-makers who continually refuse to represent the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ+ community on stage and de-democratize access to the people whose histories they exploit, and refuse to participate in critique by the queer press.

The Boys in the Band also uses the pink triangle, which was used to brand homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps, as its website’s faviconNike is currently under fire for similarly appropriating the symbol on a line of shoes—in response, ACT UP has asked Nike to donate to queer causes. As Jason Rosenberg, one of ACT UP’s co-facilitators has said, “We deserve better [than] to have our work be exploited by corporations that profiteer off grassroots resistance imagery.” Is The Boys in the Band donating any of its profits, gained by its exploitation of the symbol, to charity?

And, why this play? Why now? I can’t imagine that Ryan Murphy or David Stone struggle to pay their rent or feed themselves, which, by the way, one in four queer people did as recently as 2016. And, anyway, there’s a film adaptation from 1970, and it’s available to watch on YouTube. (Incidentally, it’s a fine piece—the film is painfully poignant, though it really is of its time.) Is it that producers simply don’t know there are more queer people becoming playwrights all the time? Have they never heard of Google? Or has theater in the United States, at its highest levels of production, become entirely drained of its capacity to shed light on new perspectives?

The people leading Broadway institutions, and the firms that market their engagements, are comfortable with excluding bodies of difference and dissent. If our choice, as queer people, is to either pay rent or see the same old stories reprised year after year, I know where my money’s going.

Images via Getty

Colorado Continues Its Abuse of Incarcerated Trans Woman After Brutal Rape

On May 7, Colorado representatives introduced a resolution urging the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) to create a policy in line with federal regulations protecting transgender inmates.

The resolution was inspired by Lindsay Saunders-Velez, a transgender inmate who was reportedly raped just hours after a judge denied her request to be moved from a disciplinary unit where she was being tormented by other inmates.

But little if anything has been done to help 20-year-old Saunders-Velez, according to her attorney Paula Greisen. She continues to be housed with men and faces daily abuse. The media attention surrounding her case has only agitated her situation behind bars.

Her case raises serious questions about CDOC’s ability and willingness to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), federal regulations that aim to crack down on sexual assault behind bars.

Saunders-Velez has identified as female since childhood. Over two years ago, while incarcerated by the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. At age 17, she started hormone treatment. Despite this, prison staff refuse to acknowledge her as a woman, she says.

According to court documents, she has suffered extreme harassment by her fellow inmates at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. A privacy screen she had set up to use the bathroom was ripped down. Inmates have demanded sex from her. To escape the abuse, she swallowed razors and was hospitalized. According to a lawsuit she filed, she was sexually assaulted for the first time behind bars in December.

Earlier this spring, she was sent to a punishment pod for kissing another inmate, an accusation she denied. In an emergency affidavit, she reported that others in the pod were those that threatened to sexually assault her.

But Judge Marcia S. Krieger denied her request to be moved from the unit.

“The Court finds that Ms. Sanders-Velez has not made a showing of either an imminent and irreparable injury, nor a likelihood of success on the merits of her claims, that would warrant issuance of a temporary restraining order,” Krieger wrote.

A few hours later, Greisen says, she was brutally raped.

She was hospitalized and then sent to the infirmary. The Associated Pressreported that her medical records indicated rectal and other injuries. A nurse who examined her said her accused assailant might be HIV-positive.

But CDOC still wouldn’t house her with women.

Instead, she was offered four options, says Greisen. Return to the punishment pod where she was raped, choose from two male lockups where she wouldn’t have support groups or move into a cell at the same facility with men.

Velez asked to be transferred to unit where she had friends and a support group. Her request was rejected. She moved into a unit where she didn’t know anyone.

Demoya Gordon, staff and Transgender Rights Project attorney at Lambda Legal, says PREA violations like those alleged in Saunders-Velez’s case are incredibly common.

“If any system defaults to housing people according to the sex they were assigned at birth or by genital status, that does violate PREA,” Gordon said. “PREA requires you to conduct an individualized assessment of where is the best, safest, most suitable place to house a transgender person. It also requires that the prison officials take the person’s own opinions about those issues into consideration. In fact, it requires that they give it significant weight.”

Saunders-Velez’s anguish doesn’t end there.  

Days after news of her rape made national headlines, the Denver Postpublished a story featuring five trans inmates who blamed Saunders-Velez for her rape and purposely misgendered her.

“We call her a him,” Paula Marie Thompson told the Post, “Nobody wants to be around him any more.”

“The five inmates interviewed on May 4 blamed the rape on what they called Saunders-Velez’s provocative behavior or said they thought it was a consensual prison liaison,” the Post reported.

The story goes on to say that while the trans women at the prison also want change at Territorial, the trans women felt that being locked up in a men’s prison was not always dangerous.

“To stay safe behind bars, transgender inmates must dress modestly and not flaunt their breasts, said Monica Anaya,” the story reads.

Finally, the women claim, Saunders-Velez showers with the men at Territorial when she could shower alone and repeatedly claims she was raped, drawing “attention that is potentially dangerous attention to all of them.”

Greisen alleges that prison officials that the women were offered preferential housing to talk to the press.

“These women then called Lindsay a liar, even though they didn’t witness the event,” Greisen says.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Mark Fairbairn denied that claim to The Denver Post.

State Rep. Leslie Herod said she read the piece and found it “disgusting.”

“They wouldn’t have been interviewed without the permission of the DOC,” said Herod.

Herod is the sponsor of the resolution that urges CDOC to create a policy on housing transgender prisoners. The measure is not binding, but she says she plans to meet with CDOC officials about Saunders-Velez’s case. If they don’t come up with a solution, she will push legislation.

“This case is an egregious example but it’s not the only one,” said Herod. “There are more cases like this, and the department needs to have a policy that acknowledges that there are transgender inmates, and that they need to be protected. It’s shameful.”

Fairbairn did not respond to a request to comment for this piece, including a question about how many trans women CDOC had been placed in women’s facilities. He previously declined to comment on Saunders-Velez’s case due to the pending litigation.

By the time Saunders-Velez got to her new housing assignment, media attention made her story known throughout prison. The cycle of harassment started in her new cell block, and she reported the abuse. Rather than transferring her to a women’s facility, she was moved to solitary confinement, where her mental health degraded.

Desperate to get out of solitary, she recanted the harassment complaints, says Greisen. She was returned to the hostile cell block.

It’s worth noting that Colorado’s track record on LGBTQ rights as of late is markedly better than the Saunders-Velez case would suggest. In fact, Greisen knows first hand.

Greisen is the attorney representing Charlie Craig and David Mullins in the infamous Masterpiece Cakeshop case that just came down from the Supreme Court.

In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which revolved around a Colorado baker’s claim that he can’t be forced to make a gay wedding cake because of his religious beliefs, Greisen and the state of Colorado were battling on the side of a gay couple that experienced discrimination.

“It is very interesting that the state of Colorado is standing with me and my client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case against the Department of Justice and the Trump administration when it comes to services for the LGBTQ community,” Greisen said. “But with respect to this issue, they have certainly not shown their commitment to equality and dignity.”

Hate Groups Want to Exploit Masterpiece Cakeshop Ruling As a License to Discriminate

The Supreme Court’s Monday decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission has proven a legal Rorschach test for conservatives.

Although advocates say the nation’s highest bench “narrowly” ruled in favor of a Christian cakeshop owner who turned away a same-sex couple, the limitations of the decision haven’t stopped some right-wing groups from trumpeting the 7-2 decision as sweeping precedent to erode LGBTQ rights across the country.

Sounding off on the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the “free exercise clause” of the U.S. Constitution in its ruling against Jack Phillips. The Lakewood, Color. baker argued that being forced to furnish a cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig’s wedding, as he refused to do in 2012, would violate his religious beliefs.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against Phillips’ claims of free speech violation five years ago, but Justice Kennedy argued that his faith wasn’t given proper consideration during the deliberations.

“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” he wrote. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

Kennedy took particular issue with statements from the civil rights body which he perceived to reflective of bias against people of religious faith. During the hearings, one of the Colorado commissioners claimed that “freedom of religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”

“[T]his sentiment is inappropriate for a commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law,” he said.

Kennedy was joined in his condemnation of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission by six justices: conservatives Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas, as well as liberals Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. The two dissenting members of the bench were Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But while the SCOTUS argued that Colorado violated the government’s First Amendment duty to “make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” it stopped short of offering a broader ruling on the validity of “religious liberty” claims.

In fact, Kennedy directly stated that the larger issue of whether Christian businesses have the right to refuse service based on their beliefs would be decided in future cases.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” he wrote, “all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Kennedy, a moderate who has authored many of the court’s most pivotal pro-LGBTQ rulings, appeared to uphold the rights of same-sex couples to nondiscrimination following his 2015 majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which extended marriage equality to all 50 states.

“Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,” he wrote.

Kennedy added that states like Colorado have the authority “to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which argued on behalf of Mullins and Craig before the Supreme Court, noted that Kennedy’s opinion supported laws singling out LGBTQ people as a protected class. In a statement, the legal advocacy group noted that SCOTUS “did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable.”

“The court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBTQ people,” said Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling.

But even despite the fact that this week’s ruling was hardly the license to discriminate that far-right conservatives might have liked, that didn’t stop some religious extremists from viewing it as such.

Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBTQ hate group which defended Rowan County, KY clerk Kim Davis in court after she was jailed five days for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, claimed in a Monday press release that the Masterpiece decision “will have a wide impact regarding the clash between free speech and the LGBTQ agenda.”

Particularly, the far right legal organization took aim at “laws that add ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’”

“Twenty-one states have ‘public accommodations’ laws that include one or both phrases,” Liberty Counsel said in a statement. “They include California and six other states in the West, Illinois and three other states in the upper Midwest, and 10 states on the East Coast from Maryland to Maine. No state in the South or on the Great Plains has such a law.”

The laws that Kim Davis’ lawyers singled out protect LGBTQ people in areas such as housing, employment, and healthcare and are widely supported by the American public. Seven in 10 people believe queer and trans individuals should be shielded from undue bias as they go about their daily lives.

After the Masterpiece decision came down, LGBTQ advocates immediately predicted the ruling would be falsely exploited to erode legal protections for queer and transgender folks in the states where they exist.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said it “leaves the door wide open for religious exemptions to be used against LGBTQ people.”

“Today’s decision emboldens the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom and the Trump Administration in their persistent push to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people under the misnomer of religious freedom,” Ellis said in a statement. “LGBTQ people will continuously be vulnerable until the liberty and justice for all tenants of the Constitution apply to all Americans, including LGBTQ people.”

Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, further warned that anti-equality forces would “use it to try and open the floodgates.”

“Homophobic forces will purposefully over-interpret the ruling and challenge existing non-discrimination laws by refusing service to LGBTQ people in even more situations, denying them dinner at a restaurant, lodging at a hotel, or renting an apartment,” said Parker.

Perhaps no one is better qualified to make that assessment than Parker. During her tenure as mayor of Houston, conservative groups successfully fought to overturn the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which extended nondiscrimination protections on the basis of more than a dozen protected characteristics—including pregnancy and veteran status.

After the right-wing Campaign for Houston falsely claimed that HERO permitted transgender people to violate women and children in public bathrooms, the ordinance was voted down by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.

When HERO was repealed in November 2015, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins claimed that “religious freedom… won the day.” But Perkins, a close advisor to Donald Trump who famously lobbied in favor of the president’s embattled trans military ban, said that “much more work remains to be done to safeguard these freedoms across the nation.”

Unsurprisingly, Perkins has championed the Masterpiece ruling as a “victory for… our nation’s long cherished freedom of following one’s deeply held beliefs without fear of government punishment.” In a statement, he claimed it illustrated a “consensus” on issues of “religious freedom.”

“The Supreme Court made clear that the government has no authority to discriminate against Jack Phillips because of his religious beliefs,” Perkins claimed.

“Misguided government officials singled out Jack’s religious beliefs for discriminatory treatment, but that isn’t freedom, it’s tyranny,” he continued. “It’s simply un-American to force people like Jack to compromise their religious beliefs just because they are disfavored by those who have used government entities like this Colorado government commission.”

But in the face of right-wing opposition to nondiscrimination laws, advocates vowed to continue to advance protections for LGBTQ at the local, state, and national levels.

“The message to take from today’s ruling is that nondiscrimination laws remain important and powerful tools to fight stigma and inequality,” said Masen Davis, the CEO of Freedom for All Americans, in a statement. “We now need to double down and work harder and faster than ever before to advance comprehensive nondiscrimination protections at the state and federal levels.”

“Passing laws at the state level and in Congress is the best way we can ensure all LGBTQ Americans are thoroughly protected from discrimination, regardless of the state they call home,” Davis added.

Contrary to Liberty Counsel’s tabulations, 20 states (and D.C.) currently have nondiscrimination regulations in place on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, including California, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah, and Washington. Wisconsin and New Hampshire only offer anti-bias protections in cases where the victim is gay, lesbian, or bisexual—but not transgender.

Although the New Hampshire legislature passed a historic trans rights bill in May, the nondiscrimination legislation has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu, who has pledged to approve it.

Colorado groups affirmed that the Masterpiece verdict in no way violates its own nondiscrimination laws.

“While we are disappointed the Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop and their discrimination against Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, the fact remains that Colorado has a civil rights division and anti-discrimination laws that equally protect the fundamental rights of all Coloradans,” said One Colorado Executive Director Daniel Ramos in a statement.

“Coloradans across our state—including LGBTQ Coloradans and their families—can take heart from today’s decision that no matter who you are, who you love, or what you believe, you will still be protected in our state from discrimination,” he added.

‘Vida’ Recap (1.5): The One Where Emma Gets Arrested

With just one episode left in Vida’s first season, it’s only natural that “Episode 5” pushes the sisters even farther out of their comfort zone — this time, while remaining in their own neighborhood — and into conflicts where they’re forced to look deeper into themselves.

Emma is coming to terms with the fact that she has to stick around longer than intended. She flyers the building with a 3 percent rent increase, ignoring Lyn’s worries that tenants may not be able to afford it. Emma also reveals that she’s looking for a weekly sublet situation, which seems especially necessary since the cold open featured Emma trying and failing to masturbate in her room while a prayer circle loudly prays in the living room. Lyn hopefully asks if it’s “for both of us” but, of course, it isn’t.

This is no surprise: Though the sisters have made small breakthroughs (such as the coming out scene in an earlier episode), Emma’s still hesitant to share her world with Lyn. Emma also isn’t the type of person to consult with anyone before she makes a decision, whether it’s subletting without Lyn or raising the rent without running it by Eddy — and Eddy certainly isn’t happy, and immediately tears down the flyers.

While Emma looks at rentals, Lyn heads off to a yoga class where she runs into Carla, Johnny’s pregnant fiancée. (And though Lyn claims that she had no idea Carla was also in that class, it’s hard to believe it.) Carla forces Lyn into conversation, asking if she’s actually in love with Johnny, but then answers herself: “You’re not.” Lyn tries to explain that there’s some connection between her and Johnny, that she can’t really control it, but it’s mostly bullshit — Lyn has always been perfectly aware of the role she plays in this messy love triangle, and the show never once tries to fully let her off the hook. Which makes sense, because Lyn won’t disentangle herself from Johnny; she has sex with him again, thoroughly satisfied with herself.

Meanwhile, Marisol spots Emma (“Hey coconut!”) attempting to rent a weekly sublet and ruins the deal, threatening to spray paint the house and effectively outing herself as the one who tagged the bar, goading Emma even further. As the two yell, the white realtor immediately whips out her phone to call the cops — even before the two start physically fighting on the front lawn.

The scenes in jail, with Mari and Emma are chained up on the same bench, are some of the series’ best so far. Both women have strong personalities, are steadfast and passionate in their respective beliefs, and guarded — it’s only natural that they’ll clash even if it’s clear that, in another world, they could be friends. Putting them together like this is a clever way to depict two sides of a similar coin, to watch them not only confront each other but confront the internal reasons for their endless tension.

Mari sees Emma as the enemy, a gentefier, and someone who turned her back on her own Latinx community. She also — repeatedly throughout the series — accuses Emma of wanting to be white, which is viewed as a betrayal. “How does one just denounce their entire culture so they can pass for white?” Mari asks. But without missing a beat, Emma counters by telling Mari to “get rid of that fucking chip on your shoulder.”

It’s interesting to watch these two reveal aspects of their own personality — and their own insecurities — through their arguments. It’s also almost cathartic to watch them slowly come to terms with the fact that they aren’t enemies but that a lot of Mari’s anger comes from the Lyn/Johnny drama. While Mari is understandably pissed at Lyn for aiding her brother in becoming a cheater, Emma points out that it’s Johnny who is cheating on his pregnant fiancée. And when Emma complains about the jail treatment, it’s Mari who is unsurprised, pointing out how fast the realtor called the cops. Even with Emma’s fancy dress and haircut, Mari explains, “We’re the same to her.” 

Episode 5 is skilled at breaking this tension between them in small gestures: Mari giving Emma crumpled tissues for her bloody legs; Emma casually telling Mari she shouldn’t be ashamed of her scars. (“Lying, cheating, being a bully — those are things to be ashamed of. But scars, they’re maps of who you are.”) Emma even tell a story about living in Texas—something we haven’t heard her do with anyone else. And eventually, when Lyn bails Emma out, Emma bails Mari out, too.

Back at the bar, Eddy has continued to unravel and Vida shows the depths of her sadness through small moments, such as her conversation with Johnny or her steady, consistent drinking throughout the whole season. It’s heartbreaking to watch her grieve, especially because the sisters continue to keep her at a distance, which further adds to Eddy’s despair. (One telling scene: Emma asks to borrow Eddy’s car by reeling off her good driving record but Eddy doesn’t need convincing because “whatever’s mine is yours.”) As Eddy drunkenly explains to them, she “had these daydreams where we could all be a family and go camping … that’s what Vida always wanted, so that’s what I always wanted.”

But the girls, and especially Emma, refuse to let her in. It’s understandable, to an extent, but it’s clear that Eddy’s suffering and spiraling—and the girls need to take notice before it gets even worse.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop

In a ruling that sent shockwaves throughout the LGBTQ community and the nation, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a baker who refused a wedding cake to a gay couple because of his religious beliefs.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling sets up a narrow win for baker Jack Phillips instead of opening a door for discrimination against protected groups by the nation’s highest court. That because it focuses solely on whether the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ First Amendment rights.

Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod carried the reauthorization of the of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in a months-long battle this year.

“The narrow ruling of the Supreme Court today does not allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people in goods and services,” Herod told INTO. “Nothing in the ruling today should or will stop the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Division from protecting LGBT people’s rights to live life free from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.”

The court ruled 7-2 that baker Jack Phillips was within his rights to turn away Colorado couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The decision hinges on Phillips’s First Amendment rights, overturning decisions from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals that found Phillips violated the couple’s right to equal accommodations.

“Requiring [Baker] to create a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate his right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message with which he disagreed and would violate his right to the free exercise of religion,” the decision reads.

The court took issue with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s characterization of Phillip’s religious beliefs. In the decision, the court quotes a commissioner in who in 2014 said that “to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use… [is] religion to hurt others.”

The court wrote that the Commission had inappropriately dismissed Phillips beliefs as insincere.

But the ruling goes on to say that similar cases still need to play out in the courts and that they must be resolved “without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

On a national scale, the ruling means that similar commissions deciding discrimination cases must be careful not to show animus toward those with religious convictions.

Ginsburg wrote that the decision missed the point.

“The Colorado court distinguished the cases on the ground that Craig and Mullins were denied service based on an aspect of their identity that the State chose to grant vigorous protection from discrimination,” she dissented.

Paula Greisen, attorney for Mullins and Craig, said her clients lost on a technicality, not on a precedent-setting opinion.

“Obviously they’re extremely disappointed,” Greisen told INTO. “But I certainly think it leaves the door open to say that states or services that want to discriminate against these individuals have a high hurdle.”

Condemnation of the ruling was swift from progressive groups.

“Today’s decision should have been a firm, direct affirmance of longstanding equality law,” said Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven in a statement. “Instead, the Supreme Court has become an accomplice in the right’s strategy to hollow out one of its finest achievements, the right to equal marriage, and create what Justice Ginsberg memorably termed ‘skim milk marriages.’”

Camilla Taylor, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, also points out that the Court of Appeals decision was free of the bias alleged in the Colorado Commission decision.

“It means that we’ll be litigation this again,” said Taylor. “It’s an invitation to the opponents of LGBT equality to keep bringing claims, that requirements that they decline to discriminate violate the First Amendment.”

In a statement, Democratic National Committee said the case was never about a wedding cake.

“It was about all people–no matter who they are–having the right to celebrate their love without facing discrimination,” said DNC Chair Tom Perez.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Japanese Business Tycoon Comes Out as a Lesbian

The notorious and beloved Japanese business tycoon Kazuyo Katsuma, who has amassed a lively group of fans called Katsumers, just came out as gay by announcing her relationship with LGBTQ activist Hiroko Masuhara.

The 49-year old is a successful businesswoman, economic commentator, and best-selling author. Having worked for big corporate firms like McKinsey and JPMorgan, she parlayed her business triumphs into multiple how-to and lifestyle books. Her popular writings on work-life balance and self-management have sold over five million copies. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal named her one of “The 50 Women to Watch” after her online forum accumulated “legions of fans among Japanese working mothers.” Now, the Japanese feminist icon is opening up about her love life.

Katsuma told BuzzFeed Japan, “I kept the lid on my feelings of attraction to members of the same sex.” But once she met her girlfriend Hiroko, everything changed. “After I met Hiroko, the ice in my heart melted, although it took a few years. I hope this interview article will cheer up someone and trigger a change.”

Masuhara herself is a notable public figure in Japan, as she and a previous partner were the first to couple to receive a same-sex partnership certificate from the country in 2015. She and her ex, Koyuki Higashi, called it quits last year, though they still run an LGBTQ advocacy group together. Higashi congratulated the happy couple on social media, dubbing them Japan’s “first power lesbians.” 

While same-sex marriage is still illegal in Japan, activists are hopeful, especially given this announcement from a very public-facing businesswoman. Fumino Sugiyama, co-chair of the Tokyo Rainbow Pride festival, said Katsuma’s coming out “would have a great impact on society as she is such an influential person in business circles.” 

She asserted, “It must have required enormous courage for her to come out. Sometimes I personally hear about a well-known artist or Olympian coming out but they say they are worried about the impact.”

Moments like this can inspire change within homophobic governments—as we’ve witnessed on our own shores. Hopefully, Kazuyo Katsuma’s story will continue to change minds in Japan and influence others to come out too.

The Legacy of Walt Whitman, Queer Daddy of Free Verse

Nineteenth century poet Walt Whitman was a free-ass motherfucker, and today is his birthday. You may be familiar with Whitman as part of the transcendentalism unit in your high school English class, although your teacher probably didn’t cover the poet’s colorful sex life or contributions to LGBTQ culture. For a long time, American historians and literature scholars hesitated to describe Whitman as gay or queer, but our community has claimed him as family since the at least the 1960s. He has been called the “prophet of gay liberation,” and the title seems to fit now more than ever.

Whitman’s rumpled fisherman aesthetic may be out of style, but his politics and ethics feel very much of the moment.

Structurally, the poet’s work was modern in that it eschewed traditional rhyme and meter schemes in favor of epic, breathless “free verse.” The long lines of his poetry sometimes feel meant to be belted out on stage; they are lyrical, declarative and dramatic. You can imagine Whitman standing at the hull of a riverboat, yelling out verses like “I ascend from the moon…I ascend from the night” or “Unclench your floodgates! you are too much for me,” from under his floppy hat.

The language in Whitman’s most famous poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, stands out as especially revolutionary and forward thinking. In antebellum writing, sexuality was often euphemized, approached in clinical, medical terms, or omitted altogether. But Whitman’s poems brimmed with unabashed, earthy eroticism. Thematically, he emphasized individualism and the self, romantic and sexual fluidity, and a sense of pride in what makes human beings connected to one another.

Americans were not really supposed to be obsessed with ourselves until the 1970s, but Whitman was ahead of the game by over one hundred years. “Who could there be more wonderful than myself,” he wondered. “I celebrate myself…welcome is every organ and attribute of me.” You could call it narcissism, but confident, body-positive bravado might be more on target. Whitman discussed his lips, his thighs, and his flesh, in ways that other writers seldom did in the nineteenth century: “I dote on myself…there is that lot of me, and all so luscious,” he wrote.

He even name checked himself in his own verse, something more common among contemporary rappers than antebellum poets. “I am Walt Whitman, liberal and lusty as nature,” he announced in a poem about a liaison with a sex worker. In “Song of Myself,” he identified as “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos/Disorderly fleshy and sensual.” Such elevation of self, of course, is one of the signature sensibilities of the millennial generation, but we may not have gotten here without Whitman and the other writers he influenced. Significantly, his work also refused the narrative of self-loathing that would later become a hallmark of queer writing. “I exist as I am, and that is enough,” he proclaimed. (To rephrase it in present day Tumblr parlance: I am valid.)

At the same time that he sung the virtues of self-focused individualism, Whitman also prioritized collective consciousness and empathy. “Whoever degrades another degrades me,” he wrote. “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels…I myself become the wounded person.” In other words, he internalized the pain of fellow humans and saw all of us as taking on each other’s suffering. Whitman’s work also extolled the values of democracy, equality, and interconnectedness. He recognized the humanity of slaves, Native Americans, and all manner of working people, including prostitutes.

Whitman was also a gender egalitarian. “I am the poet of the woman the same as a man/And I say it is great to be a woman as to be a man,” reads one of his most quoted lines. Whitman described relating to women and men, physically and emotionally, in similar fashions (as “comrades and lovers”), which was radical during a time in which the popular understanding of gender was based on starkly binary definitions. Some scholars see this as a version of early feminism, while others wonder if it was a way for Whitman to express his potentially all-inclusive sexual and romantic attractions.

On that note, Whitman’s other major contribution to queer culture was his insistence that identity and behavior are complicated, unpredictable, and sometimes in defiance of logic and cohesion. The famous lines: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes,” were written in 1855, but they resonate long after – this is basically the exact concept behind the “Me/Also Me” memes. The underlying message is that, as humans, we can be more than one thing at the same time. We can embody multiple genders or none at all; we can create new ways of describing the nuances of our experiences and desires; and we can even change our minds about any of it whenever we want, without feeling trapped in one box or another. This is in part thanks to the liberating words of Whitman, who never offered an easy description of his own sexuality but frolicked freely throughout New York’s gay bohemian scene, and composed detailed lists of male lovers in his personal journals.

The poet was probably one of those people who would scoff at the idea of trying to restrict oneself to a single, simplistic label, and then toss his long white beard over his shoulder. “What is man anyhow?” he asked. “What am I? and what are you?” This interrogation of identity is exactly what the LGBTQ community continues to grapple with today. Whitman taught us how to think about ourselves while holding compassion for our brothers and sisters.

Advocacy Groups Demand ICE Release Gay Nigerian

Udoka Nweke’s life depends on his release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That is according to advocacy groups who gathered in front of the ICE office in Santa Ana, CA to demand the gay Nigerian’s release from custody Friday.

According to advocates, Nweke’s 15 months in isolation at Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernardino County put him at risk of suicidality. He can’t go home to Nigeria where he could face imprisonment or death.

“There is no reason to keep him locked up,” Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, told reporters Friday. “He’s simply seeking safety.”

According to advocates, Nweke, 29, is seeking asylum from Nigeria because he faces extreme persecution. Since 2014, Nigeria has banned same-sex relationships, with punishments carrying prison sentences from 10 to 14 years in prison. In some parts of the country, LGBTQ people can be put to death.

Nweke escaped a mob trying to kill him, according to immigrants rights organizations. Jan Meslin, director of social change development at Freedom for Immigrants, has been visiting Nweke in detention. She said Nweke also feared he had been poisoned in Nigeria, so he sought asylum in the United States.

According to an ICE statement to INTO, Nweke applied for admission via San Ysidro port of entry in December 2016 and was denied entry. He was ordered removed, but appealed the decision. He has been held in custody ever since.

Both ICE and advocacy organizations confirm that Nweke suffers from mental illness. Advocates say that Nweke tried to take his own life while in custody, and that he is at risk of suicidality if he remains incarcerated.

Luis Gomez of LGBTQ Center of Orange County says a network of organizations have coordinated support for Nweke to assist him once he’s freed.

“Everything is in place for him to receive all the help that needs,” Gomez said. “All he needs is to be released.”

ICE officials rejected those assertions. In a statement, the agency said that Nweke had been examined by medical and mental health professionals when he entered custody.

“In the ongoing evaluation of his health, medical professionals have determined that Mr. Nweke does suffer from mental illness, which is managed with medication and closely monitored by mental health professionals,” the agency said. “Furthermore, Mr. Nweke has not attempted to end his life while in ICE custody; claims to the contrary are false.”

The demands to release Nweke come just days after a 33-year-old transgender woman died in ICE custody after she suffered pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV. Roxana Hernández ultimately died of cardiac arrest. Her death has sparked national fury, and LGBTQ groups have called for the release of all transgender detainees in ICE custody as a result.

“Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernández sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety or even life,” said Isa Noyola, deputy director at Transgender Law Center.

Advocates drew a parallel between Hernández’s story and Udoko’s, stating that both sought safety in the U.S. and were met with unnecessary brutality. They wanted to prevent Udoko from a fate like Hernández’s.

“Without releasing him, ICE is effectively working to kill him,” Gomez said.