The Supreme Court Has Never Been a Friend to LGBTQ People

The past week has landed blow after devastating blow against people committed to justice, including those of us fighting in the courts to protect LGBTQ lives. It feels impossible to process Wednesday’s news of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement immediately after he helped authorize the Muslim Ban and strike major losses to reproductive justice and public sector unions. The thought of another Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice and the havoc they will wreak on the Constitution is terrifying.

But in the aftermath, we must remember that LGBTQ people have been battling for the right to exist long before we dreamt of a Supreme Court decision acknowledging our right to do so. The reality of LGBTQ legal history is that the Supreme Court has been against us far longer and for more of our history than it has been “for” us. Before Obergefell, before Windsor, and even long before Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case that decriminalized sodomy in the states, we lost. We lost over and over again in state and federal courts across this country, but we never gave up — even when the Court was stacked against us.

Bowers v. Hardwick occurred at a crucial moment in history when our government was ignoring that LGBTQ people were dying of HIV/AIDS by the thousands. In the 1986 case, the Court reviewed a constitutional challenge against a Georgia law that criminalized same-sex intercourse between consenting adults. Because of a clerical error, an Atlanta police officer showed up at Michael Hardwick’s house and observed him engaging in oral sex with a male companion. The officer arrested both Mr. Hardwick and his companion for felony sodomy. Hardwick sued the state of Georgia because as an openly gay man, it was only a matter of time before he was arrested again.

The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where Justice Byron White wrote in a 5-4 majority opinion that the Constitution did not confer a “fundamental right to engage in homosexual activity.”

The loss in Bowers came at a particularly painful moment in LGBTQ history. Five years into the AIDS epidemic, Bowers told LGBTQ people what they were already hearing from their jobs, families, and even hospitals caring for them on their deathbeds: You are not wanted, there is no place for you here. LGBTQ people could not even be assured of their right to privacy in their own homes, perhaps the most important right enshrined in the Constitution. This decision seemed to symbolically say that there was nowhere for queer people to safely exist.

But despite the ruling in Bowers, LGBTQ people kept fighting.

 

Eight months later Larry Kramer and a coalition of New York activists founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power — also known as ACT UP — the group responsible for countless direct actions, political organizing, and agitation that changed the landscape for people living with HIV/AIDS. Among other things, ACT UP shamed President Reagan, the federal government, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into moving more quickly to fund treatment research and drug trials.

ACT UP’s “productively confrontational” methods, like dumping ashes of people dead from AIDS on the White House lawn in 1992, demonstrated that LGBTQ people were not backing down from the fight for their lives.

In addition to waging a war against AIDS, LGBTQ people also fought to change the legal and cultural landscapes of their communities, cities, and states. In 1988 and 1989, the first local and statewide LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws were passed in Austin, Texas, and Massachusetts, respectively. The early 90s saw Minnesota, New Jersey, California, and Vermont banning sexual orientation discrimination in public and private sector employment.  The 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation drew a crowd of nearly one million people, making it one of the largest protests in United States history.

LGBTQ people worked to change hearts and minds in the world around them by demanding dignity and dispelling ignorance, even despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bowers.

In 1995, the Supreme Court issued its next anti-LGBTQ decision in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group in Boston (GLIB) could be excluded from marching in Boston’s venerable St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Court found that the parade inherently constituted a message that the organizers had a First Amendment right to protect—which appears to be that Irish-American LGBTQ people are not welcome.

The Court’s decision, authored by Justice Souter, found without that a large public parade, loosely organized by a private group was entitled to exclude whomever they chose, even though the only other group ever excluded was the Ku Klux Klan.

Despite the Supreme Court’s clear message that LGBTQ people could continue to be excluded and erased from public life, the community remained undeterred in its fight to exist. In the years between Hurley and before the court’s first “pro LGBTQ” ruling in Lawrence, the movement challenged virulent anti-LGBTQ laws across the country. The very next year, in Romer v. Evans, the Supreme Court overturned Colorado’s Amendment 2, which would have amended the state’s constitution to prevent any city, town, or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to recognize LGBTQ people as a protected class.

In 1999, the first Transgender Day of Remembrance was organized by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to increase awareness about violence against transgender people. The next year the Transgender Pride Flag was first flown at a Pride March in Phoenix, while the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) established its Transgender Network, acknowledging the particular challenges faced by transgender people.

These hard-fought cultural milestones stand in stark opposition to a historically unresponsive Supreme Court.

It wasn’t until 2003 that the Supreme Court announced its decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overruled Bowers and found that LGBTQ people had a constitutional right to privacy. In a vote of 6-3, Justice Kennedy found that state sodomy bans were, thus, illegal: “Gay people are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”

Yet even when LGBTQ people have won at the Supreme Court, it has not heralded the end of homophobia and transphobia. Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision legalizing marriage equality, led to a calculated backlash from conservatives attempting to erase LGBTQ people from public life.

While the effort to resist Obergefell began in the states, it has been allowed to thrive by an approving Supreme Court. One recent example comes from the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that same-sex marriages are not entitled to the same publicly funded benefits as opposite-sex marriages. The City of Houston appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which in December of 2017 refused to hear the case.

Similarly, Mississippi passed its own anti-LGBTQ law, commonly known as House Bill 1523, allowing for “religious belief” to justify statewide sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Lambda Legal petitioned the Supreme Court to step in. It again refused. 

These mounting challenges to basic rights for LGBTQ people make it clear that our struggle does not end with a Supreme Court decision in our favor.

The truth is that the Supreme Court, even with the presence of Justice Kennedy, has been against LGBTQ people far more often than it has been for them. The Court has ignored historical discrimination and violence, having the audacity to criminalize intimate relationships in the midst of the AIDS crisis, when queer intimacy was demonized at every turn. It has consistently turned a cold shoulder to continued attacks on LGBTQ people’s dignity and constitutional rights, even after the landmark decision in Obergefell, which the Court itself has failed to uphold or protect in myriad ways.

Perhaps the more salient truth is that a shift on the Court is not the end of our story, nor is it the end of our fight; it’s the world as LGBTQ people have always known it. It’s a world where we have always made our own way and we have always fought to save our own lives, with or without the Supreme Court’s permission.

Images via Getty

1,000 People March in Istanbul LGBTQ Pride Parade, Defying Ban

Hundreds gathered in Istanbul on Saturday in defiance of the government’s ban on LGBTQ Pride for the fourth year in a row.

Gathering near the parade’s originally planned location at Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square, an estimated 1,000 people waved rainbow flags and blasted Lady Gaga in support of Turkey’s LGBTQ community. Calling the ban on Pride “comical,” LGBTQ activists read a statement claiming that they would refuse to “recognize this ban.”

“This march is organized in order to fight against the violence and discrimination fueled by that governorship decision,” organizers said on Facebook prior to this weekend’s event, noting that Pride “went on peacefully” for over a decade.

Yuri Guaiana, a campaigner with the LGBTQ group All Out, added that the community’s “unending strength and defiance” was on display during this weekend’s event.

Although police dressed in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, marchers shouted, “Don’t be silent, shout out, homosexuals exist.” Eleven people were reportedly arrested during the standoff between authorities and the LGBTQ community members.

The crowd eventually disbanded after a nearly hour-long altercation with authorities.

At one time the largest and most high-profile LGBTQ Pride event in the Muslim world, the parade was banned by Istanbul’s government for the first time in 2015—a year after former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ascended to the presidency. Although homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since 1923, city officials claimed the march could not be held during the holy month of Ramadan.

Istanbul has continued to ban the parade every year since then. According to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, the city cited “security concerns and the need to uphold public order” as reasons for its denial. This year Governor Vasip Şahin claimed in a statement that he “did not find [the celebrations] appropriate.”

The government’s opposition to LGBTQ Pride has had a major impact on turnout to the event, which was first held in 2013. After an estimated 100,000 people turned out for the 2014 march, only a few hundred attended just a year later.

International human rights organizations have blasted the government’s attacks on Pride. ILGA called the controversy a “litmus test for democratic values.”

“And make no mistake, this is harming all of society, not just the LGBTQ communities and their allies,” claimed ILGA Program Director Björn van Roozendaal. “Attacks on activism and dissenting voices, a constant refusal from authorities to engage with their citizens, and persistent disregard for fundamental rights—this is something that should provoke a reaction from all communities, not only the LGBTQ movement.”

Amnesty International added that “people around the world are standing in solidarity with Turkey’s LGBTQ activists.”

“In the current climate of fear, where authorities are clamping down on civil society, freedom of expression and diversity, it is all the more important for LGBTQ individuals to be visible and freely celebrate pride,” claimed Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s campaigns director for Europe, in a statement.

LGBTQ groups have called on Turkey to uphold a set of standards passed by the Council of Europe urging countries to oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

But Erdogan’s government is known for its increasingly repressive relationship toward sexual and gender minorities, as well as political dissidents. In addition to the crackdown on LGBTQ parades, the city of Ankara blocked a screening of the 2014 film Pride last week. Istanbul’s Trans Pride event was banned last year.

In a statement released prior to Saturday’s event, LGBTQ advocates vowed to continue fighting the ban on Pride.

“Authorities can ban peaceful gatherings, they can silence dissent, they can use hard, raw power to bully and coerce others,” said Matt Beard, Executive Director for All Out. “But they will never extinguish the hunger for freedom, respect, and dignity that are at the very heart of Pride.”

Images via All Out

Instagram Apologizes for Removing Photo of Gay Men Kissing

This weekend, photographer Stella Asia Consonni posted a photograph on Instagram, one she’d taken depicting two men kissing. Soon after, the social media site removed the photo for “violating community guidelines.”

While this is far from the first time the photo-sharing service has flagged LGBTQ content as inappropriate, this story, luckily, has a happy ending.

Following much public outrage, including from celebrities like Olly Alexander of Years & Years and Jade Thirlwall, the app apologized for the mishap, claiming it was a mistake.

“This post was removed in error and we are sorry,” a spokesperson for Instagram said. “It has since been reinstated.”

The photo, which features Jordan Bowen and Luca Lucifer kissing, was first published in i-D magazine as part of a series by Consonni in which the artist explores relationships via portraits of couples. The gay couple in question has been together for seven years, and they were heartbroken by the initial removal of their photo.

On his own Instagram, Bowen expressed feeling like his relationship had been “reduced to a Community Guideline.” He called out Instagram for its hypocrisy in using LGBTQ pride to enhance the social message behind its brand, but enforcing archaic rules that prove otherwise. “Earlier this was removed from @stellaasiaconsonni and flagged as inappropriate,” Bowen wrote. “@instagram spoon feeds us with rainbows and hashtags to appear in solidarity but it seems real people in love have no place here. This is discriminatory and archaic and violates our right as a couple.”

After the social media site fixed the glaring error, he has since posted again, noting, “IT’S OFFICIAL. #lovewins.”

The photographer, too, has spoken out since the incident. “Thank you for the amazing support that came from so many of you,” she said in an Instagram story. “This is just a very teeny tiny event in the grand scheme of things but seeing all the amazing response certainly restored a little of my faith in humanity. Instagram briefly apologised. But there is still a long way to go in the fight against homophobia.”

IT’S OFFICIAL. #lovewins ❤️

A post shared by JORDAN GENE BOWEN / (@mrjordanbowen) on

In a final message to her followers, the artist added, “This goes to all my beautiful friends that have to deal with this BS all the time. Keep fighting.”

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Winner Aquaria Dishes on Strategy, Sharon Needles, and Lip Syncs

Turning tricks, stunting pretty, she’s the bitch from New York City. Newly crowned as America’s Next Drag Superstar, RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 winner Aquaria spoke to INTO about why she never had a final line ready to write on the mirror and the odd parallels between her season and her drag mother’s.

You really were a strategy queen, though people didn’t give you credit for it. What was your strategy going into the game?

Win. [laughs] No, for me I just wanted to always put my best foot forward with whatever challenge was presented. The key to that was confidence or the delusion of convincing myself that I was confident enough to do anything. It’s not every day that drag queens are doing half the shit we were doing this season. Whenever I had a moment of self-doubt or, you know, a moment where I was questioning my ability to do a particular task, I’d convince myself I was confident enough to do it. And also never seeing the end of my story was also key to me. Like, I never had an exit line if I had to go home. I was beyond prepared to lip sync every single week. But for me, it was just seeing the crown at the end of the tunnel and running full speed ahead.

Famously, when Violet Chachki was on her season, she never had to lip sync but she always said she had a reveal or something planned just in case. You’re a huge student of Drag Race, so I want to know if you had any things planned during the season for a specific song?

One I can think of was for my “Hats incredible!” runway for the DragCon panel challenge. I wanted to play up a whole lot of the magician aspect of that look and I had a lot of hidden secrets that I was planning on using had I needed to. I even had a trombone that I crafted out of paper taped inside of the top hat that I was going to pull out for the trumpet solo on that song. I was always very prepared just in case anything ever happened because lip syncing and being in the bottom two sucks but it’s an opportunity to show up and show out. For me, had I had to lip sync, I knew I’d have to get through it to make it to the end.

Have you and your drag mother, Sharon, talked about the fact that you ended up being two drag queens with the names “Michaels” and “O’Hara” for the crown?

Oh yeah, well obviously. No one knew this except [the queens] on the show, but when it was the final four, I told my mother, I don’t mean to be the one, but we literally have O’Haras, a Michaels who is a great Cher impersonator, and Sharon Needles’ drag daughter! You can’t write these things, but it’s the crazy life we live.

What is some advice your drag mother gave you before you started the show?

I mean, I tried to keep it kinda under wraps that I was on the show just because I am not stubborn, but I like doing things my own way and for very valid reasons. I didn’t want help from too many people but she always told me to be optimistic, go in with an open mind and really turn it out because I am a fierce entertainment and runway artist. So show that.

What does it mean to you to be the youngest winner ever on Drag Race and then also to be able to snatch the crown?

Well, there’s definitely been lots of other 21-year-olds on the show and Tyra and Violet also won at a young age, but it’s nice to be with a group of girls and earn their respect and their love and get that from RuPaul as well. There’s a lot of time when young people are discredited for their work or things that are assumed about them that are not true and I like to defy those stereotypes and show that I’m using every last bit of my youth and energy to work my ass off to get to whatever level of career or anything that I need to. I’m a hard ass worker and to be respected as a young person and as a hard worker was very validating.

Images via Getty

Nearly Half of the General Public is Ready for a Lesbian Disney Princess

Back in 2016, when America was still wide-eyed and bushy-tailed in hopes of having a female president, fans of the movie Frozen launched a campaign to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. The campaign picked up steam, even garnering comments from the movie’s stars and writer. While the LGBTQ community remains hopeful ahead of Frozen 2’s 2019 release, a new survey said that approximately 34% of people are actually still “uncomfortable” with the idea of a gay Disney princess. However, 49 percent — nearly half of those polled — said they were ready for Gay Elsa.

According to British polling service YouGov, over half of the participants were comfortable with an overweight Disney princess and 70 percent were on board with the idea of a princess being a parent. Somewhat unsurprisingly — though still disheartening — support for an LGBTQ princess lagged the furthest behind. Of those polled, more people were willing to see a “feminist” princess than a queer one (53 percent).

However, the findings varied across age groups. YouGov found that 67 percent of people aged 18-24 supported the idea of a gay Disney princess, while only one-quarter of those aged over 65 expressed support. The same survey found that, overall, people found princesses of color, like Moana and Mulan, to be the best role models for girls, while basics like Ariel and Aurora came in dead last. Bye, bitch!

Idina Menzel, who plays the Ice Queen herself, voiced her support for the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign in 2016. “I can’t promise anybody that that’s what’s gonna happen,” she divulged, “But deep down am I really happy that it’s causing people to talk about it and have these kinds of conversations? Yeah, I am.”

Menzel’s co-star Kristen Bell, who voices Anna, gave an ambiguous answer too, explaining, “Whatever Elsa wants to do is up to her, and it’s up to us to support her. I cannot confirm or deny I think in Frozen 1 she was young, so she’s still figuring stuff out.”

The movie’s writer and co-director Jennifer Lee offered an even more frustrating and ambivalent soundbite on #GiveElsaAGirlfriend earlier this year. She told HuffPost, “Where we’re going with it, we have tons of conversations about it, and we’re really conscientious about these things.” Lee added, “For me … Elsa’s every day telling me where she needs to go, and she’ll continue to tell us. I always write from character-out, and where Elsa is and what Elsa’s doing in her life, she’s telling me every day. We’ll see where we go.”

To date, Disney has never portrayed an out, queer character, despite the studio promising an “exclusively gay moment” for LeFou in their live-action Beauty & The Beast, which only displayed the character dancing with another male character. If Disney actually decides to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, it would be monumental for LGBTQ representation in children’s movies.

The people are ready, Disney! Well, half of us are.

Asia O’Hara Dishes on Her Finale Stunt, the Emotional Reunion and ‘All-Stars’

Asia O’Hara brought the laughter, the looks and the love to Season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The top 4 queen, who unfortunately lost a lip sync to Kameron Michaels during the finale, may not have snatched the crown, but she certainly snatched America’s hearts.

INTO caught up with Asia O’Hara to talk about her drag daughter’s Drag Race future, what would have happened had her reveal gone off without a hitch and what it was like to compete alongside Season 10’s Black queens.

What was it like for you to walk into the room and see so many black queens alongside you?

I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t really look at it like that until after we finished and people were commenting on how many Black queens there were. I don’t normally go into situations and that’s the first thing I notice. But obviously there were more than normal, but I didn’t look at it that way until people started to bring it up.

In my and many people’s opinions, you were the looks AND comedy queen of the season. You won both comedic acting challenges and always stunned on the runway. But many queens of color aren’t considered looks girls or comedy girls. Do you think you queens of color are given the same chance when it comes to being seen that way?

I don’t think it’s a matter of being given a chance. I think we’re all given an equal chance. It’s just when it comes to looks, it’s just what people prefer to see. It’s not just queens of color, it’s also queens of different body types. You can take a lot of garments and put them on a certain girl and they’d not be as well received as they would be if they were on someone else. It’s not that they aren’t given a chance, it’s a matter of what people prefer to see.  

During the ball challenge, you definitely approached drag like you would back home — like a communal, family-based art. But Drag Race is obviously a competition and you and the girls spoke about that. Do you think there should be more avenues for representation of drag culture beyond Drag Race?

Um, I can’t say exactly that. I do feel like drag deserves just as much recognition and opportunity and outlets as any other form and luckily if you’re a singer you can be a recording artist and go on tour, you can sing on Broadway — there’s multiple avenues to success. And so drag deserves the same. And the fact about drag is there are — I come from the pageant world and there are a lot of drag queens that will not be successful in pageants, but that doesn’t make their drag less successful. Same with Drag Race. There are great queens that have not been successful in that competition, but it doesn’t mean their drag is any less valuable. Any opportunity for someone to shine when it comes to drag or any art form is a great idea.

For many fans, you were a highlight of the reunion, especially because you stood up for The Vixen when so many queens did not. Were you disappointed that you were the only one who spoke up or do you understand why they stayed silent?

No, that’s not everyone’s specific derivative. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and different ways of supporting people. I might have been the only one that sat there and said something, but I’m not the only one who went to the room to speak to her. Everybody, for the most part, that was affected by it, did something in their own way to show their support. Not everyone is that type of advocate and with every conversation about change or about perceptions, there are certain people on the forefront and there are people who march behind them but they don’t have the tools necessary to speak out.

What did you think of your emotional back and forth with RuPaul?

I didn’t expect any of it to happen. But the nature of conversations — I understood that she was raising her voice because she felt strongly about what she was saying and she understood I was emotional because I felt very strongly about what I was saying. I think it was very respectful between the both of us and we both wanted to be heard. It’s a natural communication style when two people are talking about something they’re passionate about.

I want to talk a little bit about the finale. Obviously, you gave an interview about your reveal already, but I was wondering first: if the reveal had gone as planned, what would your plan have been to gather all the butterflies from the theatre? Were there professionals there with you?

No, they aren’t meant to — once released, they’re not meant to be captured. They were meant to fly away. So had things gone according to plan, that would’ve been the endpoint of it.

And what did you have planned for the “Bang Bang” lip sync?

I don’t want to say what I had planned, because I don’t want to take away from the girls on stage and I don’t want to turn this into a “This is what you missed out on” moment and it’s something I spent twice as much energy on and I’m excited to showcase it at some point. But I don’t feel like now is the appropriate time. I’d rather spend time celebrating the great performance the girls did for the song.

Since the show’s aired, you’ve been very vocal about the way being a black queen has made fan reception to you different. What do you think is the main difference between how you are treated now and how you would be treated if you were a white queen with the same skill set?

Um, you know, people love and like what they love and like. And you know, perception unchallenged is reality. A lot of people perceive a certain aesthetic as perfection. Luckily in Drag Race and drag as a whole, I get to challenge that perception and show I’m just as viable as any other person, but it’s getting over that hump. It would be a different road or path for me if I didn’t have to work as hard to get people just to, you know, take a look at what I was doing. One of my favorite quotes is from John Mayer: You have to work twice as hard just to get them back to knowing nothing about you from thinking they know something about you.

You brought your drag daughter to the competition. Knowing what you know about Drag Race now — how it can offer a platform but subject you to so much — do you want that for her? Does she want to go on?

I do want that for her and I do think she would audition. The thing about Drag Race that I tell a lot of people is that that’s something you wanna do when you’re ready. I auditioned three times and I know the first two times I auditioned, if I got on, I wouldn’t have made it to the top four. I didn’t have the skill set or resources. It’s important you go into that when it’s the right time for you. I definitely think she’d be a great competitor. Right now probably not, but a couple seasons down the road, she’d be fabulous.

Would you come back for an All-Stars season?

Um, you know, it kinda depends. I’m taking things day by day. If I got the call today, my answer would be different than it would be a month from now or six months or a year for me. I’m not opposed to All-Stars, but I’m not gung-ho about it right now. If and when I get an invitation, I’ll look at my life then and see if it’s something I can do effectively at that time.

Remembering Jon C. Hinson, The House Representative Arrested For Sodomy Turned LGBTQ Activist

“Let us hold tightly to one another, taking pride in who and what we are… ultimately God’s creatures all.” —Jon C. Hinson

America thrills at the prospect of a tragic figure: the sorrowful empty vessel into which we pour our shortcomings. 

Jon C. Hinson was one such figure.

Born in Tylertown, Mississippi, Hinson rose from relative political obscurity to become the Republican Representative for the state’s 4th District. He had been working for Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), previous occupant of the seat, and jumped at the chance to run when Cochran moved into the Senate, winning in 1978.

Unsaid at the time was the fact that Hinson was at the time deeply closeted.

In 1977, the Cinema Follies, an adult film theater catering to gay men at 37 L Street SE in Washington, D.C., burned down, taking the lives of several men. Hinson was among the survivors. One year prior, Hinson had been arrested for morals charges after the then 38-year-old two-term Congressman was charged with sodomy, a felony, and released on $2,000 bail for a hearing, alongside Harold Moore, a library assistant at the Library of Congress.

In the run-up, word of Hinson’s 1976 arrest got out, leading to scandal, shock, and…reelection. In a four-way race, Hinson won the plurality, retaining his seat. When he got back to Washington, D.C., he was soon arrested again, this time in a Capitol office building, while engaged in oral sex with another man. Arrested for sodomy, he resigned in April of 1981.

The scandal, made all the more shocking for the fact that Hinson was white and was caught with a black man, played on the unsympathetic fears of a homophobic populace. Jet Magazine noted at the time that Judge Turk Thompson let Hinson go, but jailed the other man overnight; they also noted that although the national press did not note the race of the other man, it was heavily hyped in Jackson, Miss., “provoking a spate of demands for [Hinson’s] resignation.”

With his second term ending abruptly, Hinson quietly left political life…at least for a little while.

Casting it off

Hinson was all of this, but he was none of this at the same time. Like so much scandal today, far too much of it is the product of the popular imagination. It’s not what he had done, it’s what people think he’d done. There’s no question that Hinson had been caught in the men’s room with another man, or at the Iwo Jima Memorial, but the feverish belief of the homophobic mind fills in blanks that don’t exist, expanding those shrunken spaces where the closeted and the thrill-seeking alike exist for public scrutiny.

Homophobes, Hinson once told partygoers at a celebration for the organization Virginians for Justice, are “happy…to consign us all to a kind of social, political, moral ghetto where tragically many of us remain, victims of their hate and victims of their internalized homophobia with which so many of us, myself included, have had to contend.”

Hinson believed that “much of the abuse and discrimination [the LGBTQ community has] endured is due to our own acceptance or ‘buying into’ their agenda,” including accepting the ideas behind constitutional limits on rights, being “inherently unworthy of admission” to governing organizations, and restrictions on family formation.

In order to break free of these limitations, Hinson became an activist.

According to Bart Forbes, Urvashi Vaid introduced the two of them after Hinson sought out opportunities to get into gay politics. Vaid was the executive director of the National Gay Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), and Forbes was involved in a variety of local-level activist organizations and knew Vaid from prior work at the Gay Community News in Boston. “[Hinson and I] first met when I invited him to the [Alexandria Gay Citizens Association] fifth-anniversary party and fundraiser on June 11, 1988,” recalled Forbes.

Hinson would continue to help Forbes with organizing, assisting at Fairfax Lesbian and Gay Citizens Association events, advising Virginians for Justice, and working at the TV station he helped found with Forbes and others, GAY FAIRFAX.

Much more than that

Hinson’s life before activism was much different than the scandal narrative would suggest, and his tension with the past reflected an effort to navigate life in (and out of) the closet. Even so, it’s difficult to find his involvement with any particular legislative act that can be construed as anti-gay.

Hinson was faced with one solitary anti-gay vote, an anti-promotion of homosexuality amendment to the Legal Services Corporation Authorization Bill in 1980. When the amendment was offered by Rep. Larry McDonald (D-Ga.), rather than vote on it, Hinson left the floor and went to a physician’s appointment. Hinson noted this in a personal letter in which he explains that author Michelangelo Signorile, in writing the first edition of Queer in America, erred in stating he had voted against gay rights.

In the second edition of Queer in America, no such assertion exists.

“I can’t look into his heart,” Hinson wrote of Signorile’s first attempt, “but I can judge his research skills which, in my case, are absolutely abominable.”

Hinson’s congressional career was remembered fondly, and to this day still is.

Stuart P. Stevens, once a Hinson staffer and campaign worker, recalled in a 1995 Clarion-Ledger article that Hinson was “an exceedingly bright, very gifted person in many ways.” Stevens and Hinson originally met when Stevens was a page for Rep. Charley Griffin (D-Miss.), Hinson was the Chief of Staff.

Stevens, today a media consultant who served in Mitt Romney’s 2008 primary campaign and became the Utah Governor’s (and now US Senate Candidate) top strategist for 2012, still has warm memories of Hinson.

“Jon ran against the son of Senator John Stennis and no one thought he could win,” said Stuart of Hinson’s first campaign. “He called me when I was in film school at UCLA and asked me to make ads for him. I told him that I really didn’t know how to make ads, but he said he couldn’t afford to hire anyone and I had to. Sort of joking but sort of not. He ended up winning which really was a function of him being a good candidate and being in the right place at the right time, not our ads. “

“Jon was a wonderful person,” recalled Stevens. “Funny, smart, very kind to those working for him. You know he came from Tylertown, Mississippi, and his dad was a Democratic Supervisor. Loved his parents.” Hinson’s mother and father both tragically perished after a fire in 1984.

According to the New York Times, his father was in his fifth term as supervisor and his mother was the Tylertown librarian at the time. “Those small-town Mississippi roots were always with Jon,” remarked Stevens.

Saying goodbye

Stevens says he and Hinson didn’t remain as close as he had liked. “I spoke to Jon a few times after he resigned but sadly didn’t really stay in touch,” said Stuart. “I wish I had.”

Bart Forbes’ tribute to Hinson drew on not only his memories, but those of Hinson’s friends from Mississippi. So touched by Hinson were these friends that one offered the following words to Forbes: “It was great to have had the opportunity to spend time with Jon on his last two visits to Tylertown. Although there were years when I did not see him I never lost faith in him.”

Yet, it’s in Hinson’s own words that his humanity is most visible.

In his address to Virginians for Justice, Hinson begins his closing remarks with the following:

“Let us not be blinded to the intentions of those who mean to do us harm but let us not be blinded to the efforts being made by the good-hearted people out there who may not yet be ready to make a whole-hearted commitment to our cause…for ignorance is a curable disease. Finally, let us hold tightly to each other, believing in each other, and believing in the essential. Consummate rightness of our cause in its eventual triumph. It will come, soon or late, it will come.”

Hinson died of respiratory failure resulting from AIDS in Silver Spring, Maryland in July of 1995. He was 53.

Images via Getty

The Queer Ambiguity of ‘Killing Eve’

We are currently swimming in a sea of queer film & TV. Just this past year, we have seen LGBTQ characters at the center of runaway hits (Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot), critically-acclaimed awards darlings (Angels in America, Call Me By Your Name), and even big-budget studio films (Love, Simon). Queerness has become mainstream. But despite this wealth of gay programming, there are very few queer stories on television quite like Killing Eve.

The new BBC show, which was (deservedly) showered with nominations from the Television Critics Association last week, tells the story of a British cop, Eve (Sandra Oh), as she hunts down an assassin named Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Eve and Villanelle become fascinated with each other immediately, long before they ever meet face-to-face. Unlike other LGBTQ stories that construct narratives around a centrally defined relationship or identity, Killing Eve never explicitly names Eve and Villanelle’s desire. It is often sexual, at times romantic, and occasionally vengeful. No matter what way I try to spin it, I can’t quite seem to find the words to pin it down. Some writers have imagined how the show could be more explicit about this central relationship, but what I find most exciting about this relationship is how it resists simple categorization.

When gay characters are depicted in media, their queerness is too often forced into a restrictive template. We usually only see characters that are out and proud, and if they are not, they must learn to become out and proud. Other shows may drop hints of a character’s homosexuality without it leading anywhere, a practice referred to as queerbaiting (I’m looking at you, Sherlock). Due to television’s long history of queerbaiting and the “bury your gay” trope, many critics understandably demand that characters’ queer sexualities be explicitly named. However, while creating gay role models is essential, the problem here is that the expectation for one’s sexuality to be clearly defined becomes just that: an expectation for stories to fit within a narrow understanding of what it means to be gay. This expectation seeps into our celebrity culture, too; it demands that actors either publicly come out in a way that feels familiar or be vilified — which happened recently with Lee Pace — without recognizing that each person’s process can be completely different. We unfairly separate queer narratives into those that are “legitimate” and “illegitimate” based on mainstream conceptions of gayness.

In a recent episode of the Still Processing podcast, hosts Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham wrestle with these questions. They make excellent points about Hollywood’s commodification and straightening of queerness, but they also criticize Janelle Monae for coming out as pansexual in a way that feels—perhaps unintentionally—like a ranking of acceptable identities. Throughout their conversation, they place great value on individuals who make unambiguous announcements about their sexuality. But while there can, of course, be something quite powerful and liberating about coming out in such a conclusive way, the narrative of the closet does not hold true for everyone, nor should it have to. When discussing the musician Rita Ora, Morris explains that people wanted a “cleaner declaration” of her sexuality, but what if some people’s queerness simply isn’t clean?

This void of messy queer narratives is precisely why the ambiguity of Killing Eve is so thrilling. It depicts a queerness that we do not already have a mold for in media; it is not a joyful love story, a tragedy, or a tease. It never outright explains its characters’ sexualities, but unlike shows that queerbait their audiences, Killing Eve does not need to name the relationship between Eve and Villanelle in order to recognize it. Both characters’ interest in the other is rooted in a desire of an unknown — a life away from the men that presently structure their lives. From the get-go, Eve is shown to have a nice job with a loving partner, but something is clearly missing; she grows bored and impatient with her surroundings. Villanelle, too, finds something refreshingly new about her playful cat-and-mouse game with Eve. She has no qualms about disposing of her father-figure handler Konstantin or the assorted men and women she encounters during her travels, but she can’t seem to shake Eve — nor does she want to. Eve and Villanelle are both deeply affected by each other in a way that is not only sexual or romantic, but also rooted in the potential of an alternate lifestyle. They enter into an elaborate dance, edging closer to one other while always being just slightly out of reach.

The archetype of the killer and obsessed cop is nothing new. It has recurred over decades, perhaps most notably in Silence of the Lambs and most recently in Netflix’s Mindhunter. But what makes Killing Eve remarkable is how it treats Eve’s desire. While tracking Villanelle, Eve does not fall into a downward spiral and is not forced to grapple with some “inner darkness.” Unlike the cops that have come before her, Eve is fiercely competent. She never loses sight of the fact that Villanelle is dangerous, and when Eve almost lets her guard down in the finale, she still stabs Villanelle in the chest.

And despite this very real danger, series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge paints their relationship in light flirtatious brushstrokes. Eve throws her job and respect for authority out the window in favor of finding Villanelle, a decision that isn’t portrayed as naïve but rather as invigorating. I couldn’t stop myself from addictively watching episode after episode to see how these two women’s lives would continue to intersect. The delightful chaos of the show stems from its queer sense of play, from the thrill of Eve and Villanelle discovering something about themselves within the other. Eve’s obsession with Villanelle is not a mistake. It opens up doors—it is an entry-point into a new life. In the finale, their connection comes to a head when Eve surprises herself by trashing Villanelle’s apartment. She pretends she is in Villanelle’s mind to explore how it feels and how it changes her. And in this moment, I found myself letting out a sigh of relief. Finally, I thought. Eve’s queerness is exhilarating because she is flirting not only with another person but also with a version of herself that she sees reflected through Villanelle. And it is an image of herself that she doesn’t necessarily hate.

It is clear that Eve and Villanelle will never have a monogamous or loving relationship, but it is also clear that there is a sexual nature to the games they play (Villanelle tells Eve, “I masturbate to you”). The show does not shy away from its characters’ sexual attraction but also complicates this narrative at every turn. Killing Eve reflects an amorphous view of queerness — a queer sensibility rather than a queer identity.  A sense of play, curiosity, and unfiltered desire. It is a different, but equally important, form of representation. And, as of the end of its first season, this delightfully bizarre cat-and-mouse game has no ending in sight.

Killing Eve’s queerness isn’t a clean declaration — it is a feeling, a taste that permeates across the screen. Seeing loving monogamous gay couples in TV and film can be important for many people, but there is also something freeing about a queerness that does not need to, and perhaps cannot be, named. Killing Eve relishes in its winsome ambiguity, forcing us to ask: why do we demand our queer stories be so cut and dry? What is our stake in explicitly naming and identifying a particular form of queerness — one that so often resembles hetero relationships? And whose stories, like Eve and Villanelle’s, do we risk leaving behind in the process?

California Vice Mayor Faces Recall After Declaring July ‘Straight Pride Month’

Residents of a small California town are calling for Vice Mayor Ted Hickman to be recalled after referring to LGBTQ people as “faries” (sic) and “tinker bells” in a column calling for Straight Pride Month.

In an op-ed published Friday in Dixon’s Independent Voice, the vice mayor declared July to be “SPAM,” or “Straight Pride American Month.”

Hickman claimed that he does support “the rights of grown men to wear skin-tight short-shorts and go-go boots” but believes that straight people deserve an annual holiday to celebrate being “healthy, heterosexual, fairly monogamous, [and keeping] our kinky stuff to ourselves.”

“We do it with our parades in every state and county in this country with families celebrating together,” he wrote. “We honor our country and our veterans who have made all of this possible (including for the tinker bells) and we can do it with actual real pride, not some put on show just to help our inferior complex ‘show we are different’ type of crap.”

Hickman added that Straight Pride recognizes that heterosexuals are simply “different” from LGBTQ people.

“We work, have families, (and babies we make) enjoy and love the company (and marriage) of the opposite sex and don’t flaunt our differences dressing up like fairies and prancing by the thousands in a parade in nearby San Francisco to be televised all over the world,” he continued.

Hickman noted that while he cannot issue an official proclamation commemorating July as “Straight Pride Month,” he added, “What the heck.”

Residents of Dixon, which is approximately 20 miles southwest of Sacramento, immediately called for the vice mayor’s removal from office after the column was published. Despite having a population of less than 20,000 people, more than 900 people have joined a “Recall Ted Hickman” Facebook page proclaiming that “bigotry has no place in public office in the State of California.”

Critics plan to protest the next Dixon City Council meeting on July 10 and LGBTQ groups are planning Dixon’s first Pride event on July 28 in response to Dixon’s comments. Over 100 people have marked “attending” on Facebook.

Equality California, the state’s leading LGBTQ group, plans to support their efforts. In a statement calling for Hickman to “resign immediately, Executive Director Rick Zbur claimed that “hate and intolerance are alive and well in fringe politicians like Mr. Hickman who spew hateful rhetoric in an attempt to dehumanize members of our LGBTQ community.”

“Mr. Hickman’s words have no place in our society—especially at a time when our nation is already so divided and studies show hate crimes are on the rise,” he said in a statement.

“The First Amendment protects Mr. Hickman’s right to make inflammatory, hateful remarks about members of the LGBTQ community, and he is certainly entitled to his opinion,” Zbur continued. “But he’s not entitled to serve in elected office and the very same Amendment protects the rights of Dixon residents and pro-equality Californians to stand up and demand accountability. That’s what we intend to do.”

But despite fellow city council members calling Hickman’s comments “deeply disturbing,” the conservative is not backing down.

In a Saturday phone interview with The Sacramento Bee, Hickman claimed his remarks were “tongue-in-cheek” and alleged that only “thin-skinned people took offense” to the column, which he has been publishing intermittently in the Independent Voice since the 1960s. The column is entitled “That’s Life.”

“I do represent them equally on government issues, not their personal habits,” he added in a separate interview with the Vacaville Reporter. “I’m not elected to represent their lifestyle.”

Hickman noted it’s improbable he will get recalled because “the numbers aren’t there.”

Mayor Thom Bogue affirmed in a statement that he believes “in a person’s freedom of speech even when [he doesn’t] like what they are saying” but signaled he would support any action to remove Hickman from office.

“[A] person also has to recognize the consequences of their statements,” Bogue claimed. “It is not within my capabilities to sanction an elected official for what they wish to publish in the paper, nor would I, that is up to constituents within his district to determine if he represents their beliefs.”

Hickman is up for reelection in November.

The Commodification of Divine

I came to Divine late — embarrassingly so. Until frighteningly recently, I hadn’t seen any of her films, except for Hairspray, which I remember watching almost on a loop for a year in 1998 when my grandfather died. Until recently, I’d only known of her as an idea, something I instinctively felt aligned with. But I didn’t know anything about her. In the past year, I’ve started to learn.

It seemed the mainstream commodification of Divine began in 2018, after a Kat von D makeup palette launched in the spring, using Divine’s face and image to sell the product. This corresponded with the announcement of Criterion Collection’s release of Female Trouble, the legendary John Waters film featuring a star-making performance by Divine as Dawn Davenport, a rebellious teen turned career criminal turned acid-stained performance artist screaming in the electric chair. Divine, it appeared, was finally ready for the mass market.

It’s not surprising that the image of Divine entering the mainstream should give some of us pause. I enjoy the idea of an idol who’s completely indigestible in the mainstream, especially in an age of RuPaul and bachelorette party-infested gay bars. Creating an emblem of vicious, lethal womanhood, consisting of overlarge, frightening features, desperate acts, who inhabits the body of a woman of size in a way that’s unabashed and powerful, is incredible. When that image becomes adopted by communities that don’t exactly go out of their way to embrace the most radical ideas embodied in drag, it makes someone like me cringe. And by someone like me, I don’t mean a drag queen or a non-binary person. I’m not a drag queen in the real sense — I don’t perform, and I don’t have a persona, and being on the male spectrum of things may or may not disqualify me — I haven’t exactly gone out of my way to find out.

It makes me cringe as a non-binary person who wears, loves, and finds ways to feel visible through makeup. It’s not about running through YouTube tutorials at the speed of light. It’s about being scrappy, using far too much glitter and loose pigment, and making a fucking mess before you find a face for the day that’s going to make you feel beautiful, terrifying, and larger-than-life at the same time. Makeup is power, and I don’t doubt that. But the multi-billion dollar industry is just that: An industry. In the same way that the Criterion Collection enjoys taking the lowest and highest cinema and re-releasing it in sleek new packaging, so, too, does the makeup industry take seeds of ideas that were once radical (red eyeliner, anyone?) and make them tame. Or at least, consumable on a grand scale.

I came to makeup as I came to Divine: late in life. After a lifetime spent resenting the prevalence of lipstick, eyeshadow, and nail polish ads – which at the time seemed like the purest machinations of the male capitalist imagination – I found myself, on the verge of 30, interested in the world of makeup. As a trans guy who is also genderqueer, the discovery of makeup has been a revelation. It allowed me to experiment, alternate, and most importantly play with different looks, each time asking myself, “Is this me? Could this be me?” The idea of switching out different faces for my own was appealing as I started to physically come into my own.

Through a series of experimentations, my own resistance to conformity, and a general celebration of anti-establishment, my relationship with makeup, especially the bright, electrifying colors of the more daring brands like Urban Decay and Kat von D, sent me down a certain path. I began to explore the meaning of makeup, its purpose, and,  particularly in queer culture, its importance. Through a series of documentaries, books, and conversations I learned that this idea, of free, beautiful exchange between faces and forms was one of the basic tenets of drag culture.

With the emergence of Drag Race and its fun, campy queens beloved by straights and queers alike, I quickly became indifferent to common drag. It already seemed like it didn’t (couldn’t) belong to me. While that kind of drag is beautiful and fun, I wanted something more extreme. My quest quickly brought me to Divine, the legendary drag performer and actor, admittedly and embarrassingly late in my career as a queer person. Of course, I knew about her seemingly since I was born. I knew the legend, the image of the giant woman in a mermaid dress, an absurdly drawn back hairline (done to make way for more makeup) further than the natural borders of the face would allow. I knew she was a byword for queer outrageousness. “Filth,” if you will.

But for some reason I hadn’t taken the time to sit down and actually look at her, interact with her, and develop a kind of love for her, until I started to notice that she had become more than a byword and an image in pop culture. She had become a product. I don’t think that I was waiting for her to become palatable to become interested in her. I think I had assumed too much about her. That I knew what the image meant without having to engage with the artist behind it, its part-author. It’s a bit like seeing Warhol’s Marilyn and deciding you know enough about her without watching her body of work. Easy, lazy: But that’s me all over.

When images of Divine as tied to products started to show up with some regularity in my feed I thought, “It’s great to see the legacy of an iconic performer celebrated.” On the other, it’s questionable to see heroes of subversiveness turned into sellable cutouts. In Kat von D’s promotional images for her palette, cis women do their makeup as Divine, with sky-high arched eyebrows and overdrawn lips. Do they know what it means to reference Divine the character or even Glenn Milstead, the actor who portrayed her, and to honor what she means? What she has done for aesthetics, film, and the freedom of expression?

Makeup has always had a much more controversial, parallel track. In the ’60s, rock musicians used makeup to connote a kind of resistance, queer or not. Drag, in the ’70s and ’80s, took makeup one step further, using loose pigments, glitter, and blending techniques to create the ultimate form of self-expression. For many drag queens, this was a way to live inside of a hyper-feminine capitalist ideal — a la Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell — while putting an individualistic spin on it. For Divine, it was about fear. Turning femininity into a source of fear by embodying that R. Crumb sexy-scary ideal in the flesh. And that, some might say, is her biggest contribution.

Divine was beautiful, but she wasn’t about beauty. She didn’t stand for beauty in the way old Hollywood stars from which Divine and Waters derived inspiration — the Liz Taylors and Jayne Mansfields of the world — had to. She wasn’t selling anything, especially not beauty. When I watch Divine in films like Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Polyester, I see a combination of loud, brash, seething anger, the kind of in-your-face assault that the right kind of makeup can pull off, and a total vulnerability. There’s nothing queerer than that, and there’s nothing really marketable in that, either. But Divine, a byword for campy fierceness for years, is on the fast track to becoming a commodity.

Since Divine’s death, there have been many tributes to her legacy, the most well-known being the creation of the villain of the Disney film The Little Mermaid, Ursula the sea-witch, who can only be described as a throaty fat femme with high arching eyebrows and a taste for drama. Hers is a loud, brash, outrageous performance of femininity so over the top as to be almost menacing.

But Divine’s connection to Ursula didn’t stop at her physical image. What’s different and endlessly interesting is the fact that her appearance is a choice. When the witch reveals her ability to transform into a “conventionally” beautiful woman in the third act, viewers are exposed to the true source of her power and fascination. She’s choosing to look the way she wants, and it has nothing to do with what anyone else fucking thinks. According to those who knew Divine and saw her perform live, this is one of the most important aspects of the performance: Divine dressed in a way that, according to John Waters, no fat woman would ever actually dress. Waters also noted, in a 2014 documentary about Divine, that Milstead’s patent gayness was the kind that couldn’t escape notice growing up in Baltimore. “He could piss off my father,” said Waters, “just by holding his books the ‘wrong way.’”

Previous “collaborations” with estates rather than people have earned a bit more backlash (such as the Urban Decay x Basquiat which used a loose interpretation of the artist’s style to peddle lime green eyeliner), though nowhere near the amount one would have expected.

There’s always a moment with celebrities, usually after death, when the essence, or what they came to stand for, overtakes the reality of them as a human being. But when someone is all essence, how can anyone say there’s a problem?

The problem occurs when a powerful idea is turned into a tame one. When an image once used to provoke thought and reaction becomes totally meaningless, stripped of its power.