Tanzania’s Largest City to Begin Mass Arrests of LGBTQ People

Life is about to get a lot harder for LGBTQ people in Tanzania’s largest city.

Paul Makonda, the regional governor of Dar es Salaam, announced on Monday that police would begin mass arrests of queer and transgender people. In a news conference, Makonda claimed he had received “reports that there are so many homosexuals in our city… advertising and selling their services on the internet.”

“These homosexuals boast on social networks,” the governor said.

“Therefore, I am announcing this to every citizen of Dar es Salaam: If you know any gays, report them to me,” he added in a speech broadcast over social media.

Authorities in the populous city of 4.3 million will begin rounding up queer and trans people on Monday, Makonda said. Officials have reportedly already begun creating a database of hundreds of Tanzanians alleged to be LGBTQ, many of whom could now face prosecution.

A charge of “gross indecency between persons” in the East African nation carries a maximum sentence of life in prison under the Tanzania Penal Code of 1945.

The governor said a 17-member task force will combing the social media accounts of suspected queer and trans people looking for “evidence” they had violated the colonial-era sodomy law, a remnant of British occupation.

Officials appointed to the task force will consist of representatives from the Tanzania Communications Authority and local police.

Makonda encouraged members of the public to come forward with any information which might assist the surveillance team in detaining LGBTQ people. He said authorities had already received more than 18,000 messages alleging violations of the sodomy law.

At press time, advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch and OutRight International had not released statements responding to the planned campaign.

However, Amnesty International released a report in 2017 condemning what it called “an unprecedented crackdown” on queer and transgender people in Tanzania. Authorities have threatened to publish names of individuals believed to be LGBTQ and to deport advocates working on behalf of gender and sexual minorities.

In addition, the government shut down an estimated 40 HIV/AIDS clinics in the country, accusing them of promoting homosexuality. Many of those resource centers have continued to operate underground.

Most famously, Tanzania banned the sale of anal lubricants in 2016 to prevent gay men from having sex.

Makonda predicted his internment campaign would not be received well by foreign leaders and international human rights groups but said he wasn’t concerned about the backlash. “I prefer to anger those countries than to anger God,” he claimed.

Should the government move forward with its pledge, it wouldn’t be the first time authorities have rounded up Tanzanians alleged to be LGBTQ.

In 2017, police in the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar arrested eight men and 12 women under suspicions that they were “engaged in homosexuality.” The detainees were attending a workshop on HIV/AIDS at the time of their arrest.

UPDATE (11/1/2018): 

Amnesty International has released a statement condemning Tanzania’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

“It is extremely regrettable that Tanzania has chosen to take such a dangerous path in its handling of an already marginalized group of people,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, in a Thursday press release. “The idea of this taskforce must be immediately abandoned as it only serves to incite hatred among members of the public. LGBTQ people in Tanzania already face discrimination, threats, and attacks without hateful statements of this kind.” 

“The Tanzanian government must also ensure that no one, especially those in positions of power like Paul Makonda, makes statements or takes actions to sow hatred that endangers the lives of people just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Nyanyuki continued. “The government has a duty to protect everyone in Tanzania and uphold their human rights without discrimination. They must take this obligation seriously and not initiate programs or use government agencies to rob LGBTI people of their rights.”

Photo via Flickr/D-Stanley

Rewitched: The Politics of the New ‘Sabrina’ and ‘Charmed’

Spoiler alert: Plot details ahead for both Charmed and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Even though we’re deep into the era of reboots, October 2018 has been extra. Within the last couple of weeks, two iconic witch shows from the ’90s have been rebooted for a modern audience. For better or worse, both Charmed and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina feel like 2018 versions of the television we loved as kids.

And because it’s 2018, it seems like no show can be complete without at least a bit of political commentary. In fact, the new Charmed was specifically marketed as including a feminist storyline which Holly Marie Combs, who played Piper in the original series, took issue with because it implies that the original series wasn’t feminist enough.

The political perspective added to both Charmed and Sabrina works in some parts — at other times, both shows fall flat. Broadly, the witch narrative — namely, the historical persecution of witchcraft — has been used as an allegory for marginalized experiences, especially for women and queer folks, and that’s a thread that carries through in these interpretations as well.

From the first few episodes of the new Charmed, the writing lays the politics on thick, and it’s to the show’s detriment. One of the subplots of the Charmed pilot is a professor returning to work after being accused of sexual harassment by one of his students who is now in a coma. By the end of the episode, it’s discovered that he is actually a demon and the sisters vanquish him. It’s a little on the nose, I think, but it’s fine — I’m totally down with the “Death To The Harassers” theme.

The real problem comes from just how often the show decides to reference our current political system. They reference Trump; they joke about fake news and incels. Even though it’s just debuted, it ages the show. It feels cheap.

A popular criticism that feminist, queer, and POC activists have against moderate Democrats is that they often talk as if oppression started with the election of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, people who are marginalized know that that’s not the case, because they’ve seen or experienced injustice or being othered long before November 2016. The new Charmed feels like it was written by one of those moderates, which is especially odd with three women of color as leads, including one who is queer.

Even the feminism of the show, which comes mostly in the form of Mel, the middle sister, comes across almost as a parody. The jokes are often strange and outdated. Almost every time Harry, the sister’s whitelighter (protector and teacher), is in a scene with Mel, she makes a joke about him being a controlling white man. In last Sunday’s episode, while Harry and Mel are in a bit of a fight, he offers to help her carry something and she says “I don’t need a big strong man,” which sounds like it’s straight out of an SNL caricature from 2002.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes a different approach to politics that works much better. In the first episode, Sabrina’s close friend, Susie, is being bullied by the school’s football team. Susie isn’t explicitly given a label, but the character reads as queer and the actor Lachlan Watson is non-binary. Driven by a desire to help Susie, Sabrina and her friends start a club on campus dedicated to women supporting women (called W.I.C.C.A.). From the show’s very beginning, we see our protagonist’s politics from the way she reacts to her friend being bullied. This isn’t a metaphor for Trump, the bully-in-chief. It gets to be about Susie and Sabrina, which feels great.

Another plot thread that is picked up fairly early is that Sabrina’s other friend, Ros, is frustrated the school has banned certain books that they deemed inappropriate, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Their new group, W.I.C.C.A., decides to become a book club so that Ros would have the opportunity to read some of the banned books.

A big difference in how Charmed and Sabrina handle talking about politics and marginalization has to do with scope. Charmed makes commentary on problems specific to our current government; Sabrina feels more intimate. Part of this scope difference comes from the vague setting of Sabrina that feels as 1950s as it does 2018. It would be weird to acknowledge a particular political issue going on right now, so they don’t have to.

In the most recent episode of Charmed, both Mel and the oldest sister Macy have moments where they talk about their own experiences with marginalization. Macy has a moment with Maggie, the youngest sister, where she discusses being one of the only non-white students in her boarding school growing up and how that impacted her identity. She talked about how she had to be firm in herself so other kids wouldn’t label her, and that’s made her really insecure to act any other way.

Mel has a conversation with Harry about the difficult parts of being a witch. She said that her mom always knew she was gay, even before she did, so she never had to be in the closet growing up. But now, because she couldn’t tell anyone about being a witch, she’s being forced into the closet. If Charmed continues with these more intimate moments, especially speaking about oppression through the allegory of witches, it’ll be in a better place.

With the culture of reboots still thriving, we might see some other female-driven stories in the years to come — the Buffy reboot is already in the works with a Black lead. I hope the creators of any new projects are looking at both Charmed and Sabrina to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. We as the audience don’t need to see reminders of our enemy; we know what we’re fighting. Instead, what we want is to be reminded of who we’re fighting with and who we’re fighting for.

Queer Abby: My Friend Keeps Saying #NotAllMen Type Crap

Dear Queer Abby, 

My forever bestie is a straight white cis-male. I am a queer female. In the past 18 months, he’s been doing and saying things that drive me crazy (political, misogynist, “not all men” kind of things). I’ve tried to push back and talk to him in a loving and honest way but he often strikes back defensively. He just told me that he’s going as Brett Kavanaugh this year for Halloween. When I told him that folks might find that triggering and perhaps he can rethink his costume, he responded with a dismissive “That’s okay.” 

Should I just keep my distance from this person because interacting with them causes me frustration and sadness or should I try once more to communicate my feelings? 

Signed, 

Furrowed Brow in Fayetteville

P.S. It’s doubly offensive because he thinks he’s “one of the good ones,” but he isn’t. 

Dear Furrowed, 

My friend and colleague Beth Pickens is a Capricorn woman with a 3+ tier system for friendships. 

I’m paraphrasing here, but:

Tier one is for your closest friends. Your very best, nearest and dearest people who you talk to almost daily, call in a crisis, and who would show up to your hospital room in a flash.

Tier 2 are people you like very much, but for whatever reason (perhaps distance) they are not your daily inner circle. 

Tier 3 are people you occasionally have coffee with, but you don’t go too deep. 

Then there’s the (dreaded) ACQUAINTANCE RADIUS. 

It sounds like this friend served you well at one point in your life as a Tier 1 person, but as times have changed and you’ve both grown and made different decisions, he is self-selecting into a different Tier by being defensive and insensitive to things that are important to you. 

It doesn’t mean you need to ghost him or cut him out completely — you don’t need to tell a person when you make a boundary around them — but it does mean that you are under no obligation to give him the same amount of emotional energy now that you did when you were younger and considered yourselves more aligned. 

I would honestly just attempt the path of least drama and become less available. If he inquires, you could let him know that you do care about him so much and the place he held in your life, but that it is hurtful and stressful for you to be around someone who doesn’t feel like an ally right now. You could even tell him what an ally looks like to you. 

For me, part of being an ally is someone acknowledging their own privilege, using their privilege as a resource for the good of others, listening (without being defensive or making everything about themselves or their guilt),  and reaching out to offer softness and support when times get tough. That, to me, feels like a very simple acknowledgment of our shared humanity and that of the people around us who are currently suffering A LOT due to the political haunted house that we are all living in. 

If he takes that to heart and attempts to show up for you in a way that feels meaningful, wonderful! 

But if not, to put it in Shark Tank terms: I don’t have the bandwidth to do self-defense maneuvers and political needling regarding the civil liberties of people I love when I’m supposed to be having recreation and relaxation. For this reason, I’m out. 

I do believe that the people you surround yourself with shape your reality. Your time on Earth is limited. Choose situations that nourish you. Does hanging out with this person feel like vitamins? If this friendship cannot offer you sustenance and solidarity right now, kick him to the Tier. 

Sincerely,

Queer Abby

When A Joke About Queer People Becomes A Metaphor For Respectability Politics

There’s a funny story my family likes to tell about being gay.

In the mid-1980s, my late Aunt Sharon came out as a lesbian. She had just finished law school, a setting that embraced her “lifestyle,” and was deposited into a world where queerness and family aren’t easily bridged. Unprompted and unsolicited, she blurted out her identity to my grandfather, as my grandmother and Aunt Colleen stood watch.

My grandfather stared at her, confused but not angry, at the head of the kitchen table wearing boxer shorts and a dirty tee. He was silent and stony for some time while she pouted, awaiting his analysis.

“That doesn’t explain why you don’t have a job.”

His tone was sharp, flat, with a tilt at the end. A job. The two words were little barbs he poked into her, telling her that he could give a shit about her sexuality: he just wanted to know why she’s unemployed despite both an undergraduate and law degree. Why does a job matter? Aunt Sharon must have thought through fat sobs. Do I not matter?

We still laugh at this story. My family gets together and we laugh and laugh and laugh about how Aunt Sharon’s coming out to grandpa was overshadowed by her unemployment.

I learned the lesson from this story quickly. As Aunt Sharon’s queer nephew, I came out as gay in 2007 and I wanted to avoid the laughs. It took me two years and perhaps a lifetime of thinking to prepare myself. I moved to Los Angeles after college and, two years after select friends and family knowing about “it,” it was time to let my parents know. There were hurdles: I needed a stable job, stable transportation, stable housing, and stable control of student loan debt. With young life’s landmarks wrangled, I was well equipped to tell my parents that, yes, I am a functional adult – and I’m a big fucking queer.

My coming out was ultimately underwhelming: I had made myself too presentable successful, even in the eyes of my Catholic, Georgia based parents, to my military father and my Puerto Rican mother. A near decade after my coming out, the searing laughter at Aunt Sharon lingers still as my younger sister, Mickey Fitzpatrick, must confront this adorable family issue with her own coming out.

“Do you think telling mom and dad at Thanksgiving is a bad idea?” she asked me by text a few months ago.

“I don’t think it’s an awful idea,” I texted back, hesitant only because of potential familial confrontations. A job rang through intergenerational lifelines, nuzzled between words.

She’s in a liminal albeit secure phase of her life. She recently began a sociology doctoral program at a southern research institute after completing undergraduate studies. She’s an overeager, overachieving student who lives a queer life away from our parents. Still, like me, she doesn’t know how to approach sharing her identity: she doesn’t want the instability of young adulthood to cloud her queerness.

“If this goes south, I have to make sure I’m already financially stable and not dependent,” she tells me, emphasizing that she can’t depend on someone whose view of you can easily shift. Her negotiation is tangled at the intersection of familial understandings of the world: she is the only daughter in our family of six, one framed by Hispanic, Catholic, southern, and military cultures. It’s complicated.

“I feel a sense of internalized homophobia for myself because of the way that mom attempted to really femme me up,” Mickey says. “There are a lot of checkpoints that she wants me to hit that I know I’m not going to. With dad, it’s a whole different ball game…His reaction makes me nervous because of his ties to the military and the Republican party.”

The blocks that Mickey and I (and even Aunt Sharon) face aren’t new, and they affect the greater queer community: these are matters of respectability, that you can live a queer life but you can only do so within society’s understanding of life at large. Socioeconomics and ethnocultural understandings of behavior are to blame, as are gendered roles and “traditional” life benchmarks. This problem occasionally trends in queer media, as Queer Eye’s Tan France’s family were only proud of him after watching the show while drag queen Monét X Change’s mother’s acceptance of their lifestyle was tied to Drag Race’s popularity. As Eileen Myles wrote in “An American Poem,” “I’ll be a poet.” They then reveal what lies beneath such a thought: “What could be more foolish and obscure. I became a lesbian.”

Yuvraj Joshi, human rights lawyer and doctoral scholar at Yale Law School, has been interested in this phenomena for years. “I think of respectability in contrast to respect,” Joshi explains, noting respect as an “acceptance of difference” while respectability “suggests acceptance of the norm.” The matter places the pressure on others ceasing their “unacceptable difference” instead of blanketing acceptance toward another approach to life, to alternative ways of living and thriving.

The trickle down of respectability is much more than Aunt Sharon getting a job, but alters human rights and recognition of queer persons. “Even where legal recognition has been afforded to same-sex relationships, it has tended to center on their normalcy rather than their diversity and inherent worth,” Joshi says. The 2015 marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges is a great example of this: instead of changing or adapting what marriage means, same-sex couples were instead slid into a heterosexual norm to illustrate that they, too, are worthy. “Put another way,” Joshi explains, “Respectability — not respect — underpinned the legal right to marriage equality.”

As my family is evidence of, the weight of respect comes with an assortment of internalized problems: Joshi points to shame, conspicuous consumption, and conformity as a few byproducts of being respectable. Yet, as Mickey and I discussed, the fact that we’re able to have such a conversation represents luxuries and privileges we have been afforded. “Benefiting from respectability entails drawing on existing economic, social, and cultural capital that is accessible to relatively few queers,” Joshi says. “Respectability is measured by proximity to white, male, middle-class heterosexuality, and not everyone is able or willing to fit the mold.”

Whether intentional or not, I have put myself up to a mold that was given to Aunt Sharon by my grandfather as the marker of my own queer acceptance. This, in some ways, has been a driver to leap over common benchmarks, to be as successful as possible in order to still be seen as part of the family or worthy. My sister – who is pursuing a doctorate in sociology – and my Aunt – who had a law degree – participate in bowing to the pressure too. You could call it an accidental form of queer excellence.

D’Lane Compton, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of New Orleans, sees this behavior as a queer norm. Compton suggests queer persons’ over-education – 46 percent of lesbian and gay individuals and 33 percent of bisexuals have college degrees – as proof of our inclination to overcompensate. “That’s a huge statistical difference,” Compton says. “It’s actually a remarkable difference.” Similarly, gay people typically make more money than their straight peers. While an explanation for this remains elusive (Higher education? Lack of children? Whiteness?), the fact persists.

This may relate to a queer intelligence at play, of juggling different, intertwined identities in order to be deemed worthy. “At every turn, we’re going to be ostracized or have to deal with microaggressions,” Compton says. This all informs very complicated queer self-concepts which are the manifestations of our own mental intersections. “We have these ideas of who we are but we have this single self-concept of who we are and they all affect one another,” Compton explains. “Our different identities intertwine.”

While Millennials wrestle with prioritizing selves to be respectable, this issue may minimize under the heels of our increasingly queer next wave of adults, Gen Z. “They’re working within the system to change the system,” Compton explains, reflecting on their experience with queer students, which stands in contrast to Millennial queers looking for loopholes or working around respectability problems.

Compton theorizes that younger queer persons are dismantling respectability by reconstructing the map to success, a quality that many queers at large participate in. We seek peers and public figures who have thrived despite adversity in order to thrive ourselves. It’s the “power of the role model and visibility,” of queer and non-queer minority figures overcoming barriers, that is yielding change. “That’s where we’ve taken our map from,” Compton says. “We’re piecemealing this together depending on our resources.

For now – for my family, for my sister, Mickey – this future may appear far away, as if the workload of acceptance only gets heavier with each reveal of the self, given the initial jab at Aunt Sharon. Are we all jokes to them or will they eventually see us completely?It’s not the duty of the marginalized to educate the oppressor,” Mickey says. “But, in instances like this, you can’t kind of just do whatever you want or be whoever you want to be…What experiences can I share with someone who is holding me to their standards so they can understand my humanity instead of my merit?”

“Regardless of what I accomplish in my life, I am still a person – and still deserve respect regardless of my job, ability to pay my bills, my sexuality,” Mickey says. “I’m still a person and I deserve respect.”

Perhaps this is the part of the story that we’ve forgotten to tell in my family: maybe Aunt Sharon spat back at her father – my grandfather, the Fitzpatrick patriarch – to say that her worth isn’t predicated on a paycheck. Yes, that may help a man like my grandfather and people like my parents understand a queer person better – but our lives and our paths and our ways of living are not the same. This needs to be recognized.

Perhaps this was why Aunt Sharon sobbed at the barb that we still laugh at. Perhaps she knew that, one day, people like her would redefine the definitions that sought to steal her power. She happened to be too early for respect.

We Shouldn’t Be Surprised An Anti-Semitic Neo-Nazi Shot Up a Synagogue

In Judaism, we have a concept called tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.” The concept is to leave the world a better place than we found it.

It seems to be the opposite for those who support our current administration. The factions of people sharing actually fake news stories on Facebook while polishing their gun collection are the people who frighten me the most. At least most of those who voted for Trump in honor of their wallets and bank accounts know to keep quiet about it.

***

I was only eight years old the first time someone said something anti-Semitic to me. Jessica cornered me and the two other Jewish kids in the class to let us know that her parents said she couldn’t be friends with us because we were Jewish.

I was so hurt and confused by that. First of all: I wasn’t even friends with her in the first place. But to not be allowed to be because of a culture I was born into? That seemed like the most outlandish thing I’d ever heard of. I went home and told my parents, and while I don’t remember what they said in response, I am sure this was not the first time they had dealt with such an occasion.

Thankfully, I went a decade without it happening again.

In college, one of my freshman suitemates called me a “kike dyke.” I brushed it off like she was joking, because she was, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone over so well had I turned around and called her the n-word back, “But just joking!”

Recently, an ex told me about how she was sitting next to a couple of Belgians in a bar who were talking about how “the Jews are nasty, disgusting people and orchestrated the Holocaust so that they could claim Israel.” It blows my mind that people believe such preposterous things, let alone have the audacity to say them out loud.

With WWII in our not-so-distant memory, it’s no surprise that Jews in America are speaking up in support of accepting refugees. We were the refugees with nowhere to go not so long ago. But the current administration refuses to see the similarities of these situations and is deaf to the pleas for sanctuary and safety — just as they are deaf to our pleas for common sense gun laws.

Daily, I read comments saying that Matthew Shepard’s murder was part of a drug deal gone wrong and that transgender people should all rot in hell before being able to use the bathroom that matches their gender. During the last two years, I have seen more swastikas than when I took a “History of the Holocaust” class or visited an actual concentration camp in Europe.

This is all to say: Please do not be surprised that an anti-Semitic neo-Nazi went and shot up a synagogue in 2018.

As an LGBTQ Jewish female who works in hate crime prevention in 2018, and a person who lost a very close friend at the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, I am simultaneously numb to the realities of gun and hate violence in America and constantly anxious about if it will happen close to home yet again.

Each day, an average of 96 people die from preventable gun violence in America. That equals TWO Pulse Nightclub attacks a day. The work that I do as a common sense gun violence and LGBTQ+ advocate is inextricably bound to the concept of tikkum olam, but if all of us are not pitching in and doing this work, we cannot leave this world a better place than we found it.

We should not have to accept thoughts and prayers as penance for the loss of our loved ones or the attacks on our communities. We have to take back our safety and our livelihood, and the only way to do that is by voting between now and November 6th.

When our safety is constantly under attack, we cannot prosper. When we cannot prosper, we fall behind. When we fall behind, the atrocities that we point at in other countries become our own. Black lives matter. Transgender lives matter. Jewish lives matter. Believe women. How many times do we have to repeat these things before they can take hold?

Our place in the history of this country can only be guaranteed if we work towards leaving it a better place than we found it and stop letting those in power chip away at our rights. Our chance to be heard is now. The answer is voting — not arming Rabbis or teachers or grocery store clerks.

I take moments out of my day to remember Matthew Shepard, to remember the 49 from Orlando, and specifically, to remember my friend Drew Leinonen. The 58 in Las Vegas. The 17 from Parkland. The countless others. And now, we have 11 more people to remember and honor. 11 people whose grandparents likely fled Europe and ended up in Squirrel Hill — a community so much like my own. May their deaths be a blessing and lead us to change and tikkum olam.

Image via Getty

Alternative Miss World Crowns A New Queen

Andrew Logan has been staging Alternative Miss World since 1972, a time before RuPaul’s Drag Race, when drag was a part of a long tradition of British cabaret performance. Previous iterations have seen queer icons such as Derek Jarman, Divine, David Hockney, and Grayson Perry competing and hosting, not to mention Andrew Logan himself, who is something of a cult figure in his own right.

The only living UK artist with a gallery dedicated to his work, Logan’s brand of drag is compassionate, chaotic, and eclectic: women and men, groups and individuals, animatronics and papier-mâché all compete against one another with equal opportunity in his queer take on the Miss World pageant.  For Logan himself, “It’s about transformation. People say drag. Which it is. I mean drag is man to woman, woman to man. I think it’s rather a lack of imagination just man to woman. There’s so many other things you can be.”

This year’s sold-out event was highly anticipated, with the last edition taking place four years ago. Since its inception, this is only the 14th Alternative Miss World to be held. The 2018 theme was auspicious: ”Psychedelic Peace.“ It seemed especially appropriate given that a 700,000 strong protest against Brexit had taken place in London earlier that day. Logan was explicitly political about his intentions, calling it: “An evening themed around unity and connectedness, a temporary refuge away from the world’s strife, division, and obsession with wall-building,” and the evening’s events continued to make reference to the increasingly divisive and oppressive politics that have emerged in the Trump era. Indeed, it’s worth noting that Trump was a former owner of the Miss Universe pageant and this pageant is a welcome antidote to Trumpism.

Events began programmatically with statements of peace from Logan’s ambassadors, figures drawn from the London Queer scene, waxing both poetical and profound; musical artist Bishi read William Blake’s “To Pity, Mercy, Peace and Love” which ends:

“And all must love the human form,

In heathen, Turk, or Jew; 

Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell 

There God is dwelling too.”

It was a timely and moving reminder on the need for inclusivity in the queer scene and an admirable opening statement, though it’s worth noting that the contestants themselves were notably less ethnically diverse than in the Miss World competition. It nonetheless proudly placed Indian spirituality at its centre; following the statements of peace, the crowd were led in a meditative chant of “Om Shanti Shanti” by Angelika Grohmann.

For his own part, Andrew Logan has incorporated Hindu spirituality into his own life and artistic practice over many years, so this felt a natural expression of his practice and not a tokenistic gesture, even if there were moments when one felt as if they were inside a queer Marigold Hotel. The theme of psychedelic peace was inspired by a trip to India to see the Holi festival of colours, described as “the most psychedelic experience of [his] life.”

This psychedelia was picked up on by Miss Ann Hedonia, who underwent a performative transformation from a cold, pleasureless, conservative to become dedicated to world-peace and funding the NHS, all after being spiked with a tab of LSD.

As one of the youngest contestants, Miss Ann Hedonia, aka 23-year-old writer and model Harald Smart, was drawn to compete by the lure of being part of queer history. “I think I’ve been preparing mentally for almost a year… since I applied,” she told INTO. “It’s been this looming presence in a way; it’s like this legendary event.”

For Hedonia, Alternative Miss World stands as “a great example of uncompromising creativity and freedom. It’s a space of true expression and appreciation, everyone is welcome! It sounds like a bit of a cliche, but you really, really could feel the love from all directions on that stage.”

Miss Ann Hedonia

The outfits themselves were both theatrical and interactive. Miss Una Nimity’s dress unfurled into a giant rainbow flag with the globe sewn into the middle, above which she staged a “Punch and Judy”-style fight with puppets of Trump and Kim Jong-un before nuclear peace was brought through their defeat.

Another contestant, Miss Lysergic Acid, was left to the side of the stage when her animatronic love machine, which raised to almost the height of the globe, failed to descend. Miss Cariad Cymru On Me’s outfit was in part a frame of champagne flutes which they distributed to the eager crowd, declaring simply that if they were crowned the winner that they would make sure everyone had a good time.

As the contestants emerged one by one in the final round of evening wear, a single bum note was struck by the contestant who ultimately became the runner-up. The aptly titled Miss Who Gives A Fuck? emerged as a gameshow duo, with one dressed as a glittering version of Lord Shiva chanting “Shanti shanti/Mahatma Gandhi/Is really spinning in his grave.”

While it’s only right that drag should interrogate, parody, and critique the world around us, it was an offensive provocation that pointedly targeted the religious cultures of people of colour in an environment that was almost entirely Caucasian. Disappointingly, it was met with approving cheers from the crowd. Perhaps there was a joke that went over my head as a British-Panjabi queer but I think more disappointingly I got the point. For Logan’s own part this inclusion was not one for which they were personally responsible as they “never know the people who are entering. It’s really wonderful to have a surprise when I come out on stage.” Of course, those surprises can go either way as in this case.

Ultimately, the deserving winner was Miss UFO, whose final costume bore 17 heads and a giant phallic inflatable that was bounced joyfully through the crowds before she herself was carried through the pit adorned by the coveted Logan-designed crown jewels. The only thing she had to say before being crowned was the peaceful chant of “Om,” which rang out resoundingly through Shakespeare’s Globe.  

Alternative Miss World remains a much-needed reminder of the need for diversity in a changing world. Indeed, for Logan, Psychedelic Peace is one great big universal Om that transcends division: “It’s all about peace and love for humanity,” Logan says. Long may Alternative Miss World continue in that vein and Logan continue to bring this celebration of expression and transformation to the stage.

Images via Getty

Rami Malek Has The Chance To Speak Up For LGBTQ Egyptians — So Why Doesn’t He?

It’s January 2007. Rami Malek stands in a garage with a Vietnam veteran, smiling, his arms waving, body swaying in a femme dance to the brassy beats of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” Rainbows burst, literally, from his ears and fan out — presumably to the rest of the room, smearing technicolor light onto its contents, the walls, the floor.

A few seconds later, the fantasy breaks — but in a hilarious moment for Fox’s short-lived comedy series The War at Home, Malek’s character Kenny, an Arab-American teenager, comes out to his neighbor. “I guess I’m saying I’m gay,” he says, still grinning and goofy.

This week, the Emmy-winning Mr. Robot star will debut in theaters as another queer character. This time, he’s playing the real-life Freddie Mercury. As critics debate whether the long-awaited Bohemian Rhapsody’s Queen frontman will be queer enough, we must also question whether Malek is allying enough. The Egyptian-American star’s rising fame has positioned him at the perfect nexus to speak up on behalf of queer people in Egypt — but will he do it?

In September 2017, Malek donned a wig and the now-infamous teeth to transform into Mercury for the first month of filming. Naturally, they began at the end: The Live Aid concert, the 1985 behemoth event where fans from across the world displayed their devotion louder than ever before, stomping and clapping and screaming “We Will Rock You” as Mercury flailed himself about the stage. Queen stole the show.

As the filming began, another concert made history. Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila’s performance at an Emirati-owned mall in Cairo prompted two activists to clamber atop shoulders and set loose a rainbow flag. The indie band’s frontrunner Hamed Sinno is openly queer and sometimes called the Freddie Mercury of the Middle East, and for many, the music he performs is queerness made audible. It’s not totally unfiltered, not perfectly unmarred by Western ideas. Still, the voice of a brown man lamenting the loss of a same-gender lover is a revolution, an assertion of existence. The rainbow waving proudly over a sea of Egyptian fans was testament to that.

But in Egypt, homosexuality is policed through laws that criminalize prostitution. After the Cairo concert, images of the flag circulated on social media; then, the arrests began. In less than a month, the Egyptian government had arrested more than 70 people — the largest mass arrest of LGBTQ people in the country’s known history.

Throughout all of these arrests — which have slowed, but not stopped — Malek has remained silent. But he has spoken up in support of the Egyptian President.

“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deals with Egyptians as equal citizens, regardless of their religion, which is the right thing to do,” Malek said in a 2015 interview with Egypt Independent.

It may have been a benign statement, a gesture of hope in combating terrorism. But many were upset at all that Malek did not say: That the uprooting of the beginnings of democracy, the silencing of journalists, the human rights abuses and torture, and the continued campaign against LGBTQ people, to name a few, have made Egypt not a place to live, only a place to survive.

When I visited Egypt this summer, most people I met had deleted dating apps out of fear that police would find them. The few who had returned to Grindr and Tinder risked being detained or questioned — and outed to their families, fired from their jobs, beaten and raped in prison. Gay men had nearly no access to PrEP or PEP, and queer people had to find doctors who wouldn’t report them to the police. Nearly every LGBTQ organization had already been shuttered — a common move made by repressive governments to fracture queer communities. Only one, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, remained able to officially work on LGBTQ rights.

Soon after the arrests began, the EIPR released a report detailing how the crackdown had actually started before the concert — since President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2013, at least 232 people have been arrested. But it’s not just the Egyptian government that’s the problem. The United States grants Egypt the second-highest amount of foreign aid in the world — about $1.3 billion in military aid each year. When the government cracks down violently on anyone, U.S. taxpayers are complicit.

It might seem unfair to ask Malek to speak up against this, while he is still carving a career for himself as an actor of color in white Hollywood. But that is exactly what liberation asks of us: to say hard things, to denounce hate and evil, to make art not just for art’s sake but in ways that advance the ability of people to live — not behind bars, and not fearing violence.

That is, after all, the reason that the queer world is so invested in the story of Freddie Mercury — to claim as queer a beautiful man who made great art, to assert that other queer people should have a future, a right to exist and thrive.

Malek’s voice could be an invocation of that future — but as it stands, his silence speaks to an artist without a politics. While Mercury lives on in our heads as a queer icon whose camp theatrics and everyday language –remember how he called people darling? — asserted that he always be seen and heard as a sexual and artistic revolutionary, we see cracks in the facade of the actor playing him — despite early reviews maintaining that Malek’s performance shines. We see only another straight actor taking up a queer role–a performer who refuses to let the rainbows dripping from his ears really flow out and color the world outside, queering everything.

In an early interview about playing a gay character in The War at Home, Malek said that he sought advice on playing queer characters from the show’s creator, the openly gay Rob Lotterstein, who told him to imagine if he lived in a world where he had to come out as heterosexual.

“He was able to help me out with the thought process of what’s going on for someone who might be dealing with this — the confusion, the guilty feelings, angst, all that turmoil,” Malek said. “The ability to reveal this at such a young age is such a bold, courageous thing that I felt he really wanted to explore and share, and I’m very glad that he did because it’s hopefully having an impact on a lot of young people out there.”

It is a beautiful notion, that Malek was able to enter that headspace that so many try to forget. And it is great that Malek has learned what it’s like to be queer. Now, he must learn what it’s like to be an ally.

Images via Getty

Vardaan Arora Talks Queer, Brown Representation and Staying Unapologetic

When he talks about his childhood, it’s no surprise that Vardaan Arora ended up being a singer. “I’ve always been obsessed with pop culture,” he says. “I would pretend to be a pop star and lip sync to songs in my bedroom.” Even growing up in India, Vardaan had what you might call a “universal” gay adolescence: “I put posters of Britney Spears and Hilary Duff on my wall, and I would try to tell people ‘oh I just think they’re really hot!’”

A love of performing led to Vardaan moving to New York City when he was 18, to study acting at NYU. “I was in the closet for 18 years, which made me a pretty good actor,” he says. “And I still live for it.”

This last year has seen him pop up in small roles in a number of TV shows, from Netflix’s Gypsy to ABC’s Blindspot but when he and I sit down to talk, it’s about his music career. His debut single “Feel Good Song” recently reached 2 million plays on Spotify, and his latest video, “Like A Polaroid,” was just accompanied by a profile in Billboard.

After graduating from NYU, Vardaan started performing cover versions of songs on YouTube, but soon grew tired of waiting and decided to make things happen himself. He wrote and recorded “Feel Good Song” in 2016, and it quickly started to appear on playlists on Spotify which was all the encouragement he needed that he was on the right track, despite not knowing anything about the business side of the music industry.

But while he might lack the business know-how, Vardaan is something of a pop scholar. “I love being a part of stan culture on Twitter, and fangirling over all these artists, and at the same time being able to do exactly what those artists are doing,” he says. “I’m so passionate about it, and that’s helped me develop an ear for exactly how I want my own music to sound.” He is also very aware of the connection gay men have with pop music: “Judy Garland, Madonna, Britney, up to Ariana Grande; they have huge gay fan bases, it’s like we want to live that glamorous life through them. It’s exhilarating to think about that feminine power, and how they can be dominant and command an entire room of people. And who doesn’t love attention?”

After years of being the makers of culture behind the scenes, we are now seeing queer folks and people of color begin to attract the mainstream appeal that they deserve but progress is slow. Artists like Troye Sivan and MNEK are still the exception, and when it comes to Indian artists, you have to look even harder. Vardaan wants to change that.

“Because representation is already so scarce, it’s difficult for South Asian people to imagine themselves doing something like that,” he says. “It’s already such a hard business to break into, but then you’re additionally having it drummed into your head that it’s going to be even harder for you. I’m exceptionally lucky, and I know not everyone has the support system I’ve had, but I want to set that example and let people know that it’s possible.”

I admit to Vardaan that right now, the only prominent musician of South Asian descent that I can name is Zayn. “Yep, I’ve been compared to Zayn, even though our music sounds nothing alike,” he says. “Artists of color who do get opportunities are pitted against each other, as opposed to being allowed to coexist. I don’t want to be compared to another artist because of the color of my skin, and I don’t want to be competing with them if we’re nothing alike.”

He’s right, of course. How many times have you seen people compare Rihanna to Beyoncé? While both are exceptionally talented, their music, personalities, and public images couldn’t be more different. “The other day I saw an article about Mahershala Ali and Idris Elba, asking which one is going to be Hollywood’s next leading man,” says Vardaan. “Meanwhile, we have five white guys named Chris leading five different superhero movies, all making a shit ton of money and getting a shit ton of exposure. Why can’t two stunning black actors both succeed without having to compete with one another?”

And if Asian representation is lacking, then the state of queer Asian representation is even direr, says Vardaan: “The gay characters you see on TV are mostly white. It’s rare that any minority in a project is queer; it’s almost like a ‘pick your diversity’ kind of thing, where you can be brown or you can be gay. But I’m both, and that story isn’t really being told.”

He knows that visibility is a first step, not a solution. While it’s important for queer South Asian people to see themselves represented in media, it’s also necessary for other people to have an awareness of that experience most notably the white gay men who are so often perceived as the figureheads of a much broader LGBTQ community.

“I’m a minority, but I’m not the only minority,” says Vardaan. “Intersectionality is the way forward; you need to learn from other people’s experiences and not just hold your own perspective in the highest regard.” He laughs, and adds, “I’m vain, but I’m not vain enough to think that my experience is the only experience that matters, and I think that’s an ideology that a lot of white gay men could adopt.”

He’s optimistic that things are changing, and that our current climate is encouraging people to check their own privilege and listen to other people’s stories. But it’s still just the beginning. “I’m always in two minds about how far we’ve come versus how much work we have to do,” he says. “Living here in the States, I can’t ever forget that homosexuality is still technically illegal in India. There’s so much work we have to do globally.” A lot of the people who reach out to Vardaan about his music are based in India: “Someone messaged me on Instagram to say ‘I’m not out of the closet, I don’t think I’m going to be able to come out living here, but I’m planning to move away and you inspired me because I can see you doing what you love.’ I’m really proud to influence that community.”

Vardaan is heading back into the studio in March to record new music, due to be released this summer. He’s tight-lipped about the new songs, but says they will be a departure, sound-wise, from “Feel Good Song” and “Like A Polaroid.” Rather than feeling some kind of duty to convey a South Asian or queer experience in his work, he feels that simply continuing to make music while being fully, openly himself is statement enough.

“I just try to let my identity speak for itself,” he says. “I want to defy the stereotype, but I also want to be fearlessly me and not hide the fact that I’m Indian. When I first moved here and was making white friends, I had this unconscious voice in my head: ‘maybe I shouldn’t talk about India so much.’ Whereas now, I’m gonna sit you down and tell you all about the history of Diwali, I’m gonna show you a Bollywood movie. Now is the time to really be yourself, without apologizing for it at all.”

“I’m the Trans Jew That You’re Worried About”: Dispatches From Pittsburgh’s Anti-Trump Rallies

The people of Pittsburgh gathered in the streets on Tuesday afternoon with dual purpose: to publicly mourn the 11 people killed during Saturday’s anti-Semitic mass shooting attack on the Tree of Life synagogue, and to protest President Trump’s visit to the city in defiance of requests from the mayor and families of the victims that he stay away from the city as funerals begin.

“There are, of course, queer and trans people at that synagogue. There are, of course, queer and trans Jewish people,” says Diana Clarke, a 27-year-old queer member of the Pittsburgh chapter of IfNotNow, a Jewish movement to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Clarke is speaking with INTO amid a crowded protest at the corner of Darlington and Murray, just outside of the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

The IfNotNow protest is appropriately themed as a Shiva, the ritual mourning period observed by Jews after a death. Folding tables stacked with food and drink, the traditional gifts brought to a mourner’s home by Shiva callers, line the sidewalk as protesters gather.

Also in the tradition of mourning, protesters recite the Kaddish and sing a song of strength and salvation called Ozi V’Zimrat Yah.

“I think the place where it all intersects the most is that the system we live under, white supremacy, causes harm,” says Clarke. “Specifically this week we’ve seen that harm to Jews and to trans people, with the administration speaking explicitly about working to deny the existence of trans people.”

Clarke is also careful to point out that the shooter wasn’t just targeting Jews, but was also targeting immigrants and refugees because of the synagogue’s relationship with HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), one of the oldest immigrant and refugee aid organizations in the United States. In posts on the right-wing social network Gab, the shooter had appeared convinced of a radical conspiracy theory that claims HIAS is responsible for bringing dangerous people into the country.

“HIAS brought my family here. This feels like a real attack on who I am as a person,” says CB Chernomorets, a 24-year-old member of the Pittsburgh chapter of IfNotNow.

Among the people who came out to protest today, on what otherwise would be a day of collective grieving, many blame Trump for inciting white supremacists and for empowering the most fringe right-wing hate groups.

30-year-old Hannah Uman refers to herself as a straight ally and advocate for LGBTQ equality. She was a substitute teacher at the Tree of Life synagogue where Saturday’s shooting took 11 lives, and she’s from a long line of Pittsburgh Jews. She said what’s happening “feels very personal.”

“From the get-go Trump had an underlying anti-Semitic message in his campaign,” says Uman. She pauses, choking briefly on her words as she explains that she’s getting emotional. “Trump has anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-LGBT rhetoric. And people would say, oh that’s just talk. It’s not just talk.”

Both Clarke and Uman referred to the Health and Human Services proposal, revealed by the New York Times the weekend before the shooting, to enact a policy defining sex as a binary of male and female only, widely seen as an attempt to effectively erase American trans and nonbinary people from existence. The proposal, which suggested using genetic testing to verify people’s sex, is what most people interviewed by INTO raised when asked whether they supported or opposed Trump’s LGBTQ-related policies.

“We’re seeing attacks on everyone’s rights,” says Chernomorets. “It’s not as if Jews are the only ones being targeted right now. In the same week, we’ve had so many attacks on trans folks — and that’s me too. I’m the trans Jew that you’re worried about.”

Chernomorets, who uses they/them pronouns, says they “stumbled upon” IfNotNow because they were trying to find a queer Jewish community. They live in communal housing for young Jews in their 20’s and 30’s, but felt especially excited by the number of LGBTQ people working with the group.

The shooting at Tree of Life is intricately linked to Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community. One of the congregants killed, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, was beloved by many in the gay community for his early commitment to treating patients with HIV and AIDS in the days when many doctors refused to see them. “He was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest,” wrote ACT UP member Michael Kerr in an online tribute to Rabinowitz.

LGBTQ community news outlets also reported that the shooting occurred during a bris for the adopted children of a gay couple. The presence of the gay couple was originally reported on Facebook by Pittsburgh LGBTQ nonprofit Delta Foundation, which organizes the city’s pride parade. But later, Delta Foundation said that even though several members of the community had reported the gay couple’s involvement, the foundation was unable to confirm or verify any further details and had edited the original Facebook post to remove the information.

Delta Foundation was among the groups organizing a second rally on Tuesday, along with Bend The Arc Jewish Action Network, Women’s March, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Torah Trumps Hate, and more. Around 1,000 people appeared to be at the ‘Pittsburgh Loves All Our Neighbors’ rally, which later marched down Forbes avenue through the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Chernomorets says the manner in which various parts of Pittsburgh communities have banded together is “unreal.”

“Trump empowers people to show the worst sides of themselves,” says Chernomorets. “Trump gives people that extra pat on the back that says ‘it’s OK to commit these kinds of atrocities, because the folks you’re committing atrocities against are not really people.’”

“But we are people,” Chernomorets adds. “We’re standing up, and we’re not dealing with this anymore.”

This Non-Binary 15-Year-Old is Working Overtime To Keep Trans Rights in Massachusetts

If it were up to Katherine O’Connor, everyone in Massachusetts would be required to have one working doorbell. Just one. Instead of the two you often find in Braintree.

The 15-year-old walks up to a house, rings the first bell, then the second. Does either one even work? Probably not. O’Connor knocks before giving up.

“Great. Sorry, Mickey, you’re not home,” O’Connor says. “The beauty of canvassing. You just wait around all day.”

When you’re a Brazilian, non-binary high schooler canvassing to uphold your basic dignities, every unanswered door is a minor defeat. There are a lot of them.

But for O’Connor, fighting to keep non-discrimination protections in the first statewide trans rights vote has reframed the future.

They started identifying as non-binary two-and-half years ago. Their school recognized Transgender Day of Remembrance, the day that remembers murdered trans people each year. O’Connor reached an early and devastating conclusion.

“Oh well, half of us are going to die out before we reach 24 anyway, so like why does it matter?” they said. “It was kind of really, really depressing.”

That outlook changed after O’Connor signed on to the “Yes on 3” campaign six months ago. They immediately signed up for 17 shifts over coffee with a campaign staffer.

“This campaign: happiness, joy, satisfaction,” O’Connor explains.

O’Connor is a volunteer leader, working alongside trans adults, people who not only lived past age 24 but thrive. Organizers wear name tags with their pronouns. They are doing something active for trans rights. Even when the phone banking and canvassing is difficult, O’Connor feels the script has been flipped. They’re not waiting to perish; they’re working toward a win.

The Massachusetts campaign to uphold the state’s public accommodations protections for trans people has positioned itself as the first line of defense against the Trump administration’s moves to strip away transgender rights. A Yes on Question 3 could slow the momentum of anti-trans activists throughout the nation. A loss in the liberal state could have the opposite effect.

O’Connor has gone all-in on the fight, sometimes to the detriment of everything else.

“I should probably get more than five hours of sleep tonight, oops,” they say, recalling that they need to study for a test after the canvass. “I will stop sleeping when we get a ‘Yes.’”

Talk like this doesn’t thrill O’Connor’s mom, Celia, who wants to see Katherine at Harvard University in a few years. Katherine’s stepfather went to Harvard, and their sister to Columbia University. The family is big into Ivy League Schools.

Celia describes herself as supportive of Katherine both in terms of gender and activism.

“I’m very proud of Katherine for all the work they’ve been doing,” Celia says. “I think they’ve done an amazing job with the campaign.”

Celia volunteered at a campaign event over the weekend for the first time. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go earlier, she says. English is her second language (Portuguese her first), and she worries people won’t understand her.  

But Katherine wants Celia more involved. There’s a noticeable tension between the two when it comes Celia’s involvement on trans rights and her willingness to refer to Katherine as non-binary.

Celia still defaults to “she/her” pronouns for Katherine, two-and-half years after Katherine started using “they/them.” Katherine points this out and rattles off a list of books, websites, and videos they gave Celia to help her grasp gender beyond the binary.

“I strongly feel that I have provided a lot of resources and open myself up to questions, and there is not very much of an attempt going on,” Katherine says, sitting next to Celia at coffee shop. “One of my friends uses they/them pronouns and sleeps over at our house every weekend, and my mom will get their pronouns totally right but not mine.”

Celia takes this comment in stride. “I’m taking baby steps,” she says.

“Very baby steps,” Katherine says, gently but annoyed.

It’s different when it’s your own kid, Celia contends. She will always see Katherine the way she always has. Maybe, Celia suggests, the she/her pronouns will be okay at home, while Katherine can enjoy being they/them out in the world.

“When you’re talking about me, imagine that I have an ant on my shoulder, I guess,” Katherine tells Celia. “So, ‘They went to the park,’ myself and the ant.”

Celia makes an obvious and pained effort to use “they” pronouns for Katherine for the rest of the interview.

School also provides its own perils. O’Connor’s high school has gender-neutral bathrooms, which sound wonderful in theory. But students refer to them as “Juul Rooms,” or places to vape. O’Connor explains they have been pushed and called an anti-trans slur in the gender-neutral bathrooms.

“Someone wrote in one of the stalls, ‘Why are you peeing in the Juul Room?’” O’Connor says.

It’s stories like these that O’Connor recalls for voters who say they will vote to repeal trans protections in the state. In Braintree, a Republican voter tells them they will vote no because they want to protect survivors of sexual violence.

“Because then you get then get this evil child molester who decides to dress like a woman and go in and attack kids,” the woman tells O’Connor.

“Do you know a trans person?” O’Connor asks.

No, is the answer.

“Now, you do,” O’Connor says.

By the time the woman shuts the door, she’s isn’t so sure about voting “no” anymore.

“I think it’s so much easier to make decisions about things that don’t affect you without being directly tied, if that makes sense,” O’Connor says, consulting a clipboard to find the next house on their list. “Seeing and visualizing a trans person in front of them could be what pushes them to vote yes.”

From here until November 6, O’Connor is happy to be that person over and over. On election day, they will start work at 4 am, hanging door signs, getting out the vote. If everything goes right, O’Connor can return to homework, family and normal life on November 7.

“Hopefully, this will not be on the ballot again or anything like this,” they say.

And if it is, maybe by that time, O’Connor will be old enough to vote.