How The National Women’s Soccer League Inspired LGBTQ Inclusion In Professional Sports

There are always several flags draped over the fan section railing at Houston Dash games. They often change from season to season: an Irish tri-color one is switched for a South African flag, an English banner added in between as players are traded and shuffle between teams. Various colors and designs represent different groups, communities, or countries, reminding players and fans alike that all are welcome inside the stadium. But one flag, perhaps the brightest of them all, stays put: the rainbow flag for LGBTQ pride.

This year, Dash players brought the flag onto the field, donning those rainbow stripes on the backs of their jerseys.

National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) teams across the country are recognizing their LGBTQ fanbases through hosting Pride Nights and donating proceeds to related charities. This kind of LGBTQ visibility largely emerged in 2015, when most teams celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. While the community has always had a large presence at games, official support by team management advocates for the inclusivity of the league. Every NWSL team but one had an official Pride Night this year in June, and various teams increased efforts to demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ community.

In comparison to other professional sports leagues, the NWSL ranks among the top for acknowledging the community, with teams hosting Pride Nights as early as the league’s first year in 2013. The WNBA followed, launching the first-ever national Pride campaign in 2014, marketing specifically towards LGBTQ fans. While certain MLB teams have hosted Pride games for over a decade now, and NBA teams are now joining the push, the NWSL’s unique combination of visible campaigns as well as player advocacy sets it apart from other leagues.

The Houston Dash debuted jerseys with rainbow numbers on the back this year to auction off to benefit PrideHouston, which hosts LGBT charity events as well as the annual parade in the city. The game-signed jerseys raised more than $12,000.

“For me, when I was in high school and younger, not as out or not as comfortable with myself, seeing rainbow things meant the world to me,” Dash fan Cat Taylor said. “I also liked that the Dash chose a local organization because the biggest impact you can have is donating to some of the small organizations that deal directly with the LGBT [community].”

The Dash partnered with PrideHouston as an official event for the first time, kicking off Pride Weekend with a themed soccer game. Tickets purchased through a special package also included a donation to the organization.

“We had the game on Friday night, and we actually had girls out in the parade and the festival on Saturday,” Houston Dash spokeswoman Valerie Holland said. “It was really showing how we could have a partnered relationship where it’s not just one-sided. It’s building a partnership with them which is something that can last now for years to come.”

The Utah Royals, a newly established team, hosted a Pride Night in their first year of operation. While the Real Salt Lake franchise was founded in 2004, it wasn’t until they brought in a women’s side this year that the other teams, Real Salt Lake of the MLS and Real Monarchs of the USL, began hosting Pride Nights. The three teams created history by hosting the first Pride-themed events of any major sports team in Utah.

“I think that says a lot about who we are,” Utah Royals spokeswoman Carla Haslam said. “I like to think that since we were the first, that it inspired or encouraged other teams to do the same.”

The Royals also debuted rainbow jerseys, some of which were auctioned off to support a scholarship fund at the University of Utah for LGBTQ students. In August, Royals forward Katie Stengel, who identifies as an ally, wrote about how soccer taught her to be compassionate toward a community she’s not a part of.

“[The rainbow jerseys] actually came from the players,” Haslam said. “A lot of members of the team are very outspoken about gay pride, those that are both members of the LGBTQ community and those that are not.”

In Florida, the Orlando Pride first wore rainbow jerseys in 2017. This year, they added a franchise-wide campaign called Pride in Our City, which honored the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Tickets purchased through the campaign included a donation to one of five Orlando-area LGBTQ nonprofits, most of which were established following the shooting at Pulse.

Similarly, on the West Coast, the Portland Thorns partnered with Basic Rights Oregon and LGBTQ community hub the Q Center, while Seattle Reign donated to the Greater Seattle Business Association Scholarship for LGBTQ students. Both the North Carolina Courage and Sky Blue FC extended their celebrations, with the Courage hosting a Pride Week and Sky Blue hosting two themed games in partnership with the Pride Center of New Jersey. The rainbow trend also popped up on the Chicago Red Stars’ warm-up tops, which feature colored numbers that were auctioned to benefit You Can Play. The project aims to ensure the inclusion of all athletes in sports.

“We want every fan there to feel that representation,” Chicago Red Stars Strategic Insights Manager Bryn Raschke said. “We want to go out there and visibly show it and make sure everyone feels welcome the same way.”

In 2018, where teams haven’t gotten involved, fans have stepped up. The Washington Spirit were the only team without a designated Pride Night. So the Spirit Squadron, the supporters’ group, hosted their own celebration as they have for the past couple of years. Out players on the team such as Joanna Lohman pushed for support for the community, finally getting the front office to acknowledge the theme by painting rainbows along the field.

“For us, it was kind of an automatic thing: we have to have a Pride Night,” Squadron member Courtney Buchanan said. “We have a huge population of queer folk in the Spirit Squadron. We joke that the straights are the minority, because it’s one of the few places where we can be and we’re the norm so it was really important for us and also some of our players to be able to celebrate that. [The organization] painting the rainbow symbols on the field, it truly makes us feel welcome, and it makes us feel like they want us there.”

Players are also pushing for the inclusive environment. This year, 25 NWSL players teamed up with Playing for Pride, a fundraising campaign in which donations were broken down per game played, assist and goal. The Royals led the campaign with the most player-ambassadors, which included Stengel and US national team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn. By the end of Pride Month, the player-ambassadors had raised more than $20,000 for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit aiming to end homophobia in sports. Professional athletes who openly identify with the LGBTQ community add to the acceptance fans feel when they walk into the stadium.

“It’s about using my career as something bigger than scoring goals,” said Spirit midfielder Lohman, who came out publicly in 2011. “I want to use my platform as a voice for people around the world who are forced into violence because they don’t have the same privileges I do and they don’t feel safe to be their own authentic self.”

For many fans, out players, in particular, serve as role models. Athletes including Lohman and Seattle Reign and US national team forward Megan Rapinoe, who came out publicly in 2012, inspire others by normalizing their vocal presence.

“[There are] so many people that we can look and say, ‘Oh yeah they’re the same as me’,” Buchanan said. “They fit in and it’s OK, it’s not this terrible awful thing because for some of us that’s all we’ve heard most of our lives.”

The NWSL also is uniquely open; fans and players interact in ways not found in other leagues. Players are known to stay after matches to talk to fans, some even learning each other’s names.

“The connection between fans and player and what that represents, there’s no other league or sport that does it quite as well,” said a Houston Dash fan named Cara, who did not want her last name published. “The accessibility between the fans and the players is unparalleled across any other sport, and the dedication the players have to it means you can make a connection with them.”

The constant presence of rainbow banners and flags even outside Pride Month, along with the close relationships between fans and players foster the loud and proud atmosphere at games. For some, the stands represent one of the few safe spaces where they can be open about their sexuality.

“I had just come out to my family [when I] started to get involved with Dash games,” Cara said. “Having an environment that’s loving and supporting was a really important thing to have just starting to come to terms with everything. Now I’m more comfortable with myself than I ever was or than I ever thought I could be and more confident, and getting to see that with the players and their support of it, there’s no words for it.”

Some fans attribute that strong connection between athletes and fans to the bold empowerment of female athletes.

“Any time you see women being strong in various roles, it definitely resonates with a lot of people who are not necessarily recognized in most of mainstream society,” Dash fan Taylor said. “One of the things I’ve noticed is that any time there’s large groups of women who are willing to be themselves, you’re going to gather more LGBT people.”

While promotion and support has grown since the founding of the league, fans see room for improvement by making the themed events consistent across teams. The rainbow numbers are a popular way of creating visibility on the field, though only three teams have adopted it thus far. Other fans wish to see backing for the community outside the colorful marketing, such as gender-neutral bathrooms.

A recent controversy involving Jaelene Hinkle of the North Carolina Courage seemed to fall contrary to the inclusive mindset the NWSL has embraced, according to Thorns fan Jo Thomson. Hinkle spoke to Christian news outlet 700 Club at the Courage stadium on her decision to withdraw from US women’s national team consideration because she did not want to wear a rainbow jersey for Pride Month.

“I find it distressing when the Courage invite 700 Club to their stadium to come do a feature on [Hinkle]. You don’t have to be a member of the LGBTQ community to know that it’s a homophobic program that espouses a homophobic agenda,” Thomson said. “As a governing body I think the NWSL could step in more often and say ‘You know what, I don’t think that’s an appropriate news outlet to be covering our team.’”

However, the trend upward of support by large sports teams is creating optimism not just for LGBTQ fans, but the community as a whole. Though the 2018 season has wrapped up, fans hope the goodwill between the NWSL and the community will catch on with other sports leagues.

“Every year it’s getting easier to be who you are,” Sky Blue FC fan Brittany Reggiero said. “It feels great to be a fan of a team who accepts you and loves you no matter who you love. I think it’s gaining a lot of ground and the future looks bright.”

Images via Getty

Lost Stories, Portraits, and His/Herstory On Display in ‘Butch Heroes’

“I was thinking about what my life would have been like had I been born into a different century,” writes Boston-based artist and educator Ria Brodell in the introduction to their forthcoming portrait book, Butch Heroes. “As a former Catholic, I knew that ‘homosexuals’ were called to a lifetime of chastity or service to the church, but I supposed that queer people of the past must have found other ways to live, and I wanted to find out how they did so.”

It was 2010 when Brodell, who identifies as trans and non-binary, first set out to explore this query. They visited the LGBTQ sections of local libraries and searched for the stories of queers with whom they could identify – people who were assigned female at birth, presented as masculine and had documented relationships with women. When they found a name and narrative that interested them, they sought to learn as much as possible about the individual, including the names they preferred at any given time, details about their class status and cultural background, what they did to survive, how they dressed, who they loved and what their physical environment may have looked like. Brodell gathered this information from a variety of sources – firstly, letters or other archival material that included the subject’s own voice, and secondly maps, journals, paintings, photos and artifacts that give color, texture, and context to the subject’s daily life.  

The individuals Brodell has chosen were born as early as 1477 and as late as 1934, and while most of the subjects lived in Europe or the United States, Brodell has also included people from Japan, Thailand, Cuba and indigenous territories in what is now North America. As for the title of the project, Brodell also explains that in the introduction: “I chose to use ‘Butch Heroes’ to indicate people who were strong or brave in the way they lived their lives and challenged their societies’ strict gender role.”

Then came the portraits. Brodell decided to model the paintings on the format of the Catholic holy card. On these cards, which are handed out at funerals and used to commemorate other special events, one side depicts a saint or religious figure in rich and sometimes dreamlike detail, framed by an elaborate border; the other side includes a prayer. “For me, this format is a perfect (subversive) way to present the lives of people who were long forgotten and abused during their lifetime,” Brodell writes in the introduction, “especially because so many of them were accused of ‘mocking God and His order’ or deceiving their fellow Christians.” In Butch Heroes, each portrait is accompanied by a brief biography of the individual, including details about their lovers and life journeys.

Most of the individuals painted by Brodell made it into the history books because their “secret” had been exposed and they’d been subject to some horrific punishment. Yet the artist has been careful not to solely depict scenes of brutality – the heroes are also captured working, relaxing in their homes and wandering about town.

One of the greatest strengths of Butch Heroes is how the 28 portraits honor resistance as much as subjugation. And when Brodell does paint their subjects in moments of suffering, they do so in a way that honors the full complexity of the butches’ lives and deaths.

Charles aka Mary Hamilton who was sentenced to be whipped in several English towns for falsely representing himself and marrying women,  is depicted on a raised platform. We see Hamilton’s bloody back and the raging crowd below, but he is not cowering. Instead, his chin is lifted as he gazes, seemingly unbothered, into the distance.

Meanwhile, in the portrait of Ann Marrow, who was sentenced to stand in the pillory at London’s Charing Cross in 1777 for “personating a man in marriage,” the subject’s body hangs limply from the wooden structure in which her wrists and head are encased. Marrow’s face and clothing are bloodied, and her eyes are closed – she is exposed to the violence of the world and has accepted its inevitability. Brodell’s project is undoubtedly a risky one – in seeking to capture butch experiences across time and in non-Western contexts, the artist risks flattening long and complex histories of gender diversity instead of celebrating them. That said, the portraits give homage to contemporary ideas of queer ancestry, and in doing so give strength to trans and non-binary communities currently under attack. That makes Butch Heroes worth celebrating.

I want to hear about your process. So, basically, when you found a historical figure that was a good fit for the project, you’d do a bunch of research on them – try to find out what their lives looked like, what their clothing looked like, what their houses looked like,  all the visuals of their lives – and then, from there, how did you make a decision about what you wanted to paint?

Ria Brodell: That’s tricky. Luckily, sometimes I get an idea right away from their story. Like, say, Sammy Williams or John Oliver. They were working class. John Oliver was constantly pushed from town to town when they were discovered and I just felt like I wanted to show them doing their job. So right away I knew that’s how I wanted to depict them. Then I just set about kind of trying to figure out what that looks like. What did the clothing of a lumberjack look like in the 1800s? What kind of trees were they cutting down? I learned a bunch about white pine, because that happened to be what they were chopping down through the Midwest.

What did you learn about white pine?

RB: The texture of the bark, and how big they would grow, and how, basically, they were decimated. They had to replant all of those forests through the Midwest because they just took every last one of them down. Sometimes I struggle with trying to figure out how to depict them because maybe their story is just really elaborate. Like they just have all kinds of stuff going on in their lives and I don’t really know how to portray them. I’ll just kind of start by doing a whole bunch of sketches, and try to figure out a composition that I like and that sort of tells their story in a concise way.  

So much of the project revolves around who’s remembered in historical texts or documents, and who isn’t.  Can you speak a little bit about that?

RB: It’s very hard. A lot of times I’ll come across stories where I think, “Okay, I think this person would fit.” Then I’m digging, and digging, and digging, and there’s no name recorded.

I do a lot of reading and reporting about trans experiences in prison, and a few years ago I covered an art exhibition that was for/by LGBTQ prisoners. A lot of the trans contributors drew themselves. I’ve been thinking a lot since then about the question of trans embodiment through art, and the possibilities and dangers it offers in terms of bodily reclamation. I was curious if you could speak a little about that?

RB: I think a lot about the fact that I’m representing people that are no longer with us and I’m really sensitive to that, and to the fact that I’m representing people also from different cultures and different backgrounds than I am, but yet I still relate to them. That’s the point of the project, is finding people are assigned female at birth, masculine presenting and in relationships with women. There’s that, but I also really look closer just look at their narratives, how they presented themselves. Hopefully, I can find how they spoke about themselves and I try not to put any sort of contemporary language onto them because I know they didn’t have access to that. I really don’t know how they would view themselves today if they had the options that we have in presenting our genders or our sexuality. Would they have made the same choices in their lives? There’s no way for me to know that, and so I just have to look at their story and do my best.

In the introduction, you write that the figures depicted on Catholic holy cards “are revered, one is meant to look to them for guidance or to help find peace,” and that’s part of why you were drawn to use this format for the project.  With that in mind, I wanted to ask how you hope this book will impact readers or the public at large.

RB: I hope that people will see what I’ve seen. In a lot of ways we’ve gone backward and that gender nonconforming people, and non-binary, queer people have existed throughout time, of course, and throughout all cultures. I think we forget about our history or don’t even know our history as queers. It’s not in the textbooks, and so I hope that people can use this, queer people especially, as just a starting point to learn more about our own history.

Do you feel like you got an answer to your wondering about what your life would have been if you had been born at a different time?

RB: No. Not at all. I feel like, I don’t know. Those people were so amazing. I really doubt that I would have been as badass as some of these guys. It’s pretty crazy.

Butch Heroes is available from MIT Press on Oct. 30.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

TV Writers Give Lesbian and Bi Characters The Queerest Names

Lately, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the deluge of queer female characters on TV, which is something I literally never thought I’d say. It seems like everywhere I turn, there’s another bisexual psychopath obsessing over her best friend, a queer woman marching toward her untimely death, or a haunted lesbian strutting across my TV screen. And while not all of these shows are necessarily, well, good—they’re at least tackling a wide breadth of queerness, without pigeonholing queer women into embarrassing stereotypes. With that being said, queer female characters on TV have had some truly, breathtakingly gay names lately—so gay that they’re worth ranking. Here are the gayest women on TV right now, ranked exclusively by how lesbian their names are.

5 – Peach Salinger from You

Played by Shay Mitchell, Peach Salinger graced the majority of the first season of You on Lifetime, and she had a big, lesbian crush on her best friend Beck. She was the fictitious heir to J.D. Salinger, hence the surname, which is already pretty gay because lesbians love books — but do we really love books? Or do we just love talking about how much we go to the library so people will know how superior we are? I’ll let you decide.

Then there’s her first name, Peach, which makes me think of two things: one, Peaches Geldof, who was embroiled in darkness and trauma, which queer women are prone to, and the other, Princess Peach, of Super Mario fame. Princess Peach has always been canonically queer, as she’s always dwelling in castles, imprisoned by a fictitious monster (yes, Bowser is actually a metaphor for homophobia), and floating — which is the gayest quality of all. All queer women are sorceresses and are capable of floating if given the right tools. So, Peach Salinger? Gay as hell.

4 – Casey Gardner from Atypical

Casey Gardner, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine, had a metamorphic Season Two on Atypical after her relationship with a new friend, Izzie, blossomed into something romantic. The season finale left us with a major cliffhanger between the two girls, but luckily, the show was just renewed for a third season. Casey is a pretty tomboyish character who wears baggy sweatshirts, striped button-ups and plaid skirts, and her androgyny is reflected in her name. “Casey” is about as gender neutral as names come, and tons of women with unisex names are gay as fuck. Dylans? Gay. Andys? Gay. Jesses? Grow up.

But add the “Gardner” surname and you’ve got a perfect storm of lady-loving. Queer women need to tend to their gardens, where we grow our own organic foods, herbs, and rare roots used for supernatural potions, sprouted from nature but co-opted by the hands of black magic for revenge-fueled plotting and scheming. Where would queer women be without the rich, fertile soils of Mother Nature, who generously supplies us with the fuels we need to participate in ceremonious, moonlit mysticism?

3 – Toni Topaz from Riverdale

Just the word “Topaz” alone shoots Riverdale’s Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan) up the charts to number three. And, are you kidding? This bisexual has a real GEM STONE as a last name? It’s the stuff of lesbian dreams! Topaz, the stone, comes in all shapes and sizes —just like queer women! If I was named Toni Topaz in high school, do you know what my life would’ve been like? Do you know how many timid 16-year old flautists I could’ve enchanted with my rare and mysterious surname alone? I would let that name absorb my life and let the rest of my personality fall to the wayside. Imagine being born with a name so unique that you didn’t even have to develop traits or hobbies in order to fully bloom into adulthood? Looking at you, Ruby Rose.

2 – Cheryl Blossom from Riverdale

Riverdale’s other resident bisexual, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), has a name that’s brimming with Sapphic innuendo. “Blossom” is very lesbian, because it already plants blinding images of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings on the backs of my eyelids. But add the imagery of “Cherry Blossoms,” and you’ve got a Dirty Computer-scape of pink fields of vaginal flowers, straight out of a Janelle Monae music video. Cheryl Blossom, in all her red-headed glory, is like a figment of my gay imagination; a spectral projection of lesbianism, played out in real time via a series of dramatic turns to camera and duplicitous plans against her closest friends.

1 – Theodora Crain from The Haunting of Hill House


Theodora?? This name feels like it was brewed up by a depraved coven of 18th-century lesbian witches with an iron cauldron and a gay agenda. Theodora Crain is the troubled lesbian sister on The Haunting of Hill House, AKA Eldritch on This Is Us. She’s as wicked (gay) and troubled (gay) and closed off (gay) as the name implies. Theodora Crain sounds like the Ravenclaw witch who always wanted to be Slytherin because her evil father was Slytherin and he died for his cause, and she wanted so badly to follow in his footsteps, but that stupid sorting hat placed her in Ravenclaw. But the hat was wrong. That old, tattered, craven hat doesn’t know me—I know me. I must have revenge. I must find the hat. I will find the hat and destroy it, and then no child will go through what I’ve been through. No child will bear the burden of bringing dishonor to their family crest and Hogwarts will be balanced once more —

Sorry, time got away from me there. Anyway, Theodora Crain sounds like the leading lady of a J.K. Rowling novel in a shadow world where Ravenclaw lesbians who harbor a well of pain that knows no bounds are the protagonists instead of some stupid Boy Who Lived. Oh yes, Theodora Crain is the gayest name known to womankind.

Ad Targeting Colorado’s Gay Governor Candidate Mysteriously Disappears Before Midterms

A campaign video targeting openly gay gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis mysteriously disappeared just days before the Colorado midterms.

An advertisement featuring Masterpiece Cakeshop plaintiff Jack Phillips warned that if Polis becomes the state’s first openly LGBTQ governor, discrimination against Christians will become the norm. Phillips took his case to the Supreme Court after the state’s civil rights commission fined him for refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

“Assaults on Jack’s faith—and yours—could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” the Family Policy Alliance-sponsored ad claimed.

Polis currently leads Republican Walker Stapleton by an average of seven points in opinion polls. Should he prevail over Colorado’s State Treasurer on Nov. 6, Family Policy Alliance warns the Democrat would “appoint more radical members” to the commission.

Family Policy Alliance President and CEO Paul Weber further called Colorado’s gubernatorial race “one of the most-watched races in the country.”

“The decision Colorado voters make will impact Jack Phillips and other people of faith in Colorado—and beyond—for years to come,” Weber claimed in a statement released in conjunction with the Oct. 25 ad.

“The country watched as the Supreme Court ruled against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, condemning them for their hostility toward Jack’s faith,” he continued. “Now they are watching again to see if Colorado voters will say ‘enough is enough—I will stand with Jack.’”

Aside from the obvious fear-mongering, there’s one more problem with Family Policy Alliance’s commercial: It’s nowhere to be found on the conservative anti-LGBTQ group’s website.

A Thursday press release links to the ad twice. A hyperlink now redirects to a webpage asking supporters to donate to Family Policy Alliance ahead of the midterms, particularly “in key target districts and battleground states where victory is decided by a handful of voters in county after county.”

Conservatives can give $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, or $1000—or enter their own preferred total instead.

The second seeming link to the video is located near the end of the online press release. A screenshot of the video features Phillips’ face next to a slogan trumpeting so-called “religious freedom.” “Stand With Jack,” the image implores.

A click on that photo also leads to the same donation page.

Two other webpages devoted to Phillips’ video now lead to 404s. The pages are titled “Vote for Jack Phillips?” and “Jared Polis vs. Jack-Phillips? What Every Colorado Voter Needs to Know.”

The advertisement is no longer available on Family Policy Alliance’s YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter pages either, although INTO could not confirm whether the video had ever been posted to those accounts. When this publication reached out to the far-right group to inquire as to their disappearance, it did not respond.

Even an embed of the commercial included in a Fox News story claims the “video is unavailable.” The conservative news site notes the ad is scheduled to run “in digital markets throughout Colorado.”

It’s unclear at the time of publication whether that is still the plan.

Phillips became the center of a nationwide debate over “religious liberty” after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in a “narrow” 7-2 verdict decided on procedural grounds. Justice claimed the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not given neutral consideration to the baker’s faith beliefs in its decision-making.

Although SCOTUS did not weigh in on whether his Christian faith gave Phillips the constitutional right to deny the couple service, Phillips may be headed to court again after refusing to bake a gender transition cake for a trans woman.

International Parliamentary Group Votes to Ban Discussion of LGBTQ Rights

One of the world’s leading forums for international human rights quietly banned discussion of LGBTQ issues in its upcoming session.

During the 139th assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a majority of representatives voted down a proposal to address the subject of LGBTQ rights as an “emergency item” in its next meeting, which is scheduled for April 2019. More than 70 percent of MPs rejected the proposal.

The campaign against bringing LGBTQ issues to the table was led by the IPU’s Ugandan delegation.

When the vote came down on Oct. 16, Ugandan MP Rebecca Kadaga — who declined to comment for this story — accused countries like Canada and Belgium of attempting to “smuggle” queer and trans rights into the dialogue.

“I am so happy that this battle has finally been won,” she remarked at the time.

Other representatives from Uganda, where same-sex activity is prohibited by law, confirmed the country would continue fighting any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity at the biannual summit held in Geneva, Switzerland. MP Francis Mwijukye called homosexuality “inhuman and anti-culture.”

Meanwhile, Ugandan delegate Akamba Paul said debating divisive issues like LGBTQ rights is against the IPU’s mission.

“Article 1(2) of the IPU statute states that the Inter-Parliamentary Union shall work for peace and cooperation among peoples and for the solid establishment of representative institution and also contribute to the defense and promotion of human rights, which are universal in scope,” he argued.

“The agenda presented here has been widely rejected by many member states hence lacking universality in scope,” Paul added.

Uganda was joined by China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in voting against the proposal. During the IPU’s March meeting, Kadaga threatened to boycott if LGBTQ issues were included in the agenda.

The proposal was originally drafted by the Committee on Democracy and Human Rights, where it was widely supported.

Advocacy groups strongly condemned the erasure of LGBTQ people from the IPU. Critics claimed the vote would prevent parliamentarians from coordinating on efforts to better the lives of sexual and gender minorities around the world.

“Parliamentarians worldwide have a duty to represent and protect their constituents, including the hundreds of millions of people who are LGBTQ,” said ILGA Executive Director André du Plessis in a statement to INTO. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people vote, pay taxes, and have a basic right for their issues to be heard.”

“To silence discussion on issues of discrimination, violence, exclusion, health and poverty of LGBTQ persons is, frankly, unacceptable,” he added.

Amnesty International called the vote “alarming and disappointing.”

“When politicians get to decide who have rights and who don’t, our rights are placed at risk,” claimed Adotei Akwei, Amnesty’s deputy director of advocacy and government relations, in an email to INTO. “When they can ban basic discussion on the nature of those rights, we are all in danger.”  

The “promotion of human rights” is one of the “core objectives” of the IPU, as Akwei further noted.

Established in 1888, the IPU seeks to further “peace and cooperation among peoples.” Its current membership includes more than 170 countries, including Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Although the United States withdrew participation from the IPU in 1999, the vote to prohibit discussion on LGBTQ rights could be seen as particularly concerning following a Wednesday report that U.S. diplomats are attempting to erase allusions to gender identity in United Nations policy.

As The Guardian claimed, officials sought to replace the phrase “gender-based violence” with “violence against women” in a sex trafficking report.

Calling the phrase “vague and politically correct,” representatives from the Trump administration say the language reflects “what it sees as an ‘ideology’ of treating gender as an individual choice rather than an unchangeable biological fact.”

But in comments shared with INTO, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations rejected claims it was attempting to erase trans people in its international policy.

“In no way is the United States attempting to exclude the protection of transgendered [sic] persons, or protection of any person, in any U.N. resolution,” a representative claimed in a statement. “This administration is against discrimination of any kind and is committed to inclusive, non-discriminatory, and integrated international development.”

Although the IPU works closely with the U.N. to further its goals, some questioned how much influence the group actually has on international discourse.

INTO reached out to a dozen advocates working on global LGBTQ rights to comment on the vote. Many had never heard of the IPU, while some advocates (who asked not to be named in this story) dismissed the organization as “obscure” and a place for parliamentarians to get together to “talk shop.”

Although the IPU does not have power to draft legislation, others claimed the organization can add to an “unofficial consensus on an issue.”

“This position against LGBTQ rights matters as it validates Uganda’s position, empowers and emboldens Ugandan MPs and MPs from other homophobic countries, and expands the idea that LGBTQ rights [are] not legitimate human rights,” a source told INTO.

“It could also be a stepping stone to pushing for similar positions in larger intergovernmental entities,” the official added.

Image via GETTY

Danica Roem Fights for Massachusetts Trans Vote One Student at Time

If being the first openly elected trans state lawmaker in the U.S. sounds glamorous, watch Danica Roem dash after students at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.

It’s just over 40 degrees on a Friday.  Roem, who made history last year when she was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, is asking every student in sight to vote and vote yes on Question 3.

Question 3 is the nation’s first statewide transgender ballot initiative. A “yes” vote upholds Senate Bill 2407, the state’s non-discrimination protections in public accommodations.

“This is how I won my election,” she says, as if that’s the most obvious thing in the world. “You don’t win elections with photo ops. You don’t win elections by tweeting.”

She moves so quickly, it’s hard to photograph her. She slows only to take a call from a constituent back in Virginia. She gave her cell phone number out to thousands, she notes, and these are her most important calls. When the call wraps up, her focus is right back on the vote in Massachusetts.

A preppy blond student with headphones strolls past the campus center. Roem makes a beeline for him. Has he voted, yet? She wants to know. Does he know he can vote today, right her at the building in front of him? He should vote Yes on 3.

It’s been just five days since the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was moving to legally erase transgender people. Activists hope that a vote to keep trans protections in Massachusetts will serve as a public rebuke of the president’s agenda.

“There are national repercussions that come from this,” Roem tells INTO. “If Yes on 3 prevails, if [Senate Bill] 2407 is upheld, that will blunt any perceived momentum that opponents of trans rights will have to basically have to move forward in other states.”

It’s been a busy season for Roem, who reports she has done 17 campaign events for Sen. Tim Kaine and campaigned for all 11 congressional Democrats running for the House of Representatives in Virginia. She flew to Colorado to campaign for Brianna Titone, who has her sights set on the Colorado State House.  

At UMass, Roem stands in the cold for three hours, darting from student to student, asking over and over if they have voted early. Most students report that they have or are on their way to. Unlike Boston, where many voters express confusion or ignorance on question 3, UMass students largely know about the vote on trans rights and are prepared to vote yes.

“We’re all really aware of everything,” says junior Emmy Mendoza. “I want everybody to be equal and feel accepted.”

Sophomore Zelda Stewart says she talked to Yes on 3 organizers just the day before and headed to the polls.

“I voted last night, but I didn’t know this was going to be one of the questions,” she says. “ I believe in human rights.”

It’s hard to miss talk of Question 3 and trans rights on the UMass campus. On Wednesday, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the independently-run student newspaper, ran two stories above the fold on trans rights, one on Question 3 and one on gender-inclusive restrooms. Mendoza said Question 3 has been a topic of discussion in her gender studies class.

But Question 3 canvassers leave nothing to chance, even when it’s awkward or weird.

On Friday, a student in a  full-body skeleton costume walks past the Roem and other Question 3 organizers. It takes a moment before they notice that the costume includes an erect and bouncing skeletal penis.

“Oh my goodness!” calls organizer Dakota DesRochers. “Have you voted?”

Netflix’s ‘Cable Girls’ Features a Queer and Trans Narrative In 1930s Spain

The following contains major spoilers for all three seasons of Cable Girls.

Cable Girls, the soapy Netflix period drama from Spain about late 1920s phone operators, is back for Season 3, and it has a major queer storyline at its center.

Restless young socialite and phone operator Carlota (Ana Fernandez) and operating manager Sara (Ana Polvorosa) become romantically involved early in Season 1, when Carlota first gets interested in the women’s rights movement slowly rising in Spain. While attending an underground feminist rally for the women’s vote, she runs into Sara, whose impassioned speech leaves an impression.

There’s an instant attraction, and soon, the two become involved despite Carlota’s relationship with Miguel (Borja Luna), who is also employed at the phone company. It’s admirable that once Miguel finds out about the affair, rather than pursuing the tired love-triangle trope, Cable Girls’ writers opted to instead allow the characters to explore polyamory together.

Though no one else is privy to the relationship, the trio settle into it seamlessly, finding time together after work at Sara’s apartment. That is until Miguel begins to feel left out. As the women grow closer, he turns to drugs to help him deal. After a near overdose, he decides he no longer wants to be with Carlota and Sara. Thus, Miguel is gradually phased out of the equation in the second season, and a major character reveal shifts focus onto Sara and Carlota’s relationship as well as Sara and her gender identity.

In the second episode of Season 2, Carlota and her friends walk in on a violent fight between their friend, Angeles, and her husband, Mario. In their attempt to intervene, Mario is killed, and they dispose of the body by throwing it over a bridge. To avoid suspicion and to make sure Mario is seen boarding a departing train, Sara volunteers to wear his clothes to the station.

Sara, who usually sports feminine clothing, and until now has not demonstrated desire to do otherwise, appears to be triggered by the ruse, and following the event, she becomes distant.

Suspicious of Sara’s peculiar behavior, Carlota begins to tail her. When she discovers that Sara is sneaking away to meet with a man named Oscar Ruiz in a hotel, she suspects infidelity. At overhearing a clerk address a “Mr. Ruiz,” she finds that “Oscar” is, in fact, Sara in a man’s suit.

Sara explains that when she was a child, her father beat her to stop her from dressing in boys’ clothes, but, despite that, she reveals that she has always felt like a “man trapped in a woman’s body.” And while she had since then gotten her “urges” under control, the feeling that she wasn’t being her full authentic self never went away. Although Carlota is understanding, Sara still decides she needs to check herself into a mental institution.

Treatment facilities geared towards “curing” the LGBTQ community were not uncommon at the time. While Spain is considered one of the most LGBTQ friendly countries in the world, from the beginning of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1928, until its end 36 years later, homosexuality and anything falling under that umbrella was deemed illegal, with the occasional interruptions when the law was shortly overturned before inevitably being reinstated.

Sara’s alternative to voluntary treatment would potentially be one of the prisons reserved for those arrested for homosexuality, which were referred to as “galleries of deviants.” But even voluntary treatment would prove to be torturous. After being subjected to brutal treatments meant to cure her, Sara places a desperate call to Carlota, who then breaks her out of the institution.

Season 2 ends with Sara informing Carlota of a trans community in Berlin that she wants to visit, but Carlota convinces her to stay in town and start a women’s movement with her instead, rekindling Sara’s activist streak.

Prior to Cable Girls, few Spain-based films or TV shows not made by Pedro Almodóvar have tackled LGBTQ storylines, so it’s no surprise the Netflix series has been so well received. Francoist-era Films featuring lesbian or gay storylines are virtually non-existent, let alone ones with trans characters. Aside from the 1973 nominee for Best Foreign Film, Mi querida señorita, about a woman who discovers she is a man, the subject was relatively untouched until the early ’80s.

While Sara is yet to identify herself as trans, it’s refreshing to see her story unfold the way it did through the first and second seasons, and it continues to do so in the third.

Season 3 opens at the wedding of the couple’s friend, and protagonist, Alba. Carlota’s father, who is in attendance, and who had stopped speaking to her several months back, makes an unexpected gesture and apologizes for his past disapproval of Carlota’s independent spirit and lifestyle.

They hug and make up, but the moment is short-lived, as a fire suddenly erupts in the church, killing Carlota’s father.

Carlota soon learns that she will be receiving a large sum of her father’s life insurance money, allowing her and Sara to live comfortably together, while also giving her an opportunity to use some of the funds to support feminist causes she is passionate about, like supporting women’s independence and the right to vote.

The show thrives on melodrama and rolls out one traumatic incident after the other. So their domestic bliss is short-lived, as a feminist group they’re working with begins to express radical and violent views that the women do not approve of. Upon their failure to convince a judge to convict a man of his own wife’s murder, the group opts to take justice into their own hands by becoming a sort of policing agency that inflicts violence upon oppressors.

Carlota, who during this time has been anonymously expressing her progressive views on a radio station, is exposed by the group’s leader when she refuses to participate in their violent demonstrations. As a result, she is attacked at the station by a group of men who want to silence her feminist ideas. She is nearly raped, when Sara and their friends intervene, threatening to call the police.

Angered by the attack, Sara agrees to give the rights group enough money to fund a revenge plan against Carlota’s attackers. What they don’t tell her is that they are also using the money for their own agenda — one that involves guns and explosives, which they use to hold up the phone company during an event hosting the King of Spain, planning to force him to surrender the crown as they feel this will open up a path for the Suffrage Movement to advance.

It all goes horribly, and Carlota and Sara wind up handcuffed together in a room with one of the bombs, which is expected to go off any minute. Fueled by the intensity of the situation, they recite vows to each other, but they’re rescued just in time. Once outside, Sara asks Carlota if she would ever really marry her.

Carlota replies, “If only it were allowed.”

“Well, you might not be allowed to marry Sara,” she says, “but you can marry Oscar.”

The finale leaves the couple on this hopeful note. The series was renewed for a fourth season by Netflix only a week after its premiere, and it’s expected to be released as early as Summer of 2019.

Season 3 of Cable Girls is now streaming.

‘The Bi Life’ is a Milestone for Bisexual Representation

I was skeptical as I arrived at the central London hotel hosting a preview party for E!’s The Bi Life last week. Joined in a small room by other grassroots activists from the London bisexual community, we discussed our worries. A dating show? Surely it would just propagate the stereotype that bisexuals are all cheaters and sluts? Post viewing, we all felt very differently.

The Bi Life has more of a Great British Bake Off vibe than one of Love Island or The Bachelor. The cast isn’t competing to couple up with each other; in fact, they’re not competing at all. The premise is simple: several single bi people spending a summer in Barcelona, going on dates, and partying with the host, Courtney Act. It feels like watching a group of friends, who all happen to be bi, on a summer holiday. With the current climate of struggles surrounding LGBTQ lives and rights, it was a sun-bleached dream that I was all too happy to let wash over me.  

The Bi Life isn’t a show for straight people. It isn’t even a show for gay people. For what might be the first time, this is a show for us bisexuals. There are explainers about what it’s like to be bi, but these take place between the bi/pan cast members with the foundational knowledge that bisexuality undoubtedly exists, and is a normal, valid way of experiencing attraction. Watching bi people discuss their lives without having to justify them first was completely refreshing.

Nothing the cast says is particularly groundbreaking — they talk about the struggles of coming out, the ways gay and straight people react to bisexuality, their differing types of attraction. At least, none of this would be groundbreaking if people had been listening to the bi community for the past four decades. But they haven’t.

That’s what makes The Bi Life so special: It may have found the right formula at the right time to suddenly turn a spotlight on the bi community. The first episode has already received a wave of positive feedback from bi viewers and LGBTQ media alike. If networks see shows like this doing well, hopefully they will continue to pick them up. More programmes, articles, etc. that don’t spend time discussing if bisexuality is real and can focus instead on the harmful stereotypes and prejudices bi people face, and the real world impact they have on our lives. Impacts like higher rates of sexual violence, mental illness, and poverty, when compared to gay and straight people.

It would have been easy for The Bi Life to have furthered the tired stereotypes that hound bisexual representation. The Bi Life’s ancestor, A Shot At Love, certainly did. The show, which first aired on VH1 in 2007 and was hosted by bisexual social media-ite Tila Tequila, used Tequila’s bisexuality as an excuse to make impossibly-femme lesbians compete with cookie-cutter quarterbacks for her affection.

Let me be clear: bi women should feel confident and free to be as promiscuous and sexual as they want without fear of harassment or being told that they are bad bisexuals. There are no bad bisexuals. But there is bad bisexual representation, and a woman in a bikini choosing between cages of men or women dancing naked with each other was not good representation at a time when bisexuality barely existed on TV or in mainstream discourse. Reading reviews of the show published at the time sent me wheeling back to secondary school, and the taunts of being called attention-seeking, indecisive, and slutty.

Representation for bisexual people is definitely improving. GLAAD’s most recent “Where We Are On TV” report shows that there have been more LGBTQ characters on our small screens in 2018 than ever before. In total, there were 117 bisexual/pan/fluid characters on TV, making up 23% of all LGBT+ representation. One character of note is the leading lady of Channel 4’s (UK) The Bisexual. Two shows airing at the same time with the word bi/bisexual in the title feels like a revolution. News outlets, radio shows, and magazines are all discussing bisexual lives and experiences with an empathy that I haven’t seen in my 10 years of being out.

There is still a long way to go in terms of bisexual representation and there are certainly areas The Bi Life could improve upon. For starters, although Courtney Act is careful to explain that bi people are or can be attracted to people of all genders in her explainers, the show uses binary language and all the cast are cisgender.

Despite its imperfections, I think The Bi Life will do more good than harm. Watching the singletons head out on dates with people of similar genders as easily as they do with people of different genders is an important step in normalizing bisexuality. As 20-gay-teen draws to a close, I can’t wait to see what 20-bi-teen has in store. I hope The Bi Life is just the beginning.  

Doctor for Early HIV/AIDS Patients Among Dead in Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

On Saturday, anti-Semitic gunman Robert Bowers opened fire on attendees at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As names of those killed in the shooting were released throughout the weekend, people began to pay tribute to the 11 victims, including Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a Pittsburgh-based doctor who helped treat patients living with HIV.

According to Michael Kerr, a New York City-based activist and member of ACT UP, Rabinowitz, 66, treated HIV-positive people prior to the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy, when few doctors were willing to even touch those living with HIV. Kerr wrote on his Facebook about Rabinowitz and what it was like to be in his care.

“Before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest,” Kerr wrote. “He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office.”

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🔻 . “My doctor Jerry Rabinowitz was among those killed in the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting. He took care of me up until I left Pittsburgh for NYC in 2004. . In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh, he was to one to go to. Basically before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest. He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office. . We made a deal about my T cells, in that I didn’t want to know the numbers visit to visit, because I knew I would fret with every little fluctuation and I also knew that AZT was not working for my friends. The deal was that he would just let me know at some point when the T cell numbers meant I needed to start on medications. The numbers were his job and my job was to finish my masters thesis and get a job with insurance and try to not go crazy. . I got lucky beyond words — because when he gently told me around November 1995 that it was time to begin taking medications —there was an ACTG trial for two HIV medications that saved my life. One of which I still take today. . Thank you ACT UP for getting these drugs into a safe but effect expedited research protocol. You saved my life. . And THANK YOU Dr. Rabinowitiz for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life. You will be remembered by me always. You are one of my heroes just like the early ACT UP warriors —- some of which I now call friends.” — by Michael Kerr @michaeljkerr63. . #whatisrememberedlives #theaidsmemorial #aidsmemorial #neverforget #endaids

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Kerr remembered Rabinowitz telling him that he needed to start on medications in November 1995, before HAART, when AZT was one of the few treatment options available to HIV-positive people.

“Thank you Dr. Rabinowitiz for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life. You will be remembered by me always. You are one of my heroes just like the early ACT UP warriors — some of which I now call friends,” Kerr wrote.  

According to NBC, Rabinowitz is survived by his wife, Miri, his mother, Sally and his brother, Bill.

Image via Getty

Russian LGBTQ Film Festival Shut Down After Anti-Gay Politician Fakes Hostage Crisis

The father of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law attempted to shut down an LGBTQ film festival in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Vitaly Milonov, a lawmaker in the State Duma, attempted to physically block people from entering the commencement ceremony of Side to Side. The yearly film fest, which is scheduled to run until Nov. 1, was planning to screen the Chilean transgender drama A Fantastic Woman.

“Dear citizens, you know yourselves that you are perverts,” he shouted at attendees, as the Moscow Times originally reported. “You need to disperse.”

Milonov further harassed attendees by claiming they’re not really Russian.

“We are Russian people who are on our home soil,” the 44-year-old politician allegedly said. “And you’re not. Your motherland is Sodom and Gomorrah.”

After Milonov proved unsuccessful at preventing entry to the screening, the parliamentarian telephoned local police and claimed there was a hostage crisis taking place inside the Moskva Theater. Authorities evacuated the building to investigate the false claim.

Wednesday night’s programming was subsequently canceled. More than 400 people had reportedly purchased tickets to the Oscar-winning film.

News reports claim Milonov had spent the entire day trying to sabotage the opening. He called the theater owners and alleged the film festival violated Russia’s 2013 anti-gay “propaganda” law, which prohibits the spread of information on “nontraditional sexual relationships to minors.”

As a deputy in the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, Milonov authored an extremely similar bill widely viewed as an inspiration for the national legislation.

Organizers with Side to Side call Milonov’s claims “false” and “outrageous.”

“There are… plans to send an inquiry [sic] to the ethics committee of the State Duma to initiate a discussion of whether [Milonov’s] behavior was in line with the status of a Russian legislator,” the film festival claimed in a statement.

The event also intends to file a complaint with local authorities, seeking “compensation for the damage caused.”

This isn’t the first time that Milonov — who has called homosexuality a “perversion” and compared LGBTQ relationships to having sex with a “horse” or a “sheep” — has attempted to shut down Side by Side.

In 2016, he showed up at the event with a dozen protesters, but organizers locked the doors to prevent them from entering. Attendees tricked Milonov by pretending to go home but came back for the screening when the anti-gay contingent disbanded.

Milonov again failed to stop the film festival. Organizers claimed the show would go on until its closing day on Thursday.

The disruption took place just days before LGBTQ Russians scored a groundbreaking legal victory when the court dismissed charges against a minor prosecuted under the “propaganda” laws. Maxim Neverov, a 16-year-old student, was fined 50,000 rubles ($760) in August after posting photos of shirtless men on Facebook.

The Biysk City Court of the Altai Territory overturned the conviction on Friday after Neverov’s lawyer, Artem Lapov, cited “numerous procedural violations” during the initial hearing.

Lapov claimed the victory is “a signal to the LGBTQ community that they can, and should, fight for their rights.”

“People often think that there’s nothing they can achieve, but this case shows that they, in fact, can and should,” the attorney told Reuters, noting that the favorable court ruling is the first of its kind.

LGBTQ activists say the decision shows the tide is turning against the “propaganda” law.

“This case shows that the justice system is aware that the implementation of the [gay propaganda] law often goes too far,” Svetlana Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian LGBTQ Network, told the international news wire service.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the propaganda law violates the right to freedom of expression and called for it to be overturned.