BREAKING: California School Superintendent Resigns After Sermon Mocking LGBTQ Students Surfaces

 

A Southern California school superintendent who came under fire for denouncing lesbian and transgender students has decided to resign amid an investigation.

Ventura Unified School District Superintendent David Creswell recently became the focus of controversy  because of homophobic and transphobic remarks he made at the Redeemer Baptist Church in Riverside, California. in 2016. He made the remarks in a sermon he delivered when he was a church elder. Those statements were recorded, and although the church deleted its recording at Creswell’s request, the Foothill Dragon Press student newspaper preserved a copy and shared it with INTO.

On the tape, Creswell can be heard telling the congregation that when he saw a photo in a yearbook captioned, “Best Couple,” depicting what he said were two “cute girls embracing,” his reaction was, “Oh, boy. Here we go. Here’s our world.”

And he was even more upset when he saw the yearbook photo of a transgender girl — which Creswell referred to as “a young man fully dressed as a girl” — that was captioned “Most Changed.” “This is the definition of most changed? This is the definition?” Creswell  said, according to the recording of the sermon. “There’s a growing sector of our culture, of our society, that says that’s good and that’s normal, and not only do they embrace it, we’re now celebrating it.”

More than 100 parents turned out at recent school board meetings, according to the Ventura County Star, and at separate gatherings organized by the Diversity Collective, an LGBTQ rights organization that pushed for Creswell’s ouster.

“We still live in a society where anti-LGBTQ bias and phobia is accepted,” said Joseph Summers, board president of the collective, via email. “If this was a race issue he would have been gone two Fridays ago.”

On November 19, Creswell publicly apologized for what he said in the 2016 sermon, in a letter to the staff of the Ventura Public School District.

“I deeply regret using that example and I want to publicly apologize for it,” wrote Creswell in the apology letter, which was posted on the VUSD website. “I am sorry for the words, the insensitivity, and for the pain and hurt that it is causing…I have been wrestling and reflecting with what there is in me that allowed me to say those words or to think that it was ok at the time. I am not a hater, a homophobe, or a person with a hidden agenda.”

Soon after classes ended for the day Friday, Creswell sent staff at the Ventura Unified School District an email announcing his decision to leave rather than face a reprimand, suspension, or termination.

“I will be working with the school board on an exit plan that will include my resignation. I am proud of everything that I have said and done here in VUSD [Ventura Unified School District],” wrote Creswell in a confidential email obtained by INTO.

Ventura Unified School District Superintendent David Creswell's resignation letter

Creswell did not respond to a request for comment, but his resignation was confirmed by district spokesperson Tim Gallagher, who said a previously-scheduled meeting to decide Creswell’s  fate had been canceled in light of the resignation. No date has been set for him to leave. Gallagher told INTO he felt that the superintendent had “evolved.”

“I think Dave Creswell is an example of a person who has evolved into something far more enlightened than he was two or three years ago when he gave that sermon,” Gallagher said by phone.

Summers said  that while he was surprised at Creswell’s resignation, he was not celebrating it. The Diversity Collective would now push for greater awareness of the problems that this controversy brought to light in the Ventura County school district.

“Moving forward, we offer our support to VUSD with LGBTQ cultural competency training,” Summers told INTO in an email. “We need a plan to ensure healing occurs district-wide and all of our LGBTQ youth and students feel safe and validated. Nothing about us without us.”

The next step, he said, will be a youth-led roundtable Friday evening to learn “what our youth want to see moving forward.”

Victoria’s Secret Has Never Been LGBTQ-Friendly Because It Doesn’t Want To Be

About a month ago, a friend told me she’d had a terrible experience at a nearby Victoria’s Secret. She’s masculine of center — a lesbian — with a short haircut, and more often than not wears clothing from the men’s section. That day, she needed some bras, so she headed to the store internationally known for its undergarments.

“No one asked me if I needed anything or if I needed any help, so I just went into the section I thought would work out,” my friend, Laura Fiorino, told me. “I went and I grabbed a couple sizes and went into the dressing room or the fitting room and the person just kind of looked at me like ‘Can I help you?'”

Fiorino said the Victoria’s Secret employee looked “shocked and surprised.” Once inside a fitting room, she said that the employee came in several times to check on other clients in rooms around her, offering measurements and other sizing and fit options that she never offered to Fiorino.

“She put my name on the door, but never asked if I needed anything, so I had to go out and get another size,” Fiorino said. “I had to go out, get it myself, come back in.”

Frustrated, Fiorino decided to speak with the manager of the location in Los Angeles’s popular Beverly Center shopping mall.

“I said ‘You really need to be more inclusive. People come here – this is LA, all types of people, diversity of background come in here, and you really need to accommodate everyone and not only worry about your femme clientele,'” Fiorino recalled.

But the manager wasn’t very receptive.

“She was just kind of like, ‘That’s really good feedback. Oh, I really appreciate your feedback,’ not really apologetic to the situation at all,” Fiorino said. “I told her ‘I’m actually never coming back here again.'”

This situation is a symptom of a much larger problem, and happened just a few weeks before Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of L Brands, which owns and operates Victoria’s Secret, made headlines for telling Vogue that trans and plus-size models would never be a part of their annually televised runway show.

“If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have,” Razek told Vogue. “We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.”

He went on to say that people often ask, “‘Why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show?’ No. No, I don’t think we should. ‘Well, why not?’ Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”

Razek’s comments echoed a sentiment long believed true of Victoria’s Secret, but one that hadn’t faced as much public scrutiny until now. While it’s long been known that the retail chain prizes and promotes uber-thin, feminine, mostly white cisgender models, the brand has been able to ignore detractors and continue to profit without much damage to their bottom line. Their recently released third-quarter earnings statement for this year noted that the retail locations alone brought in $1.529 billion, and their holiday-timed annual fashion show airing on ABC this Sunday night will surely bring in more online and in-person sales this holiday season.

As Vogue published in their piece, the 2017 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was seen by 1 billion people in 190 countries. Surely trans and plus-size women, as well as others not represented by their selection of models, were part of that viewership, and part of the spending power that has kept Victoria’s Secret in business for so long. But in its 41 years of existence, Victoria’s Secret has never once participated in any LGBTQ initiative — not even during Pride, when brands often make their first attempt at acknowledging the community — and if the brand is adamant about not marketing to LGBTQs, why should we keep buying what they’re selling?

Rob Smith worked as Victoria’s Secret’s executive vice president of merchandising from 2010 until 2012. He now owns The Phluid Project, an all-gender retail and community space in Manhattan, and says that while L Brands offered an LGBTQ Employee Resource Group and extended same-sex partner benefits that pleased the HRC, there was no interest in marketing to the LGBTQ community. 

There’s the internal organization which … certainly checks off all the boxes in order to get a high ranking like LGBT organizations monitor,” Smith told INTO

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees were a part of the larger company based in Columbus, Ohio, but back then, he says, there were no transgender employees, certainly not in any kind of senior-level executive level representation.

“I would say the brand has had tremendous success, and in many ways, the world continues to move forward and I’m not sure that the executives in power embrace the change in the evolution,” Smith said. “And that maybe there’s people talking within the organization but they’re not hearing it.”

There have been attempts at change, though, from the outside. In 2013, GLAAD supported trans model Carmen Carrera’s petition to become their first trans model. 

“I want to do this for the 50,000 people who signed the petition on Change.org,” Carrera told Time. “I want to do this for, of course, me and my career. I’m a showgirl at heart. If I’m going to do fashion shows, this is the one to do. And I want to do it for my family. I want them to be proud of me. I want them to be like, that’s our kid, we raised that girl right there. And my community, for sure.”

But after Razek tweeted that Victoria’s Secret “absolutely would cast a transgender model for the show” and that they’ve had “transgender models come to castings,” Carrera wrote an Instagram post saying she doesn’t know “if this is exactly true.”

“In 2016, contact was made and an audition was set up for me and another girl but then I received a call from my agent that my audition was cancelled,” she wrote. “The morning of the audition.”

View this post on Instagram

I just want to say that for the record, I do not know if this is exactly true. However, I personally have never auditioned for @victoriassecret. In 2016, contact was made and an audition was set up for me and another girl but then I received a call from my agent that my audition was cancelled. The morning of the audition. I don’t understand if these casting folks just like to make you suffer on purpose or they just wanted to rejoice in their own foolery after they cancelled it. Who knows? All I know is, they knew who I was and how much international support I received to make this happen. Not bragging but it was way more exposure than any other rumored VS prospect they’ve ever had and yet they still chose to sleep on it #facts. I hope they change that real soon! If they are ready for a positive change with a big impact, they know where to find me! Xo

A post shared by Carmen Carrera (@carmen_carrera) on

According to GLAAD’s Chief Communications Officer Rich Ferraro, 2018 was the first time any actual conversation was happening between GLAAD and Victoria’s Secret. But the point of contact was then-CEO Jan Singer, who resigned two weeks ago after two years with the company.

“Earlier this year, GLAAD was in conversation with Victoria’s Secret around a potential series of LGBTQ presentations that would equip corporate and retail staff with ways to be more inclusive of LGBTQ consumers,” Ferraro told INTO. “Those conversations fell apart following the gross comments from CMO Ed Razek and after the CEO Jan Singer – who GLAAD understands to be a supporter of diversity and transgender inclusion – departed. GLAAD was among the voices that slammed Razek’s original comments.” 

After Singer’s departure, Ferraro said, Victoria’s Secret stopped responding.

“We reached out after Razek’s comments, but VS did not engage,” Ferraro said. “He then issued the apology that was not well received. We spoke out publicly after it, as did many.”

GLAAD’s work with the brand would have been extensive in its training, Ferraro said. Retail workers and management would be trained on working with LGBTQ employees and customers. Ferraro said it “certainly have included a push to include LGBTQ models in the televised show and to be inclusive across their channels.”

“We tailor presentations based on brands and companies,” he said, noting that GLAAD tweeted in support of trans models after Razek’s Vogue interview.

Interestingly, some of the models who will appear in this year’s Victoria’s Secret Show have been advocates for the community in the past, but seem to be tightlipped about their support now.

Kendall Jenner, whose parent is Caitlyn Jenner, has not made any statements condemning the brand, who also outfitted Kendall and her sisters as Victoria’s Secret angels in elaborate Halloween sponsored content. The day of the Vogue piece,  Jenner posted an Instagram story with the image of a button reading “Celebrate trans women.” Stella Maxwell, who doesn’t speak publicly about her sexual identity but is in a high-profile relationship with out actress Kristen Stewart, did not respond to requests for comment and has not made any statements to the press. Josephine Skriver, who refers to herself as a “proud rainbow kid” and often advocates for LGBTQs as the product of a gay father and lesbian mother, was also unavailable, and while she didn’t post anything related to Razek’s Vogue interview, she did thank him by name in two Instagram posts.

Bisexual pop stars Halsey and Rita Ora both perform on this year’s show, as does Shawn Mendes, whose producer, Teddy Geiger, came out as trans last year. None of them have reacted to Razek’s comments, but continue to publicize the show. 

One trans woman who has been a longtime VS fan is Laverne Cox. Cox, who tweeted about watching the show in 2011, will likely appear in audience shots, as she attended this year’s taping, sharing Instagram photos and video from the carpet and inside. Cox’s reps also said she was unavailable for comment, and while she hasn’t spoken out directly against Victoria’s Secret, she did share some Instagram posts supporting trans models more generally.

I think they could empower their models to speak,” Smith said. “The thing is, you can’t monitor the things they say and don’t say but I’m sure if you let these women speak out, they’re going to have a much more progressive posture than Victoria’s Secret as a brand does. They are Gen Z, you know? They are reflective of the shifting worldviews. I’m sure their own personal views are, I would guess, possibly more progressive than Victoria’s Secret’s, and they can leverage that.”

That said, Smith thinks they are encouraged not to say anything that would take away from the spectacle of the show.

“If their conversation and their points of view become bigger than the show then I think they feel like they’ve lost the show, which is, in their mind, aspirational fantasy,” he said. 

But whose fantasy, and based on whose ideals? 

“Many people think it’s cisgender straight guys watching the shows,” Smith said. “It’s women who are watching it, and it’s their idea of beauty, so I think society’s got to step back and say ‘What are we doing by supporting this?’ This idea of beauty that looks almost like it’s aspirational, but it’s unrealistic and I think you know what I love about Instagram and the new faces of beauty, and even I don’t like the word beauty but the new faces are so reflective of the spectrum of who we are, in gender, race, size, and socioeconomic status.”

In the last year, despite making more than one billion dollars in one single quarter, Victoria’s Secret has been in a decline. Sales are slumping and select locations are closing, which some perceive to be based on the more inclusive lines from competitors like Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty and Third Love. 

Perhaps it’s time for something new — a new aspirational fantasy. What would Victoria’s Secret stand to lose by becoming a brand less about unrealistic ideas of fantasy and instead, a brand that provides more room at the proverbial bedside table?

There’s a certain point where you see just at the table with traditional straight older white guys, you’re not going to move very far,” Smith said. “You’re not going to move the company as far as it should be moved or it could be moved.”

With Razek at the helm and Singer’s exit as CEO, however, it doesn’t appear the company is moving toward a more inclusive future. Instead, it seems to be continuing down an outdated path of perceived fantastical perfection based on highly-specific body parts fitting into extremely limited sizing. And should customers not reflect who Razek believes the brand is marketing to, then their customer service will continue to turn people off and away to other brands looking to offer alternatives.

“I think it’s such a great opportunity to take something that is so ingrained in our society; it’s something that we celebrate, and it seems completely dated so it’s not just a reflection of Victoria’s Secret, it’s a reflection of us as a society and how we see beauty and how we see women,” Smith said. “If we step back and look at ourselves and say what are we doing to young women by saying ‘this is beauty’ and not being inclusive with non-binary, trans, queer women?”

Smith thinks it could be ultimately helpful for Victoria’s Secret to use this opportunity to shake things up, and to be more progressive, if even for their own benefit. 

I think that’s what companies have to face now. They have to face the risk versus relevance and I think the best example is Nike, who stuck their neck out with Colin Kaepernick. And there’s a lot of people who thought they would suffer, their stock would suffer, their sale would suffer, and the opposite happened, you know? Completely opposite,” Smith said. “They were celebrated and awarded both within their stock value and their sales and customer loyalty. So I would say sure, they’re going to lose some people, possibly, but in order to stay relevant with this younger generation, it’s expected. You know, if they don’t do it, somebody else will, and they’ll lose market share.”

Images via Getty

Minnesota School Opens Bathroom Door on Trans Student

Warning: This article links to a video that portrays a graphic anti-trans incident against a youth. INTO has not embedded the widely-shared video here out of respect for readers but has linked it to provide verification for readers.

A Minnesota High School is under fire after school staff and administrators opened the door on a transgender student while she was using the bathroom.

In a deeply disturbing video published by the student on November 28, Osseo Senior High School staff are seen using a stick to unlock the door while she is on the toilet (INTO has withheld the name of the student because she could not be reached for comment and might be underage).

The student states on the video that a staff member is looking over the stall at her and pans up to show hands over the top divider.

Seconds later, the video shows a stick being used to unlock the door. It appears to show a female staff member unlocking the door with two male staff members behind her, staring at the student while she is using the bathroom.

“I’m using the bathroom right now, and they just violated me,” she says in the video published on Facebook. “They’re some perverts. You’re a pervert.”

A second video posted by the student appears to show her either being removed from or leaving school.

The incident calls into question the school’s compliance with Minnesota state law and its own handbook. Minnesota was the first state to put gender identity protections on the books in 1993. Last year, the state’s Department of Education published a toolkit specifically guiding schools on how to support transgender students.

“Schools should work with transgender and gender nonconforming students to ensure that they are able to access needed facilities in a manner that is safe, consistent with their gender identity and does not stigmatize them,” the document states.

Osseo also has a policy against verbal and non-verbal assault based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

GLSEN, the national organization that advocates for LGBTQ students, has reached out to Osseo staff, the organization told INTO.

“Transgender, non binary, and gender non conforming students, especially students of color, who experience unsupportive and unsafe home and school environments risk falling into the school to prison pipeline,” said a.t. Furuya, youth programs manager at GLSEN. “When students face harassment and discrimination at school by staff and peers, harmful hurdles to success are put into their path, and their capacity to thrive and excel into adulthood is diminished.”

GLSEN reports that the school’s Gay Straight Alliance registered 30 members, some of whom may identify as straight.

Neither district spokespeople nor Osseo Senior High School Principal Michael Lehan responded to INTO’s requests for comment.

However, a spokesperson for the schools told CBS Minnesota in a statement that “social media posts are significantly misrepresenting the incident and that staff works very hard every day to help ensure an inclusive school where all students feel welcome, respected and safe. We wish we could provide additional details about this incident but are committed to protecting the student’s right to data privacy.”

Wild Times: 8 Queer Adventurers Discuss Diversity in Outdoor Culture

The image of queer-as-city-dweller is a prevalent one, even as many of us feel a pull to the land. But several organizations are working to make the outdoors a safer and more welcoming place for LGBTQ communities. Coming from many different perspectives, these community leaders work actively not just on getting more queers to hike, bike, climb, and learn survival skills — but also to acknowledge the diversity of experience and the range of oppressions that LGBTQ people must deal with in the outdoor community. To find out more about this movement, INTO spoke with eight people who head projects that share the goal of getting queer people outside.

In less than two months, Pattie Gonia, the self-proclaimed “first backpacking queen,” has quickly become the face of drag in nature. Portrayed by 26-year-old Nebraska photographer Wyn Wiley, Pattie Gonia — a riff on the sustainable outdoor clothing company Patagonia — has garnered almost 50,000 followers. The gender-bending drag queen stars in videos set to popular iconically gay songs in various combinations of outdoor and drag wear but always with his signature six-inch heels, dancing through forests, deserts and mountaintops.

What began for Wiley as a fun way to cut loose became an opportunity to bring people with a love of drag and the outdoors together. Wiley is an attractive, masculine ginger and former Eagle Scout, palatable to a wide mainstream audience. As this is Wiley’s first set of publicized drag performances, he realizes that there is lots he has to learn about drag, gender, and the more marginalized queer communities around him; he is incredibly open to it.

“Pattie is going to school,” Wiley tells INTO. “If there is a bridge between [the outdoors and the queer community], I want Pattie to dance on it.”

The Venture Out Project is a bit more straightforward in its approach to a queer outdoor community, though I’m sure there have been some on trail dance moves. The Venture Out Project began leading backpacking, paddling, and skiing trips in 2014 when western Massachusetts based founder Perry Cohen realized he was trans. After a particularly harrowing climb, Cohen said, he realized, “for the very first time I could trust this body,” and wanted to give other queer and trans people that same freedom. Participants have said that traveling as a pack has made the outdoors feel less scary and Cohen echoes that an important part of Venture Out trips is being able to go out with a group that “validates your identity.”

Traveling this way has helped keep participants safe in situations on popular trails which tend to attract a lot of peak-bagging-bros. Cohen recalls an incident in which a man on the Long Trail harassed a Venture Out group. The man asked: “Are you a school group? Are you a church group? Well, then what the hell are you?” Cohen replied, “We are a group of grown-ass adults!” The group decided to pitch their tents elsewhere.

Venture Out group hike

Older and better-funded than a lot of newer groups, The Venture Out Project has a large educational arm both for adults and students. Youth have been a big focus from the beginning, but adults who felt like they missed out on scouting as kids have helped the project grow. Cohen realizes, too, that as a white trans man he may not always be the right person to lead every trip. For that reason, they also partner with several organizations also featured here such as Wild Diversity and Unlikely Hikers.

When Unlikely Hiker’s founder Jenny Bruso first started spending more time in the outdoors about seven years ago, she struggled to find others like her: queer, fat, femme, on the trails. As a newbie hungry for information, the how-tos and blog posts about how and where to enjoy nature were mostly white, often male.

Michaud-Skog offers group hikes in over 16 locations and makes her vehicle her home as she travels across North America. She describes herself as “living the #fatvanlife [and] chatting with folks interested in being ambassadors for creating body positive outdoor community in their cities.” She makes sure to emphasize that no one is left behind, and makes accommodations for people with disabilities. Bruso does as well, organizing her hikes into three categories: general hikes which are five or more miles and can have some significant elevation gain; “Low-Intensity”—three to four miles, with 500 feet of elevation gain or less; and the “Nice and Slow” series—slow paced, flat trails at two miles or less, so that participants can choose the level that’s right for them.

Bruso’s group Unlikely Hikers showcases queer folks, people of color, differently-abled and, especially, fat folks, an identity Bruso finds to be a difficult one in the outdoors community. It has clearly resonated; the Unlikely Hikers Instagram account has over 50,000 followers. Through various sponsorships from outdoors companies, speaking engagements and other freelance projects, Bruso was even able to quit her day job waiting tables and devote herself full time to writing and outdoors projects earlier this year.

“Fatphobia is so widely acceptable,” Bruso told INTO. “There is pretty much no fat or queer representation in outdoor culture. It’s predictable that I am going to hear a lot of body negativity.” And when fat people are given space in queer community she finds that there is pressure to be the “good fattie.”

“There’s a huge responsibility to be the ‘fat outdoorsperson,”’ Bruso said. “People want a very happy, healthy fat person. They want you to exercise five times a week and eat vegan. But I’m the kind of fattie who will eat an entire pizza and then summit a mountain.”

Their advice on gear also fell flat, as many of the clothing items did not come in plus sizes and a lot of the gear was expensive, a sentiment echoed by Fat Girls Hiking founder Summer Michaud-Skog. As queer, fat, working-class women, the outdoors did not seem to reflect them, so both set out to amplify voices both like and unlike their own.

The new print publication Fatventure Mag is a digital and print zine featuring work by fat women and non-binary creators who are into being active but are not into toxic weight-loss culture. Co-founders Samantha Puc and Alice Lesperance, two self-described fat lesbians who are based in Rhode Island and North Carolina respectively, have struggled with this dichotomy.

“I ride my bike a lot,” says Puc, “but whenever people learn that, their immediate follow-up 90 percent of the time is, ‘How much weight have you lost?’ It’s so frustrating because I don’t ride my bike to lose weight — I ride my bike because I love it. I’ve been called all kinds of horrible things while out riding. People seem to feel very entitled to comment on my body and its shape, size and ability, particularly men, and that’s infuriating.”

Both are keen to give back to the queer community, donating 25 percent of the proceeds from their inaugural issue to Gender Is Over – If You Want It!, a non-profit that works with grassroots transgender rights organizations. But the Fatventure Mag editors also acknowledge that even fellow LGBTQ people can be discriminatory.

Samantha Puc and Alice Lesperance of Fatventure

“I think I actually face more discrimination from thin queer people than from thin straight people when I talk about outdoor recreation, which is kind of bizarre,” Puc mused.

Lesperance agreed: “Hostility comes from all corners, and being fat is always a problem that thin people, both straight and queer, feel that they need to solve.”

This is a sentiment shared by queer outdoors groups that focus on people of color as well. Mercy Shammah started Wild Diversity, an adventure program for queers and people of color, because of a sense of hopelessness she felt as a black person in Portland, Oregon. She loves the outdoors of all kinds and leads trips dedicated to a wide variety of activities such as camping, canoeing, snowshoeing, archery, mushroom hunting and more. Wild Diversity even has a gear library that low-income users can borrow from. Portland is a great place for all these outdoor activities. But Shammah said what Portland lacks is racial diversity and support. Even when partnering with liberal organizations, Shammah said she often feels tokenized and used, to make it look like the organization has put in the work around race.

“It’s like a relationship,” Shammah explained. “On my next Tinder date [with an organization], I’ll know exactly what to ask. How many members in your organization are people of color? I don’t want to be the only one in the room. It’s uncomfortable, and it concerns me if people of color don’t stay.” She said she hopes that her reasons for not partnering with such orgs will help them look at what they are doing to make people of color feel welcome.

Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd from the “education and ancestral skills program” Queer Nature also finds it difficult to find people of color in leadership positions, even in LGBTQ Outdoor communities. The mixed native Huanca, Turkish, and Chinese non-binary person runs the program with their white non-binary partner So Sinopoulos-Lloyd. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Pinar makes it a point to identify the native inhabitants of the land, in this case the Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. Queer Nature teaches naturalist studies, handcrafts, survival skills, and recognition of colonial and indigenous histories of land. The interracial nature of their foundation creates a space that at once centers voices of color while still welcoming white folks willing to engage in a learning process.

“Biodiversity creates resilience,” Sinopoulos-Lloyd explained, adding that this holds true for both nature and people, which they also see as inherently linked.

They work within DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) communities that focus largely on getting people of color into the outdoors. While this is a goal they wholeheartedly support, they would like to see more attention paid to aspects other than race as well. “I continuously get misgendered, even in those spaces,” Pinar said sadly, “and it’s heartbreaking.”

Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd of Queer Nature

Facing gender discrimination and a lack of knowledge around pronouns and gender identity is taxing and takes a lot of internal resources for anyone, let alone someone with mental health and neurodivergence issues, which Pinar said is also rarely addressed in both outdoor and DEI settings. But Pinar also has a sense of humor about it all, laughing about they and their partner are colonizer and colonized. Or when talking about the struggle over resources and how diverse groups in the outdoors often see each other as competitors rather than allies, a stance perpetuated by the industry. Pinar jokes, “It’s like the Hunger Games sometimes. This horizontal oppression comes from long-term trauma and makes our liberation more difficult by perpetuating that which we are fighting against,. Co-liberatory work that isn’t trauma and resilience informed isn’t anti-oppressive.”

LGBTQ people might not see ourselves reflected in mainstream outdoors media or products yet, but even big companies like REI and Outside magazine are beginning to take notice, and some brands have sponsored Bruso, Venture Out and others. What most of these groups find most important, however, is honoring and supporting each other. Spread across North America, most are already in contact and offering each other support.

The queer outdoors community is small but mighty, one with a goal that Pinar Sinopoulos-Llyod summarizes with a simple motto: “I want to be an honorable ancestor for future beings. Have compassion.”

Federal Judge Greenlights Trans Woman’s Lawsuit Against Chicago’s Topless Ban

A transgender woman is headed to court to take on Chicago’s topless ban after a federal judge greenlit her lawsuit earlier this month.

Bea Sullivan-Knoff, a performance artist, says Chicago’s ordinance that bans people from exposing their breasts in establishments with liquor licenses is vague and discriminatory against women.

Specifically, the ordinance prohibits the exhibition of “any portion of the female breast at or below the areola thereof.”

Sullivan-Knoff says the ordinance has significantly limited her ability to perform in places that serve alcohol, including certain theatres. She has performed topless at other venues in the city that don’t have liquor licenses.

“Since my body and trans bodies in general are so often just the site of so much invasive introspection and legislation and violence, it felt really good to be able to find empowerment in physically embodying that level of vulnerability on stage,” said Sullivan-Knoff. “It was something that was always really impactful for my audiences as well.”

Sullivan-Knoff’s complaint, filed in 2016, hinges on the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, the First Amendment, the Illinois Constitution and the Illinois Human Rights Act. She argues that the state arbitrarily differentiates between male and female breasts and that it’s unclear how the law applies to her as trans person.

“I imagine the hypothetical situation in which I ignore the ordinance and go ahead and do a performance that involves toplessness at a venue with a liquor license,” she said. “Should I be arrested for that, the irony is that statistically, I would most likely be put in a men’s jail or prison.”

The City of Chicago filed a motion to dismiss the suit. On Nov. 12, Northern District Court Judge Andrea Wood ruled that the suit could move forward.

Wood points out that the ordinance doesn’t clarify how the policy impacts trans men and women, both of whom might be impacted by the policy.

“Nevertheless, the relevant difference here concerning the heightened sexual nature of female breasts might just be a product of society’s sexual objectification of women,” she wrote. “At a minimum, these questions pose serious concerns in the abstract, as nothing in the text of the Ordinance provides a clear answer.”

A spokesperson for the City of Chicago did not respond to a request to comment.

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Michelle Tea Gets the Tea From Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for like a bazillion impressive book awards, and walked away with honors from Bard College, Lambda Literary, Shirley Jackson, and the National Book Critics Circle tucked firmly in its pants pocket. (If books wore pants, incidentally, this one might be sporting a pair made from torn sequins, female flesh, autumn leaves, ribbons, hair, telepathy and, of course, denim.)

Her Body and Other Parties was selected by a Best Book of the Year by everything from the New York Times to Buzzfeed to O

If you are looking for work that mines the fantastical, surreal, horrific experience of being female and queer, do yourself a favor and get Carmen’s book today. Right after you check out her answers to my 15 questions, below!

What is the most uncanny thing that you have ever experienced?

Uncanny things happen to me constantly, but a memorable one happened a few months ago when I went to New York. I noticed that the train I took from Philadelphia was #666, and then when I emerged from the subway station at my destination the building number above me was 666. The first time it was pretty funny, and second time it was really unsettling.

What is in your bag right now?

Keys, my wallet, headphones, and a copy of The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers.

Please share the 15th picture on your cell phone.


How are you like or not like your sun sign?

I’m a pretty classic Cancer: moody, empathetic and loyal, pessimistic, imaginative, and a total homebody. And I love, love, love the water.

What is the last book you read? Song you listened to? Show or movie you watched?

Book:  Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg. Song: “Chant (Live)” from the Hadestown soundtrack. Show: Bar Rescue. Movie: Stranger by the Lake (2013).

What was the last meal you cooked?

Chicken, potatoes, and green beans with a creamy mustard dill sauce.

Where would you like to go on vacation right now?

The beach.

Tell me about getting to meet someone you idolize or admire.

I met Dorothy Allison earlier this year and she was even more brilliant and lovely and generous and funny than I ever could have dreamed.

What are you like when you’re sick?

Miserable. I just want to lay down with a blanket and watch TV and drink seltzer water.

What are you obsessed with or inspired by right now?

The history of mountebanks and medicine shows; also, the history of the Grand Guignol.

What are you upset about right now?

Male entitlement, in every form it presents itself.

What is the most recent dream you remember?

Last night I dreamt that a fox was coming through my window.

Who are your queer ancestors?

Gladys Bentley, Anne Lister, Frida Kahlo, Audre Lorde, Patricia Highsmith, Tallulah Bankhead, Eleanor Roosevelt, Josephine Baker, Willa Cather, Mercedes de Acosta, Alla Nazimova, Julie d’Aubigny, Virginia Woolf, Bridget Bate Tichenor

What is your dream project?

I have so many, but one I’ve been thinking about recently is editing a series of books that track literary influences through generations of authors — so, taking a contemporary author and identifying one of their influences, and then taking that influence and identifying their influence(s)… back and back.

What are you doing this weekend?

I’m at a residency in Taos, New Mexico right now, and this weekend my wife is visiting and we’re going to have a little mini-vacation in Santa Fe.

George is Tired…Of ‘This Is Not America’

Yes, the fuck this is America. And I’m not talking about that Donald Glover video (whew chil-ay). But you have got to be kidding me if you can ever part your lips at the clusterfuck that has been two years under the Trump administration and continuously say “This is not the America I know” or “This is not how America operates.” Cause for people with a higher melanin complexion, this country has always been a dumpster fire of oppression to protect whiteness at all costs.

The most recent uprising of people who have been living with “blinders” is the attacks on the migrant caravan at the Mexican-United States border. These people who have walked more than 2000 miles looking for asylum and a chance at the “American Dream” were instead met with an American nightmare. Over 50 people arrested, including mothers and children and horrifying images of people being tear gassed. These photos tell the story of an America that many of us have always known. Yet, the rally cries of “America is better than this” continued to be spouted and the truth is we are tired of lies y’all tell.

‘Cause it was just 60 years ago the photos were of dogs biting my ancestors in the streets as they fought against Jim Crow laws wanting to gain civil rights. The photos of my people being hosed and beat with batons for simply wanting equity and equality. The pictures of white men pouring acid in a pool because it integrated, or the photo of angry white women yelling at Elizabeth Eckford as she walked into class once schools desegregated. Or how about the photos of my people hanging from trees, backs full of lashes and open wounds?

Hell, I’ll do you one better — let’s bring it to TODAY! It wasn’t just 60 minutes ago that Ferguson and Baltimore mirrored images of the fight in Palestine. It wasn’t just 60 minutes ago that neo-Nazis stormed Charlottesville with tiki torches (I still cackle. The fuck was y’all going? A barbeque?) fighting to take their country back — a country that they have never lost and has ALWAYS had white people in a place of power.

What has America been? A lie from the pit of hell. But seriously, this country literally teaches children that America was “discovered” with people already living here. And got everyone to believe the lie and make a holiday in honor of it. How did you find a new land with indigenous people living on it who weren’t lost? To add insult to that injury, the diseases y’all carried over here decimated their tribes. Those who didn’t die from that, were killed by you, as you conquered and claimed this land as your own. Then made another holiday called Thanksgiving like y’all and the indigenous people peaced it up. I think TF not.

But that wasn’t enough for your terrible ancestors. They had to find a way to have a “hold my beer” moment and double down on the heinous people that they were. They then traveled to the land of Africa and enslaved millions of people, shipping them to 19 different lands including the good ole US of A. These enslaved people were beaten, chained, killed, raped, and separated destroying years of legacy — ending the hopes of families ever finding each other again.

And I haven’t even gotten to this country’s treatment of LGBTQ people. Electroshock therapy, conversion therapy, being listed as a mental illness until the ’70s. The HIV epidemic and ignoring of us for all those years while hundreds of thousands died. The denial of the right to marry until recently, but still not offering workplace protections. And most recently, the trans military ban and attempt to make a person’s sex and gender at birth permanent.

So, keeping it all the way real, what you are seeing happening in this country IS America and has always been America and will continue to be America until the “good white people” push back against their hateful kinfolk. So many people see these separations at the border and are stating “we have never been a country like this,” like this country wasn’t literally built on the separation of Black families across the diaspora.

A bunch of folks saying “Trump is the worst president in history” leaving me to wonder if y’all was okay with the other presidents who raped and had folks enslaved? Like people, come on already. I know the K-12 education system got y’all fooled into thinking that American History made sense because it was “just the times they were in” except it didn’t exist UNTIL it was created by y’all. Only for y’all to then be pedestaled for fixing problems that your ancestors started.

So, in closing, I want to reiterate that “This is America” (does weird Donald Glover dance). And the sooner y’all realize that, the sooner we can have a conversation on what needs to be done to fix the problem it has ALWAYS been.

Make Harley Quinn Queer, You Cowards

Earlier this month, the new Harley Quinn-themed film was given an official title: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Though the film starring Margot Robbie isn’t set to be released until February 2020, more details are finally starting to be revealed.

This week, Robbie, who reprises her role in the DC universe as the titular Quinn, sat down with PrideSource to discuss the movie and her character’s sexuality. Although it’s unclear if the character will be portrayed as queer in Birds of Prey, she is canonically queer, and Robbie said she would like to see that fact play out on screen — in fact, she’s pushing for it.

If you read the comics you know that Poison Ivy and Harley have an intimate relationship,” she said. “In some comics, they convey it as a friendship; in other comics you can see that they’re actually sexually involved as a couple. I’ve been trying to – I would love to have Poison Ivy thrown into the universe, because the Harley and Poison Ivy relationship is one of my favorite aspects of the comics,” she said. “So I’m looking to explore that on screen.”

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s relationship was first confirmed by DC Comics in 2015. But back in August, the comic juggernaut revealed that Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are actually married. Although it sounds like Poison Ivy won’t be present in Birds of Prey, it’s nice to know that Robbie, the film’s star and producer, is lobbying for her character to be queer — because it’s canon. So, my message to DC is: Make Harley Quinn queer, you cowards.

As of yet, DC hasn’t portrayed any of its characters as queer on the big screen, even though some of them are. Wonder Woman hit theaters in 2017, starring Gal Gadot as the nominal hero, who is also canonically queer in the comics. But the movie, as well as Justice League, which prominently featured the character, erased her bisexuality, save one off-handed joke about the women of Themyscira not needing men for “pleasure.” This is not to say that Diana Prince’s sexuality won’t be explored in the future, but as of yet, she appears to be straight in the DC film universe.

Birds of Prey is Harley Quinn’s first solo movie, and the first major spin-off of 2016’s Suicide Squad, so DC has a big opportunity to give a queer character the chance to shine. The movie follows Quinn, who assembles a “girl gang” to take down a villain. Mary Elizabeth Winstead will play Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell will take Black Canary, and Rosie Perez will play Renee Montoya. The movie will be helmed by director Cathy Yan, and penned by Christina Hodson. So, with so much girl power, both behind the scenes and on camera, it seems believable that the movie will be queer. But don’t get your hopes up.

Both Marvel and DC have been purposefully exclusive in the past, at least in their film franchises. Marvel’s 2017 Hulu series The Runaways featured Karolina Dean, a lesbian superhero, as such in the show. Jessica Jones, another Marvel show, starred Carrie-Anne Moss as the power-lesbian lawyer Jeri Hogarth. DC has been super inclusive in its TV slate, with CW shows like Supergirl and Black Lightning including lead queer protagonists. And earlier this year, a Batgirl venture was announced, which will star Ruby Rose as the out lesbian titular hero. But still, an out, queer lead has never been featured in the MCU or the DCEU.

If Birds of Prey is about Harley Quinn’s emancipation, then according to the comics, she will be “emancipated” from her abusive relationship with the Joker. What better way to get over a shitty dude than to spark up a hot romance with a lady-villain? Maybe it’s not Poison Ivy yet, because really, we have to ask ourselves: Are gay people really emotionally prepared for a superhero rom-com between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy? My brain says yes, but my body stays shivering.

All I’m saying is, maybe Birds of Prey isn’t the Quinn and Ivy rom-com of our dreams, but at least give us something. So many fans of superhero franchises are queer — as proved by the untethered lesbian fanbase that Supergirl has accrued. LGBTQ representation in the DCEU is way past due — quite frankly, it’s embarrassing and insulting that it hasn’t happened yet. So, one last time, DC, I urge you: Make Harley Quinn Queer in Birds of Prey, you cowards.

And one last gripe: If a romance between Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck’s Batman transpires in the next Justice League, I will get the Marvel logo permanently branded on my ass. Not to be dramatic.

So About Dwight Howard And His Accuser

I have a lot of unsettling feelings over the story surrounding Masin Elijè’s claims that a secret intimate relationship with NBA star Dwight Howard ultimately led to Elijè facing imminent danger from members of Howard’s camp, but my discomfort is not one-sided.

To be clear, if members of the Washington Wizards player’s entourage — including an alleged pastor — threatened Elijè’s life, they deserve to be prosecuted. Albeit unsurprising, it remains a shame that the idea of two Black men engaging in a consensual intimate relationship would result in such a violent, cowardly reaction. As others have recently highlighted, there is currently no openly gay player in the NBA, and one assumes that those close to Howard accused of promising harm to Elijè were trying to prevent any assignment of him as the league’s successor to Jason Collins. As Howard became a trending topic on Twitter after Elijè’s tweets, homophobia and transphobia, too, flooded timelines, largely masquerading as “jokes” about Dwight Howard.

Still, you can’t allow worries over others’ ignorance result in another fearing for their life; if true, those people in Howard’s camp are punks and whatever punishment comes their way as a result of their alleged antics can’t come soon enough.

Yet, although Elijè should not have to worry about his safety over uneasiness with the reductive attitudes some have about human sexuality, the manner in which he revealed his plight both puzzles and perturbs me. In Elijè’s exhaustive Twitter thread detailing his apparent tryst with Royce Reed’s ex, he manages to out another trans woman whom he believes Howard cheated on him with while also going out of his way to malign those living with HIV by insulting Magic Johnson. For someone who wants his own life to be treated with sanctity, it’s a peculiar way to treat people.

Elijè claims that this is “really about his team and his crooked PASTOR threatening my life over an unsigned NDA and he has been trying to intimidate ME into taking ‘hush money’ for what they did to me.” So why out a trans sex worker? And why talk about “transgender sex parties” in a way that sensationalizes trans women and those attracted to them? What is the purpose behind the salaciousness? Elijè does this at a time when Black trans women are the most vulnerable communities among us.

Full disclosure: I was once a Taylor Michael scholar, a scholarship program founded by Magic Johnson. However, I don’t need a scholarship check to realize it’s despicable to malign anyone over their HIV status, as it’s not something to be ashamed of. For a Black gay man to even “jest” in that way is reprehensible — particularly when there is an HIV crisis among Black gay men.

What does any of this have to do with the allegations of physical intimidation anyway? Could this not have started and ended with “I was threatened?” What else did we need to know? Certainly not all of that.

Although one can understand why a fearful Elijè might have gone public with threats, the delivery of said worries warrants question of intent. Or, to be as blunt as he was, he comes across as someone trying to capitalize off of the template set by Karrine Steffans, whose New York Times bestseller Confessions of a Video Vixen included stories of Steffans’ affairs with famous men in sports and entertainment and made her a household name. Since its 2005 release, several others have gone on to “out” famous men, regardless of sexual orientation (both confirmed and perceived), as a means of attaining their own notoriety.

In the midst of storytime, Elijè did curiously promote his book, Industry Hoe.

To his credit, he does not deny promoting his book while accusing members of Dwight Howard’s camp of threatening his life, but while I can understand how the hustle never stops, author to author, if someone was threatening my life, I wouldn’t be out here like, “Yeah, I Can’t Date Jesus but I do need him to save me from these death threats. It’s on sale, too, y’all!”

While everyone may not agree on that kind of shtick (I personally weep for none of these people), we should all be able to agree that it’s an outdated model. What many of these types fail to see is that the days are gone in which you can share sordid details about sex with a famous person and cash in like the artists formerly known as “Superhead.” I mean, maybe you can get on a few minutes on Love & Hip Hop Wherever, Basketball Wives and Adjacents, or Keeping Up with Who The Hell Knows Anymore, but that’s a big if. More likely, though, one can score a post on The Shade Room, The YBF, and The Jasmine Brand — and that’s even a big maybe on at least two of these outlets.

Basically, like many dying industries, blast culture doesn’t yield the same fruitful results it once used to. Unfortunately, some love attention and that is more than enough. To get it in this manner comes at a cost, though, and in this instance, I worry most about the trans woman Elijè outed in what came across as retaliation.

Elijè has not received similar criticisms well thus far. Ironically, when he responds by insulting men and calling them a “queen,” he reinforces the very queer antagonism that can give way to the threats he now wants to alert us to. Neither Howard nor the Washington Wizards have responded to reporters about this debacle. It’s highly unlikely either ever will.

Elijè is still tweeting, and while I do not fault him for the threats he says he has endured and hope he remains safe, I will say the more he speaks on the matter, the clearer it becomes that he has not lessened the stigmatization of queer and trans people. If anything, with the outing of others, the insulting of HIV positive people, and the way in which he essentially weaponized someone’s sexuality purportedly out of concern for his own physical well being, this all comes across as a missed opportunity. But at least he got to be part of a trending topic on Twitter, though. Maybe that boosted his book sales.

There are no perfect victims, but there is something to be said for tact, sensitivity, and making sure that in trying to protect yourself, you don’t go out of your way to potentially harm others.

Taiwan Official Says Marriage Equality Is Here to Stay: Court Ruling ‘Cannot Be Touched’

Marriage equality is here to stay in Taiwan, even in the face of a national referendum in which voters overwhelmingly rejected same-sex unions.

In a speech delivered to the Legislative Yuan on Thursday, Secretary-General Tai-lang Lu claimed the Constitutional Court’s May 2017 ruling on marriage equality “cannot be touched.” Taiwan’s top court paved the way for the legal recognition of same-sex marriages in a written opinion claiming that denying these couples full marriage rights its unconstitutional.

Judges gave the legislature two years to enact a freedom to marry law or marriage equality would automatically become legal.

Tai-lang Lu, a representative of the Judicial Yuan, claimed nothing has changed following Taiwan’s contentious Nov. 24 plebiscite. Despite polls showing Taiwanese have long supported same-sex unions, 70 percent of voters claimed the Civil Code should continue to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

According to Taiwan News, the Secretary-General confirmed what INTO has previously reported: “interpretations made by the Constitutional Court hold the highest rule of law and cannot be defeated by referendums.”

In the meeting with the Legislature’s Judiciary and Organic Laws committee, Lu said the only question that remains is how lawmakers will respond.

“The Legislative Yuan will therefore only be able to decide how to guarantee [rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitutional Court], via amending the Civil Code or establishing a new law,” the publication reported. “How they are guaranteed will be decided in accordance with the referendum results.”

Legislators are required to act upon the referendum results by Feb. 24.

Kolas Yotaka, a spokesperson for the Executive Yuan, told the news channel Focus Taiwan that the federal government “will draw up a draft for a separate law in three months… send it to the Legislative Yuan.”

Although 58 percent of voters supported offering a lower form of relationship recognition to same-sex couples (i.e., domestic partnerships), the executive branch claimed that any legislation put forward would “extend equal marriage rights” to same-sex couples in Taiwan.

In total, voters sounded off on five ballot measures: three in support of LGBTQ rights, and two in favor of equality. All three anti-LGBTQ proposals passed, and the pro-equality measures failed.

One concerned whether students should be taught about LGBTQ issues in schools.

Jason Hsu, a representative in the Legislative Yuan, previously told INTO he would not support a civil unions bill, saying it was tantamount to “discrimination.”

“We should not allow a special law to be sent to our committee for review,” the Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker said days before the vote. “I will do everything I can to tear down that committee. I will fucking block it because it’s not right.”

What remains to be seen is whether the legislature can refuse to put forward a bill by the three-month deadline.

If lawmakers ignore the referendum vote, same-sex couples will be able to marry on May 29, 2019—two years after the Constitutional Court decision. That would make the Taiwan the largest municipality in Asia to legalize marriage equality.