Judge Tosses Out Christian Lawsuit Against Events Where Drag Queens Read to Kids

Reading is fundamental. And according to one Texas judge, it’s constitutionally protected.

On Thursday, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas tossed out a lawsuit against “Drag Queen Storytime” events hosted by Houston Public Library. Founded in San Francisco, the popular events feature drag performers reading to books to children between the ages of 18 months and 10 years old.

Plaintiffs argued the gatherings contravened library patrons’ freedom of religion. Their complaint states that Drag Queen Storytime is “brainwashing the children of Houston” by promoting secular humanism.

In an 18-page opinion, Rosenthal found the argument didn’t meet the legal standing for a violation of the Establishment Clause. “Because the plaintiffs do not allege facts that do or could show that the event is a religious activity, there is no issue of establishment of religion,” she wrote.

Rosenthal also noted that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate harms arising from the events because they did not attend them.

“The plaintiffs assert the very opposite: they purposefully avoided ‘Drag Queen Storytime’ because of its alleged immorality and potential to harm their children. Instead of witnessing the event, the plaintiffs ‘researched [it] online,’” she claimed.

Complainants plan to appeal the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tex Christopher, who has also protested Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance and inclusive bathrooms at Target, told the Houston Chronicle that plaintiffs are “excited” about the outcome of the ruling because it “speeds things along.”

“We knew that she wasn’t going to give it a fair shake because this whole case is all entwined with her,” Christopher said.

The four Christian activists behind the lawsuit believe that Rosenthal was unable to be impartial because her mother worked for the library. Others attached to the suit include Calvin Miller, founder of 1 Team 1 Fight Ministries, and Chris Sevier, a member of Special Forces for Liberty.

Special Forces for Liberty has filed lawsuits against drag queen events in several other municipalities in conjunction with Warriors for Christ, a West-Virginia based ministry.

The groups have been involved in numerous other lawsuits related to LGBTQ rights.

Sevier filed suit against several states charging that if same-sex couples are permitted to marry, he should be allowed to marry his laptop. Meanwhile, Warriors for Christ founder Pastor Rich Penkoski petitioned West Virginia to prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The cases have been less than successful.

In fact, another case to which Sevier is attached faced similar setbacks this week. He petitioned to halt Drag Queen Storytime from being held in Lafayette, La. On Friday, the Lafayette Public Library announced it would allow the events to continue at its branches as litigation makes its way through the courts.

Prior to the decision, patrons hoping to reserve a room for special events at Lafayette libraries had to sign a form saying they would not be participating in Drag Queen Storytime in any way.

The ACLU of Louisiana, which sued to allow the gatherings to continue, celebrated the victory in a statement.

“The library’s unjust and discriminatory ban targeted LGBTQ Louisianans and violated our clients’ First Amendment rights,” claimed Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann. “This is welcome news for our clients and everyone in Lafayette who will once again be able to use library facilities without being unfairly interrogated or censored by library officials.”

The civil rights organization said it would keep fighting to ensure Drag Queen Storytime can organize peacefully.

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen the LGBTQ community in Lafayette come together to speak out against this discriminatory mandate and rally behind the values we share,” added Executive Director Alanah Odoms Hebert.

Image via Facebook

A Trans Flag Has Come to Capitol Hill In A Rebuke Of Trump’s Erasure Memo

In one of the most visceral signs that change has come to Capitol Hill, a new member of the House is making national headlines by rebuking President Trump’s anti-transgender agenda and hanging the trans pride flag outside her office.

Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D) told the Washingtonian that she hung the flag because the transgender community, which includes her niece, has been under attack.

“I wanted to show my solidarity because we are talking about my friends and family,” Wexton said.

The flag arrives at a time when the Trump administration is swiftly moving to dismantle transgender protections in the U.S. In October, The New York Times reported that the administration was moving to legally define transgender people out of existence. The report spurred a nationwide campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) launched a #WontBeErased hashtag in response.

Human Rights Campaign regional field organizer Narissa Rahaman shared a photo of the flag on Facebook Thursday.

“The congresswoman said to me, ‘Did you see the flag?! I think we’re the only office on the Hill with one,’” Rahaman wrote.

In 2016, Rep. Mike Honda propped the transgender pride flag outside his office in Washington D.C. for Transgender Day of Visibility.

“We face new challenges across our country, as right-wing groups try to scapegoat transgender people to pass mean spirited anti-LGBT legislation,” Honda wrote on his Facebook at the time.

According to MSNBC, Honda displayed the flag in honor of his transgender granddaughter.

Monica Helms, the U.S. Navy veteran who created the trans pride flag, said she was honored by Wexton’s choice to display the flag, and Helms said it illustrates a change in Washington as Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

“Just the fact that you put a trans flag outside of your office shows a bit of resistance to the current administration’s policies,” said Helms.

Wexton’s flag is already drawing visitors. On Friday, NCTE Media Relations Manager Gillian Branstetter tweeted a photo of herself in front of the flag.

Helms said she wants a photo in front of the flag, too. But she prefers it to be in a selfie with Wexton.

“It amazes me that people will do stuff like this,” Helms said of Wexton displaying the flag. “The more that we have Congresspeople who have family members who are trans, the more we’ll see this.”

Forgiveness Is A Privilege: On Ellen and Kevin Hart

Many moons ago, when I was a wee teenager who thought herself to be a straight girl — LO to the highest of L’s — my father and a couple of my aunts were watching a movie where the main character came out as gay (In and Out for those who are curious). I bring this up because one of my aunts decided it would be cute to ask my dad what he’d do if he found out I was a lesbian.

I should preface this by saying I didn’t have a boyfriend, and in hindsight, I think they were starting to worry because, gasp, what if?

My father, in all of his I love my little girl so much glory, vehemently said, “She ain’t gay.” He wouldn’t even entertain the thought, the edge in his voice loud and clear. Eventually, I got a boyfriend, and my folks never toyed with the idea again.

I say all this because Kevin Hart’s recently unearthed tweets brought back a memory that’s been buried for about 20 years. His tweets may have been a long time ago, but seeing him threaten to hit his son over the head with a dollhouse over a what if? scenario reminded me of how one comment my dad made scared the shit out of me when I realized, years later, that I was, plot twist, a lesbian, then bi (because someone FINALLY introduced me to the word).

This is something Black queer youth deal with constantly, these offhanded comments treated as jokes or “what ifs?” just to see how angry someone would get if they found out their kid was queer. It’s a conversation that needs to take place in the community, and not on, oh I dunno, a talk show hosted by a white lady who’ll just let the offender prattle on without challenging him at all?

Sigh.

Ellen stands with Kevin Hart and I’m… supposed to be thankful, I guess? Realize that Hart has changed since making that tweet? Point out how curious it is that said tweet was unearthed after he achieved one of the highest goals on his vision board, as he so eloquently put it? Naw. You can miss me with all of that. I’m not that teenage girl sitting with her family as they bust a gut over, “What if she’s gay, HAHAHAHA! Oh, that’d be a HOOT! Her dad would be SO PISSED.”

Far too often, we forget one simple truth about forgiveness: it’s a privilege, and it has to be earned. So to all the Kevin Harts and their Ellen accomplices, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • “I’m sorry” is not enough

“I apologized ten years ago,” Hart says ad nauseum, as Ellen nods and mmhms her way through this one-sided interview. You know that hard pill to swallow meme that went around in 2018? Here’s another one: When you say something that hurts someone, you may have to apologize more than once–especially if you do the wrong on a platform that reaches millions and can be resurrected like a fallen RPG character in a video game. Just one Phoenix Down and, poof!, the tweet is back.

“I’m sorry” rolls off the tongue real nice, real smooth, when your reputation is on the line. What are you doing to actually prove the meaning behind those words? This is why the apology can’t stop, won’t stop, at a mere sorry. This was Hart’s chance to show the development he speaks of, how he’s become “cultured” — his words, not mine. Instead, we get several minutes of him making claims that he’s a different person while conversing with America’s favorite white lesbian gal pal.

This ain’t it, Kevin. She’s not who you should be talking to. Then again, she had no business wasting the airtime on a topic she had no interest in diving into, instead choosing to let her friend attempt to save face because she, quote, knows him. Y’all, pleeeeease hold your friends accountable, because here’s what her casual acceptance actually translates to: the countless Black queer voices that have spoken about this issue mean nothing to her. She’d rather offer airtime to the one who hurt us because friendship is magic. Where’s our invite, Ellen? Where’s your hashtag to support Black queer kids who are used as my child better not be gay fodder? Where’s the dialogue? Furthermore, if we are to believe that his grand gesture of growth is him stepping down so the award show isn’t “clouded” by his presence, then her pushing to have him host the Oscars negates E V E R Y T H I N G!

  • What will (inevitably) happen with Black queer folks

As far as I can tell I’m not psychic, but I have a hunch of how this will play out and I can guaran-damn-tee that other Black queer folks know what I’m about to say. So raise your glass if you’re expecting to be told one of the following: 1) you’re too sensitive, 2) be the bigger person, 3) a combo platter of both with a side of the saltiest of fries. Forgiveness and marginalization go hand in hand as we’re always told to accept whatever copy/pasted apology we get because…  something something “They didn’t mean it” yadda yadda “They’re learning.” In the case of Kevin Hart, we’ve gotten flack from the Black community, and now we’re about to get it from the white queer community.

It’s fine. And by “fine” I mean not fine at all stop doing this to us! Because there’s two categories we fall into when it comes to this: There’s the I’m used to this group, the ones who saw those tweets and knew that the likes of D.L Hughley would come out of the woodwork to stand with Kevin Hart, who knew that Ellen would stick her loafers in at some point. And then there’s the oh…. group, usually younger than my 35-year-old self, who will feel the full weight of what it means to be treated as the other in their own communities. They’ll be afraid to voice their feelings, might even agree with Ellen with a taped together smile so folks don’t set their sights on them. They’ll stay silent when their loved ones speak on the situation and call the community a bunch of snowflakes or whatever precipitation insult we’re using these days, unaware that the ones who aren’t joining the conversation could very well be part of said community.  

This is why I say that forgiveness is a privilege. It’s priceless, and something to be earned. In the case of my father? I’ve forgiven him. But he had to earn it. Because when I did come out we fought, and he was angry, just like he hinted at in that what if? scenario my aunt posed. It was messy. We yelled. We screamed. We cried. But I did not accept the first apology, or the second, or even the third. There were a lot of conversations, a slow rebuilding of trust, and despite the opinions of folks outside the situation (my aunts) I got to decide when I was finally ready to make peace.

And even now, after all of that, it still hits me every now and then, like when I see tweets and think of the Black queer kid who sees them, too. So on the flipside, it’s also a privilege in regards to who can forgive who.

Ellen can forgive Hart because she’s not part of the affected party. She’s not a Black queer person who’s been surrounded by the stale-ass notion that queerness, somehow, degrades blackness, to the point that threatening to hit a boy with a dollhouse is not just seen as a joke — it’s seen as a necessity. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be a black, teenage girl whose family jokes about her being queer, kinda worries she might be because she doesn’t have a boyfriend, sighs in relief when she gets one, which sends her into a tizzy in college because, oh shit, she likes girls.

This wasn’t your place, Ellen. You don’t speak for me and I don’t have to forgive anyone. Him or you.

George is Tired…Of Us Failing Girls Like Aaliyah

I’m still not sure how I feel after watching the first two episodes of Surviving R. Kelly, which premiered last night on the Lifetime Channel. Angry is probably the closest. Angry that this man continues to sell out tours while harming young Black girls and women. Angry that so many men and women aided in this process and now talk about it on camera like they have no fault in this. Angry that girls like Aaliyah continue to be harmed by men of the world like R. Kelly with no recourse in sight.

Malcolm X once said: “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected woman in America is the black woman. The most neglected woman in America is the black woman.” Last night was further evidence of words spoken over 50 years ago still ringing true. For those who didn’t see it the first two parts of the series, here is a quick synopsis.

R. Kelly met Aaliyah when she was 12 years old. He then produced and wrote most of the songs on her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, where she was overly sexualized at a young age, singing songs that were mirroring what was happening to her behind closed doors. By the age of 15, a backup singer on the tour walked in on Aaliyah having sex with R. Kelly, who was then 28 years old. After having potentially gotten Aaliyah pregnant, Kelly and his tour manager went to the courthouse, forged documents saying Aaliyah was 18 years of age, and the two were officially married in 1994—a marriage that would eventually get annulled.

Aaliyah, unfortunately, was not the only victim. Kelly’s friends and other people on his tour would go into local malls and find girls to bring back to the studio to meet him. On the docuseries, multiple producers and managers discussed walking into rooms and seeing him touching and feeling on girls who were naked—GIRLS WHO WERE NAKED—and rather than stopping it, walking out because they didn’t want to participate. So many failed these girls. So many continue to fail them.

It took everything in me to not cry listening to how many people failed Aaliyah—from backup singers to tour managers to Aaliyah’s very OWN UNCLE WHO INTRODUCED HER TO HIM AT AGE 12—and all the other girls. And truth be told, the majority of us have been complicit in this behavior. Not just here, but in our own families and communities. Keeping these secrets as family secrets, more worried about the possibility of shame than the well-being of the victim. Calling young girls “fast,” but never holding the men who are fast enough to catch them accountable.

I want to be clear that when I say “us” I mean all of us, or at the very minimum, 90 percent of us. Those of us who have known what R. Kelly was doing to young girls for a long time and still found a way to listen to his music—”separating the music from the artist.” I can speak for myself when I say that I haven’t purchased, downloaded, or supported R. Kelly in over a decade. I’ve kept my foot on the necks of anyone who has even tried to do so in my presence. I’ve gone as far as asking the DJ to change the song when an R. Kelly track comes on. There are still not enough of us doing that, though—including rappers like Kendrick Lamar who threatened to remove his music from Spotify if they removed R. Kelly. Are these your kings?

Sex in itself is still a very taboo thing in America. We have watched the scandal of the Catholic Church, where thousands of little boys were violated for decades and the abusers were protected. We now have the #MeToo movement in full swing, taking down the Hollywood elite whose predatory behavior has caused harm to thousands. Yet, here we are nearly 25 years after the first R. Kelly allegation, still fighting to get rid of one man from our community. Enough is enough already.

Seeing Bill Cosby finally have his reckoning let me know that, although it may take a long time, sometimes victims can get a form of justice. I’m not sure if any of the R. Kelly victims will ever get theirs, but I am glad that they at least have the opportunity to tell their stories; to have the world bear witness to their truths in a way that it would be hard for one to ignore. I can only hope that now, those who continued to “step in the name of love” will have a hard look in the mirror and start to think.

People have served for far too long as the gatekeepers of pedophiles and sexual predators. We must do the work to get them up out of our families and our communities. So much harm has been done, and it’s time for us to end that. There is no place for these predators in our community.

This Japanese Lesbian Couple Is Getting Married in 26 Countries to Prove a Good Point

A young Japanese couple, both students at Utsunomiya University, are crowdfunding their wedding online. But not just one wedding; the couple wants to travel around the world getting married in every single country where same-sex marriage is legal.

Misato Kawasaki, 21, and Mayu Otaki, 22,  cannot legally marry in their native country of Japan. So they’re hoping to challenge the Japanese government to change the law by getting married elsewhere — at least 26 times. For now, that’s the number of nations where same-sex marriage is legal. But the couple said on their fundraising page that they aim to marry everywhere they legally can.

“I want to show through our wedding photos that being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) is normal so that those who are troubled by their sexual status can harbor hope,” Kawasaki told the English-language Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on Thursday.

The couple has been dating for a little over a year, and are collecting money for the trip on the Japanese crowdfunding platform Faavo. At press time, they had raised 334,000 Yen (about $3,000). According to Asahi Shimbun, they estimate it will take just over 4 million Yen (about $38,000) to cover the cost of the entire trip with transportation and lodging.

In exchange for funding, Kawasaki and Otaki are offering benefits ranging from attendance at some of the weddings and parties, to framed wedding photos and handwritten thank-you letters.

The couple plans to start the journey this March in Britain, with weddings in Europe, Africa, North America, and South America to follow into September. Kawasaki and Otaki will post about the weddings, and their travels, on an Instagram account they started for the project (@loveislove.japan).

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私たちは #同性婚 が認められた国で #ウェディングフォト を撮る #世界一周 の #旅 を計画しています。 . スーツののみさとです👔 . 2018年9月の始まりの日。 私とマユは別々の場所に。 9月は、お互いの時間を大切に、 それぞれ成長する月と決めました。 . 彼女はインドで、私は日本で🏃‍♂️ . ブログ等も書いていく予定なので是非読んでみてください! . ちなみに、 先日タイに行ってきました! 久々の海外、たくさんの刺激を受けて帰ってきました🇹🇭 とても楽しかった💁‍♂️ . てことで、 9月、走り抜けます🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️ . カメラマン: @d.i.k.m.s.a スーツ: @aoyama__official ドレス: @watabewedding . . Hello! We are planning to go on a round trip journey to take #weddingphotos within countries which are recognized #samesexmarriage #26timeswedding . . Before starting our trip, we decided to share our wedding photos from Japan. . #LGBT#lgbtrights#lgbtyouth#weddingphotography #samesexcouple#lgbt💛💙💙🏳️‍🌈🇨🇴💗 #lgbt🌈 #lgbtlove#loveislove

A post shared by 26回結婚式💐26TimesWedding (@loveislove.japan) on

The pair also plan to visit Taiwan, they said on the fundraising page. As INTO reported in-depth from Taiwan in November, Taiwanese citizens voted to ban same-sex marriage in a surprise upset. But because such policies can’t be decided by public referendum in Taiwan, it’s unclear what the future holds for marriage rights there. In the meantime, the Taiwanese government is allowing same-sex couples to register as domestic partners.

If the marriage eventually ends, it could present a serious problem for the young couple — who would likely need to return to all 26 nations to file for divorce in each one.

Court Rules in Favor of Trump’s Trans Military Ban—But Trans Troops Can Still Serve For Now

After more than a year of court rulings unanimously blocking Trump’s trans military ban, the White House finally found judges willing to side with them.

On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a preliminary injunction against the ban put in place by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. While Kollar-Kotelly argued the policy issued in March 2018 was virtually identical to a 2017 presidential tweetstorm announcing Trump’s intention to remove trans people from the armed forces, a three-judge panel differed in its conclusions.

In a three-page ruling, Judges Thomas Griffith, Stephen Williams, and Robert Wilkins argued that Kollar-Kotelly “made an erroneous finding that the Mattis Plan was not a new policy.”

“The government took substantial steps to cure the procedural deficiencies the court identified in the enjoined 2017 Presidential Memorandum,” the court claimed. These steps allegedly included “the creation of a panel of military and medical experts,” as well as the presentation of “new evidence” on the July 2016 policy allowing trans people to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces for the first time.

Judges with the D.C. circuit court claimed the Mattis Plan limited the scope of Trump’s earlier rhetoric.

The 44-page policy first obtained by INTO required trans enlistees to “demonstrate 36 consecutive months of stability” in the sex they were assigned at birth. It also stated that transgender troops should be “willing and able to adhere to all standards associated with their biological sex.”

The bench—which was unanimous in its decision—felt that policy still left the door open for transgender people to join the military.

“We must recognize that the Mattis Plan plausibly relies upon the ‘considered professional judgment’ of ‘appropriate military officials,’ and appears to permit some transgender individuals to serve in the military consistent with established military mental health, physical health and sex-based standards,” the ruling states.

The justices add that “not all transgender persons seek to transition to their preferred gender.”

LGBTQ advocates argue the D.C. circuit court failed to recognize that the Mattis Plan still effectively forces trans individuals to serve in the closet. In a statement, Jennifer Levi of GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders claimed the ruling is “based on the absurd idea that forcing transgender people to suppress who they are in order to serve is not a ban.”

“It ignores the reality of transgender people’s lives, with devastating consequences, and rests on a complete failure to understand who transgender people are,” GLAD’s transgender rights project director said in a statement. “It is also destabilizing to the military to so dramatically reverse a policy that has been in place for over 2 years that senior military officials acknowledge has operated with no problems.”

Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights further called the decision “a devastating slap in the face to transgender service members who have proved their fitness to serve and their dedication to this country.”

“We will keep fighting this cruel and irrational policy, which serves no purpose other than to weaken the military and punish transgender service members for their patriotism and service,” claimed Minter, who serves as NCLR’s legal director, in a press release.

Advocacy groups plan to petition the D.C. circuit to hear the case en banc, which would mean that all 11 members of the bench would have the chance to weigh in.

While the ruling lifts one of the court injunctions blocking Trump’s trans military ban from taking effect, three additional injunctions remain in place. Thus, transgender people will continue to be able to enlist and serve in the military—for now.

The Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court to intervene in three cases regarding the policy: Karnoski v. Trump, Stockman v. Trump, and Doe v. Trump (the latter of which was the case heard by the D.C. bench). SCOTUS is expected to discuss consideration of the case during its upcoming Jan. 11 meeting.

Although the Supreme Court generally waits for lower courts to rule on the case before proceeding, the White House has argued this issue merits an exception.

The D.C. circuit court stressed in its decision that their ruling was not a “final determination on the merits” of whether the federal government can constitutionally bar all members of a protected class from serving in the military.

That will be decided in future cases.

GLAAD’s Sarah Kate Ellis affirmed that any further court decisions must rule in favor of trans troops “who are only seeking to serve this country.”

“Trans people have already proven their fitness to serve, and have been serving their country with honor,” claimed Ellis, who serves as the media watchdog group’s president and CEO, in a statement posted to Twitter.

Image via Getty

Kiss My Astro: Your January 2019 Horoscope

As we say goodbye to 2018, we’re also bidding a fond farewell to a whole mountain of drama. Some years try the patience of saints, and last year was one that tested every relationship at just about every level. Eclipses in Leo and Aquarius brought into question where we belong and if we’re fundamentally lovable (most acutely for people with planets in Leo, Aquarius, Taurus, and Scorpio). Meanwhile Jupiter in Scorpio had us all digging up our buried psychological wounds, and to top it off Venus retrograde tossed six weeks of relationship review into the mix. Luckily, we’re all coming into 2019 with more information and a clearer sense of what we’ll no longer put up with. Let’s raise a glass to finding the kind of connections that improve our lives. Let’s create the experiences that help make the world a little kinder, a little sparklier, a lot kinkier—whatever energy you want to call into the new year. For extra insight, you can find me for readings and custom astrological portraits at flaxandgold.com. Happy new year! 

Aries

After a year of slowness and inner work, it’s time to dust off your dancing shoes. Welcome a new sense of vitality, curiosity, and energy. You may need a little more freedom in your relationships this year—you’re being called to follow what inspires you, what helps you come alive. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’ve seen it all and done it all. Now is the time to be the badass you know you can be, and begin a new adventure.  

Taurus 

In many ways this year will be kinder and gentler than last year, but there is one major hitch: you don’t get to stay in your rut. In March, Uranus—planet of queer liberation, sudden changes, and everything out-of-bounds—is moving into your sign and will settle in for the next seven years. Now is the time to consider what changes you’ve been resisting that will really improve your life—don’t confuse being comfortable with being happy. Let your routines transform, and welcome something strange and wonderful into your world. 

Gemini

You definitely don’t have time anymore for some of the people you used to find entertaining. You don’t have to be mean, but you can step away from any scene that’s making you feel more worn down than lit up inside with some inner flame. This is a year of choosing the people who are good for you, not just the ones who make you feel good for an hour or two. Get serious about what matters to you most, and who shares your values. This year is inviting you to focus, prioritize, and even commit to the relationships that help you live your best life.  

Cancer

This year will bring you some pain but a lot of gains with it. You can always choose to avoid pain—and miss some of the rewards that may come with it—or choose the path of growth. Like emotional weight-lifting, you’re learning to endure a certain level of discomfort so that you can get much, much stronger. Particularly, pay attention to how you act when you feel vulnerable. Becoming more open, calmer in the face of criticism or rejection, steadier as you don’t internalize other people’s projections—these are the goals you’re moving toward this year, and it begins with prioritizing self-love. You are much stronger than you think, and this year gives you plenty of opportunities for stepping into a kind of power few people have. 

Leo

Of course you look fabulous when you’re dressed to impress, but remember that you get to be adored for your full self. You’re at your most charming when you’re suffused with some kind of inner joy, not when you’re giving everyone what you think they want to hear. This year invites you to remember what fills you up, what makes your eyes sparkle, what helps you claim your full body—and work it. This is a time when your magnetism is extra high, but remember that the goal is to connect from the heart or you may feel unseen and empty in the end—whether you’re looking for a long term love or a super casual hookup. Don’t chase meaningless experiences—casual doesn’t have to mean empty. Make every connection something real, something to remember. 

Virgo

The families we choose are often just as messy as the ones we were born into, so when I say this is a year to focus on your family I know this won’t feel hella cozy to all of you. But family is what’s up for you this year. You’re in sore need of a place—or a group of friends, a collective, a poly network—that will help you know that you belong, that you are loved, that you are necessary. Partnership can help with this, but you need more than just one person to build a home. This year, spend some time addressing whatever blocks you from opening up to this experience—to choosing and being chosen as family. There is deep love available for you, if you learn how to show up for it. 

Libra

Last year reset the clock for you, and this year finds you ready to make decisions about the path forward. Even the most introverted among you will find yourselves more sociable this year. In all the bustle of friendship and activity, keep saying yes to what helps you feel most alive and no to everything that feels like empty distraction. Find the words that have been waiting for you to name the things you haven’t yet named.    

Scorpio

You can’t always get what you want, but this year you may be in the difficult position of getting just that—so be sure you know exactly what it is you want! Many Scorpios have a healthy suspicion of anything that appears too easy, too “boring.” Really, you find it easier to trust the evils you know than guess what could go wrong in a situation that looks on the level. But 2019 is asking you to expand your perception and open up to new ways of sharing joy, pleasure, and sensuality. Remember that pain isn’t your only teacher, and that happiness doesn’t have to be boring.

Sagittarius

That extra-special glow you’ve got right now will last most of this year, and is a little like a lucky lottery ticket—you can spend it well, waste it foolishly, or forget you have it and never reap its rewards. As Jupiter moves through your sign this year, you’re being carried along by a gust of enthusiasm, optimism, and exciting new opportunities. Now is the time to act on whatever you’ve been dreaming about and too shy to make happen. Reinvention, renewal, and new connections are in store for you as you follow this thread of energy. Keep choosing love that gives you the freedom to change and grow. 

Capricorn

Some years test our grit; others offer us opportunities to soften. 2019 is such a year for you. You’re deep in a learning process, but your regular tactics (rolling up your sleeves, making a plan, tackling the hard work till it’s done) won’t help you here. Instead, this is a year of letting yourself be surprised—especially by experiences of tenderness, comfort, and caring. Don’t push something away just because it’s unfamiliar. Let yourself soften, open, and risk a little more. Sensitivity and true resilience go hand-in-hand.  

Aquarius

At last, you’re ready to turn around and walk away from all the questions that plagued you for the last few years. Your relationships have been full of surprises, revelations, and revisioning for some time now, and you’re finally ready to stabilize again. Take what you’ve learned and trust that the decisions you make now are better than the ones you could have made two years ago. Dare to reach out and take a chance on someone, but remember that where you’ll really shine this year is in your relationship with groups. What do you want to transform? Who do you want to do it with? 

Pisces

Little fish, this is a year for you to shine like some majestic sea creature bouncing rainbow prisms off your scales in an perfect arc of sunlight. Hope you’re up for that. What you’re aiming for is bigger and grander than anything you’ve done yet, but don’t worry—this is one of those years when you get to reap the rewards of what you’ve been working on for many years. Relationship-wise, this means you’ll have more eyes on you than you’re used to, which can bring all kinds of opportunities. Just remember that if you keep showing up honestly and with a clear sense of your strengths it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel ready. No one ever does. 

The ‘Trans Teen Survival Guide’ Is Here For Trans and Nonbinary Youth

Growing up as a young trans or non-binary person can be incredibly daunting, and there are many times where young people need help and guidance to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. Fox and Owl, two trans non-binary activists, writers, and videographers, have created just the tool to be able to navigate the world as a young trans person: the Trans Teen Survival Guide, a book that provides fun, important, and engaging advice for not just trans people, but their parents and families, too.

Fox and Owl regularly speak on trans and non-binary rights across the globe. Fox is an award-winning artist and filmmaker, and the co-founder of the film project My Genderation. Owl advocates for trans rights across Europe throughout UK TV and Radio, with appearances on BBC Radio 1, Good Morning Britain and LBC. Trans Teen Survival Guide provides a fully comprehensive guide to trans teens on how to survive the ups and downs of gender dysphoria, dating, and how to deal with the media’s often inaccurate portrayal of trans bodies.

The book itself was created through inspiration from their dear late friend Christina L. Bentley, who had a site of the same name that offered similar vital and life-saving advice to trans teens across the world. “Her legacy will live on through the site, which is still live,” Fox and Owl said, “and through our book.”

This engaging title for young trans people landed at just the right time, and the response has been incredible.

“We’ve had many people attend our events and had great discussions with the audience about the importance of supporting trans youth,” Fox and Owl told INTO. “We wanted to create a book that would have been beneficial to ourselves growing up and we’re glad that it’s proving useful for trans teens and their families.”  

The current landscape for trans people of all ages is incredibly treacherous, and this book provides young people with peace of mind and real-life accounts from Fox and Owl of the ways in which trans people navigate challenges. The book features illustrations and imagery that navigates the reader through the different chapters, including what to do if you’re questioning your gender, fashion tips, and how to battle gender dysphoria.

“We wanted the book to be positive and hopeful without shying away from the difficult parts as well,” Fox and Owl said in an email. “We wanted to prepare people that things might actually be really, really hard–while at the same time give them inspiration, hope, and the strength to come out and be true to themselves.”

Ensuring that young people are fully aware of the potential challenges of being trans, but also the beautiful community that is available to them is of paramount importance to Fox and Owl, as it provides a realistic insight into the world these young people are entering.

Non-binary literature is something that we rarely see on the shelves, and the authors’ experiences with living as not only non-binary individuals, but as a non-binary couple, is a new and interesting angle.

“Non-binary issues seem to be getting mainstreamed into general discussions about trans issues more and more,” Fox and Owl said. “But it’s still been such a short time since we started to even get a mention, that most people are still ill-informed on our issues or simply don’t understand.”

Non-binary identities commonly fall under the trans umbrella, and what this book does so well is explore binary trans experiences alongside non-binary life experiences, providing a well-rounded anecdotal depiction of what it means to be trans now.

The lack of education and information surrounding trans people has led to many of us taking the reins and highlighting our own narrative. 

“There is still a lot of misinformation and prejudice towards non-binary people even within the trans community, so I think we need to continue to strive for more non-binary voices in literature,” Fox and Owl said. “That means we also need to start highlighting intersectional experiences and realities, showing the intersections of trans identities i.e. with race, ethnicity, disability, class and bodily diversity.”

Trans Teen Survival Guide has been published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and is available to purchase now.

The Queerest Characters In Overwatch, Ranked

Overwatch has always stood apart from other gaming titles for embracing racial and sexual diversity in its roster of characters. “As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe,” a representative for Blizzard, the game’s developer, told EW. “From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of Overwatch to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world.”

It’s a simple concept, but it’s still rare to see it applied in media. While not all characters in Overwatch identify as queer (it’s been said “several” are), the aforementioned diversity and storied backgrounds of each Overwatch character makes some more appealing to queer audiences than others. Below, we’ve ranked the 10 queerest characters in Overwatch.

1. Tracer

Tracer is the only confirmed queer character in the title to date. She also happens to be the game’s visual representation and one of the most popular characters. In the Overwatch comic, Reflections, the time-jumping Overwatch agent locks lips with a redheaded woman named Emily, whom she appears to be living with. The two later visit a lonely Winston and share a holiday meal together. Because of the polarizing fanfare that followed the comic’s release, the game’s lead writer, Michael Chu, took to Twitter to confirm that Tracer indeed identifies as a lesbian. Not much else has been addressed regarding Tracer’s sexuality since the inaugural comic, which is likely intentional, as the game maker wanted to dictate that one’s sexual identity doesn’t define who they are in any way, shape, or form.

2. Moira

A favorite in the LGBTQ community, Moira, a geneticist whose controversial work is discounted by Overwatch and society at large due to a lack of ethical integrity, is rumored by the gaming community to identify as either non-binary or trans due primarily to her androgynous appearance. While none of this speculation has been confirmed or denied by the game’s developer, Moira’s lore is a tale of rejection, making her an outcast that queer individuals immediately identify and empathize with. Not to mention, we love a calculated villainess. Just ask Gia Gunn.

3. McCree

The reason McCree makes the list isn’t because he is gay but because Overwatch’s gay male audience wants him to be. It makes sense: he’s a hypermasculine cowboy with great hair, a gruff voice, and rough, calloused skin. He’s a Tom of Finland fantasy. He’s daddy. There are numerous Tumblr accounts rife with fan art and fiction depicting some lewd and detailed sexual exploits of McCree with other male characters (especially Hanzo) which I regret to say is 100 percent fantasy.

4. D.Va

At 19 years old, D.Va has established herself as a formidable mech pilot, mechanic, actress, and pro-gamer. Her adorable mech, Tokki, aversion to gender norms (again, she is a pilot, gamer and mechanic, all of which are male-dominated professions) paired with her cheeky and cute demeanor makes Hana Song, the woman behind the machine, a clear contender for queer favorite (not to mention, her name is D.Va, for crying out loud). D.Va visibly stands out for her electric vibrancy, similar to the Pink Ranger, another queer icon, and her avian zord. D.Va makes the list not because she is queer, but because of her queer appeal.

5. Sombra

Sombra is a badass hacker with an incredibly trendy haircut and fingernails that retract at her leisure. How very queer. While there has been fanfic written about Sombra being gay or bisexual, there is little evidence to support the assertion. If nothing else, Sombra, who Overwatch fans have pointed out has a skin boasting the colors of the bisexual flag, is likely not one of the queer characters that will be announced in the future, but she definitely carries a cachet – the speed, agility, vibrant skins, and invisibility – that queer individuals find appealing enough to select her as their main.

6. Lucio

Like Sombra, Lucio also has a skin boasting the colors of the bisexual flag. But such a position is not a strong enough indicator of Lucio’s sexuality. However, many in the Overwatch community predict Lucio will be the game’s first homosexual male character due to a suggestive line of dialogue the DJ utters when in the Numbani map, being, “Now this is my kind of city, everyone free to live as they choose.” Queer or not, we stan a progressive musician.  

7. Hanzo

Romantically linked to McCree in erotic Overwatch fanfic, Hanzo is another hopeful candidate for gay male players due to his inherent sexiness. People have expressed hope that the mercenary is queer so that he’d offset Tracer’s jaunty personality. Hanzo is more stoic, which would better showcase diversity in the community. One particular Overwatch fan believes Hanzo may be gay because “homosexuality was sometimes made a part of samurai culture for the master/student relationship.”

8. Symmetra

Another popular character among gaymers, Symmetra is a strategy-based player dressed in elegant garb. She has long raven hair flowing behind a decorative headpiece that wouldn’t look out of place on Beyonce during her Mrs. Carter era. Everything from the way Symmetra walks, talks and attacks exudes the effortless sophistication of a well-traveled socialite, which (almost) every queer aspires to.  

9. Widowmaker

The form-fitting catsuit. The hair that flows past her hips. The impractical decision to wear heels into battle. Widowmaker exudes that seductive brand of queer appeal that other villainesses like Catwoman, Mystique, Sindel and Cruella DeVille also share. Her bewitching French accent is the cherry on top. Widowmaker is the quintessential femme fatale, and the first female villain introduced in the game. Got to love an OG.

10. Mercy

Queer people love a support medic. It doesn’t hurt that Mercy also happens to be beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed and resembles an angel. People tend to be complete dicks to those who main as Mercy (“heal me, heal me!”) which is something every queer individual can relate to, especially in gaming.

INTO’s 2019 Travel Guide

INTO’s travel writers have collaborated to amass an adventurous, luxurious, and metamorphic top ten list of trending (and non-trending) destinations as readers consider travel plans for 2019. As always, we’ve combed for some of the most queer-friendly locales while making sure to include destinations outside of the typical LGBTQ+ travel circuit, so that seasoned travelers can push themselves out of their comfort zones. Happy trails, traveler.

1.  Celebrate EuroPride in Vienna, Austria

via Getty

On January 1, 2019 Austria will officially recognize same-sex marriage after a ruling from the country’s Constitutional Court, upgrading from legal partnerships. Wasting no time, its capital city, Vienna, will be the host of EuroPride 2019 (June 1-16th). But no matter when you visit, the city famous for its permanently gay-themed street crossing signals is a true epicenter for both the visual and performing arts. “The City of Music” is world renowned for its orchestras, operas, choirs, and chamber music—but also excites visitors with progressive house and electronic music at its over-the-top queer warehouse parties. 

2. Tour the Volta Region of Ghana

via Uprise Travel

As in many other African countries, homosexual acts are illegal in Ghana and discrimination against the LGBTQ community is rampant. Yet, queer-friendly tour company Uprise Travel safely guides visitors through Ghana, training their guides in inclusivity and LGBTQ+ issues. Their Southern Ghana Road Trip is the perfect introduction to the country and explores the off-the-beaten-path (and gorgeous) Volta Region, two and a half hours north of Accra. The trip takes visitors to Amedzofe, the highest village in Ghana, to a sanctuary full of adorable mona monkeys, and to the dazzling Wli Falls (the highest waterfall in West Africa). The trip then ventures to the nation’s western coast to see sobering UNESCO World Heritage slave castles and stunning beaches, like the secluded, palm-lined Busua Beach.

3. Camp and Dance at the GAYTIMES Music Festival in Victoria, Australia

While there are more prides, circuits, gay ski weeks, and queer film festivals than one can shake a stick at, there are still only a handful of queer music festivals. While GAYTIMES (February 15-17th, 2019) isn’t as big as Amsterdam’s Milkshake Festival, this intimate Australian festival, hosted high in the Central Victorian Highlands, may be one of the most unique. Hop down under to Melbourne, road trip up two hours to Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, and pitch your tent for a weekend of camping below the Southern Hemisphere stars at the height of Southern Hemisphere summer. Besides a lineup with over 36 acts, there are performance artists, art installments, and many workshops, classes, and activities. This is the queer summer camp you’ve always dreamed of.

4. Stargaze at the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico

via Getty

This UNESCO World Heritage site is said to be “as close as the US gets to Egypt’s pyramids and Peru’s Machu Picchu” and the largest concentration of ruins north of Mexico. Chaco Canyon contains artifacts and campsites dating back to 7000-1500 BC, though its monumental public and ceremonial pueblos date to around 850-1250 AD. Besides the incredibly well-preserved ruins, history, and archeoastronomy petroglyphs, the site is an International Dark Sky Park. But why visit now? Well, the Bureau of Land Management, overseen by the Interior and the Trump Administration, has leased 90% of the greater Chaco area to oil and gas development , endangering outlying artifacts, ruins, ancient roads, and sacred sites, as well as the serenity of the dark sky reserve. When you make the 3 hour drive from Santa Fe to visit, sleep under the stars at the Gallo Campground, and see the night sky just as the Chacoans saw it thousands of years ago, at least for right now.

5. Wander Argentina’s Remarkable Salta Province

via Getty

Tucked in the Northwest corner of Argentina — tickling Chile and Bolivia — is the larger-than-life Salta Province. Start your road trip in the province’s capital, Salta City, for delicious empanadas, folkloric music, and the chance to see 500 year-old-child-sacrifice-mummies at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology before venturing south through the polychromatic Valles Calchaquíes to Cafayate, a legendary wine town full of delicious Torrontés and Malbecs. Dive deeper into the province by exploring its three remote national parks: the tropical Baritú National Park (home to jaguars, ocelots and speckled bears), El Rey National Park (home to giant anteaters and tapirs), and the arid Los Cardones National Park (home to vicuñas, dinosaur tracks, and 25-foot tall Argentine saguaros—all below the towering 20,000 foot Nevado de Cachi).

6. Explore The Kingdom of Jordan on a Gay Tour

via Outstanding Travel

Visit Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, with Outstanding Travel, a leader in gay travel within Israel and the surrounding region. Travel to Petra via Wadi Yatam and drive through gorgeous landscapes that lead you to the far end of Wadi Musa. The road there winds through the narrow, deep and stunning Siq (the shaft), at which the splendor of the burial shrine Al Khazneh (the treasury) is revealed. The tour then continues to the desert of Wadi Rum, filled with shades of red and orange sandstones. Here you can overnight in a luxury camp inside a bubble star tent so that you can enjoy the night sky from the comfort of your warm bed. It’s important to note that LGBTQ+ rights in Jordan are considered to be relatively advanced when compared to other countries within the Middle East. Homosexual conduct remains legal in Jordan, after the country adopted its own penal code that did not criminalize homosexuality as it previously was under the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance that lasted until 1951. That being said, LGBTQ+ people displaying public affection can be prosecuted for “disrupting public morality.”

7. Catch a Queer Film in India

via Sridhar Rangayan @sridharrangayan

In a historic decision, India’s Supreme Court ruled in September of 2018 that gay sex is no longer a criminal offense, overturning a 2013 judgment that upheld a colonial-era law categorizing gay sex as an “unnatural offense.” The court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights. And if you still don’t know about India’s famous gay prince, you should, because he is doing so many good things for the LGBTQ community in India. LGBTQ tourism in India is rising and now is the time to go (but please, just avoid North Sentinel Island…). As long as you are respectful of the local culture and understand that things may not run as smoothly as they would back home, you’ll find that India can be not only fascinating but also safe. Plan your trip around some amazing LGBTQ events like Mumbai Pride, which takes place in January/February, or some of the other prides in cities like Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore or Kolkata. Or, if queer cinema is more your vibe, check out the annual Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival, typically held in May.

8. Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall at World Pride in NYC

via Getty

News Alert: Did you catch the news of Madonna mysteriously showing up at the Stonewall Inn for a surprise New Year’s Eve performance? She gave a powerful speech before performing a couple of her hit songs and exiting. Many are speculating that she will somehow be involved in the 30 days of celebration that span June 1 – 30, 2019 in New York City. NYC Pride will be welcoming WorldPride as they mark the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and a half-century of LGBTQIA + activism. There will be over 50 events throughout the month with more than 3 million people expected to gather for the experiences. If you’ve been thinking about NYC pride, this would be the year to go!

9. Get Your Rocky Mountain High on in Colorado

via Miles W. Griffis

Quick shout-out to Colorado residents for electing the first gay man to serve as Governor of a U.S. State. Jared Polis made history this past November by winning the state’s gubernatorial race with 51.7% of the vote. Now, that alone doesn’t necessarily qualify Colorado as a top queer destination, but it does add to the long list of reasons why Colorado is extremely open-minded and welcoming. Colorado was also one of the first two states to legalize marijuana back in 2012 and the weed culture there is booming. Consider taking a marijuana tour while visiting the state to get a sense of how big the industry is (and because, well, it really is just a fun way to spend an afternoon). While on your tour (which mostly operate out of Denver), pick up some essentials and head out to seek adventure in some of the state’s most beautiful destinations. Ski towns like Breckenridge, Telluride, and Aspen are surrounded by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains— the inspiration for John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” (1972). Best of all, each town also hosts their own gay ski week.

10. Become a Member of the 7 Continents Club in Antarctica

via David Duran

If you haven’t been to Antarctica yet, don’t worry, most of the world hasn’t either. It’s estimated that a very tiny fraction of the of the world’s population has made it to the 7th continent. Why go? Well, if you are an adventurer at heart and want to see things that most people will never see in their lifetime, a trip way down south might be just right. The icebergs alone make the trip worth it. But beyond the massive floating ice, the wildlife sightings are infinite and being up close and personal with whales, penguins and seals will melt your heart, but hopefully not the polar ice caps. Consider traveling with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions for a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only visit the untouched region but to learn so much while doing so. Traveling with you on your expedition will be a team of experts and naturalists who use a range of exploration tools to help you experience wildlife and wild places up close. During your trip you can kayak amid the icebergs, stroll through crowds of penguins and step foot (many, many times) on the spectacularly remote continent.