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.

Report: The Trump Administration Is Considering Broad Rollbacks to Civil Rights Laws

The Washington Post on Thursday reported it had obtained internal memos and source material about the Trump administration’s plans to weaken federal civil rights protections.

According to the Post, an internal Justice Department memo instructs the agency’s civil rights officials to investigate “disparate impact” regulations with the intent to change or revoke them. “Disparate impact” is essentially the legal theory that allows anti-discrimination laws like the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to be applied in cases of secondary or less-than-overt discrimination. For example, one 2005 lawsuit brought by a group of Black police sergeants in Memphis, Tennessee alleged that a new written test required for promotion had a discriminatory impact on Black applicants.

A more recent “disparate impact” case in 2016 found that in one California school district, Black students were disciplined at much higher rates than white students. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found the school district guilty of disparate impact discrimination and negotiated an agreement to retrain employees and other remedies.

The Trump administration wants to do away with this kind of civil rights case, and not just at the federal criminal justice agency; according to the Post, similar measures are underway at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Education.

Changes to civil rights law could greatly impact LGBTQ Americans. Even though the Civil Rights Act does not expressly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes alongside race, religion, and other such groups, the prohibition against ‘sex’ discrimination has been extended to include LGBTQ people in previous legal verdicts.

Doing away with disparate impact regulations could make civil rights protections a lot harder to enforce, and suggests that the Trump administration wants to see civil rights laws applied only in the most purely literal sense — to avoid their protections being extended to anyone not explicitly protected. And, to argue that any unintended or secondary discrimination is not really discrimination at all.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO of GLAAD, said the proposals to roll back federal anti-discrimination laws are just the latest example of Trump’s chipping away at the rights of marginalized Americans.

“Either the Trump Administration is blissfully ignorant or just simply unwilling to understand the depth of discrimination that exists in the United States. But one thing is certain: if you are a part of a marginalized community, President Trump wants nothing to do with you,” said Ellis in a statement Thursday. “These attacks on LGBTQ and other marginalized people must stop.”

There is a glimmer of hope for LGBTQ people in the face of Trump considering changes to anti-discrimination law. With Congress flipped to the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi re-taking the title of Speaker of the House, it’s likely that the Equality Act will be reintroduced in 2019. The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the Civil Rights Act, and would become the only federal nondiscrimination protection ever offered to LGBTQ Americans.

Image via Getty

Where is the Official Autopsy for the Trans Woman Who Died in ICE Custody Last Year?

There is no standard time for completing an autopsy, say experts. But the lack of an official autopsy for Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who died in ICE custody more than seven months ago, is starting to raise eyebrows.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner (OMI) says Hernandez’s case is still under review. Her autopsy was conducted on June 4.

“We don’t think it does Ms. Hernandez or the public any good to rush to any conclusion,” Alex Sanchez, public information officer for the OMI, told INTO. “The pathologist will take whatever time he needs on it.”

Hernandez’s case has drawn national media attention. ICE reported she died on May 25 after experiencing complications of pneumonia, dehydration, and untreated HIV. In November, The Daily Beast reported that an independent autopsy, commissioned by The Transgender Law Center (TLC) and immigration attorney R. Andrew Free on behalf of Hernandez’s family, found Hernandez was severely beaten in custody. ICE refutes that she was abused while at Cibola County Correctional Center.

Sanchez said the OMI’s autopsy has nothing to do with the independent autopsy commissioned by TLC and declined to state why the agency’s autopsy lagged behind the independent report.

In early December, INTO filed a public records request for the autopsy. In response, the OMI said it may need more than 12 weeks to produce an autopsy. It has now been 31 weeks.  

Medical examiners across the country aim to complete autopsies quickly, in part because industry standards demand it.

Last month, the Maricopa Medical Examiner’s Office in Arizona proudly announced its accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME).

“It wasn’t easy for us,” said Fields Moseley, a spokesperson for the county. “We’re one of the busiest medical examiners in the country.

The Maricopa Medical Examiner’s Office serves two-thirds of the state, including Phoenix. With only 11 pathologists, the office was facing a backlog of cases. To be accredited, a medical examiner must complete 90 percent of its postmortem reports within 90 days. The county instituted loan repayment incentives to attract new staff and increase its capacity.

There are extenuating circumstances that can put an office behind.

“There are bones found in the desert, for example,” Moseley said. “Can you determine a cause of death from those bones found in a shallow grave?”

Moseley reports that the Maricopa performs about 8,000 autopsies a year. In his three years on the job, he has seen one or two cases that are outstanding after a year.

The New York Medical Examiner also turns most of its cases around between 24 to 48 hours, said Aja Worthy-Davis, executive director for public affairs for the agency. Asked if there was a case that stretched over six months, Worthy-Davis, said: “I can’t think of one.”

“We have considerably more medical examiners than most other jurisdictions so it’s not necessarily fair to compare,” added Worthy-Davis.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, which processes Chicago’s many autopsies, closes out its most complicated cases within three months.

Jonathan Arden, the president of NAME, says a variety of factors can slow down an autopsy, from toxicology testing to law enforcement holding back a report for investigative purposes.

“According to NAME, the industry standard is that you should be trying to get 90 percent of your reports done in 60 calendar days, and you really must get 90 percent of them done within 90 calendar days,” said Arden. “Unfortunately there are many instances where offices don’t meet that criterion.”

Arden attributes some of that delay to 64,000 opioid deaths a year, overwhelming an already limited pool of pathologists nationally.

“I don’t mean it as an excuse, but it’s a harsh reality,” said Arden.

But whether those factors play into the substantial delay in Hernandez’s case remain unclear, in part because the OMI won’t say. Its official statement notes that Hernandez “had complex medical conditions that necessitate extra analyses including specialty consultation.”

Sanchez declined to offer a timeline for when the autopsy would be ready.

Asked about whether the OMI was withholding the autopsy due to scrutiny against ICE in Hernandez’s death, Sanchez said the OMI is independent of the federal agency.

“It is not our job to hide why someone died,” she said.

According to a source close to the case, the OMI sent part of Hernandez’s brain off for testing to determine how far her HIV had advanced. Those results were supposed to be made available to Dr. Kris Sperry, who performed Hernandez’s independent autopsy. Sperry reportedly never received them.

Arden declined to comment on the delay in Hernandez’s autopsy, but noted it was not unusual or unheard of to see such a lag.

“It is outside of certainly the guidelines that are recommended or desired,” he said.

Image via Getty

Netflix’s ‘Travelers’ Finally Got Some Lesbian Representation And I’m Screaming

If you’re a fan of Netflix’s original series Travelers like I am, you know that the first two seasons of the sci-fi series left much to be desired in terms of LGBTQ representation.

For the uninitiated, Travelers is set in present day Washington state and follows the lives of five initial strangers, each battling a dangerous personal obstacle, who suddenly develop special-ops combat skills and have a complete change in personality.

The changes are a result of time travelers from centuries in the future where the last surviving humans are trying desperately to change the apocalyptic course of history through a series of missions to save the world, and the first two decades of the 21st century are what they believe to be the turning point for civilization.

Through a sentient artificial intelligence entity known as “The Director,” these travelers are able to send their consciousness into the bodies of people called “hosts,” who were historically supposed to die in a specific place and in a specific way. Upon completion of the consciousness transfer, the individuals are given the coordinates to find their other team members.

The first and second seasons were about the travelers completing their missions covertly, but that’s become impossible by the beginning of the third season.

Since the third season dropped on Dec. 14 (and since I binged the entire season the next day), I’m happy to announce that the LGBTQ representation in Travelers has gotten better! Let’s dig in.

The first flicker of queer lady representation happens in episode 2, “Yates.”

After team leader/FBI Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack) and his team―engineer Trevor (Jared Abrahamson), medic Marcy (MacKenzie Porter), historian Philip (Reilly Dolman), and tactician Carly (Nesta Cooper)―were exposed as time travelers to their families and the U.S. government in the Season 2 cliffhanger finale, MacLaren gains a new FBI partner: Joanne Yates (Kimberley Sustad), liaison between the travelers and the 21st century FBI.

The pair is assigned to protect the life of the host of fake news talk show The Rockwell Report, after his conspiracy theories that an up-and-coming politician is actually a traveler gets the politician’s wife assassinated.

Yates and MacLaren sit outside the host’s home on duty and Yates asks questions about the future:

“So, what, everyone’s a vegan in the future ‘cause there’s no animal protein? …Come on, give me something. How bad is it?”

“That’s just a different way of asking the same question.”

“So, it’s bad. Then again, why would you come back in time to change history if everything was great.”

MacLaren’s phone buzzes. He looks at it, scoffs, and puts it away.

“Wife problems.”

“Same here.”

Boom. The moment is as brief as it was satisfying. The flicker of sapphic love (or rather, possible lesbian bed death?) is unfortunately never addressed again with Yates’ character, but was still enough to warm my heart.

The final and most satisfying storyline is in the season’s eighth episode, “Archive.”

A newly-introduced physicist couple, Samantha Burns and Amanda Myers, are at the fictional Humphries University, each dressed like Bette Porter while popping champagne in an empty lecture hall and celebrating a passing review on a major breakthrough in their field. They’re right on the cusp of a Nobel Prize.

“Can you imagine? I mean, we really have a shot–”

“No, no, no, don’t say it.”

“Come on. It’s the Nobel Prize.”

“You just jinxed it.”

“Amanda, if… if our work gets published, it could change the world.”

“If. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

And change the world it would. A few scenes later it’s revealed that the couple’s breakthrough―called a “singularity engine”―would have accidentally killed 1.4 billion people with a gamma-ray burst that eventually strips away the ozone layer 20 years into the future.

One character describes it as being like most of Europe getting wiped out in one afternoon.

That is, had a traveler not jumped into the host body of a recently-arrested serial killer, and, with the help of MacLaren and his team, broken out of his prison escort to find the physicists, corrected their math and thus dissuaded them from submitting their research for publication, patenting their findings and contributing to the rapid demise of humanity as we know it.

There’s a dark joke to be made here about gays causing the end of the world, but I’ll leave it.

The third season ended in a way that left a lot of fans scratching their heads in confusion, so who knows what the next season will bring. But if there’s more sapphic FBI agents and lesbian physicist power couples in the future? Count me in.

QPOC Are Playing Coachella In 2019

The Coachella lineup was announced yesterday and gay fans were elated to see that our queen, Ariana Grande, will be one of the three headliners this year, making her the fourth woman to ever headline the festival. However, the “thank u, next” singer isn’t the only person to get excited about—the 2019 Coachella lineup is packed with LGBTQ artists that just may draw me out to Indio, California for the very first time.

Coachella hasn’t historically been the most queer-friendly space, as one of the festival’s owners at the major entertainment corporation behind Coachella is very publicly anti-LGBTQ. However, the lineups have been getting gayer and gayer each year. So, tradeoffs!

Here’s what LGBTQ fans have to look forward to in April.

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae memorably came out as pansexual last year, releasing a visual album, Dirty Computer, which featured her flirting with Tessa Thompson in multiple music videos. In 2018, Monae gave us queer pop music, dapper red carpet looks, and vaginal harem pants for Tessa Thompson to poke her head through. This year, she’ll be storming the Coachella stage Friday, April 12th and 19th. But be forewarned, Janelle: If you don’t bring out Tessa Thompson in a suit, we’re leaving!!

The 1975

In the past, The 1975’s lead singer Matty Healy has alluded to being queer, and his band will take the stage alongside (or in the shadow of) Janelle Monae on the Friday dates.

Jaden Smith

The infamous spawn of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith will be performing this year. In 2018, Smith announced that Tyler, The Creator, who is an out bisexual, was his “fucking boyfriend,” and later confirmed it again on Twitter. Although many speculated that Jaden was joking, the artist has also taken to Twitter to slam those who have criticized his gender-bending outfits. The 20-year-old released an album toward the end of last year.

King Princess

Mikaela Straus, best known as King Princess, really came for Hayley Kiyoko’s throne last year. In 2018, the gender-queer singer-songwriter released her debut EP Talia, along with a bunch of super-queer music videos, and a social media endorsement from Harry Styles himself. In November, she released another Sapphic music video called “Pussy is God,” and has also been publicly dating Amandla Stenberg. Lesbian Jesus better watch her back—there’s a new gay pop star in town (just kidding—in this house, we stan all lesbian pop stars and don’t pit them against each other).

SOPHIE

Transgender DJ and producer Sophie has produced for the likes of Madonna and Charli XCX, so she’s basically pop music royalty. This year, she also earned a nomination for her own album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Led by queer Puerto Rican frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra, Hurray for the Riff Raff will perform at Coachella this year. The band’s fiddler, Yosi Perlstein, is trans, too, making for a super queer band that sounds like folk rock with tinges of Lana Del Rey.

Christine and the Queens

Another pansexual “queen,” Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens will take the stage on Saturday, April 13th and 20th. On being queer and androgynous, the artist once told Dazed, “I wasn’t able to relate to the magazines and advertising I was seeing and their depictions of women. I was polluted by all of that and Christine and the Queens was a way to escape, a survival technique.”

serpentwithfeet

Also known as Josiah Wise, serpentwithfeet is an out queer musician, with a neo-soul vibe, who has worked with Björk and toured with Grizzly Bear. On growing up queer, he told NPR, “I didn’t know how to talk about how I was feeling. It just needed to be a full conversation, because my day is a queer day. I eat breakfast queer. I walk queer. I think that takes time for a young person.”

Javiera Mena

Javiera Mena is a queer lesbian Chilean pop star who has made trippy Sapphic music videos in the past. She’s making a splash stateside on the Saturday dates of Coachella.

Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny may not be explicitly queer, but the Latin trap star has ruffled feathers by challenging the toxic masculinity that’s customary to hip hop and reggaetón. The Puerto Rican artist can often be seen donning feminine getups, painted fingernails, hot pink microphones, and giant hoop earrings. You may know him best from his 2018 collaboration with Cardi B and J Balvin, “I Like It.”

Blood Orange

Blood Orange is the brainchild of British pop/R&B artist Dev Hynes, an inclusive artist who dedicated his first album to trans performer Octavia St. Laurent. He’s played with 1980s ball culture and has publicly announced how inspired he is by gay art. He doesn’t necessarily identify as queer or straight, but has admitted to being sexually attracted to men and transgender women in the past—so maybe he’s a little pan!

Kaytranada

DJ & Producer Kaytranada came out as gay in 2016. The Haitian-Canadian artist told The Fader, “I felt like there were two people inside me. I was trying to be somebody I was not, and I was frustrated that people didn’t know who I was.” He will return to Coachella on the Sunday night dates, having performed in 2017, too.

Lizzo

An LGBTQ fan favorite, the flamboyant rapper Lizzo will finally perform at Coachella, and will hopefully play the flute and hit the shoot live. Last year, the musician told Teen Vogue, “When it comes to sexuality or gender, I personally don’t ascribe to just one thing. I cannot sit here right now and tell you I’m just one thing. That’s why the colors for LGBTQ+ are a rainbow! Because there’s a spectrum, and right now we try to keep it black and white. That’s just not working for me.”

070 Shake

New Jersey rapper 070 Shake is getting her big Coachella break this year. The 20-year old MC told Billboard in 2018, “I do not see myself as being gay or being straight. I just like to see myself as who I am.”

Check out the full lineup here.

Images via Getty

Lady Gaga Shows Her True Gamer Nerd Colors in ‘Enigma’

Esteemed A Star is Born actress, Stefani Germanotta — some know her as Lady Gaga — had a pretty epic ending to 2018. On December 28th, Gaga debuted the first show of her new Las Vegas residency “Enigma,” which focuses on pop music. When the first footage of “Enigma” was uploaded online, fans were immediately curious about the sci-fi and anime themes that Gaga had in her set and costumes. In her Instagram teaser for the show, Gaga also showed some of the clips that ended up being used in her actual show, most interestingly the virtual version of Gaga.

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While we’ve seen her embrace some pretty out-there aesthetics, none of them have screamed anime or video games in the same way this virtual character does. We know that Lady Gaga has recently been playing some games, specifically Bayonetta, which does feel appropriate given that the titular character is a witch who fights with her magical hair.

The inspiration for this virtual look didn’t come out of thin air, not for pop culture and not for Lady Gaga. The most famous virtual pop star is Hatsune Miku from Japan. Miku, a foundational figure in tech culture, is basically always the first name to come up when artists work with digital avatars.

Hatsune Miku performs all over the world and has many dedicated fans. The main difference is, unlike Gaga, she has no physical form. Miku’s voice comes from a real singer who spent time in a studio recording different phrases and syllables.

Those sounds were then entered into a program called Vocaloid that is now used to produce music without a traditional singer. Through the program you can type lyrics and musical notes and the Vocaloid sings them. There are other Vocaloid avatars with different voices, but Miku is by far the most famous. We also know that Lady Gaga is very aware of Miku because the Vocaloid actually opened for her during some ARTPOP era concerts. It makes sense then that Gaga would bring back similar imagery to a show that focuses on her pop discography.

Another reference in those teaser clips seems to be the magical girl genre of anime, like Sailor Moon, and specifically the transformation sequence. In the beginning of the show, after she performs a few of her early songs, we see a clip of Gaga’s virtual self being created. The scene takes place in open space and resembles a lot of what you’ll find in Sailor Moon transformations.

The result of her transformation, though, doesn’t look as cute as the magical girl anime characters who usually appear in bright colors and nice shoes. Lady Gaga’s transformation is more mechanical and resembles some looks from Ghost in the Shell — the animated original, not the racist Scarlett Johansson garbage. Many posters for the movie showed the lead character’s android body which feels like what Gaga is going for.

Outside of the virtual pop star stuff, there is one additional reference to video games, and it’s a huge one.

During her performance of “Scheiße,” Gaga appeared in a massive mech suit. A mech is a machine used in Japanese anime and video games that is basically a large robot with a human on the inside — think Power Rangers or D.Va from Overwatch. This particular mech though, as many pointed out, is clearly inspired by Gaga’s time playing Bayonetta 2, in which a similar looking machine is used to fight.

Many fans, myself included, are just happy to see Gaga embracing her pop music roots, let alone producing a new era of weirdness for her Vegas show. And the fact that she’s including some nerd shit makes it even better. It’s hard to know if video games or virtual avatars will continue to be a part of Gaga’s art after her residency is over, but Jesus, how amazing would it be if it was a major part of her next album? Give us a Samus cosplay, Gaga, please.

Facebook Apologizes to Homophobic Preacher After He Was Temporarily Blocked For Anti-Trans Hate Speech

While Twitter is taking historic measures to ban anti-LGBTQ hate speech, Facebook is kowtowing to homophobes.

The social media platform issued an apology to evangelical pastor Franklin Graham after his account was temporarily suspended for comments about North Carolina’s House Bill 2. After Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in the state over the anti-trans “bathroom bill,” Graham lamented society had strayed too far from Biblical teachings.”

“[W]e need to go back!” he said in 2016. “Back to God. Back to respecting and honoring His commands. Back to common sense. … [A] nation embracing sin and bowing at the feet of godless secularism and political correctness is not progress.”

Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, was locked out of his Facebook account in December as a result of that two-year-old post. He claimed in a Dec. 28 tweet that the website—which counts more than 2 billion active monthly users—was “censoring free speech” by banning him for 24 hours.

“[Facebook is] making and changing the rules,” Graham said. “Truth is truth. God made the rules and His Word is truth. The free exchange of ideas is part of our country’s DNA.”

The pastor further referred to it as a “personal attack” in an appearance on Fox and Friends.

But on Sunday, the 66-year-old reported that Facebook had extended an olive branch. In a message to Graham, its moderators claimed they had made a “mistake” by suspending his account.

“It looks like we made a mistake and removed something you posted on Facebook that didn’t go against our Community Standards,” the message read. “We want to apologize and let you know that we’ve restored your content and removed any blocks on your account related to this incorrect action.”

In an email, the company further reiterated their condolences.

“Upon re-reviewing this content, we identified that the post does not violate our hate speech policy and has been restored,” spokesperson Sarah Pollock told the Asheville Citizen-Times.

On Facebook’s website, it delineates hate speech as a “direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics—race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.”

“We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation,” the company claims.

Although one could reasonably argue that referring to the movement for trans equality as an embrace of “sin,” “godless secularism,” and “political correctness” is dehumanizing, it appears Facebook does not share that view.

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was an outspoken critic of HB 2, the site has long had a contentious relationship with the LGBTQ community. In October, a Washington Post report revealed that its policy on political advertising unintentionally censored “dozens” of pro-LGBTQ messages.

More recently, Facebook banned discussion of  “sexual preference” and “sexual roles” in an effort to curb solicitation. A relatively innocuous statement like “#BottomPride” on the platform could, thus, lead to a suspension.

But while Facebook continues to draw ire from its LGBTQ user base, Twitter has trended in the opposite direction.

In October, the company announced it would no longer allow users to deadname or misgender trans people. Its updated Terms of Service prohibit “targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category.”

Graham, who is very active on both Twitter and Facebook, has a long history of this kind of behavior.

The far-right Christian leader supports Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” laws, says LGBTQ inclusion in the Boy Scouts of America is the result of “corrupt values,” and thinks queer people “recruit” children. He has also said same-sex marriage is a “detestable” affront to God and equated it to “senseless violence.”

When HB 2 was repealed and replaced with a controversial “compromise” bill in March 2017, Graham tweeted that any rollback of the legislation would lead to “pedophiles and sexually perverted men in women’s public restrooms.”

Calling trans people “sexually perverted men” would likely get him banned on Twitter today under its new hate speech guidelines.

Luckily for Graham, Facebook is there waiting with blind eyes.

Image via Getty

Trump Praises Brazil’s Homophobic New President As He Strips Away LGBTQ Rights

President Trump praised Brazil’s far-right president as he stripped away LGBTQ protections on his first day in office.

Newly seated Jair Bolsonaro signed a series of executive orders on his first day targeting ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities in Brazil. One of the orders erased considering of LGBTQ issues by the South American country’s human rights ministry, known as the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights.

According to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Provisional Measure 870 fails to mention queer or transgender people while making reference to the rights of the family, youth, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

In addition, the nondiscrimination body known as “National Council for Combating Discrimination and Promotion of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Travestis, and Transgender” is not listed in the document by its full name. Instead, it’s referred to as the “National Council for Combating Discrimination,” as PinkNews previously noted.

Despite widespread backlash to Bolsonaro’s order on Twitter, the POTUS wished Brazil’s new leader well. “The U.S.A. is with you!” he told the 63-year-old politician.

Trump wasn’t the only current or former member of the administration who failed to mention the erasure of some of Brazil’s most marginalized communities on Bolsonaro’s very first day in office. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent him “warm congratulations from the people of the United States.”

Nikki Haley, who resigned as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in October, also wished him “congratulations.”

“It’s great to have another U.S.-friendly leader in South America, who will join the fight against dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, and who clearly understands the danger of China’s expanding influence in the region,” she claimed on Twitter, overlooking the fact that Bolsonaro ran on a pro-dictatorship platform.

While the remarks were lambasted, it makes sense that the White House would ally itself with a politician styled in the Commander-in-Chief’s own image. Bolsonaro is often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics.”

In fact, the incoming president’s anti-LGBTQ decisions appear to be taking several pages out of Trump’s own playbook. During the early days of his administration, the White House removed all mention of queer and transgender people from its official web pages. Most of those references have not been restored.

The federal government has continued to roll back equality in the nearly two years since—whether it’s transgender military service or protections for LGBTQ employees in the workplace.

Human Rights Minister Damares Alves has signaled that the Brazilian government under Bolsonaro would continue to follow in Trump’s footsteps. An evangelical pastor, Alves has vowed that “there will be no more ideological indoctrination of children and teenagers in Brazil.”

“Girls will be princesses and boys will be princes,” she said.

Alves has previously claimed that the “Brazilian family is being threatened” by the movement for LGBTQ rights, even though the opposite is more likely true. Brazil’s queer and trans community faces among the world’s highest hate crime rates, with 445 people murdered in 2017.

The human rights ministry, however, has attempted to reassure LGBTQ Brazilians that Bolsonaro’s order will have no impact on their community.

“The current Directorate for the Promotion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Travestis, and Transsexual Rights, formerly a body of the National Secretariat of Citizenship, will be maintained, with the same structure, in the National Secretariat of Global Protection,” the department claimed in a statement.

Only time will tell, but Bolsonaro’s own views provide little comfort as to whether his presidency will uphold the rights of Brazil’s LGBTQ community. He refers to himself as “homophobic and very proud of it.”

In addition, the ultraconservative leader has claimed he would rather have a dead child than a gay one, claiming he would be “incapable of loving a homosexual son.” He has also compared LGBTQ advocacy to fighting for “a pedophile’s right to have sex with a two-year-old.”

Images via Getty

Queering Congress: 10 LGBTQ Senators and Representatives are Being Sworn In Today

On Thursday, the 116th U.S. Congress opens for business, and a historic number of newly-elected and reelected LGBTQ officials are about to be sworn in. With two senators and eight congressional representatives starting work today, neither chamber has ever been this queer.

All 10 of the new queer Congress members are Democrats, hailing from all over the country. Coming to the Senate are Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. Four congressional freshmen are coming aboard for the first time: Minnesota’s Angie Craig, Kansas’ Sharice Davids, California’s Katie Hill, and New Hampshire’s Chris Pappas.

The newbies will join four gay incumbents who were reelected to Congress this year: Rhode Island’s David Cicilline, New York’s Sean Patrick Maloney, Wisconsin’s Mark Pocan, and California’s Mark Takano.

With Congress flipped to a Democratic majority, and Nancy Pelosi returning to her reign as Speaker of the House, 2019 is setting up to be a banner year for LGBTQ equality legislation.

“Speaker Pelosi will have eight LGBTQ Representatives to consult about how various healthcare or criminal justice reform policies uniquely affect our community,” said Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, in a statement on Thursday. “The relationships these LGBTQ lawmakers will build with their colleagues on Capitol Hill are transformative, and with an unprecedented number of women and people of color also joining the 116th Congress, equality issues will finally receive the attention they deserve.”

Parker, who became the first openly gay mayor of a major metropolitan U.S. city when she was elected mayor of Houston, Texas in 2009, noted that even though the Senate chamber remains under Republican control, the presence of lesbian (Baldwin) and bisexual (Sinema) senators can only help increase LGBTQ visibility there.

“In the U.S. Senate, those opposed to the Equality Act will now need to look two openly LGBTQ Senators in the eyes and tell them their lives are not worth protecting,” said Parker.

The Equality Act is a bill previously introduced twice by Cicilline that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If passed, it would offer LGBTQ Americans the first federal antidiscrimination protections in history — and the only protections for those living in states that have no local antidiscrimination laws inclusive of LGBTQ people.

The new LGBTQ members of Congress are already making their voices heard. In a letter to the House chief administrative officer on Thursday, Pappas said he plans to refuse his first congressional paycheck — saying he doesn’t want to get paid until the government shutdown ends. During the shutdown, around 800,000 federal government workers are under furlough and not being paid.

“As someone who has run a small business, I could not imagine receiving a paycheck while any of my employees are working without pay,” Pappas told Manchester, New Hampshire’s WMUR on Thursday. “For this reason, I write today to request that my pay be withheld until the current shutdown has ended and the entire federal government is reopened.”

Netflix Pushes ‘Girl’ to Spring Following Backlash

This Girl has been interrupted.

Girl, the Belgian film put up for consideration for the best foreign language film at the Academy Awards, will not come to Netflix on January 18 as previously announced, according to a story released in the New York Times that details the criticism the film has faced following its time on the festival circuit.

According to the Times, the film does not have a definite release date, but will come out in the spring of 2019.

In a previous post, INTO called the film “trans trauma porn” and wrote, “the film is bloody and obsessed with trans bodies in a way that reminds us that a cisgender person wrote and directed it.” The review continued, “I’m warning trans people not to watch it and cis people not to fall for it.”

Several other critics followed suit. In December, critic Oliver Whitney wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that the film “succeeds at one thing: showcasing the cruel ways trans people are continually reduced to and defined by their bodies, though without a stitch of self-awareness.”

Quickly after, Danielle Solzman called the film “dangerous” in SlashFilm, adding:“[Director Lukas] Dhont’s obsession with genitalia reveals, whether intentional or not, a transphobic streak in the film.” Out’s Tre’vell Anderson said, “What’s wrong with Girl is what’s wrong with most projects that claim to represent the experiences of trans people with no substantive participation of trans voices. It’s a missed opportunity to properly contextualize the experiences of trans folks coming into ourselves as more than purely physical and medical.”

The Times also noted that that Netflix has reached out to Trans Lifeline, a trans-led organization that also runs a suicide prevention hotline, for suggestions about advisory language to run before the film. According to the Times, several trans people urged Netflix “to be specific about what they said were medical inaccuracies in Girl.”