Lea DeLaria Says It’s Time for a Lesbian Rom-Com

Throughout the month of June, Filmstruck will be celebrating Pride by curating five collections of LGBTQ themes in cinema, and some of our favorite queer celebrities will aid in guiding us through the selections.

Lea DeLaria, Alan Cumming, and drag legend Charles Busch are lending their voice to the series of videos that the streaming service will release throughout the month. Cumming and Busch showed up for the “Dressing the Part” series, which dropped last week and explores cross-dressing in film and the influence it’s had on queer culture and social progress. Featured films include like Some Like It Hot (1959) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001).

Orange is the New Black star Lea DeLaria will tackle the lesbian cinema series on June 22nd, which features seven films, including The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl Dunye’s early ’90s indie which DeLaria praises as deeply influential for queer cinema.

“I loved that we were telling our stories for the first time,” she tells The Advocate. “When I saw the change that was happening, that we were starting to tell our own stories, that was like, fuck yeah! This was not The Killing of Sister George, you know what I mean? This was The Watermelon Woman. And the fact that it was about black lesbians was just like, fuck yeah! So good. So cool.”

DeLaria hopes the future of queer cinema includes more romantic comedies and more visibility for butch women, like herself. “I’d love to make a lesbian rom-com,” she says. “That’s just something I’ve never seen. Of course we have laughter and humor and love in our lives, like everybody else. That’s the best part when I saw The Watermelon Woman— I saw us talking about us.”

Of course, there are lesbian rom-coms, like the 2005 classic Imagine Me & You, and Angela Robinson’s D.E.B.S. (2004), but happy-go-lucky queer movies come few and far between. However, these movies, along with many queer female narratives, mostly feature femme or femme-leaning women. DeLaria wants to change that.

“I think it’s very important for me to be visible as butch because butch is not the same as any other lesbian,” she explains. “When we start to forget that there are other kinds of us out there, that’s not a good thing. I need people to recognize, yes, I’m a lesbian, but I’m a butch.”

Other curations in the series include the oeuvre of director and AIDS activist Derek Jarman, films based on the works of playwright Tennessee Williams, and films starring Liza Minnelli.

As for DeLaria, she can be seen in the upcoming sixth season of Orange is the New Black, which was given a release date Tuesday morning (July 27th). DeLaria has brought, and continues to bring much-needed representation to the small screen for MOC queer women.

Image via Getty

European Union’s Top Court Rules Same-Sex Spouses Have Residency Rights

The married same-sex partners of European Union citizens are entitled to residency rights, the EU’s top court ruled on Tuesday.

The case involved Romanian LGBTQ activist Adrian Homan and his American partner Claibourn Robert Hamilton, who were wed in Belgium in 2010 after meeting in the United States eight years earlier. Because Homan’s home country doesn’t recognize gay relationships, Hamilton was limited to a three-month visa in Romania.

Although Homan challenged the decision in a Romanian court in 2012, the Eastern European country referred the case to Luxembourg’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) to weigh in. The ECJ finally took up the case in 2016.

Two years later the EU court has finally reached its verdict, claiming that the term “spouse” is gender neutral.

“Although the member states have the freedom whether or not to authorise marriage between persons of the same sex, they may not obstruct the freedom of residence of an EU citizen by refusing to grant his same-sex spouse, a national of a country that is not an EU Member State, a derived right of residence in their territory,” the ECJ said.

The decision will apply unilaterally to all 28 countries that make up the European Union.

As specified in the ruling, this decision will not impact the marriage status of LGBTQ couples in Romania, where homosexuality was decriminalized in 2002. Romania is currently one of six EU member countries that have yet to extend marriage benefits to same-sex partners. The others are Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia, all of which are post-Soviet nations.

Even despite the limited scope of the ruling, it remains to be seen whether the ruling will be met with backlash in conservative Romania, where a 2017 Pew Research survey found that three-quarters of the population opposes marriage equality.

Last year Rowan County, KY clerk Kim Davis went on a nine-day tour of Romania to lobby in favor of a referendum banning same-sex couples from marrying.

But while the world awaits Romania’s reaction, the couple at the center of the case is happy. After six years of fighting to bring Hamilton to Romania, Coman said the two “can now look in the eyes of any public official in Romania and across the EU with certainty that our relationship is equally valuable and equally relevant, for the purpose of free movement within the EU.”

“We are grateful to the EU court and to the many people and institutions who have supported us, and through us, other same-sex couples in a similar situation,” the 46-year-old told The Guardian. “It is human dignity that wins today.”

“We are one step closer to being recognised as a family and I am truly elated,” Hamilton added.

Donald Trump Loses the Lip Sync For His Life to ‘God Bless America’

Someone tell Donald Trump to sashay away.

 

Tuesday afternoon, president Donald Trump appeared in a patriotic White House ceremony meant to replace a reception celebrating the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles. Trump previously canceled the event via Twitter. Trump claimed the disinvitation sprouted from the fact that not all the Eagles would be attending but, in a racist dog whistle, also accused the players of not respecting the military for kneeling during the national anthem.

Along with the cancellation, Trump scheduled a patriotic shindig meant to honor the troops. However, during the ceremony, Trump’s patriotism didn’t shine through. During the ceremony, Trump joined members of the military onstage to sing “God Bless America.” However, Trump pulled a Valentina and … didn’t know the words.

Mississippi’s First Openly Gay Candidate for U.S. Congress Weathers Death Threats to Make History

Tuesday is a moment of choice for the state of Mississippi.

Democrats Michael Aycox and Michael Evans will face off in the primary for Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District seat, which claims cities like Meridian, Natchez, Pearl, and Starkville.

Like characters ripped out of a Euripidean drama, the differences between the two candidates couldn’t be more stark: Evans, a state representative, voted in favor of Mississippi’s House Bill 1523, which allows religious businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but has claimed he isn’t sure if he would vote for the legislation if it came up again. The 42-year-old former volunteer firefighter believes that marriage is solely between one man and one woman.

Meanwhile, Aycox is the state’s first openly gay candidate for U.S. Congress, or any other major party seat in Mississippi. The 30-year-old Navy veteran married his husband in Central Park five years ago, before the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalized same-sex marriage in the Magnolia State.

Aycox, who announced his candidacy on March 1, didn’t initially highlight the historic potential of his run for the U.S. House of Representatives. While friends, family members, and locals in his town of Newton, MS knew about his sexual orientation, it hadn’t factored into his message on the campaign trail. In a phone conversation with INTO, he explained that the omission wasn’t a matter of being in the closet—he just didn’t want to be pigeonholed.

“I never have wanted to be the gay candidate—not because I’m hiding, not because of internal homophobia but because being gay does not define me,” he said. “It doesn’t define any of us.”

But when Aycox’s campaign was trailing early in the race, he approached his father—who is currently employed as his chief of staff—to confess something. If they lost, Aycox hadn’t accomplished the one thing that he set out to do in this race: to make change in a state that desperately needs it.

Even though the candidate had yet to speak publicly about his sexuality, LGBTQ people would often approach him at campaign events and claim they had heard whispers that he’s gay—what Aycox jokingly referred to as “locker room talk.” Many said they aren’t out to even those that are closest to them. Given that Mississippi has the nation’s harshest law targeting queer and trans people in nearly every facet of public life, it doesn’t feel like there’s space for them to be themselves in their home state.

The Democrat claimed the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was when he spoke to a transgender woman at a Human Rights Campaign event on Derby Day in May. As they discussed her struggles to be affirmed in her gender identity, Aycox started to get emotional and did again over the phone, holding back a pent-up sob. Before being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016, he was part of the military class that ushered in Obama-era regulations paving the way for trans people to serve, which Donald Trump would attempt to overturn through his embattled ban.

“She told me about her service and the things that she’d done in her military career and she inspired me,” Aycox claimed. “I thought, ‘Mississippi has so much hate and yet you have these people who are living such a courageous life.’”

Days later Aycox officially came out in interviews with local press. When he spoke with INTO earlier this month, he had only been out publicly for two weeks.

While the declaration ignited national interest in Aycox’s campaign, being visible in the Deep South hasn’t been easy. The couple has received more than a dozen threats over the past month. A majority were sent to local news stations after USA Today ran a story on his candidacy, while others were posted to social media. His husband—who has largely stayed out of the limelight—was getting ready to deploy with the Air National Guard at the time.

After working as a police officer and an anti-terrorist specialist, Aycox wasn’t concerned by the threats, nor were they all that surprising. Mississippi is one of just two states in the U.S. where a majority of residents still oppose same-sex marriage. Starkville, one of the cities in Aycox’s district, voted to block an LGBTQ Pride Parade before that decision was overturned at the threat of a lawsuit.

But what was more startling was the opposition he received from local Democratic leaders. Bobby Moak, an officer in the State Executive Committee for the Mississippi Democratic Party, allegedly told Aycox the state would “never” have an openly gay Congressman and tried to stop him from running.

Aycox, who describes Mississippians as having a “rebellious streak,” remained true to that ethos by staying in the race. The Democrat welcomed the challenge.

“We’re still struggling pretty hard and fighting an uphill battle in a state that has legal discrimination laws for the LGBTQ community and I welcome that,” Aycox said. “I’m a fighter. I didn’t understand the gravity of my decision [to come out], to be quite honest. I would not do anything any different, except maybe come out sooner because then I would have more time… to be a beacon of hope for the many kids that have come out to our campaign.”

One of the most rewarding parts of Aycox’s campaign, he said, was the messages he’s gotten from LGBTQ people all over the world claiming his candidacy inspired them. A 70-year-old man who had been in the closet his entire life said Aycox gave him the “courage” to be himself.

“I didn’t do anything courageous in my eyes,” Aycox claimed. “I honestly didn’t. What I believed at the time and I do believe now was it was the right thing to do. It was something bigger than me.”

As an outsider with no political experience, the candidate faces a tough fight in Tuesday’s primaries against a representative who has sat in the Mississippi legislature since 2012—and then an even tougher one should he graduate to the 2018 general election. Incumbent Republican Gregg Harper beat Democratic challenger Dennis Quinn by more than 35 points in the 2016 race, amidst a presidential election where Donald Trump won the state by 18 points. Mississippi’s 3rd hasn’t had a Democratic representative since 1997.

But his state needs him. Following the passage of HB 1523 more than two years ago, Aycox said LGBTQ people have been forced into an environment similar to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If he’s out eating with his husband at a restaurant and someone suspects them of being gay, they could be forced to leave. If they call the police, the authorities can’t help them—technically they’d be breaking the law by staying.

Aycox said that fear is “a little different” for him having been shot at, but these painful realities get under his partner’s skin. Sometimes when the couple is out in public, Aycox’s husband worries they’ll draw too much attention to themselves and something will happen to them. It something that’s always in the back of their mind.

“If I win this primary and I’m on stage with a Republican, someone could try to tell me I can’t be on the [debate] stage because I’m gay,” he said. “That’s legal in this state.”

But as a lifelong Mississippian, Aycox claimed he’s ready to keep fighting against legalized anti-LGBTQ hate. By getting elected to U.S. Congress, he hopes to “destroy HB 1523 from within.” The candidate views himself as a “voice of reason”: someone who can not only have conversations with elected officials but personalize the issue for Gov. Phil Bryant, the Republican who signed the bill into law two years ago. The law would be a direct attack on Mississippi’s own elected representative to the national legislature.

“We definitely have the opportunity to kind of pull Mississippi out of the dark in a lot of ways,” Aycox said. “I love Mississippi, but we’re very well known to be behind in a lot of things—education, healthcare, social justice, and just in general. We tend to be falling a little bit behind.”

HBO and INTO Bring LGBTQ+ Installation to Provincetown This Summer

Pride Month may be kicking off now, but Provincetown is keeping it queer all summer long. Thanks to HBO, it’s the place to be this summer. In addition to the usual must-attend queer events like Bear Week and Girl Splash, the cable network is providing seven weeks of queer programming.

HBO’s The Studio is an immersive, creative experience that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. The installation will serve as a cultural hub for art, entertainment, and creativity. Partnering with such queer media brands as OutThe TenthHello Mr., and INTO, programming includes workshops, classes, screenings, parties, art exhibits, and other fun activities (DIY costume and makeup bar, anyone?) Stars from some of our HBO favorites like InsecureWestworld, and High Maintenance will also be in attendance.

“We are thrilled to be creating space with partners we’ve admired and whose past partnerships have contributed greatly to our brand,” said Jackie Gagne, Vice President, Multicultural Marketing at HBO. “Storytelling is at the heart of HBO, and we are proud of our long legacy of LGBTQ narratives and inclusion. We couldn’t be more excited to explore the modern context of the art form with some of the most prominent and progressive voices in the community today.”

The Studio will celebrate Provincetown’s queer history and rich diversity. Local drag queens will host weekly trivia happy hours, as well as story time sessions during Family Week.

The events kick off July 2, running through August 19. See a tentative schedule of events below and find more info here.

July 2-8 (Independence Week):

• Tegan and Sara “Love Loud East” experience

• “Believer” screening

• OUT hosts live podcast recordings

July 9-15 (Bear Week):

• TBD ‘High Maintenance’ Talent

• “High Maintenance” screening

• GAYLETTER hosts bong making classes and a bear hug booth

July 16-22 (Girl Splash):

• TBD ‘Westworld’ Talent

• “Westworld” screening

• THE ADVOCATE hosts [TBD], Women of HBO trivia contest

July 23-29:

• Ben Cory Jones (Insecure writer) + TBD ‘Insecure’ Talent

• “Insecure” screening

• THE TENTH hosts ‘Cali to Cod’ Party

July 30-August 5 (Family Week):

• Sesame Street Costume Characters

• “Sesame Street” screening

• THEM hosts Meet the Sesame Street Costume Characters

August 6-12:

• TBD ‘Sharp Objects’ Talent

• “Sharp Objects” screening

• INTO hosts live podcast recordings of ‘Food 4 Thot’

Aug. 13-19 (Carnival Week):

• TBD ‘Big Little Lies’ Talent

PROSPECTIVE WEEKLY HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:
***Please Note: Scheduled programming and talent is subject to change.***

• “Big Little Lies” screening

• HELLO MR. hosts [TBD]

Alok Vaid-Menon Tells Us What It’s Like To Be Femme In Public

“I hate it when people say that I’m brave,” says gender non-conforming poet Alok Vaid-Menon, whose new chapbook asks “what it could look like to celebrate transfemininity in public.”

 

Vaid-Menon’s work isn’t about asserting that trans people deserve rights. Rather, “Trans people are emotionally complex, confused, loving, hating, depressed, wonderful, explicit, boring.”

Femme in Public can be purchased via Alok Vaid-Menon’s site.

 
 

 

LGBTQ Rights Groups See A Need for Improvement in Europe

In recent weeks, two transnational LGBTQ organizations in Europe have released reports examining the situation for LGBTQ citizens. The results aren’t the most uplifting, with both organizations calling for an end to stagnating progress on the rights of LGBTQ people.

The organizations, ILGA-Europe and Transgender Europe (TGEU), both came out with their respective annual Maps and Indexes showing the differences in LGBTQ rights across Europe on May 15 in time for 2018’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism, and Transphobia.

ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe package scores European countries between zero to 100 percent with the latter indicating full equality. The scores are based on legal protections and policies that affect the lives of LGBTQ people. It’s been released annually since 2009.

The 2018 Rainbow Europe Map and Index revealed that former higher scoring countries have fallen, including the Netherlands, while other countries we tend to think of as progressive were lacking any positive movement on LGBTQ rights.

Malta, however, has stayed atop the map for a third year in a row. Belgium and Norway followed with the next highest scores.

Even as Europe tends to have a reputation of being supportive of LGBTQ human rights, the growing populist movements across the continent have started to affect the lives of queer people. Only 16 of the 49 countries included in the analysis scored higher than 50 percent.

“We are working to counteract nationalist, populist sentiment in many different ways,” ILGA-Europe’s Senior Communications and Media Officer, Emma Cassidy, writes in an email to INTO.

To do this, the Brussels-based organization is seeking assistance across the political spectrum with the help of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBTQ rights and other partners, she says.

However, the lowest scoring countries fall outside of the EU. The lowest three scores go to Turkey with nine percent, Armenia with seven, and Azerbaijan with five.

In the European Union, Latvia ranked the worst with 16 percent. Poland and Lithuania scored 18 and 21 percent respectively.

Cassidy explains that this lack of movement across Europe highlights “the political leadership gap and lack of progress on laws and policies for [LGBTQ] equality.”

In a statement, Evelyn Paradis, ILGA-Europe’s Executive Director said, “The incredible achievements of the past decade are at stake. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that we have achieved equality.”

“There are too many signs around us that many of the recent wins are fragile,” she said.

A positive example though is the continued recognition of trans rights in Europe.

On the same day as ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe release, Berlin-based TGEU revealed its Trans Rights Europe Maps and Index, noting that many countries that still force sterilize trans people and also require trans people to have a medical diagnosis before changing legal documents.

Fourteen countries still require sterilization even though in 2017 the European Court of Human Rights ruled it was not compatible with human rights. TGEU found that 34 European countries make trans people undergo a mental health diagnosis in order to obtain legal gender recognition.

TGEU said in a statement that such requirements violate the right of people to self-determine their gender identity, while it can further stigma, exclusion, and discrimination of trans people since it positions non-binary gender identities as a mental illness.

“It wasn’t fathomable that this was the reality in Europe,” Richard Koehler, Senior Policy Officer for TGEU, tells INTO, referring to the information on the map back in 2013. The map was “helpful to make [trans rights and more specifically the issue of sterilization of trans people] more visual.”

The attention is needed when trans issues are often sidelined. Koehler says that even now there is a “lack of understanding of what being trans means.”

The absence of hate crime laws across the continent is an example.

“The number of 13 [countries with hate crime laws] is for all of Europe, not just the EU,” Koehler says. “It shows an attitude towards trans people and a lack of understanding of the violence that the trans community is facing. It’s a lot of times forgotten.”

Koehler believes the low amount of hate crime laws signals a lack of protection for other minority groups, like Roma people or people living with a disability. He says that even people in perceived progressive countries “just aren’t ready to accept that that some groups in society need specific protections.”

“Trans rights is much more than gender recognition,” Koehler said, referring to the organization’s Index that covers various topics ranging from rights to asylum to anti-discrimination laws.

Koehler underlines that the report looks at the laws and not necessarily how it is in real life, which is why TGEU emphasizes the legal-focus of the Index and Map. At the end of the day these tools are meant to help the community on the ground.

“When we started in 2013, we had 24 countries that requested sterility, and it was a much lower number overall that had provisions in place so we have many more countries now that have gender recognition procedures.” This included seeing Hungry and Russia turn blue on the TGEU map—that is, they no longer require sterilization.

The maps and indexes allow the organizations to have accessible information available for policymakers that may not have a solid grasp of the situation for LGBTQ citizens in their countries.

In a meeting with a Cypriot official, Koehler recalls telling them Cyprus had no proper procedures: ‘We showed the map and said that it was the last EU country on it that didn’t have any proper gender recognition. To this, the official only asked “How many laws do we have to change…” There the map really works to help officials understand the issues trans people face.’”

“The Rainbow Europe Map is a real conversation starter with policymakers—and the fact that we officially unveil the results as part of the annual intergovernmental Forum to mark May 17 each year gives civil society a real opportunity to talk directly with politicians,” says Cassidy.

The organizations admit that the positive changes that you can see on the map aren’t just from their own work. It’s also coming from the activists and local groups that these international organizations support via programs year round.

“It’s a reflection of the work being done on the ground,” Koehler says.

Republicans Have Spent Over $10 Million to Oust America’s Only Openly LGBTQ Senator

There’s one phrase that’s been banned by the Tammy Baldwin campaign. The dreaded words staffers aren’t allowed to say are not any of the usual suspects—not “Donald Trump,” “alternative facts,” or even “fake news.”

It’s “blue wave.”

That term was coined amid the liberal uprising in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, when a cascade of Democratic candidates prevailed in the 2017 special elections by decisive margins. Buoyed by progressive rage, Virginia’s Danica Roem and Alabama’s Doug Jones won races that once seemed unthinkable. Roem, a political unknown who canvassed on repairing a local highway, beat incumbent Bob Marshall by eight points.

Marshall, a self-described homophobe who wouldn’t call Roem by her correct pronouns during the race, had served in Virginia’s House of Delegates for more than two decades. The upset made Roem the first openly trans person to ever win a statewide election.

In Baldwin’s home state of Wisconsin, the “blue wave” has led to a record number of women running in local elections. In total, more than 75 female candidates have tossed their hat in the ring, and 45 of those political hopefuls will be campaigning for the state legislature.

But in a half-hour interview at Baldwin’s Milwaukee campaign offices, the United States’ only openly LGBTQ Senator tells me that the only wave she’s witnessed in her reelection campaign is a “green wave.”

“I’m talking about dollars,” the first-term Democrat said. “We’ve seen a tidal wave of outside money. I think any other discussion creates a false confidence.”

That money has primarily come from three sources: the Koch brothers and right-wing mega-donor Richard Uihlein. An Illinois multi-millionaire who was the single largest donor to notorious anti-LGBTQ bigot Roy Moore’s failed Senate bid, he has dumped millions into PACs to oust Baldwin in the 2018 midterm elections.

Uihlein has donated what the local Democratic Party estimated is $17 million to elect political newcomer Kevin Nicholson. Nicholson, a former College Democrats of America president who spoke at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in favor of Al Gore’s presidential run, claimed he underwent a political conversion while stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marine Corps. During a recent interview with Steve Scaffidi of the Milwaukee talk radio station WTMJ-AM, the born-again conservative said it was there he began to question the “cognitive thought process” of any veteran who votes blue.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., has called the onslaught of donations in Wisconsin “unprecedented.”

To put those numbers in perspective: A source close to Baldwin’s campaign claimed those totals are more than the money spent against the other 25 Senate Democrats defending their seats this year—combined. The donations also began extremely early, with right-wing groups starting their spending spree as early as February 2017.

“The fact that it was happening at such a high level, at such a sustained level, and at such an early time—that’s what got us really spooked,” the source claimed.

Over $10 million has bought conservatives a lot of airtime in the months since the donations began pouring in last year. One ad accused Baldwin, who is pro-choice, of wanting to abort the next Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King. Another TV spot from the Concerned Veterans of America, which reportedly cost $1.5 million, alleged that the Senator failed to respond to reported abuses at a VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wisc. It claimed her inaction resulted in three deaths.

Politifact rated those allegations as “false,” but when lies are said loudly enough and often enough, they have a way of sticking. Polls show that while her support in Wisconsin has been holding firm, opposition has been steadily increasing. At the time of writing, she’s sitting near a 37-37 percentage split.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin compared it to someone grabbing a megaphone and screaming “that your best friend is some evil demon.”

“You’ve known them, worked with them, and trusted them your entire life,” Griffin said in conversation with Baldwin following a Saturday campaign event. “This person is your next door neighbor who you grew up with, you take turns mowing each others’ lawns, and your kids go to school together. All of a sudden these out of state billionaires come and stand on your doorstep and start screaming and yelling, telling you how godawful that neighbor is.”

“That’s what’s happening here,” he added. “Their problem is that the voters of this state know Tammy Baldwin, and that’s why you see her maintaining the numbers she’s maintaining.”

Griffin emphasized the trust Baldwin has built with voters during a meet-and-greet held with phone bankers canvassing on behalf of the campaign earlier that day. A group of elderly women said to be friends with the candidate’s aunt flew in from Seattle for the speech. As Griffin called the longtime representative “one of the hardest-working United States Senators today,” the room smelled like a tinfoil-wrapped pastrami sandwich that one of the ladies clutched to her chest during the speech.

“She knows how to bring folks together of both parties on issues and find common ground, build coalitions, and get things done,” he said.

Baldwin put forward that air of Milwaukee-like neighborliness on Saturday, befitting a city sometimes described as “southern Canada.” The candidate briefly offered thanks to supporters against the backdrop of a sea of campaign posters mononymously referring to her as “Tammy!” Her address isn’t the fiery sermon one might expect of a politician in the midst of crisis—a la Howard Dean’s career-ending Wilhelm scream. Baldwin spoke with assured calm, soft-spoken even as she preached the need to “repeal and replace those politicians who are obstacles to our progress, issues, and values.”

“One of the things the last election did was put a halt to progress,” she said. “That’s not acceptable. As citizens in a democracy, we can turn things around.”

It’s often said that former President Bill Clinton has the ability to remember the names of everyone he meets, but as Baldwin made her way around the room shaking hands with the Seattle crew, she noted who she hadn’t met yet. I hung back as Baldwin greeted everyone who would be dialing voters on the campaign’s allotted Motorola flip phones, jet-black burners with callback numbers helpfully labeled on their backsides.

When we finally shook hands a half-hour later, Baldwin proved her advertising wasn’t misleading. “Hi, I’m Tammy,” she said, despite needing no introduction.

Baldwin’s team, nonetheless, is focusing on “reintroducing her” to voters in the 2018 midterms, even after a three-decade career in politics that extends back to her 1986 election to the Dane County Board of Supervisors. She is a career public servant in the truest sense: first elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1993 before serving 14 years in the U.S House of Representatives—from 1999 to 2013. Baldwin has represented Wisconsin’s under four presidential administrations: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump.

Supporters credit her ability to get personal with voters, and her reelection campaign is emphasizing that vulnerability by showing new sides of Baldwin to constituents. Earlier this month, she opened up about her late mother’s opioid addiction for the first time. Her mother, Pamela Bin-Rella, died last August at the age of 75.

In doing so, the campaign learned an important lesson from Democrat Patty Schachtner, a Wisconsin mom with a dreamcatcher forearm tattoo elected in a Republican district last November. Although the success of outsider candidates in 2018 like Kentucky’s Amy McGrath show progressives are looking for change, Schachtner has credited her victory to a handwritten postcard campaign. Her team penned postcards to constituents trumpeting her “common sense solutions” on the issues. Schachtner won by a decisive 10-point margin in Wisconsin’s 10th, which had been held by conservatives for 16 years.

Officials close to Baldwin’s campaign said that human touch matters most.

“That’s the attitude she has: ‘If I open myself up and show myself as a human, they’ll see that these ads saying that I don’t care can’t be true,’” sources claimed.

Baldwin recalled a favorite anecdote from early in her career, when she was one of just two dozen openly LGBTQ officials elected to office in the entire world. (The Victory Fund estimated there are around 500 in the U.S. today.) During her first race for State Assembly in the early 90s, an article was published asking whether constituents would back an out lesbian in the election. She noted that she’s seen versions of that same editorial published “many, many times in [her] life in various iterations.”

After the story went to print, a man that Baldwin described as a “big-barrel chested Irishman” hastily approached her at a campaign event. She smelled trouble, but the gentleman actually came up to pledge his support in the race.

“If you can be honest about that, you’ll be honest about everything,” he bellowed, sticking out his hand to make the pact official. “You have my vote.”

The reality is that despite appearing to represent the alleged “establishment politics” McGrath railed against in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district—which allowed her to whittle down a massive 40-point deficit in the race—Baldwin has been an outsider her entire career. When she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives 19 years ago, Baldwin was the first LGBTQ lawmaker to be out at the time of her victory. She would repeat the gesture 14 years later after graduating to the upper house of the legislature.

To date, Baldwin remains the only openly queer representative in the 229-year history of the U.S. Senate. At least five LGBTQ candidates are running in the 2018 race to give her some company.

Given the significance of protecting her seat in the Senate when Democrats face an extremely difficult reelection map, the Human Rights Campaign plans to make a “major investment” in Wisconsin during the 2018 midterms. The Badger State commands an estimated 152,000 LGBTQ voters, which is an already massive total without before factoring in allies supportive of queer and trans rights. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by just 22,000 votes—meaning this population, if activated, has the potential to tip the scales in Baldwin’s race.

Griffin claimed the advocacy group would “do everything in [its] power to turn out this incredibly powerful voting bloc.”

“In a lot of ways, our power is just fully being realized and acknowledged by many elected officials,” he said. “We were five percent of the electorate in the last election. That means five percent of voters walked out of the polling booth in a swing state and told a stranger that they were LGBTQ. That’s our low bar.”

Supporters say there’s precedent for the LGBTQ community coming together to stand its ground in the face of unprecedented challenges. After Gov. Pat McCrory signed North Carolina’s infamous anti-trans bathroom bill into law in March 2015, he was unseated by Democrat Roy Cooper in the following year’s gubernatorial election. The symbolism of McCrory’s defeat couldn’t have been more pointed: Cooper was the Attorney General who refused to defend House Bill 2 in court.

Griffin called the outcome in North Carolina a “watershed moment.”

“The broad, diverse coalition that came together to oust Pat McCrory was historic and not easy—because that was a state also with a green wave, with a ton of outside money being spent in the governor’s race,” he said. “Voters saw through it. In a state where Trump won by four percentage points, voters stood up and voted against their incumbent Republican governor because he attacked our community. It was the first time in history that we ousted a statewide elected official solely because they attacked the LGBTQ community.”

Baldwin will have two months before she officially faces off against a challenger in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. The GOP primaries will be held on August 14, and there are four candidates in total. Nicholson’s biggest competition in that race is State Senator Leah Vukmir, who received the backing of the Wisconsin Republican Party by winning 73 percent of delegates during the state’s GOP convention in May.

Vukmir, described as a Sarah Palin-style conservative, has voted against protections to shield LGBTQ students from bullying during her time in the Wisconsin Legislature. Described as a “longtime opponent of marriage equality” in a press release from the Human Rights Campaign, she is a close ally to the hate group Family Research Council. The notorious anti-LGBTQ organization is headed by Tony Perkins, a key Trump advisor who adamantly pushed for the president’s embattled ban on open trans military service. Perkins has also referred to LGBTQ people as “intolerant,” “vile,” and “hateful.”

After winning the nomination last month, Vukmir said she was ready to “finish the job” in her acceptance speech—by sending Baldwin packing.

That statement was likely a thinly veiled reference to a larger transformation in local and national politics over the past decade. Ten years ago Wisconsin had two Democratic Senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, as well as a Democratic governor, Jim Doyle. It was a “blue state with a hint of purple,” sources say. But after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC overturned the ban on campaign donations by corporations and unions, Feingold and Doyle were ousted, while Kohl retired. Baldwin is the last remaining Democratic holdout at statewide office.

But attired in a simple lavender-colored blazer with her soccer mom haircut, Baldwin insisted she won’t be wiped out by the green wave. Polls agree she has continued to perform strongly, despite the odds. A March survey from Public Policy Polling found that she leads both Vukmir and Nicholson by double digits in hypothetical matchups.

If her career has illustrated the importance of LGBTQ candidates having a seat at the table, 2018 will demonstrate the importance of keeping that seat.

“If you’re not in the room, the conversation is about you,” she said. “If you’re in the room, the conversation is with you. That’s transformative. Because each of us as individuals, we don’t check our life experiences at the door like a coat check when you walk in. We bring it with us.”

Images via Getty and Flickr

Who is ‘The Boys in the Band’ For Now?

I have not seen The Boys in the Band on Broadway, but not for lack of trying.

I’ve reached out to Polk & Co.—its PR manager—for press tickets, to no response. To date, the production has not been formally reviewed by any queer publication that I can find.

It’s Pride Month, in which we honor the enormous risks taken and sacrifices made by queer people, led by black trans women, in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Despite the political strides made by LGBTQ+ people over the last 49 years, we remain more likely than our peers to live in poverty. We should be more concerned than ever about democratizing queer representation on stage, and yet, queer people are expected to blindly risk Broadway prices to gain entry to that conversation without the benefit of a queer perspective? I think not.

So I’ve decided to review the lack of access to queer theater, as embodied by this year’s production of The Boys in the Band, instead.

Out ran a piece on April 30 on gay contrarianism through the decades and The Boys in the Band in its “Queer Quibble” section, but it’s not a review, and it ran before the production opened. Les Fabian Brathwaite comes to his verdict on gays, who “can’t like anything,” on community reactions to the 1968 production of the play, its 1970 film adaptation, and various gay films over the last few years. He says, “the beauty of the times we live in is that we don’t have to choose,” pointing to the accessibility to, and variety of, queer films we enjoy in 2018 (to his examples: BPM is available to Hulu subscribers for $8.25/mo; Call Me By Your Nameand A Fantastic Woman are $5.99 to stream on Amazon Prime; Love, Simon costs $14.99 to buy on Amazon). But the cheapest available ticket I could find to Boys in the Band is $99, a difference in price by a factor of 10 from the average U.S. movie ticket price, and certainly much more expensive than streaming. Brathwaite’s argument, predicated on false equivalences and “benefit-of-the-doubt”-ism that has nothing to do with this production, is not to be taken seriously.

I’m not going to review the production, because the issue, as I see it, doesn’t have much to do with its playwright, its actors, its designers, its technical staff, or its director, who are all doing the necessary and courageous work of advancing a living, breathing piece of theater. (I would love to know how the production handles the racial dynamics around Emory and Bernard’s relationship in 2018, though I suppose I’ll never know.) Rather, I’d like to critique the moral turpitude of Broadway decision-makers who continually refuse to represent the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ+ community on stage and de-democratize access to the people whose histories they exploit, and refuse to participate in critique by the queer press.

The Boys in the Band also uses the pink triangle, which was used to brand homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps, as its website’s faviconNike is currently under fire for similarly appropriating the symbol on a line of shoes—in response, ACT UP has asked Nike to donate to queer causes. As Jason Rosenberg, one of ACT UP’s co-facilitators has said, “We deserve better [than] to have our work be exploited by corporations that profiteer off grassroots resistance imagery.” Is The Boys in the Band donating any of its profits, gained by its exploitation of the symbol, to charity?

And, why this play? Why now? I can’t imagine that Ryan Murphy or David Stone struggle to pay their rent or feed themselves, which, by the way, one in four queer people did as recently as 2016. And, anyway, there’s a film adaptation from 1970, and it’s available to watch on YouTube. (Incidentally, it’s a fine piece—the film is painfully poignant, though it really is of its time.) Is it that producers simply don’t know there are more queer people becoming playwrights all the time? Have they never heard of Google? Or has theater in the United States, at its highest levels of production, become entirely drained of its capacity to shed light on new perspectives?

The people leading Broadway institutions, and the firms that market their engagements, are comfortable with excluding bodies of difference and dissent. If our choice, as queer people, is to either pay rent or see the same old stories reprised year after year, I know where my money’s going.

Images via Getty

‘Vida’ Recap (1.5): The One Where Emma Gets Arrested

With just one episode left in Vida’s first season, it’s only natural that “Episode 5” pushes the sisters even farther out of their comfort zone — this time, while remaining in their own neighborhood — and into conflicts where they’re forced to look deeper into themselves.

Emma is coming to terms with the fact that she has to stick around longer than intended. She flyers the building with a 3 percent rent increase, ignoring Lyn’s worries that tenants may not be able to afford it. Emma also reveals that she’s looking for a weekly sublet situation, which seems especially necessary since the cold open featured Emma trying and failing to masturbate in her room while a prayer circle loudly prays in the living room. Lyn hopefully asks if it’s “for both of us” but, of course, it isn’t.

This is no surprise: Though the sisters have made small breakthroughs (such as the coming out scene in an earlier episode), Emma’s still hesitant to share her world with Lyn. Emma also isn’t the type of person to consult with anyone before she makes a decision, whether it’s subletting without Lyn or raising the rent without running it by Eddy — and Eddy certainly isn’t happy, and immediately tears down the flyers.

While Emma looks at rentals, Lyn heads off to a yoga class where she runs into Carla, Johnny’s pregnant fiancée. (And though Lyn claims that she had no idea Carla was also in that class, it’s hard to believe it.) Carla forces Lyn into conversation, asking if she’s actually in love with Johnny, but then answers herself: “You’re not.” Lyn tries to explain that there’s some connection between her and Johnny, that she can’t really control it, but it’s mostly bullshit — Lyn has always been perfectly aware of the role she plays in this messy love triangle, and the show never once tries to fully let her off the hook. Which makes sense, because Lyn won’t disentangle herself from Johnny; she has sex with him again, thoroughly satisfied with herself.

Meanwhile, Marisol spots Emma (“Hey coconut!”) attempting to rent a weekly sublet and ruins the deal, threatening to spray paint the house and effectively outing herself as the one who tagged the bar, goading Emma even further. As the two yell, the white realtor immediately whips out her phone to call the cops — even before the two start physically fighting on the front lawn.

The scenes in jail, with Mari and Emma are chained up on the same bench, are some of the series’ best so far. Both women have strong personalities, are steadfast and passionate in their respective beliefs, and guarded — it’s only natural that they’ll clash even if it’s clear that, in another world, they could be friends. Putting them together like this is a clever way to depict two sides of a similar coin, to watch them not only confront each other but confront the internal reasons for their endless tension.

Mari sees Emma as the enemy, a gentefier, and someone who turned her back on her own Latinx community. She also — repeatedly throughout the series — accuses Emma of wanting to be white, which is viewed as a betrayal. “How does one just denounce their entire culture so they can pass for white?” Mari asks. But without missing a beat, Emma counters by telling Mari to “get rid of that fucking chip on your shoulder.”

It’s interesting to watch these two reveal aspects of their own personality — and their own insecurities — through their arguments. It’s also almost cathartic to watch them slowly come to terms with the fact that they aren’t enemies but that a lot of Mari’s anger comes from the Lyn/Johnny drama. While Mari is understandably pissed at Lyn for aiding her brother in becoming a cheater, Emma points out that it’s Johnny who is cheating on his pregnant fiancée. And when Emma complains about the jail treatment, it’s Mari who is unsurprised, pointing out how fast the realtor called the cops. Even with Emma’s fancy dress and haircut, Mari explains, “We’re the same to her.” 

Episode 5 is skilled at breaking this tension between them in small gestures: Mari giving Emma crumpled tissues for her bloody legs; Emma casually telling Mari she shouldn’t be ashamed of her scars. (“Lying, cheating, being a bully — those are things to be ashamed of. But scars, they’re maps of who you are.”) Emma even tell a story about living in Texas—something we haven’t heard her do with anyone else. And eventually, when Lyn bails Emma out, Emma bails Mari out, too.

Back at the bar, Eddy has continued to unravel and Vida shows the depths of her sadness through small moments, such as her conversation with Johnny or her steady, consistent drinking throughout the whole season. It’s heartbreaking to watch her grieve, especially because the sisters continue to keep her at a distance, which further adds to Eddy’s despair. (One telling scene: Emma asks to borrow Eddy’s car by reeling off her good driving record but Eddy doesn’t need convincing because “whatever’s mine is yours.”) As Eddy drunkenly explains to them, she “had these daydreams where we could all be a family and go camping … that’s what Vida always wanted, so that’s what I always wanted.”

But the girls, and especially Emma, refuse to let her in. It’s understandable, to an extent, but it’s clear that Eddy’s suffering and spiraling—and the girls need to take notice before it gets even worse.