Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop

In a ruling that sent shockwaves throughout the LGBTQ community and the nation, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a baker who refused a wedding cake to a gay couple because of his religious beliefs.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling sets up a narrow win for baker Jack Phillips instead of opening a door for discrimination against protected groups by the nation’s highest court. That because it focuses solely on whether the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ First Amendment rights.

Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod carried the reauthorization of the of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in a months-long battle this year.

“The narrow ruling of the Supreme Court today does not allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people in goods and services,” Herod told INTO. “Nothing in the ruling today should or will stop the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Division from protecting LGBT people’s rights to live life free from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.”

The court ruled 7-2 that baker Jack Phillips was within his rights to turn away Colorado couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The decision hinges on Phillips’s First Amendment rights, overturning decisions from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals that found Phillips violated the couple’s right to equal accommodations.

“Requiring [Baker] to create a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate his right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message with which he disagreed and would violate his right to the free exercise of religion,” the decision reads.

The court took issue with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s characterization of Phillip’s religious beliefs. In the decision, the court quotes a commissioner in who in 2014 said that “to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use… [is] religion to hurt others.”

The court wrote that the Commission had inappropriately dismissed Phillips beliefs as insincere.

But the ruling goes on to say that similar cases still need to play out in the courts and that they must be resolved “without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

On a national scale, the ruling means that similar commissions deciding discrimination cases must be careful not to show animus toward those with religious convictions.

Ginsburg wrote that the decision missed the point.

“The Colorado court distinguished the cases on the ground that Craig and Mullins were denied service based on an aspect of their identity that the State chose to grant vigorous protection from discrimination,” she dissented.

Paula Greisen, attorney for Mullins and Craig, said her clients lost on a technicality, not on a precedent-setting opinion.

“Obviously they’re extremely disappointed,” Greisen told INTO. “But I certainly think it leaves the door open to say that states or services that want to discriminate against these individuals have a high hurdle.”

Condemnation of the ruling was swift from progressive groups.

“Today’s decision should have been a firm, direct affirmance of longstanding equality law,” said Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven in a statement. “Instead, the Supreme Court has become an accomplice in the right’s strategy to hollow out one of its finest achievements, the right to equal marriage, and create what Justice Ginsberg memorably termed ‘skim milk marriages.’”

Camilla Taylor, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, also points out that the Court of Appeals decision was free of the bias alleged in the Colorado Commission decision.

“It means that we’ll be litigation this again,” said Taylor. “It’s an invitation to the opponents of LGBT equality to keep bringing claims, that requirements that they decline to discriminate violate the First Amendment.”

In a statement, Democratic National Committee said the case was never about a wedding cake.

“It was about all people–no matter who they are–having the right to celebrate their love without facing discrimination,” said DNC Chair Tom Perez.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Legacy of Walt Whitman, Queer Daddy of Free Verse

Nineteenth century poet Walt Whitman was a free-ass motherfucker, and today is his birthday. You may be familiar with Whitman as part of the transcendentalism unit in your high school English class, although your teacher probably didn’t cover the poet’s colorful sex life or contributions to LGBTQ culture. For a long time, American historians and literature scholars hesitated to describe Whitman as gay or queer, but our community has claimed him as family since the at least the 1960s. He has been called the “prophet of gay liberation,” and the title seems to fit now more than ever.

Whitman’s rumpled fisherman aesthetic may be out of style, but his politics and ethics feel very much of the moment.

Structurally, the poet’s work was modern in that it eschewed traditional rhyme and meter schemes in favor of epic, breathless “free verse.” The long lines of his poetry sometimes feel meant to be belted out on stage; they are lyrical, declarative and dramatic. You can imagine Whitman standing at the hull of a riverboat, yelling out verses like “I ascend from the moon…I ascend from the night” or “Unclench your floodgates! you are too much for me,” from under his floppy hat.

The language in Whitman’s most famous poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, stands out as especially revolutionary and forward thinking. In antebellum writing, sexuality was often euphemized, approached in clinical, medical terms, or omitted altogether. But Whitman’s poems brimmed with unabashed, earthy eroticism. Thematically, he emphasized individualism and the self, romantic and sexual fluidity, and a sense of pride in what makes human beings connected to one another.

Americans were not really supposed to be obsessed with ourselves until the 1970s, but Whitman was ahead of the game by over one hundred years. “Who could there be more wonderful than myself,” he wondered. “I celebrate myself…welcome is every organ and attribute of me.” You could call it narcissism, but confident, body-positive bravado might be more on target. Whitman discussed his lips, his thighs, and his flesh, in ways that other writers seldom did in the nineteenth century: “I dote on myself…there is that lot of me, and all so luscious,” he wrote.

He even name checked himself in his own verse, something more common among contemporary rappers than antebellum poets. “I am Walt Whitman, liberal and lusty as nature,” he announced in a poem about a liaison with a sex worker. In “Song of Myself,” he identified as “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos/Disorderly fleshy and sensual.” Such elevation of self, of course, is one of the signature sensibilities of the millennial generation, but we may not have gotten here without Whitman and the other writers he influenced. Significantly, his work also refused the narrative of self-loathing that would later become a hallmark of queer writing. “I exist as I am, and that is enough,” he proclaimed. (To rephrase it in present day Tumblr parlance: I am valid.)

At the same time that he sung the virtues of self-focused individualism, Whitman also prioritized collective consciousness and empathy. “Whoever degrades another degrades me,” he wrote. “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels…I myself become the wounded person.” In other words, he internalized the pain of fellow humans and saw all of us as taking on each other’s suffering. Whitman’s work also extolled the values of democracy, equality, and interconnectedness. He recognized the humanity of slaves, Native Americans, and all manner of working people, including prostitutes.

Whitman was also a gender egalitarian. “I am the poet of the woman the same as a man/And I say it is great to be a woman as to be a man,” reads one of his most quoted lines. Whitman described relating to women and men, physically and emotionally, in similar fashions (as “comrades and lovers”), which was radical during a time in which the popular understanding of gender was based on starkly binary definitions. Some scholars see this as a version of early feminism, while others wonder if it was a way for Whitman to express his potentially all-inclusive sexual and romantic attractions.

On that note, Whitman’s other major contribution to queer culture was his insistence that identity and behavior are complicated, unpredictable, and sometimes in defiance of logic and cohesion. The famous lines: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes,” were written in 1855, but they resonate long after – this is basically the exact concept behind the “Me/Also Me” memes. The underlying message is that, as humans, we can be more than one thing at the same time. We can embody multiple genders or none at all; we can create new ways of describing the nuances of our experiences and desires; and we can even change our minds about any of it whenever we want, without feeling trapped in one box or another. This is in part thanks to the liberating words of Whitman, who never offered an easy description of his own sexuality but frolicked freely throughout New York’s gay bohemian scene, and composed detailed lists of male lovers in his personal journals.

The poet was probably one of those people who would scoff at the idea of trying to restrict oneself to a single, simplistic label, and then toss his long white beard over his shoulder. “What is man anyhow?” he asked. “What am I? and what are you?” This interrogation of identity is exactly what the LGBTQ community continues to grapple with today. Whitman taught us how to think about ourselves while holding compassion for our brothers and sisters.

Advocacy Groups Demand ICE Release Gay Nigerian

Udoka Nweke’s life depends on his release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That is according to advocacy groups who gathered in front of the ICE office in Santa Ana, CA to demand the gay Nigerian’s release from custody Friday.

According to advocates, Nweke’s 15 months in isolation at Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernardino County put him at risk of suicidality. He can’t go home to Nigeria where he could face imprisonment or death.

“There is no reason to keep him locked up,” Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, told reporters Friday. “He’s simply seeking safety.”

According to advocates, Nweke, 29, is seeking asylum from Nigeria because he faces extreme persecution. Since 2014, Nigeria has banned same-sex relationships, with punishments carrying prison sentences from 10 to 14 years in prison. In some parts of the country, LGBTQ people can be put to death.

Nweke escaped a mob trying to kill him, according to immigrants rights organizations. Jan Meslin, director of social change development at Freedom for Immigrants, has been visiting Nweke in detention. She said Nweke also feared he had been poisoned in Nigeria, so he sought asylum in the United States.

According to an ICE statement to INTO, Nweke applied for admission via San Ysidro port of entry in December 2016 and was denied entry. He was ordered removed, but appealed the decision. He has been held in custody ever since.

Both ICE and advocacy organizations confirm that Nweke suffers from mental illness. Advocates say that Nweke tried to take his own life while in custody, and that he is at risk of suicidality if he remains incarcerated.

Luis Gomez of LGBTQ Center of Orange County says a network of organizations have coordinated support for Nweke to assist him once he’s freed.

“Everything is in place for him to receive all the help that needs,” Gomez said. “All he needs is to be released.”

ICE officials rejected those assertions. In a statement, the agency said that Nweke had been examined by medical and mental health professionals when he entered custody.

“In the ongoing evaluation of his health, medical professionals have determined that Mr. Nweke does suffer from mental illness, which is managed with medication and closely monitored by mental health professionals,” the agency said. “Furthermore, Mr. Nweke has not attempted to end his life while in ICE custody; claims to the contrary are false.”

The demands to release Nweke come just days after a 33-year-old transgender woman died in ICE custody after she suffered pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV. Roxana Hernández ultimately died of cardiac arrest. Her death has sparked national fury, and LGBTQ groups have called for the release of all transgender detainees in ICE custody as a result.

“Paired with the abuse we know transgender people regularly suffer in ICE detention, the death of Ms. Hernández sends the message that transgender people are disposable and do not deserve dignity, safety or even life,” said Isa Noyola, deputy director at Transgender Law Center.

Advocates drew a parallel between Hernández’s story and Udoko’s, stating that both sought safety in the U.S. and were met with unnecessary brutality. They wanted to prevent Udoko from a fate like Hernández’s.

“Without releasing him, ICE is effectively working to kill him,” Gomez said.

LGBTQ Groups Sue Military Over HIV Service Ban

LGBTQ groups have hit the Department of Defense with lawsuits over a decades-old policy that prevents the deployment of HIV-positive service members.

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are taking aim at the ban as the Trump administration moves to implement a new “Deploy or Get Out” policy. The policy would result in the ejection of HIV-positive service members from the military because they are barred from deployment.

At the center of the two lawsuits are Sgt. Nick Harrison, a veteran who claims he was denied a promotion because of his status, and an unnamed plaintiff who alleges he was discharged because he is positive, even though he was found fit for duty.

“These oppressive restrictions are based on antiquated science that reinforces stigma and denies perfectly qualified service members the full ability to serve their country,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV project director at Lambda Legal, in a statement. “The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest employers in the world, and like other employers, is not allowed to discriminate against people living with HIV for no good reason.”

In the case of the unnamed Air Force plaintiff, he alleges he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant after graduating from Air Force Academy. But he was held as a cadet due to his HIV status and then discharged, according to his complaint.

According to court documents, Harrison completed two tours of duty in the Middle East before being diagnosed with HIV. He passed his bar exam, and a few years later, he was selected as Judge Advocate General Corps for the D.C. National Guard. But due to his positive status, the military wouldn’t commission him as an officer.

“I spent years acquiring the training and skills to serve my country as a lawyer,” Harrison said in a statement. “This should be a no-brainer. It’s frustrating to be turned away by the country I have served since I was 23 years old, especially because my HIV has no effect on my service.”

To make matters worse, Harris is a likely target of the Trump administration’s “Deploy or Get Out” policy announced in February. The policy, currently under review, would boot military personnel who are non-deployable for a year or more.

Officials estimate that “Deploy or Get Out” would impact 11 percent (or 235,000) of those serving on active duty, according to the Military Times. Those numbers would likely include service members with other medical conditions, members nearing retirement and those facing legal issues.

But LGBTQ groups contend that the military policy on HIV-positive service members has failed to keep pace with scientific breakthroughs that prevent the spread of the virus, like antiretroviral medications.

“These medical advances should have resulted in an overhaul of military policies related to people living with HIV,” the Harrison lawsuit contends. “Instead, the Department of Defense and the Army maintained the bar to enlistment and appointment of people living with HIV, as well as the restrictions on deployment, when they revisited these policies in recent years.”

The suits alleges the Department of Defense has violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution and seeks to retroactively commission Harrison and reinstate the unnamed Air Force veteran.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Carla Gleason declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Janet Mock Had a Creepy Morgan Freeman Experience a Few Years Ago

Archived video footage from Entertainment Tonight (ET) has surfaced that shows Morgan Freeman making sexual comments towards female interviewers on two separate occasions.

One of these women was Janet Mock, who used to be a correspondent for ET — although she is known better now for her activist work and memoir writing.

In the clip showing the exchange between Mock and Freeman, Freeman immediately comments on the length of Mock’s clothing, suggesting that he is distracted by her short dress. 

Mock appeared on The Wendy Williams Show on May 31st to discuss Pose, the upcoming show on FX about the ballroom culture of 1980’s New York, but she also talked about the Freeman tape. Mock said that when her former producers said they were going to air the interview in relation to the new Freeman accusations, she was shocked because she felt it was “un-airable because all he did the entire time was look at my legs.” 
 
Williams was surprised when Mock confirmed that Freeman knew the cameras were rolling. “It shows how men in power just believe that they can [have] free rein to do whatever they want,” Mock said in the Williams interview. 

In total, 16 people spoke to CNN accusing Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behavior, while eight have specifically accused him of sexual harassment.

You can watch the full Janet Mock interview on The Wendy Williams Show below:

Donald Trump Pardons Anti-LGBTQ Troll Who Outed Gay Classmates

After pardoning a racist Arizona sheriff last year, the president has waived charges against another of his key allies.

Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that he plans to pardon conservative author and anti-LGBTQ activist Dinesh D’Souza, who famously claimed that President Barack Obama is a “gay Muslim.” In a 9:18am post, Trump claimed that D’Souza had been “treated very unfairly by our government.”

Responding to the POTUS, the noted conspiracy theorist also suggested his prosecution was politically motivated. He claimed “Obama and his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream & destroy my faith in America.”

In truth, D’Souza pled guilty to violating campaign finance laws in 2014 after paying two colleagues to donate to the failed Senate run of fellow Dartmouth College alum  Wendy E. Long, who was campaigning against Kirsten Gillibrand in New York. During his plea hearing, the 57-year-old provocateur admitted his behavior was “wrong.”

“I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” he said. “I deeply regret my conduct.”

Retconning D’Souza’s sentence of five years of probation is alarming given that he infamously mocked Emma Gonzalez and the student activists who survived the Feb. 14 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, behavior it now appears as if the president is endorsing.

D’Souza also argued in Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream that Obama is an anti-colonialist whose Kenyan father taught him to destroy the country.

But what may prove equally distressing to the LGBTQ community are the far-right conservative’s frequent attacks on queer and transgender people. D’Souza outed his LGBTQ classmates during his time at Dartmouth in the 1980s, publishing the names of Gay Student Association members in the Dartmouth Review.

“As a result of this article, some members of the group had their sexual orientation disclosed to friends and family members,” Mother Jones previously reported, which led some GSA members to consider taking their own lives.

Those actions have characterized his persistent trolling of the LGBTQ community in the years since, as the advocacy group GLAAD reports.

Writing for the right-wing website Townhall in 2008, D’Souza referred to marriage equality as “legal fraud.” He added that same-sex marriage is unnecessary because LGBTQ people do have the right to wed, so long as they “marry adult members of the opposite sex.”

D’Souza has also claimed that Adolf Hitler was not “anti-gay,” despite the fact that the Third Reich exterminated queer and trans people in concentration camps during World War II.

In addition to blaming 9/11 on LGBTQ people, D’Souza also believes that the real aim of the queer rights movement is to “break down moral resistance to the homosexual lifestyle.” He also says that what queer and trans activists are really fighting for is a law saying that “what they do is not immoral, not disgusting, and they are not going to hell,” thereby suggesting that each of those things are, indeed, the case.

After the 2016 shooting on Pulse Nightclub, the pundit also alleged the Orlando tragedy—in which 49 people were killed—should be a wakeup call for the LGBTQ community about the dangers of “coddling Islamic radicals.” He said on Twitter that “playing with snakes… can be quite dangerous.”

If that weren’t enough, D’Souza supports discredited conversion therapy, believes people of faith should have the right to deny service to LGBTQ people, and called homosexuality an “ideology.”

He also spread false reports the San Bernardino shooter was transgender.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration has defended pardoning an anti-Muslim homophobe by saying he has “accepted responsibility” for his actions.

“Dinesh D’Souza is an individual who, you know, has made restitution and accepted responsibility for his actions, but these are infractions and crimes that are rarely prosecuted,” press secretary Raj Shah told Fox News, “and many believe that he was the subject of some selective prosecution from the previous administration.”

Trump “believes it’s appropriate that he receive a pardon after community service, paying a fine, and doing other things that the judge has required,” Shah added.

If You Love ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ You Need to Watch ‘Pose’

Pose, Ryan Murphy’s latest FX series, opens with the most fabulous sequence you’ll see on TV this year. It’s 1986, and the House of Abundance — mother Elektra (Dominique Jackson) and daughters Blanca (MJ Rodriguez), Angel (Indya Moore), Lulu (Hailie Sahar), and Candy (Angelica Ross), among others — is walking the royalty category at their regular ball. The members are outfitted in the finest royal regalia, all stolen from the Museum of Fashion and Design. And they are walking like they own everything, when they don’t even own the clothes on their backs.

“Category is: bring it like royalty!” ball announcer Pray Tell (Billy Porter) shouts to start the show. And bring it they do, each member of the House practically floating down the runway. The audience loses their damn minds, bowing at Elektra’s feet as she shuts it down. “Ten, ten, ten, tens across the board,” he screams as the judges reveal their scores. It’s an electric scene. It also likely sounds familiar if you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race.

For drag historians and connoisseurs, Drag Race occupies a precarious place. While it has inarguably brought drag into the public spotlight, it also presents a very specific kind of drag: competitive, mass-marketable, and in many cases, white. When a younger fan who mostly knows about drag from Drag Race meets one of these connoisseurs, the latter will often instruct the former to watch Paris Is Burning, or (more infrequently) The Queen. Both documentary films are by turns insightful and important looks at the drag scene predating Drag Race. The recurring Reading is Fundamental mini-challenge derives from Dorian Corey’s explanation of reading; season 9 and All Stars 3 queen Aja’s primary inspiration is The Queenrantress Crystal LaBeija.

Yet the suggestion to watch either, particularly Paris Is Burning, can often feel academic. That’s somewhat unfair; Paris Is Burning is a delightful film, and perhaps the most quotable documentary ever filmed. But it has nonetheless been weighed down in the cultural consciousness by the burden of being the ‘fix’ for some Drag Race fans’ knowledge deficit. The suggestion to watch it too often comes across as highfalutin at best, and condescending at worst, as if saying, ‘Do your research, children, and eat your vegetables while you’re at it.’

Pose offers a new opportunity for Drag Race fans to learn about the ball scene, one that is most often fun and fabulous above all else. It features an ensemble full of trans actors of color, a Murphian mix of the eleganza and melodrama, and is scored to one of the best soundtracks on television. It is, in my opinion, required viewing for Drag Race fans. But Pose is so watchable, it won’t feel like a requirement at all — just a fun trip back into the ‘80s every Sunday night.

Pose’s primary story is a fairly simple one, all things considered: Blanca is tired of being disregarded by the House of Abundance, and seeks to start her own: the House of Evangelista. (She names it so after the model Linda Evangelista — “who stole my look, and who I pay tribute to in return,” Blanca declares.) She recruits Angel from the House of Abundance, plus a talented young dancer named Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), treating them fully as her children and challenging them to better themselves both on the runway and in the world. In this way, it’s more like a family drama than anything else, one that gives as much time and attention to the mother as to her children.

Over the four episodes screened for critics, Pose effectively chronicles the pains of starting both a new house (recruiting members, the strategy of entering certain categories) and a new family (keeping one member from dealing drugs, keeping another in school for dance). In the third episode, Blanca goes the extra mile to throw a special Christmas celebration, one that will be healing for her queer and trans children, who primarily associate the holiday with family rejection. For every fascinating detail about the ball scene — a girl struggles with not having the right look to win body categories — there’s a heartwarming detail about the character’s connections to each other.

That family element is, for all Drag Race’s attempts to emphasize chosen family, or feature groups like Alyssa Edwards’ Haus of Edwards, mostly missing from the competition series. Drag Race’s queens compete as individuals; Pose’s houses compete together. Considering what a cornerstone that house dynamic is in the drag scene even today, Pose’s choice to heavily frame the House of Evangelista as a family unit is a smart one.

Not everything about Pose works. At 77 minutes, the pilot feels more like a film feature than an episode of television, which makes what should be light and watchable feel more like a chore. But the episode length decreases, and the storytelling tightens, after said pilot. The only true clunker plotline is one that follows a white businessman, Stan (Evan Peters), and his wife Patty (Kate Mara). They are connected to the House of Evangelista, but only in one specific way, and the tremulous tie isn’t enough to justify their existence in the story. (The most groan-worthy part of the pilot is learning that Stan works for Donald Trump.)

But when Pose is firing on all cylinders, it’s pure extravaganza. There’s nothing like it on television — and I include Drag Race in that. Much as I love culture’s biggest drag competition, it isn’t enough. It’s a specific kind of show, one that isn’t nearly inclusive enough of trans queens. (One Peppermint or Monica Beverly Hillz or Sonique every three years isn’t enough.) Pose is filled to the brim with trans talent, is knowledgeable about the ball scene, and puts on a damn show every episode. We need both shows — and we need to watch both shows.

During the second episode, two women show down with a walk to Diana Ross’ “The Boss” — the same song that Bebe Zahara Benet wiped the floor with Trixie Mattel on during an All Stars 3 Lip Sync for Your Legacy. That lip sync was a thrilling moment for Bebe, featuring a perfect Diana impersonation. But watching the performers of Pose preen and stomp is a whole other kind of thrill. I’ve watched the scene a few times now. When the winner is declared, I can’t help but cheer to myself — just as I cheered with the bar crowd when Bebe won her lip sync.

Isn’t that something? Two great TV moments involve queens of color getting their life to an iconic Diana Ross song. And we get to watch both within months of each other. Truly, that’s the greatest gag of all.

Pose premieres Sunday, June 3, at 9 p.m. Eastern on FX.

New Jersey Set to Become Third State Allowing Non-Binary Birth Certificates

New Jersey could soon become the third state to legally recognize nonbinary identities after the legislature passed a trio of landmark trans rights bills.

 

S.478 streamlines the process of updating the gender marker listed on an individual’s birth certificate. Rather than requiring applicants to undergo gender confirmation surgery before updating their documents, trans people could instead fill out a form through the Department of Health stating that the changes are necessary to match their lived gender identity.

Former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed similar legislation in 2015, citing fears it could lead to fraud. The penalty for lying on the Health Department form is a charge of perjury, which could result in three to five years behind bars.

Additionally, the bill allows trans people to list nonbinary on their birth certificate, meaning they identify as neither male nor female. Of the estimated 30,100 transgender people living in the state of New Jersey, between 25 and 35 percent of those individuals identify outside the gender binary. That’s around 10,500 people.

Individuals will also have the opportunity not to disclose their gender on their birth documents.

The New Jersey Assembly, which is the lower house of the state legislature, passed S.478 by a decisive margin of 57 to 11 earlier this month after the state Senate approved the bill in February. It now moves to Gov. Phil Murphy, a first-term Democrat who campaigned on advancing LGBTQ rights in the 2017 gubernatorial election, for consideration.

Representatives for the governor’s office have not officially confirmed, however, that Murphy plans to sign the legislation into law.

Should S.478 receive the governor’s signature, New Jersey would follow in the footsteps of Oregon and California, which have recognized nonbinary identities on identification like driver’s licenses and state IDs.

In addition to affirming the existence of those who fall under categories like “genderqueer,” “agender,” “pangender,” and “neutrois,” the legislation also recognizes that gender confirmation surgeries aren’t accessible to everyone. According to statistics from the National Center for Trans Equality, two-thirds of trans people reported that they hadn’t surgically transitioned, and many said they never intended upon doing so.

These operations can be extremely expensive, costing between $20,000 and $30,000 to fully transition. Given that an estimated 29 percent of trans people live below the poverty line, those costs are prohibitive for many.

S.478 was named for Babs Siperstein, a New Jersey trans activist who traveled to Canada to complete her gender confirmation surgery. As the local radio station KYW reported, Siperstein “had a major complication and could have died” during the process, one she only undertook to change the gender marker on her birth certificate.

“You had to get the surgery to get the documentation changed,” she claimed. “Where else in this country if you want to be yourself are you forced to have such intrusive surgery? This is not like having your tooth pulled.”

Siperstein said the bill’s likely passage will “help educate people” about the realities transgender people face.

“The birth certificate bill has been years in the making,” added Garden State Equality Director of Programs Aaron Potenza, as the New York Observer reported. “We are excited that transgender people will finally be able to access accurate identity documents, excited that the bill is progressive and includes a third gender option, and excited that the legislature is honoring Babs’ work by renaming the bill the Babs Siperstein Law.”

But S.478 isn’t the only landmark piece of trans legislation set to be considered by the New Jersey governor. There’s also S.493, a bill which requires that the name and gender marker listed on an individual’s death certificate match their identity. The legislation states that relatives, friends, or loved ones making the funeral arrangements will be tasked with making that assessment.

Should conflicting information arise, S.493 outlines procedure for how parties will make appropriate determinations to respect the deceased’s gender.

Lastly, A.1727 creates a task force on furthering transgender rights in the state of New Jersey, establishing a governmental entity whose mission it is “to assess legal and societal barriers to equality.” As in the case of the other two bills, Murphy is expected to weigh in by the end of June.

Legislators in New Jersey believe these pieces of legislation are important in solidifying New Jersey’s commitment to progress.

“This package of bills will certainly solidify New Jersey’s place as a leader in transgender civil rights,” Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle told colleagues in the legislature prior to this month’s vote.

Given the rollbacks of LGBTQ rights under Trump, she added that protecting the rights of the marginalized is “more [important] than ever.”

“Antiquated policies and attitudes towards transgender individuals have led to discrimination, violence, depression and suicide,” the Democratic representative claimed. “While tremendous strides have been made in recent years to advance equality for members of the ‘LGB’ community, much more still needs to be done to help protect our brothers and sisters in the ‘T’ community.”

Who’s Afraid of Bruce LaBruce?

Bruce LaBruce has an interesting history with film festivals.

Some — Berlinale, Sundance, TIFF — have embraced his oft-grotesque queer aesthetic while others have found it too offensive. In 2010, the Melbourne International Film Festival canceled a screening of his film L.A. Zombie, banned by Australian censors. The prolific auteur, whose photography, zines, and other works of visual art have consistently combusted any notions of boundary, is now finding that his latest feature, The Misandrists, is being denied by some LGBTQ film festivals, despite LaBruce’s having been a pivotal part of New Queer Cinema in the ’90s, and effectively coining the queercore movement.

Still, it’s this non-conformity that makes LaBruce who he is, and his work continues to poke, prod, question, and confuse viewers who are all-too-complacent with the abundance of sanitized gay stories shot for the big screen in 2018. LaBruce’s early films No Skin Off My Ass, Super 8½, and Hustler White were unapologetically raw, sexual, violent gay films. They often featured porn stars and pornographic elements, and were explicit in their intention to shock and awe, but also to please and tease. 

His mid-to-late-aughts obsession with zombies and the undead saw LaBruce venturing into horror films (Otto; or, Up with Dead PeopleL.A. Zombie) while also continuing to touch on the taboo with Gerontophiliaa film about a romantic/sexual relationship between an octogenarian and a twenty-something young man, and The Raspberry Reich, which followed a German terrorist group (or as LaBruce calls it, “a critique of radical chic”).

The Misandrists has elements of most LaBruce films, which is to say that the actors are largely unseasoned and unrecognizable, the plot is a twist on a well-known Hollywood film (in this case, The Beguiled), and the dialogue is full of diatribes about sex, sexuality, gender, democracy, faith, and the patriarchal capitalist society in which even fictional characters must, in some part at the very least, exist.

Like many other Sapphic-themed films,The Misandrists takes place in an all-girls boarding school where young women are taught by a fearsome headmistress, though this time, she’s a literal man-hating feminist, a militant lesbian whose lessons rely on the resistance of anything to do with men. Most of the young women are fine with this scenario. They are all sleeping together, sneaking cigarettes, sporting queer looks with septum piercings, bald heads, and punk versions of a Catholic school girl’s skirt and sweater set. But when two of the pupils come across a wounded thief on the grounds and decide to hide him in the basement, his presence (and eventual romance with one of them) threatens to upset the happy misandrist, matriarichal balance.

LaBruce tells INTO he’s always wanted to make a lesbian-centric film.

“I vowed that I would make a movie about extreme left wing feminist terrorists, lesbian terrorists, so I came up with the idea,” LaBruce says. “A movie about essentialist feminists, lesbian separatist terrorists.”

The Misandrists also borrows from disreputable genres like nunsploitation and sexploitation, LaBruce says. “I’m referencing erotic films from the ‘70’s which often had lesbian kind of undertones, and then kind of pulp Hollywood movies like Don Siegel’s The Beguiled and Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen.”

As a master of genre films, he took the boarding school films often touted for their lesbian leanings, subtext, or specific storylines that ended in punishment and added a B-movie horror element.

“I think people relate,” he says. “Even though the politics are pretty thick sometimes in the movie, it makes it more fun and relatable because of the genre stuff.”

LaBruce doesn’t have an agenda in his films, per se, but he does have something to say, and it’s not always palatable. Reviews of The Misandrists (or any of his films, for that matter) will offer distaste for his brand of culty queer films akin to the kinds of flack John Waters used to get with his earliest works. But unlike Waters, LaBruce hasn’t given us anything that might appeal to the mainstream. While in other experimental films from queer directors, the queerness is shrouded in subtext, LaBruce never hides from a chance to explore and embrace homosexuality.

“There might be a hidden subtext in the original material that I’m referencing that I just kind of make literal,” he says. “So [in The Misandrists], I’m also referencing this Hollywood film from the ‘60s called The Trouble With Angels with Hayley Mills. It’s set in a nunnery, and there’s a very strong lesbian subtext in that film which a lot of people might not even tap in into, so I just make it literal.”

And in The Beguiled, recently remade by Sofia Coppola with A-listers like Kirsten Dunst and Nicole Kidman in the cast, Colin Farrell stars as the soldier taken in and eventually getting his leg amputated.

“Which of course is a symbolic castration in the film,” LaBruce notes. “So I did literalize it [in The Misandrists] and make a real castration.”

Still, the reason he thinks most LGBTQ film festivals disregard the film is not because of its explicit sex or violence or radical misandry.

“Already it was turned down by a lot of the major LGBTQI film festivals, like Toronto and San Francisco and Los Angeles, for I think politically correct reasons,” he says. “I heard on the grapevines [about] one of them — they said simply, they couldn’t show a film about lesbians made by a gay man.”

Which is ironic considering how many gay men (and men in general) have been at the helm of highly-lauded lesbian-themed films in the recent past. Carol, for one, was directed by Todd Haynes, who also came up in New Queer Cinema.

“In the ‘80s in the queercore punk movement, even back then, it was about intersectionality in terms of solidarity between fags and dykes and transgender people, and not being divided into these kind of subcategories that never have any kind of interaction with each other,” LaBruce says. “So I mean just as I think this film would be of interest to lesbians, to feminists, and to women, I would hope that men would be — especially gay men would be interested in it, too.”

Another festival, he said, found the film transphobic. (Without giving too much away, there is an element that could be perceived as such should the viewer not be in on utilizing that very notion of transphobia to make a commentary on womanhood and the radicalization of genitals as a basis for gender ideation.)

“It’s about inclusion; it’s about this trans woman who is obviously a woman and she gains acceptance in this group of previously exclusionary feminists,” LaBruce says. “You have to take it in the context of the absurd and the campness, the absurdity and the campiness of the film, you know? It’s not meant to be taken as a prescription about how to approach gender politics of as a kind of realistic depiction of gender reassignment or anything like that.”

LaBruce’s art is almost of a different time when queer camp and horror could exist without literal interpretations (or rather, misinterpretations). But unlike some of his contemporaries who have chosen to go more mainstream, LaBruce is happy to continue to make work independent of financiers who dictate what they believe audiences are able to easily digest.

“I think it’s an inevitable byproduct of assimilation,” he says. “Trying to show the average person that homosexuals are just the same as everybody else except they just happen to love differently. My philosophy of homosexuality is much different and I’m about celebrating the outsider status and kind of using being marginalized to your advantage as a strategic political place to be in.”

Maintaining that outsider status has made LaBruce a cult figure in his own right, a recognizable name synonymous with his work — which isn’t to say predictable, just consistent. He enjoys being “more…avant-garde or underground” he says, where he “has a more invisible influence on society.”

“The idea of toning down homosexuality — toning down gay sex — in order to appeal to a broader audience, making gay sex or the gay lifestyle more palatable, or just being a ‘good gay’ and portraying these characters who are non-threatening and well-behaved — there’s plenty of those movies happening,” LaBruce says. “So I think it’s important for other people to keep on the tradition of the more gay avant-garde, which has always been to challenge the status quo, to challenge sexual conventions, and to be more unapologetic about being gay. You don’t want to be tolerated — you’re completely living on your own terms and saying ‘fuck you’ if you don’t like it.”

Though The Misandrists might leave some confused, or challenged, LaBruce doesn’t mind as much as he hopes to be understood by at least part of his own community.

“It’s meant to be over the top,” LaBruce says. “It’s done, like I said, as a B movie horror kind of trope, so it’s very much tongue in cheek. So I think if you go with the spirit of the film and don’t take those kind of political things literally, but more kind of symbolically and in terms of kind of pop culture kind of poetic license, it shouldn’t really be that offensive.”

“But you know,” he adds, “I do enjoy it, offending people.”

The Misandrists is open in select theaters now.

Lorde’s Little Sister Comes Out as Bisexual

Indy Yelich-O’Connor, known best as Lorde’s little sister, coyly came out as bisexual yesterday afternoon.

On Tuesday, the teenager took to social media with an announcement. “plot twist (I like boys and girls)” she tweeted

The New Zealander currently resides in New York City, and has taken to writing, much like her singer-songwriter sister and her mother, the award-winning poet Sonja Yelich. Indy released Sticky Notes, her first book of poetry back in February. According to the official description, the debut collection “chronicles her experiences with love, travel, and self-discovery in a shifting physical and emotional geography.”

“Today was so amazing,” the Kiwi wrote on Twitter last night. “I had so many messages of support & the sun was shining, and I just love New York. So grateful for my life and all the people in it. And I can’t wait for my book tour.”

The poet will embark on a book tour soon to promote Sticky Notes.