Denver Police Investigating Stabbing of Two Gay Men as Hate Crime

Two gay men were stabbed on early Sunday morning outside of a Denver nightclub.

Chris Huizar, 19, and Gabriel Roman, 23, were holding hands while walking back from The Church nightclub when they were confronted by a man with a knife. The man was allegedly also calling them “fucking faggots” before attacking them near Lincoln Street and 10th Ave. The couple ran away from the man after receiving multiple stab wounds, collapsing in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.

The police were promptly called at about 1am by bystanders who witnessed their collapse.

“This world is not all just smiles and happy,” Huizar told KUSA News. “There are bad people in the world.”

“We just know that we can get through anything now and that’s just going to make us that much stronger,” Roman added.

According to the Denver Post, the injuries the couple sustained were not life-threatening, and they have started a GoFundMe to pay for medical expenses, which has now raised almost $9,000 with a goal of $5,000. The police have one suspect, Dylan Payne, in custody tied to the aggravated attack and are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

The state of Colorado has specifically provided protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity since 2001. In fact, according to HRC, all but 15 states now legally include language that protects individuals based on their sexual orientation.

However, it’s also important to note that only 18 states plus Washington D.C. also include language to protect people on basis of gender identity. Given the amount of trans women who have been murdered this year, this lack of legal protection is just unacceptable. Louisiana, one of the states that doesn’t protect trans folks, has added crimes against police officers and firefighters to its hate crime laws.

This breaks my whole heart , whoever did this is nothing but complete trash. I wish I would catch someone tryna do this. We’re all fucking human, if you don’t like the way people are then don’t fucking look their way you don’t need to physically hurt somebody because of WHO THEY ARE . Take me outta this world cause it’s complete TRASH

Posted by Licia M. Simonis on Sunday, May 27, 2018

Meet the Queer Student Who Gave a Speech Outside His Graduation After Being Banned From Speaking

The young people will win.

That’s the message that 18-year-old student Christian Bales planned to deliver to his fellow classmates at a May 25 graduation ceremony for Covington, KY’s Holy Cross High School. But just hours before Bales, the valedictorian of his graduating class, was set to address his peers, the Senior student’s school pulled the plug on his speech.

Principal Mike Holtz claimed that Bales and salutatorian Katherine Frantz had not submitted their speeches for Diocesan review.

Additionally, administrators didn’t feel their remarks would be appropriate for the occasion. Bales, who was extremely involved in programs like the Harvard United Nations assembly and the Governor’s Scholars Program during his four years at the Catholic institution, dedicated his address to youth leaders advocating for change in their communities—using the Parkland students as an example.

“As we enter into the real world, we must remember that we have a voice,” the speech read. “Rather than allowing opposition to silence us, we must utilize it as empowerment. As long as we nurture our minds as youth, we’ll be able to be equally impactful as we encounter the world.”

“The way they characterized my speech is that it was angry, it was confrontational, and it was too political,” he told INTO over the phone.

In a half hour interview, Bales added that the Diocese claimed the “ideology” of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students—who have led a national conversation about gun control since the Feb 14 shooting—goes against the Catholic faith.

He said he doesn’t agree with that feedback.

“While I do understand that there were political elements, I don’t think that it was advocating for one end of the spectrum or the other,” he claimed. “I just think that it was political in that it was advocating for people to fight as adamantly for their beliefs and ethics as they would like.”

The students were informed their speeches had been rejected the morning of the graduation ceremony, just 10 hours before they were scheduled to be on stage. Instead of giving them the opportunity to address the Diocesan concerns, Bales and Frantz were told there wouldn’t be time. Instead the high school immediately erased their entries from the graduation booklet—as if the incident never took place.

Bales’ mother, Gillian Marksberry, said the news came as a “shock” to her family. She told INTO over the phone that she cried “several times” that day.

“It’s really difficult as a parent to watch your child strive for something, given that acknowledgment and reward, and then have it ripped out from underneath them,” Marksberry claimed. “That’s hard to swallow. When your child feels pain, as a parent you feel it as if it’s your own. You bear that cross for them.”

“I think this was very mishandled,” she added. “It should have been a conversation we had months ago.”

While the Diocese of Covington claimed that the political content of Bales’ speech is not in line with Catholic values, his mother alleged there’s a different reason he was removed from the graduation program: Bales identifies as queer and is gender nonconforming.

A week before the ceremony, Holtz had a meeting with the parish priest and the superintendent to discuss the possibility that Bales might wear makeup or heels to graduation, which was held at nearby Thomas More College in Crestview Hills. Following that discussion, the principal called Marksberry to ensure he wouldn’t sashay his way to the podium.

She told the principal the family would comply with the school’s request for masculine dress.

“I assured him we do respect the wishes of the school and understand that conformity is critical sometimes in our society,” said Marksberry, who noted that she often covers her tattoos in the workplace. “We all have to conform at different things.”

Bales said that his gender presentation had long put him on the radar of the Diocese of Covington, calling it a “four-year power struggle.” During his sophomore year, the administration forbid male students from wearing “hair accessories” during an announcement broadcast over the school intercom—even though it wasn’t specifically prohibited in the dress code.

After getting in trouble on a number of occasions, the student stopped wearing bobby pins in his hair and wearing makeup as much. But Bales also said it’s because his workload began to increase at school.

“To be frank, I did not time to make sure my appearance was perfect every day,” he claimed.

But Bales and his mother said that despite a handful of negative experiences, his relationship with Holy Cross High School has been largely positive. Teachers and other students in his tight-knit class of 84 embraced him. The teenager wore a floral jumper, makeup, hair accessories, and heels to this year’s Prom without backlash.

His mother is grateful the school allowed him to “be himself.”

“They helped him discover his voice,” she explained. “They elevated him and allowed him to develop self-confidence.”

But Marksberry said that his gender difference has been apparent from a young age. One of his mother’s fondest memories is Bales stomping up and down the stairs in her best high heels. When she asked what he was doing, Bales responded, “I’m practicing for when I’m older!”

“OK, be careful!” she recalled telling him. “Don’t break an ankle.”

When Bales finally came out to her at the age of 14, Marksberry told him she already knew—and loved him for it. She looked at him and said, “I’m your mom. I know these things. I was just waiting for you to tell me.”

The support from friends, family, and classmates was evident during this weekend’s graduation ceremony. Although Bales would continue to be blocked from giving his speech, his peers stood and applauded when he walked to the stage to receive his diploma. Marksberry made rainbow ribbons to hand out to students and parents during the event and the supply ran out almost immediately.

“I’ve never seen so much silent power as I did within the confines of that ceremony—even without him addressing his class from the podium,” she said. “The irony is that in the attempt to silence his voice, look at how much louder it became.”

Although the Diocese never did tell Bales what about his speech was so objectionable, he found a way to give it anyway.

Bales and Frantz, who is both the student council president and his best friend, stood outside the ceremony as students were leaving and delivered their speeches from a bullhorn Bales’ father gave him. A group of 80 to 100 people gathered around the pair as Bales told the crowd that young people are “finished being complacent.”

Given the controversy of the past day, his comments proved eerily prescient.

“There’s a misguided notion that wisdom is directly proportional to age, but we’re disproving that daily,” Bales said on Friday. “Sometimes the wisest are the youngest in our lives, the ones who haven’t yet been desensitized to the atrocities of our world.”

“We are dynamic,” he would add. “We are intelligent. We have a voice, and we’re capable of using it in all communities.”

Since that speech went viral over the weekend, the family claimed they’ve heard from people all over the world who were moved by Bales’ comments. Marksberry said a woman in Michigan read the address to her elderly Catholic parents, who are now in their 70s. The woman reached out on Facebook to say her parents wanted Bales to know that he is loved and supported.

“They wanted him to know that not all Catholics feel the way the Diocese has stated,” Marksberry said.

Bales claimed that what’s been most humbling about the speech’s reception, though, is seeing the reaction among LGBTQ youth who are in similar situations—whether that’s attending Catholic schools or living in conservative areas. Many have reached out to say they, too, will work to advocate for reform and social change in their communities.

“The circumstances amplified my speech even further,” Bales said.

“There’s a point in the speech where I talk about the fact that you have to utilize opposition as empowerment,” he continued. “I think this moment aligned perfectly with that. Even though they did try to push us down, silence us, and keep us from speaking, now it’s on an international level—and it just keeps growing.”

Read the speech in its entirety here.

Images courtesy Christian Bales

P!nk Sports ‘Make America Gay Again’ Hat on Twitter

Over the course of her long career, P!nk has solidified her status as an extraordinary ally of and bullheaded advocate for the LGBTQ community. In 2010, the Human Rights Campaign awarded her with the Ally for Equality award, recognizing her dedication to supporting LGBTQ people. 

Yesterday, the pop star continued her advocacy with the non-profit organization by tweeting a photo of herself donning a “Make America Gay Again” hat. The HRC began making and selling the red hats as a biting response to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign.

The 38-year-old singer has always owned her short ‘do and androgynous style. At the 2017 VMAs, she wore matching pinstriped suits with her husband and six-year old daughter. She has always brought visibility to queer identities by normalizing masculine-leaning attire in mainstream pop culture.

HRC responded to Pink on Twitter, thanking her for her continued support of the LGBTQ community. They wrote, “Thanks @Pink for showing your support,” adding, “Who else is ready to make America Gay Again?”

Aja Is Gaming The System

Shortly after they were eliminated off of Drag Race Season 9, Aja won the jackpot — quite literally. It was their first time in a casino, and they put in a couple quarters for a slot machine.

“Girl, I ain’t gonna win shit,” they thought to themselves, “And it was a jackpot. I won, like, $5000.”

For Aja, this wasn’t a one-off event – they’ve always been lucky. Long before their death drop made RuPaul scream, and before their iconic Untucked monologue, Aja (who goes by they/them pronouns) always magically made ends meet.

They recounted some of these lucky experiences while sitting across from me in a Brooklyn Starbucks and snacking on a chocolate chip cookie.

When Aja was coming up in the scene, they would buy drag before they bought food. “It was always crazy because just when I thought I had everything, like I had an outfit and you know two dollars to eat bread and [then] I wouldn’t have any money to get to the gig,” they said. But then, Aja explained, they would miraculously find money they didn’t know they had.

“Like one day I went to the bank and out of nowhere, I had like two hundred extra dollars in my account.” Aja paused then spoke directly into my microphone: “Don’t come for me Bank of America.”

According to Aja’s godmother, part of their luck comes from their ethnic roots in West Africa. Aja’s family practices Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion that also has roots back in West Africa. “She always said I had very great intuition and that I was very [spiritually connected to] myself,” Aja said of their godmother.

Aja’s mom told them they were adopted at eight years old. “And that’s when she showed me my birth certificate,” Aja said. “I had a Muslim name, and I was like ‘Oh, I don’t even know how to say this.’ Then I started to question things like what if I would have grown up Muslim? How would life [be] different for me?”

Aja never went through an adoption agency. Instead, Aja’s biological mother met their adoptive family through someone she was dating. Aja’s adoptive mother had been trying to get pregnant for a long time but was having trouble, so finding Aja was perfect. The identity of Aja’s father, however, has been something long speculated in their family — the rumor since they were young was that their biological father was in a gang and died before they were born.

When they were 18, Aja decided to learn more about their biological roots. But instead of just taking a single DNA test, they took five. “And every single one had the exact same results,” they said. “I even did my background research and each of them were done in different labs, with different types of testing.” We discussed briefly how strange racial identity is when it’s listed out on a paper with percentages. What does it even mean to be 40% this or 15% that?

“It’s so specific that I would have to fucking pull out a list that I don’t feel like pulling out,” Aja laughed and picked their phone up from the table. “But I will anyway. Hold on.” I waited for a moment while they logged onto their Ancestry.com results.

“Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Benin and Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana-Ivory Coast, Mali,” they recited. “Oh, and then I’m five percent Cameroon-Congo, so watch out, Bebe. Watch out, bitch.”

“So, how do you feel culturally?” I asked. “You were raised in a Puerto Rican family, right?”

“It sounds weird to say, but I never really had, like, an upbringing,” Aja said. “I feel like most of my life was really on the street. I grew up on the street.”

Aja’s racial identity, as they described it, wasn’t really formed by their family or any one particular culture. Her mom worked a lot, so they grew up eating all different kinds of foods in their friend’s homes and most of their close friends were black.

“I guess culturally more than anything I had an urban upbringing. It was not really one thing, but it was very Brooklyn,” they said. “You could tell I was from Brooklyn.” Aja paused. “I feel like I’m on a date. I don’t even feel like I’m doing an interview.”

After our talk about race, I brought up their recently released EP, In My Feelings. I started by asking about the relationship between their music and their drag. In previous interviews, Aja has talked about how they don’t make “drag music,” a genre of music defined by parody and reference to Drag Race or drag culture more broadly. I asked Aja if they would ever be interested in a music career outside of drag.

“I feel like…I don’t know. I feel like it doesn’t really matter,” Aja said. “Because my music comes from such a non-binary point of view that it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing because it’s always going to be the same delivery. One of my new music videos that’s going to be coming out this summer, it’s more half and half. It’s not going to be just one boy look, it’s actually going to be like five boy looks and five drag looks.”

For Aja, drag is about giving a broader range of aesthetics and also about giving more than one perspective. The perspective of the music is much more important to Aja than what they happen to be wearing while they perform it. Aja just wants to simply lay out their thoughts and make people ask questions.

“When I came over from the music video from Brujeria,” Aja explained, “a lot of people who ware in my [Santería] religion were like, ‘I think you should have went way further.’” The video features Latin dress, imagery of religious ritual and also demonic symbols like horns because it aims to critique the common association of Afro-Caribbean religious practices with being malicious and evil.

However, Aja is very cautious about shoving these concepts down people’s throats. “It’s more about giving someone a preview,” they said.

I asked Aja about the other clear influences that I saw in both their drag and their music: video games and anime. This influence was very clear in some of the looks Aja presented on All Stars 3 and it’s been even more blatant in the EP with their first single, “Finish Her!” being a direct reference to Mortal Kombat and the accompanying music video being in the style of a classic fighting game

“In music, I never really intended to mix it, it just happened. I’ve always been a gamer, I’ve always been someone who was very influenced by things that are really cute, like Japanese culture, anime and manga, all of that good stuff,” Aja said. “However, I know that it really didn’t start taking a place in my drag until the last two or three years.”

Aja said that when they started drag, they did what they had to do to be accepted in the community and to get money. “I felt just to be accepted,” they said. “I had to be doing these flips and flops and dancing like a fucking fish out of water, being a mess. I thought that I had to do the comedy and the drag mixes, you know, and do this and that. I feel it wasn’t until the year that I auditioned for Season 9 that I was like, I’m just going to do my own thing now.”

Aja recounts being criticized on TV and how it really motivated them to work on their drag aesthetic, part of which included these very anime-inspired looks. “I’m inspired by so many different types of anime. I love like magical girl anime obviously, the little faggot in me just dies,” Aja said, smiling. “The idea of being able to transform into something else I think is something that also inspired my drag anyway. My drag has easily become an anime version of The Boondocks, honestly. That’s literally me. I think that’s the best way to put it.”

Post-Drag Race, Aja now has their eyes set on becoming a mainstream queer artist. Even saying that, Aja makes sure to acknowledge the work that has come before. “I think it’s important to recognize what other queer musicians have done, and how far they have gotten,” they said. “But I know that all of us as a community can go way further.”

Images via Getty

Exposed: The Quest

Even in an age when sharing mundane details online is standard, it’s easier than ever to control the way others see us—until, as people often say on social media, someone’s been “exposed.” Welcome to Exposed, a monthly column where author and activist Chris Stedman invites you to get a little more vulnerable.

From the very first moment she held a controller in her hands, Merisa loved video games.

It was the 1980s, and video games had suddenly become much more affordable and accessible to a broader range of Americans. At the beginning of their heyday, it truly felt like they were for everyone; it wasn’t until the 1990s that a broad number of people starting thinking of them as “more of a guy thing.”

It was in this specific window that Merisa, a trans woman who was assigned male at birth, found herself entranced by video games and their blocky 8-bit graphics—in large part because they were one of the few things that seemed acceptable for both boys and girls to be interested in. Little did she know that her love of gaming would lead her to the space where she would first come out.

In the mid-’90s, when Merisa was around 15 years old, she started participating in an online chatroom for people interested in ZZT, a computer program with simple graphics where you could build your own games and share them with others. It was there, in those chat rooms, where everyone was just a display name, that she first came out as trans.

It was actually quite simple: she just changed her display name to something more feminine and said that if anyone had any questions, they could ask her. But no one did. The nonchalance of their acceptance—their unquestioning willingness to simply start calling her by a different name—was almost shocking. And in fact, as it turned out, there were many other trans people in the chat, too.

Online spaces—especially those oriented around creative endeavors, whether it’s a chatroom for users of a cooperative game like ZZT or the pop music stan forums of today—often allow for a degree of anonymity that appeals to queer and trans people in need of a safe space to express their identities. There is something about both the anonymity and creativity of these kinds of online spaces that often make them feel particularly safe for people looking to work through identity questions.

As someone who grew up in the ’90s and early ’00s, I too found that internet chatrooms were the first space I could come safely out as queer. Coming out online felt significantly more low-stakes; in a text-only chat room, no one knew me as anything other than an Aaliyah fan.

So unlike at school, where I later told a few friends who went on to tell others without my consent—resulting in a ridiculously dramatic scene where I literally chased two of them outside of another friend’s birthday party—I knew it wouldn’t spread to other people in my life. In a chatroom, I had greater control over my own story. And I didn’t have to worry about being rejected, as I did with family and friends. If someone was cruel or hostile about my identity, I could just close the chat window.

Like me, Merisa also found radical and much-needed acceptance on the internet. But while her experience of coming out in a chatroom was surprisingly simple, her journey to coming out offline was anything but.

Merisa initially came out as trans to her family and many of her friends in the late ’90s, during her senior year of high school. Some of her friends were supportive, but her parents refused to accept her identity. So after graduating from high school, Merisa moved to San Diego to live with her sister, a city where she could put on a dress and go to the gay bar for ladies night on Saturdays without her parents’ judgment.

But after her sister graduated from school and moved back in with their parents, Merisa was laid off from her job and had to move in with them, too. Stuck living in the home of parents who didn’t understand her, with no health insurance and only a part-time job, she felt like she had no choice but to go back in the closet. I’m going to try being a dude, she thought. I’ll do my best to make it work.

But after almost 10 years in the closet, it definitely wasn’t working. Naturally creative, Merisa loved to express herself; it was a huge part of what appealed to her about gameplay. But the closet made that profoundly difficult, if not impossible. With each passing year, she felt more and more hopeless.

During her decade living at home, however, she did have one outlet for self-expression: online roleplaying games. She got very involved in EverQuest, a massively multiplayer fantasy game where users create custom characters that work in teams to explore dungeons and slay beasts. And even though she generally played with a group of coworkers to whom she wasn’t out, she was able to play as a female character.

Because she was gaming with people who saw her as a man outside of the game, it felt subversive to pick a female character. EverQuest is what’s commonly referred to as a “persistent” game, meaning you stick with the character you create—unlike, say, selecting Princess Peach for a single round of Mario Kart—resuming play as that character every time you return to the game. Because of this, there was an assumption among many EverQuest players that men wouldn’t play a female character.

But this choice represented more than just subversion; it was also a way to express aspects of herself that she couldn’t in just about any other area of her life. It was a way to feel closer to being seen for who she really was than she could at work or home—a way to be seen as a woman, and have people engage with her as one.

Yet even though she had online games, the stress of living at home was eating away at Merisa. Sleep became increasingly evasive, and she would often get panic attacks when trying to go to bed. But one day, someone she knew from the chatrooms she frequented as a teen tweeted about a YouTube series in which people played Minecraft. Merisa found the videos soothing and discovered that watching them helped her fall asleep.

Eventually she started talking with one of the women in the videos through a chatroom she maintained. After five years of chatting they became good friends, and eventually Merisa told her she was trans and planned to transition someday. She became a confidante and resource, helping Merisa navigate and improve her relationship with her parents, and even helping her get voice practice in over Skype.

Three years ago, after Merisa had saved up enough money from her full-time job at a school district to move out of her parents’ house, she came out again and began to transition, and the two started dating.

Today, Merisa and her girlfriend run an online game community together—an explicitly queer and trans-inclusive space for people to play together, because they want to create the kinds of welcoming gaming spaces that Merisa benefited from when she was younger.

But the benefits of gaming have extended far beyond Merisa’s youth. A few years ago, when she was trying to figure out how she wanted to present herself as a woman, gameplay was hugely helpful. She knew she was a woman, but she didn’t fully know what that meant to her. Merisa didn’t have the same experimental teenage or young adult years to try out different styles of dress and figure out what works best, a period of self-definition and exploration cisgender people so often take for granted.

Gameplay gave her an opportunity to explore different things and discover what she liked. It was more than just trying on different styles of clothing; it was a way of experimenting with an overall aesthetic and with different ways of being in the world.

And even today, while she is able to express herself more fully in other areas of her life than she ever could before, Merisa still finds games to be helpful spaces for learning new things about herself and bringing different elements of her personality to the forefront.

Whether we’re regular video game users or not, I think gameplay in a variety of settings functions in this way for many of us. When I was in high school, a good friend from church hosted a murder mystery party. I was assigned the role of an undertaker, and we agreed that I should dress in a manner consistent with what we thought “goth” meant. As I was trying to figure out what to wear, I asked her if she would paint my nails black.

I was already out as queer at that point, but I still had a great deal of internalized homophobia, and I was constantly trying to prove to the world that being queer didn’t mean that I was different from everyone else. But here, in this game, was an opportunity to experiment. To try something I was curious about, something that felt subversive, under the guise of “play” and see how it felt. And sure enough, I liked it.

This may be what draws many queer and trans people like Merisa to gameplay, and surveying the number of queer people who love video games or roleplaying and tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, she’s far from alone in her interest. Games let us experiment. We’re often not as bound by the conventions and norms of our hetero- and cisnormative society.

Games aren’t escapism as much as they are a vehicle for self-expression—they’re creative, cooperative, world-building exercises where we can define ourselves and the world around us on our own terms. And with enough practice, these invented versions of ourselves can become more real than any game.

Want to get exposed? Email Chris at [email protected] with a short description of a time when you felt truly vulnerable—in either a positive or a painful way (or both).

Want more? Check out the previous installment of Exposed.

Rich White Lesbians, Get Your Sh*t Together

When a reality star can talk about sexually harassing someone on camera and still get elected president, it’s impossible to deny that popular culture and politics are too close for comfort.

Still, as major TV networks greenlight series that largely revolve around problematic actors who have been publicly called out for racism, transphobia, and sexual assault, it gives a very different signal to a public that is still in disbelief that we got Trumped in the first place.

While we’ve come to expect this kind of greed and willful ignorance from gatekeepers, a new era of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and Time’s Up is forcing a long overdue conversation about how those in power can keep thrusting the likes of Roseanne Barr and Jeffrey Tambor—stars of two hit family-focused TV comedies—into the spotlight.

But with Amazon ousting Tambor and ABC finally cancelling Roseanneafter her racist tweets about Valerie Jarrett, it’s the support of out costars like Sara Gilbert and Portia de Rossi that has been increasingly maddening. It’s time that rich white lesbians in positions of power recognize this support has consequences, and that they are ultimately choosing to side with the opposition while simultaneously identifying as women, lesbians, and progressive individuals against homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, and sexual assault.

Gilbert, who played the sarcastic middle child Darlene of the original Roseanne, was a huge force in pushing for the a reboot of the sitcom, which originally ran from 1988 to 1997 on the alphabet network. Early on, she faced criticisms and questions about the show’s star and her support of Trump. Gilbert, an out lesbian with two children, defended working with Barr.

“In our culture a lot of people say, ‘You shouldn’t watch this person. You shouldn’t talk to that person,'” Gilbert told TVInsider in April. “Not acknowledging others is not the solution. If we want to get our country back on track, we have to work together. It’s misguided for us to continue to divide into two parts with each ignoring the other.

Gilbert is also Jewish, which is worth noting here. Barr also posed as Hitler for a 2009 photoshoot in the satirical Heeb magazine, pictured shoving a plate full of Jewish gingerbread cookies into an oven.

Still, Gilbert has maintained her support of Barr and the show. After yesterday’s tweets about Jarrett, Roseanne‘s head writer Wanda Sykes tweeted her resignation, and Gilbert eventually responded, expressing her sadness that “the opinions and words of one cast member” could mean the end of “a show that we believe in, are proud of, and that audiences love.”

A few weeks ago, Portia de Rossi shared her support for Arrested Development co-star Tambor during a red carpet event for the long-running cult comedy. This despite numerous allegations of sexual misconduct by former assistant Van Barnes and Transparent co-stars Trace Lysette and Rain Valdez, all of whom are transgender.

“I love Jeffrey. He’s great,” Portia de Rossi told People. “He’s been a pal for many, many years and you know, I wish him well. We support him.”

De Rossi has been absent for recent group interviews promoting the new season launching on Netflix. This included, most notably, a disastrous New York Times group interview that saw her other male co-stars (Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and David Cross) defending Tambor in regards to an on-set blow up he’d had with on-screen wife Jessica Walter. The only other woman in the room—Alia Shawkat—supported Walter while their male counterparts downplayed Tambor’s actions as a necessary evil of showbiz.

Bateman eventually apologized on Twitter—but has said on the record he wouldn’t participate in future seasons of Arrested Development were Tambor removed from the show like he was from Transparent.

Did I expect better from straight white guys? Not really. Rich cis white dudes are gonna keep mansplaining and picking up paychecks.

But what has been continually disappointing in these situations has been the actions of the rich white lesbians who have failed to model what true accountability looks like. As LGBTQ people and as women, choosing to support individuals who have directly harmed people within both of the disenfranchised communities they belong to is choosing their privilege over humanity, and their bank accounts over their personhood.

De Rossi herself shared an experience she’d had being sexually harassed by a fellow actor, adding her voice to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in November.

“My final audition for a Steven Segal movie took place in his office,” she tweeted in November. He told me how important it was to have chemistry off-screen as he sat me down and unzipped his leather pants. I ran out and called my agent. Unfazed, she replied, ‘Well, I didn’t know if he was your type.'”

Her experience is not so different from the women who have alleged that Tambor repeatedly violated them. Lysette said the actor thrust his pelvis into hers; Valdez says he kissed her on the mouth several times without her consent.

Choosing to ignore these allegations is even more disheartening considering de Rossi is actively participating in what appears to be a prioritizing of cis women over trans women. (As INTO writer Nico Lang pointed out last week, nearly every other actor accused of sexual misconduct has been removed from his respective projects. Netflix has chosen to continue with Tambor on Arrested Development.)

Gilbert and de Rossi’s choices to support their cast-mates points to a larger problem in assimilation. As the trans community has dealt with Caitlyn Jenner’s pro-Trump trajectory while serving as a mouthpiece for the community, lesbians now have to contend with two of the most powerful and visible lesbians on TV sending the message that racism, sexual assault, misogyny, and transphobia are not just OK—but worth promoting on a nationwide platform.

It’s easy to pretend that a make believe family comedy is separate from reality, that what American viewers invite to their homes on a nightly or weekly basis is far removed from that which dictates policies that affect our lives, or the lives of those who make up the rest of our country. Many of these audience members are less privileged than the highly paid actors and producers who sell their Mendocino homes and horse farms for millions of dollars.

“The show is not about politics,” Gilbert said of Roseanne. “It’s not about anyone’s position or a policy, it’s really about what happens to a family when there’s a political divide, which is something that I think the entire country can relate to and something we need to talk about.”

Unfortunately, the discussion being led by Gilbert is one of complacency: “Can’t we all get along?” It’s one where overt racism is posed as a “teachable moment” we’re expected to move on from—a fact that obscures the ghastly reality that the show’s star wasn’t really joking; she actually believes what she’s saying to be true.

Meanwhile, de Rossi standing by Tambor says that sexual misconduct is OK—so long as it’s happening to trans women.

It might be inconvenient for Gilbert and de Rossi that the stars of their respective projects are acting abhorrently. It might even cost them jobs, money, or opportunities. But there’s an even more important opportunity they’re missing out on: to actively participate in a much-needed dialogue about how the entertainment we consume is, yes, political. Their actions and words say a lot about how we as a country are complicit in getting to the place we’re in now: Roseanne’s America.

Images via Getty

How Men Are Suing Women-Only Events in California for Discrimination — And Winning

This past Mother’s Day, lawyer Alfred “Al” Rava celebrated an anniversary. It had been 12 years since he went to an Oakland Athletics game and was denied a hat given out to women in celebration of women with breast cancer and mothers.

In May 2006, the Oakland A’s hosted a Race for A Cure 5k, raising money for breast cancer research and supporting survivors. The first 7500 women to attend the game that day were given a commemorative reversible plaid sun hat from Macy’s. Rava, whose own mother died of breast cancer, sued the baseball team for gender discrimination, and after a judge found the case worthy of trial, the team eventually settled with Rava, awarding him $510,000.

But this would be just one of Rava’s attempts to benefit from women-focused fundraisers, events, or opportunities. It was strategic, and laid the groundwork for a cottage industry in California where men like Rava weaponize a certain state law to go after the disenfranchised and get rich doing so.

It’s a strategy that could begin spreading across the United States if unchecked.

How To Get Rich Off Minorities

Since 2003, the San Diego-based Rava has been making hundreds of thousands of dollars targeting women-focused organizations, events, and businesses by alleging they are discriminating against white, straight men.

Rava first sued seven San Diego nightclubs and bars that offered ladies’ night discounts to women patrons. Since then, Rava has spent no shortage of time suing spaces and events that relegate something specific to women only, filing on behalf of himself and sometimes, other cisgender men.

In each of his complaints, Rava utilizes a 1959 California law called The Unruh Civil Rights Act. The Act decrees that “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments” shall be offered to “all persons.”

Rava, who would only agree to be interviewed via email, says he has prosecuted “300 Unruh Civil Rights Act discrimination cases” in his career, claiming he’s been “very fortunate” to do so “in [his] long fight against businesses that unlawfully treat consumers unequally.”

The Unruh Act was an expanded version of the state’s expansion of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1875, which required “full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” California created its own more liberal original public accommodations law in 1897 in the name of “preventing arbitrary discrimination and promoting justice.”

And the expansion of this legislation was initially used to help protect queers in the state.

In a 1951 Stoumen v. Reilly case, the court found that the Black Cat, later famous as the site of a pre-Stonewall protest in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood, was allowed to keep its liquor license, which was originally suspended because of the bar’s largely gay patronage. The court found that the license should be reinstated, as “mere proof of [homosexual] patronage, without proof of immoral or illegal acts on the premises” was not enough to keep the bar from serving gay patrons.

This case, among others, led the state to amend the statute in 1959, expanding it to include all businesses and establishments, including non-profits. In 1985, two pivotal cases also informed the use of the Unruh Act as it pertains to gender discrimination — and helped form it to the weapon that Rava wields today.

In the case of Isbister v. Boys’ Club of Santa Cruz, the California Supreme Court found that the Boys’ Club was in violation of the Act by denying membership to girls. That same year, the Court also ruled on Koire v. Metro Car Wash, where they decided that ladies’ nights, sex-based discounts, specials at bars, or other business establishments represented sex stereotyping and, therefore, were illegal under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

In 2003, Governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown signed the the Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 887), clarifying that “sex” included gender. That would be the same year Rava began filing his gender discrimination lawsuits. In 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Civil Rights Act of 2005 (AB 1400) into law, specifying that discrimination was also not allowed based on a patron’s gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status. In these attempts to help protect those who are the most discriminated against, the state government might have also given men like Rava an opening to use the law against them.

“The Man Tax”

The pattern of alleging discrimination against men in his complaints suggests Rava and his clients are actively pursuing women’s-only events solely in order to use the law to their advantage – thus targeting them specifically, and even maliciously. But Rava denies this, despite being listed as a member and secretary of the men’s rights group, the National Coalition for Men, on their website.

The NCM’s website says the group is “dedicated to the removal of harmful gender based stereotypes, especially as they impact boys, men, their families and those who love them,” and includes a video on “Rape Hysteria” as well as the promotion of a book called How To Avoid ‘Getting Screwed’ When Getting Laid by fellow member and lawyer RK Hendrick.

Rava says he doesn’t believe that women, LGBTQs, and people of color are any less marginalized than cisgender, heterosexual men like himself and his clients.

“Every group is marginalized, including the groups you omitted from your list of marginalized groups, and those two groups are white people and men,” he tells INTO. “In my discrimination practice, I have found that by far it is men who have been marginalized by businesses such as Ladies Get Paid.”

In 2017, Rava filed suit against the women-focused business and entrepreneurial group, Ladies Get Paid, after his client, Rich Allison, attempted to attend an event that was for women only. Ladies Get Paid is just shy of two years old — with regional chapters in 18 cities and more than 20,000 members worldwide actively participating in an online Slack forum, and many showing up for in-person events.

Claire Wasserman, a queer woman who lives in New York with her partner, said she was inspired to start Ladies Get Paid because there wasn’t any other space for women to discuss the wage and leadership gap, as well as other disparities that set them apart from cisgender males in the workplace.

“We are female identifying and non binary identifying only because the whole thing has been predicated on making people feel very comfortable to speak candidly,” Wasserman tells INTO. “I felt like there was no progress that we could make if we were bullshitting each other, and I wanted people to say how much they made and the tough stuff and the sexual harassment stuff they were experiencing. I felt like if we had men in the room, it just wouldn’t happen — no way.”

In Rava’s complaint against Ladies Get Paid, he describes how his “heterosexual male” client, Allison, purchased a ticket to an event called “Ladies Get Drinks” from Eventbrite. Allison showed up to the event at the Red Door restaurant in San Diego, ticket in hand, and was told that he could not enter because he was a man. Although he was eventually allowed inside, Allison was not provided the same discounted drink that the women attending the events received.

Rava argues that Allison was forced to pay a “Man Tax” on drinks and services, referencing the 1985 Koire v. Metro Car Wash case in his suit.

Recentering And Taking Back Space

Rava and the men he has represented in several cases like the one brought against Wasserman and Ladies Get Paid are suing under the guise of a law that in theory should be used, in part, to aid in gender parity as it relates to women who have long been left out of the centuries-old boys club. In more recent years, Rava has also sued comic Iliza Shlesinger for her “Girls Night In” comedy show and the women’s networking group Chic CEO.

“All Chic CEO is trying to do is provide women with the information they need to get a business started,” CHIC founder Stephanie Burns told Mother Jones. “Just because we help women, doesn’t mean we hurt men.”

Rava also sent a letter to San Diego’s city attorney on behalf of Allison, protesting the Girls Empowerment Camp, a free two-day camp for young girls to learn about careers in fire service and other public safety agencies. Allison claimed his 17-year-old son wanted to attend, but was unable to sign up. Rava sent a letter to the city of San Diego saying the camp violated both state and federal anti-discrimination statutes. Though organizers claim they had no record of his signing up, and also that the camp was full at the time of his alleged attempts, the event was eventually cancelled.

“I was really upset,” 14-year-old Alexandra Mondragon told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “My mom told me what happened and I was kind of sad and a little bit angry because this guy is taking away a camp for so many girls that they have already signed up for and registered for… I feel this is really taking away from female empowerment.”

A few defendants who have been sued by Rava and went to trial have won against Rava.

One was the owner of a Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, who Rava sued in 2012 for offering discounted rates for women as part of a campaign to promote breast cancer awareness. The trial court decided that because the promotion benefitted breast cancer survivors and research, and women are proven to be more susceptible to breast cancer (“with men comprising less than one percent of those annually diagnosed with breast cancer”), the Club was justified. Rava’s claims, they found, were “not supported by the interpretation of, or policy behind, the [Unruh] Act.”

Nonetheless, Wasserman’s lawyer advised her to settle with Rava. Having created her business and seen firsthand how much other women have enjoyed the conversations and opportunities afforded them by Ladies Get Paid, Wasserman wasn’t ready to give her business and all of her money to a lawsuit. She wanted to fight, but is now looking to make other women aware of how California’s anti-discrimination laws can be used against women and other minorities.

She already had to let her only one full-time employee go and is now raising money to recoup what she paid in legal fees in a fundraising campaign. Ladies Get Paid has a strong, encouraging community of women who don’t want to lose what they’ve built, especially not to someone like Rava, who, in a 2017 op-ed for Law.com likened the Women’s Leaders Awards to being placed in the “special education curriculum for attorneys.”

“He’s just using the facts that fit into the law that exists in order to make a point, and that point is way bigger than the hat,” says Los Angeles-based lawyer Emily Rubenstein, who sees a lot of men’s rights activists in her work as a divorce attorney. “It’s basically caused fear into these groups and forced them into submission. The only choice is to fundraise for the chance that they may be sued or fundamentally change how they do what they do.”

What’s most important to Wasserman now—besides keeping Ladies Get Paid alive—is alerting those looking to carve out space for minority and otherwise oppressed groups that could have benefited from the very legislation that’s being used to put them out of business. She’s concerned that even drawing attention to the case could put these gatherings in danger but believes it’s a necessary conversation to have.

“I need women to understand that doing this kind of work, coming together in a room, talking about money, talking about power is way bigger than they know; it’s way more political than they know,” she says.

So how can businesses and other events navigate this kind of legislation that seems to hurt as much as help them? Instead of telling cis men they aren’t allowed inside, or aren’t privy to certain offers or discounts, owners and organizers can encourage and prioritize women’s voices, letting participants know that the event is centered around a specific experience.

“If you can get around the motivations by welcoming men but having strict rules that do apply to everyone, that can weaken [Rava’s] case,” Rubenstein says. “There are benefits to having men out in the world who are well-versed [in women’s issues] if they actually pay attention.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Rava and his clients are looking for an education.

“It wasn’t about the hat to this guy,” Rubenstein says. “The guy could have bought a breast cancer hat online for probably $22 and given to the cause. It’s not about the hat.”

The reality is that in California, women-only spaces cannot legally exist without the threat of a lawsuit from the likes of Rava. That’s unfortunate, Wasserman says, as she knows from experience how powerful those spaces can be.

“Being that statistically women speak up less if there are men in the room—I mean, we would feel judged,” she says. “So to me it was a no brainer that it should be female-identifying only. I never, ever, ever thought that this could be breaking the law. I just was so focused on the merit of [Ladies Get Paid].”

“Clearly we need this,” she continues, “so it was like, ‘How could it be bad?’”

 

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Week 10 Power Ranking: Get These Miz Cookies, Baby

I’m gonna do something wholly un-gay and begin this ranking with a paraphrase of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and say that something about a ranking feels like everything is made up and the points don’t matter.

A ranking helped to separate the Yuhuas from the Mayhems early in the competition, but as RuPaul has whittled down what is arguably the show’s best collection of queens to only five, something about ranking them seems off. Can you stack up Miz Cracker’s comedy chops against Kameron’s lip syncing acumen? Do Cracker and Aquaria’s lack of bottom two placements give them an edge over Kameron and Eureka, both of whom have lip synced twice?

Like a Michelle Visage critique of a short-haired wig, this point system can seem a little arbitrary. But, here we are, only one cut away from our final four — reminder: there is no new Drag Race episode on Thursday, May 31 — and the race is tight. Unlike last year, there’s no contestant with four challenge wins like Shea Coulee. 

Here’s what I can make of the final five contestants.

1. Miz Cracker (Last week: 5)

Ten weeks into INTO’s ranking and Cracker is finally on top – and deservedly so. As we saw during last year’s challenge with Peppermint and Wintergreen, an internal transformation is just as important as an external one. From the moment that Miz Cookie swung around in her chair and saw her new look, the viewers and the judges were enamored.

While it’s easy (and uncritical!) to give Miz Cookie all the credit for Miz Cracker’s win, Cracker put the time in to transform her straight guy into a queen. Their looks and choreography were in sync. Cracker’s inability to get out of her own head has presented barrier after barrier to her own success. Cookie helped transfer some of her scattered energy to someone else and it paid off in dividends.

Just last week, I predicted (wrongly!) that Cracker would crumble soon after not winning any challenges. Now that she has a win and no lip syncs to her name, she’s a contender.

2. Aquaria (Last week: 1)

Aquaria presents something that Drag Race hasn’t truly seen before. Her entire run on Drag Race has been so successful because Drag Race raised her. As RuPaul recently said, the show debuted when she was only 11 years old. Aquaria hasn’t been giving the judges what her version of best drag is or presenting her own looks every week. She’s played the game and given the judges what they ask for. And that’s playing a winner’s game.

Over the last two weeks, the editors have made it very clear that Aquaria is a human being and wants to be known as such. This “humanizing” edit has made it clearer than ever that we’ll be seeing her in the finals.

However, we have to talk about Capricia Corn, girl. How Aquaria escaped the bottom two is beyond me, and the only answer my brain can give is that it goes back to setting up an Aquaria win. Every winner since Bianca del Rio has won without having to lip sync at all — Bob the Drag Queen is the only exception. Next week notwithstanding, Aquaria currently has the best overall track record with two wins and no lip syncs. That will serve her well when it comes time for Ru to determine who will take the crown.

3. Asia O’Hara (Last week: 4)

Asia O’Hara deserves to be higher on this list. Having won both of this season’s acting challenges, she’s delivered a jolt of energy to the competition and consistently turns looks. She was also the best part of her makeup DragCon panel, forging together her flawless makeup skills with her mothering nature.

But while Asia is great at drag, she’s not the best at Drag Race, which has landed her either in the bottom two or stopped her from landing in the top 3 several times. Going into the semi-finals next week, she doesn’t have the best track record, but she has a lot of heart, which is always tough to beat.

Never has Asia’s talent been more on display than in the past week when she constructed a brand-new *stunning* jacket for her partner Raymond Braun AKA America O’Hara for their runway challenge. None of the other queens constructed a look as polished and so uniform as Asia’s. That’s the talent that Ru always speaks of.

4. Eureka (Last week: 6)

There was a middle stretch of the competition where Eureka seemed unstoppable. Turns out, she can slow down. The last few weeks have not been kind to the queen, whose edit has gotten sloppier and who seems to be more paranoid than ever.

That said, Eureka’s Slay Era may have been weeks in the distance, but they still count! Going into the final five, she is now tied with Aquaria for most wins. Unlike Aquaria, she’s also lip synced twice and she hasn’t won at iconic challenges like the Ball or Snatch Game. But, like her name suggests, she could still pull a rabbit out of her hat last minute.

5. Kameron Michaels (Last week: 3)

Don’t cry for Kameron Michaels. If the Nashville muscle queen has taught us anything it’s that she performs best when she’s in the bottom, and when her back’s against the wall, she delivers. She’s shown twice that she’s able to deliver a lip sync under pounds of elderly makeup and do a split/cartwheel around her competition.

But Kameron has also shown a lot of growth over the season. She went from barely any screen time to coming out of her shell both on Drag Raceand Untucked. She may not be a lot of people’s favorite queen, but she’s garnered quite the fanbase for her endearing personality and charm.

However, this week did show that Kameron’s Type B personality continues not to serve her well in a reality competition format. Even though she did say that she failed to connect with her partner because he was a straight guy, Michaels’ quiet personality didn’t help any. She’s certainly a top five queen unlike any the show has ever seen before. Can quiet strength propel her to the top four?