‘The Fosters’ Spin-Off ‘Good Trouble’ is An Inclusive Show and A Good Watch, Too

Good Trouble is the new Freeform series by Joanna Johnson, Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg, the team behind The Fosters, a show centered around two moms and their foster children that redefined what a family drama is supposed to look like. It starred Teri Polo as Stef, and Sherri Saum as Lena, an interracial San Diego lesbian couple raising their four foster kids, Callie (Maia Mitchell), Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), Jesus (Noah Centineo) and Jude (Hayden Byerly), in addition to Stef’s biological son from her first marriage, Brandon (David Lambert). The show wrapped its five-year run last summer, and soon after, the spin-off centered around Mariana and Callie was announced.

The new series, premiering tonight on Freeform, follows the Adams foster sisters one year after The Fosters left off. Transitioning from college life to their first real jobs in Los Angeles proves to be a challenging experience for Callie and Mariana, whose moving truck is robbed quickly upon their arrival. There’s also the issue of their new digs, which, previously unbeknownst to Callie, is a communal living situation in a downtown Los Angeles loft, the only place Callie’s law-clerk salary will allow them to rent.

*Caution: Spoilers ahead*

We quickly learn that while Mariana makes enough in her new job at a tech startup for them to not have to share a bathroom with eight other people, Callie insists on splitting living expenses down the middle. Mariana’s new co-worker, Gael (Tommy Martinez), also happens to live in the building — and Mariana intends on making him her boyfriend.

Alice (played by out comic/actress Sherry Cola) is the lesbian loft manager who has yet to come out to her parents; she is introduced as the caretaker of the loft, and by extension, the roommates. She’s in charge of repairing broken appliances, providing the toilet paper, and introducing Callie and Mariana to the others, including Malika (Zuri Adele).

Malika is a former foster child and social justice activist who brings up the case of a young black man who was killed by the police when he was presumed to be carrying a weapon. Later, Callie learns that her new boss, a conservative Federal Judge, will be taking over the case, setting up what could potentially be a conflict between the roommates.

Elsewhere, Mariana is having trouble with her new team, which is composed of male co-workers who appear to have no intention of taking her seriously, instantly assigning her work that mainly involves sorting files that include crude graphics of female bodies. Thinking she could at least make an impression by approaching the company head with an idea for an app, Mariana is instead reprimanded for going over her supervisor’s head.

The pilot deals with the hurdles of entering the workforce, and what that looks like for young female professionals in fields that are predominantly male. It also introduces Callie and Mariana to a more adult environment that now involves drinking and sex, cementing that the Adams foster sisters are all grown-up and that this is a different show from its predecessor. Still, Good Trouble stays true to its socially-conscious roots.

What made The Fosters groundbreaking was its depiction of LGBTQ characters. From interracial lesbian moms Lena and Stef, to trans men characters like Aaron and Cole (played by actual trans actors Elliot Fletcher and Tom Phelan), these characters helped increase queer and trans visibility in television. That intent seems to be carrying over to Good Trouble, with characters like Alice and Gael.

After a grueling first few days, Callie and Mariana sit by the gorgeous rooftop pool in the building that realistically no person in their 20s can afford unless it’s split between eight people, so kudos to the writers for keeping it real, and Callie finally admits she hooked up with Gael on their first night there without knowing who he was.

Just as they’ve decided they do not want to fight over a guy, they spot Gael in his room, which is conveniently visible from across the pool, and thirstily watch him remove his shirt. Moments later, a second male enters the bedroom and Gael kisses him, the camera panning away just as things begin to heat up between them.

Mariana quickly decides she’s no longer interested, but judging by glimpses of future episodes, Callie might not be so quick to give him up just yet. That’s good news, as we’re overdue for a bisexual leading man who isn’t dismissed the moment his sexuality is revealed. Grown-ish, another spin-off about young adults, had the chance to explore a similar storyline in Season 1, but the writers chose to go another route.

When Nomi (Emily Arlook), Grown-ish’s bisexual character, learns a man she’s dating is also bisexual, she immediately dumps him. Rather than delve into Nomi’s internalized biphobia and the double standard bisexual men face every day, the storyline is never visited again. That Good Trouble might explore an alternate take is a promising and refreshing prospect.

For those missing the rest of the Adams foster clan, expect to see familiar faces sooner rather than later. Mariana’s twin brother, Jesus (Noah Centineo) is slated to make an appearance as soon as episode 4, while Stef and Lena are also expected to pay a visit at some point in the future, among other members of the Adams foster family.

While Good Trouble has a decidedly different tone than The Fosters, out lesbian EP Joanna Johnson hopes it will resonate with audiences in a familial way.

“When you leave home, you go out in the world and you create your chosen family of friends and people that you work with, and that’s what this show is about,” she tells Variety. “It’s still a family show, but it’s the family you choose to surround you and support you.”

Good Trouble premieres January 8 on Freeform, and the pilot is now streaming on Hulu.

Images via Freeform

This Masc ‘Overwatch’ Hero Was Announced As Gay and I Don’t Care

Even before it had any officially out gay characters, Overwatch has been, like, the gayest game.

Pretty much from the beginning, fans of the game have been shipping the characters. In the Overwatch comic published December 2016, it was announced that Tracer is a lesbian — a pretty big deal at the time considering Tracer is literally the face of the game.

Now, through a new short story, Jack “Soldier 76” Morrison, arguably the other main character of the game, was also announced as gay. In the context of the story, Soldier is talking about a previous relationship with a man named Vincent.

“Vincent deserved a happier life than the one I could give him, Jack sighed. ‘We both knew that I could never put anything above my duty. Everything I fought for was to protect people like him… that’s the sacrifice I made.’”

The reaction to Soldier’s sexuality has been overwhelmingly positive — Soldier has been regarded as the daddy of Overwatch forever so this is a big win for representation, that’s for sure! But while I really don’t want to be a buzzkill, I just can’t bring myself to care about this. My immediate response was a thought of “Oh, cool” and not much more — “What’s for dinner?” I feel so distant from this piece of lore because the character doesn’t feel gay, he feels like a straight man who happens to like men.

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but sometimes I think this is why pieces of fiction add gay characters — because it’s not required to do anything beyond that. Overwatch has been recently criticized for not having a single Black female character in its roster. While the developers can’t just decide one day that an existing character is Black, they can do that for queer characters. It’s an attempt at getting the acknowledgment of diversity without really doing any work toward it. I don’t just want a label, I want an identity with dimension.

What I mean is that beyond this short story (and a follow-up tweet from head writer Michael Chu) that says he is in a relationship, nothing about the character of Soldier 76 reads as queer and I’m tired of that. If we’re getting a gay male character, I want one who says “Sashay away” when they get a kill or has a voice line of a Madonna lyric. Things that my friends would actually do or say.

Obviously not all gay men watch Drag Race or listen to pop stars, but it’s a good place to start. When I first came out, Blaine and Kurt were starting to become a couple on Glee and even then, I remember being annoyed with this trope. Blaine never felt like a gay character to me, he just felt like a straight man they flipped in order to be a romantic interest for their gay character.

A part of this frustration stems from the fact that we either get super masculine straight men or caricatures of effeminate gay men, no in-between. Instead of trying to figure out an empowering way to portray feminine men, creators default to making vague male characters that are gay in name only.

The details of someone’s queer interests aren’t just superfluous, they’re what make a character. I’m not friends with people because they’re gay, I’m friends with them because of the gay culture we both engage with. How am I supposed to relate to a character if I don’t know how he exists within that culture also?

Even if this representation doesn’t give me joy, the anger that it gives straight gamer nerds will definitely give me joy. What’s interesting about Soldier 76, and a positive point in all of this, is that he was designed to be the most traditional hero in Overwatch, in that he most resembles a regular shooter game both in terms of gameplay and appearance. If you’ve played Call of Duty, you can understand the basics of how to play Soldier in Overwatch. So, it feels kind of gratifying that the roughest and toughest masculine hero in the game is now gay as heck. The straight nerds are not pleased.

Obviously I would like gay characters that felt like they were more thought out and well-written — characters that feel like they were gay from the start, but if simply announcing a character is enough to upset these dorks, then I’m all for it.

LGBTQ Films Worth Getting Into On Netflix: ‘Milk’

In our “Get INTO” series, we rummage through Netflix each week to find the very best movies that LGBTQ cinema has to offer. However you identify, these tales of love, sex and the everyday experience of queer life all deserve a special place in your Netflix queue. Also, some of these films are super hot, so whether you’re alone or with a special ‘friend’, rev up everyone’s favorite streaming service and get ready to chill with some of the best queer movies on Netflix.

What is Milk? Based largely on The Times of Harvey Milk, an Oscar-winning documentary from 1984, Milk explores the tragic real-life story of Harvey Milk. The San Francisco-based politician fought to make things better for the LGBTQ community when he became the first openly gay person elected to public office in California. Gus Van Sant’s widely acclaimed movie focuses on the last eight years of his life, celebrating both his personal love affairs and the activist efforts that would eventually lead to his assassination.

Who’s in it? An exceptional cast gives 10s across the board here, including Josh Brolin, who was nominated by the Academy for his role as opponent Dan White. The likes of Diego Luna, James Franco, and Emile Hirsch also impress, but this is very much Sean Penn’s movie, something which the Oscars recognized when they gave him his second Best Actor win for taking on the role of Harvey.

What does Rotten Tomatoes say? “Anchored by Sean Penn’s powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America’s first openly gay man elected to public office.”

What do we say? For what might be his most successful film, director Gus Van Sant erred on the side of caution, channeling mainstream fare like Good Will Hunting rather than his more experimental offerings like Gerry or Elephant. It’s strangely fitting that he would play it safe with the biopic of a revolutionary like Harvey, though, simply because there’s so much ground to cover here. Not only does Milk explore the rise of queer activism in 1970s San Francisco, but it also tells a much broader story that touches on the heart of everything that’s still wrong with America, all these years later.

But isn’t the cast problematic? Back when Milk first came out, there were some who objected to Penn’s casting, because he openly supported a Cuban government that has a long history of anti-gay sentiment. Since then, Emile Hirsch has also been charged with aggravated assault and James Franco has been the subject of numerous sexual misconduct allegations, too.

Milk is an extraordinary achievement that brings to light the ongoing struggle that queer people faced back when the mainstream wanted them to bow out quietly. Because of this, it’s a vital chapter of queer movie history that deserves to be seen, but it’s also vital that you bear these factors in mind when choosing to watch it.

So why should I see Milk? Penn drew focus at the time of Milk’s release thanks to his towering performance, but it’s easy to forget now that Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar for his screenplay, too, and rightly so. With the help of archive footage, Black’s script finds the nuance in Harvey’s story, humanizing him in ways that make his message far more powerful than any form of hero worship ever could. Kind, funny and yet as flawed as any of us, Milk’s crusade serves as a timely reminder of what ordinary men and women can do to change this world for the better. At a time when Trump threatens to undo the hard work of Harvey and people like him, it’s more important than ever that we draw inspiration from his story.

Milk is now available to watch on Netflix.

Advocating For Myself As a Black Trans Woman

It may be a new year, but it’s never too late or too soon to pursue more fulfillment in your life. For Vanessa Warri, continuing her education and seeking knowledge was a big part of becoming the best version of herself. She writes about it in this op-ed and shares how Point Foundation, the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students, is helping her achieve that for herself.
 

Having a vision of how to improve things can be hard when you feel like nobody thinks of you as capable or intelligent enough. When that sort of negativity comes your community, it can be a defeating experience. However, existing in a world that criminalizes and dehumanizes the existence of Blackness, transness, and womanhood, the achievement of our liberation must be procured through persistence, resistance, and the continuous challenging of authoritative truths about our lives.

I have always considered myself to be something of a futurist, who wants to see my community thriving. I believe this begins with education, specifically with the kinds of knowledge that have been historically gatekept and denied to communities who may be able to use this knowledge to inspire effective advocates, visionaries, and strategists in the movement toward our liberation.

My own lived experience served as a powerful educational tool in creating my identity as an advocate, and in creating my mission. As a Black transgender woman, the only opportunities for professional development that were available to me were in non-profit community-based organizations revolving around HIV prevention research and direct services. Belonging to a historically marginalized and struggling community and being in a position to provide direct services to my community was deeply challenging. I struggled to provide holistic support to transgender people far older than me, while simultaneously trying to provide the same for myself in a rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. It was during my time engaged in what many call “the work” that I came to see how, despite best intentions, community-based organizations and academic entities were facilitating the maintenance of disparity among trans and non-binary people of color.

In focusing so intensely on transgender and non-binary folks through the HIV prevention lens, almost to the exclusion of all other areas of vital need, we created a codependent relationship that stifled the opportunity for major growth. As a provider, I was pushed to sell a reality to a community with multiple systemic, spiritual, emotional, and physical barriers to success that engaging in your health was the first step toward improving quality of life. My advocacy was almost always silenced and ignored. In addition to being told to be grateful for the work I was qualified to do, I was told I was “too young” to really know “the way things work,” and finally that I simply didn’t have the credentials to be taken seriously.

During my time working at a CBO in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to work alongside Point alum Erin Armstrong, who even before I had decided to pursue my educational goals had mentioned Point Foundation and offered her assistance in helping me apply when the time was right. Throughout my time in community college (about four years), every Fall she would check in with me to let me know that it was time to apply for Point Foundation, and for a while, all I could respond with is “Not yet, almost.” Nevertheless, she said she would reach out to me next time, and when the time finally came she excitedly provided feedback and support to prepare me for what lay ahead.

Applying to and then competing for the Point scholarship was the most intense experience, but it was also one of the most empowering experiences of my life. The questions they asked, and the precision with which they wanted answers forced me to think deeply on my mission, and my commitments both to myself and community. Being invited to be a finalist, where I would meet amazing LGBTQI people who embodied academic excellence, made me feel like for the first time someone was listening to what I had to say, and wanted to hear more.

When I received the call about a month later that I had received the award I was overwhelmed with emotions. It meant that in a society that usually ignores the voices of Black trans people, especially within the LGBTQI community, that I had been heard and considered worthy of investment. This process helped me begin to heal from the trauma of having my experience reduced to being just another angry Black trans person and helped to solidify myself as a professional whose expertise and vision was necessary to add to the future discourses that will hopefully uplift the transgender community and propel our larger LGBTQI community into the future.  

Having a vision of how to create change can be tough when you feel like nobody believes in you. Point Foundation exists to provide an opportunity for you to be heard, supported, and invested in as you seek to bring your vision to life through the pursuit of education. If you are not used to having a team of supportive LGBTQI people, and wonderful resources to aid in your development, then a Point Foundation scholarship and all the wonderful experiences that come along with it should be your next stop. I look forward to reimagining and recreating the future with you.

 
Point Foundation (Point) is the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students of merit. Point empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential – despite the obstacles often put before them – to make a significant impact on society. Point promotes change through scholarship funding, mentorship, leadership development, and community service training. A total of 97 scholarship recipients are receiving support for the 2018-2019 academic year. 
 
To apply for a Point scholarship, LGBTQ students can submit an application at pointfoundation.org/apply. Applications are due January 28, 2019 at 11:59pm.
 
Header image via Getty

Gay L.A. Confronts Racism In New Death at Democratic Donor’s Home

Neighbors have been calling the police for years, they said.

On Monday night, they stood on their front steps as a throng of community activists demanded justice for a second Black man who died in the West Hollywood apartment of gay Democratic donor Ed Buck.

“We’re not okay with it,” Beatriz Albuquerque, a resident of Buck’s building for four years, told INTO. “We told the cops everything we knew, but nothing was enough.”

Buck, who has filled the campaign coffers of local and national Democratic politicians, has long faced accusations of drugging young Black sex workers. In 2017, 26-year-old Gemmel Moore died in his apartment on North Laurel Avenue of an apparent methamphetamine overdose.

On Monday, the eve of what would have been Moore’s 28th birthday, West Hollywood Station deputies responded to a report of a person not breathing at Buck’s apartment at 1:05 a.m, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“Los Angeles County Fire responded to the location and pronounced a male adult deceased,” the department said in a statement.

The official cause of death remains undetermined.

Community activists say the deceased is in his 50s, but police have not confirmed an age.

Buck’s attorney Seymour Amster claimed to INTO over the phone that Buck did not have a sexual relationship with the man but that the two were friends of 25 years. Amster maintained his client’s innocence.

“The individual did have issues… would use controlled substances at times,” Amster said. “Ed tried to counsel him out of it, tried to help him, and on this occasion, the individual came over and obviously having already ingested something improper. The events happened from there.”

But several neighbors say they have repeatedly called police to report a string of young, drugged Black men coming and going from Buck’s apartment.

Two weeks ago, Celina Salazar found a man outside her building on the 1200 block of Laurel Avenue who appeared heavily drugged, she said. She called the building manager who said the man was looking for Buck. Police had already been called, the manager said.

“Why is he still here?” asked Salazar. “I know that my neighbors have been quite active in asking the sheriff, ‘What is your role here? What is going on?’”

Salazar, a Mexican-American lesbian who has lived in the building for four years, says she wants to know who the police are protecting.

That was the question on many minds Monday night as dozens of reporters crowded onto the lawn in front of Buck’s apartment.

The failure of city officials to arrest Buck illustrates for many the racism that remains deeply entrenched in Los Angeles and its LGBTQ community in particular.

“I couldn’t have one dead body in my house and not be detained, not go down to the station, not go to jail,” said Jasmyne Cannyck, a communications strategist who has worked with Moore’s family. “This man has had two dead bodies in the house, and he’s still in his house.”

Cannyck recounted that several young Black sex workers had stepped forward and reported that Buck met them online or the street and lured them to his apartment and then drugged them.

Buck, a white gay man, has enjoyed the company of some of the country’s most prominent Democratic politicians. He has funneled hundreds of thousands into state and national campaigns, and his Facebook page features photos with Hillary Clinton and former Governor Jerry Brown.

Protesters pressed elected officials to publicly denounce Buck and speak Gemmel Moore’s name aloud.

In a tense standoff, Cannyk questioned West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore John D’Amico about what became of a contribution he accepted from Buck five years ago. D’Amico said he didn’t want to give the money back to someone who would spend it on drugs.

But D’Amico joined protesters as they chanted up toward Buck’s lit-up apartment windows, “Arrest him now!”

Photos via Kate Sosin

The 2019 Golden Globes Reward Straight Hollywood and Real Queer Stories

Halfway through last night’s awards show I joked my headline for the night would be “The 2019 Golden Globes: Not Too Homophobic Yet.”

By that point, openly gay actor Ben Whishaw had taken the stage to accept an award for his very gay role in the very gay Russell T. Davies’ gay-themed A Very English Scandal, and he’d even used the word “queer” in dedicating his award to the real-life Norman Scott he portrayed in the show. Scott, for those who have yet to watch the Amazon mini-series, was the secret, kept lover of British politician Jeremy Thorpe (played by the highly heterosexual Hugh Grant). Scott said that he was “deeply moved” by the speech. 

Other wins satisfied our gay agenda, to be sure (Gaga’s win for “Shallow,” for one – sorry, Linda Perry), but there remained an interesting trend of heterosexuals winning for portraying queer people. Darren Criss took home Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television just a few weeks after saying he would never take a gay role from a gay actor again, and when the cast of The Assassination of Gianni Versace took the stage, it wasn’t openly gay EPs Ryan Murphy or lesbian Nina Jacobson who spoke about homophobia on the mic, nor gay writer Tom Rob Smith, but straight producer Brad Simpson.

“Gianni Versace was murdered 20 years ago,” Simpson said, speaking for his team. “He was one of the very few public figures who was out during a time of intense hate and fear. This was the era of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ It was the Defense of Marriage Act era. Those forces of hate and fear are still with us. They tell us we should be scared of people who are different than us. They tell us we should put walls around ourselves.”

For a show like Versace, this was fitting. Everyone involved with the series spoke passionately about Versace‘s raison d’être throughout the show’s run and subsequent press and now awards season. Versace’s being gay, as well as internalized, public, and familial homophobia, were not only central to the plot, but the point. 

Compare that to the Queen biopic Bohemian RhapsodyRami Malek’s win for Best Actor was not as big of a surprise, perhaps, as the film’s Best Picture win. The highly contentious portrait of the known queer, HIV-positive frontman Freddie Mercury had critics upset about the lack of queer context available in the final cut, especially in relation to his relationship with Jim Hutton. So while Simpson acknowledged Versace’s queerness and homophobia being central to his respective project, Malek (also heterosexual) did not touch on Mercury’s identity in any certain terms. It was the same way through much of the press tour for Bohemian Rhapsody. In our own interview with Malek, he was loath to refer to Mercury as a queer icon.

“Thank you to Freddie Mercury for giving me the joy of a lifetime,” Malek said at the end of his acceptance speech. “I love you, you beautiful man. This is for – and because of – you, gorgeous.” 

Backstage after their wins, though, it was clear the cast and crew of Bohemian Rhapsody wanted nothing to do with the sexuality conversation. When asked about some critics not praising the film, the Queen guitarist Brian May couldn’t even bring himself to speak to queerness directly. Instead, he says some judged the trailer too harshly but once they saw the film itself, they found Bohemian Rhapsody “did the thing well.” That thing? His queerness – and as far as it being portrayed accurately? Still arguable. And despite having been pressed about and criticized for ignoring much of Mercury’s queerness, Malek and his cohorts’ conversations about Mercury and the film are devoid of that investigation. Every backstage interview Malek had was without mention of Mercury’s being queer, which, although not central to the film (a choice, of course), was still a huge part of his legacy, whether the surviving members of Queen and the crew behind Bohemian Rhapsody like it or not. 

Though Mercury was widely known to be bisexual, he never came out publicly during his lifetime – which is the same case for Dr. Don Shirley,  the queer classical pianist portrayed by Mahershala Ali in the winner for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy. Green Book (which also won Best Screenplay) only slightly hints at Shirley’s sexuality in a brief scene where it’s mentioned he’d been arrested for taking part in a gay sex act at a YMCA while on tour. The rest of the film is devoid of any sexual or romantic information about him at all, which is desexualizing more than anything, but more in tune with the real Shirley. According to family members, Shirley’s response to people asking if he was gay was the tongue-in-cheek response: “Why? Are you interested?” 

But as Shirley was not nearly as well-known as Mercury, nor regarded for his queerness as part of his persona, Green Book can only truly be read as not-straight with a provided context often left out of the cultural conversation. Bohemian Rhapsody, on the other hand, ran with a revisionist history that seemed to extend beyond the film itself.

Olivia Colman also won for her role as the also very real queer Queen Anne in The Favourite, and thanked her “bitches” (aka co-stars/on-screen lovers Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), but made no mention of the Queen herself. Even though Colman’s version of the royal matriarch was high parody based in some kind of rumored reality, the film and cast were never hesitant about the Sapphicness on flamboyant display. And even though it was based in a time where homosexuality was not only uncouth but illegal, homophobia played a smaller role in that film than it did in the others – and didn’t feel as palpable from cast and crew during press runs. 

By the Globes’ end, Ben Whishaw was the only openly LGBTQ actor to win (other nominees like Billy Porter and the team from Pose went home empty-handed), and perhaps it’s no surprise he’s the only one who made any sort of specific mention of the queer person who he portrayed, and how it carried a weight stronger than that of one singular gay man. Still, it’s worth noting that straight Brad Simpson of Versace also used his opportunity at the mic to address the theme of homophobia in a way that also included empathy. Because LGBTQ people shouldn’t bear the burden of being the only ones to bring these themes to light, just as Sandra Oh and Regina King shouldn’t have to be the only women who spoke up for inclusion and change while Michael Douglas and all of the other straight white dudes get to use their time to thank their publicists and family and money people. Because Michael Douglas can play Liberace and be a mouthpiece for a closeted gay man one time in his life and take off the glistening cape, but Billy Porter will still be wearing his. Because not only LGBTQ people care about LGBTQ stories and history. 

The powers behind Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book might not acknowledge their respective films or protagonists as queer, but how they handle the press and public conversations surrounding the very real queer people at the center of their stories can be just as harmful as their narrative of erasure. So while it may seem like the problem is straight people playing gay or telling gay stories (especially those based on real people and events), the heart of the issue is how the people and the stories are treated throughout – how the films inform their legacies, and vice versa. Because queer people can and should play heterosexual roles, too (see: Whishaw currently starring quite convincingly as the straight dad in the Return of Mary Poppins) – and use their platforms to speak to things outside of homophobia and relevant LGBTQ issues. 

“It needs to be an even playing field for everybody, that would be my ideal,” Whishaw told reporters backstage after his English Scandal win. “I don’t know how far we’re away from that.”

This current awards season could serve as a useful barometer. 

Michigan Governor Issues LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Order First Week on Job

After less than a week on the job, Michigan’s new governor has signed a directive that bars LGBTQ discrimination in state employment and services.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was sworn in on Jan. 1, said the executive directive is necessary to attract new businesses and a talented workforce.

“By strengthening non-discrimination protections in state government employment, contracting, and services, we will make Michigan a model of equal opportunity and build a more welcoming and inclusive state that works for everyone,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Whitmer signed the order at LGBTQ community center Affirmations in Ferndale while surrounded by community advocates.

The new rules bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment, contracts and services. It requires every state agency to designate an equity and inclusion officer, tasked with educating employees, taking complaints and reporting to the governor’s office.

Equality Michigan Interim Executive Director Erin Knott said the directive represents a big step in a state that lacks nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

“Governor Whitmer has gone way further than any prior Michigan Administration in ensuring these protections apply to everyone without a carveout or exemption of any kind,” Knott told INTO.  “This is part of a national trend that is guaranteeing as many LGBT people are protected as possible.”

The state’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, who is the country’s second out LGBTQ person to hold that position, applauded the directive, noting it was “personal” for her. 

“I am grateful that [Gretchen Whitmer] has made anti-discrimination one of her top priorities in her first days in office,” she tweeted.  “I am hopeful that soon our state laws will also reflect the paradigm of equal protection under the law for all Michiganders.”

LGBTQ advocates and Whitmer concede that the directive is a far cry from the statewide protections needed. Knott hopes the directive will create momentum for amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act in the legislature this year.

“Over 40 municipalities have nondiscrimination ordinances on their books,” said Knott. “But that patchwork framework that we have in Michigan does not protect everybody, and we have several communities where there are no protections in place, leaving folks to be vulnerable.”

Image via Getty

NASA, Rice University Uninvite Anti-LGBTQ Russian Leader After Backlash

NASA has “indefinitely postponed” a scheduled appearance from a Russian leader following controversy over his anti-LGBTQ views.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s former deputy prime minister, was set to visit NASA’s Houston facility in early 2019 at the behest of its Trump-appointed head, Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine lifted current sanctions on Rogozin to allow the meeting. The leader was barred from the U.S. in 2014 following his involvement in the annexation of Crimea.

Adding fuel to the fire were the myriad attacks on LGBTQ people during Rogozin’s long career in public life.

When Madonna spoke out against Russia’s prohibition of Pride events during a 2012 concert in St. Petersburg, Rogozin called the singer a “whore.” He has also claimed that LGBTQ identity is only a matter of Pride for those who have “nothing else to be proud of.”

After Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014, Rogozin warned Russians that it was a sign of things to come should the country embrace the Western ideals of the European Union.

“[His win] showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl,” he tweeted.

Initially, NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers defended Rogozin’s visit as a continuation of the long history of cooperation between the U.S. and  Russian space programs. Since 2018, the 55-year-old has served as head of Roscosmo, which oversees the nation’s aeronautics division.

“NASA has historically invited the head of the Russian space agency to visit the United States,” she said in a statement first shared with Politico.

“Following this precedent, and Administrator Bridenstine’s October visit to Russia to participate in crew launch activities to the International Space Station,” Powers continued, “NASA invited the Director-General of Roscosmos to visit NASA facilities in the United States and discuss our ongoing space-related cooperation.”

But after NASA announced the event had been pulled from its calendar, Powers claimed it was being indefinitely postponed. “A new date has not been identified,” she said.

Bridenstine confirmed the invite had been “rescinded.”

“We had heard from numerous senators suggesting that this was not a good idea,” he told the Washington Post, adding that he “wanted to be accommodating to the interests of the senators.”

The government’s space program is just the second entity to rescind Rogozin’s invitation following the backlash to his visit. Despite reports the Russian national would be speaking at Rice University, Bridenstine’s alma mater alleged no such event would be taking place.

The Houston college has “no plans” to bring him to campus, Rice spokesman Doug Miller told the Houston Chronicle.

Bridenstine has yet to comment on that announcement.

GLAAD celebrated victory on Monday after loudly calling on NASA and Rice to reject Rogozin’s virulently homophobic record. In a statement, President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis claimed these entities “did the right thing by standing up to the anti-LGBTQ activism that’s become a hallmark of the Trump administration.”

“Dmitry Rogozin’s anti-LGBTQ animus has no place visiting the United States,” she said, “and it’s reassuring that fair-minded people put marginalized communities and their safety ahead of the Trump Administration’s toxic political agenda.”

As INTO previously noted, the controversy isn’t surprising given that Bridenstine’s views on LGBTQ people don’t differ greatly from Rogozin’s.

The 43-year-old has referred to the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on marriage equality as a “disappointment.” Bridenstine added that allowing same-sex couples to wed is “contrary to millennia of human experience.”

The Trump appointee is also opposed to LGBTQ inclusion in the Boy Scouts and affirming bathroom access for trans students in schools.

Bridenstine is also a climate change denier.

Image via Getty

Coming of Age at Camp

I don’t want to write about camp.

Well, I do want to write about camp. I’m scared to write about camp. Even 17 years later.

I can write about the beautiful tie-dye shirt I made that summer. Yellow and green and blue and pink splattered together.

I can write that it was 2001, and I was nine years old, gay as can be, and didn’t know it yet. Others did.

I can write that I was wearing a large blue T-shirt on Visiting Day and posed with my mom and sister for a photo during lunch. All of our hair is blonde and we are smiling. A perfect family. My mom is wearing a name tag. She is an adult. Her identity is formed.

It is amazing, then, isn’t it? How a handful of photos can tell us so much about each other, about ourselves, but how they can’t actually tell us anything at all?

Because these photos don’t bear the most remote resemblance to what I experienced that summer.

The summer that altered my perceptions of sex.

**

I wrote a letter to Marco before camp started. He was my bunk pen pal. I’m sure they called it something else but that’s what I’m going to call it.

I was going through a phase of experimenting with every font Microsoft Word had to offer. Fonts that curved obnoxiously. That wasn’t something most boys did at that age. But I didn’t do many things most boys did at that age. I wanted to act, wanted to sing, wanted to dance — theater. That’s it. I didn’t understand that it was different, and my parents didn’t do anything to dissuade me from pursuing it.

My mother will tell you that she had an inkling of my feminine tendencies from a young age.

I was part of a playgroup of Jewish boys and girls when I was about a year old. In the beginning, my mom says, there isn’t too much interaction between children. It’s called “parallel play.” We all played within the same area of the room but didn’t interact with each other. Picture a singles mixer, except with blocks instead of cocktails.

We met once a week for a few years. When I was closer to two years old, and interactions began, it was clear I favored the girls over the boys. “You weren’t interested in the more aggressive play,” my mom tells me as we’re walking on a brisk November morning in suburban New Jersey, an awkward time as any to be discussing the events of 25+ years ago. “You weren’t interested in the ball play.” Oh, Mom, with the word choice.

Anyway, I wrote Marco this long letter, which I don’t have now, and can only assume was talking about how excited I was to meet him and be friends at camp. I included a graphic of some kind of performer – perhaps an opera singer? – mouth agape, bursting into song off the page. Like me.

That was my first mistake of the summer.

**

Camp Lohikan was – and still is – a sleepaway summer camp in Lake Como, Pennsylvania for girls and boys ages six through 15. Its mission statement: “Camp Lohikan is a warm, welcoming community of children and adults who come together summer after summer to experience the FUN and personal growth of ‘camp.’”

I wonder if they know that the experience was anything but warm or welcoming for me. That the scars of my experience have yet to fade. That my brain is like a broken etch-a-sketch – no matter how many times I try and shake it, I’m stuck with the same design that can’t erase.

My mother kept letters I wrote home then and those written to me. They’re in red and white envelopes, covered in star and rollerblading stickers and aged postage marks. They’re in the best condition they can be for what they are.

I empathize.

The letters tell a story – several stories, really. But there’s a lot missing. The tye-dye shirt is missing.

As 9-year-olds our minds were still so malleable – more like tar, instead of concrete. Whatever appealing thing anyone said to us, or told us was right or wrong, would stick to us and stain our brains.

We didn’t know the consequences of our actions. I didn’t know the consequences of others’ actions. Of my actions. Of my inactions – not telling my parents what was really going on.

A sample letter:

Dear Everyone,

Sometimes, we get to sleep ‘till 8:15! Otherwise 7:15.

This actually sounds great.

Today, I went horseback riding. It’s very cool. I learned how to control a horse!

A bit of a stretch there.

Here, we have something called canteen. It’s where we get two pieces of candy for free! As in (M&M’s, Nestle Crunchbars, etc.)

… OK this sounds like a lot of fun, why wasn’t I having fun again?

My camp bunkmates are nice.

There it is. Lie.

There is Matt – (MY BEST FRIEND)

Chris – (HE LIKES TO READ)

Marco – (HE’S SEXY)

Chase – (Loves “Skating & Skateboarding”)

Matt E – (He likes COMICS)

Jordan – (HE’S NICE)

& Cody – (THE ANNOYING ONE)

The nice counselors are Dan, Alex, Alex, and Ben. I still love and miss you!

It’s time I filled in what was missing.

**

Marco and I didn’t talk about my letter, or if we did, it wasn’t anything meaningful. Most nine-year-old boys wouldn’t think to discuss the virtues of fonts, like Curlz MT vs. Arial (ugh) vs. Comic Sans (double ugh).

But at some point, Marco and I did talk about something. I called him “cute” and everyone heard.

I must have been goaded into saying so, or trying to take part in the conversations about sex that were swirling around me that summer.

My parents tried to tell me about sex before I left for camp. They plopped down on my tiny twin bed and brought me a picture book. They often read to my sister and me at night so I didn’t think much of it. Except for the fact that it wasn’t bedtime yet and my sister was purposefully not in the room.

They opened the book and there they were: Naked male and female cartoons. Hair over body parts I didn’t know could have hair. Bushy, curly, like the hair on my mother’s head.

GROSS.

“I don’t want to talk about this,” I recoiled.

They didn’t push. We never talked about it again.

I should have let it be awkward and let them tell me things. Why didn’t I?

Maybe a part of me didn’t want to know, because it would’ve been confirmation of what I knew somewhere in the rainbow recesses of my mind. Maybe I wasn’t ready to know.

My admission that Marco was “cute” led one of my bunkmates to accuse of me of wanting to have sex with another bunkmate. I didn’t know what sex was, and here someone was telling me I wanted to have sex.

“You think Marco is cute. You want to have sex with Jordan,” Chase, this red-headed, heavyset bunkmate told me. He looked like a typical bully.

I don’t know what his intentions were. Why do little boys say things like that? Why does a bully say anything at all? Was he really a bully or was he being a boy? What did it mean to be a boy? What does it mean to be a boy? Is it OK for boys to make fun of other boys over the fact one of them might be gay? Boys boys boys boys boys.

It’s easy for me to say that he was malicious. That he took something from me.

But I don’t know if his thoughts were that concrete and intentional. It’s more that homophobia stuck to us like an invisible tar.

Chase passed it on to me.

He changed how I thought – and still think – about sex. That now when I think of sex and relationships I don’t think of myself and what I want, but I think about what he wants. He being any man, any partner.

His attempts to shame my supposed sexual proclivities worked two-fold. I learned that thinking boys were cute was wrong, and that I was incapable of exerting any kind of sexual power of my own.

I never went back to camp. But it always went with me, even though I didn’t realize it.

Any inkling I had of any boy from that point forward I scrunched up like a wad of notebook paper.  I rationalized away jealousies I had when a guy friend I had in middle school started dating a girl (why was I jealous? I liked him too). I rationalized away everyone thinking I was gay in middle school by asking girls out, and rationalized away my own lack of experience in high school by doing the same. No one said “yes.”

I rationalized away my first kiss to a woman early in college, which wasn’t even a first kiss but me ending up with a clump of her hair in my mouth. I just told everyone it was my first kiss to say that I did it.

I didn’t even know there was porn to watch because I didn’t know I could seek it out. One of the chief reasons I came out at all is because I finally did away with rationalizations, gave into feelings and let myself feel pleasure for the first time. It wasn’t until then that my memories about camp came bubbling to the surface – a reckoning of my past I had to deal with, unleashed in tandem with my sexuality.

It took me even longer to actually have sex, partially out of safety concerns but more so out of a fear of rejection and otherwise weakness. I had the power to come out, but would I have the power to come on my own terms?

Yes, it turns out. And even more now that I’ve channeled Chase’s taunts from my past into something self-affirming instead of self-deprecating.

**

I became an outcast. A walking gay cliche.

No one in my bunk talked to me much after all this occurred. I kept busy with the camp circus (yes, really), which involved me balancing on a bike with campers and trained performers. Otherwise, I was mostly interested in art. Mainly because I could cry there.

I spent most of the summer crying to the art teacher, who felt so bad for me that she awarded me third place for art at the end of the four-week session. Out of the whole camp.

My stick figures don’t have necks or ears. I didn’t deserve this award.

I didn’t need to be pitied. I needed a friend. A real one.

I sought escape by observing other people. I watched this cute boy Teddy sit in front of me during our camp’s version of the X-games, and talk to two girls smitten with him. Kids were doing tricks while Teddy skated on the half-pipe of pre-adolescent romance, sliding back and forth between these two and praying he wouldn’t slip.

He bumped into one of the girls in the cafeteria once, a “meet cute” straight out of a Nora Ephron film. Trays collided, food fell all over the floor. Everyone stared and laughed. Both leaned down to pick up the remains of their camp dignity, awkward and embarrassed.

I wanted that. I wanted Teddy. I wanted the meet cute. He would never talk to me. Look at me. Would anyone?

That was never going to be me. But I didn’t know it was OK to want that to be me.

Was that all because of Chase? No. Was it partially because of Chase? Yes.

It would be easy to blame him for everything, but I can’t. He was acting the only way he knew how, and so was I.

**

I made a tie-dye shirt that summer. Yellow and green and blue and pink splattered together.

I was walking with some fellow campers back to my bunk. We passed by some newly paved blacktop, the tar still fresh and black, black, black.

It somehow got on my shirt. A small spot, but a spot nonetheless. I was still a 9-year-old after all.

My rainbow tie-dye shirt, stained with tar. For as long as I had it, even years later, the stain wouldn’t come out.