Houston’s Trans Community Faces Extra Hurdles in Harvey Recovery

After Hurricane Harvey dropped several feet of rain on the ground in Houston, Texas, all Houstonians face a rocky road to recovery. But, as the rainwater subsides, discrimination could erect several barriers between transgender people and the help they need, according to advocates who spoke to INTO.

Though exact numbers in Houston are unknown, Texas has the second-highest number of trans residents in the United States, second only to California. And, according to Lou Weaver, transgender program coordinator at Equality Texas, Houston was already a fraught space for trans people before the storm devastated the area and its surrounding suburbs. Weaver said that the “trans community has been highlighted in a horrible way” the past few years.

“Targets have been painted on people’s backs,” Weaver said. “That has led to increased scrutiny of the trans and nonbinary community and who we are.”

According to Robin Mack, a board member of Houston’s Transgender Foundation of America, the problems that trans people face stem from state-sanctioned stigma. Aside from surviving Hurricane Harvey, the state’s trans residents have also been through a turbulent few legislative years. In 2015, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance failed to pass, paving the way for unapologetic discrimination against transgender people. Only two years after HERO, Texas governor Greg Abbott called a 30-day special legislative session directly aimed at enacting a “bathroom bill” like North Carolina’s HB2 to limit transgender people’s ability to choose which restroom is appropriate for themselves.

“We’re in a time where it’s not safe to be a trans person,” Mack told INTO in a phone interview. “We’re questioning if it’s safe as a trans person to go to the bathroom. Is it safe to be a trans person who is out and visible? Not really.”

That fear of being trans in public leads to a question about how long hospitality may last in Houston’s shelter system. Houston’s George R Brown Convention Center has already gone beyond maxed out: the space is holding 11,000 people, double its estimated capacity.

According to Weaver, widespread discrimination at homeless shelters means many transgender people may forego seeking them out, even if they have the financial means (a car, gas money, etc.) to access them. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 55% of transgender people report harassment or discrimination at homeless shelters.

Weaver and Mack both said they had not heard any instances yet of trans people being denied shelter. But, Weaver said, that doesn’t mean some people aren’t staying away from shelters altogether.

“Trans people are so used to being denied services or access to a shelter,” he said.

For those who were homeless or who were housing insecure, documents that accurately reflected their gender may be lost in the waters. Without up-to-date documentation, which is extremely hard to get in Texas, recovery is a tough road.

“Houston’s water is going to drain and a lot of people are not going to have homes to come back to,” Mack said. “How do you find a welcoming landlord? How do you find resources?”

Sociologists already know that natural disasters push people into poverty. Unfortunately, for transgender people, poverty and homelessness are already common. After Harvey, transphobia could prove truly deadly if it hinders trans Houstonians from resuming life again.

“It’s going to be an even harder environment now that everything is flooded,” Mack said. “Who knows what the havoc is underneath all this water? We don’t know until it dries out.”

Here’s How LGBTQ Ugandans Are Fighting Back After Pride Was Shut Down

Uganda made headlines earlier this month when its Pride festival was shut down, but advocates say it wasn’t the parade being canceled that hurt the most. It’s that organizers weren’t even allowed to come together for a drink.

On Thursday, Aug. 17, it was announced that Pride events would be pulled for the second year in a row. Last year’s cancellation of Pride coincided with the arrest of 15 individuals during a raid of the Mr. and Mrs. Pride Pageant; at least one person was hospitalized. But activists say that as this year’s festivities were being planned, Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo began to personally harass them.

These threats were made extremely public. The minister stated in a press conference that if a parade were to be held, he would gather mobs of vigilantes to attack anyone in attendance.

The pressure on LGBTQ groups intensified after Lokodo forced Kampala’s Sheraton Hotel to nix the opening gala for Pride, scheduled for Wednesday. Organizers learned of its cancellation just hours before guests were expected to arrive. The gala would have brought together 300 people, an unprecedented number. Attendees traveled from all across the world to be there.

But Matt Beard, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group All Out, tells INTO that the real “low point” wouldn’t hit until the following day.

After the gala was blocked, organizers made the decision to disband the rest of its weeklong program of events. They were concerned about reliving the horrors of the year prior. In place of an official Pride event, 30 volunteers from the group decided to meet for drinks at a local bar. The gathering was informal and in no way related to its programming, Beard claims. The bar was even open to the public.

But word quickly leaked to Lokodo, who began to send group members threatening text messages. The minister warned that he knew where they were meeting.

“I got the sense that the movement had really hit rock bottom that day,” says Beard, who was on the ground in Uganda during the incident. “This is a movement of people who are brave and defiant. They have an incredible hunger for the justice and equality they deserve. But by Thursday evening, things had really deteriorated.”

LGBTQ people have effectively been forced to go back to the drawing boardyet againin one of the world’s most difficult countries to be a sexual or gender minority. But even in the face of unimaginable challenges, the community remains resilient.

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The 2015 Gay Happiness Index (GHI) survey showed that Uganda has the poorest quality of life for LGBTQ people. The country tied with Sudan for this dubious honor. It’s not hard to see why. Although the Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down on a constitutional challenge in 2014, Uganda is one of 34 countries in Africa where homosexuality remains illegal. Persons arrested for engaging in same-sex activity can serve up to a maximum of life in prison.

That law, an unfortunate holdover from the colonial era, has had a profound impact on public opinion in the majority Christian country: 96 percent of Ugandans claimed that society should not accept LGBTQ people in a 2013 poll from the Pew Research Center.

Many queer and trans people, fearing persecution, stay in the closet. Being out can come with severe and brutal consequences. Megan Nankabirwa, a lesbian sports star, was forced to flee Uganda earlier this year when her sexual orientation was discovered. The 30-year-old was chased through the streets by an angry mob. Nankabirwa and her partner have since applied for asylum in the United Kingdom.

But Isaac Mugisha, an organizer with Pride, tells INTO that something happened when the Anti-Homosexuality Act was nullified three years ago: People began to come out in unprecedented numbers.

“The visibility of the LGBTQ community in Uganda has increased since 2014,” says Mugisha, who believes the public bravery of queer and trans people has triggered panic among state officials. “The movement has grownthat is why the government is not sleeping. They are scared. As much as it has come at a huge cost, it is very positive.”

The ongoing challenge for that growing community will be finding meeting spaces and ways to organize that aren’t threatened by the prejudice of ministers with an animus toward the LGBTQ community. Frederick, a Ugandan activist who asked to use a pseudonym for this story, says that queer and trans people often find ways to meet in secret. But there’s always the looming danger of someone discovering the gathering and reporting it to Lokodo.

“We have to behave carefully,” Frederick says in an email. “We always have to take precautions.”

A closed-door event held in place of this year’s Pride gala shows just how absurdly laborious it can be for LGBTQ people to assemble peacefully in Uganda. Beard says that attendees had to be picked up by a driver who took them to an undisclosed location. When they arrived at the venue, guests had to be taken through an underground parking garage to get to a private meeting room.

“For the small number of people who were able to get to this event, it was a really wonderful evening,” says Beard of the Aug. 19 event, which was thrown by the Swedish LGBTQ group Rainbow Riots. Around 40 people were in attendance.

Whether a public parade will be possible in the future, though, remains uncertain. Advocates say that LGBTQ people have a right to organize under the country’s constitutional codes, and the government stated in 2015 that it would begin allowing Pride events to be held. But Beard says that Lokodo has a “big problem” with the word “Pride.” The minister has claimed that these this term is synonymous with the recruitment and promotion of homosexuality.

“No gay gathering and promotion can be allowed in Uganda,” Lokodo told The Guardian. “This is totally unacceptable.”

What LGBTQ activists will have to do, Mugisha says, is figure out “how to have Pride the Ugandan way.” Following the cancellation of this year’s events, organizers have been meeting to figure out what to call the festival. That discussion, thus far, has left the community with more questions than answers. If you don’t call it Pride, does it lose its meaning? What if next year’s event is canceled againno matter what they call it?

But Mugisha claims that Uganda’s LGBTQ community won’t be waiting until next August to move forward from its devastating month. Pride is too important.

“Pride is one of the few moments where the LGBTQ community can come out, socialize, and feel safe,” he says. “It’s important for community building that we’re able to come together. If it’s taken away, we will lose a big part of our movement.”

‘Offensive and Hurtful’ Attack Ad Claims Gay Marriage Makes Kids Transgender

An anti-LGBTQ attack ad aired in Australia on Tuesday night warning that same-sex marriage will turn the country’s children transgender.

Ahead of a national straw poll on marriage equality set to be conducted in September, the 30-second segment claims that a “Yes” could have destructive consequences. Cella White, a mother of four, tells the camera that her son’s school said he “could wear a dress next year if he felt like it.”

Another mother warns that the recognition of same-sex relationships in other countries has led to the “compulsory” adoption of gender non-conformity in schools.

A third claims that children in schools are already asked by teachers “to role play being in a same-sex relationship,” suggesting that this curriculum could become widespread if a same-sex marriage bill were to pass.

“In countries with gay marriage, parents have lost their right to choose,” the ad concludes in black-and-white title card. “We have a choice. You can say no.”

The commercial was produced by the right-wing Coalition for Marriage, a Christian lobby group which claims on its website that religious people in favor of “traditional marriage” are being discriminated against. “People’s careers are being harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster are being excluded, and schools are expected to teach the new definition to children,” its site reads.

“People should not feel pressurised [sic] to go along with same-sex marriage just because of political correctness,” the Coalition elsewhere claims.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham condemned the attack ad in a Wednesday speech delivered to the press. He claims that the commercial conflates an upcoming plebiscitein which Australians will be polled on their views of same-sex marriagewith the country’s Safe Schools program. That curriculum teaches students acceptance of LGBTQ identities.

“Look, there is only one question on the ballot paper: ‘Should same-sex marriage be allowed in Australia?’” Birmingham says, calling the ad “patently ridiculous.”

Although 61 percent of Australians support marriage equality, the country Down Under is one of the few English-speaking nations where same-sex unions have yet to be legalized. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that he won’t consider allowing a free vote in the Parliament until Australians are able to sound off on the issue. That poll, which is non-binding, will begin on September 12.

LGBTQ groups, however, opposed putting civil rights up to a public vote, arguing that it would invite incendiary rhetoric from religious extremists.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten claimed in a statement that the attack ad proved advocates right, calling it “offensive and hurtful.” Shorten, who represents the country’s Labor Party, accused Turnbull of “giving the green light to this rubbish.”

This isn’t the first instance of anti-LGBTQ backlash in recent weeks.

After the plebiscite was announced, news reports claimed that posters advising conservatives to “Stop the Fags” were “plastered all over Melbourne.” The flier, which depicts two men holding rainbow belts in front of a hunched over little boy, claims that 92 percent of children raised in same-sex households are abused by their parents. (Note: Some reports have questioned the legitimacy of those posters.)

Australians will have until November 7 to vote on marriage equality. After that time, Parliament will consider the public’s recommendation.

Illinois Just Outlawed the ‘Gay Panic’ Defense—But 48 States Still Allow It

Illinois has become the second state to ban the “gay panic” defense after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill on Friday outlawing the controversial legal argument.

The Illinois General Assembly passed State Bill 1761 in June following a unanimous vote of the House of Representatives. Often used in murder cases, the “panic” defense suggests that a defendant was not culpable for their actions because the victim’s sexuality or gender identity triggered a form of temporary insanity. At the time of writing, California is the only other state with laws on the books prohibiting this argument from being used in courts.

LGBTQ advocates in Illinois championed the bill’s passage.

“This is a huge achievement,” says Equality Illinois president Brian Johnson in a press release. “While these cases are rare, they are shocking and rooted in irrational and deep-seated fears and prejudice against LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people have historically faced and continue to suffer disproportionately high rates of violence.”

Statistics from 2016 show that LGBTQ people are more likely than members of any other group to be targeted in a hate crime, with trans women of color facing the highest risk of violence. Eighteen transgender people have been killed so far this year. Allowing these victims’ murderers to claim that their deaths were morally justifiable perpetuates the stigma and fear that led to their deaths, advocates say.

“It is the right and just thing to do,” openly gay state Rep. Greg Harris tells INTO in an email. “It makes no sense to allow murderers to escape justice because they claim that they are frightened by LGBTQ people.”

Although psychiatrist Edward J. Kampf originated the term in a 1920 treatise to describe “the pressure of uncontrollable perverse sexual cravings,” the nebulous idea that “gay panic” is a reasonable basis for homicide didn’t make its way into the legal system until 1967. Robert Rodriguez pled “not guilty by reason of insanity” after beating an old man to death in an alley. The 17-year-old testified in court that he feared the deceased was going to molest him.

In recent years, the “panic” defense has been used in a number of murder cases in which the victim was LGBTQ, including Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, and Matthew Shepard.

When Joseph Pemberton drowned Jennifer Laude in the toilet bowl of a Manila hotel room in 2014, the 20-year-old testified in court that the reason for her murder was that she “had a penis.” Laude, a 26-year-old transgender women, did not disclose her identity to Pemberton prior to their sexual encounter. The Marine claimed that he was “disgusted” by Laude, playing on the trope of deceptive trans women tricking straight men into intimacy.

“I felt like I was raped by Laude,” Pemberton said during the trial.

The “panic” argument is rarely successful at securing a not guilty verdict for defendants, but it often serves to reduce sentencing. Harris claims that what makes the defense so effective is that it “caters to the prejudices of a jury.” Jurors might identify with the feelings that motivated the actin this case, a disgust toward trans bodiesand be lenient.

The jury found that Pemberton acted out of “passion and obfuscation” and gave him an extremely light sentence for such a grave crime: 6-10 years in prison. With good behavior, Pemberton could be out even sooner.

Nearly every leading legal advocacy group has unequivocally condemned the “panic” defense, including the American Bar Association (ABA) and National LGBT Bar Association. In a 2013 resolution, the ABA urged state lawmakers to pass legislation curtailing the argument’s use in court cases. “The defense has no medical or psychological basis,” the group claimed at the time.

State laws, though, have yet to catch up with other advances in LGBTQ rights over the past few decades. Forty-eight states still allow the “gay panic” defense in court, and numerous legislative efforts to lower that number have stalled in recent years.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania have struggled to pass laws banning the legal argument, while a legislative push in the District of Columbia also stalled.

A Vice article published in June cited issues of bureaucratic inertia as standing in the way of sweeping reform. “Gay panic” bills tend to die in committee or be stonewalled by former public defenders who now hold seats in the legislature. But D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, says the real problem is that there’s a “lack of knowledge and understanding” around the issue.

“Most people still do not know that these defenses even exist,” Kemnitz tells INTO in an email. “The biggest hurdle in solving any problem is making the public aware that there is one.”

But Christy Mallory, the state and local policy director for UCLA’s Williams Institute, says that bills like the one passed in Illinois can help make the difference. If this is a “relatively new issue” for state legislatures, SB 1761 can help put the “panic” defense on the radar for other states. After New Mexico banned conversion therapy earlier this year, three more statesConnecticut, Rhode Island, and Nevadaquickly followed suit.

“Only a handful of states have even considered banning the defense legislatively,” Mallory tells INTO, “but I expect that several more states will follow California’s and Illinois’ lead over the next few years.”

‘This Man Is a Disgrace’: White House Official’s Daughter Slams Trump’s Trans Military Ban

One military veteran had some harsh words for President Trump on Instagram after the POTUS announced he would be banning trans people from serving in the armed forces.

Jennifer Detlefsen, who served in the Navy, referred to Trump as a “know-nothing, never-served piece of shit” in a July post responding the president’s initial tweets on the subject of transgender military service. He claimed that allowing trans troops to enlist would entail “tremendous medical costs and disruption,” allegations that have since been debunked.

“This man is a disgrace,” Detlefsen said in a July 26 Instagram post. “I’ve tried to keep politics out of my social media feed as much as possible, but this is inexcusable. This veteran says sit down and shut the fuck up.”

She added #ITMFA to the post, a popular hashtag used to call for Trump’s impeachment.

This post could cause some disruption for the White House: Detlefsen is the daughter of Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for overseeing the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Detlefsen said in an email to CNN that her comments solely reflect her personal opinions, not those of her powerful father.

“My views are my own and not at all related to my father’s position,” millions of other people have said the same as I did, and more eloquently,” claimed Detlefsen, who currently works as an artist in Virginia. “The thousands of transgender military service members who are under attack by this administration are the ones who should be given a chance to have their voices heard.”

After a month of speculation, Trump signed a memo on Friday effectively reversing a year-old Obama administration decision that allowed trans people to serve openly for the first time.

That directive, while preventing transgender people from enlisting in the military, also gives Gen. James Mattis wide latitude to remove trans troops from active duty. It allows the Defense Secretary to discharge service members based on the criteria of “military effectiveness and lethality, unitary cohesion, budgetary constraints, applicable law, and all factors that may be relevant.”

The policy is set to be fully implemented by next March.

The White House has yet to respond to Detlefsen’s remarks and did not reply to CNN’s request for comment. She has yet to take down the Instagram post.

Evangelical Leaders Attack LGBTQ People While Houston Is Underwater

Over 150 evangelical leaders endorsed a “Christian manifesto” on Tuesday condemning same-sex marriage, premarital sex, and transgender people as “immoral.”

Known as the “Nashville Statement,” the document was released by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which was founded in 1987 to “defend” religious people from the scourge of “secular feminism.” President Denny Burk claims in a statement that the manifesto’s intent is to clear up “some of the most basic questions of our humanity,” namely when it comes to gender identity and sexuality.

“The aim of the Nashville Statement is to shine a light into the darknessto declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female,” Burk says.

The 14-point document, which is intended to inform doctrine at evangelical churches across the United States, begins by stating that marriage is solely between “one man and one woman.” It adds that Biblical unions are designed to be “procreative” and “signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.”

“We deny that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship,” the manifesto reads.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Nashville Statement is its position on trans identity, enumerated in the fifth point. The document claims that “the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.”

The manifesto adds that being transgender or queer is a “departure from Christian faithfulness” and not a topic on which “otherwise faithful Christian should agree to disagree.”

The Nashville Statement was a signed by a murderer’s row of conservative evangelical leaders. Signatories included Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, the Trump advisor who repeatedly pushed the president to block trans people from military service.

That ban, signed last Friday, is set take effect in March.

Even aside from the White House’s squabble over trans people in the military, the statement’s release was poorly timed. Just days before the statement was sent out to churches across the country, Houston was pounded by a Category 4 hurricane. The damage from Hurricane Harvey has left 22 people dead. Estimates suggest that more than 450,000 people will require FEMA relief in the wake of the historic storm.

Right-wing leaders have responded by denying shelter to hurricane victims and blaming the natural disaster on LGBTQ people.

Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, reportedly turned away community residents seeking shelter after their homes were damaged in Hurricane Harvey. The church would begin accepting flood refugees following public pressure. Dismissing the impact of climate change, conservative talking head Ann Coulter claimed that the storm was “God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor.” (Annise Parker left office in 2016.)

Notable LGBTQ figures likeDeray MckessonandRoxane Gayhave called out the “hypocrisy” of the Nashville Statement, and the city’s mayor,Megan Barry, claimed it “does not represent” Nashville’s values.

But its authors have stood firm.

“It speaks with forthright clarity, biblical conviction, gospel compassion, cultural relevance, and practical helpfulness,” claims John Piper, co-founder of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in a statement. “It will prove to be, I believe, enormously helpful for thousands of pastors and leaders hoping to give wise, biblical, and gracious guidance to their people.”

Burk adds that the manifesto is a “line in the sand.”

“Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise,” he says.

Sorry, General Mattis Did Nothing But Towel Slap Trump’s Butt on the Trans Military Ban

Let’s not hand “Mad Dog” a trans pride flag just yet.

Though many outlets, including NPR and USA Today, reported that General James Mattis stalled Trump’s transgender military ban, a closer inspection of Mattis’s statement shows that it reflects, not refutes, the original language of Trump’s declaration.

The second sentence of Mattis’s declaration says that it “will carry out the president’s policy direction,” and that it will develop a study and implementation plan “as directed.”

In a statement to INTO, Department of Defense spokesperson Paul Haverstick confirmed that the statement was coordinated with the White House.

“The President gave a directive and the Secretary of Defense is implementing it ‎exactly as he would any other directive- through careful research and consultation with experts who can best advise the on the way to move forward,” Haverstick said.

The directive to study the effect of transgender people openly serving in the military comes directly from Trump himself. In the president’s original statement on transgender military service, he says Mattis will “submit to me a plan for implementing both the general policy and the specific directives” in his memo.

As ThinkProgress points out, Trump’s original memo also stated that his memo will be implemented in stages, as well. The earliest of those stages came on January 1, 2018, almost four months after the memo’s release.

In a statement to Towleroad, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights called headlines suggesting Mattis’s heart had grown three sizes when it comes to trans troops “grossly misleading.”

“Secretary Mattis did not make a decision to “buy time” or to “freeze” the current policy,” Minter said. “There is nothing new at all here, and suggesting otherwise is terribly misleading.”

Turns out, most of Mattis’s rubber-stamping bureaucratese amounts to little more than saying “Good game” and slapping Trump on his butt.

Pro Wrestling and One Trans Guy’s Path to Self-Confidence

Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Orlando’s Amway Center is packed and swelteringly hot. This is not the time or place for all denim everything. A year ago, almost to the day, I would not have believed this was the time or place for me.

I’m losing my mind as a man in a stylish white outfit plays violin under a blinding spotlight. Distracted parents around me heft sleepy children in their arms, but the building enthusiasm of the crowd piques their interest as the stage lights flash and a man saunters out in red leather in time with the quickening quiver of the music with the effortless confidence of Mercury or Bowie.

This has been an exhausting WrestleMania week, filled to the brim with some of the best wrestling the world has to offer and culminating for me with Shinsuke Nakamura’s debut on WWE Smackdown. Thousands of casual wrestling fans will leave this stadium with his name and the passionate wailing of violinist Lee England, Jr.’s performance of “The Rising Sun” etched forever in their memories. Amidst the roar of the crowd, this is the most effortlessly happy I’ve been as a trans man in a long time.

I’ve been aware of professional wrestling probably as long as I have been aware, in the back of my mind, that I did not like being she or her. The other boys in my classes let me listen in when they shared stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin. I knew of Vader and Mankind, even if it was from Boy Meets World instead of a wrestling ring.

I circled around to wrestling through comics in 2016 in much the same way I would slowly circle around to my gender identity over a decade earlier, through adjacent interests. As Goldust taunts his opponents in the WWE with suggestive touches and seductive looks, I look surly in rare family photos featuring me, chubby as ever, in ill-fitting skirts. As GLAAD is consulting with the WWE on a disastrous and mean-spirited “commitment ceremony,” I sat sour in high school auditions knowing how well I would do if they just let me audition with the boys, trying to work out why I like the word gay, but don’t know if I like girls.

There is, in my opinion, no medium that more clearly demonstrates the concept of performative masculinity than pro-wrestling. In the following years where I learn about “trans” and “genderqueer,” stumbling to find the face I want to present to the world, to figure out if the face is slacks or skirts and whether I can still wear mascara either way, wrestling is parading in front of its fans a staggering variety of bombastic, colorful manliness.

Ric Flair might be one of wrestling’s greatest villainous heels, but he’s also one of wrestling’s most fashionable personas, with his shimmering, glittering robes and feathery blond hair. There’s Stone Cold Steve Austin’s utilitarian, working-man aesthetic or the cartoonish colors and buoyant fringe of the Macho Man, Randy Savage. There’s a spectrum to be tracked there, a spectrum of a good guy’s spartan gear to a bad man’s sequined resplendence, laden with casual misogyny and homophobia. For better or for worse, as I’m stumbling to find myself, wrestling is building a bridge of unusual characters I will later cross filled with delight and disgust in equal measure.

In a perfect world a world with a cleaner trajectory for positive portrayals of the LGBTQ community in media I could track these parallels for over a decade. I could find myself being welcomed with open arms into the wrestling community in 2016, only to discover that as I have found confidence and comfort in embracing my identity, wrestling has accepted me and my community as valid and fans worthy of a chance to see ourselves in the ring.

But the world is the way the world is today, and wrestling is dominated by a company managed by a husband and wife who gave millions to a President who suggested trans Americans aren’t fit to serve their country.

It’s true Goldust doesn’t wear the wig anymore, or taunt his opponents with unsettling physical intimacy. It’s true no one on camera talks about Mickie James’ obsession with Trish Stratus. Some wrestlers even have their own portmanteau — Tyler Breeze and Fandango, Breezango — and flit weekly through parody vignettes that call to mind the “alternate universe” fanfiction popular amongst countless fan-writers for decades. While on NXT, the WWE’s “developmental” streaming-only brand, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce declare each other life partners, the self-styled Iconic Duo of the women’s division.

But as this happens, there are only two out gay or lesbian wrestlers in the WWE, and only a handful more making names for themselves on the independent circuit. For every out wrestler, or every vocal ally, there are half a dozen more wrestlers and fans screaming “the product” is getting “too gay.” The WWE is rightfully proud to publicly support Pat Patterson, their inaugural Intercontinental Champion, but his forty year relationship with his partner Louie Dondero wasn’t acknowledged publicly by the WWE until 2014 — almost a decade after Dondero’s death in 1998.

When to make that acknowledgment is absolutely Patterson’s decision, and Patterson’s alone. Forty years is a long time to not acknowledge a person you’re sharing your life with, though, and speaks to the reality that pro wrestling is a deeply masculine and heteronormative form of entertainment with a sometimes aggressively masculine audience.

I fell in love with wrestling through comics, after a year of watching my peers and friends talking about attractive men performing breathtaking athletic feats every single week. I fell in love with wrestling because I had the good fortune to know fans who were my friends first and foremost, who knew I was a gay trans man, who could hold my hand and lead me to the best of what wrestling has to offer, through the minefields of the worst of its long and unpleasant history with women, queer characters, characters of color.

In spite of wrestling’s inescapable history, I have clawed my way to a new understanding of my own masculinity. As much as pro wrestling has shown me what I think being a man shouldn’t be, it has driven me to help other new fans find a safe space in this community as my friends helped me. It has shown me what I want being a man to mean — passionate, dedicated, stylish, a chameleon who winds his way through aesthetics the way Ric Flair and his daughter Charlotte go through robes, or Seth Rollins goes through gear, finding colors and patterns to suit my mood day to day. Like NXT’s Sonya DeVille or indie wrestling’s Jack Sexsmith, I feel more confident making space for myself in a space that is, at best, ambivalent towards me.

Standing in the Amway Center, belting out the wordless pounding rhythm of Shinsuke Nakamura’s theme “The Rising Sun” with thousands and thousands of other fans who may never know who I am, who might not care or might recoil in confusion or discomfort if they did, I have never felt more confident in myself and my identity and the face I present to the world.

How LGBTQ People Are Helping Charlottesville Rebuild After Tragedy

Bill Harrison never thought he’d see hate march down the streets of Virginia again.

The 64-year-old Virginian, who grew up with the Ku Klux Klan as a fixture of Southern life, tells INTO that the scene in Charlottesville on Aug. 12 looked eerily familiar: white men in polo shirts carrying identical pitchforks to defend the legacy of racism. The protesters were gathered in the small Virginia town for a “Unite the Right” rally, lobbying against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public park.

“To me, it was like watching a movie from the old days,” Harrison says in a phone interview. “But it wasn’t a movie. It actually happenedand it happened now.”

Three people were killed as a result of a violent clash between the “alt-right,” the nickname for a loosely connected array of white supremacist groups, and anti-racist counter-protesters. That violence shocked America and left local communities struggling to grapple with the aftermath. When Charlottesville’s newspaper ran a front page photograph of a car plowing through a crowd of people, Harrison says the image cut through the town like a knife.

“This happened in our homes,” he explains. “That’s what it feels like.”

But in the wake of unthinkable tragedy, local LGBTQ communities have stepped up. Advocacy organizations and community members have been on the front lines, offering their support to the victims in Charlottesville at a time when they need it most.

Harrison is the president and executive director of Diversity Richmond, the city’s local LGBTQ group. After Charlottesville, the organization decided to send a message condemning hate: “We Are All Born To Love.” Three years ago, that message was emblazoned on a billboard along Interstate 95 as a response to a local anti-LGBTQ campaign that caused a stir in the town. A “pro-family” group put up their own billboard reading: “No One Is Born Gay.”

Diversity Richmond struck a deal with the Lamar Advertising Company, who operates outdoor billboards across the United States. When the company has inventory that it does not sell, Harrison’s group is allowed to use it for free.

With that partnership in place, Harrison thought it was time to bring the old billboard back.

“Injustice is injustice,” Harrison says. “For those of us in the LGBTQ community, we can identify with discrimination and mistreatment because a lot of us have lived it. We have all been to Charlottesville many, many times. We all have friends and family who live therejust about everybody does. It’s still an issue that’s in all of our minds.’

The billboard’s return is well-timed. Charlottesville, which is about 70 miles away from Richmond, is gearing up for its yearly Pride festival on September 16, one which has taken on a more subdued, solemn tone. Amy Marshall, president of Charlottesville Pride Community Network, says that organizers have been focused on the event being “a place of celebration and healing.”

Although the Charlottesville protest was overtly rooted in white supremacy, neo-Nazism is often entangled with homophobia. Videos of the alt-right march show protesters chanting “Fuck you, faggots” in response to the anti-racist contingent.

But Marshall says that onlookers won’t see much LGBTQ-focused programming in Charlottesville outside of the Pride festival, even despite the free therapy and counseling services being offered to members of the community. That’s because queer and trans leaders have been focused on being allies to communities of color, particularly non-white people in their own community.

“We’ve been supporting the events that have been going on,” Marshall claims, pointing to local town halls, gatherings, and worship services. “We’re so segregated. We need to show up for each other.”

That work will take time and effort. Marshall says that having a conversation about white supremacy in Charlottesville’s LGBTQ community can be a challenge, as people who are marginalized often struggle to recognize the ways in which they are privileged. White community members are frequently receptive to the message, but other times the discussion is “not so great,” she explains.

“It’s about pushing everybody to confront and have difficult conversations,” Marshall says. “It’s not OK for people to sit in their bubbles and be fine with it. It’s been a heartbreaking time.”

One of the biggest struggles, though, will be building trust in Charlottesville between police and local communities. Prior to the violence that erupted on Aug. 12, reports allege that law enforcement left the scene. The reasons for their departure are unclear, and Marshall claims that police have yet to be transparent about their failure to act decisively.

“They didn’t do anything,” Anderson says. “Violence was happening, and the police were just standing there. They weren’t interfering. They were supposed to be keeping people safe. People were calling 911 over and over again. No one came.”

“People still haven’t heard answers,” she adds. “We’ve only heard people pointing fingers.”

At least one Virginia LGBTQ group has responded to Charlottesville by “doubling down” on its efforts to further cooperation and collaboration between law enforcement and local communities.

Hampton Roads Pride began working with police in the area following last year’s Pulse shooting; their goal was to ensure law enforcement would be able to respond to violence against the LGBTQ community in an affirming manner. Statistics from UCLA’s The Williams Institute show that trans women of color are disproportionately likely to be harassed by police. Even in the event of a mass shooting, these populations may be cautious to work with the first responders there to save their lives.

“We’re engaged in bridge-building that we think lays the groundwork for a culture of inclusion, dignity, and respect,” says Michael Berlucchi, president of the Pride group in the small coastal town, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Charlottesville.

In the past year, Hampton Roads has worked with local law enforcement agencies to appoint LGBTQ liaison officers well-versed in the intersections of the community. When the Pride group began its campaign, just one city in the metropolitan area had a full-time staffer in its police department dedicated to the queer and trans community. Now all of them do.

That’s a major win. The metro area, which includes Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake, accounts for 1.7 million people.

Berlucchi believes that this work will be important if an event like what took place in Charlottesvilleor even Orlando last yearcame to Hampton Roads. Richard Spencer, an increasingly influential figure in the alt-right movement, has claimed that future protests are already being planned in Virginia. Spencer told USA Today that he wants to make Charlottesville the “center of the universe.”

“We’re going to need each other,” Berlucchi says. “We just don’t know when yet.”

Daughter of White House Official Slams Military Trans Ban

One military veteran had some harsh words for President Trump on Instagram after the POTUS announced he would be banning trans people from serving in the armed forces.

Jennifer Detlefsen, who served in the Navy, referred to Trump as a “know-nothing, never-served piece of shit” in a July post responding the president’s initial tweets on the subject of transgender military service. He claimed that allowing trans troops to enlist would entail “tremendous medical costs and disruption,” allegations that have since been debunked.

“This man is a disgrace,” Detlefsen said in a July 26 Instagram post. “I’ve tried to keep politics out of my social media feed as much as possible, but this is inexcusable. This veteran says sit down and shut the fuck up.”

She added #ITMFA to the post, a popular hashtag used to call for Trump’s impeachment.

Detlefsen said in an email to CNN that her comments solely reflect her personal opinions, not those of her powerful father.

“My views are my own and not at all related to my father’s position,” millions of other people have said the same as I did, and more eloquently,” claimed Detlefsen, who currently works as an artist in Virginia. “The thousands of transgender military service members who are under attack by this administration are the ones who should be given a chance to have their voices heard.”

After a month of speculation, Trump signed a memo on Friday effectively reversing a year-old Obama administration decision that allowed trans people to serve openly for the first time.

That directive, while preventing transgender people from enlisting in the military, also gives Gen. James Mattis wide latitude to remove trans troops from active duty. It allows the Defense Secretary to discharge service members based on the criteria of “military effectiveness and lethality, unitary cohesion, budgetary constraints, applicable law, and all factors that may be relevant.”

The policy is set to be fully implemented by next March.

The White House has yet to respond to Detlefsen’s remarks and did not reply to CNN’s request for comment. She has yet to take down the Instagram post.