Meet The Dallas Leather Bar Owner Running For Governor Of Texas

Texas’ anti-LGBTQ governor may face off against the unlikeliest of opponents in next year’s race: a leather bar owner. Jeffrey Payne, who became the sole owner of the Dallas Eagle in 2015, threw his hat in the ring in July to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott.

If he becomes the Democratic nominee in 2018, Payne would become the first openly gay man to be a gubernatorial candidate for a major party in Texas’ historyand certainly the first in a same-sex marriage. He faces a steep uphill battle to get there: A Democrat hasn’t occupied the governor’s mansion in over 25 years. In addition, the Republican-dominated state has faced harsh anti-gay backlash in 2017with more than 20 bills targeting the LGBTQ community introduced in the legislature.

“I’ve seen more divisiveness in the past few years than I care to comment on,” Payne tells INTO in a phone interview. “We need someone in the governor’s mansion who cares more about bringing people together than dividing them.”

Payne might seem like a long-shot, but he says he’s been beating the odds his whole life.

The 48-year-old spent his childhood in an orphanage after his mother passed away when he was just three years old. Payne would enter the foster care system when he was 15, attending 14 different schools before he graduated high school. His upbringing wasn’t easy, Payne says, but he learned not to take things for granted. His house parents in the orphanage impressed upon him the value of studying and work hard from a young age. Ms. Lonnie, a cook who came in “every day except Christmas,” taught him how to make his own meals.

“It made me who I am,” Payne argues. “As an orphan, you understand that life is not always going to be a bed of roses. You learn to depend on yourself.”

Those lessons became very real in 2005 when Payne’s house was destroyed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He owned a home in Gentilly, a middle-class neighborhood located near the New Orleans fairgrounds, with his two dogs. That day, he remembers that there was no news about what was happeningno radios or televisions. But Payne knew something was wrong when the water “started coming up from the manholes rather than going down.”

Gentilly’s was the last levee to break, the flood destroying his home, his car, and everything he worked for. FEMA wouldn’t allow Payne back into his house for two weeks. But when he finally returned to survey the damage, Payne knew he was one of the fortunate ones.

“When I looked around the neighborhood, I saw those big X’s on the doors, and those X’s told a story,” he says. “The National Guard came in and wrote how many people they found, how many people didn’t make it, and the date they were there. This neighborhood where people would leave the door open on a Sunday and the neighbors would walk by, say hello, and share a glass of wine, suddenly it’s all gone.”

Payne relocated to Dallas in 2005 with nothing but his dogs and $2,000 to his name.

But since then, Payne has worked tirelessly to rebuild. He started five businesses, including a court reporting firm and a landholding company. Payne’s charity work is extensive: The entrepreneur founded the Sharon St. Cyr organization, named for his mother, to assist low-income people with disabilities to purchase hearing aid equipment. Payne, who is hard of hearing himself, says that cochlear devices can cost between $5,000 and $7,000. It’s a steep price for those on a fixed income.

Payne’s philanthropic spirit, he says, is also what attracted him to Dallas’ leather scene, which helped him find a community in a new place.

“What originally attracted me was the inclusiveness of the leather crowd,” claims Payne, who became a shareholder in the local Eagle franchise before buying out his partners two years ago. “I was gay, but I didn’t feel like I belonged to a certain niche. I loved the fact that the community did a lot of fundraising. They took care of other people. There was a sense of belonging.”

Payne would have the opportunity to represent the leather community in 2009 when he bested 52 other contestants to win the title of International Mr. Leather. He says he was “the last person on stage” he thought would win. But the unexpected victory gave him the opportunity to travel the world, using his platform to raise money for HIV/AIDS organizations in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Australia.

“My message was about celebrating who we are as individuals,” he says. “Learn to like or love yourself, because when that happens, you allow other people to love you as well.”

That message, while undoubtedly inspiring, may not go over so well in one of the nation’s most conservative states. In 2017, Gov. Abbott pushed an anti-trans bathroom bill, known as Senate Bill 6, that would force transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificate. When the discriminatory legislation failed to pass before the end of the 2017-2018 session, Abbott reconvened the General Assembly in July to force it through. SB 6 failed a second time.

Payne spoke with INTO just days after the special session wrapped, but he wasn’t hopeful that Texas would survive another anti-LGBTQ assault.

One of the major forces stopping the bathroom bill’s enactment was House Speaker Joe Straus, who broke party ranks by coming out against the legislation. The Republican politician claimed that a bill targeting the trans community would be “bad for business.” Straus told the Texas Tribune that legalizing discrimination would send “the wrong signal” about what the state stands for.

But Straus has powerful foes: Abbott claimed in June that he was keeping a “list” of people who don’t support his agenda, which could hurt the speaker’s reelection chances. Next time around, Payne says LGBTQ Texans may not have such a strong gatekeeper in the General Assembly.

“Just because the bill died here does not mean that it’s not going to rear its head again,” Payne says. “We need as many people as possible who are willing to stand in this bill’s way.”

The Democratic hopeful says that where trans people go to the bathroom is a “non-issue.” Instead, he would like to see Texas lawmakers focus on what’s importantreforming the state’s health care and public school system. A 2016 survey from Education Week ranked Texas schools 43rd in the nation, just above Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama. A damning report published the same year found that the Lone Star State has the highest mortality rate for expectant mothers in the developed world.

Payne calls bills like SB 6 nothing but a “distraction,” one that allows far-right conservatives to play to their base. It’s about getting votes, not doing what’s best for Texas.

What separates his candidacy, Payne claims, is that he’s not a politician. Because he’s an outsider and not a career bureaucrat, Payne isn’t worried about his reelection campaign. He’s motivated by what the people want. That statement, while a nice sentiment, isn’t entirely accurate: Payne was the director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission through the Department of Labor before Katrina hit. The department was subsequently downsized due to funding cuts.

But whether or not Payne is a true outsider, the real question about Payne’s bid for governor will be whether someone who made his name as a businessman is suited to lead a state of 27 million. Texas is the nation’s second most populous state. Our Oval Office is currently occupied by Donald Trumpwho claimed that his corporate experience would make him a suitable Commander-in-Chief.

Given the president’s plummeting poll numbers, it seems a growing number of Americans disagree with that statement.

What separates Payne’s candidacy from Trump, he says, is his record. As a business leader in the Dallas community for 12 years, Payne claims that he has a history of bringing people together, instead of dividing them. After taking over the Eagle in 2015, he started the ILSb-ICBB. That unwieldy acronym represents the non-profit arm of the Dallas leather community, one which serves to raise money for local charity groups.

“I have proven who I am,” Payne says. “That’s what you’re going to get when you’re in the governor’s mansion. You can fake it for a couple of months while you’re running for office. You can’t fake it for 48 years.”

Hooking Up In Antarctica

When people ask me what it’s like to travel to Antarctica, I tell them “It’s as if time stopped and I went to Narnia.” Even words like “vast” come up short when detailing the epic size, the icy endlessness, and extraordinary wildlife.

The only way to come close to conveying how special Antarctica is, one needs to describe it in terms relative to IMAX 3D or Virtual Reality. In this case, virtual being the operative word. Regardless of natural beauty, previous experience led me to believe that it was a place where gays simply didn’t go. But that was before the age of expensive satellite wifi.

“Who are you chatting with?” I asked my travel buddy David as we pitched and waned in heavy seas, on the way past Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of Argentina, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula. Turns out, the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions are just as disparate in sexual identity as they are in biodiversity.

“You’d be amazed,” David said, flashing his phone at me. “There are gays on this ship.”

Like many, I go through app cleanses and have to delete all social media in order to have peace of mind. I did not want to voyage all the way to Narnia only to bury my face in my phone. But with the advice of David, I re-downloaded Grindr and some other apps. Sure enough, there were LGBTQs all over the place: on our ship, on other ships, and on international research stations.

Opening up apps like Grindr in strange places is nothing new, especially where queer culture is so DL. “Oh the first thing I did when I went to the Vatican” one friend tells me or “You’d be amazed at how many closeted Mormons chat me up in Salt Lake,” says another. It’s almost as if it’s the first thing we do when we hit the tarmac (or in this case ice flow).

However, as I started chatting with all the men below 65 degrees latitude, the reasons for being on apps like Grindr became increasingly not what I expected.

“I use it predominantly NOT for hookups but travel tips.” Mark, fellow polar enthusiast explains. Mark’s been to Antarctica numerous times and is even slated to work for The National Science Foundation at their various research facilities, most likely McMurdo, the largest research facility on Ross Island (New Zealand side). “It’s a great way to meet the locals and explore a region like a local. Get off the beaten track and go where the real people go.”

What’s cool about going to Antarctica is that it falls under two genres of travel: expedition tourism or scientific research. In my particular case, I was aboard a Lindblad/National Geographic collaboration, which is not a typical cruise. It’s more like a floating classroom. Armed with guides and lecturers who are off duty scientists at the top of their field, and a strange continent teeming with biodiversity, guests are there to learn, phones off and stowed away. But when you’re alone in your cabin, with the phone onthe learning doesn’t stop.

“It’s like a gigantic nerd-gasm on here,” I told David one midnight, the sun was still up. “No one is hooking up, as much as they are blabbing about their experiences.” At that very moment, I was literally chatting about seals with a Ukrainian researcher at Vernadsky Station. But it wasn’t like we were going to dock there.

By the very nature of traveling to a continent that’s double the size of Australia and covered in glaciers is that, although dudes are on Grindr it doesn’t mean they are accessible in person. “I landed at Esperanza, an Argentine base and they had an open wifi network,” Mark tells me of his last trip, where he circumnavigated the continent. “And when I turned on Grindr the closest person was 740 miles from me.” So we are all closeyet so far away from each other.

And it’s all about the wifi, which can be spotty at bestif it’s even available. Obviously, there’s no cell service in Antarctica so you either pay for pricey satellite (which can require a line of sight) or, like Mark, pray for open networks when you go ashore.

When it comes to McMurdo, or other NSF stations, which are staffed by Raytheon; you might not get anything at all. Due to the sensitivity of some science equipment (like say, a Neutrino Observatory or something) and loads of top secret NDAs the internet is locked down. In which case, gays might have to meet each other the old-old fashioned way.

“I hear down near the power plant at McMurdo is super old-school cruisy,” Mark lets me know. And don’t forget the time of year. Austral summer is warm enough for the ships to come through and for the research stations to have their “summer camps.” Otherwise, it’s about eight months worth of darkness and subzero isolation for the brave scientists and support staff.

“Christmas Holidays are always the best time,” says Andy, who works on my ship. Andy has been coming to Antarctica for nine seasons and spends the off time in Oregon with his husband. “It’s when all the families with college kids who can take time off come, and the snow is still white and not covered in Penguin guano.”

“Ten years ago, my friends would ask me why I go to Antarctica,” says Mark. “But now, they ask me how I go to Antarctica.” As the wifi situation slowly changes as it has over the years, perhaps more gays will come.

To steal Mark’s line, maybe we can lure them by telling them: “It’s the ultimate White Party.”

Freedom, sex, and youth in São Paulo’s nightlife

The sand, the beach, and guys wearing Speedos might just be your favorite version of what summer should be, but it’s not the only one. In the city, a hot summer finds room in every crowded dance floor and the perky flirtation that goes with it.

For Gianfranco Briceño, a Peruvian photographer who lives in Brazil, that scenario became the new subject of what he defines as raw photography. São Paulo’s nightlife runs wild every season, but it was during summer that Gianfranco decided to capture the intense vibration that inhabits part of the gay youth reality and works as an expression of their freedom.

“São Paulo is burning,” says the slogan on a crowdfunding website: that’s how KCT Private Club, the name of his annual photo fanzine, came to life. Currently in the second issue, the project is an intimate depiction of the hypersexuality that surrounds part of the young gay community in one of the most culturally diverse cities in Brazil. The initials “KCT” work as a jokewhen pronounced, they create the sound of the word cacete, slang for dick in Portuguese.

Prior to this, he worked with a lighter version of male nude photography, called Snaps Fanzine, a five-issue publication that ended in 2015. Sold throughout countries in Europe, Snaps is still one of the few independent publications dedicated to the LGBTQ universe in Brazil. We spoke with Gianfranco about both of his fanzines, São Paulo’s city life, his creative process, and his relation to the boys he photographed:

How did the idea for Snaps first come up?

I’m a fashion photographer, and I started taking pictures of some of my friends in my spare time, trying more intimate anglesa style I became very fond of. And people would always tell me that I should do something with those photos, so in 2013 I decided to create a fanzine based on male nude photography. Back then, there were very few independent publications being published in Brazil, probably not a single one dedicated to this universe I wanted to explore with Snaps.

What was Snaps’ main concept when you released the first issue?

I had no great ambitions: I invited some guys for photo shoots and then printed a small number of copies, about 300, that I’d give to my friends or add it to my portfolio. I ended up using a crowdfunding platform since a lot of people were interested in the project, and for the following issues, I raised the number of copies, ranging from 800 to 1,000. But Snaps was basically a male nude fanzine built with a naturalistic look, instead of embodying those dramatic, conventional poses.


Were all models from Brazil?

Yes. At first, I had only invited people I already knew, friends who understood how things were going to work out and who trusted me enough to, well, take off their clothes. As the fanzine’s popularity started to grow, I invited other guys, sometimes from Facebook or Instagram, or people I met at parties. For KCT, the new project that followed Snaps’ five issues, my approach to these models flowed even more organically.

And why did you decide to end the fanzine and start KCT’s annual project?

I worked with Snaps for two years and it was great, but I got a bit tired of this candid, romantic image that is clearly what Snaps is all about. My interest in that perspective had come to an end. I was interested in creating something bolder, and for that, I took my main sources of inspiration: the city, the night, and the youth. I turned my eyes to São Paulo’s nightlife and realized there was an effervescent movement of young men deeply connected to their sexuality and expressing themselves a lot more freely, with no taboos. So KCT is a record of that point when youth, sex, and night come together.

Is KCT an evolution of Snaps?

It is, absolutely. And the whole experience I’ve had shooting pictures of nude people turned out to be a good background for doing something different. Now, this a project I really like, because it is daring and it allows me to portray this setting in many forms, using collages and other shapes that work well in print. I’ve always wanted the pages to have more movement, packed with different subjects and little details that almost pop out of the page. I wanted more graphic intervention. Sometimes, I cut photos by hand, picking up scissors and paper, in order to get that effectI’m able to create more in this process.

Which aspects of São Paulo’s nightlife work as a source of inspiration for your photos?

Six years ago, when I first started living here, I would go to all these different partiescollective parties, mostly, the ones that play techno in big sheds or garages with people dancing all night long. As the nightlife became more familiar to me, I realized people in these places are much looser, and night itself is inherently connected to sex. Dating apps or the expectation of having an after-party also play a role in this, of course. That’s what gave me the directions for KCT’s photos, so I just started asking myself: how do these boys like to express themselves?

Do you try to build a relationship with the models before taking pictures of them?

Usually, I put some music on and they like to drink something before we start. I try to create an environment that is pleasing to them. Some of them might be shy, so we keep talking for a while in order to create intimacy and make them more comfortable. Maybe I’m just lucky, but the boys I choose are usually okay with the idea of being naked.Most of them are very cute about all this.

For KCT, more important than considering their bodies or their looks, I go for those who seem to have more attitude. That might be useful for the moment I start taking pictures.

Is that attitude perceptible in the final result?

Oh yes. But it’s still a very natural result, and maybe that’s an aspect both of my fanzines share. I’m not a huge fan of meticulously planned things. I never tell these boys what to do or ask them to put their hands like this and act in a certain way. The best pictures are born when I don’t intervene.

Are these pictures an accurate translation of the boys’ attitudes towards sex or are they closer to your own version of this reality?

A combination of both, I guess, but I don’t follow them all the time to be sure, of course [laughs]. It’s one thing being alone with a guy in a room, free and unrestrained, but it’s quite another when someone’s there pressing the shutter button and taking pictures of you having sex. But in the end, I’m always the creator of these images, and when you photograph two guys hooking up, you create a combination of what happened and what you were able to notice. Nevertheless, these boys live in connection with their freedom and I believe today’s youth is remarkably hypersexual. Their relation with sex starts developing much earlier.

A Queer Weekend in Baltimore: Pink Flamingoes & A Divine 10-Foot Drag Queen

Hey listen, I never thought I would take a trip to Baltimore (on purpose), and actually like it. It’s not that I had a preconceived notion about the city, but it just was never on my radar.

But with its close proximity to cities we love (NYC, D.C., Philly), a weekend escape to Baltimore is actually worth exploring. What once was a city tarnished with a bad reputation of being crime ridden, Charm City has cleaned itself up and is quickly rebranding itself as a more visitor friendly destination.

My first stop on my Charm City tour was the American Visionary Art Museum, a most odd collection of absurd art. The official museum description says, “the museum specializes in the preservation and display of outsider art,” with outsider being the key takeaway from that statement.

It’s one of those places that one can get lost in while easily questioning what they are actually seeing. In one of the exhibition rooms, I found myself surrounded by a larger than life works of art. The one that caught my eye in particular, was a 10-foot statue of the famous Drag Queen: Divine. “Divine” has a permanent home now at the AVAM, and is a showstopper, to say the least.

The gift shop was also a great time waster, as it’s filled with nothing but treasures and upstairs, in the main building is Encantada, a gem of a restaurant that focuses heavy on healthy eating, so expect lots of veggies and vegan/vegetarian options, although they do also serve more traditional options as well.

When traveling through domestic cities, I always try and find the best barbershop, since they are so on trend and it’s always fun to compare different shops around the country. I remember asking around and each time I did, I would always get the same referral, so I decided to carve out some time for a visit.

Opened in 2005 as a four-chair grooming shop, and reimagined in 2015 and reopening as a one-stop destination for those who appreciate the finer things in life, the QG can easily fill up an afternoon. The 6-floor classic department store includes a barbershop, tailor, clothing retail for both men and women, a cigar shop, spa and even an unpublicized speakeasy on the top floor with a food menu to pair with the extensive bar list. Of course I started my experience at the bar, with a stiff drink, while I waited for my barber.

When it was my turn, I was so pleased to see that that my barber was a female. This (besides the bar) was a good indication that this was a more progressive barbershop. After gabbing about our favorite pop songs currently on the radio and once my fade was beyond fixed, we made plans to meet up later that night, as she revealed to me that she was a lesbian and also moonlights as a bartender, so it was a match made in heavenas I love drinks and lesbians.

Needless to say, that evening was a success, as she was able to show off her barbering skills to her friends at the bar, while I enjoyed deeply discounted cocktails.

A visit to Baltimore wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Hampden neighborhood, which once was a blue-collar mill town that has since risen as the epicenter of Baltimore hipsters. Made famous for its starring role in John Waters’ films and known as the place where everybody calls you “hon,” the centerpiece of Hampden is 36th Street, where you will find original shops, cafes and lots of randomness.

Café Hon is must and easy to spot, just look for the massive pink flamingo. For some really cool gift shopping, head to Brightside Boutique, it’s the kind of place where all the knickknacks sold will somehow speak to you, as they are all really kitschbut it also has stylish on-trend clothing. And if you have ever written fan mail to John Waters, you know that all his fan mail goes directly to Atomic Books, a much needed and iconic bookstore with a bar in the back.

During my time in the city, I noticed that a lot of people had the same tote bag, it was a stylish one, so of course, I had to have one. Turns out, the bag is a local favorite and is also locally made. Inspired by their hometown of Baltimore and their surroundings, the owners sought out to create a product that could carry the goods of the traveling craftsman, made strong enough for delicate iPads to heavy hand tools.

The Treason Toting Company has expanded beyond the tote bag, and now has a storefront, making it convenient to see their products and spend some money. My bag has traveled the world with me and always gets me some compliments, so I’m definitely happy with my purchase. I’m currently saving up for the matching backpack.

Where I Stayed: The main reason I decided to head to Baltimore was to check out the new Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, which recently opened (late March 2017), and is part of a new luxury brand that comes from Montage International. This is their second hotel in the new collection and it’s a much-welcomed addition to Baltimore. What once was a dilapidated pier and community center is now a beautifully restored masterpiece, and the hottest ticket in town, for both rooms and dinner reservations.

The 128-room property is just stunning, and the finishing details and artwork will have you mesmerized. The handsome décor is paired with a well-trained, top-notch, 5-star staff, which are always all smiles and eager to ensure everyone is having a great stay. The Rec Pier Chop House is the centerpiece of the hotel, and offers a progressive, seasonally focused menu. Additionally, the hotel has The Cannon Room, an American whiskey bar.

The hotel’s outdoor pool has cabanas, a restaurant/bar and is set right on the waterfront on the Inner Harbor, offering panoramic views of the harbor, marina and city skyline.

Kissing On The Dancefloor of Horoom

The beats pulsing from techno music force the walls to shudder as smoky air dances through green support beams in the underground space. Dim stars seemingly sway across that dark dancefloor, but these are the cigarettes. Everyone is smoking.

This is Horoom, a secret underground queer rave in Tbilisi, a city that is known for its homophobia. It is a city that has a thousands-strong, anti-gay march on its main avenue every year. It is the capital of Georgia, a country where an estimated 91.5% percent of Georgians believe that homosexuality will never be acceptable, according to a 2009 study by the Caucasus Research and Resource Center.

This makes Horoom, a secret queer monthly rave, a radical space for queer people. It’s one of the only places in Tbilisi where queer people can express themselves and be safe.

“This is a place where you can be who you are. You can dance and no one will kick you,” says Beka Gabadadze, a young queer activist.

Horoom is located in an underground club in what used to be a Soviet era swimming pool. Looming over what used to be the edge of the pool is a DJ’s booth, the DJ himself is obscured by the flashing lights and fog, but the heavy techno is omnipresent.
Outside, people smoke cigarettes away from the noise and in slightly clearer air. To Gabadadze this is his favorite part of Horoom.

“There are many talks outside of the club,” he says excitedly, “Before, we [the queer community] didn’t have any place to interact outside of dating applications.”
Horoom is the first event of its kind in Georgia. Before Horoom, outside of NGOs, queer people had no safe places to meet, let alone have fun. Even to leave the house if you are gender non-conforming is difficult in Georgia. It’s part of what makes the rave such an important place for the LGBTQcommunity.

The raves are completely secret. In order to get in, you have to contact the organizers, who will then check your Facebook to make sure you are who you say and that you have not expressed homophobic opinions. They then send you a QR code that functions as a password. Once you arrive, there are two hulking bouncers in front of a metal gate. You give them the QR code and they check it. Only then do they let you in. When you first make your way in it does not feel at all like a rave. You have to walk past two gates with heavy security before you even begin to hear the music.

The security is necessary though. The second time that Horoom held an event, a right wing activist found out about it and rallied up around fifteen people who hurled abuse at the people entering. It was a minor disturbance and one that security very quickly took care of, but it showed why security is important.

One of the main reasons that Horoom was founded was to give queer people a safe place to interact and meet each other. Tornike Kusiani, a queer activist and one the of the founders and organizers of Horoom, says that they were inspired by the Stonewall riots for LGBTQ+ rights in 1960s New York. Not because they believe that will Horoom will lead to riots, but because they think it shows how nightclubs can be a spot where queer people can meet and unite.


This is especially important now in Georgia. There is a rising anti-LGBTQ+ wave, which activists say was inspired by a similar wave in Russia. “LGBTQ+ issues and anything more or less progressive that is connected to sexuality is seen as an agenda coming from the West. It is basically how Russian propaganda echoes in Georgia,” says Natia Gvianishvili, the director of Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), a Georgian rights group.


The Russian state banned “gay propaganda” in 2013 and since then Russian media has regularly claimed that LGBTQ+ activists are part of a foreign agenda attempting to destroy Russian traditions. This type of rhetoric has been readily picked up by the Georgian Church and many right wing politicians.


Gvianishvili thinks that both politicians and the influential Georgian Orthodox Church use homophobia is an easy way of gaining popular support and is often used to distract from endemic problems in Georgia.


“Aggression and frustration are accumulated in society because we are a poor country, because social issues are not solved, and because the government keeps feeding us lousy promises. That aggression is being used by government officials and the church for their own purposes,” she says.


“They find a target, and they channel this aggression towards that target. Usually the easiest target is LGBTQ+ people, because we’re quite a conservative society.”


This manifested violently in 2013 when a mob of thousands led by the Georgian Orthodox Church attacked a small group of LGBTQ+ activists demonstrating for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Dozens were injured. The crowd shouted insults at the LGBTQ+ people and hurled rocks at them as they tried to escape in buses. One priest took a chair and smashed in through the window of a bus. At least 28 people were seriously injured.


Since then the Georgian Orthodox Church has used the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia as a rallying point for homophobia. The Patriarch declared it “Family Purity Day,” and every single year, thousands march down Tbilisi’s main avenue to protect the sanctity of the family from “gay propaganda.”


And on a daily basis, using words that are associated with queerness is dangerous.


“I was walking in the street with my my partner and a man attacked us because he heard us using the word ‘heterosexual’ in our conversation,” says Kusiani. The man thought that if they knew what the word “heterosexual” meant then they must be gay and he pushed and kicked them for it.


All of this seems very far away in Horoom. On the dance floor, people come in and out of focus through the smoke. Boys with their mouths smeared in lipstick swirl by laughing, two girls make out in a corner, at the front of the room right by the DJ booth a trans woman sways back and forth mesmerized by the music.


But in another way, it is at the heart of Horoom. Outside of the club conversations about what it means to be queer are happening. Queer people are seeing each other in the thousands. Horoom is the site of drag shows and performance art – and each time it is growing.


“Through Horoom there will be a stronger, united community,” says Kusiani.


He says that already in Tbilisi, Horoom has almost become a secret word for queer. “If you meet someone who you think might be queer, you ask them whether you saw them at Horoom,” he says. It acts as an identifier, a code in a place where being publicly queer is simply not an option.


Even Kusiani himself is not fully out to his family. He explains that in Georgia, coming out publicly would not only have serious consequences for him personally, but for his entire family. “There would be aggression,” he explains, “Both verbal and physical.”


Even if coming out publicly is not an option for most people, coming to terms with yourself within the queer community is. Kusiani thinks that Horoom, because it is a meeting place for so many queer people, is helping with that.


“Because of the queer soul of Horoom, a lot of people who have issues are more comfortable with their identities now,” says Kusiani, describing how a friend of his who had always denied being queer had recently come out to him after meeting him a few times at Horoom.


Kusiani sees a future where Horoom is part of the foundations of a unified and thriving queer community.


“I want a stronger community in Georgia. I want people to be active and reflect more. I want more activists,” he says.

Welcome to Hong Kong’s Old Central Market

Kwong Fuk Ancestral Hall, a small red building occupying a street corner where family members go to honor their dead relatives was just the place. The incense burns strong, as there are hundreds of incense coils hanging from the ceiling. There is no fee to enter but remember not to take photographs of the images of the deceased in the back room – we’ve all seen those scary Asian films where spirits and souls are sucked into photographs and wellbetter to just skip the photos.

Since I was feeling the mood, I wandered down the street to the Man Mo Temple, a tourist hot spot, and another incense filled structure, but unlike Kwong Fuk, this is a place where people come to pray, worship and ask for assistance. All the way in the back, there is a statue of a hand holding a penmake sure to rub the pen for luck in writing, education, work, or anything that could be associated with a pen and paper. The pen is frequently visited by parents wishing their kids luck on their college entrance exams. I spent some time carefully rubbing that pen for some writing inspiration.

Being Cuban, I’m a fan of fresh sugarcane juice and when I got an insider tip of a tiny corner shop, which isn’t impressive at first glance, that has been making a killing for generations, selling the sweet water, I had to find it. Kung Lee, is so in demand that Uber Eats is constantly stopping by to pick up deliveries throughout the day.

They also sell sugar cane pudding which looks more like Jell-O, and isn’t as sweet as the juice, but fun to eat.

Since I was on a sweet kick, I also stopped by Tai Cheong Bakery for the famous egg tarts – messy to eat if you have a beard like mine, but totally worth it. A bit of my tart may have plopped onto the concrete below as I was attacking it with my mouth, but in the end, after that old weight scale, the fewer bites I ate, the better.

Once I had conquered the highlights of the old parts of my targeted neighborhood exploration, it was time to see what made this place so cool.

Hollywood Road, where most everything is centered, was the second road to be built when the colony of Hong Kong was founded. It’s a great place to stroll, especially if in the market for boutique retail therapy mixed with all sorts of happy hour spots in the early evening.

And speaking of happy hour, I stopped by T:ME, a lonely gay bar that’s located on Hollywood Road, to see if anything was going on. I ended up at a locked door, which led me to discover their later opening hours. When I returned later that evening, I wasn’t overly impressed.

The great thing about Hong Kong is that everyone just kind of co-exists, although it’s nice to know there are a handful of queer spaces (all near-ish to this bar) to run to…if needed.

After all this discovering and exploring, it was time to quench my thirst, and Craftissimo, a beer shop that has tons of different beers, including local Hong Kong craft beers, was just the place. The place had wooden stools out back in the alley where a bunch of dudes were just hanging, drinking beers – it was perfect. Nearby, also with some back alley action is teakha, a place for tea, baked goods and conversation – a great escape from the busy streets, and a good place to recharge.

Also nearby where a couple hot spots that I found, Reserva Iberica, a ham shop from Barcelona, randomly placed in Old Town Central, offering premium ham products worthy of any Spanish table setting and La Cabane, a cute wine bistro and cellar. It’s places like these that make the area so special.

I felt like I had done my fair share of eating while visiting Old Town Central, so it was time to realize how poor I actually was, by shopping. Hong Kong is kind of expensive, and it only takes one purchase to help anyone realize that.

There were a couple cute shops, Soul Art Shop and InBetween Shop that were filled with a bunch of randomness which were worth a peek inside. But it was PQM, this really intensely creative space that captured my attention.

The building once was the first school providing Western education at the upper primary and secondary levels to Chinese students, and in 1951 it became the Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters, encouraging young men to join the police force, in a time when recruits were low. Later, in 2009, the site was listed as a conservation site as architecturally, it represents the typical modern style commonly found in the post-Second World War period.

Today, it’s PQM, a hub for design and creative industries, and the once residential units are now design studios, shops and offices for creative enterprises and lodging for visiting designers. I spent hours wandering through PQM and dare I say, nibbling away at small bites at times from some of the food stalls.

During this particular portion of my trip through China, I actually opted to stay with a friend who lives off of Hollywood Road, as I really wanted to have an immersive experience.

I did however spend a lot of time hanging at some of the best hotels for some much deserved spa time, the Four Seasons Hong Kong being the one I would repeat in a heartbeat if only I hadn’t spent so much of my Hong Kong Dollars on all the delicious food especially the sweets.

Hong Kong might be one of the most vibrant cities in the world. It’s full of skyscrapers, luxury hotels, some of the best restaurants in the world, over the top designer shopping and of course, people.

With any large metropolis, after time, new construction and inhabitants bring about change. But there is still one part of Hong Kong that is clinging on to its past while also playing host to a new breed of hipsters: Old Town Central.

OTC really isn’t a district at all, but more of an area with imaginary borders that lays in the heart of central Hong Kong. I opted to start my time there by visiting the older, more historic sites, starting with theWestern Market, which was easy to find due to it’s unique architecture that kind of stands out among the skyscrapers.

The once blue Queen Anne Revival style four-story building is in, is now a bright red that helps set it apart from the surrounding tall structures. The building is one of the oldest structures in the areas and is the oldest surviving market building in the city.

There are a few retails shops in the modernized inside, but the one oddity inside that’s fun to see (if you dare), is the old weight scale that takes a coin and then prints your weight on a piece of paper. I decided to try it out and can report that it’s completely inaccurately offensive. Apparently these weight machines were once everywhere and they are a great way to remind you to put down the egg tarts.

Afterwards, it was time to get a little spiritual.

Slumbr Camp Welcomed Everyone To The Gay Outdoors

From a shipwreck tattoo booth, an Andrew Christian swimsuit customization workshop designed by artist Raul de Nieves, or just drinking White Girl Rosè with co-founder and Internet celebrity The Fat Jewish, prideful partygoers found themselves entertained at every corner at Slumbr Camp.

After hours on the pool deck, people were invited to take a break and lounge around the island as the iconic Pavillion was turned into a Summer Camp formal.

That night, guests were surprised by an appearance by Drag Race runner-up Peppermint, who also served a live performance of her original music. And between her sets, there was a special performance by GRAMMY®- winner Macy Gray.

As the party went deep into the night under a field of balloons and disco lights, the legendary DJ Honey Dijon kept the energy high after arriving from a performance in Paris just the night before.

Those who decided to be overnight campers were treated to a recovery brunch poolside the next morning. Items like fresh mints and croissants that help all of us recover from any damage done by drinking too many Absolut and sodas were provided to help bring the weekend to a delicious close.

As people boarded a ferry and then a chartered bus to take them into the city to keep Pride going, many scored gift bags from brands like ASOS and Dollar Shave Club (who ensured that a clean razor was available to freshen up).

While this year’s now infamous annual Pride party was different compared to last year’s at the Standard Hotel, one thing stayed the same: Everyone had an unforgettable time.

6 Queer NYC Parties That Keep Basic At Bay

Everyone knows that NYC has one of the best, if not the best, queer nightlife scenes in the world. But if you don’t live here (and even if you do live here), you might not know where to go.

If you’re looking for epic NYC parties that aren’t necessarily gay—but queer in every sense of the word—then look no further. Here are six of the best.

1. Straight Acting

Going down once a month at Metropolitan Bar in Williamsburg, Straight Acting is, hands down, one of the best queer parties in NYC. It’s put on by Brooklyn “boylesque” performer Rify Royalty, and the show’s lineup includes local and international acts.

2. Gotham

Lewks, lewks, and more lewks. Queens on stilts towering over you. Tits and asses out. Wildly creative costumes that will blow your damn mind. The layout is pretty absurd—all the queer kids sip bottle service up on the balcony while they look down at all the straight folks dancing underneath (as it damn well should be). The party is put on by Kayvon Zand and goes down every Saturday night at Webster Hall.

3. On Top

Every Tuesday during the summer the legendary queen herself, Susanne Bartsch, throws On Top at Le Bain. The rooftop is open, giving you a breathtaking view of the city, and there’s a damn Jacuzzi in the place if you’re inclined to get wet—not to mention incredible performers and queens galore.

4. Battle Hymn

Epic. Legendary. Insane. These are the three words I would use to describe Ladyfag’s new Friday party at the Flash Factory. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad time at Battle Hymn. There are always queens serving major lewks, abs for days, and everything else you’d expect at one of the city’s best parties.

5. Code Red

Monica Blewinksy throws this weekly party at the Electric Room, and the venue is as cute as it comes. On the smaller side with more of a sexy lounge feel, this party plays the best damn music. Remixes of all the songs you forgot you loved, still somehow know all the words to, but haven’t heard in forever.

6. Holy Mountain

Another Ladyfag party, Holy Mountain, heats up one Saturday a month at Slake. Three floors. Four rooms. Eight DJs. I don’t even know what else to say. It’s always a serious turn-up. The queens come out of the woodwork for it. And the space is everything you could ask for and more. It’s pure party perfection.

Ireland’s First Openly Gay Prime Minister Is a Big Deal—But Not in Ireland

Ireland has made history again.

Leo Varadkar was elected the European nation’s first openly gay prime minister after winning his party’s election on Wednesday. Making Varadkar, the openly gay son of an Indian immigrant, poised to be just one of a handful of openly LGBTQ politicians to lead a nation—a short list that includes Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel and Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir.

But while Varadkar’s history-making moment has made international news, there’s one place it hasn’t been a headline: his own country.

Before Varadkar joined the prime minister race, he came out publicly during the 2015 campaign for marriage equality, when Ireland became the first-ever nation to legalize same-sex unions through popular vote.

“I am a gay man,” he told Dublin’s Radio 1. “It’s not a secret. […] It’s just part of who I am. It doesn’t define me.”

But since coming out, the former Minister of Health’s sexuality has barely been mentioned in mainstream media coverage—even during the election. Brian Finnegan, the editor of Ireland’s only LGBTQ newspaper, Gay Community News, told INTO during a phone interview that it wasn’t a story at all until the week of the party vote.

“The reason it’s not a huge story here is that the Irish people don’t really care about what their politicians do in the bedroom,” Finnegan said. “They really care more about their policies and what they stand for.”

With Varadkar’s sexuality being treated as a non-issue, LGBTQ activists in Ireland say that represents a major step forward for a country that has made significant strides in equality in quite a short amount of time. A country with a long history of discrimination.

When openly gay lawmaker David Norris ran for president in 2011—a symbolic position in Irish politics—he was the target of a smear campaign that destroyed his run for office.

Norris, who spoke over the phone with INTO prior to last week’s election, claimed that the media told “every conceivable kind of lie” about him. They alleged he was a blind alcoholic and a pension fraud. Even worse, his opponents spread rumors that he was a pedophile who advocated parents have sex with their children.

“I was attacked by the media, and a large part of it was homophobia,” Norris said. “It was a different lie every single day. I kept a dignified face in public, but I was devastated personally.”

Norris, who would later sue for defamation, claimed that critics of his campaign would make jokes on the radio where they imitated the noises that he would make while having sex with children. Someone even created a fake website trolling his campaign, and a message on the homepage read: “Hello, my name is David Norris. I’m a homosexual. A homosexual is someone who interferes with little boys.”

The 73-year-old politician, who has been working for equality for five decades, has watched his country, where homosexuality was once illegal, become an international leader in LGBTQ rights. Norris, who was first elected as an independent senator in 1987, challenged the country’s prohibition on same-sex relations the following year. Although the European Court of Human Rights sided in his favor, homosexuality wouldn’t be formally decriminalized until 1993.

On top of this, the 1922 Censorship of Publications Act allowed the government to target LGBTQ news publications, frequently serving to stifle any positive representation of the community.

“We had this aura of criminality that infected and pervaded every single aspect of Irish society,” said Tonie Walsh, founder of the Irish Queer Archive. “All aspects of male homosexuality were considered taboo and illegal. It stopped mainstream Irish society from engaging any of our concerns or our fears.”

“It was extremely repressive and quite frightening,” Norris added. “If you were exposed as gay, you could lose your job, and you could be put in jail.”

Many LGBTQ people fled Ireland in the 70s and 80s for countries viewed as more accepting—like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Finnegan left for London in 1985, where he discovered a world of gay bars and drag queens he didn’t know existed; many of these spaces had been forced underground. Walsh stayed in Ireland, where gay people would remain silenced throughout the 80s and often persecuted.

Walsh and his boyfriend were kicked out of a bar in 1981 for holding hands, but there was nothing they could do about it because LGBTQ people were still not protected under Irish law, and the police wouldn’t pursue cases of anti-gay violence or harassment. You would be laughed out of the station.

“It was not a pretty time to be gay or lesbian,” Walsh said. “The endemic homophobia was shocking. I cannot overstate that.”

When Ireland’s first Gay Pride Week was held in 1980, there weren’t enough people to march. Attendees handed out pink carnations and fliers reading, “Gay liberation is your liberation.” With thousands coming out for last year’s Pride event, it’s clear the country has taken that message to heart in the years since.

When homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, there was an “explosion in gay culture across the island” during a time of rapid economic growth. Once LGBTQ people were allowed to live openly and freely, it not only helped with visibility of the community but also led to the first financial boom in Ireland’s history. Known as the “Celtic Tiger,” gay bars began to operate openly, even popping up in smaller cities outside the major metropolitan areas.

But what’s often lost in this conversation, Walsh explained, is that Irish people had long been supportive of the country’s LGBTQ population. The laws passed by the federal government at the time, however, did not reflect that acceptance.

“Change comes dripping slowly in this country, but people have been ready for a gay prime minister for several years,” Walsh said. “It’s like most societies. The population at large tend to be ahead of their political masters.”

When Ireland first allowed legal recognition for same-sex couples in 2011 with the passage of civil partnership laws, but a poll conducted the same year showed overwhelming support for full marriage equality. Seventy-three percent of respondents told Sunday Times/Red C that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry, while 53 percent were strongly in favor of the idea.

When equality finally went on the ballot in 2015, it passed with a 62 percent majority.

And befitting this recent wave of progress, Varadkar’s win was a similar blowout: He won with 60 percent of the vote.

In Ireland, prime ministers are elected not by the public, but by members of the majority party in the legislature. Varadkar, a member of the center-right Fine Gael, lost the vote among rank and file members. He was heavily favored, though, by party leadership to succeed former Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Those upper members make up 65 percent of the final tally.

Norris, put through the political ringer just six years ago, was touched by Varadkar’s landslide victory.

“In my generation, we didn’t know there were any other gay people,” Norris said. “That is a universal phenomenon of people of my age group. There were absolutely no role models whatsoever. To have a young, handsome politician who is widely respected by all parties, that’s a great thing. It says to a young person, ‘Yes, you can have a career in politics if you want. You can be successful. You can even be prime minister.’”

After the June 2 vote, Varadkar, however, had a few hurdles to clear before officially being named PM.

Following election from within the party, the Prime Minister’s win must withstand a vote of the full parliament, one scheduled to take place next week. This ratification process is usually a During a Wednesday vote, Varadkar won by a margin of 57 votes to 50 — and with 47 members of parliament abstaining from the vote. He was swiftly sworn at a confirmation ceremony in Dáil, the lower house of the Irish legislature located in Dublin.

In addition to becoming Ireland’s first openly gay PM, Varadkar will also be the youngest. He’s 38, making him also the most junior leader in European Union. France’s Emmanuel Macron is 39.

As much as Varadkar’s victory is a sign that Ireland’s LGBTQ community has broken the political glass ceiling, it was a smaller moment that reminded Norris just how far the country had come. Days before the election, he witnessed a gay couple strolling across O’Connell Bridge, a popular tourist spot in Dublin’s city center, arm in arm. Norris said that he often spent so much time fighting for equality that he didn’t get to enjoy the benefits for himself.

But three decades after gay men were kicked out of public spaces for doing nothing more than holding hands, the fruits of his labor was solace enough.

Next Level Chill: The Best Spas to Visit ASAP

Some of you guys think summer is three months of perpetual party time. Like a non-stop tequila tidal wave of semi-naked dancing on random islands. But how will your body cope when you’re constantly running out of sunblock, a hangover just becomes the way you wake up in the morning, and you legit can’t find your phone (again)? Plan ahead for some TLC to avoid burn-out, and we all know the best way to slow your roll is at a spa. But you can’t just pick any spa. Treat yourself to one that will melt your troubles away and make for an unforgettable experience. Check these picks out:

Canaves Oia Luxury Resort – Santorini, Greece

This stunningly beautiful, luxury boutique resort is the perfect spot to unwind after partying hard at nearby Mykonos. Their spa has been relaunched this year to include an infinity pool and Elemis treatments.

Aire de Barcelona – Barcelona, Spain

A great place if you only have a couple of hours to spare and need a quick fix. The hamman will bring out all the nasty toxins you’ve built up. Need a fresh face for work? Try the Ami Iyök ritual with a facial and corporal treatment.

Gondwana Game Reserve – Garden Route, South Africa

How about a wild escape from the world? This new “Bush Spa” in South Africa offers just that; a tent, a table, and some very talented spa therapists. And while you’re there you can check out the locals, including lions and elephants.

Liquidrom – Berlin, Germany

Liquidrom is a thermal spa that uses special lighting effects with classical and electronic music to create a unique, relaxing environment that resembles a nightclub without the chaos. Check out their DJ nights through the summer.

Yaan Wellness Energy Spa – Tulum, Mexico

One of the most talked about spas this year is a creation from former rock photographer Bobby Klein, one of the first Westerners to practice acupuncture in LA. Take advantage of their life-coping strategy sessions and treatments developed with local Mexican tribal leaders. Opt for a Bedouin tent if you need to save a few bucks.

Bamford Haybarn Spa – Belmond Royal Scotsman, Scotland

One of the most unique spa locations in the world is launching this year and comes in the form of a train carriage that travels through Scotland and Great Britain! Pass sweeping glens, towering peaks, and black-mirrored lochs (lakes for the rest of us) onboard this “Country House on Wheels.”

Aqualux Hotel Spa Suite – Lake Garda, Italy

This gay-friendly hotel is the perfect place to unwind near vibrant Milan. The spa’s facilities are vast, and packages come with your own personal trainer if you need a little encouragement to get back on track.

Six Senses Zil Payson – Seychelles, Indian Ocean

Luxury brand Six Senses have finally opened their spa at their latest hotel located in the Indian Ocean. Eco-orientated, the spa has a heavy focus on sensory experiences with a breath-taking oceanfront location.

Thanks to Oliver Broad of travel agency RB Collection for giving us the lowdown.