After Protesting Church Sign Misgendering Caitlyn Jenner, These Activists Are Fundraising to Repair It

Protesters are helping a California church fundraise to repair a sign which was allegedly vandalized after it bore a transphobic message misgendering and deadnaming Caitlyn Jenner.

Justin Hoke, a pastor at Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church in Lake Shastina, reported on Wednesday that a sign reading “Bruce Jenner is still a man” had been destroyed.

Homosexuality is still a sin,” the message continued. “The culture may change. The Bible does not.”

In a Facebook post highlighting the damage, he claimed the Plexiglass had been shattered and the letters had been stolen.

“I woke this morning to find that our sign had been vandalized,” Hoke wrote. “I have not seen it up close yet as this picture was sent to me by a member of our congregation. Please pray that God would provide.”

“As wickedness increases the fear of God decrees,” he added later.

Although Hoke blamed the destruction on a group who protested the sign on Jan. 6, organizers Amelia Mallory, Charolette Kalayjian, and Mishelle Le Guellec told the Siskiyou Daily News the “Shastina Love Rally” was not responsible.

“To our knowledge, nobody affiliated with our peaceful rally was involved,” Mallory said. “If we do become aware of the culprit we will be informing the local authorities.”

Protesters “condemn the use of violence and destruction of property,” she added.

The estimated dozen protesters who gathered across the street from Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church on Sunday are reportedly planning another demonstration for this weekend. Activists say their message is “strictly of love and support for anyone who feels like they are the target of the sign.”

But in a perhaps surprising twist, members of the local LGBTQ community plan to use the rally to raise money for the church. There will be a “collection to help… with repairs to their sign” at this Sunday’s event, Mallory said.

Organizers hope the gesture will help change hearts and minds within the church.

“While we are donating with no strings attached, we do hope that pastor Hoke will reflect on the generosity of those he rebukes before posting another similar message,” Mallory told the local news station KRDV.

In a Sunday sermon, Hoke did not appear ready to make nice. He took aim at LGBTQ rights in a speech calling same-sex unions “selfish.”

“What the world calls love is not love at all,” he claimed. “Rather it is extreme mutually agreed upon selfishness which knows nothing of sacrifice, nothing of servanthood, nothing at all of seeking another’s highest good.”

The sermon was called “Love Warns.” The title is a reference to the popular marriage equality slogan, “Love Wins.”

As of Thursday, a temporary sign was back on display.  In the caption of a Facebook photo showing the glass patched together with duct tape, Hoke remarked: “It’s not pretty, but it’s back up.”

George is Tired…Of Terrible-Ass Apologies

We have already been in the month of January for 525,600 minutes and we have not only brought the B.S. of 2018 with us but compounded it with even more foolishness. However, since I love social media, petty moments, and celebrities’ inability to find good PR professionals these days, you could say I’m in heaven.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was tired of Kevin Hart. A few weeks later I am STILL tired of Kevin Hart. Kevin Hart’s timeline from the past five weeks has sort of read like this:

“I apologized for being homophobic so I’m not going to apologize again, but then I lost the Oscar hosting gig so I then apologized again, but it was found out that the apology after losing the Oscars gig was actually my first apology and the myth that I told everyone was an apology was really me calling LGBTQ people too sensitive for my humor which has now sent me on a promo tour about my new boring ass movie where instead of talking about the movie I talk about how I have moved on over, and over and over again, proving that I haven’t moved on but that my ego is too strong to let it go because I’m used to getting away with everything — look at both my marriages!”

Where is the damn PR industry? One thing about social media is that a story that usually would last a day or two at the most can now last for a person’s entire career if they handle it wrong. Kevin Hart’s story has been going on for 10 years now. However, this is a story that won’t die because of his own doing.

Now listen. I am not expecting every straight person to want to be LGBTQ people’s best friends, nor do I want to be the reverse of that. What I do expect is respect, and for you to understand the damage that is done when you talk badly about a marginalized group in your own community. Had Hart, when initially questioned simply apologized, this would not be a thing. Unfortunately, people have become so ego-driven that they think they can operate above the law because they have wealth and some power. That’s not how any of this works, though, and being un-humble and disrespectful could end your career.

Because, honestly, If people began addressing things when they happened, if they ever popped up again they could simply repost the original apology and then reiterate what was once stated. But that’s not what we have anymore. What we have is a system where people do things that are dead-ass wrong, and then they remain silent until an opportunity is threatened by it years down the line.

Which is how we get to Lady Gaga, who decided to pull out her Notes app and apologize to herself more than anyone else. And the timing, four days after a shocking loss of the Golden Globe to Glenn Close and shortly before the Oscar nominations, is questionable.

I understand people need the time and space to grow. People who may have been misogynistic, homophobic, etc. in the past can definitely show growth over the years and become advocates in places where they were once abusers. However, that doesn’t absolve you from addressing your original mistake.

It was 2013 when, at age 27, Gaga decided to work with R. Kelly. Yes, the R. Kelly who at that time had 20 years of sexual abuse allegations under his belt. Not only did she work with Kelly, but when questioned about it, she made a statement saying, “R. Kelly and I have sometimes very untrue things written about us, so in a way, this was a bond between us.”

First of all, yuck. Secondly, her decision to double and triple down against Black victims of R. Kelly was very telling. However, by 2014 Gaga started talking about her own sexual assault and became the voice against it…still never talking about the R. Kelly situation. A situation that she has been questioned about in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and the first week of 2019 prior to her apology, which conveniently came during award season.

And then there is the apology. A very long explanation saying everything except “I messed up.” There was legitimate talk of her own bouts with sexual abuse, but sweeping generalizations of apology towards others and no specificity towards the Black women she hurt.

So last night I saw a question posed about what would be an acceptable apology. The first step is timing. The closer to the offense the better.

A great apology should follow these six steps:

  1. I messed up
  2. This is how I messed up
  3. This is who I harmed by messing up
  4. I apologize to all that I hurt by messing up (not that “may have offended” crap)
  5. This is what I have learned since messing up
  6. Moving forward I plan on doing these things to fix it and not mess up again

Easy, breezy, beautiful APOLOGY. I hope folks move to a place of sincerity and accountability, with the understanding that all may not forgive. If you are giving apologies simply looking for praise afterward, then the apology wasn’t real to begin with.

Twenty Years Later, Britney’s Debut Album Is Still One Of Her Best

Described as just “shameless schlock” and “a pretty great piece of fluff” back when it was first released, Britney’s debut album didn’t exactly receive the rave reviews one might expect from the birth of an icon. Britney herself even looks back at that era now as “bit of a blur,” and when fans rank each of her records, …Baby One More Time usually hovers near the bottom, just one or two places above the often maligned Britney Jean.

While the lead single will continue to be praised and worshipped till the world ends, the rest of …Baby One More Time isn’t always given the same respect, despite breaking every record going when it dropped on January 12, 1999. Much was made of that video and its subsequent impact on pop culture yet again following its 20th-anniversary last year, but now it’s time to give the album as a whole the glory it deserves.

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that music today would be unrecognizable if Britney hadn’t pulled on that school girl outfit and revealed to the world that her loneliness is killing her. Critics are usually quick to point out that without this song, we probably wouldn’t have pop icons like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, but there’s obviously far more to Britney’s appeal than one single could ever capture. After all, there’s a reason why she didn’t end up as just another one hit wonder and for that, we have the album as a whole to thank.

With just three piano notes and a swish of her pigtails, Britney almost single-handedly revived the teen pop genre, but it was the release of subsequent songs like “Sometimes” and “(You Drive Me) Crazy” that cemented her iconic status. While nothing else on the album could ever quite match up to the superstar power of “Baby,” each of the other singles helped Britney shine brighter and brighter, quickly confirming her status as the new Princess of Pop.  

“Sometimes” was the first song that hinted at Britney’s longevity, proving that she could carry a hit song without sexual innuendo or fierce dance moves. Following the worldwide success of her second single, Britney released “Crazy,” which continues to be remembered long after the film it was supposed to promote slipped from memory.

Hitney’s second UK number one then came from “Born To Make You Happy,” and while “From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart” didn’t match the success of her other singles, it did prove that she possesses impressive vocal chops of her own which could rival the many, many pretenders to her title.

Before Godney decided to grace us mere mortals with her presence, it was the vocal acrobatics of powerhouse singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey that defined ’90s pop. By tapping into the teen market with her beguiling (and perhaps problematic) mix of sex and innocence, Britney brought new vitality to the industry, becoming the biggest superstar on the planet in just a matter of months. 

Detractors would go on to mock the unique quality of Britney’s voice in the years to follow, but the “oohs” and “baby’s” that characterized her first few singles went on to define an entire era of music. Even now, after all of the various lip-sync dramas that have taken place since, it still feels special hearing her distinctive tone on record. It’s Britney, bitch, and there’s no one else quite like her, something which she proved from the get-go with her very first album.

Whether she’s projecting joy on songs like “Deep In My Heart” or singing earnestly about the benefits of electronic messaging on “E-Mail My Heart,” Britney’s voice has never sounded stronger than it did on her debut record. Even in the moments where she belts the hardest, there’s still a rough rasp to her register that dared to sound different in an industry full of emotive divas.

Deep cuts like “I Will Be There” still sound strong, and if you listen closely to songs like “Soda Pop” and “The Beat Goes On,” you’ll hear how she had already begun to experiment with genre in ways that would come to the fore in later albums such as In The Zone. Visionney at her finest.

Britney’s upcoming tenth (!?) album has been delayed due to her father’s hospitalization, but executive producer Justin Tranter has promised fans that there’s a “whole spectrum of bops” coming our way once the project’s finally finished. Where this new record will rank in her overall discography remains to be seen, but in the meantime, listen to some old-school bops on …Baby One More Time again and experience pop princess realness firsthand, untainted by the pressures of fame — before the whole world wanted a piece of her.

Images via Getty

Is The WOW Presents Plus Subscription Worth The Fee?

Want to know something that’s not even slightly unique about me? I like Drag Race. Nay, I love Drag Race. Hell, I’ve watched Drag Race so many times I can quote every season verbatim (except maybe season seven, because, well, it’s season seven). So when I found out that WOW Presents (the production company behind RuPaul’s Drag Race) announced WOW Presents Plus, a streaming network available on iOS, Apple TV, Roku, and Android, rife with original series from some of RPDR’s best queens, I whipped out my credit card, bought a week’s worth of groceries and didn’t leave the house.

This sequestered seven-day binge occurred when the service originally launched in November 2017. Now, I believe I’ve consumed enough content on the platform (all of it) to responsibly determine whether the service is worth its $39.99 annual fee (or $3.99 a month). And, as a self-elected prophet, I’ve decided to bestow this knowledge unto you. You’re welcome.

Something I noticed straight out the gate was that almost every show followed the same format as WOW Presents’ standout series, UNHhhh, featuring Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. Essentially, queens sit next to each other (or do it solo) and wax poetic on a topic in front of a green screen while editors work their magic.

Admittedly, without these unceasing and turbulent graphic treatments, these series would be nothing more than a visual podcast. Series limited to this standard formula include: Bro’Laska (Alaska), Tea with Tati (Tatianna), Bobbin’ Around (Bob), AYO Sis (Aja), La Vida De Valentina (Valentina), Jasmine Masters’ Class (Jasmine Masters) and so on. Are they good? Yes. All of them. Have I watched every episode? Many times. Is there diversity among the series? Not at all.

I understand why: It’s a successful formula that’s cheap and easy to produce. But people are paying money for this content and we deserve more effort. The service does feature some series that veer from the haphazard setup, like His Vintage Touch (where hairstylist Tony Medina styles hair for drag queens and celebrities), Drag Tots (a minutes-long animated series featuring the voices of Latrice Royale, Adore Delano, etc.) Feelin’ Fruity (a bizarre Pee Wee Herman-esque variety series from artist Seth Bogart), Transformations (a lengthier program where celebutante James St. James is given wacky makeovers from world-renowned queens and make-up artists) and others.  

The service also hosts a randomly curated collection of dated documentaries (like Party Monster Shockumentary, Becoming Chaz and Miss Navajo), slapdash Drag Con coverage and other bland, rice cake content that you will probably pass on, but fills the void if you’re super bored. Or high.

What’s arguably best about the service is that you can watch every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race (except Season 1), All Stars and Untucked.  But here’s the kicker: The only reason I can watch these series is because I’m located in Canada. You cannot access these shows in the United States. But if you’re in Europe, I believe they’re also available. Admittedly, these shows only recently became available in my neck of the woods, but I continued subscribing because I fell in love with a few of the series.

My favorite of the bunch, Follow Me, is a short docu-series that follows a day in the life of some of Drag Race’s more popular queens (Gia Gunn, Aja, Miss Vanjie, for example). You learn a lot about the personality behind the make-up, some of which is not always good (coughs – Aja – coughs).  Another promising series is Couple$ for Ca$h, which is kind of – scratch that, exactly – like the Newlywed Game, except it features drag queens and other queer celebrities.

While the majority of the shows are fun and entertaining, many times a season of a series (or the entire series) is only an episode or two. You might get one new episode (which, on average, run about 10 to 15 minutes) on the entire platform a day. It’s also worth mentioning that the search and browsing capabilities are a mess and many of the best series (UNHhhh, Fashion Photo RuView and Bro’Laska) are available for free on YouTube. On WOW Presents Plus, these episodes are uncensored and ad-free.

Admittedly, sometimes it feels like WOW Presents gets desperate for content and juices the crap out of any queen – the lifeblood of the service – who visits the production company’s offices. Shows like 20-Minute Makeup Challenge, Drag Queen Video Dates, Drag Queens React and Gown The House Down are ultimately Trinity The Tuck levels of filler. This clear lack of preparation can be painfully obvious at times.

Wow Presents Plus is certainly not without its faults. There are striking shortcomings and obstacles they need to overcome for a more worthwhile experience, but I’m confident it’ll happen. RPDR was similarly amateur at its inception and is now one of the biggest reality series on the planet with awards under its belt. I have faith that WOW Presents will continue to learn and improve on the service as more people subscribe. Now, is WOW Presents Plus worth the money? I say yes. Per month, it costs about the same as a cup of coffee. But does it compare to Netflix and other popular streaming services? Not even close.

Nashville Police Appoints LGBTQ Liaison in Wake of Anti-Trans Scandal

The Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) is rolling out changes in the wake of an anti-trans scandal that has rocked the city’s LGBTQ community.

The department has appointed an official LGBTQ liaison and sanctioned seven officers for denigrating a transgender person on Facebook in 2017.

Several officers snapped photos of a transgender person during their lunch break in September 2017 and uploaded the images to Facebook, according to Nashville Scoop. The officers took turns mocking and misgendering the individual.

“He sure has a purdy mouf!” wrote Sgt. Kimberly Forsyth.

Forsyth is among the seven officers to be slapped with sanctions by the department’s Office of Professional Accountability in the wake of the incident, a spokesperson for the office told INTO. Her penalty includes a demotion to officer. The sanctions are as follows:

Kimberly Forsyth:  Demotion from sergeant to police officer.  

Melvin Brown:   Demotion from sergeant to police officer.  

Ofc. Brandon Wood: Ten-day suspension.   

Ofc. Craig Oakley: Five-day suspension.   

Ofc. Andy Esqueda: Three-day suspension.  

Ofc. Tim Morgan: Two-day suspension.

Ofc. David Snowden: Two-day suspension.

All of the employees are also required to attend remedial trainings related to law enforcement and the trans community, diversity inclusion and social media. Officers have the option to accept the consequences or request disciplinary hearings.

The department is taking the incident a step further. On Thursday, MNPD announced the appointment of its first full-time LGBTQ liaison.

Officer Catie Poole, a five-year veteran of the department, has been tasked with outreach to the queer community and creating a safe reporting system for hate crime victims.

Poole most recently worked in the city’s Central Precinct as a downtown bicycle officer.

“I am excited and honored to take on this new responsibility for our police department,” Poole said in a statement. “I love being out in the community and helping people. I joined the Nashville Police Department to make a difference.”

Poole has vowed to support LGBTQ employees internally at MNPD and to make it easier for hate crime victims to report crimes.

She said she will be launching a Safe Place program in Nashville. Safe Place is Seattle’s police program that aims to tackle underreporting of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.

In Salta, Mummies, Mountains, and Melodies

The Andes stratovolcano Llullaillaco rises to 22,110 feet from the neutral reds, yellows, and greys of the Atacama Plateau.

From its airy, chilly summit, adventurous alpinists can see Chile’s Antofagasta Region to the West and Argentina’s illustrious Salta Province to the East.

And nearly 20 years ago, on March 16th, 1999, after a month of brutal winds, -40°F chills, blizzards, and nearly calling it quits, a team of Argentine, Peruvian, and American archaeologists led by Johan Reinhard noticed a small disturbance of “fill” dirt near the summit.

Llullaillaco via Lisardo Maggipinto on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Province of Salta.

After digging four feet (and nine inches) into the soil and rock, they discovered what is now known as the the highest archaeological site in the world. There, among a collection of carefully placed textiles, headdresses, statues, and pottery, were three perfectly preserved Incan mummies — the remains of child sacrifices drugged on coca leaves and chicha from a religious practice known as capacocha — from some 500 years ago. They were so intact, Reinhard noted, that even their arm hairs remained.

The mummies, now known as El niño (the boy), La doncella (the maiden), and La niña del rayo (the lightning girl) were carefully extracted from their five-hundred-year-old grave and transported over 150 miles to La Ciudad de Salta, the capital city of the vast Argentine province of the same name which sits in the foothills of the Andes in the Lerma Valley at 3,780 feet.

For nearly 8 years the mummies were kept in the Catholic University of Salta as tests were conducted to determine how to best display the mummies to the public without compromising their delicate compositions.

A team of scientists was eventually able to mimic a controlled climate similar to Llullaillaco’s summit—and so in 2007, The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology opened in Salta to permanently display the mummies and artifacts found on the dormant volcano.

Salta via Miles W. Griffis

Mummies

It’s early summer when I visit La Ciudad de Salta.

It’s humid and overcast and the Andes that typically act as the city’s stunning backdrop are hiding in thick clouds that swirl in a lazy breeze.

It’s a Saturday and the city’s main plaza is filled with vendors selling leather belts with gaucho designs, hand-carved wood gourds and bombillas for sipping yerba mate, colorful wool blankets and textiles, and children’s toys, like the a wind-up plastic Spiderman that crawls on the ground with an AK-47 on its back.  

The highlight, though, of walking through the plaza is stealing glances at the neoclassical Cathedral of Salta that glows light pink in the grey and gloom of the day.

When I step off the humid streets into The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, I feel the cool whisk of air conditioning as we ascend to the second floor to take in the world famous exhibition.

MAAM via Lisardo Maggipinto on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Province of Salta

As we meander the neat maze of placards, feathered headdresses, and little stones carved into the shape of llamas, I wonder which of the three mummies will be on display around the corner, at the end of the exhibit.

For whatever reason, only one of the three mummies is displayed at a time and they rotate every few months.

La niña del rayo via Lisardo Maggipinto on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Province of Salta

I am hoping to see the lightning girl—after years of mountaineering, one of my greatest fears remains electric storms that scare, scar, and strike the alpine and La nina del rayo is said to have been hit more than once.

I approach the display case—a large, see-through tube where the seasonal mummy on display rests. I press the button that turns on the lights so the the squeamish aren’t exposed to the corpse in full light against their wishes.

Before me is the not the girl of lighting, but El niño, the smallest and youngest of the three sacrifices who is said to have struggled the most, as evidenced by blood and vomit found in his garments, as well as the materials that were used to bound him. He rests forever in the fetal position, in a sunset red tunic, hiding his face.

Mountains

Cerro San Bernardo via Miles W. Griffis

Later in the afternoon, after seeing the nationally popular museum, Museo Güemes, “the museum of the people”—dedicated to Martín Miguel de Güemes’s life and leadership in the 1800s War of Independence against the Spanish—we zip over to Cerro San Bernardo, a recreational hill that gently rests above the city.

Many Salteños hike the hill beginning at the stately Güemes Monument that sits at the edge of town before trekking the 1,021 steps to the top, where there is a small park, fountains, a wine bar, and storefronts selling regional crafts.

But since we had a packed itinerary, we took the most direct route, the teleférico, a cable car that gradually rises over the city’s orange tiled roofs and white stucco, before climbing a full  kilometer over the thick forest of the hill’s western face to its summit.

From the hill’s vista, the city stretches and sprawls in a wonder of white buildings that blend into the green Yerma Valley like water colors. Then a wildness takes over and more hills buckle to obscure the province’s most famous wine region, Cafayate, where the acclaimed torrontes and malbec grapes are grown, plucked, squished, barreled, fermented, corked, poured, and shipped around the world. And lancing the sky in the West, the snowy 16,509 foot Cerro Malcante shows its snowy self.

The view is an argument for two things. The first—the possibilities for extending time in Salta, seeing the city elongate before you from its rich plaza full of Spanish and indigenous influence to its expansive festival grounds that light up in April for the city’s popular arts and culture festival. And second, for the landscapes and adventures for which the city serves as a launching point—for alpinists, hikers, train to the clouds riders, peripatetic roadtrippers, wine sippers, and empanada tasters.

Melodies

Via La Casona del Molino

Speaking of empanadas, they are delicious tonight at the rock of Salta’s nightlife, La Casona del Molino.

We arrived for a ten o’clock seating. That’s early, even for Salteños who extend their nights and eat famously late. After a five-minute drive from the city center, we parked and were greeted warmly by the restaurateur. We wound through rooms where families dined before we picked a table in the courtyard ornamented by trees and beautiful worn brick flooring.

After appetizers and the sweetest white sangria, our empanadas arrive.

Empanadas in Argentina’s northern provinces, like Salta, are said to be some of the most authentically made in the country—especially at a family run restaurant like Las Casona del Molino. When our plate arrives, each variety of the baked stuffed doughs is marked by a little repulgue, a marking. The cheese empanadas are poked with three holes and the beef empanadas are sealed with a criss-crossing braid.

The restaurant, built in 1671, began as a general store, transformed into a chicherías in the 1700s, before acting as a carriage house in the 1800s where it served as a supply for the patriotic troops during the War of Independence—now, it is a magnet of the city’s nightlife, but not just because of the empanadas. The main draw is the impromptu, no-frills, folkloric performances.

Each night, local musicians from Salta and the surrounding area come into the restaurant, take a seat (perhaps even at your table if there are open chairs…), tune their acoustic guitars and treat the entire restaurant to melodies as gorgeous as the evening’s atmosphere. As the night lingers, the musicians come and go and sometimes congregate for a super group performance of classics like Mercedes Sosa’s “Gracias a La Vida.”

Nights at La Casona del Molino start late and go even later—many stay past 4 a.m— and unlike so much of American nightlife, bring together multiple generations under one roof, or in this case, under the Southern Hemisphere sky that will have you harmonizing—

Gracias a la vida, gracias a la ciudad de Salta, tú me has dado tanto.

But How Gay is ‘The Upside’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is The Upside? A remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables, the much-less interestingly titled The Upside tells the story of unlikely friends Dell Scott and Phillip Lacasse. After a hang-gliding accident leaves him paralyzed from the neck down, Phillip needs a life auxiliary, and hates every single person his assistant Yvonne brings in for him. Dell Scott needs work — or, at least, signatures to show his parole officer he’s looking for work — and accidentally finds himself interviewing for the life auxiliary job. Phillip likes his DGAF attitude and hires him on the spot.

The rest of the movie follows their relationship, from Dell’s early days unable to perform even the simplest of life auxiliary tasks, to their disagreements about music. (Phillip likes opera, Dell prefers Aretha. They eventually find common ground.) Along the way, we see Phillip branch out into dating again following the passing of his wife, and Dell try to reforge a relationship with his young, sensitive son Anthony.

Who’s in it? Likely the only reason you’ve heard of The Upside, unless you’ve caught a trailer for it here or there, is because it’s the movie Kevin Hart was promoting during his infamous appearance on Ellen. He plays Dell, while former Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston plays Phillip. Nicole Kidman plays Yvonne, in a role entirely too small and one-note for an actress of her caliber. (Quite a few things in The Upside annoyed me, but this most of all.)

The rest of the cast is mostly filled with folks you know primarily from TV or supporting roles in films (Aja Naomi King! Tate Donovan!), but Julianna Margulies gets a big, juicy scene later in the movie. I won’t spoil it for those who do want to see The Upside — or, like, watch it on Netflix in six months and fast-forward to her scene — but it’s the only part of the movie that felt bracingly honest and painful in a real, earned way.

Why should I see it? Well, it’s based on a true story, so if you like a heartwarming true story, there’s that. But then again, you could just watch The Intouchables instead. So I’ve got nothing.

Here’s the thing: The Upside isn’t bad. It’s enjoyable enough to watch, if a bit emotionally manipulative. It mostly just isn’t anywhere near good enough to justify its own existence. Considering everything happening with Hart, it’s also hard to justify supporting him at the box office by buying a ticket. So this is overall a pass from me.

But how gay is it? Hoo boy. So it’s not gay, save Kidman and Margulies’ appearances (though again, the former really doesn’t get much to do). Moreover, a lot of Dell’s disgust early in his work is with physical contact with Phillip. There’s an extended scene in which he has to change Phillip’s catheter, and can’t even bring himself to say the word “penis.” I’m sure these scenes wouldn’t play well no matter what, but in light of Hart’s past homophobic jokes, they play all the worse.

Why is an adaptation of a onetime Best Foreign Language Film-shortlisted French film coming out in January instead of Oscar season? Again, it’s not great, so that’s part of it. But there’s also a messy development situation here. The Intouchables was first optioned for remake by The Weinstein Company back in 2011. Paul Feig came on to write and direct in 2012, with a whole score of interesting actors attached. Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Jamie Foxx, and Idris Elba were all considered for Dell before Kevin Hart finally signed on in 2014. Colin Firth was set to play Phillip, and both Jessica Chastain and Michelle Williams were considered for the female lead (likely Yvonne).

The movie then went through three different directors, with Feig dropping out, then Tom Shadyac, then Simon Curtis. During these changes, Bryan Cranston came on as Phillip. Finally, in late 2016, final director Neil Burger came on, and Feig’s script was thrown out entirely. (Jon Hartmere wrote the script Burger used.) All of this is to say, this movie clearly went through development hell, including and especially being optioned by The Weinstein Company. (Their name does not appear on the final product.) It’s a wonder The Upside got made at all.

Will this movie make me feel any better about Kevin Hart? Nope! While his performance is fine enough, the hint of gay panic will only bolster your feelings about him if you’re aleady not a fan.

Does Hollywood need to stop offering Nicole Kidman thankless roles like this? They sure do.

The Upside is in theaters now.

LGBTQ Nicaraguans in Costa Rica: The Refugees That Ran From President Ortega’s Persecution

None of them have reached the age of 30. All of them have sadness and pain in their faces, but also hints of hope.

More than a hundred Nicaraguans that have entered Costa Rica legally and illegally are LGBTQ, and they are organized into a group called Asociación Hijos del Arcoiris LGBTI (The Children of the Rainbow LGBTI Association). They had to leave their country to save themselves from political, homophobic and transphobic persecution from the government of the current president, Daniel Ortega, after a social and economic crisis broke out in the Central American country on April 18 last year, pushing them to protest in the streets and openly oppose Ortega’s regime.

Today, the LGBTQ Nicaraguans are safe on the other side of the border, most of them in Costa Rica’s capital city of San José. They are struggling to find housing, jobs, education, food, and clothing, but mostly they are trying to heal from the pain of leaving their country, and integrate themselves in a society where the government pushes new policies with the help of international organizations to help and protect them, but where transphobia, homophobia and xenophobia are also at their worst.

Six Months of Protests and Refugees

19,720 Nicaraguans asked the Costa Rican Government for refuge between April and November of 2018, according to official data given by the Immigration Office of Costa Rica. Before that, only 473 Nicaraguans had become refugees; that’s a 4,000 percent increase in only seven months.

Marcela Rodríguez, the Protection Officer leader of all the Protection Programs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Costa Rica, explained: “Before, three types of Nicaraguans came to the country asking for refuge: farmers who opposed the dredging of their lands for the construction of the interoceanic canal, women fleeing the misogynistic and patriarchal violence of men, mostly of their partners; and people of low income looking for more opportunities and a better life.”

Now, all types of citizens from the Central American country make up that huge number. From cities and from the countryside; young and old; professionals, students and workers; men, women and children; they “all have something in common: they are running from political persecution,” Rodríguez told INTO. But they’re also fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, as government propaganda has used these aspects of the dissidents to attack and discredit them in a violent and most harmful way, as the Asociación Los Hijos del Arcoíris LGBTI and other LGBTQ Nicaraguan refugees have denounced.

This persecution started in April this year when a tense situation exploded. In a report from Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH) (Nicaraguan Center of Human Rights), titled “Derechos Humanos en Nicaragua 2018” (Human Rights in Nicaragua 2018), the origins of the crisis are explained: the constitutional reform pushed by Ortega that established indefinite reelection and has allowed him to stay in power for eleven years now; the violations of the human rights of anyone that opposed Ortega, such as political participation, a fair trial and freedom of speech; and government corruption. Nicaragua was rated the most corrupt country in Central America by the World Corruption Perception Index of the International Transparency organization. The report also cited the extreme poverty that Nicaraguans suffer: 8.7 percent of them live in poverty, according to a survey from the Fundación Internacional para el Desafío Económico Global (International Foundation for the Global Economic Challenge) this year.

But the spark that ignited the crisis was Ortega’s decision to reform the public pension system on April 18, increasing the contribution the workers must give to face a shortfall of $76 million. The opposition claims this is the result of corruption: their leaders say Ortega’s government has been using the pensions as a fund to finance their parties and trips.

Because of the pension issue, an open and fierce opposition started. Under the leadership of students and other young people, workers, families and pensioners organized and took to the streets to protest. The government’s response was a brutal and violent repression that has escalated, the CENIDH narrates in its report; while the army and the police attacked people, dissolved the protests and incarcerated the dissidents, the president and other entities restrained and violated human rights, from freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to the right to health. And the public health system denied medical assistance to those who were hurt by the armed forces.

According to CENIDH’s report, “The governmental repression and violence has been characterized by the unproportioned use of force and the execution of murders, incarcerations, forced disappearances and torture. This violence has reached almost every social group: during these six months of protests 320 people have been murdered, 22 of them minors, 40 young students, 22 police officers and 1 journalist.”

In December of 2018, Ortega outlawed non-governmental organizations, including the CENIDH, and expelled the Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes (Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts), and the Mecanismo de Seguimiento para Nicaragua (Follow Up Mechanism of Nicaragua) of the Inter American Commission of Human Rights. Both groups were in Nicaragua looking to stop the violation of human rights, and to promote a dialogue between the government and its opposition through a “Table of National Dialogue” that failed multiple times over months.  

In the case of LGBTQ people and opposition leaders, the persecution and attacks are more personal. While the Immigration Office of Costa Rica says only seven people have self-identified as LGBTQ at the moment they asked for refuge, there are more than a hundred members of Asociación Los Hijos del Arcoíris LGBTI. Their founder and spokesman, Ulises Rivas, explains that “There are more that are too afraid to self-identify as part of this community or are in precarious situations: depressed, without money, food, documents or clothes, and even living on the streets.”

At a December event in San Jose called “Ya Ni Sé” (I Don’t Even Know Anymore), Beyardo Siles, a spokesman from the National LGBT Dialogue Table of Nicaragua, presented a preliminary report about the violence and repression leaders of the opposition that are LGBTQ have faced. Siles explained that Ortega’s government started a hate campaign against them, looking to diminish and discredit the young men and women that became the face of the opposition, calling them Maricones (faggots) y Lesbianas (lesbians) with images that went viral on social media. There were also physical attacks and persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

A presentation at Ya Ni Sé, an LGBTQ refugee speakout in Costa Rica in December 2018. Photo by Jess Marquez Gaspar.
A presentation at Ya Ni Sé, an LGBTQ refugee speakout in Costa Rica in December 2018. Photo by Jess Marquez Gaspar.

“From April to July we received reports of 45 LGBTQ leaders affected, 44% of which are Human Rights Activists, 15 leaders of different types of organizations and 5 LGBTQ activists,” said Siles.  

The LGBTQ leaders reported  144 incidents: the worst ones were 3 murders and 1 sexual assault, Siles explained. He added that: “there also have been 41 death and physical harm threats and 7 physical attacks”, and said they have yet to process dozens of new reports they have received since August.

Fleeing to Costa Rica and becoming an LGBTQ Refugee

Running from the attacks and the persecution, and even to save their lives, the members of “Asociación Los Hijos del Arcoiris LGBTI” went to Costa Rica. In a meeting, around 20 young LGBT men and women from the group told their stories. With ages ranging between 18 and 30 years old, they came from different regions in Nicaragua: some from Managua (where the capital is located), Carazo and León. They have different backgrounds: a group of them are college students looking to be engineers, pharmacists and social workers; others had occupations as bakers, barbers, Zumba instructors and paramedics; there are some who are professionals like Ulises, who is a journalist, and others who are political leaders. They identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual and faced day to day discrimination for their sexual orientation, even before the crisis.

When the protests and persecutions started, most of them had to hide or  travel to another city of the country, and keep moving for months until the only option was, ultimately, to flee to Costa Rica. Some took buses and crossed the border legally, but the majority had to walk for days. “I had to cross plantation fields, under the sun and the rain, with only a backpack and very little food,” Ulises Rivas told INTO. When asked why, Rivas said: “I had to leave behind—and they took them—most of my legal papers, even my passport. I didn’t have a legal way to cross the border.” Finally, Rivas reached San José as more than 19,000 other Nicaraguans have.

Most of the LGBTQ refugees had to sleep in parks and other public places, and some were lucky enough to be received by other Nicaraguans, or by Costa Ricans that took them in. They had to walk the city seeking for help, and found the Costa Rican Immigration Office, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and local and Nicaraguan LGBTQ organizations and activists that helped them ask for asylum and helped them build a new life in Costa Rica.

That’s why three months ago, Rivas and 5 other young men decided to come together and start the Arcoiris organization. They started looking for other LGBTQ Nicaraguans, and collected donations that helped them rent and furnish two houses in the city—where they now house more than 30 people.

Members of the Nicaraguan refugee group Asociación Hijos del Arcoiris LGBTI at a home in Costa Rica. Photo by Jess Marquez Gaspar.
Members of the Nicaraguan refugee group Asociación Hijos del Arcoiris LGBTI at a home in Costa Rica. Photo by Jess Marquez Gaspar.

They have learned how to work the system created to receive and support refugees in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican office of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Association (HIAS) has given them free legal advice on how to ask the Costa Rican Immigration Office for asylum; while the organization that helps refugees, RET International, offers them psychological and medical attention, and helps them find and pay for permanent housing and food. FundaMujer, an organization that works for human rights with a gender perspective, offers them education opportunities such as technical studies; and the UNHCR helps them find jobs through their corporate responsibility program “Living the Integration.” Also, the Center of Social Rights of Migrants (CENDEROS) gives temporary housing to the ones that have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Right now, the situation is complicated for most of them. Of the 19,720 Nicaraguans that have asked Costa Rica for asylum since April 2018, none have received an answer. The immigration office has a year-long backlog of cases to process, according to Marcela Rodríguez from the UNHCR. Because of the delays the UNHCR has been working with the immigration office to make the system more efficient.

Over 30 percent of the Nicaraguans have applied for asylum under two types of persecution recognized by the 1951 Refugee Convention: political opinion, as they have been attacked and chased down for being against Daniel Ortega’s government; and for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and persecution associated with LGBTQ and human rights activism. While they wait for a resolution, they have temporary visas, which allows them to find jobs.

Only a few of them have jobs, only 10 percent have enrolled in educational programs, and most of them spend their days looking for ways to make money or find food and clothes; participating in LGBTQ activities and activism; and trying to overcome what has happened to them.

A calendar of activities for residents at one of the Hijos de Arcoirís homes in Costa Rica. Photo by Jess Marquez Gaspar.
A calendar of activities for residents at one of the Hijos de Arcoirís homes in Costa Rica. Photo by Jess Marquez Gaspar.

As the director of the RET International Office in Costa Rica, Christine Eppelin Ugarte reveals that the LGBTQ refugees to whom they provided psychological attention all suffer from post-traumatic stress from the sexual and gender-based violence they have received for being LGBTQ in Nicaragua, but also in Costa Rica. Their symptoms are usually anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, insomnia, eating and sleeping disorders, and a state of constant alert.

LGBTQ Nicaraguans go through a “migratory mourning” that comes from multiple struggles.

Eppelin Ugarte explains what those struggles are: “First, the impact of having to leave their country by force; the difficulties of coming to Costa Rica and being attacked or robbed; second, once they get to Costa Rica, the disappointment they suffer when they realize being an immigrant doesn’t match the high expectations they had about the life they imagined in their new home; and third, the difficulties and unrooted feeling that comes from losing their homeland as a concept and as a place, and having to integrate in a society they don’t know or understand.”

The young women and men of “Asociación Los Hijos del Arcoíris LGBTI” say they feel frustrated, angry, and sad. At the Ya Ni Sé event, Nicaraguan artist Eyla Sinvergüenza explained the feeling: “I feel lost, without a country, hurting, as the place I called my homeland is dead, it no longer exists.”

José David Moya, coordinator of case management at RET, explains that most refugees come with wounds and dehydration from the trip to Costa Rica, malnutrition because of the crisis, and multiple diseases and conditions—such as HIV, anxiety, depression, and STIs.

Also, Moya thinks “Xenophobia and LGBTQ-phobia has increased in Costa Rica during 2018 like never before.” While the Costa Rican government took steps to protect LGBTQ immigrants—including the Global Migratory Pact, pushing an executive order to prevent and sanction LGBTQ-phobic discrimination among public workers, and two other executive orders— a demonstration against Nicaraguans took over the streets of San José in August, resulting in 44 detentions for xenophobic attacks, and there were 25 verbal and physical assaults against LGBTQ people, according to the Frente por los Derechos Igualitarios (Front for Equalitarian Rights), a coalition of nonprofit organizations.

The members of the “Asociación Los Hijos del Arcoíris LGBTI” have felt this. One of them, a young woman named Ángeles, says, “It’s been hard, we don’t receive much acceptance because we are Nicaraguans and because we are refugees. But also, Costa Ricans, and even other Nicaraguans, discriminate [against] us because we are LGBTQ.”

That is why, in the middle of this hard situation, the work they have done is inspirational, and so is their attitude.  “We have hope,” said Andrey, one of the young men.

“We see this as an opportunity to grow, to learn from the things the LGBTQ movement has conquered here and [in] the Costa Rican democracy, and then come back to our country to make a change,” says Dave, another member of the group.

Rossi, one of the young women, states: “We are not alone. We have each other and we are united by one cause.” When asked what that cause is, at least 10 of them yell at the same time: “¡Nicaragua Libre!”

California Governor’s Wife to Go By ‘First Partner’ in Tribute to Gender, LGBTQ Equality

Jennifer Siebel Newsom wants you to know she’s more than just the California governor’s wife.

As her husband, former lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, was sworn in as the 40th governor of California on Tuesday, Siebel Newsom made a small but significant change on her Twitter account. She listed herself as the Golden State’s “First Partner,” forgoing the more traditional honorific, First Lady.

The change was largely viewed as a subtle hat tip to gender equality. Siebel Newsom told Politico last year that she doesn’t want to be “typecast as a trophy wife.”

“The work I do really parallels and complements Gavin’s work, because it’s about awakening people’s consciousness, shifting hearts and minds, attitudes and behaviors,” she added in comments shared with the Los Angeles Times.

A section recently included on the California governor’s website elaborates on Siebel Newsom’s own background. The 44-year-old helped women to develop “socially and environmentally responsible businesses” in South and Latin America after graduating with her MBA from Stanford University.

Siebel Newsom has since written, produced, and directed two documentary films: 2011’s Miss Representation and 2015’s The Mask You Live In. Both premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The former, which examines the messages fed to women by mainstream media, inspired Siebel Newsom to start The Representation Project in 2011. According to its website, the nonprofit organization challenges “gender stereotypes and [cultural] norms” through the use of film and media.

While Siebel Newsom has yet to make a public statement since the change was formally announced, she has said she prefers “First Partner” because it’s “more inclusive” than the standard moniker bestowed on political spouses.

That sentiment is particularly appropriate during a week which also saw the inauguration of America’s first openly gay governor, Colorado’s Jared Polis. Polis referred to his longtime partner, Marlon Reis, as the Centennial State’s “First Man” during a Tuesday swearing-in ceremony.

Others have called Reis, a fiction writer, the “First Gentleman” of Colorado.

Siebel Newsom’s husband has long been an advocate of LGBTQ equality in office. As mayor of San Francisco in 2004, Newsom allowed more than 4,000 same-sex couples to tie the knot during a one-month window. At the time, marriage equality had yet to be legalized by either the state of California or the federal government.

The 51-year-old Democrat highlighted his status as an LGBTQ rights trailblazer during the 2018 gubernatorial race. In a campaign ad, he pledged to continue that legacy as governor.

“I’m an idealist,” he said. “I embrace that.”

Even in the early days of the administration, it seems as if the couple is likewise being embraced by political leaders in their home state and at the national level. Both former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, Christine, used the “First Partner” title when referring to Siebel Newsom.

Image via Getty

Do Queer Artists Deserve to Control Their Legacy?

Who gets to dictate your legacy?

If you’re Dr. Don Shirley, it’s straight white men. The late queer Black musician is the subject of the Golden Globe-winning and Oscar favorite Green Bookdespite his family’s speaking out about how the fictional film depicts Shirley, and how hurtful it was to see the erasure of his relationship with his family and the glorification of his relationship with his white driver, Tony Vallelonga. 

“I remember very, very clearly, going back 30 years, my uncle had been approached by Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Vallelonga, about a movie on his life, and Uncle Donald told me about it,” Shirley’s nephew Edwin Shirley said. “He flatly refused.”

“God knows, this is the reason that he never wanted to have his life portrayed on screen,” Edwin continued. “I now understand why, and I feel terrible that I was actually trying to urge him to do this in the 1980s, because everything that he objected to back then has come true now.”

But with the star power of leads Viggo Mortensen (playing Tony Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (Shirley), and the palatable it-will-play-in-Peoria White Savior narrative, Green Book has mostly eclipsed any feelings Shirley and his family have had about his life being brought to the screen. The same can be said for Mary Poppins and its creator P.L. Travers.

The lavishly marketed The Return of Mary Poppins has only banked $102.3 million in the first few weeks of the year (a disappointment by Disney box office standards), but the real travesty is its existence, as Travers would never have wanted it to be made in the first place.

Travers (nee Helen Goff) passed away in 1996, and it was then that Disney went looking for a way to convince her estate holders to let them make a sequel. It was well-known that Travers voiced her dislike for the original film (despite her love of Julie Andrews) and never granted the rights for another to be made. She only allowed for a stage musical to go forward on the understanding that no one involved with the film be a part of the show (it was supposed to be based solely on her books), and no one American, either. (The producer, Cameron Mackintosh, agreed initially but ignored her requests after she passed, making a deal with Disney so he could use the songs from the film.)

Travers was not a fan of most of the music in the original Mary Poppins, nor the animation sequences. She infamously asked if they could be removed after attending the film’s premiere. 

Sadly, creators rarely get to have a say on the adaptations of their work. More upsetting than the continuation of Mary Poppins was the 2013 Disney-made film Saving Mr. Banks in which Emma Thompson portrays Travers as initially wary but eventually thrilled with the Disney version. And like Green Book, Saving Mr. Banks also erased pivotal relationships she had while alive, as well as her sexuality — most notably her relationship with Madge Burnand, her longtime live-in companion who she was thought to be involved with romantically during the time she was working on Poppins. 

“I don’t know whether they were lovers or not, but she did live with Madge for a long, long time, and she certainly had very complex, passionate relationships with both women and men,” Thompson once told The Advocate. “She was an explorer of her own condition, and very possibly her own sexuality.”

Another woman, Jessie Orge, detailed a relationship with Travers in her own diaries, as well as their gal palling around with known lesbians like Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson, Georgette Leblanc, and Elizabeth Gordon, a group which called themselves The Rope. Orge also wrote about the tumultuous relationship between Travers and Burnand.

In a New York Times interview in 1994, two years before she died, Travers was noticeably irritated by being asked about herself, saying, “I would rather not discuss my personal life.” Similarly, Shirley was said to respond to questions about his sexuality with a tongue-in-cheek, “Why? Are you interested?”

Despite Travers and Burnand having lived together during the time Saving Mr. Banks covered, the relationship was left out of the film entirely. Akin to the moment in Green Book where a brief gay sex act is mentioned, there is a fleeting blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-moment in Saving Mr. Banks in which Travers is thought to be checking out a woman’s butt. 

“She would absolutely hate it!” Thompson’s co-star Tom Hanks once said of what he believed Travers would think of Saving Mr. Banks. “She would say, ‘Why don’t you make a movie about the poetry I wrote?!'” That poetry was highly erotic. (A select line from The Triad: “The silky hush of intimate things, fragrant with my fragrance, steal softly down, so loth to rob me of my last dear concealment.”)

Travers is hardly the first person to have her life and her life’s work crafted into an unrecognizable and erroneous narrative under the guise of someone else’s creative project, but it’s especially frustrating considering she’s been both desexualized and ignored several times over 53 years. Instead, the narrative about Travers became that she was difficult, a spinster, who was too precious with her creation, a figure based on her aunt who came to take care of her family after her mother attempted suicide. In the Disney version, Mary Poppins became now a fashionable, pretty nanny who danced with singing penguins.

“They had to wait for her to die, and she did die, and then her estate were suddenly much more up for it,” Ben Whishaw said in an interview with Yahoo UK

“She’d probably dislike it just as much,” Dick Van Dyke said of the sequel in which he makes a cameo.

The trustees of Travers’ estate gave the rights to Disney for Saving Mr. BanksMary Poppins Returns, and even spon-con such as Aqua Shard’s Mary Poppins-themed tea. Travers would have most likely detested it all, but does anyone care?

“I think I was disturbed at seeing it so externalized, so oversimplified, so generalized,” Travers said in a 1967 interview reprinted in her New York Times obituary. “I think that Mary Poppins needs a subtle reader, in many respects, to grasp all its implications, and I understand that these cannot be translated in terms of the film.”

Decades later, Travers and Shirley’s wishes are still being ignored, but they’re not alone. Currently, a version of Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues is in the works, despite the trans author’s explicit wishes for the novel to never be adapted after a botched first attempt. Bohemian Rhapsody, also a Golden Globe winner, takes a revisionist approach to the life and sexuality of Freddie Mercury. The movie versions of people’s lives and creative work may more often than not disappoint (Stephen King still hates the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining to this day; Anne Rice wasn’t a fan of the casting for Interview with a Vampire), but when someone like Travers was so synonymous with her creation, so often referred to as “The Real Mary Poppins,” it’s all the more frustrating to see her wishes explicitly ignored and her public persona and legacy becoming that she was a difficult woman.

Mary Poppins is the story of my life,” Travers once said. How sad that it keeps being rewritten.