Will & Grace’s Thursday night episode, “Grandpa Jack” dealt with some pretty heavy themes. For those who haven’t seen it, Jack finds out that his son, Elliott, has a child and that is actually a grandfather when his grandson, Skip, shows up at Will and Grace’s front door looking for him.
After finding out that his grandson sits in the very gay “pajama party” position and loves Lady Gaga, Jack is excited to have something in common with his progeny, especially since he lost contact with Elliott after he married a conservative Texan. However, things take a turn when he learns that Elliott and his wife are sending Skip to “Camp Straighten Narrow” to “fix” him.
The show does its best to camp up the “pray the gay away camp,” and even brings in out actors Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells to play the camp’s clearly-still-gay-but-ex-gay counselors. But, underneath the thickly-laid layer of laughter is an ugly truth: conversion therapy, and conversion camps are still an ugly reality in America.
In 2015, the Southern Poverty Law Center told USA Todaythat there are 70 known practitioners of conversion therapy in America, though the number could be much higher since the practitioners move around a lot. As the SPLC writes, the practice varies from practitioner to practitioner, but it is traumatizing and discredited by virtually every medical and psychological association.
Aside from general practitioners, there also camps like the ones depicted on Will & Grace, though they’re decidedly less funny. Earlier this year, 20/20dedicated an entire horrifying episode to conversion therapy. They descended on Blessed Hope Boys Academy of Alabama, where pastor William Knotts gave journalists and cameramen a less-than-Christian welcome.
In April, New Mexico became the 7th state to ban the harmful practice. That same month, Democratic lawmakersintroduced a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to classify professionals who offer conversion therapy as fraudulent.
“There’s no medical condition known as being gay,” representative Ted Lieu told the Washington Post at the time. “LGBTQ people were born perfect; there is nothing to treat them for. And by calling this what it should be, which is fraud, it would effectively shut down most of the organizations.”
After the bill debuted, some conservatives pivoted and tried to rebrand conversion therapy as “Christian counseling,” and painted the bill as attacking their religious ideology and “Bible-based counseling.”
Earlier this week in England, BuzzFeed reported, the Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a statement acknowledging the harms that reparative therapy has wrought on the LGBTQ community.
“We hold our hands up,” the organization said in a statement.
“There are no words that can repair the damage done to anyone who has ever been deemed ‘mentally unwell’ simply for loving a person of the same sex,” Professor Wendy Burn, president of the RCP, wrote in the statement. “For those who were then ‘treated’ using non-evidence based procedures by mental health professionals up until as late as the 1970s, the trauma of such experiences can never be erased.”
Will & Grace’s revival has so far been mostly fluff. There was the premiere, which offered a light take on the election of Donald Trump and cramped in as many political jokes as possible. There was the second episode, wherein Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and Jack MacFarland (Sean Hayes) had to grapple with their daddy status. And then there was Grace Adler (Debra Messing) reuniting with ex-husband Leo Markus (Harry Connick Jr.) in last week’s installment. All lovely, all fine; nothing so far has quite risen to the level of great TV.
Until Thursday night’s episode, that is.
“Grandpa Jack” sees a very small surprise show up on Will’s doorstep for Jack: Skip (Jet Jurgensmeyer). Skip, a sweet, feminine boy with a love of Lady Gaga, is the son of Elliot (Michael Angarano), Jack’s biological son. That indeed makes Jack his grandfather, and despite some initial horror, he quickly warms to the ways he and Skip are similar.
Unfortunately, a newly conservative Elliot and his wife don’t see it the same way. They’re in New York to send Skip to Camp Straighten Arrow, a gay conversion therapy camp. These camps are still terrifyingly present in the United States (our vice president has been repeatedly accused of supporting them!). Jack and Will are rightfully horrified that Skip is being sent there. So, on a mission, they head to the camp to try and help Skip though as Will knows, as Elliot’s sperm donor, Jack’s short on legal rights.
There’s a funny bit involving the camp itself, including Will taunting the camp counselors and making fun of the “straight” man (played with gusto by Andrew Rannells). And Jack and Elliot have a verbal sparring match, wherein Will & Grace wisely doesn’t bow to Elliot’s attempts at false equivalence. (No, Elliot, Jack not liking that you’re conservative is not discriminatory.) But the story really hits its emotional peak when Jack sits down with Skip to have a heart to heart.
“It’s hard being me sometimes,” Skip tells Jack, in a particularly heartbreaking bit of delivery by Jurgensmeyer. When Jack insists he’s going to be there for Skip as much as he can, it’s equally powerful work from Hayes (who turns in a career-best performance in this episode).
Perhaps most effectively, Skip pushes back on Jack’s “it gets better” advice, echoing criticisms of the movement that have existed since its inception. “I don’t see how,” he says plainly and bluntly.
“When you get older, you’ll understand that there’s the family you were born into, and the family that you choose,” Jack says. “And the family I chose? Well, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The entire scene is beautifully rendered, and gives a surprisingly heartfelt and genuine take on conversion therapy camps that never loses the funny charm of Will & Grace. By centering Jack’s plot on his relationship with Skip and allowing Will to more directly argue against conversion camps in his own scenes, the show manages to both keep an emotional center and get political.
Will & Grace may sometimes feel old, but in this case in particular, a multicam sitcom NBC gave us the exact take on a real danger to LGBTQ kids in America we need.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to make it easier for transgender people to apply for a legal name and gender change in a Wednesday speech.
Speaking at London’s Pink News Awards, the head of government broke with some members of the conservative right by proclaiming that being transgender is “not an illness.” May, who took over for David Cameron last year, pledged to update the country’s Gender Recognition Act to “streamline and de-medicalise” the process of updating identity documents.
“Trans people still face indignities and prejudicewhen they deserve understanding and respect,” May told the crowd. “And when we look around the world, we see countries where the human rights of LGBTQ people are denied and terrible suffering is the result.”
The head of state also pledged to provide more inclusive educational opportunities for LGBTQ students, which includes making schools safer for queer and trans youth.
“We are pressing ahead with inclusive relationships and sex education in English schools, making sure that LGBT issues are taught well,” May said, adding: “We’re determined to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying.”
The current Prime Minister, whose attendance proved controversial on social media, appeared at the awards alongside former PM Tony Blair and current Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn. Justine Greening, the education secretary who came out on Twitter following the Brexit vote, received an award for Politician Of The Year.
“When I sent that tweet last year, I did it because I realised that I needed to be part of the solution and part of helping things move on,” she said. “But I got a huge amount of support from so many people in this room and outside and it really inspired me and encouraged me to do what I can in my own powers, not only as a minister for equalities but as Secretary for Educationwhich is the best job in Government.”
“The best thing is, there are now so many politicians in our Parliament which are part of this cause and part of changing things for the better,” Greening added.
May’s comments on transgender recognition are in stark contrast to earlier remarks by Tory activist Mary Douglas, who made headlines in April after claiming that barriers to changing one’s name and gender exist to protect people from themselves.
“What’s interesting is that many people who have gender dysphoria also have other mental health conditions like depression or drug addiction,” Douglas said in an interview with the Today program on Radio 4. “They are deeply troubled and it has been proven that when they change their gender, that doesn’t solve those issues.”
Current guidelines in the U.K. state that a trans person must live as their true self two years before a doctor can grant them permission to update their legal documents. Current guidelines also bar those under 18 from applying for a name or gender change.
A plan proposed earlier this year would also allow nonbinary people to be recognized neither as male nor female, designated instead by a neutral “X.”
Basically! In case you missed the memo, Thursday marked Spirit Day, a day when people wear purple online and irl to signal their support for LGBTQ youth and their opposition to bullying.
According to GLAAD, more than half of all LGBTQ students feel unsafe in their schools and a super troubling 85.2% have been verbally harassed at school. About two-thirds have even heard homophobic remarks from their teachers and other school staff, so seeing this kind of very clear and direct show of support probably goes a long way in a shitty middle or high school environment.
Daddy Meloni wasn’t the only famous person to use his platform to show his support for LGBTQ kids. Ava DuVernay, Laverne Cox, the cast of Will & Grace, and more joined in, too. Check out a bunch of them below.
A Russian singer who has been missing since August is believed to have been arrested by Chechen authorities in an ongoing purge of LGBTQ life in the Russian province.
Zelimkhan Bakayev, a 26-year-old musician and guitarist, was last seen alive on Aug. 8. Local reports claimed that his mother received a cryptic text message from her son’s phone after Bakayev went missing, saying that he “urgently needs to go to Canada.” But when she tried to reply to the communique, the number was disconnected. She has not heard from her son since.
Advocacy groups had long suspected that Bakayev was targeted by police in the Chechen capital of Grozny, where over 100 men were arrested earlier this year. Russian LGBTQ Network founder Igor Kochetkov confirmed those theories during a Monday press conference.
“At the end of August, we received confirmation of our earlier presumption that Bakayev was detained by Chechen authorities due to suspicion of homosexuality,” Kochetkov claimed.
Bakayev’s disappearance has been a source of contention for Chechen authorities, who have claimed that the singer is “healthy” and “having a good time.” He allegedly recorded a video aired on the local news network Grozny TV in September, in which Bakayev claimed that he had relocated to Germany.
“There is absolutely nothing to do in Grozny or Moscow,” he told fans in a short message. “Because there are a lot of assholes. Here people are absolutely different. You go out, everyone smiles at you.”
Although Bakayev claims to be in Germany, he is recorded drinking Drive Me, a PepsiCo energy drink that isn’t sold in the country. It’s a Russian beverage. His couch, patterned with a unique newspaper motif, is a design specific to a furniture manufacturer located in Moscow, where Bakayev lives.
Human rights advocates have also argued that the man in the video isn’t the performer at all. He’s believed to be a lookalike.
Nonetheless, Chechen authorities have stood by the video’s authenticity, alleging that Bakayev is alive, unharmed, and free. Officials with the regional government stated in August that the singer would “appear soon.”
“The lad is not a Wahhabi or a terrorist,” Dzhambulat Umarov, the Chechen press and information minister, has claimed. “He has never been involved in any problems. No law enforcement has taken him. Nobody needs him at all. He will not go anywhere. He did not have any enemies.”
But Wednesday’s conference is the first time that activists have contradicted the government’s narrative with sourced allegations. Kochetkov claimed that Bakayev’s arrest is part of a crackdown on gay men in the Russian entertainment industry.
The semi-autonomous province has both confirmed and denied that the mass violence is taking place.
Although regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov referred to reports of concentration camps for gay men as “lies,” the strongman also vowed to exterminate Chechnya’s LGBTQ community. Kadyrov claimed that gay men would be eliminated in the Southeastern Russian province before Muslim observance of Ramadan, which started on May 26.
When the crowd cheered for Stiles Zuschlag on Oct. 7, it felt like a dream.
The Senior student put his name in for consideration as his new school’s homecoming king as a joke. Zuschlag had only been going to Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine for a month. He posted on Snapchat that it would be “funny” if he won. But when his name was called out during halftime at the homecoming game, the crowd began to cheer. Zuschlag, bleary-eyed and shaking, looked out over the stands and hoped he wouldn’t wake up.
“I was surrounded by people that I loved and who actually genuinely loved me back,” he tells INTO. “It was so surreal.”
Being crowned in front of 1,000 students chanting his name is a wondrous reversal of fortune for the 17-year-old, who was kicked out of a Christian high school just weeks before. Zuschlag was at the top of his class, a 3.89 GPA-student who loved soccer and God. There was just one problem, according to administrators: He’s transgender.
Zuschlag came out to family and close friends when he was 15. He says that the news wasn’t a surprise to those around him.
Throughout his childhood, Zuschlag was the type of kid who preferred baseball caps and t-shirts to a skirt. The youngster played sports with the boys and would help his father with yard work to pass the time. As Zuschlag got older, it became apparent that his “tomboy phase” wasn’t a phase at all. He was a boy.
“Everyone knew before I did apparently,” he says. “No one was really fazed by it.”
Zuschlag’s parents allowed him to cut his hair and start using a male name, but transitioning at school wasn’t nearly as smooth. The sophomore hid his gender identity from the other students at Tri-City Christian Academy in fear of being rejected, but he claims he was leading a double life: playing the part of a girl at school and getting to be himself at home.
When Zuschlag finally came out, many of his friends couldn’t see past the person they thought he was. They refused to use his pronouns or his new name. While he grew closer with the friends who did accept him, others quickly fell away.
But as word spread throughout school, the rejection of his peers paled in comparison to how their parents reacted. Zuschlag says that several parents emailed the principal to complain that his hair was too short. Parents claimed that a transgender student shouldn’t be allowed to attend a Christian high school.
Those complaints led to a series of meetings over the summer with Tri-City’s principal, who Zuschlag claims issued an ultimatum.
“They gave me two options,” he says. “I could repent and confess my sins, denounce that I was a male, and seek Christian counseling, or the second option was I could do homeschooling under the umbrella of the school.”
Neither course of action was even remotely an option, the student claims.
“It was like he was trying to convert me back into being a female and to change my ways,” Zuschlag says. “It felt like the end of the world.”
But just weeks later, he claims he’s “glad it happened.”
After being effectively kicked out of Tri-City, Zuschlag went to his parents and asked if he could transfer schools. Within the day, they were meeting with administrators at Noble, a public high school in the southwestern Maine town. Zuschlag calls North Berwick “small and secluded,” the kind of place where everyone knows each other.
Zuschlag was surprised at how quickly students, faculty, and administrators at his new school accepted him. His classmates call him by his chosen name. Teachers let him use the men’s bathroom at school. He hasn’t been misgendered once.
Despite being the “new kid,” he even found it pretty easy to make friends. Outgoing and gregarious, Zuschlag quickly fell in with the drama club and the students in the music department. But he says that his new friend group spans every social circle at the school. When Zuschlag walks down the hall, he can’t go a couple feet without someone yelling after him, “Stiles!”
“I am the boy that I’ve always wanted to be,” Zuschlag explains. “I don’t have to struggle to be anyone else.”
More than anything, the student says he finally gets to experience what it’s like to be an ordinary teenager. After his Cinderella moment, Zuschlag went to the homecoming dance with another transgender student but ended up pairing off with a female friend. While his new friends went out to Applebee’s after the event, he went home and slepttired from celebrating all night.
The excitement hasn’t died down in the weeks since, as his crowning made national news.
“I walk the halls and it feels like people have known me their whole lives,” Zuschlag says. “I have teachers I’ve never even met before coming up to me and high-fiving me. I feel free.”
Note: Tri-City has declined to speak with media about Zuschlag’s story.
I have not seen the new movie The Snowman. I do not know what it is about. Apparently Michael Fassbender is in it. Does he play a snowman? Does he eat Campbell’s Soup?
IT DOESN’T MATTER. You know why!?! Because the gods of double entendre, euphemism and queer humor have smiled upon us. Fassbender plays a character named Detective Harry Hole. Here’s the truth from IMDB.
I offer you, reader, two theories.
One: some Craft-level sorcery occurred and no queer people worked on this film and no one caught that there’s an actual reference to a hirsute anus in the main character’s name.
Two: a family member was on the team and let Detective Furry Bussy go on as an inside gag.
Either way, here we are. We’ve made it, y’all. Finally, we’re being represented.
A few months ago, a stately portrait of former President Barack Obama wearing his beloved tan suit against a similarly sandy backdrop, was shared across social media.
He peers as other heads of states have, over his shoulder as if he was reflecting on his historic presidency. A rumor circulated that the painting by the Dutch artist Edwin van den Dikkenberg was the 44th president’s official portrait. The claim was false, but it revealed the internet, if not America, wanted the former president to be radically monumentalized.
Last week, The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery announced that former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had picked the black artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, to paint their official portraits. The choice of the openly queer Wiley by Obama is both obvious and radical, keeping with the internet’s wishes.
For nearly a decade and a half, Wiley has shown his mastery of the canvas as it has been historically and contemporarily defined. Considering Wiley’s art narrowly, the choice of the first black president to choose Wiley aligns with the artist’s practice of painting black men in power and empowered. In response to the news, some have myopically called, Wiley a “Hip-hop portraitist” just like many in 2008 called Obama “America’s first Hip-hop president” despite his red and blue state platform of unity. But given the logic, as fraught as it may be, pairing Hip-hop’s portraitist and president would seem like a foregone conclusion.
Wiley’s Portrait of LL Cool J
In painting the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and Big Daddy Kane or 2005’s “Napoleon Leading the Alps,” where Wiley recasts a black male sitter as the 18th century French emperor, riding high on a white horse, the 40-year-old artist is concerned less with painting a history of Hip-hop or showing a black man can gallantly ride a horse too. Wiley’s paintings are in part about properly contextualizing black cultural icons and regular black folks in the history of their society. “Painting is about the world that we live in. Black men live in the world,” Wiley once said. “My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us.”
(Napoleon Leading the Alps)
Wiley’s portrait of Napoleon imitates the power, posturing, prestige, and beauty of the Old Master Jacques-Louis David’s Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard to say blackness poses universality. It’s a huge painting, meant to use blackness to overpower and overtake us as we stand in front of them.
This is one of many of Wiley’s works like 2006’s Portrait of Andries Stilte II or Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson), a 2010 picture of the king of pop, where the artist has imagined black men as kings, angels, generals, and princes.
“The reality of Barack Obama being the president of the United Statesquite possibly the most powerful nation in the worldmeans that the image of power is completely new for an entire generation of not only black American kids, but every population group in this nation,” Wiley told BBC News in 2012. It is in this vein, it would seem only fitting that Wiley would receive the incredible honor of historicizing for the nation its black president.
In early September, a mutual friend of mine and Wiley sent me a photograph of himself and former President Obama standing before a muted gray backdrop with a message: “Resist. Rise. Represent.” Obama is smiling, wearing a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and black dress pants. In disbelief, and sensing that Obama was being photographed for something, I asked what was it for, he replied, “It’s a special project for the Smithsonian.”
It was in that moment, I realized that Wiley would be painting Obama’s official portrait. Words can’t describe what I felt knowing that a black queer male who has spent his career painting us into the frame of history would use his hands to paint for the nation, one of my hometown heroes. In that moment, the black queer kid in me, who once poured over Wiley’s pictures because they showed men who are like me and who knocked on doors in the dead of a Chicago winter for then-Senate candidate Barack Obama, who opposed the Iraq War, felt seen.
If it was simply a move of political statecraft, this writer believes that a more obvious choice would have been the celebrated Chicago-based painter of black life, Kerry James Marshall. Firstly, because of the Chicago connection. Secondly, the fact that Marshall universally praised as a master painter of fantastical interior scenes of black family, community, and life. Marshall’s art, like his seminal work 1981 self-portrait, Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self, more straight-forwardly and politely deconstructs this idea of black invisibility.
Obama’s choice of Wiley is radical because of the spirit in which Wiley paints his black figures. His early larger-than-life naturalistic images of ordinary gay and straight black men he saw on the streets of New York have undone our expectations around masculinity, straightness, gayness, and race.
He painted black men like in, Femme Piquee Par Un Serpent, for instance, in feminine poses at such an imposing scale that they challenged white supremacist imagery, contemporary Western ideas about blackness, and at the time notions of hyper-masculinity within the black community. Wiley has exhibited worldwide, and his art is included in the permanent collections of many museums including, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In The Capture of Juliers, a 2006 image inspired by Peter Paul Rubens 17th century Renaissance painting, Wiley replaces Queen Marie de Medici of France with a male sitter, creating a new scene of a black male as a queen in blue jeans.
(The Capture of Juliers)
It signifies, for me, Wiley’s quest to see gay and straight men alike, and later women too, as who they are. The heroes of Harlem, the gay queens who defied stereotypes, and glorious pictures of black women. This has always struck me, as a radical not because the painter was making blackness “visible.” Invisible to who? Not each other. We have long known stories of blackness and gayness, in our communities. Wiley’s portraiture has always evidenced that we have a remarkable ability to see ourselves even when others won’t.
In this way, President Obama knowing that he could win the presidency before most of us believed a black man could, is a part of the milieu that black genius artists like Toni Morrison have long considered on the page and Wiley on the canvas.
Whenever an artist is commissioned to create a work of art those works become a part of the legacy of that artist. Knowing that Wiley is a queer artist who has painted his people with a real sense of epic grace and dignity, Obama chose to become a part of Wiley’s overture.
Word eventually got to Jones, who loves nothing more than pouring kerosene on a conspiracy theory. (He believes 9/11 was an inside job and that the Sandy Hook shooting was a government hoax.)
During the segment, Jones calls the reading a “societal wrecking ball” and claims that Xochi’s presence is somehow degrading to all biological life.
“Imagine if someone in a demon outfit showed up next to a baby giraffe and said, ‘Hi, I’m a demon! Be inclusive, don’t be mean to me!” Jones said with total seriousness and not an ounce of self-awareness.
While Jones accused the drag queen of being a “demon goblin,” there’s a serious question here that needs to be answered. Has Alex Jones ever seen actual demon goblin Alex Jones? You know, the man who gets so angry on his program that he turns red, begins to molt and screams about chemical-tainted water that turns frogs gay?
So many false conspiracy theories swirled about the visit that Snopes had to cover the issue. In their write-up, they said that the rumors were mostly false: while Xochi did perform, the book was not demonic or sexually explicit.
It was Todd Parr’s, “It’s Okay To Be Different.” Get a load of that irony.
INTO reached out to Xochi Mochi for comment and will update the story if we hear back.
Professional pole dancer Miles Woods is all about breaking the lucite ceiling that has, until recently, kept male pole dancers in the shadows.
Since moving to LA a few years ago, Woods has appeared in a Diesel short film by David LaChapelle, been featured in a Britney Spears video, and become the first male dancer to work the pole at LA topless institution Crazy Girls since the club opened in 1948 (he’s even hosted an LGBT night there).
And he’s just getting started. To learn more, we had Woods stop by for an interview and intimate demonstration of his pole artistry. Check out the video above, where he tells INTO Editor-in-Chief Zach Stafford about his quick rise, the message he wants to send, and how pole dancing changed his outlook on life.