Aea Celestice, a black transgender woman living in Jacksonville, Florida, has the most basic of plans for the next chapter of her life: She hopes to get out of town before someone kills her.

Celestice, 32, has good reason to worry. Over the past six months, four black trans women in the city have been shot, three of them fatally.

Celine Walker, 36, was shot to death in her room at an Extended Stay America hotel near the University of North Florida on the night of the Super Bowl, Feb. 4. On June 1, Antonia “Antash’a” English, 38, was killed outside an abandoned home north of downtown. And on June 24, Cathalina James, 24, was gunned down in a room at a Quality Inn on the city’s south side.

The cases have left Celestice and others in Jacksonville’s transgender community rattled but it’s been the handling of the investigations by authorities that’s stirred outrage. In public statements and official documents, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly identified the victims as men, refusing to call them by the names they chose to use in their lives.

While an arrest has been made in the shooting of a 23-year-old trans woman, all three murders remain unsolved, and the insistence on referring to transgender women as men has left Celestice wondering just how much effort is being made to find the killer or killers. She wonders whether anyone outside of her community cares.

“There doesn’t seem to be a concern for anybody,” Celestice said. “I guess other people have other things going on in their lives than being concerned about a trans woman getting murdered.”

Studies show that transgender women are disproportionately likely to be victims of violent crime, not just in Jacksonville, but nationwide. Yet most local law enforcement agencies persist in handling these cases much like the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, or JSO.

The transgender community has a word for calling a trans person by the name they no longer use, one that conveys a double meaning when it involves murder. It’s known as “deadnaming.”

Across the nation, ProPublica found, some 65 different law enforcement agencies have investigated murders of transgender people since Jan. 1, 2015. And in 74 of 85 cases, victims were identified by names or genders they had abandoned in their daily lives. Our survey found that arrests have been made in 55 percent of the killings of transgender people nationwide in the last three and a half years. The overall clearance rate for murders in the U.S. is only slightly higher, at 59 percent.

Advocates say that not using the name and pronoun a person was known by can slow down an investigation during its most critical hours. People who knew the victim or who saw them in the hours before they were murdered might only have known them by their preferred name and gender.

Aea Celestice in her friend’s tattoo studio in Jacksonville (Gioncarlo Valentine for ProPublica)

“If Susie is murdered, don’t use ‘Sam,’” said Monica Roberts, an activist and journalist who tracks murders of transgender people. Roberts worries that deadnaming both prevents the community from identifying victims and fosters mistrust of police.

Police at the handful of agencies that routinely use victims’ preferred names and pronouns say not doing so can damage the agency’s relationship with the transgender community, or alienate friends and family.

“That might lose the cooperation of the friends and family — the people we need to solve the case,” said Detective Orlando Martinez of the Los Angeles Police Department.

In investigating the murders of Walker, English and James, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says it has just followed its policy, which is to identify people based on a medical examiner’s report and whatever name and sex are listed on their state identification.

After Walker’s death, the sheriff’s office referred to her in reports and public statements as a man and released a male name to the media, one she hadn’t used in years. Friends and activists called the agency, asking officers to respect Walker and use her chosen name, but say they were told that wasn’t how the agency handled such cases.

Bailey Bolden, a transgender woman and friend of Walker’s, said JSO told her the agency can’t assume that a man with breast implants identifies as a woman. Bolden said she viewed both JSO’s refusal to call her friend “she” and her interaction with the agency as deeply disrespectful.

When ProPublica reporters emailed JSO to ask for press releases sent out about James’ murder and referred to her as a transgender woman, public information officer Melissa Bujeda corrected us. “The victim is listed as a male,” she said.

Members of Jacksonville’s LGBT community say investigators have taken a low-key attitude towards a series of murders that should trigger alarm in any city.

Jacksonville is the 12th most populous in the country, with one of the largest police forces. And yet, it is not doing what smaller cities with far fewer resources have done. For example, the New Orleans Police Department sent a liaison to a town hall with the LGBT community within two weeks of two murders of transgender women last year.

It took more than a month after the third murder for the sheriff’s office to hold a public meeting and that gathering came only after sustained pressure from advocates and trans women, including rallies, phone calls, vigils and meetings.

Investigators say they have no evidence the shootings are related. To many in Jacksonville, that misses the point, which is that the attacks have been targeted against a vulnerable group with few defenders.

For Celestice, simply being a black trans woman in the city right now feels unbearable.

“I have to get out of here,” she said. “I have a lot to offer, and it would be a shame if my life was cut short because someone decided that they wanted to kill me.”

Aea Celestice hopes to move out of Jacksonville. “I can’t maintain this existence much longer,” she said. (Gioncarlo Valentine for ProPublica)

Jacksonville is not unique. Transgender people are routinely misidentified by law enforcement officials in cities across the country.

If you watch a 2016 video on her Facebook page, you can see Amia Tyrae swaying to the tune of Beyoncé’s “Freedom.” Her eyelashes are meticulously sculpted and her lips, coated in light pink gloss, shimmer as she looks directly into the camera.

Earlier this year, Tyrae was shot to death at a motel in Baton Rouge. In reports provided to the media, police described Tyrae as a “transvestite” — an anachronistic term now widely considered a slur — and a man.

“It’s like a slap in my face,” said Alexis White, a transgender woman who described herself as Tyrae’s mother. In the transgender community, “mother” is a term of respect and devotion used for elders in the community, who often fill a familial role when people have been estranged from their birth families.

White said that hearing Tyrae described as a man was hurtful.

“Her name was Amia. She was a trans woman,” said White, “She was very sweet. She was loved by many.”

Don Coppola, a spokesperson for the Baton Rouge Police Department, said the department does not have a formal policy on how to identify transgender victims of crimes.

Pushed to explain how the department would refer to a transgender person, Coppola said police would use the person’s sex assigned at birth, noting “if it’s a male, it’s a male.”

Despite her close relationship with Tyrae, White said that the Baton Rouge Police Department never contacted her or other people she knows in the trans community to verify Tyrae’s identity.

When 24-year-old Ty Underwood was gunned down by a football player at Texas College in 2015, police reports initially noted that Underwood, who in Facebook photos has long dark hair and manicured nails, appeared to be female. Despite her appearance, and despite the fact that she had identified as a woman for years, the Tyler Police Department described her as a man throughout police records and in interviews with ProPublica.

In a supplemental police report, a detective noted that “there were no female breast (sic)” on Underwood, and later wrote that “the victim was a male dressed as a woman.” Records also show the Tyler Police Department referred to both Underwood and her friends as transvestites in internal documents describing the murder investigation.

The Dallas Police Department is one of the few local agencies that makes an effort to use preferred names and pronouns in order to build trust with the transgender community.

When Carla Flores-Pavon was found strangled to death in her apartment in Dallas in May 2018, Deputy Chief Thomas Castro of the Dallas police said the department made an effort to refer to her as “she” and “Carla” during their investigation.

“When we go out to the community and talk about somebody, we have to identify them by the way they identified,” Castro said, adding that it wouldn’t do the department any good to use a name that nobody knew her by.

Police who incorrectly describe the gender of murder victims often don’t have internal policies that account for transgender people. Tyler Police Department spokesperson Don Martin defended his department’s decision to call Ty Underwood a man, saying that the department uses whatever sex is listed on a victim’s government-issued ID.

But something as simple and critical as having the correct name and gender on a driver’s license or voter registration card can prove unattainable for many transgender people. A person who is carrying an ID that does not match their outward appearance faces a higher risk of violence or harassment.

Transgender women told ProPublica that common interactions like showing IDs at a bar, or to vote, can identify them as transgender to others — a process known as “getting clocked.” According to a 2015 survey of transgender people, nearly one-third of people who presented an ID that did not match their appearance reported being harassed, denied services or attacked.

Several women told ProPublica about job opportunities that disappeared after potential employers discovered they were transgender. Without a job, transgender people start falling through society’s cracks. They can lose access to medical care, become homeless, or be forced into sex work.

For those reasons, one of the biggest steps people take when they’re transitioning is to legally change their name and gender marker — the “M” or “F” on identity documents. But a patchwork of state and federal regulations can make those changes complicated and expensive — and for some, impossible.

Savannah Bowens, a 30-year-old transgender woman living in Jacksonville. Bowens is a pastor at her church and outspoken about the fight for respect in the transgender community. (Gioncarlo Valentine for ProPublica)

“Job-wise, [changing your name] helps,” said Savannah Bowens, a 30-year-old transgender woman in Jacksonville. “I think one of the root causes to why we deal with so much in our community is jobs.”

Bowens changed her name in 2017, after an employer noticed her old name on her driver’s license and called her into the office to question her about it. She decided then that she needed to legally update her identification.

“I don’t want to become a statistic,” Bowens said about potentially losing a job. “I don’t want to have to be that girl that people see walking the streets or prostituting.”

The consequences of getting clocked range from derogatory comments to death. In 2016, Dwanya Hickerson, a former sailor in the U.S. Navy, killed Dee Whigham, a 25-year-old nurse, by stabbing her 190 times in a hotel room in St. Martin, Mississippi. Hickerson, who admitted he had been chatting with Whigham online for several months before meeting in person, claimed he “lost it” after discovering she was transgender during sex.

Name and gender changes to official documents can sometimes require court orders or come with onerous restrictions. In some states, such changes are not available to those with felony convictions, or require genital surgery that people may not want or be able to afford. For transgender people who move to states other than the ones they were born in, changing official records can be a bureaucratic nightmare.

About half the states bar felons or other people with criminal histories from changing their names. Cost can also be a factor. Name changes run from $25 to $400, though many courts will also waive those fees for people who can’t afford them.

Those who go through the court process are by no means guaranteed the desired outcome. Judges have broad discretion to deny name and gender marker changes, and it’s not uncommon for them to do so. The Utah Supreme Court heard arguments this year from attorneys representing two transgender people who were not allowed to change their gender on official documents.

“It’s a very frustrating, disjointed legal system right now for gender marker changes,” said Arli Christian, the state policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, or NCTE.

The NCTE rates 11 states — Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming — as the hardest places for changing a gender marker on state IDs. In those states, doing so requires body-altering surgery or a court order from a judge. The process for getting a court order can often require proof of surgery, too.

According to Christian, judges more frequently deny requests to change genders on IDs than names.

“This is not a process that should be in the courts,” Christian said. “Judges are not experts in gender identity.”

In Jacksonville, one of the victims, Antash’a English, was described by police with her correct name, but was also described as a man. That’s because English had legally changed her name, but not her gender identification on official documents. Her fiancé, Robert Johnson, said that English had wanted to change her gender ID but she didn’t know it was possible without having genital surgery.

Just last month, a transgender woman was found dead in a parking lot in Orlando, Florida. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office press release described the victim as a man “wearing a wig” and “dressed as a female.” Local news outlets soon started publishing and broadcasting stories describing the victim as a “man dressed as a woman.” The trans community responded with anger.

Monica Roberts, the Texas journalist who has been chronicling the murders of trans women for years, was the first reporter to identify the name the victim lived by, Sasha Garden. In a post published on her blog, she condemned the local media coverage.

“As you probably guessed,” Roberts wrote, “Sasha was deadnamed and horribly disrespected by the local Orlando media.”

When ProPublica first contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, spokesperson Jane Watrel said that the agency uses the name and sex listed on the victim’s state-issued identification when describing homicide cases. Watrel later clarified that, after speaking to Garden’s family, the department would begin using female pronouns to describe Garden during their investigation.

In a subsequent press release, Orange County Sheriff Jerry L. Demings wrote that the department did not intend to be insensitive and apologized.

In contrast, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has not publicly acknowledged or apologized for misgendering and misnaming transgender victims, though in a recent interview with a local news station, Sheriff Mike Williams acknowledged that there had been a “lack of sensitivity” when referring to the victims.

In June, a few days after Cathalina James’ slaying, local activists and representatives from statewide advocacy organizations, gathered in Jacksonville City Hall to demand the city council do more to protect transgender women.

Top: Savannah Bowens speaks at a rally in support of the transgender community in Jacksonville, Florida, on June 27. Bottom: Signs at the rally bore names of some of the transgender women who were killed. Activists and members of the LGBT community have been concerned about the way the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigated the murders. (Aldrin Capulong for ProPublica)

“Every day I wake up, I put on my clothes, I step outside, I don’t know if I’m going to make it home safe. And if I make it home safe, I don’t know if I’m going to be in one piece or not,” said Paige Mahogany Parks, a local activist, imploring the city council to investigate why so many trans women had been murdered.

“There’s no relationship with the JSO and the trans community as a whole,” she added.

Chloie Kensington, an activist and personal friend of English, said the city was mistreating trans women.

Pointing directly at the council members, Kensington vowed during the meeting, “I for one will march in every pair of damn stilettos I have to hold each and every one of you accountable.”

On June 27, JSO’s Twitter account put out a video of the car they said was driven by James’ killer. The post referred to her by the male name she was given at birth. It also said she was transgender and that she went by the name Cathalina.

A JSO spokesperson told ProPublica that the tweet was not a sign of a new policy. Using the victim’s gender and chosen name, according to the sheriff’s office, fell under the category of “additional details.”

But the pressure the trans community is putting on JSO may be having some effect. On Aug. 2, JSO announced the creation of a group of officers that will serve as liaisons to the LGBT community.

For Jacksonville resident Savannah Bowens, the transgender woman who changed her name after an employer questioned her about it, respect is worth the fight.

“There has to be somebody that says ‘I have had enough,’” she said.

“When I die? I don’t want to be called a male,” she went on. “That is not who I lived my life as, that is not my legacy, and I want to be respected as who I am. People knew me as Savannah. They knew me as she.”

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Buffalo Bailey Wants You to Buy a Timeshare

If you’re a gay horse, a troubled teen girl, or interested in becoming one of 52 owners of a Midwestern horse sanctuary/vacation home, then Buffalo Bailey’s Ranch for Gay Horses, Troubled Teen Girls, and Other: A 90-Minute Timeshare Presentation may be exactly what the subprime mortgage broker ordered.

Having premiered in New York in January, Buffalo Bailey’s Ranch… returns to Brooklyn’s The Brick Theater this weekend before heading to Baltimore and Philadelphia for its tri-state “tour-de-timeshare.”

INTO sat down with Bailey Williams, the evil genius behind Buffalo Bailey, to learn how this bizarre, grotesque, and hysterical marketing presentation/after-school special/gay horse disco/mid-2000s period piece came to be.


What inspired you to write Buffalo Bailey’s Ranch for Gay Horses, Troubled Teen Girls, and Other: A 90-Minute Timeshare Presentation?                                   

Oh, God. The real story is actually kind of sad, in a way. [laughs] So, about three years ago I was not in the best place, emotionally. I was working as an associate [theatrical] literary agent, and I had stopped writing. And I was sort of becoming increasingly depressed by watching my friends do theater on Facebook, like, watching people promote their shows and write things and get awards and stuff, so I was like, sort of crumbling in a social media-type jealousy. And it was really hard to exist online.

So one night, I think I drank a bottle of white wine [laughs] and I googled myself out of self-pity, and I found this woman named Bailey Williams. And she was a cowgirl and a rodeo princess and a playwright and an international humanitarian. She had these amazing rodeo princess photos that were taken where she’s wearing, like, this bejeweled cowgirl hat and these fabulous pink Western shirts that were incredible. And I’m like, “Look at this woman. She’s so happy, she’s doing theater, she’s helping people, she lives on a ranch. I’m not going to be me anymore online, I’m going to be her. I don’t want to be in my pajamas on my bed. I want to be a fabulous rodeo princess.”

So I just started Facebooking as this alternate personality that was also a real person. Originally, I was really just posting a bunch of horse quotes. I think I was trying to be, like, a very, very basic “horse girl.” But then like the gay horses moved in, and then the wolverines, and I think I lost a couple of fingers, and my eyebrows fell out. And then it just sort of spiraled out of control from there.

A couple of months later, [director] Derek Smith and I were at a friend’s birthday party, and Derek was like, “Let’s make it a show.” And I said OK.


What did playing Buffalo Bailey on Facebook change for you, the “real” Bailey Williams?

There was something super freeing about presenting myself publicly as Buffalo Bailey. I didn’t have to sort of wallow in my own despair, not being recognized as a playwright or something. I could sort of lose myself in this fantasy of being a rancher with gay horses and the troubled teen girls. And then it sort of turned into a story, and that tickled me in a completely different way. It was like I got freed from my own ego, in a lot of ways.

It also helped me understand, on a deeper level, that we’re all performing something for social media, that it’s all a ridiculous performance, that nobody’s this shining beacon of perfection and success. Everybody is making shit up. And the ridiculousness of what I was making up helped me sort of see how other people were approaching their successes on social media, basically.

And also, there’s just something really, I don’t know, magical, about giving up. I know so many people who, as soon as they were like, “Fuck it, I don’t care what anyone thinks,” [laughs] made something cool and successful. As soon as you’re like, “Well, obviously, since conscious striving isn’t being rewarded anyway, I’ll just let whatever weird goo exists in my subconscious bubble up,” that’s the good stuff.

How did you adapt Buffalo Bailey as a theatrical character?                       

That was actually a challenge. When Derek first asked me if I wanted to turn it into a show, I really didn’t see how it could be a show, because the magic for me was being able to disappear in my computer and just have like this weird social media façade that nobody knew quite what was going on.

But then, with Derek’s help, we we sort of picked out parts of the story I had created on Facebook. Like, there’s these gay horses, and there’s 20 of them. And the ranch is also a place to therapize troubled teen girls who get caught smoking behind the middle school or something. And then there’s Buffalo Bailey’s enemies, which are the wolverines. They had to come into the show. And then there’s the idea that the ranch itself is a timeshare property, and that’s where we started with, was, like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the show was a timeshare presentation?” Like, we were selling the ranch.

Derek went to a ton of timeshare presentations as a kid, so we watched a bunch of videos from those and we talked a lot with Alex Rodabaugh about his preoccupations, and for some reason, we were all kind of similarly obsessed with the mortgage crisis as being the reason behind all of these financial woes.

Also, over time, just operating as Buffalo Bailey on the Internet, my own problems were seeping into it as well. It was like we were feeding each other. Buffalo Bailey was making me weirder, and I was also giving her a lot of my problems, like financially, and my frustration with how many jobs I had, and stuff like that. So the finances were like the drama behind it, for sure. We all knew that money was the motivating factor.


Why structure it as a timeshare presentation?

There’s something just really, deliciously, terribly American about [a timeshare], isn’t there? Like, [laughs] you go into this room and you basically have to sit there for a couple of hours while people aggressively sales-tactic you into spending money that you don’t have on a vacation home that you likely won’t use. And I love sort of the con-man element and the revolving cast of characters, because when you’re in a timeshare presentation, there’ll be multiple people that come in and try to sell you. And there is something really theatrical about that.

Like, it’s the American Dream. It’s like, “Everyone can be a homeowner! You just have to purchase this weird apartment in the Las Vegas Wynn Hotel for seven days. You’re a homeowner! You own a vacation home!” So absurd, the obsession with home ownership and what it means to people. And the fact that it’s completely unattainable now for so many people in this world. I don’t know. It seems like the perfect way to sort of exorcise all these feelings we have, [of frustration] with the American Dream, the way life is expected to be: You get a job, then you can buy a house, and you have healthcare, and you’re just totally fine.

And I think it helps that Buffalo Bailey believes in that that dream. She believes in it for herself, not for anybody she’s selling a timeshare to. So there’s multiple dreams at play there.


The play is set in 2006, right, just before the real estate bubble explodes, right?                      

Yeah. So there’s a lot of “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” about that, about how she bought the ranch for basically nothing with subprime mortgage rates that they were handing out like candy in the mid-2000s, and it’s about to basically balloon, and the bank will foreclose on the ranch. And so the idea is like, sort of the ‘90s rom com plot, so like, if they can just do the pageant, they’ll save the ranch!

And it’s like, that’s not how the world works. The banks always win. You’re always playing the long con game set up by powers that are so much bigger than you.


What do you hope to leave your audiences with at the end of the show?

Ultimately, I would like people to leave with a renewed impetus to treasure their DIY queer spaces — like, their local performance venue, their shops, and stuff like that. But I think it’s also, “There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism.” [laughs] And to cling to the people you love and the places you love and do what you can to keep the gay alive. To keep happy. To celebrate.

Or, like, our bodies are the real timeshares, in a way?

Yeah. Your body is the ultimate timeshare.


What’s next for you after this three-city tour?

Well, we’re actually all quitting theater. We’ve met a really wonderful group of people. It’s not a cult. It’s a group of likeminded people who are concerned about the challenges of climate change, and the way the environment is going, and basically, have provided us with an answer that we feel very satisfied with. So we are all moving to New Jersey to work with them on spreading The Good Word.


What is The Good Word?

Well, you’d have to come to a meeting to find out. We’ll be posting information about the meeting pretty soon. Or you can email me. Let me give you my special group email. If you want to keep updated on future meetings, you can email me at [email protected].


And we can publish that?

Yeah, 100 percent. And it’s all good news. Like, if you’re worried about climate change, the environment, war, social issues, what’s going to happen to your children when the oceans drown us all, you’re going to want to hear about this, because it’s really good news.


And it’s not a cult.

Yeah. Most importantly, it’s not a cult.


Buffalo Bailey’s Ranch for Gay Horses, Troubled Teen Girls and Other: a 90 Minute Timeshare Presentation is written by Bailey Williams, directed by Derek Smith, and features Jack Raymond, Alex Rodabaugh, Derek Smith, and Bailey Williams, with sound design and composition by Alex Kuncl. It plays at The Brick Theater, 579 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, on August 10 at 7 p.m., and August 12 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more information on the show, as well as details on its performances in Baltimore and Philadelphia, visit Users Upset With Bisexual Video Featuring a Woman Because of Course

Here’s a piece of trivia: do you want to know what is gay porn site’s worst-reviewed film of all time according to its users?

According to a recent story from (extremely NSFW) Str8UpGayPorn, users have made the site’s first bisexual-themed film, “The Challenge,” the site’s most disliked movie ever — only 25% liked it.

On top of that, star Arad Winwin, a gay Iranian-American, has faced backlash from fans for appearing in the film, Str8UpGayPorn reported. Some people have accused the star of being secretly straight, because that’s how that works and sexuality isn’t fluid at all, right?

“This was only a job, and it was nothing more. Nothing personal. I was working, and it was like any other scene I’ve done,” Winwin told Str8UpGayPorn.

The whole thing kinda reeks of both misogyny and bisexual stigma. If you don’t like the content, don’t click.

How Can Zoos Teach Us About Sexuality, Gender, and Citizenship?

Many in the queer community may already know what gay bears and otters are, but what do you know about those bears and otters that are actual gay bears and others? With Amsterdam Pride coming up this weekend, the city’s ARTIS Zoo decided to get a little wild leading up to the canal parade. The zoo has for the past few years offered a special tour that focuses on the topic of sexual diversity in the animal kingdom.

In the guided-tour, patrons are taken to various exhibits in the zoo where they can see species who have mated with the same sex. This includes stops at the flamingos, penguins, and the famous male griffon vulture couple who raised a chick together, according to Vice.

The tour, which costs around $24, according to Pink News, was held last week and will have its final tours of the year this weekend. The zoo also held a lecture this week on sexual diversity in nonhuman animals.

“Nature is much more diverse in sexuality and sex than most people think.” Charlotte Vermeulen, a biologist at the ARTIS Zoo, said in a statement about the lecture. “This lecture during Pride Amsterdam is about creatures that are neither male or female, about animals that change sex, animals whose sex does not depend on their genetic material, and about homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom.”

“Since homosexual animals do not reproduce, this behavior may seem like an evolutionary paradox. But there are already 1,500 species of birds and mammals in which homosexual behavior has been observed, both between males and females. Homosexual and lesbian behavior among animals is no error. In many animal species it is part of their normal, species-specific behavior in nature,” Vermeulen explained.

Today, you can’t be on social media without post after post about cute and cuddly animals, and it seems like when animals are seen doing something kinda gay, the stories aren’t just put in meme-form but media outlets take the time to report on them.

This is true for lions, vultures, and penguins.

The reasons for homosexual behavior in these species can range from lack of opposite-sex partners, to pleasure, to forming social bonds and relieving tension in social groups, according to Deutsche Welle.

Bonobos are probably the most popular example. These close relatives to humans often engage in sexual activity amongst each other to stop fights or just to relax.

Animals that exhibit homosexual behavior seem to be a nifty piece of news that may twist what we perceive as natural and not natural. Surely if nonhuman animals exhibit same-sex attraction, sexual diversity is a perfectly normal thing right?

It gets a bit complicated, says Marianna Szczygielska, an incoming post-doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Szczygielska’s research has examined sexuality, gender, sexual politics, and race through the establishment of the modern zoo. Though she’s never participated in the tour at ARTIS Zoo, she has studied these kinds of excursions.

“The tour is an interesting event and besides being a fun part of the Pride program I think it has high political stakes,” she tells INTO. Similar tours, like one in Berlin, tend to happen in Western countries in places “that want to promote diversity and can benefit from it in some way.”

That benefit, Szczygielska claims, can lie in national identity building. Describing the history of zoos, she explains that they served to “showcase certain types of metropolitan identities from the 19th century in western European and North America.”

Zoos possess a dark past in and of themselves since the institution could only become what it is today through colonialism, racism, and the trafficking of “exotic” animals from colonies. This includes, Szczygielska notes, human zoos that were sometimes referred to as “ethnographic” tours or exhibitions.

Even if now the narrative focuses on preserving endangered species and educating populations about nonhuman animals, the history of zoos and their position in cultural practices can’t be ignored.

“The zoo is not just an innocent place to go on a Sunday evening,” she says. “It’s always been a space that showcases certain middle class and urban identities along with a kind of national pride with certain animals symbolizing it.

She mentions as an example the case in Russia from 2016 when a goat and tiger in a wildlife park in Vladivostok supposedly became friendly with one another. A local lawyer accused media coverage of the relationship as “hidden propaganda, as a public, active solicitation of homosexuality and information on it,” he said, according to the Independent.

The tour is something you might expect to see in an Amsterdam zoo but probably not in Moscow, she says.

“What we’re seeing now with these tours,” Szczygielska explains, “is a switch in how we think of modern citizenship where LGBTQ community members want to partake.

Using the argument about so-called queer animals is tempting because it may reinforce our attempts to normalize sexual diversity in humans. The idea is tempting, but Szczygielska warns that this could create static categories that are not fluid. It also feeds the “born this way” rhetoric, she says, but “nothing is pure nature and nothing is pure nurture.”

It comes down to human, and thus cultural, interpretation.

There are, however, still benefits to using these behaviors in nonhuman animals to understand human sexuality and gender.

“It naturalizes our LGBT or queer identities. For a long time LGBTQ people have really struggled with arguments against nature,” she tells INTO. Seeing it in other species allows us to say that it’s not an evolutionary mistake or an aberration.

In fact, it’s only recently that scientists have begun looking into same-sex behavior of different species, while opposite-sex behavior has pretty much always been observed and recorded.

“When you have nonhuman animals, a wide range of species performing same-sex acts, it kind of reclaims this realm of nature for us who identify as LGBTQ.”

It’s because of this that media might tend to be ready to pick up the story. It breaks with tradition and becomes proof that homosexuality is not unnatural, Szczygielska says.

Growing up, you probably didn’t see this behavior on Animal Planet, but today a popular meme reads something along the lines of  “Homosexuality is found in 1500 species. Homophobia is found in only one.” Children’s books are even written about these animals.

“The lesson we can learn from these animals is that it might confuse us more about what sexuality is for human and nonhumans and how we can see those blurry lines and distinctions [between identities or categories],” Szczygielska says. “It’s more interesting to see this diversity in the animal kingdom as making us ask what human sexuality and gender identity or expression can be.”

For her, gender should also be understood in regards to observing nonhuman animals, not just sexual behavior, especially as activists work to protect attacks against trans people.

“There are so many gender configurations” in the animal kingdom, Szczygielska says. “It could really change the game if we took those lessons [about diverse genders in nonhuman animals] seriously, but as humans we usually don’t.”

How NPR’s Sam Sanders Became The Most Vocal Queer, Black Voice On The Radio

“As a journalist, of course I’m critical of everything that’s happening in the world right now, and that’s a huge part of the show. It’s important to have conversations that move us in the right direction. But I also want listeners to have fun, to laugh, to be entertained.”

When you listen to Sam Sanders, journalist and host of NPR’s podcast It’s Been a Minute, it feels like you’re with the friend who will always show you a good time. You know you’re in for a few laughs, some lessons, and a streak of optimism.

Sanders’ confidence, intelligence, and humor come naturally. The show–which is simply a blend of the things Sanders likes to talk about: politics, journalism, and the many avenues of pop culture that are entwined with them–celebrated its first birthday this past June.

Sanders is one of just a few black and openly gay podcast hosts in digital media, and the intersections of his identity are only heightened at National Public Radio, where people of color are few and far between, and queer people of color even more so. Still, he relishes his place among his peers and the platform his show has built, citing NPR as the home that raised him, professionally, as a self-described late-comer to public radio.

“Growing up, until I could drive, my mother had control of the radio when we were in the car, which meant we were listening to sermons and gospel music.” he tells INTO. “I don’t even think I listened to an actual radio show until I was in college. When I did I became obsessed with news and current events.”

From there he knew he wanted to pursue a career in journalism and radio, and after completing a master’s in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, he was off and running with NPR as a Kroc Fellow. However, it was Sanders’ work as a member of NPR’s election unit in the months leading up to the 2016 election, when he played a key role in covering the intersection of culture, pop culture, and politics, that the opportunity arrived for him to lead his own show of his own design.

It’s Been a Minute, Sanders believes, is emblematic of a larger cultural and journalistic shift, one in which those intersections–everything from the reality television star-turned-president to the very existence and acclaim of FX’s POSE–are now visible, and taken seriously as political markers.

“Politics doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Sanders says. “As media representation grows, particularly for people from underrepresented identities, the landscape evolves. And it should evolve, because that representation can spark dialogue, bring about larger conversations, and change minds — all of which affects policy.”

Sanders considers his own identity, and his presence at NPR, an opportunity to facilitate these kinds of conversations. “I’m aware of the fact that because of my platform, the majority of my listeners are white, straight, and liberal.” In some ways, he sees this as a chance to be on the front lines breaking down barriers.

“For some listeners I might be the most vocal queer or black voice in their everyday lives,” he says.  

Sanders welcomes the responsibility that comes with that role, because his passion for the news, and for radio, stems from a love of conversation. He’s quick to add, though, that the one-way nature of hosting a podcast, especially when the majority of your listeners are not necessarily walking through life in your shoes, has its pitfalls as well.

But Sanders doesn’t shy away from engaging with his listeners, whether they’re calling-in to provide a hot take, or writing letters and emails as a way of taking part in the conversation.

“There have been times when white listeners have presumed to school me on what racism actually is because they didn’t like my take on an issue, or felt that perhaps my perspective wasn’t inclusive of a broader, more universal perspective,” he says.

“And sometimes I’ve addressed it on the show.”

At a time when more often than not, queer media personalities are targeting queer audiences, and black personalities are targeting black audiences, and so forth, Sanders hopes his show can be a source of learning and entertainment for everyone: “Not everyone wants to do that, or sees their work reaching that audience, but I want to.”

There’s bravery in his willingness to engage so thoroughly, and so publicly, but Sanders does have limits. The intimacy generated between a good radio host and their listeners can sometimes facilitate familiarity that doesn’t really exist. Audience engagement regularly veers into questions about his dating life, or his family, crossing a boundary Sanders works hard to maintain.

“If I make a side comment about the fact that some people are perfectly happy being single, the next day I’ve got an inbox full of emails from listeners telling me not to give up hope.” He laughs. “It’s kind, but it leaves me wondering if they’re really listening.”

He’s glad for the relationship he’s built with his audience, and grateful for its role in his success, but in caring for himself, Sanders feels it’s important to keep his private life private. And it’s a fair line to draw across the sand: these things are not the subject of his show, nor are they the reasons he became a journalist. And it’s reasonable to consider whether or not listeners might be so concerned with his personal life if Sanders were straight and white.

But still, the thing he loves most about his audience is the level of engagement. In a politically tumultuous climate, and as a queer person of color and public figure, there are days when the show serves as his own source of optimism — the result of a tone which, as the host, he works hard to set.

“I try to host a show that listeners can depend on for great conversation, quality entertainment, moving stories, and hopefully they walk away with a slightly clearer path forward.”

My Excommunication

I was born and raised Mormon in Utah, and at eighteen years old, I requested an excommunication. It was a decision made after years of struggle with the religion and the ultimate realization that the church couldn’t ever hold a place for me as a queer person. It was far from the only issue I had with their doctrine but was the most immediately personal. Though they’ve gone through an expert, seemingly more inclusive rebranding in recent years, and there are no doubt many well-intentioned members of the Mormon church, not much has actually changed at the religion’s unwelcoming and discriminating core. I couldn’t stay part of that, even if in name only.

First, I wrote the required letter to my local bishop demanding the excommunication. Then I had to participate in a required interview which took over a year to schedule. I was told the lag time was protocol in hopes the requester might change their mind. Sorry Mormons, no such luck. After all that waiting and frustration, the bishop ultimately turned to me with apoplectic flourish and defensively offered: “It’s like the Mormon church is a tennis club, and you’re asking us to build a golf course just for you. Do you see how unfair you’re being?”

To be clear: I didn’t want to play golf and I didn’t give a damn about tennis. I just wanted out. Growing up, I felt guilty simply for existing — even before I had the words to explain why. As I began to admit to myself that I was gay in my early teen years, that guilt turned into deeply internalized shame. I was conditioned to believe I was inherently dirty, plagued by what they called “unclean thoughts and desires.” In private, I begged god to change me for years…but I only ever stayed the same. Eventually (and not without intense struggle and doubt), I stopped questioning myself and began to question the very stories the church told me.

For instance: Why did anyone take Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church in the late-1820s and known con man, seriously to begin with? Why was polygamy considered a sacred duty in the early days of the church? Why are women treated like second-class citizens generally–taught to be wives and mothers but dissuaded from ever having ambition or goals of their own? Moreover, why can’t women hold the secretive priesthood powers so celebrated for men? Why were black men banned from holding that same priesthood until 1978? Sometimes a scriptural justification got referenced, but my curiosity was most commonly met with derision and deflection. No answers could’ve adequately justified the sexist and racist power dynamics produced by those policies anyway.

Questions about other church positions gave way to painful self-reflection about where my own burgeoning sexuality fit into the Mormon world. There were constant whispers about rehabilitation camps for kids exhibiting what the church continues to refer to today merely as “same-sex attraction.” Later, I heard details from some who were sent to (or sometimes voluntarily entered) those rehabs, disclosing they were/are nothing more than conversion and shock therapy centers sanctioned by the church. Conversion therapy was already becoming a liability when I requested my excommunication (though sadly it still proliferates), but any alleged discomfort with the concept didn’t stop church leaders from leaving pamphlets for those same conversion centers on my parent’s front porch in brown paper lunch bags.

According to the current Mormon website, “Identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual or experiencing same-sex attraction is not a sin and does not prohibit one from participating in the Church, holding callings, or attending the temple.” On the surface, it seems welcoming, but it’s this pernicious parsing of identity, experience, attraction, and behavior that continues to do serious damage–a faulty premise that gets internalized quickly in Mormon children and adults alike.

“Same-sex attraction” doesn’t preclude anyone from membership in the church, but it’s still positioned, as it was in my youth, as a weakness to be fought against at all costs. Once acted on–a kiss, a clutched hand, god forbid anything more intimate–it’s considered a particularly egregious Mormon sin. Mormons teach abstinence until marriage, but they also refuse to recognize same-sex marriage despite it’s civil legality. So, unable to act on any “same-sex attraction” before marriage and also barred from marriage, abstinence for LGBTQ+ Mormons is a forced lifetime penance dressed up as an olive branch. A denial equivalent to my bishop’s inane analogy about golf and tennis: either put your golf career on hold and participate in tennis whether you like it or not; or, become a cheerleader for those playing tennis if you refuse to play.

It’s also a dangerous slap in the face to LGBTQ+ folks trying to navigate an already vicious world. According to the Trevor Project, suicide is the number one cause of death for youth ages 11-17 in Utah, a state which is over 60% Mormon. Queer youth are also much more likely to consider and attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Of course, there’s no direct causal link between these statistics, but I find it impossible to believe they’re unrelated. Especially having intimately navigated and survived their intersection, though not unscathed. The Mormon church is frankly no more accepting than it ever was, despite updated public relations.

When my excommunication was finally finalized (through a curt letter in the mail), I wish I could say I immediately went out and played a round of celebratory golf, or even some fuck-you tennis. But I didn’t. I still carried and still carry a lot of the baggage my Mormon upbringing piled onto me, but from that day forward I was no longer the spectator in my own life they hoped I would stay. Apart from coming out, I consider my excommunication request to be one of the most meaningful choices of my life. It reminds me not to wallow on the sidelines, to question and rewrite the rules of whatever game I’m being asked to play.

Max Vernon: “You Need to Cross Over to Us”

Max Vernon‘s musical, The View UpStairs, ran 105 performances Off-Broadway and will have 10 new productions around the world in 2018-2019. His other musical, KPOP, enjoyed a sold-out, extended run at Ars Nova this past October and was the most nominated Off-Broadway show of the 2017-2018 season.

INTO sat down with Max in Prospect Park, just after the Tony Awards, for his take on being a queer creative in the theater industry after his sudden, meteoric rise to Off-Broadway fame in 2017.


What’s it like, having gone through the machine of the theater industry over the past year?

It’s really weird, I would say, because I am coming off of about 10 years of straight rejection, and then it all just somehow coalesced into this one magic year in which I had 11 productions, and I honestly don’t know how that happened. They were seen by like 30,000 people, and it all just feels like a really, very surreal blur.

And the other thing that’s very surreal about it, in particular, is that now, all of a sudden, coming out of award show season, on paper, I can objectively recognize that I suddenly feel or look very successful. But my bank account has not changed at all. In fact, it’s worse than it was before this magical year. And so that, to me, is what’s so surreal about theater, is that I’ve been through the machine, and had this wild, Cinderella-like experience, and now I feel like my carriage is already turning back into a pumpkin. And so I’m trying to figure out, how do I get back to the ball? Or do I say, “Fuck the ball”? I didn’t enjoy it that much anyway. And I want to just be weird and continue to exist outside of that world.


You mentioned on Facebook a few weeks ago about how when you and your KPOP collaborator, Helen Park, appear together at events, reporters always talk to you first.

Yeah. Definitely. It’s really interesting. I get into this thing where, partially, it’s probably because The View UpStairs and KPOP — even though they were like three months apart — ended up in different theater seasons, and I was able to go to a lot of these award shows twice. My sense of style is a little outrageous, and so I think I made an impression on people the first time around, and so, just by virtue of that, when we went, they knew who I was. They didn’t know who Helen was.

But I do think there is a little bit of [a race] component going on. And maybe also a gender aspect, because yeah, I mean sure enough, every single person I would interview would put the microphone in my face first and say, “So, what was the best thing about working on Korean culture?” and I’m like, “How weird of you to ask me that and not my Korean collaborator, who actually was born in Korea and knows this culture better than I ever will as an outsider.”

The racism that Asian people experience is vastly different than the racism that black people experience, is vastly different than the racism that Latino people experience. And I feel like you know with black people, often, the racism is so overt, it’s like, hit you over the head, I’m just going to come out and say this wildly offensive thing, or I’m going to physically attack you, whereas with the racism Asian people experience, it’s much more often coded in terms of just invisibility. It’s just like, “You’re great as long as you stay quiet and you’re in the background and you smile and you don’t speak up or advocate for yourself.”

And that was literally what we got from the New York Times review, which was Ben Brantley saying, “Oh, these Asians are so fun when they’re singing and dancing for us. But the second they start talking about their culture, like, yawn!” meanwhile, not acknowledging the fact that we were the first musical, basically since Miss Saigon, to have an Asian cast of people actually speaking about their cultural experience, what it means to be a model minority, how it feels to “assimilate” or have to cross over.


By the way, who are your style influences?

Willie Ninja from Paris is Burning, Mama Cass, Alexander McQueen. Only those three people.


How can we keep working to make the theater a more inclusive space?

We can create theater that is inclusive as we want it to be, but as long as all the critics are old white men, and all the voters in all these awards are old white men, more often than not, certain pieces are pushed forward and championed and then are given the privilege of having larger runs.

So I think the onus is on us to create the work we want to see, and lift each other up, and our peers who we think are doing that work. But also, I think we need to push for a systemic, industry-wide change where we also trying to get parity in terms of critical voices of who is seeing theater, also in terms of who is gatekeeping these opportunities, in terms of grants, in terms of awards, in terms of stuff like that.

[And,] having worked on The View UpStairs, I feel like I’ve gone through this thing firsthand where I’ve observed that there is this thing where gay artists are very frequently afraid of having their work ghettoized because they want to be seen as “legitimate,” and a weird, counterintuitive result of that is that they end up ghettoizing the critics who review their work because they don’t think those people are legitimate.

And I actually feel like the real thing we need to do is just lift ourselves up as a community. Which is why, actually, even though I’ve gotten reviews from Brantley, I’ve gotten reviews from these prestigious things on my CV, the press quotes I include are actually from people working for smaller papers where I actually really enjoy their critical voice and because they are representing politically in what they’re doing.


How about Andrew Garfield and his Tony win for playing a gay man in Angels in America?

Can I say? I trolled him at the Lortels. I mean, I have no problem with Andrew Garfield. I actually have not seen Angels in America yet, and I’m very excited. But he, for his speech at the Lortels, he said “Happy Pride Month,” and so I went up to him afterwards at the post-show party, just looking like a glitter Muppet faggot covered in just, like, fuchsia and purple, like, sparkles everywhere. And I was just like, “Thank you, Andrew, for saying that. I felt very seen as a heterosexual.” (chuckles)

I mean, it’s fine. I think it’s better than the alternative. You know, I respect that. And ultimately, that’s on the producers. And, to an extent, probably, on Tony Kushner. You know? It’s a biz, right? Like, we all know what’s going on. We know what’s behind certain casting decisions and how they get made.

But I, personally, am in a place where I really am only about casting queer people in queer roles, which is something I did in The View UpStairs, and I was really proud of that. The only heterosexual we had was playing a character who is supposedly rough trade, so it dramaturgically passed the bar for me, because I was like, I don’t actually think this character is gay, but I just think he’s sucking dick for money.


One of the things that’s so fascinating to me about KPOP is its vast moments where English isn’t spoken.

Well, I think this is a perfect example of what we’re talking about of, like, be the change you want to see, because this, to me, is actually something, as a white person working on KPOP for the last four years, that I’ve really observed. We need to break the mold. We need to have more in Korean. To me, was the message of that show. It’s that we don’t need to cross over to you, you need to cross over to us.


What’s next for you?

I’m in a place now where I think I would like to polarize myself creatively. If I am going to do something commercial in the future, I want it to be really fucking commercial. Like, I’ll do, like, Pampers the Musical, with like an 11 o’clock number called “The World is Full of Shit and So Am I.” But otherwise, I think I’m really craving to retreat and do stuff that is more experimental and even more artist-driven, because when I did that, and followed my own voice in that, that is the first time I started having any kind of success. I feel like the universe appreciates when you fly your freak flag high and proudly.

I’m working on a musical about tattooed ladies that I’m very excited about. The Tattooed Lady act started in kind of the 1880s and died out pretty much in the 1970s. There have been other musicals that have been about freak show, or circus, but weirdly, the Tattooed Lady is always the lead paid the least amount of attention to, and actually, to me, it’s the most exciting, because most freaks in the freak show were just people who had genetic deformities, whereas a tattooed lady actively had to make a decision to do an irrevocable act that forever changed who they were and cut them off from mainstream society.

And so, especially in this time in which we’re talking about women’s bodies and consent, I think focusing in on the stories of these women who have been forgotten to time — but really were these pioneers in so many different aspects — is just really exciting. I’m collaborating with Erin Courtney.


Is there a production lined up?

No not yet. Theaters, if you’re reading this, get on that.


Is there anything else you would like to say?

When I showed up [at NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program], there were so many talented composers around me, and I’m actually so grateful that none of them saw me, and that I was invisible to all of them, because what it meant is that, because they underestimated my talent and my vision creatively, I got to actually marinate on what my vision was, and grow as an artist, whereas I feel like so many of them got into an ego-wrestling match with each other of trying to write to impress each other. And by the end, all of the originality in their voice had been drained out, and they all sounded like each other, and they had merged into one composer that wasn’t creating particularly exciting sounding work. It was complicated for the point of being complicated.

I would like to see more musical theater artists taking risks, being subversive, using their opportunity to be political and respond to what’s going on around us, because I think as artists, we have a responsibility. I think theater has a pedagogical function. We can teach people what it’s like to inhabit the lives of other people who exist in a realm that is completely opposite or closed to us. So we should be doing that work.

If I can say one more thing to other artists, it’s this: work with your peer group. When I was first getting started out, I had this fantasy that somehow Joe Montello, or Barry Weissler, or one of these people was just going to discover me and lift me up. And all of my own opportunities have come from lifting myself up and being lifted up by other people who are within five years of my own age. And when you work with with your peers, they are also young and full of ideas, and they’re hungry to get their work out, and the work means so much more to them than if you collaborate with someone who is already successful and has no real emotional investment in your work.

Don’t get seduced by the fancy people. Do the work.


MAX VERNON: Existential Life Crisis Lullaby — “a celebration of tattooed ladies, Korean pop stars, ’70s queer culture, the apocalypse, sentient robots, aging club kids, homicidal hipster cults, and true love” — will be presented at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater on Tuesday nights, September 25, October 23 and November 27, all at 7:00 PM. See for details.

Clarkisha Explains: The Problem With “Joking” That Trump is “Gay” For Putin

I didn’t think that on a random Sunday afternoon, I would have to sit down and come up with a piece that details to ADULTS– primarily those over at The New York Times who think being gay is inherently humorous (Girl I guess…) — why saying that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are gay for each other is not only in poor taste, but is also virulently homophobic, but alas.

Here I am.

But believe it or not, there’s actually more to this than just the homophobia. Sure, it’s bad to call Trump gay for Putin…mostly because you are literally attributing his evil nature and debauchery to homosexuality and thus you are basically saying that gay people are inherently evil. You have no evidence of this so-called “gayness” whatsoever, but it becomes your catch-all for calling Trump bad, as if we’re all back in grade school before folx had to slap you upside the head and tell you that what you’re spewing out of your “progressive” asshole is not politically correct at all.

This is what we call progressive homophobia. Yeah, you’re not calling folx f*ggots through your keyboard in the comments of the cesspool known as YouTube, but this long-ass coded joke of yours is not better. In some ways, it’s worse. Because you don’t even have the cojones to say you hate gay people–or don’t care for their humanity–to their faces.

But again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The reason I’m really interested in parsing the latent and progressive homophobia behind this joke is because of how Whiteness (that is White people and White progressives as well–bloop), will twist and turn language in the name of avoiding the obvious.

Case in point, White outlets always dance around saying the word “racist.” They will never call something that has been done or said–even allegedly, like any proper journalist would note–“racist” (but they know how to call something misogynist or sexist though…which has always tickled me). Instead, they will call it “racially-charged”–like what Roseanne said or whatever the fuck the former TV president of Paramount said in a phone meeting where other Black people were present. Or “racially-tinged.” Or racially-painted. Or chocolate-dipped racism. Chocolate-covered racism. Or racism sprinkles. Or stir-fried racism.

Okay, so I made up like the last…three or four of those roundabout ways to say racism, but you get me.

The point is? White people don’t like to call out other white people on anything–but definitely not racism. This is mostly because calling someone else on it, means that they would have to (potentially) call it out in themselves. Among family. Among friends. They’d rather not for a variety of other reasons, but mainly White fragility. So instead, they employ coded language, like what I have described above. OR…in the case of Trump? Well, instead of calling him a raging, ugly-ass White supremacist who is Putin’s puppet or lackey (which would all be accurate and SURPRISE, not homophobic)…they would rather call him gay. For specifically Putin.

To be clear, somehow, it’s more “progressive” to call him gay than to literally call him a cartoonishly evil White supremacist. Because, somehow, being a super racist is too strong an allegation, but being super gay for the Kremlin is not.

I wrote about this before, but this coded cowardice that is employed in order to avoid calling a spade a spade under White supremacy is quite frankly madness. But in the case of Trump, it does give us a peek at the lines that even self-proclaimed progressives are willing to draw (or not draw) when it comes to “resisting” open hate and straight-up bigotry.

Which is telling. It’s all extremely telling.

And frankly? Not progressive at all.

Which is why it’s important to ceaselessly and continuously call it out each and every time it happens. Even if it comes from right wing bigots like, say, Breitbart. And even if it comes from self-proclaimed liberal knights — like The New York Times.

What Should London’s First LGBTQ Museum Look Like?

Museums and archives dedicated to showcasing the diverse experiences of the LGBTQ community are vitally important for the preservation of often suppressed histories. From Berlin’s Schwules Museum to San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society and New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, there are a number of spaces indispensable to the illumination of the role queer people have played in shaping global culture, and now, a new national LGBTQ museum in the UK is set to join this small group of institutions.

The Queer Britain museum will chart the progress of LGBTQ rights from the introduction of the Buggery Act in 1533 to the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2014, up to today.

This ambitious museum project is set to open in Southwark, South London, by 2021. Over the next two years the team behind Queer Britain, including Chris Smith, the first openly gay British lawmaker, and Lisa Power, co-founder of equality organisation Stonewall, will be touring the country to discover LGBTQ cultural and artistic artifacts to display in the museum.

At a time when LGBTQ bars and clubs are closing at an unprecedented rate in London, the city desperately needs contemporary queer spaces. “Attempts have been made in the past to establish a LGBTQ museum in the UK, but it’s always felt like a struggle to maintain and create queer spaces – a true reflection of having our voices and histories demonized, hidden from view and silenced,” says Damien Arness Dalton, the co-founder of the Queerseum community project, which has campaigned on the grassroots level for a queer museum in London for years.

“A queer museum can be transformative in learning about the past and to be able to see yourself in collections and stories and celebrate your identity. Now is the perfect time to act and build our community up to see the value in our legacy. Story by story, brick by brick, our histories and spaces we occupy deserve stability and solid foundations,” adds Dalton.

Long-term commitment


The need for an inclusive queer museum is clear, but far more consideration needs to be given to what exactly this type of institution should look like today and how it will offer a more rounded exploration of LGBTQ history compared to temporary queer-focused exhibitions.

Mainstream British museums have increased their representation of LGBTQ-related artifacts in their exhibitions over the past few years, particularly in the lead up to the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2017, with Tate Britain’s ‘Queer British Art’ exhibition and the British Museum’s ‘Desire, Love, Identity: Exploring LGBT Histories’ display being two of the most notable examples of this improvement.

It is, of course, a positive development that some of the largest museums and institutions in the country are shedding light on previously unseen LGBTQ stories. Yet, these transient exhibitions are just that – impermanent.

E-J Scott, founder of the Museum of Transology, the largest collection of trans artifacts in the UK, believes that when the majority of these exhibitions came to a close, little trace of them was left behind on the museum walls they were hung on.

“Our queer culture is not a fleeting moment in time, and queer museologists, curators and cultural producers have all established, through robust research, evidence of the existence of our queer heritage embedded in collections across the nation. But they are not necessarily visible in permanent displays,” he says.



Just as the vast majority of exhibitions curated by traditional museums have predominantly focused on heterosexual narratives, any proposed LGBTQ museum will have to ensure it does not exclude underrepresented members of the community. Co-founder & CEO of Queer Britain, Joseph Galliano, agrees that marginalized voices should be fully integrated in the museum and told the Museums Association’s Museums Journal when the project was launched:

“It’s not just going to be talking about white male people who look like me. We’ll be putting together a diverse committee to make sure everybody is heard. There is a wealth of untapped resources out there.” 

Representation goes beyond just what is shown on the walls of museums, galleries or cultural institutions, with curators, museum professionals and potential patrons all being expected to have a meaningful voice in the discussions around what goes into the museum.

Starting afresh at a new cultural space will allow for unconventional ideas around curation to be considered that may better suit the needs of the diverse LGBTQ community. “A queer museum has the potential to queer the whole process of collecting, protecting and displaying history,” says Scott.

“It could in fact, be used as a way of rethinking why some communities don’t go to museums, why museums continue to be places that are only really accessed by the elite echelons of society. They are not spaces very often used by trans people, by BAME communities, by the working classes and by the disabled,” he adds.


Rich history


There is an abundance of iconic artifacts and cultural objects that highlight exactly why a museum with LGBTQ issues at its centre would be able to so effectively showcase forgotten queer histories. From the Warren Cup, a silver drinking cup dated to 5 to 15 CE that depicts men engaged in same-sex activity, to David Hockney’s 1975 etching displaying gay sex, complex representations of LGBTQ people exist throughout history.

Historical archives across London can also provide a strong basis for new museum collections, with specialist queer depositories found at the London School of Economics and Bishopsgate Institute. At the moment, these collections are mainly visited by academics and others with a professional interest, closing off pivotal moments of LGBTQ history to the general public.

An LGBTQ museum will, for the first time in British history, create space for a comprehensive history of the country’s queer community to be displayed. During the creation process of this new institution, it’s essential to keep queerness at the core.

“There is a fear of normalising queerness in a traditional institutionalised museum setting, as history has always been written and presented back to us. We now have an opportunity to dismantle that and profile under-represented groups and create an inclusive dynamic queer space for all. Now is the time we can tell our own stories our way,” says Dalton.

Michelle Tea Gets The Tea From…San Cha

Los Angeles-based musician San Cha’s powerful voice explodes above drums and the mournful chants of back-up singers – powerful, occasionally operatic, full of drama and story. She makes music that fuses ranchera and pop, with a sharp edge of punk and live shows that verge on performance art. A proud femme who counts Selena as a vocal inspiration and whose work is thick with Catholic imagery, she drops her new album, Capricho del Diablo, July 13th. Check out some choice tracks here, and get personal with these 15 questions, below.

What is the most uncanny thing that you have ever experienced?

My Sister-Friend being shot in the lung while on tour in Puerto Rico, just hours before our flights back to Miami.

What is in your bag right now?

My EBT card.

Please share the 15th picture on your cell phone.

How are you like or not like your sun sign?

I’m very Libra, all about balance and fairness, especially because my Mars is also in Libra.

What is the last book you read?

Alice Bag’s Violence Girl.

What was the last meal you cooked?

Jackfruit tacos with homemade guacamole salsa and arroz the way mi madre taught me.

Where would you like to go on vacation right now?

I want to go visit my aunt at the family farm in a town called Jalos, in Jalisco, Mexico.

Tell me about getting to meet someone you idolize or admire.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people I idolize and admire and it’s different every time. It usually turns into a reciprocal admiration and turns into a friendship or collaboration.

What are you like when you’re sick?

Can’t take care of myself. Always want to be babied, or I can’t get out of bed.

What are you obsessed with or inspired by right now?

Toto la Momposina. Water themes and water imagery. Cool colors.

What are you upset about right now?

A personal relationship and living situation that has turned into a very disgusting power dynamic.

What is the most recent dream you remember?

Me in a house surrounded by water, eternal water. I swim to the deepest levels and am able to swim all the way back up.

Who is your queer ancestor?

Chavela Vargas.

What is your dream project?

Making a telenovela.

What are you doing this weekend?

Performing and celebrating my album release.