This Man Sued Mutual of Omaha for Denying Him Insurance Because He Takes Truvada — and Won

What if your insurance denied you coverage because you responsibly took a drug to prevent you from getting HIV? Unfortunately, this is an all-too common practice, but a legal victory today could make it a thing of the past.

A settlement was reached today in the Massachusetts lawsuit Doe v. Mutual of Omaha which challenged an insurance company’s policy on denying applicants’ various forms of coverage for taking Truvada, a medication taken for HIV prevention.

The lawsuit, which GLAD (GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders) filed against Mutual of Omaha, has resulted in the insurance company revising their underwriting guidelines that previously dictated that applicants who take Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV commonly known as PrEP, were automatically declined for long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance generally covers things like home care, assisted living, adult daycare, respite care, hospice care, or nursing homes; types of care that aren’t always covered by health insurance or Medicare.

As a result of the outcome of the suit, the plaintiff in the case, known only as John Doe, will receive the long-term care policy he applied for.

“We are pleased that Mutual no longer declines insurance coverage based on the use of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, and we call upon other providers of life, disability, and long-term care insurance to do the same,” said Bennett Klein, AIDS Law Project Director for GLAD, in a press release Tuesday. Klein also represented Doe in the lawsuit.

Mutual of Omaha told INTO on Tuesday that it is revising their underwriting guidelines and that they were no longer “[declining] long-term care insurance applications solely on the basis that an applicant takes Truvada as PrEP for HIV prevention.”

Truvada, which was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012, reduces the risk of users contracting HIV by more than 90 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The health protection agency openly sanctioned the use of PrEP for reducing risk of contracting HIV in 2014.

The CDC also reported that 90,000 PrEP prescriptions were filled in 2018, with a total of 1.1 million Americans at risk for HIV nationwide.

Generally, the Affordable Care Act bars discrimination against applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation for health insurance, but allows states to determine applicant eligibility for other types of insurance, such as life insurance or disability insurance.

Unfortunately, Mutual is hardly the first insurance company to reject applicants for taking PrEP. In February 2018, the New York Times reported on a similar circumstance in which Dr. Philip J. Cheng, an openly gay Massachusetts doctor, was only offered coverage for five years on a disability insurance plan because of his PrEP use.

The article also highlighted how insurance applicants who take PrEP are indirectly penalized for taking a preventative medication by insurance companies, while those who do not are much more likely to receive coverage.

“I was really shocked,” Dr. Cheng told NYT at the time. “PrEP is the responsible thing to do. It’s the closest thing we have to an HIV vaccine.”

Following the NYT report, New York state financial regulators stated publicly that they would investigate reports of gay men who had been denied various forms of insurance, including disability and long-term care, because of taking PrEP.

“Denying insurance to people who take steps to prevent HIV makes no sense, undermines public health, and contributes to HIV stigma,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, in an email to INTO Tuesday. “We are pleased that Mutual of Omaha will no longer discriminate against people who take advantage of this form of preventive medicine.”

Tips on Getting Healthy for the New Year from Mina Gerges

In 2019, we are aiming to be healthy and in shape — and body positivity advocate Mina Gerges is here to help us out.

Gerges, a proud proponent of loving the skin that you’re in, joined INTO for a video to talk about how you can be happy and healthy in 2019. The goal isn’t to look like the Instagays that fill your Explore tab, but to get to a place where you really love your body.

“Let’s get to the point where thinking about our body isn’t the only thing that we do,” Gerges says. Amen to that!

In the video, Gerges shares tips for getting to a healthy place in the new year. Watch the full thing below.

How Trip-Planning Apps Use Data to Keep LGBTQ Travelers Safe

With marriage equality increasingly becoming the law of the land in many countries, and with cities throughout the world acting as bubbles of LGBTQ acceptance, it is easy to think that world travel should be safe and simple.

But just this year, a French couple was attacked in St. Petersburg on the eve of the World Cup, and a study in January found that 2017 was the deadliest year yet for the LGBTQ community in Brazil, where more than 300 queer or transgender people were slain as a result of targeted violence. The United States is not immune either; as recently as 2016 a UK government travel advice website warned LGBTQ travelers against visiting parts of the U.S. that had passed homophobic laws.  

Despite all this, signs point to an increase in LGBTQ travel as more companies look to tap the queer market. This makes safety a top priority in the queer travel industry.

In September, GeoSure, an app that provides safety data for travelers, introduced a new LGBTQ category. With coverage for over 30,000 neighborhoods around the world, GeoSure’s LGBTQ ratings help queer travelers can get a sense of how safe it is to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity around the world. Now TripIt, a master itinerary and trip planning app, has incorporated this data into its platform.

The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA)  has a fairly comprehensive website aimed specifically at the LGBTQ traveler. Last year, the IGLTA published a lengthy report on the state of global LGBTQ tourism compiled in conjunction with the World Tourism Organization, but it is not easy to see what places are safest at a glance.  

“We always encourage LGBTQ travelers to do their homework into the laws, cultures and prevailing attitudes of the destinations that they are visiting,” John Tanzella, president of IGLTA told INTO. “And so the more tools that are available to assist in the data-gathering process, the better.”

“Information and safety go hand in hand,” Tanzella continued. “It’s important to remember that there are still more than 70 countries in the world that criminalize same-sex relationships; and of course, even having positive laws doesn’t mean that prejudice toward the LGBTQ community has been eliminated.”

Though the IGLTA has plenty of information on its website, it can be overwhelming. The report itself is well over 100 pages, consisting of recommendations and a comprehensive compilation of case studies submitted by tourism stakeholders who have benefited from their outreach to LGBTQ travelers. But it does not distill the resources into individual neighborhood safety ratings.

When asked about accuracy, Jen Moyse, director of product for TripIt, says that while the app is too new to have much user feedback, she has found it to be “quite accurate” and that feedback from social media has, so far, been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been nice to see people tweeting like crazy, especially this week with the LGBT safety scores,” Moyse tells INTO. “It feels unique.”

Michael Becker, CEO of GeoSure, the company compiling the safety scores, tells INTO that the company began as a “data science and predictive analytics company.”

After partnering with statistical scientist Don Pardew, Becker asked the question, “Can you risk-model and boil down to a quantitative exercise this notion of traveler safety? [Pardew’s] answer was yes.” Becker continued, “We take all this data and put it into a statistical meat grinder, our algorithm. [It’s] based on years of experience of risk modeling. They change over time and by location.”

Becker tells INTO that GeoSure compiles safety scores based on information from “hundreds of sources,” including international law enforcement groups like the CIA and Interpol, and health associations like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.

Sometimes the scores can be unexpected. In one instance, Portland, Oregon does not score as well as nearby suburbs of Gresham or Vancouver, Washington, despite its large LGBTQ population. Perhaps the historical data of these rapidly changing neighborhoods has not caught up, the infrastructure is not as robust as the community, or more individual metrics need to be put into GeoSure’s proprietary algorithm. For example, Becker didn’t mention aspects such as numbers of LGBTQ community centers or queer-owned businesses included in their safety calculations.

Further complicating matters, said Becker, “You can have an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood within a high crime district, but as an LGBTQ community member you may feel safer; you might be safer. Of course the opposite may be true as well.” Though data scientists see these metrics contributing to risk levels, the user cares more about safety, which is harder to quantify.

User feedback is essential for that reason. It may even help GeoSure identify the more vulnerable members of the LGBTQ population such as trans people or people of color, which are currently not a separate category in either app, though they are more likely to face assault.

It’s easy to submit a positive or negative experience from within the GeoSure app, but TripIt has no way to give feedback on how safe a neighborhood feels or whether you’ve experienced any discrimination. Lack of an easy reporting tool within TripIt could skew crowd-sourced information towards individuals seeking out a data-driven company like GeoSure rather than casual travelers. It is something to consider as GeoSure continuously updates what Becker calls their “secret sauce.”

Although they don’t use GeoSure’s quantified analytics, there are some LGBTQ-specific travel apps out there. An app called Wimbify got a lot of attention when it launched in 2015 as a queer version of Couchsurfing, but it has not gotten any press since and the version currently available from Apple was buggy and available only in Italian. Man About World is a digital gay travel publication, but you cannot plan or book directly from it, nor is it integrated with public transportation or other real-time features that TripIt provides. This modern version of a more typical guidebook a la Damron, Lonely Planet, or Fodor’s, is also aimed almost exclusively at gay men.

There are accommodation-specific apps that cater to the LGBTQ community, whether you’re looking for a hotel, a B&B, or a homestay. Purple Roofs, “The best place to find small, ‘family owned’ and gay-friendly accommodations” has been around since 1999 as a website, but there is no app. misterb&b is much slicker; it has a website and app that both closely mirror their more famous counterpart, Airbnb. Airbnb does not have any way to search for LGBTQ-friendly accommodations specifically, but it does offer diversity training on its website for new hosts that includes an LGBTQ and gender-bias specific section. This was implemented after a string of racist and homophobic incidents made news in 2016. So, in theory, every booking should be queer-friendly, although that says nothing about the surrounding neighborhood.

It is easy to see how safety ratings from GeoSure could be incorporated into travel apps, city guides like Yelp, transportation apps, publications and more. “It enhances the experience for their end users,” Becker noted. “[The LGBTQ community spends] over $210 billion annually. It’s a massively powerful market.”

Party Dyke, Interrupted

Trigger. That was the name of the Castro bar where I attended my first ever lesbian party. I was 18 and the only two gay people that I knew in the world were closeted. I was in love with one of them, but they were in love with each other. Naturally.

As a freshman, I would overhear the seniors in my upper division queer theory class talk about the queer bars they were going to on the weekends. I sat anxiously in my seat, eavesdropping and hoping that one day they would ask me to join.

I wanted so badly for these older queers to accept me as one of them. The invitation I was waiting for finally came on the third week of class. I convinced my only friend with a fake ID to join. It wasn’t hard to convince my friend to come along — even straight people knew that the Castro was the best place to get drunk on a weekday.

My friend with the fake ID, like everyone else, thought I was straight. My tumblr page filled with vintage photos of Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie and the fact that I was in a Queer Theory class wasn’t a dead giveaway for them, nor for me, at the time.

Before that night, my forays into the Castro were by accident.  I used to wait on the corner of Market and Castro in front of the old Diesel store three times a week to transfer onto a bus that would take me to work after school.

Bored out of my mind at the stop, I would read the informational billboards offering drug counseling and free HIV tests featuring images of people with hairless, glistening chests. The artfully curated ads were everywhere, but I doubted that the group that I so badly wanted to be a part of had “real” drug problems. They probably just like to have a good time, I told myself.

My first real night out in the Castro took off quickly. After pounding dollar drinks at The Edge, a corner street dive that played classic ’90s movies to its mostly burly, bearded clientele, and then two-for-one wells at Q Bara strobe-heavy bar that is barely wider than a hallway, we walked over to Trigger.

Girl parties aren’t known for drink specials, but the rest of Castro is full of heavy pours. So by the time we reached our final destination, the fake ID I gripped in my hand, like everything else, blurred in front of me. I didn’t need to worry because the bouncer didn’t closely examine to check if it was fake. He was too distracted by a group of snapback-clad girls pulling at his shoulder sleeve, reminding him that he has to let them in because he let them in last time. They don’t have IDs, and Trigger would eventually shut down for letting in too many underage queers like the snapback lesbians and me.

Once I made it past the doorman, a bitter butch in a too-tight flannel stamped the inside of my wrist, and I zoomed in without waiting for my friend to make it inside. Everything was exactly how I dreamed it would be — bartenders with asymmetrical haircuts and lip piercings, go-go dancers gyrating on top of the bar, neon colored shots in lab-inspired tube glasses, and dykes everywhere.  

“It’s just like The L Word,” I muttered to myself. My straight friend asks me to repeat what I just said, but I couldn’t give away that I was an avid watcher of the most lesbian TV show in history. Plus, I was already at the bar ordering a Dos Equis because that’s what Shane drinks. The rest of the night was a blur.

Gay culture is deeply interconnected with drugs and alcohol. Blame it on the fact that most of us are reliving our adolescent years in our twenties, or that we need more sedation than your average hetero to put up with the daily attack on our human rights — either way, there’s always a good reason to order another round of shots.

Historically, the only places that queer people could be out were undisclosed bars, clubs, and parties. Queer people couldn’t fly their flags high back then, so underground venues and exclusive parties served as the primary place to meet other queers. Although we have more freedom now as queer people than our elders did, the desire to escape into a safe space still exists. Queer bars are spaces where we can embrace every part of ourselves without fear being perceived as “different.”

If we want to be around other queer people it often feels like the only option is to go to a bar, where we tell ourselves we will only have one drink. But, it’s hardly ever one. In my experience, gay bars are fueled by alcohol in a way that their straight counterparts aren’t. The drinks are cheaper, stronger, and you can find a party on any night of the week.

As a baby dyke, I drank to calm my anxieties before entering these unknown spaces without realizing that most of my peers were doing the same. Cheap drinks in the Castro, five dollar AMF pitchers in Boystown, double margarita pints in WeHo that make the extra $1 charge for an additional shot worth it.

Gays are taught how to party. It’s not a secret. Straights know it and we own it. It’s part of our Brand™. Bachelorette parties flock to WeHo in search of a Vegas-style good time, and by the time I moved out of San Francisco, the straight-to-gay ratio on Monday night at Q Bar was pretty much even. Cishets venture into our spaces for a “wild night out” away from their norm, but for us, it’s just another Thursday.

The reason there is such a disdain for straight people with an affinity for partying at gay bars is that these spaces are sometimes the only ones queer people have. Straight people already have everything else. For queer women and non-binary folks, the battle is even steeper. Unlike gay men, we don’t have Grindr to scratch that mid-week midnight itch. Dykes have to wait for the weekly or monthly girl parties. If not, then you can hit up Tinder, but that usually entails spending money to meet up with someone for a drink. Meeting other gays sans alcohol has been not an easy task for me.

I still remember the morning after my Tuesday night at Trigger, when I stumbled into class with a swollen jaw, burns on my fingers and very little recollection of what had happened the night before. I wasn’t a stranger to blackouts, but this night was different. My older classmates laughed and told me that I had probably been roofied at Q Bar.

“Everyone gets roofied at Q Bar,” they told me. I’d repeat that line every time I told the story with a smile or a laugh. It felt like a rite of passage. I finally belonged.

Gay adventures in San Francisco continued for me throughout college and those nights consisted of pouring half bottles of tequila into half emptied sprite bottles, hopping on the back of the train and downing the drink before the operator announced “Castro.” On those nights, I never saw the billboards that lined the MUNI station walls warning against addiction, inviting gays to focus groups that might help them. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Those billboards were talking about meth and ketamine binges. It wasn’t for me. I was a fun gay.

In the past eight years, I spent only two handfuls of weekends sober — eight, to be exact. I wish I could tell you that I had a moment of enlightenment that led me to sobriety, but the reality is that my body just gave out — twice in two years. Last year, I spent two weeks in a hospital being pumped full of blood and was released with instructions to stop drinking for eight weeks and “drink moderately” after then, if at all. It was easy at first. But those eight weeks ended up being more like six weeks and before long, I was back at it. I avoided doctor visits, ignored symptoms until it was too much to ignore.

I rolled my eyes at the nurse who said I had a drinking problem. “I drink the least out of all the people I know. I’m just cursed with a weak stomach lining. Faulty genes.” It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, that while talking to some friends, I realized that I had drank despite all the warnings my body gave me. Just because I didn’t drink as much as I did before, didn’t make my problem any less severe. At first, I pretended to be stoked about my sobriety: “I wanted to quit anyway.” But, on a Saturday night, the only thing standing between me and a well whiskey on the rocks is the stack of hospital bracelets sitting in a box in my room. 

Seven years later and three hundred miles south, I’m now living in Los Angeles. I have been sober for a month. The queer bars with their shiny disco balls and sweaty, gyrating bodies aren’t as fun as I remembered. Sobriety is dulling at times, and the stark realization that so many of the things you enjoyed, you only did under the influence is lonely.

But the incessant hangover state is gone, and my days are longer. I get more stuff done. I look for experiences instead of drink specials.  Most of my queer peers still drink. Some of them don’t have the same issues with self-control that I do, none of them have a stupid stomach lining with a propensity for bleeding.

I’m starting to see a shift. More and more, young queers are opting for sobriety, taking breaks from drinking, tiring of the monotonous weekend festivities. Maybe we’re getting older, maybe the hangovers are getting too gnarly or I don’t know — maybe this is growing up.

Wild Times: 8 Queer Adventurers Discuss Diversity in Outdoor Culture

The image of queer-as-city-dweller is a prevalent one, even as many of us feel a pull to the land. But several organizations are working to make the outdoors a safer and more welcoming place for LGBTQ communities. Coming from many different perspectives, these community leaders work actively not just on getting more queers to hike, bike, climb, and learn survival skills — but also to acknowledge the diversity of experience and the range of oppressions that LGBTQ people must deal with in the outdoor community. To find out more about this movement, INTO spoke with eight people who head projects that share the goal of getting queer people outside.

In less than two months, Pattie Gonia, the self-proclaimed “first backpacking queen,” has quickly become the face of drag in nature. Portrayed by 26-year-old Nebraska photographer Wyn Wiley, Pattie Gonia — a riff on the sustainable outdoor clothing company Patagonia — has garnered almost 50,000 followers. The gender-bending drag queen stars in videos set to popular iconically gay songs in various combinations of outdoor and drag wear but always with his signature six-inch heels, dancing through forests, deserts and mountaintops.

What began for Wiley as a fun way to cut loose became an opportunity to bring people with a love of drag and the outdoors together. Wiley is an attractive, masculine ginger and former Eagle Scout, palatable to a wide mainstream audience. As this is Wiley’s first set of publicized drag performances, he realizes that there is lots he has to learn about drag, gender, and the more marginalized queer communities around him; he is incredibly open to it.

“Pattie is going to school,” Wiley tells INTO. “If there is a bridge between [the outdoors and the queer community], I want Pattie to dance on it.”

The Venture Out Project is a bit more straightforward in its approach to a queer outdoor community, though I’m sure there have been some on trail dance moves. The Venture Out Project began leading backpacking, paddling, and skiing trips in 2014 when western Massachusetts based founder Perry Cohen realized he was trans. After a particularly harrowing climb, Cohen said, he realized, “for the very first time I could trust this body,” and wanted to give other queer and trans people that same freedom. Participants have said that traveling as a pack has made the outdoors feel less scary and Cohen echoes that an important part of Venture Out trips is being able to go out with a group that “validates your identity.”

Traveling this way has helped keep participants safe in situations on popular trails which tend to attract a lot of peak-bagging-bros. Cohen recalls an incident in which a man on the Long Trail harassed a Venture Out group. The man asked: “Are you a school group? Are you a church group? Well, then what the hell are you?” Cohen replied, “We are a group of grown-ass adults!” The group decided to pitch their tents elsewhere.

Venture Out group hike

Older and better-funded than a lot of newer groups, The Venture Out Project has a large educational arm both for adults and students. Youth have been a big focus from the beginning, but adults who felt like they missed out on scouting as kids have helped the project grow. Cohen realizes, too, that as a white trans man he may not always be the right person to lead every trip. For that reason, they also partner with several organizations also featured here such as Wild Diversity and Unlikely Hikers.

When Unlikely Hiker’s founder Jenny Bruso first started spending more time in the outdoors about seven years ago, she struggled to find others like her: queer, fat, femme, on the trails. As a newbie hungry for information, the how-tos and blog posts about how and where to enjoy nature were mostly white, often male.

Michaud-Skog offers group hikes in over 16 locations and makes her vehicle her home as she travels across North America. She describes herself as “living the #fatvanlife [and] chatting with folks interested in being ambassadors for creating body positive outdoor community in their cities.” She makes sure to emphasize that no one is left behind, and makes accommodations for people with disabilities. Bruso does as well, organizing her hikes into three categories: general hikes which are five or more miles and can have some significant elevation gain; “Low-Intensity”—three to four miles, with 500 feet of elevation gain or less; and the “Nice and Slow” series—slow paced, flat trails at two miles or less, so that participants can choose the level that’s right for them.

Bruso’s group Unlikely Hikers showcases queer folks, people of color, differently-abled and, especially, fat folks, an identity Bruso finds to be a difficult one in the outdoors community. It has clearly resonated; the Unlikely Hikers Instagram account has over 50,000 followers. Through various sponsorships from outdoors companies, speaking engagements and other freelance projects, Bruso was even able to quit her day job waiting tables and devote herself full time to writing and outdoors projects earlier this year.

“Fatphobia is so widely acceptable,” Bruso told INTO. “There is pretty much no fat or queer representation in outdoor culture. It’s predictable that I am going to hear a lot of body negativity.” And when fat people are given space in queer community she finds that there is pressure to be the “good fattie.”

“There’s a huge responsibility to be the ‘fat outdoorsperson,”’ Bruso said. “People want a very happy, healthy fat person. They want you to exercise five times a week and eat vegan. But I’m the kind of fattie who will eat an entire pizza and then summit a mountain.”

Their advice on gear also fell flat, as many of the clothing items did not come in plus sizes and a lot of the gear was expensive, a sentiment echoed by Fat Girls Hiking founder Summer Michaud-Skog. As queer, fat, working-class women, the outdoors did not seem to reflect them, so both set out to amplify voices both like and unlike their own.

The new print publication Fatventure Mag is a digital and print zine featuring work by fat women and non-binary creators who are into being active but are not into toxic weight-loss culture. Co-founders Samantha Puc and Alice Lesperance, two self-described fat lesbians who are based in Rhode Island and North Carolina respectively, have struggled with this dichotomy.

“I ride my bike a lot,” says Puc, “but whenever people learn that, their immediate follow-up 90 percent of the time is, ‘How much weight have you lost?’ It’s so frustrating because I don’t ride my bike to lose weight — I ride my bike because I love it. I’ve been called all kinds of horrible things while out riding. People seem to feel very entitled to comment on my body and its shape, size and ability, particularly men, and that’s infuriating.”

Both are keen to give back to the queer community, donating 25 percent of the proceeds from their inaugural issue to Gender Is Over – If You Want It!, a non-profit that works with grassroots transgender rights organizations. But the Fatventure Mag editors also acknowledge that even fellow LGBTQ people can be discriminatory.

Samantha Puc and Alice Lesperance of Fatventure

“I think I actually face more discrimination from thin queer people than from thin straight people when I talk about outdoor recreation, which is kind of bizarre,” Puc mused.

Lesperance agreed: “Hostility comes from all corners, and being fat is always a problem that thin people, both straight and queer, feel that they need to solve.”

This is a sentiment shared by queer outdoors groups that focus on people of color as well. Mercy Shammah started Wild Diversity, an adventure program for queers and people of color, because of a sense of hopelessness she felt as a black person in Portland, Oregon. She loves the outdoors of all kinds and leads trips dedicated to a wide variety of activities such as camping, canoeing, snowshoeing, archery, mushroom hunting and more. Wild Diversity even has a gear library that low-income users can borrow from. Portland is a great place for all these outdoor activities. But Shammah said what Portland lacks is racial diversity and support. Even when partnering with liberal organizations, Shammah said she often feels tokenized and used, to make it look like the organization has put in the work around race.

“It’s like a relationship,” Shammah explained. “On my next Tinder date [with an organization], I’ll know exactly what to ask. How many members in your organization are people of color? I don’t want to be the only one in the room. It’s uncomfortable, and it concerns me if people of color don’t stay.” She said she hopes that her reasons for not partnering with such orgs will help them look at what they are doing to make people of color feel welcome.

Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd from the “education and ancestral skills program” Queer Nature also finds it difficult to find people of color in leadership positions, even in LGBTQ Outdoor communities. The mixed native Huanca, Turkish, and Chinese non-binary person runs the program with their white non-binary partner So Sinopoulos-Lloyd. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Pinar makes it a point to identify the native inhabitants of the land, in this case the Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. Queer Nature teaches naturalist studies, handcrafts, survival skills, and recognition of colonial and indigenous histories of land. The interracial nature of their foundation creates a space that at once centers voices of color while still welcoming white folks willing to engage in a learning process.

“Biodiversity creates resilience,” Sinopoulos-Lloyd explained, adding that this holds true for both nature and people, which they also see as inherently linked.

They work within DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) communities that focus largely on getting people of color into the outdoors. While this is a goal they wholeheartedly support, they would like to see more attention paid to aspects other than race as well. “I continuously get misgendered, even in those spaces,” Pinar said sadly, “and it’s heartbreaking.”

Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd of Queer Nature

Facing gender discrimination and a lack of knowledge around pronouns and gender identity is taxing and takes a lot of internal resources for anyone, let alone someone with mental health and neurodivergence issues, which Pinar said is also rarely addressed in both outdoor and DEI settings. But Pinar also has a sense of humor about it all, laughing about they and their partner are colonizer and colonized. Or when talking about the struggle over resources and how diverse groups in the outdoors often see each other as competitors rather than allies, a stance perpetuated by the industry. Pinar jokes, “It’s like the Hunger Games sometimes. This horizontal oppression comes from long-term trauma and makes our liberation more difficult by perpetuating that which we are fighting against,. Co-liberatory work that isn’t trauma and resilience informed isn’t anti-oppressive.”

LGBTQ people might not see ourselves reflected in mainstream outdoors media or products yet, but even big companies like REI and Outside magazine are beginning to take notice, and some brands have sponsored Bruso, Venture Out and others. What most of these groups find most important, however, is honoring and supporting each other. Spread across North America, most are already in contact and offering each other support.

The queer outdoors community is small but mighty, one with a goal that Pinar Sinopoulos-Llyod summarizes with a simple motto: “I want to be an honorable ancestor for future beings. Have compassion.”

Things You Should Never Say To a Fat Person

Three years ago, I could fit into a medium-sized shirt. Now, I struggle to fit into a large.

I wasn’t always fat. I didn’t always look like a busted can of biscuits when trying on tight jeans. I didn’t always have to hold my breath when tying my shoelaces.  

I admit I miss my skinny days sometimes, especially when broken elevators force me into climbing up several flights of stairs. Those days remind me that I need to work on my bod — for strength to conquer unholy steps; for strength to bend down and tie my shoes; for strength to run more than three steps without coughing up a lung. However, when I reach that point, chocolate cake somehow always chops my resolve in half.

So, here I am… Fat. And, clearly, not ready to do anything about it. Instead, I have to come up with new ways to accept my body. And to do that, I have to acknowledge how people treat us fat people, and how I may have treated fat people at one point. I have to pick up on and correct those sneaky insults, fetishizing compliments, and the flat-out body-shaming. And should I ever lose weight, I will remember the important lesson my new body taught me: the cost of shutting the fuck up is free.

This is a list of some of the most ignorant comments someone has said about my weight. 

“Go to the gym and turn your fat into muscle.”

First of all, you can’t turn fat into muscle because they’re two different types of tissue. You can’t shit in a can and call it chili; it’d only be a can loaded with shit, much like your brain since its filled with pseudo-scientific bullshit that can harm desperate fat people.

When I first noticed my weight gain, I tried desperately to transform my extra body fat into muscle. I believed that working out will magically sprout muscle to replace my tiny bingo-wings. That said, I pulled muscles, dislocated my shoulder and ended up crying in the hospital.

If you’re not a scientist, professional bodybuilder or nutritionist, stop giving health advice that you don’t know shit about. You’re literally harming us.

“You would be so attractive if you lost some weight.”

“Attractiveness should come from within,” my mother always says. Therefore, I never understood why I needed to shed 20 pounds to become somebody’s definition of attractive.

All bullshit aside, if someone says this to you, run. But don’t run too fast — you’ll burn calories. And that’s what they want. That person is toxic, manipulative and they will never find you attractive. They simply want to see how desperate you are for their approval.

It’s not that serious.

“You should diet.”

My friend recommended dietting to me the other day. He told me that if I cut off sugary drinks and junk food, I’d lose weight quickly. I turned to him with a dramatic expression etched on my face and said, “REALLY?”

In retrospect, he did not detect any sarcasm. I know that cutting off junk food and sugary beverages will help me lose weight fast, which is why I do not eat junk food and drink sugary snacks. My body is not going to transform in one day. And while his intentions were probably pure, it was harmful. It reminded me that people will see my body and rewrite my story in their head, no matter how hard I work. It’s discouraging.

“You’re fat.”

I had no idea. I didn’t look down at my feet and notice that my belly sticks out. What other surprises do you want to tell me?

Personally, this doesn’t offend me. However, there are some fat people in the world who still view “fat” as an insult and less of a descriptor. That’s OK. It has always been used negatively. So, how about you just stop commenting on other people’s bodies?

“Your weight is unhealthy.”

I know that my weight puts me at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. However, telling me that my weight is unhealthy will not help me lose weight. It will only increase my anxiety. It will make me feel like there is a giant clock looming over my head, counting down every second until my fat kills me.

Unless you’re a paid professional, please shut the fuck up about my weight being unhealthy.

“Fat guys are nicer to cuddle with in the winter.”

Honestly, this is like hearing nails scratching down on a chalkboard. It’s grotesque. You don’t see me as a human, you see me as a stuffed animal or a space heater. This is a great example of objectifying someone’s humanity. I’m not a fucking blanket. Pay your goddamn heat bill.

If I’m too fat and greasy to be cuddled with during the summertime, I sure as shit am still too fat and greasy to be cuddled up with in the winter.

Image via Getty

What Happened When I Entered My Big Queer Body In a Mainstream Modeling Competition

Earlier this year I participated in an online modeling contest because, well, I’ve got a big queer body and I had something to prove.

What initially intrigued me was that the brand claimed to be about redefining what kinds of bodies are considered sexy and that made sense to me. I was ready to redefine something for myself. I’m constantly seeking that redefinition. It’s like how coming out isn’t a one-time thing, but a process. I felt compelled to keep revealing more of my truth in new ways. I had spent so long trying to evaluate my feelings about my body and I wanted to use this opportunity as a launching pad for the new self-assured sexy confident me.  

Right off the bat, I want to say that as far as competitions go, it wasn’t altogether terrible, though it was strange. Going into it, I knew centering my queerness could leave me at a bit of a “disadvantage,” but it felt important to me to represent myself honestly. The brand’s “Boys Will Be Boys” aesthetic didn’t necessarily scream queer, but I thought, Shit, I might as well give it a try. I’m alive, right? I’ve got a body that you can put clothes on, right?

I submitted some “boudoir” photos that my photographer friend Erin Holsonback took of me in an empty luxury apartment in Austin, Texas. When we originally set up the photo shoot, it was with the same motive in mind. I was sexy and, dammit, I was proud of my body, all of my body. I love these types of photo shoots. They function like an allergy shot for my self-esteem. I take my clothes off, I put on the show of body confidence, and through fake-it-til-you-make-it magic — taa daa! — I suddenly I feel better about my body.  

We shot the series on Halloween morning, and I was alternating between drinking coffee and prosecco as I imagine all successful people do when they roll around in bed while internally chanting “smize smize smize smize” and “you’re a giraffe, reach for the highest leaf.”

In the photos, I’m lounging around on a bed in some-guy-I-don’t-know’s apartment. I’m wearing casual grey sweat shorts and nothing else. My nails are painted, but otherwise, visually my look is somewhere near lawful neutral. I’m tattooed and chubby. I look like a lot of guys in their early 30s.

The photos are professional and I felt sexy in them. My fat was mine and I owned every inch of it. I know how thirst works, and I know that a large portion of the people who buy this brand are queer, so I choose the photos with that in mind.

I filled out the entry paperwork and decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it Queer. I wouldn’t be hiding any of myself behind a bro persona. I wouldn’t be smashing a tallboy of Lone Star while riding an ATV between a woman’s breasts. I had to be real. Y’all know I leave lipstick marks on all of my cans of Lone Star.

In the application, I talked about my motivations for participating in the contest and my body positive approach to life. I detailed my queer community work and how I wanted to help others feel excited to show off their bodies. I talked about pushing queer voices and hoping to use the platform to minimize the divide between the straight world and the LGBTQ+ communities. I made sure to mention that I’d been in films and on television, being clear that I was already a working performer. I was trying to present myself as an easy sell; I had already modeled (for friends), I had personality, I fit the brand (I thought), and I was ready to hustle.

After submitting, I stayed active by sharing the voting link on social media platforms. I had a system of hitting Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with new photos and a new part of my story each day. I knew where to go to get the most views. I knew what kinds of photos to post. I knew I could drum up likes from queer men online but instead of centering my masculinity, I tried to be what I thought was sexy. I’m wearing makeup in several of my shots. I wore women’s floral tops. I positioned myself as confident in my body. I wanted to show that after years of struggling with it, my weight was not a problem.

It was honestly fun. I got to be thirsty but with a message. And for the most part, it was received well and I got a lot of votes. Many folks messaged me with support and encouragement. I got a lot of congratulations on just being visible and unafraid (although I definitely was afraid). My mom shared it on her social media. My sister shared it with her conservative friends and family.

Something weird had happened: I was visibly queer, I was talking about activism, and people were celebrating with me.

On the other hand, it’s often hard to unabashedly celebrate your body publicly. Gay men in particular often drag each other down for… fun? For power? Because of shame? It’s not cool to be excited about something like your body. You can be excited about Drag Race, you can lose your shit over brunch or drama, but when you start to tell a story about your weight issues and how you learned to love yourself, all of the sudden it’s all eye rolls. You can post thirst traps on Instagram but if it’s connected to a statement about why your fat makes you feel powerful, suddenly it’s less sexy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous piece about my experience wearing makeup, no one has ever been as cruel to me as gay men I don’t know. I wanted to weaponize my joy. During the competition, I saw a post online that reminded me of why I needed to do this: “Can we be done with all of these chubby gays becoming motivational speakers?”  I couldn’t help but think Shit, can my ass live? Some of us are just trying to feel sexy and helpful. You are perfectly capable of not paying any attention to me.

At the end of a two week campaign, I had amassed what seemed like a large amount of votes on my profile. Some guys had more; most had far less. I knew that the brand’s staff would be choosing a top 20 and I felt confident that I had a chance. Despite the fact that I wasn’t bro-y and I wasn’t standing with a woman in a bikini in my profile picture. Despite the fact that unlike 90 percent of the guys competing I wasn’t wearing some sort of nationalist American flag propaganda gear. I went to bed on Thursday and thought Wouldn’t that be weird if I made it? I could do so much with this visibility. I knew it was unlikely but the experience had pushed me to a new echelon of excitement around what you can do with confidence and drive.

I woke up the next morning to an email saying I did not advance to the final round. I scrolled through the photos of the top 20 and it was as I thought — American flags. Hyper-masculine. Lots of guys with women in bikinis. One guy had his chest hair shaved into the shape of a bikini. Most of them weren’t larger bodied at all. Six-pack abs were everywhere. A brand that claimed to be about redefining what a model looks like chose a bunch of very fit predominantly white men to represent them.

One of the top 20 was gay, which was relieving. He certainly wasn’t “chubby,” though he had a bit of a “former marine turned gay club boy” vibe. And honestly, I was happy. I got dressed. Went to work. Received a lot of messages from folks telling me that I was “robbed,” which was kind but untrue.

My boyfriend bought me roses at work and told me I was beautiful. The folks who loved me had followed along and were sorry to see me lose, and I was shocked to see just how invested in my experience people had become. All I could think was that I had won. Not actually — no, no, I definitely lost the competition. But I had won over my insecurities. I had won against my self doubt. I had put myself out earnestly, non ironically, and fully queer. And I was better for it.

In the application for the contest, one of the questions asked us to write a short poem about why we were Model Material. When I try to imagine what the straight-American flag waving, bikini-clad-woman-holding, beer-chugging competitors wrote my mind sort of spins out. I honestly have no clue what the fuck they would have written. But this is what I wrote. A silly but honest haiku:

I love my body

It holds all of my mush in

Thanks, body, you rock

Images by Erin Holsonback 

Biking With The Buddha

The first thing you’ll notice after landing in Sukhothai, a near $60, hourlong flight from Bangkok, is that the northern Thailand province’s airport is a zoo.

Yes, after stepping onto the humid tarmac, you’ll see zebras grazing beside white fences. As you board the trolley that takes you to the open air terminal, you’ll find giraffes stretching their long legs in the warm Thai sun. Tortoises not far from baggage claim. Pied tamarins bickering as customers ask for a first class upgrade. Wallabies just a few hops from security.

I wasn’t able to find out why this airport exhibited exotic animals while I was there, but after looking into it, the answer seems to be why not? The private airport (and free zoo for flyers) is owned by Bangkok Airways,  and the small collection of exotic animals on well kept, spacious grounds ornamented by 13th-century ruins, makes the airport one of the most unique I’ve come across in all of my travels.

This is how you’re welcomed to Sukhothai, a gem off the beaten path, just beyond the reach of the typical traveler’s radar. Located 256 miles north of Bangkok and 190 south of Chiang Mai, Sukhothai is a place of respite for the backpacker overwhelmed by busy and bustling capital and the tourist stricken islands of Thailand’s southern arm that flexes into the country’s famous turquoise seas.

The region’s historic capital, also named Sukhothai, dates back to the 13th century and was the first province of independence from the Khmers. The historic city was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam; Sukhothai aptly and poetically means “the dawn of happiness.” Here, find freedom, sunshine, peace, and the first day of the rest of your life.

Among the gently sloped mountains giving way to peaceful pastoral flatlands, the area is well known for two historic parks: Sukhothai Historic Park and Si Satchanalai Historical Park.

At these expansive parks, the 800-year-old ruins of temples, relics, walls, and Buddhas sun themselves beside tranquil waterways, forests, and electric green lawns. Si Satchanalai is certainly the quieter of the two parks, as it rests 60 miles from the town center of New Sukhothai and, as a result, is visited primarily by locals. However, the layout of Sukhothai Historic Park still allows great solitude. During our day, we didn’t see more than fifty tourists. The two parks are smaller, lesser visited Angkor Wats, but with a more attainable and personalized grandeur.

What makes them primarily unique, besides the solitude from the masses and the freedom of self-guided exploration, is the amount of space both parks claim, making their exploration by bike not only practical but charming.

It is not often we get to double up and experience two activities at once. Here, biking and sightseeing.

Here, hundreds of years of history and the blend of Khmer/Thai architecture, a stunning scenery of palm, ponds decorated by lotus, and miles of bike and walking paths to pedal, glide, and cruise. It is in places like Sukhothai that we remember the finest and simplest things in life: an afternoon at a park with nothing but a bicycle is happiness. Sukhothai is sublime.

The group I traveled with in Sukhothai spent our first afternoon at Si Satchanalai, before recharging and spending our second day at Sukhothai Historical Park.

That morning, a bright one full of songbirds and Thai iced coffees, we rented our bikes from K Shop for about 30 baht a day (nearly $1 USD). We came prepared for the hot day before us, a humid 80-degree bluebird stunner. We wore light, shoulder-covering linens. We slathered sunscreen and sipped coconut water. We chose our bikes from a fleet of beach cruisers, adjusted our seats, and were off to see the 193 preserved ruins of the park.

What made the experience particularly pleasant as we hopped from temple to pagoda to stupa to shrine was the ease of the biking. The ground was so flat and the trails were so smoothly paved that even those who struggled with biking re-fell in love with the activity.

It was a moment to remember and become reacquainted with the joy we first felt when we took our first ride without training wheels. The land at the park is as flat and spacious as the land you learned how to ride a bike on as a young’un: your neighborhood’s car-free cul-de-sac, your elementary school’s empty parking lot, the long, forbidden, smooth as butter driveway of next-door-neighbor.

Throughout the afternoon, we stopped at Wat Mahathat (the temple of the great relic), the park’s biggest and most impressive structure, center-pieced by a calm, seated Buddha. Behind him, equidistant, were two more Buddhas, but these ones were standing. 

As we curved around the park into the heart of Traphang-Trakuan Lake to see another temple, Wat Si Sam, we came across something even more unexpected to me than standing Buddhas: a walking Buddha! Untroubled, this Buddha appeared to be floating across the grass with his left hand held out before him, which a scarlet-backed flowerpecker landed on, and roosted momentarily, before flying across the lake.

The afternoon by bike was one of the warmest of my recent trip to Thailand. Thailand proved its well-deserved nickname, the land of smiles. Towards the end of our afternoon, as I was gliding by another standing Buddha, I felt a cooling Thai breeze. As I passed him, I looked back.

It was as if this Buddha with his hand stretched out was balancing my training wheel-less bike, striding along beside me with his hands on my shoulders, pushing me forward, like a parent releasing their child onto open pavements. I was like a boy full of smiles peering over his shoulder, realizing he is no longer being balanced. I was cruising across the pathway a little bit closer into the present.

The Snugs

While in Sukhothai, be sure to stay at the Sriwilai, a gorgeous queer-friendly property only 10 minutes from the historical park. Besides the hotel’s stunning views of rice fields filled with feeding egrets and rainbows and gentle mountains, the property sits beside one of the 800-year-old pagodas, adding a historic, timeless aesthetic contrasted to the modern, minimalistic design of the 4-star property’s rooms. There is even a gorgeous infinity pool. Rooms from $91.

GLSEN Stands By LGBTQ Safe Sex Guide Following ‘Front Holes’ Backlash

The nation’s largest LGBTQ youth organization is standing by a recently released safe sex manual following backlash from conservatives over the term “front holes.”

Critics took issue with the inclusion of the trans-inclusive term in Healthline’s “LGBTQIA Safe Sex Guide,” which was released by the popular health website in July. “Front holes” is commonly used by transgender men who don’t identify with the word “vagina.” Given the term’s close association with womanhood, “front holes” has been widely proposed as a gender-affirming alternative.

But as INTO previously reported, right-wing blogs claimed the presence of “front holes” in the guide is proof that “deviancy is not only being mainstreamed and normalized.”

“The inclusion of this kind of nonsense in what is ostensibly a ‘safe sex’ guide on a mainstream medical information website virtually ensures that this terminology will end up being taught to your child in elementary and middle school,” claimed the website Red State in an Aug. 21 post.

LifeSite further claimed the inclusive LGBTQ terminology is part of an “incessant war on biology, language, and common sense that trans activists are waging in academia, the media, and the political arena.”

But following conservative outcry, the organizations behind the resource guide defended the usage of “front holes.”

GLSEN, one of several advocacy groups which partnered with Healthline, claimed in a statement it was “proud to be a consulting partner” on the safer sex manual, which the national youth organization stated was “specifically designed to be more inclusive of marginalized communities.”

“The guide suggests alternate language that may be more inclusive for some individuals, and can be used in addition to more commonly used medical terminology,” claimed Ikaika Regidor, GLSEN Director of Education & Youth Programs, in a statement shared with INTO. “This language can be used in 1-on-1 conversations with transgender and gender nonconforming patients, medical providers, or between partners.”

“Our society has come to understand that not all bodies are the same and gender is not binary,” he continued. “Inclusive curriculum is about ensuring all students can see themselves, and each other, throughout their education.”

The goal of the toolkit is to, thus, encourage LGBTQ youth to “make informed, healthy decisions about their bodies,” according to Regidor.

As GLSEN’s own research has indicated, it can be difficult for trans and gender non-conforming young people to gain this critical knowledge when they so often lack even basic education on their own identities. Less than 5.9 percent of this group reports that their sex ed classes address topics related to LGBTQ sexual health.

Regidor claimed youth “may not make healthy decisions” when school curricula ignore their experiences.  

GLSEN also hit back at allegations that including the word “front holes” was a plot by LGBTQ activists to erase the experiences of cisgender women who prefer the word “vagina” when referring to their anatomy. They claim that recognizing a diversity of experiences “does not negate anyone else’s identity.”

“These attacks are simply a hateful attempt to deny the existence of trans and gender nonconforming youth,” Regidor said.

GLSEN is just the latest organization to defend the trans-inclusive manual following outrage from religious conservatives. Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based HIV-prevention group, called it a “valuable resource.”

“Healthline crafted their pamphlet to be inclusive of all types of bodies and all people,” claimed President Debra Hauser in a statement. “[…] Representation matters, and having words that reflect how each of us describes our body parts is crucial to lifelong health and well being.”

Meanwhile, Healthline added that “front hole” is “one of the numerous, accepted terms for genitalia we use specifically for certain members of the trans community who identify with it.”

The terminology is consistent with language suggested by Fenway Health, Human Rights Campaign, National Institutes of Health, and Whitman-Walker. In a 2017 article in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth journal, researchers suggested clinicians reflect “the language patients use to describe their reproductive organs and bodies” back to them in conversations about their health.

“There is a long history of transgender people facing abuse, objectification, and neglect both within and beyond health care settings,” wrote authors Alexis Hoffkling, Juno Obedin-Maliver, and Jae Sevelius, after discussing the issue with 10 trans men.

“This may frame your encounters,” they concluded.

The Healthline guide’s release follows a similar decision from the British Medical Association, which announced in 2017 that it would be advising medical professionals to refer to expectant patients as “pregnant people” instead of “mothers.”

The change was intended to reflect that trans men can also become pregnant.

But unlike the British Medical Association, Healthline maintained it did not suggest that medical professionals stop using the word “vagina.” Both “vagina” and “front hole” are used interchangeably throughout the manual. “Vaginas” are referenced 17 times, while front holes just are brought up 16 times.

“In no instance in this guide are we saying we want to replace the word νagina,” Healthline clarified.

Images via Getty

I’m Reclaiming Fat

Three years ago, if someone asked me to describe my body in three words, I would have felt uncomfortable using the word “fat.” I didn’t mind being called “chunky,” “chubby,” or “thick,” but “fat” was always received as an insult; and more often than not, people meant it as such.

I wasn’t always fat. I was once able to tie my shoes while wearing tight pants. I was once able to find nice jeans in my size, without having to search the entire rack. My flesh was once free of deep, dark stretch marks. I know what it’s like to not be fat, which means I understand the privilege that is not afforded to fat people, the same privilege I lost after my weight gain.  

The privilege of not being fat includes having a descriptor that only means one thing: one’s body size. Slim simply means slim. Muscular simply means muscular. Thin simply means thin. Fat doesn’t just mean that someone is fat. Fat is normally synonymous with lazy, smelly, disgusting, and ugly — at least, that’s what being called fat felt like to me.

Roxane Gay tweeted, “Fat is not an insult. It is a descriptor. And when you interpret it as an insult, you reveal yourself and what you fear most.” She’s right. Whenever someone called me “fat,” I used to clap back with an insult about their appearance, as I would if someone called me “ugly.” I interpreted “fat” as an insult because of how I once felt about fat people, before my weight gain.

I didn’t think fat bodies were ugly or disgusting. I always preferred someone with a larger body, even now. I simply stared at fat people and rewrote the story of their body in my own head. I assumed that many fat people are uncomfortable in their bodies. I assumed that many fat people are only fat because they sit around all day and eat ravenously. I assumed that many fat people are too lazy “fix” themselves. However, I was the lazy one. I was lazy for assuming fat people needed to fix themselves.

My body has a story, every pound and stretch mark. Only, I’ve lost my skinny-boy privilege, which means I don’t get to tell that story. When people stare at me, they don’t see someone who ate to fill a void after finding his grandfather dead, or someone who used food to comfort him after years of emotional abuse from his father. They see someone who ate himself into a prison. They see someone who is too lazy to do something about it, even when I am trying to do something about it.

Whenever someone called me “thick,” I knew they were using it as a substitution for the word “fat.” I didn’t care. In fact, I preferred this. There was no negative undertone. The term “thick” was a simple descriptor meaning that someone was overweight, just like the term “fat.” However, today it means anything but that. “Thick” means muscular, slim, having a bigger butt. Really, the term “thick” is synonymous with having a conventionally attractive body, which I do not have.  

Now, I must call my body what it is: fat. I must do with the word “fat” what I’ve learned to do with the word “gay.” I must stop seeing it as an insult, even when it is intended to be. I must do with the word “fat” what white gays and stan Twitter did to the term “thick.” I have to steal it, then modify what the word means.

Fat isn’t synonymous with lazy, disgusting, or ugly. Fat simply means fat, which I am. And while you’re calling me fat, don’t forget to call me other painfully obvious descriptors: I have dark skin. I have brown eyes. I have full lips. I have black hair. I have a beard that connects.

Image via Getty