9 Potential Oscars Hosts to Replace Kevin Hart

As Kevin Hart learned last night, in the immortal words of Academy Award winner and Charm School host Mo’Nique, when you do clownery, the clown comes back to bite. As such, after the internet pointed out that he had quite a few homophobic tweets in his past, Kevin Hart chose to step down from his gig hosting the 2019 Oscar telecast.  

Since the announcement, the internet has broken out their best gumshoe skills in search of someone else to host the ceremony. (The Golden Globes don’t have that problem, having already made the inspired decision to tap Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg to host their ceremony.)  

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So, who should host the ceremony? Well, when I was thinking about potential replacements, and peeping names other people offered on the internet, a few requirements came to mind: they have to be funny, they should be beloved and, obviously, the replacement should also be Black. Given the nature of the controversy, it would also help if the person chosen was a member of the LGBTQ community.

Here are nine potential picks that could get the room warmed up while we wait for Regina King to collect her statue for best supporting actress.

Whoopi Goldberg

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Whoopi was the natural first choice for a lot of people. She has a lot of the requisite characteristics that one would need to helm the Gay Super Bowl. She’s a previous Oscar winner who has hosted the ceremony four times already. Also, while she’s a comedian, her humor is more retro than newfangled and definitely will aim to please rather than bite.

Mo’Nique

If we’re talking about Black Oscar winners who know how to make people laugh, look no further than Mo’Nique. She’s never hosted the Oscars before, but she has plenty of skills hosting a contentious room — look no further than her triumphant turn as the host of VH1’s inaugural run of Charm School. Mo’Nique spent much of 2018 on an amazing press tour convincing Hollywood to take note of the worth of Black women, especially Black female comedians. Giving one of the most decorated comedians in history a platform to remind us all how much she makes us laugh would be a testament to that.  

Tiffany Haddish

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Haddish was one of the first names to pop up in earnest on everyone’s Twitter feeds. Haddish is a critically acclaimed actress and comedian who also feels like something of a Hollywood prom queen right now. She’s extremely beloved and is the definition of a crowd pleaser. The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that people were mad that she mispronounced some names when she announced the nominations for last year’s awards, but here’s the thing: they wouldn’t have been mad if she were a white man.

Wanda Sykes

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Sykes is one of the biggest names in comedy. She’s also the most visible Black LGBTQ comedian in the world. If you’re looking for the perfect person to step in after the Hart controversy, there’s really no name more perfect than Sykes. Also, Sykes’ comedy would definitely strike the right tone for the ceremony. She’s not afraid to be political and everyone’s going to be in the mood to poke fun at Trump. Sykes will go there, even if people boo.  

Maya Rudolph

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When a New York Times profile about you says that you look like God, then it’s pretty clear that you’re operating on a different level from the rest of us. And the person who garnered that description is master comedian Maya Rudolph, who has made us laugh in almost every medium possible. She does everything: she can act *and* sing (I’ve seen her perform twice in her Prince cover band and I still haven’t recovered). Also, lest we forget, Rudolph is an exceptional dramatic actress. Here’s your semi-annual reminder to watch Away We Go.

Trevor Noah

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While I’d rather a woman take the stage, there are a few people who have expressed a desire to see Trevor Noah take the stage. The choice makes sense on a few levels. Jon Stewart hosted the ceremonies twice and given that Noah was chosen to succeed Stewart on the Daily Show, an Oscar-hosting gig doesn’t seem too far behind. But, still, Noah doesn’t seem to have the universal goodwill that Stewart had.

Tituss Burgess

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If the Academy really wanted to show that it was on the gays’ side the whole time, Burgess could be a sign that they’re willing to put their glitter where their mouth is. Burgess has a ton of internet clout, but he’s starting to amass industry clout as well. In September, he joined RuPaul, Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon and more on stage for a star-studded opening Emmys number. Was it an audition?

Jaboukie Young-White

If you’re talking about internet clout, no one has amassed a more fervent internet fandom faster than comedian and Daily Show correspondent Jaboukie Young-White, whose comedy is unapologetically queer. But, Young-White doesn’t seem to have the industry gravitas or respect that one needs to have in order to actually get the hosting gig. But, there’s a future in which the Twitter king can one day take the stage.

Tracee Ellis Ross

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Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well, Tracee Ellis Ross. The award-winning actress definitely has more of a television background (her last film was the 2009 Lindsay Lohan-led Labor Pains) but no one could make an audience feel more at ease than one of TV’s best moms. She’s also the daughter of an icon — and an Academy Award nominee for Lady Sings the Blues.

Artists on Artists: Navi In Conversation With Blu Bone

I first heard about the Chicago-based music artist Blu Bone from a performance artist friend in Los Angeles. At the time, they insisted Blu Bone was the it boy on the rise with their unique melange of ballroom and hip-hop and I immediately agreed after tracking down his INTO NEBULA EP on Soundcloud.

Less than a year later, I traveled to the Chicago’s West Loop to meet them for a photoshoot.

During our shoot, we spoke about food (we both skipped breakfast), our respective ambitious undertakings, and the tender angelic vocals of Kelela’s latest: Take Me A_Part. From walking in an Ib Kamara runway show, to walking his category at the balls, to performing at Red Bull Music Festival in Chicago on the night of our photoshoot, Blu Bone is the multidisciplinary artist you need to know about.

In the days following our shoot, we caught up over the phone ahead of the one year anniversary of the INTO NEBULA EP.

Navi: How’s it going?

Blu Bone: Good. I’m at the gym. Downloading the body, you know.

N: Downloading, I’ve never heard it phrased that way.

B: It’s a Blu phrase.

N: I’m in LA. It’s sunny. Is it snowing in Chicago?

B: It’s not snowing. The snow is melting but I mean it’s still dreary, gloomy, all of those.

N: What’s the story of Blu Bone?

B: I’m from North Minneapolis. I started off as a visual artist and right now I go to school for film, etc., but I’ve been making music since my freshman year of high school by myself, you know, on GarageBand and putting out little things on SoundCloud. After I graduated high school and went off to college, I started to take music more seriously. I am a visual artist first. I consider myself to be interdisciplinary but that’s my story. I moved to Chicago. I got in touch with the house music scene here and I was put in the right place to do what I wanted to do and to make the kind of music that I wanted to make so it happened like that.

N: How many years have you been performing?

B: I’m been performing for almost 12 years now. I did a lot of experimental theater. I’ve written my own show before. So I have a lot of experience with production. I’ve been performing music now for maybe two years? I might also add I did a film, New Neighbors, that went to the Sundance Film Festival.

N: Looking back, what are some thoughts you have about that project INTO NEBULA, one year later?

B: I had so many thoughts after I had just released it. I am so critical of myself. Like very hard on myself and it became immediately like “What’s the feedback like?” But really, though, after a year, the message here is trust the process, let the art burn. Let the art do its work. There is no rushing. The work is always being responded to. It will be responded to years from now, decades from now, let it do its work. Let it take you where it takes you. And don’t stop working, most importantly. And just be ready. When the work is ready to be received in all its glory, it will let you know. And when it’s ready, you just need to make sure you’re ready. There are some things that of course, like, technically looking back I would change, but really, I’m just like amazed at the growth. Like skill wise, there are so many things that I know I can do better but looking back I think, “Wow, this is still fly.”

N: Tell me about “BQ Militant.” The flow in that is insane and it’s just so good.

B: That’s my most recent release. That was kind of just made as a fun track. I feel like because I’m the type of busy bee where I always have to be doing something, and I also feel pressure around releasing work making sure the girls have a new little beat to shake their ass to. And the thing is, people are asking me like, “OK when’s the next bop?” And [laughs] I’m like “Oh my god, the way you guys want music released nowadays is so crazy.” First, I dropped “FOLLOW BLU B.” About a month or two months after that, I made “BQ Militant.” I work this little administration job doing boring Excel spreadsheet shit and literally the whole time I just play beats and I write rhymes and flows on a little notepad. I stumbled across an instrumental beat from Junior Mafia and ‘Lil Kim and I just started spittin’ and rhymin’ over it and it became “BQ Militant.” With INTO NEBULA, because of some production things, I was more on a commentating format than a rapping format. Like people hadn’t really heard me spit some bars, you know? So with “BQ Militant,” everyone’s kind of like “Oh?” and I’m like “Yeah. I write. I write for real for real.” My pen is very dangerous and very hands on.

N: You have a lyric in “BQ Militant” that I love:  “All my brown butch queens around the world, grab your cinnamon and do your twirl.” What does a brown butch queen look like?

B: I’m definitely speaking about the butch queens all around the world, you know, because it’s a different position to be this brown, black, beautiful butch queen in this world. It’s like, we aren’t exalted at the rate we should be and lifted up. I’m singing to me. So I just wanted to make a song exalting us, lifting us up. Something about the things that we face, the struggles in our day-to-day lives and experiences.

N: You mentioned that people were asking you for a bop. Do you feel any pressure to create at other people’s pace or create in abundance?

B: I don’t know if it’s about releasing music for me as much as are people seeing the world, you know? Am I ever-evolving and creating this world that I want to see? When I’m not doing that, I’m not happy. But that doesn’t always have to be music. That could be film, that could be a performance. There’s many ways I can see myself as an artist and feed my spirit. But as far as the music, I’m learning a new craft, like I’m in a vocal jazz class right now. I’m learning some techniques. Learning some shit. You know, getting my Ella-Fitz on, my Rachelle Ferrell on. I want to learn guitar and I just want to learn my craft, learn my skills and change it up, switch it up. So I’m not in a rush but I’m thinking I would love to have some music in an EP, a collection of songs by next spring. I’m definitely thinking some features before then.

N: Anyone you can confirm now?

B: You know, I have a nasty, nasty disgusting verse written for a track with Byrell The Great and Fatima Jamal. I think I’m going to lay that down pretty soon.

N: What’s the ultimate goal for your projects?

B: I feel in conflict with the world as it is. I feel it’s my duty and obligation that my work be dedicated to living the life and making way for the world that I want. When I actualize the world that I want, all of my people can enjoy it with me and feel that world with me. Sometimes I struggle with that: I don’t know if I’m looking for an escape or if I’m looking to tear this shit all the way fucking down. I hope it’s the latter, but sometimes I fear it’s the former. It’s a process. I don’t know if I really have any goals beyond speaking in my highest truth, living my fullest life. I’m not going to let them kill me slowly. That’s how I feel so I utilize my art, my tools, to combat that. Always fighting in this world. I’m far from carefree.  Every waking moment. Every catwalk, every duckwalk, every bar I spit out my mouth – there’s a resistance. I think the resistance is with the world that is handed to me. I rebuke that and my art is how I rebuke it. It’s how I pray out the devil, by creating.

 

N: You were recently featured in the Ib Kamara and Gareth Wrighton NYFW showcase casted by Ms. Boogie.

B: You know, Ib is a lover of my music, my artwork. Ib had heard the song “Icyburg” on my Instagram a year and a half ago and wanted to shoot a video for it. Of course they were based out in London so it’s kind of hard for those things to happen, but we’d always planned to connect. So when he told me he was coming to New York City and wanted me to walk in his show, I was like “OK, I got to get out there.” So I had got my little $300 check from the university and I went right away on skiplagged and I got that little ticket to New York. I stayed at my friends’ cribs and I walked in New York Fashion Week – you know, stayed with my little Jamaican software boyfriend in his little house in Brooklyn. It was kind of fab. It’s always a vibe in New York so I had to go. I mean, Ib is one of the premiere artists to me of today, so it was a complete honor and yes, I will work with Ib a million times over and dance with her a million times over. She’s the best.

N: Jamaican software boyfriend?

B: Well one of my boyfriends – well, he’s kind of cut off now. He’s a software developer. It’s very fab. He has this little cute penthouse in Brooklyn that I usually stay at when I’m out in New York. So, that was cute. He’s on probation at the moment with Blu B.

N: You must be really proud of walking that show.

B: I am. I had those big ass boots on, though, like ah! But I am the king of the big, big boot. So I, of course, I had to be in a big, big boot. They were like “Yo, these boots is everything. You are the daddy of our show” and I was like “Well fuck. You know, I am that.” I was like, I manifested this with these lyrics in my song. So I had pump the boots on the runway, and it was a very fab affair. Scandalous, in the words of Ib Kamara.

  

N: You mentioned a big highlight for you was the Red Bull Music Festival. How were you feeling on that night? You took a lot of time to prepare for that.

B: I think it was just affirming for me as an artist and just knowing my ability and what I can do. That’s how I was feeling and that night – I was feeling anxious but I was also feeling good. I was feeling kind of prepared but I’m not going to lie to you. I will worry them, I will worry you down.

N: Was there anybody on the lineup you were particularly excited to perform side by side with?

B: As far as artists that I was excited to be on the bill with Kidd Kenn. I think they’re so cute, young little butch queen poppin’ their shit and I just fully support it and endorse it. So I usually see her on Twitter or whatever but when I saw that she was on the bill, I was like “This is fly – we should definitely be on the same bill.” Like “This is perfect.” I definitely already rock with Roy Kinsey, the cool mom, Mister Wallace, KC Ortiz – I already know all of those girls from the scene and music making. But Kidd Kenn, yeah, that was my first introduction to him in the flesh. That was cute.

N: There was a moment at Red Bull Music Festival downstairs, after your performance. You were voguing and Fatima was on the mic.

B: I mean, we opened the show so we had to carry one more time and it’s just what we naturally do. Like me and my bitches, we come through and we carry We storm the floor because that’s the lyrics: Might storm the scene / Or might murk your dreams / clutch all your pearls and your rosaries / Blu B, if you ain’t ever heard of me / might storm the scene but might murk your dreams. We will commentate. We will spit for our lives and that’s just going to be that. It’s always a riot. It always has to be a ki, a cackle.

Which ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Guest Judge Is the Best?

If only Judy can judge you, then call us your good Judies. Because The Kiki is here to judge some judges.

In this week’s episode of The Kiki — the penultimate episode of the season! — hosts Kevin O’Keeffe and Mathew Rodriguez dissect the tenures of RuPaul’s Drag Race‘s seven regular judges. Up for examination: Merle Ginsburg, Santino Rice, Michelle Visage, Billy B., Ross Mathews, Carson Kressley, and Todrick Hall. In the video, the hosts even rank them all — using RuPuns, naturally.

The Kiki also gets into how the changing in the judging panel has changed the show itself. What started as a looks-focused series has evolved into more of a performance-based one. You can thank Visage and Mathews for that.

In addition, the hosts get into why Hall is a misfit as a Drag Race judge, the reason why Visage didn’t come on until season 3, and how Mathews and Kressley’s previous TV experience informs their individual approaches to judging.

Watch the full episode below.

HIV Groups Say We Can End America’s Epidemic in Just Seven Years

America has the tools and knowledge to end the HIV epidemic by 2025, according to a new policy paper released by a coalition of leading HIV/AIDS organizations. All that’s needed now is the political will.

The paper, entitled “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States: A Roadmap for Federal Action,” was released to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1st and is signed by over 250 organizations, including AIDS United, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, NMAC (formerly the National Minority AIDS Council), the National Coalition of STD Directors, and The AIDS Institute.

In the report, six achievable pillars are identified for ending the epidemic for good: committing to ending the epidemic; ensuring access to care; preventing transmission of the virus; addressing social and structural barriers to care; ongoing research; and supporting the involvement of people living with HIV. Within each pillar, the report lays out specific recommendations, such as upgrading prevention programs in Puerto Rico; eliminating the waiting period for Medicare; urging every American to get tested at least once; and decriminalizing sex work.

Analysts consulted by the coalition of nonprofits estimated that a quick ramp-up of these recommendations would save the country $57 billion over the next decade.

These types of measures have been proven effective in addressing the epidemic at the local level, said William McColl, AIDS United’s Director of Health Policy. On a conference call unveiling the roadmap, he cited the work of AIDS Free Pittsburgh, a community coalition that oversaw a decrease of new HIV cases by 30 percent from 2015 to 2017. In New York City, McColl added, similar efforts resulted in a record low in new diagnoses in 2017 — just over two thousand cases, a record low since tracking began.

The roadmap calls for a “95/95/95” framework. That means 95 percent of people living with HIV are aware of their HIV status, 95 percent of diagnosed individuals are retained in care, and 95 percent of individuals on antiretroviral therapy are virally suppressed.

“When we talk about ending the epidemic, we mean bringing new infections down so low they drop beneath the number of deaths each year while the numbers of HIV related deaths also drops,” AIDS United’s Senior Policy Manager Alex Smith told INTO. The goal is to make HIV-related deaths as rare as deaths from diseases like measles, mumps, or tuberculosis, for example.

The plan begins with a national commitment to the goal of 95/95/95 by 2025, which includes increasing PrEP uptake to 40 percent of people vulnerable to HIV. PrEP is a suite of interventions that include regular testing, counseling, and a daily dose of antiviral medication that helps block the HIV virus from taking hold in the body. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in 2016 only about 80,000 people were using PrEP, representing just six percent of the 1.2 million vulnerable people in the United States.

Without a rapid scale-up, the paper warns, “the U.S. HIV epidemic will continue to outrun the response.”

To meet that target, America will have to improve HIV monitoring nationwide and also upgrade access in overseas territories like Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Island.

Care programs will also need to implement specific protections to guarantee care for LGBTQ patients. Health care discrimination remains a widespread problem in the United States, with the Trump administration working to undo provisions that bar discrimination.

The roadmap also recommends equitable access to care, particularly for Medicaid and Medicare patients. Medicaid covers over 40 percent of people with HIV in care, with Medicare covering about 20 percent. But more could be done to cover those with HIV, such as eliminating the 29-month waiting period that  Social Security Disability recipients must endure before they can use Medicare. In addition, the report says, it’s urgent that the Affordable Care Act be maintained, especially nondiscrimination protections and a stable insurance marketplace. Congressional Republicans have been trying to dismantle ACA since it was passed.

To prevent new HIV transmissions, the document recommends implementing routine HIV screenings for everyone over the age of 15, as well as broad access to PrEP and harm reduction services like syringe access.

Southern states are identified as needing particular focus, accounting for over 50 percent of the estimated new cases despite representing only 37 percent of the US population. In Indiana, for example, Governor (now Vice President) Mike Pence oversaw a catastrophic spike in HIV transmissions after the closure of testing facilities and the restricting of needle exchanges.

At a ceremony this week marking World AIDS Day, Pence delivered the same speech, word for word, as last year, and failed to make any mention of LGBTQ people. Previously, Pence expressed support for “ex-gay” conversion practices instead of funding the Ryan White Care Act. This year, he tweeted that the Trump administration will funnel $100 million to faith-based organizations.

HIV experts were diplomatic in responding to Pence’s announcement.

“I think there’s a space for faith based communities in implementing this roadmap,” Smith told INTO, “especially in addressing stigma in the South.”

Effectively ending the epidemic will require addressing numerous social and structural barriers to care, according to the roadmap. That includes overturning laws that criminalize HIV and consensual sex work, and also an end to disproportionate incarceration of people of color and transgender people. In addition, more needs to be done to extend care to immigrant populations; and Congress must repeal SESTA and FOSTA, two Trump-signed bills that restrict speech around sex work online and have prevented basic protections for sex workers.

The roadmap places particular emphasis on meeting the needs of people of color, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, undocumented immigrants, people in prison, and more. Many of those groups are frequent targets of Republican policy; but the coalition hopes to educate incoming lawmakers about the urgency of their plan, as well as its achievability.

“We need to avoid creating the impression that this is a simple and easy fix that can occur without resources,” McColl told INTO. “We need to create a real sense of urgency about this. We’re going to make sure that every single member of Congress, including new members, have an opportunity to understand the fact that we now have the tools to end the epidemic in the United States.”

In the meantime, everyone else  can lend a hand by contacting elected officials and attending public events. AIDS United issues regular alerts about opportunities to get involved.

“This is an ambitious goal, but one we believe is achievable,” said Jesse Milan, President and CEO of AIDS United, on the conference call announcing the plan.

That was met with agreement by Jeanne White-Ginder, whose son Ryan was a poster child for combating HIV stigma in the 1980s.

“We have to insist that AIDS is a priority,” White-Ginder said on the call. “We must all demand that Congress and this administration pursue it with the same urgency that we called for at the height of the crisis. It can be done.”

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Thirty Years of World AIDS Day And Combating HIV Stigma

The first World AIDS Day was observed on December 1, 1988. That year, more than 28,000 people died from AIDS-related causes. I was 12, probably somewhere in Philadelphia dancing and lip-synching to Paula Abdul, blissfully unaware that the epidemic would later alter my life in significant ways. The only HIV prevention that seemed to exist back then for young gay boys like me, were vocal demands to not get AIDS. As we mark the 30th Anniversary of World AIDS Day, the number of annual HIV-related deaths has dropped tremendously to around 6,500. While science has made strides in expanding HIV prevention, systematic stigma and shame continue to prohibit folks from leading safe and healthy lives, especially youth of color.

In many ways, the crack epidemic was the equalizer in our neighborhood. My mother had friends who were lawyers, blue collar workers, and business executives – all of whom were addicts. I watched them come and go as our one-room apartment became a revolving door. I never paid them much attention, choosing to retreat to the sounds of Paula Abdul, Janet, or Donna Summers. That all changed when Miss Tina walked in.

Miss Tina was Black, tall, muscular, and unapologetic about her sometimes revealing five o’clock shadow. Instead of studying for school tests, I studied Miss Tina. I’d ask her questions about her nail color and shoes, but what I desperately wanted to know was how to beat up the boys who called me “faggot” at school.

One night, I woke up to urgent whispers and cries from Miss Tina. “I think you need to go to the hospital,” I heard my mother say. I peeked through the sheet dividing our one-room apartment and saw Miss Tina’s bloodied and swollen face. I wanted to ask what happened, but even then, I knew. She got beat up for being herself, just like I got beat up at school.

As I grew older, Miss Tina and I developed our own friendship. We talked about the night that she showed up bloody in our apartment. She told me about the many times she showed up bloody somewhere. We talked about how she endured. She told me to never do drugs or get AIDS. She made me promise. I promised.

In 1996, Miss Tina died of AIDS complications. There was no wailing, no explicit mourning. People spoke about her death as matter of fact. I can’t say I blame them. By that time, there were an estimated 23 million people living with HIV worldwide. Trauma and shame meant many of us didn’t talk with our families about AIDS or death. Back then, demands to never get AIDS was the only HIV prevention there was to give young gay boys like myself.

It has been more than 20 years since Miss Tina’s passing, and I’ve been living with HIV for more than 10 of those years. Looking back, I now know that I didn’t break Miss Tina’s promise. She wasn’t really asking me to promise to abstain: She was telling me to live. Tina knew, even before I had officially “come out” to her, that I was in need of direction and helpful hints that could, and would, eventually save my life.

Now I have the privilege of providing LGBTQ youth the same direction and guidance that she once gifted me. I’m launching the first-ever National council of youth activists living with HIV, called Engaging Communities around HIV Organizing (ECHO), focused on combating rampant HIV stigma. We must end laws and policies which criminalize people living with HIV, and make sure every young person living with HIV is cared for and valued.

Today, I am older than Tina was when she died. Effective treatment and care have helped to make HIV a survivable diagnosis. We now even have PrEP, the daily pill that helps to prevent HIV infection. It all would seem like science fiction to Miss Tina and the little boy she unknowingly saved.

Victoria’s Secret Has Never Been LGBTQ-Friendly Because It Doesn’t Want To Be

About a month ago, a friend told me she’d had a terrible experience at a nearby Victoria’s Secret. She’s masculine of center — a lesbian — with a short haircut, and more often than not wears clothing from the men’s section. That day, she needed some bras, so she headed to the store internationally known for its undergarments.

“No one asked me if I needed anything or if I needed any help, so I just went into the section I thought would work out,” my friend, Laura Fiorino, told me. “I went and I grabbed a couple sizes and went into the dressing room or the fitting room and the person just kind of looked at me like ‘Can I help you?'”

Fiorino said the Victoria’s Secret employee looked “shocked and surprised.” Once inside a fitting room, she said that the employee came in several times to check on other clients in rooms around her, offering measurements and other sizing and fit options that she never offered to Fiorino.

“She put my name on the door, but never asked if I needed anything, so I had to go out and get another size,” Fiorino said. “I had to go out, get it myself, come back in.”

Frustrated, Fiorino decided to speak with the manager of the location in Los Angeles’s popular Beverly Center shopping mall.

“I said ‘You really need to be more inclusive. People come here – this is LA, all types of people, diversity of background come in here, and you really need to accommodate everyone and not only worry about your femme clientele,'” Fiorino recalled.

But the manager wasn’t very receptive.

“She was just kind of like, ‘That’s really good feedback. Oh, I really appreciate your feedback,’ not really apologetic to the situation at all,” Fiorino said. “I told her ‘I’m actually never coming back here again.'”

This situation is a symptom of a much larger problem, and happened just a few weeks before Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of L Brands, which owns and operates Victoria’s Secret, made headlines for telling Vogue that trans and plus-size models would never be a part of their annually televised runway show.

“If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have,” Razek told Vogue. “We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.”

He went on to say that people often ask, “‘Why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show?’ No. No, I don’t think we should. ‘Well, why not?’ Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”

Razek’s comments echoed a sentiment long believed true of Victoria’s Secret, but one that hadn’t faced as much public scrutiny until now. While it’s long been known that the retail chain prizes and promotes uber-thin, feminine, mostly white cisgender models, the brand has been able to ignore detractors and continue to profit without much damage to their bottom line. Their recently released third-quarter earnings statement for this year noted that the retail locations alone brought in $1.529 billion, and their holiday-timed annual fashion show airing on ABC this Sunday night will surely bring in more online and in-person sales this holiday season.

As Vogue published in their piece, the 2017 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was seen by 1 billion people in 190 countries. Surely trans and plus-size women, as well as others not represented by their selection of models, were part of that viewership, and part of the spending power that has kept Victoria’s Secret in business for so long. But in its 41 years of existence, Victoria’s Secret has never once participated in any LGBTQ initiative — not even during Pride, when brands often make their first attempt at acknowledging the community — and if the brand is adamant about not marketing to LGBTQs, why should we keep buying what they’re selling?

Rob Smith worked as Victoria’s Secret’s executive vice president of merchandising from 2010 until 2012. He now owns The Phluid Project, an all-gender retail and community space in Manhattan, and says that while L Brands offered an LGBTQ Employee Resource Group and extended same-sex partner benefits that pleased the HRC, there was no interest in marketing to the LGBTQ community. 

There’s the internal organization which … certainly checks off all the boxes in order to get a high ranking like LGBT organizations monitor,” Smith told INTO

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees were a part of the larger company based in Columbus, Ohio, but back then, he says, there were no transgender employees, certainly not in any kind of senior-level executive level representation.

“I would say the brand has had tremendous success, and in many ways, the world continues to move forward and I’m not sure that the executives in power embrace the change in the evolution,” Smith said. “And that maybe there’s people talking within the organization but they’re not hearing it.”

There have been attempts at change, though, from the outside. In 2013, GLAAD supported trans model Carmen Carrera’s petition to become their first trans model. 

“I want to do this for the 50,000 people who signed the petition on Change.org,” Carrera told Time. “I want to do this for, of course, me and my career. I’m a showgirl at heart. If I’m going to do fashion shows, this is the one to do. And I want to do it for my family. I want them to be proud of me. I want them to be like, that’s our kid, we raised that girl right there. And my community, for sure.”

But after Razek tweeted that Victoria’s Secret “absolutely would cast a transgender model for the show” and that they’ve had “transgender models come to castings,” Carrera wrote an Instagram post saying she doesn’t know “if this is exactly true.”

“In 2016, contact was made and an audition was set up for me and another girl but then I received a call from my agent that my audition was cancelled,” she wrote. “The morning of the audition.”

View this post on Instagram

I just want to say that for the record, I do not know if this is exactly true. However, I personally have never auditioned for @victoriassecret. In 2016, contact was made and an audition was set up for me and another girl but then I received a call from my agent that my audition was cancelled. The morning of the audition. I don’t understand if these casting folks just like to make you suffer on purpose or they just wanted to rejoice in their own foolery after they cancelled it. Who knows? All I know is, they knew who I was and how much international support I received to make this happen. Not bragging but it was way more exposure than any other rumored VS prospect they’ve ever had and yet they still chose to sleep on it #facts. I hope they change that real soon! If they are ready for a positive change with a big impact, they know where to find me! Xo

A post shared by Carmen Carrera (@carmen_carrera) on

According to GLAAD’s Chief Communications Officer Rich Ferraro, 2018 was the first time any actual conversation was happening between GLAAD and Victoria’s Secret. But the point of contact was then-CEO Jan Singer, who resigned two weeks ago after two years with the company.

“Earlier this year, GLAAD was in conversation with Victoria’s Secret around a potential series of LGBTQ presentations that would equip corporate and retail staff with ways to be more inclusive of LGBTQ consumers,” Ferraro told INTO. “Those conversations fell apart following the gross comments from CMO Ed Razek and after the CEO Jan Singer – who GLAAD understands to be a supporter of diversity and transgender inclusion – departed. GLAAD was among the voices that slammed Razek’s original comments.” 

After Singer’s departure, Ferraro said, Victoria’s Secret stopped responding.

“We reached out after Razek’s comments, but VS did not engage,” Ferraro said. “He then issued the apology that was not well received. We spoke out publicly after it, as did many.”

GLAAD’s work with the brand would have been extensive in its training, Ferraro said. Retail workers and management would be trained on working with LGBTQ employees and customers. Ferraro said it “certainly have included a push to include LGBTQ models in the televised show and to be inclusive across their channels.”

“We tailor presentations based on brands and companies,” he said, noting that GLAAD tweeted in support of trans models after Razek’s Vogue interview.

Interestingly, some of the models who will appear in this year’s Victoria’s Secret Show have been advocates for the community in the past, but seem to be tightlipped about their support now.

Kendall Jenner, whose parent is Caitlyn Jenner, has not made any statements condemning the brand, who also outfitted Kendall and her sisters as Victoria’s Secret angels in elaborate Halloween sponsored content. The day of the Vogue piece,  Jenner posted an Instagram story with the image of a button reading “Celebrate trans women.” Stella Maxwell, who doesn’t speak publicly about her sexual identity but is in a high-profile relationship with out actress Kristen Stewart, did not respond to requests for comment and has not made any statements to the press. Josephine Skriver, who refers to herself as a “proud rainbow kid” and often advocates for LGBTQs as the product of a gay father and lesbian mother, was also unavailable, and while she didn’t post anything related to Razek’s Vogue interview, she did thank him by name in two Instagram posts.

Bisexual pop stars Halsey and Rita Ora both perform on this year’s show, as does Shawn Mendes, whose producer, Teddy Geiger, came out as trans last year. None of them have reacted to Razek’s comments, but continue to publicize the show. 

One trans woman who has been a longtime VS fan is Laverne Cox. Cox, who tweeted about watching the show in 2011, will likely appear in audience shots, as she attended this year’s taping, sharing Instagram photos and video from the carpet and inside. Cox’s reps also said she was unavailable for comment, and while she hasn’t spoken out directly against Victoria’s Secret, she did share some Instagram posts supporting trans models more generally.

I think they could empower their models to speak,” Smith said. “The thing is, you can’t monitor the things they say and don’t say but I’m sure if you let these women speak out, they’re going to have a much more progressive posture than Victoria’s Secret as a brand does. They are Gen Z, you know? They are reflective of the shifting worldviews. I’m sure their own personal views are, I would guess, possibly more progressive than Victoria’s Secret’s, and they can leverage that.”

That said, Smith thinks they are encouraged not to say anything that would take away from the spectacle of the show.

“If their conversation and their points of view become bigger than the show then I think they feel like they’ve lost the show, which is, in their mind, aspirational fantasy,” he said. 

But whose fantasy, and based on whose ideals? 

“Many people think it’s cisgender straight guys watching the shows,” Smith said. “It’s women who are watching it, and it’s their idea of beauty, so I think society’s got to step back and say ‘What are we doing by supporting this?’ This idea of beauty that looks almost like it’s aspirational, but it’s unrealistic and I think you know what I love about Instagram and the new faces of beauty, and even I don’t like the word beauty but the new faces are so reflective of the spectrum of who we are, in gender, race, size, and socioeconomic status.”

In the last year, despite making more than one billion dollars in one single quarter, Victoria’s Secret has been in a decline. Sales are slumping and select locations are closing, which some perceive to be based on the more inclusive lines from competitors like Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty and Third Love. 

Perhaps it’s time for something new — a new aspirational fantasy. What would Victoria’s Secret stand to lose by becoming a brand less about unrealistic ideas of fantasy and instead, a brand that provides more room at the proverbial bedside table?

There’s a certain point where you see just at the table with traditional straight older white guys, you’re not going to move very far,” Smith said. “You’re not going to move the company as far as it should be moved or it could be moved.”

With Razek at the helm and Singer’s exit as CEO, however, it doesn’t appear the company is moving toward a more inclusive future. Instead, it seems to be continuing down an outdated path of perceived fantastical perfection based on highly-specific body parts fitting into extremely limited sizing. And should customers not reflect who Razek believes the brand is marketing to, then their customer service will continue to turn people off and away to other brands looking to offer alternatives.

“I think it’s such a great opportunity to take something that is so ingrained in our society; it’s something that we celebrate, and it seems completely dated so it’s not just a reflection of Victoria’s Secret, it’s a reflection of us as a society and how we see beauty and how we see women,” Smith said. “If we step back and look at ourselves and say what are we doing to young women by saying ‘this is beauty’ and not being inclusive with non-binary, trans, queer women?”

Smith thinks it could be ultimately helpful for Victoria’s Secret to use this opportunity to shake things up, and to be more progressive, if even for their own benefit. 

I think that’s what companies have to face now. They have to face the risk versus relevance and I think the best example is Nike, who stuck their neck out with Colin Kaepernick. And there’s a lot of people who thought they would suffer, their stock would suffer, their sale would suffer, and the opposite happened, you know? Completely opposite,” Smith said. “They were celebrated and awarded both within their stock value and their sales and customer loyalty. So I would say sure, they’re going to lose some people, possibly, but in order to stay relevant with this younger generation, it’s expected. You know, if they don’t do it, somebody else will, and they’ll lose market share.”

Images via Getty

Taiwan Official Says Marriage Equality Is Here to Stay: Court Ruling ‘Cannot Be Touched’

Marriage equality is here to stay in Taiwan, even in the face of a national referendum in which voters overwhelmingly rejected same-sex unions.

In a speech delivered to the Legislative Yuan on Thursday, Secretary-General Tai-lang Lu claimed the Constitutional Court’s May 2017 ruling on marriage equality “cannot be touched.” Taiwan’s top court paved the way for the legal recognition of same-sex marriages in a written opinion claiming that denying these couples full marriage rights its unconstitutional.

Judges gave the legislature two years to enact a freedom to marry law or marriage equality would automatically become legal.

Tai-lang Lu, a representative of the Judicial Yuan, claimed nothing has changed following Taiwan’s contentious Nov. 24 plebiscite. Despite polls showing Taiwanese have long supported same-sex unions, 70 percent of voters claimed the Civil Code should continue to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

According to Taiwan News, the Secretary-General confirmed what INTO has previously reported: “interpretations made by the Constitutional Court hold the highest rule of law and cannot be defeated by referendums.”

In the meeting with the Legislature’s Judiciary and Organic Laws committee, Lu said the only question that remains is how lawmakers will respond.

“The Legislative Yuan will therefore only be able to decide how to guarantee [rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitutional Court], via amending the Civil Code or establishing a new law,” the publication reported. “How they are guaranteed will be decided in accordance with the referendum results.”

Legislators are required to act upon the referendum results by Feb. 24.

Kolas Yotaka, a spokesperson for the Executive Yuan, told the news channel Focus Taiwan that the federal government “will draw up a draft for a separate law in three months… send it to the Legislative Yuan.”

Although 58 percent of voters supported offering a lower form of relationship recognition to same-sex couples (i.e., domestic partnerships), the executive branch claimed that any legislation put forward would “extend equal marriage rights” to same-sex couples in Taiwan.

In total, voters sounded off on five ballot measures: three in support of LGBTQ rights, and two in favor of equality. All three anti-LGBTQ proposals passed, and the pro-equality measures failed.

One concerned whether students should be taught about LGBTQ issues in schools.

Jason Hsu, a representative in the Legislative Yuan, previously told INTO he would not support a civil unions bill, saying it was tantamount to “discrimination.”

“We should not allow a special law to be sent to our committee for review,” the Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker said days before the vote. “I will do everything I can to tear down that committee. I will fucking block it because it’s not right.”

What remains to be seen is whether the legislature can refuse to put forward a bill by the three-month deadline.

If lawmakers ignore the referendum vote, same-sex couples will be able to marry on May 29, 2019—two years after the Constitutional Court decision. That would make the Taiwan the largest municipality in Asia to legalize marriage equality.

Grindr President Says Marriage Is “Holy Matrimony Between a Man and a Woman” In Deleted Social Media Post

Grindr’s president and former CTO Scott Chen wrote a comment on his personal Facebook page saying that he believed that marriage was only meant to be between a man and a woman, several sources from within Grindr told INTO.

On November 26, Chen shared an INTO article on his page about Cher Wang, the president and CEO of HTC, whose non-profits backed anti-LGBTQ U.S.-based groups organizing to influence Taiwan’s referendum on same-sex marriage. Citizens ended up voting to ban same-sex marriage; they also opted to remove LGBTQ-inclusive curricula in schools and include a non-marriage option for same-sex couples.

Chen shared the article about Wang on his public page, which led to several people commenting underneath. In a subsequent comment, captured in a screenshot and translated by an independent translator for INTO, Chen wrote:

“There are people who believe that marriage is a holy matrimony between a man and a woman. I agree but that’s none of our business. There are also people who believe that the purpose of marriage is to create children that carry their DNA. That’s also none of our business. There are people that are simply different from you, who desperately want to get married. They have their own reasons.”

Chen subsequently wrote that marriage is a “personal issue” and said that he wished people wouldn’t donate to anti-LGBTQ causes and instead “donate your money to places that are in dire hunger, poverty, or suffering from war? Why spend all that money to stop people who love each other from getting married? Aren’t there more important stuff in life?”

He ended the post by saying, “I’ll never buy HTC products ever again, and I’ll never donate a cent to any Christian groups in Taiwan!”

Though INTO previously reported the post as being deleted, it reappeared on Chen’s feed after publication. 

Chen moved into the role of CTO in 2017 after Chinese gaming corporation Kunlun acquired the dating app. (Full disclosure: INTO is owned by Grindr.) At the time of the acquisition, former CEO and Grindr founder Joel Simkhai exited his role as CEO and was replaced by board chairman Yahui Zhou.

Grindr, released in the app store in 2009, is the world’s largest dating app for queer people. 

Chen responded to the article in a comment underneath the article after publication. In the comment, Chen called himself a “huge advocate for LGBTQ+ rights since I was young.” He also wrote: “I support gay marriage and I am proud that I can work for Grindr.”

INTO has reached out to Grindr for comment and will update when we hear back. 

Nov. 30, 2018, 12:19 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect Chen’s response to the article as well as the fact that the post, which was not visible on his personal Facebook at the time of publication, has reappeared on his Facebook. 

Nov. 30, 2018, 9:00am: In an internal statement released to Grindr staff, Chen offered further clarification on his earlier posts:

“On November 26, I wrote a post on my personal Facebook account meant to condemn those advocating against same-sex marriage in Taiwan. The words I chose related to marriage between a man and a woman were meant to express my personal feelings about my own marriage to my wife – not to suggest that I am opposed to marriage equality.

I want to make clear that I am an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and have been since I was young. I support gay marriage and I am proud that I can work for Grindr. I apologize that my words did not clearly convey these feelings.

I am very proud of the work INTO does and stand by them as an important part of our business.

One of our greatest strengths at Grindr is our diverse team and our respect for one another. Together, we will continue the important work we do fighting for LGBTQ+ equality.”

ICE Is Refusing to Release A Legally Mandated Review of Roxsana Hernandez’s Death

ICE is refusing to release a legally-required report on the death of transgender asylum seeker Roxsana Hernandez after a bombshell autopsy suggested she was likely beaten in custody.

Per Congress, the agency must publish a report within 30 days of an in-custody death. As of Wednesday, it has been 187 days since Hernandez died after reportedly suffering complications of pneumonia.

ICE still has not released a report.

Instead, the agency erroneously claimed to INTO that its press release announcing her death constitutes its report.

“Accountability dies in the darkness that they’re creating,” said Lynly Egyes, litigation director at the Transgender Law Center (TLC), which is filing a wrongful death suit in Hernandez’s case. “They’re claiming that they have this review or that she wasn’t abused in custody, but aren’t submitting the information to those who are requesting it.”

On Monday, The Daily Beast broke the news that Hernandez was likely severely abused in custody, according to an autopsy commissioned by TLC and immigration attorney R. Andrew Free. The autopsy, obtained by INTO, noted significant hemorrhage to Herandez’s chest and wrists, consistent with handcuffs.

“The second autopsy disclosed evidence of physical abuse, with deep bruising,” pathologist Dr. Kris Sperry wrote. “According to observations of other detainees who were with Ms. Hernandez…the diarrhea and vomiting episodes persisted over multiple days with no medical evaluation or treatment, until she was gravely ill.”

On Monday, ICE attempted to discredit the autopsy by emailing media outlets off-the-record tips that Dr. Sperry resigned from his position as Georgia’s chief medical examiner in disgrace.

Sperry retired in 2015 after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a scathing report on Sperry’s time moonlighting as a paid forensic consultant. Sperry did not face legal action and has continued to practice in Georgia.

INTO was among the outlets to receive the off-the-record tip from ICE on Sperry. INTO is taking the exceedingly rare step of not honoring the off-the-record because the information was sent without prior agreement between INTO and ICE, and the agency has refused to corroborate its assertions.

On Tuesday, LGBTQ advocates confirmed that multiple media agencies had received the same tip from ICE and were looking into Sperry’s past.

Sperry did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

But Free, who is pursuing Hernandez’s case with TLC and hired Sperry, charged that he has never been disqualified as an expert.

“ICE can take issue with the events that led to his resignation,” said Free. “But they have not taken issue with his science, and the reason they haven’t is because he is a sound scientist.”

On the record, ICE strongly refuted claims that Hernandez suffered abuse in custody.

“A review of Hernandez’s death conducted by ICE Health Service Corps medical professionals confirmed that she suffered from a history of untreated HIV,” the agency wrote in a statement released to INTO.  “At no time did the medical personnel treating Ms. Hernandez at Cibola General Hospital or Lovelace Medical Center raise any issues of suspected physical abuse.”

Asked to provide the review into Hernandez’s death, ICE media spokespeople declined, repeatedly referencing its initial death notice and challenging INTO to submit a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain such information.

“Pursuant to policy and as outlined in the agency’s announcement of her passing, a thorough investigation of this incident by the appropriate parties is being conducted in order to affirm that ICE protocols were followed,” wrote Jennifer D. Elzea, ICE press secretary, in an email. “The results of the review, once completed, will be available via FOIA.”

ICE, however, is required to make an initial public report on an in-custody death within 30 days and finalize it within 60 days.

Danielle Bennett, another spokesperson for the agency, claimed “the press release is the initial review. Those are typically posted within one to two days after the death occurs, well within the 30-day window.”

Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said Congress explicitly wrote language into the appropriations bill to prevent ICE from shirking its responsibility to report on the underlying facts that contribute to deaths in detention.

“It just couldn’t be more obvious that this was not the Congressional intent behind this,” said Altman. “It’s not ambiguous when you talk about death report, which is what the language says.”

INTO has submitted a FOIA request for all reports and documents related to Hernandez’s death investigation, regardless.

Photo credit: Transgender Law Center. 

Catching the Earth Nude in Newfoundland

Here among black spruce on the rugged western edge of Newfoundland in Gros Morne National Park, we are battling a brisk wind that has rammed itself across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Along with soaring shorebirds and spits of rain, it brings us diction.

Words like tuckamore.

Tuckamore (plural tuckamores)—noun—A spruce tree bent and entangled by winds on the coastal shores of Newfoundland.

Some Newfoundlanders I meet simply just call it tuck.

These tucks are tight as Trinity’s, not so much meaty but very, very evergreen. These tuckamores are the result of relentless calamity, of gales and spindrift, another word the wind delivers. A phenomenon that has salted the coniferous cleanliness of these hardy spruce needles.

Spindrift—noun—Sea spray, especially spray blown from waves during a gale.

These dwarfed trees crouch on the high cliffs.

They look like green clouds stretched by a high wind,  like cotton candy pulled from the paper stem, like the well-groomed but irregularly-shaped beard of an old, wizened man—like shapes I know I’ll have a hard time reimagining when I try to configure them in prose.

These trees are little heroes, I surmise. Brave little queeros.

Mascots in self-worth and survival.

They have been bruised and battered by the insults and harassment of northern Atlantic winds; tortured by snows, ice, sleet, and bone-chilling rain.

Yet still, they retain their place on the unforgiving terrain.

Their resistance is persistence.

They survive by shaping themselves, by streamlining themselves so that the wind glides over them.

They are immune to torment; made themselves invincible to wretchedness by banding together to form an impenetrable fortress.

 

Like the trees, I cower high above the sea for relief from the wind. My rain jacket is spruce green and I duck beside the tuckamore and I wonder how long it takes one to be bent out of shape, into invincibility.

I look out over the sea through my binoculars hoping for puffins and albatross, but I zoom in as far as I can and seek the North American mainland on the horizon.

It is too far.

I can only imagine the mainland of Canada—of maritime Québec and the mystery of Labrador to the far, far North.

I imagine all of us as little spruce trees sculpted by our own tribulations into our own individual shapes.

Gros Morne—from the French, meaning “great sombre” or “large mountain standing alone”—the namesake of the 697 mi² park’s highest peak.

We climb this peak on our second day in Newfoundland.

Its scalp is an arctic-alpine of an ‘island’ left over from earlier times where white, arctic foxes still pounce.

It takes nearly a half day but we arrive on the summit.

We see grouse bleaching their feathery coats for winter, luminescent lichen on rocks, a lone caribou, fossilized trilobites imprinted in rocks, and hawk eye views of freshwater lakes with 2,000-foot cliffs that were once fjords until the land rebounded and they were ostracized from the sea.

On our last day in the park we take a boat up one of these fjords, Western Brook Pond, where we see falls like Mare Piss and walls you’ve been tricked into thinking exist only in Norway or New Zealand.

Pond—noun—Typically, a small body of still water formed naturally or by hollowing or embanking. But here, in Newfoundland, ponds are massive lakes, which I admire. It shows the Newfoundlander’s charisma and hardiness—to make the vast and foreboding bite sized.

There are two common ways to arrive at Gros Morne.

The first is a six-hour ferry from mainland Nova Scotia to Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, followed by a three and a half hour drive.

The second is a direct flight from Toronto to Deer Lake, with an hour and a half drive to the park via the Viking Trail, highway 430.

We take a segment of the Viking Trail which eventually winds itself all the way to the northern peninsula to L’Anse aux Meadows where the only proven Viking settlement in Canada rests.

It is an overcast autumn morning and the rolling road is slick with last night’s rain.

Lining the highway are birch trees popping their bright fall reds like lovesick confetti and every so often, yellow caution signs depicting wrecked cars and giant bull moose with racks the size of bumpers.

As fellow INTO travel writer David Duran drives, I am on moose watch looking vigilantly for unexpected Alces alces.

It is estimated the park is home to the largest density of moose in the world, and our guide, Neil from Gros Morne Adventures, whom we meet at the park’s visitors center, later tells us of the region’s specialty moose-burgers—and that many locals have freezers full of moose meat stored for the winter.

While some tourists come to hunt moose in the surrounding region, most come to the park for rocks.

Neil walks us through the center’s extensive geology exhibition—we take note of the peridotite—which Neil uses to explain in the park’s founding as not only a national park, but as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In layman’s terms, the park is the geological field lab equivalent of Einstein’s laboratory.

Peridotite—noun—a dense, coarse-grained ultramafic igneous rock consisting mostly of the minerals olivine and pyroxene.

It is where the theory of plate tectonics was provided by geologists Robert Stevens and Harold Williams. It is also one of the few locations in the world where a segment of the Earth’s mantle lies exposed, for all to see.

Mantle—noun—a silicate layer of rock inside a planetary body bounded below by a core and above by a crust.

As David, Neil, and I drive to the exposed mantle, a mountain called the Tablelands, I muse on other silicate rock layers in our solar system like Mars, the moons of Jupiter like Europa, Io, and Ganymede—named for Zeus’ most handsome boy.

Tablelands—noun—(as defined by Across the Blue Planet) a barren reddish brown plateau that towers seven hundred meters above the Atlantic Ocean, stands alone as an alien landscape amongst the lush and hilly forests that encompass it.

We thread a rolling pass and descend into a valley so vast the road through it gambols like a wet tar ribbon.

We spot three caribous in the valley by a creek.

We are sure they are fattening themselves for winter.

When we step out of the car onto the trailhead, the peridotite rocks carpet the ground and stack themselves up the side of the Tablelands to 2,356ft—a landscape as bare as smooth buttocks—with tufts of vegetation in the gulches.

As we begin our rainy hike onto the weathered rockscape, I am overtaken by exposure. Today, we are stepping on rocks half a billion years in the making.

We stand on a segment of the earth’s mantle, described in the visitors center poetically as the Earth’s soul, that that has chosen to expose itself unabashedly for all to see.

This is the earth undressing itself.

The earth, naked.

This is the earth leaking its own nudes every day for the past 500 million years before nudity and nude leaks were a thing.

This is earth as an exhibitionist flaunting not only its curves but its vulnerable soul.

This is the earth in centerfold.

It is also a rust rocked landscape that I imagine Martian expats might migrate to. And like Mars, it is barren. Few plants poke up from the land because the minerals of the rocks are toxic to most flora.

Except of course, for the carnivorous purple pitcher plant, which Neil points out to us on the side of the trail.  

Thin stems with downward pointing flowers erupt from jugular leaf basins filled with water and ooey-gooey-bug goop as the plant slowly digests the drowned insect soup.

This is a plant the people of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador are particularly proud of—it is not only their provincial flower, but also their mascot which decorates their license plates, road signs, ferries, and official documents.

It is their logo.

Like them, and like the tuckamores of the black spruces, the flower is another being of resilience and gorgeousness on the Newfoundland landscape the parachuter traveler sees as seeming inhospitableness.

These pitcher plants among the rocks the hue of a lion’s mane are as colorful as the laundry lines we see in communities surrounding the park.

The ones with freshly knitted wool neon socks on sale. Sold literally on the line. Or like the wonderfully polychromatic quilts the island is famous for, the ones ruffling in the sea breeze by the towns of park like Woody Point, Cowhead, and Norris Point.

Quilts, as described in the thesis of Lisa Ann Wilson as “emblematic of the ways in which individuals use creativity to help generate and affirm of both individual and shared senses of identity, meanwhile helping them (older generations) to confront the changes to the culture around them.”

Quilts so colorful and flamboyant and wonderful that it is hard to see them as anything but prideful.

We leave the bright plants to their neverending meal.

We walk through the intense rain until we come to a surging waterfall in the middle of one of the basins of the Tablelands, which, after such a deluge of rain has changed the rock’s color like a chameleon. No longer does the massive mountain emit a Martian orange—now the rocks are maroon, like the Bells in Colorado.

Otherworldly—adjective—Of, relating to, or being part of a reality beyond the observable physical universe.

As we return to the car, I imagine a bluebird summer day on the Tablelands. I imagine the contrast of the robin-egged sky against the soft orange of the dry rocks. The little hush of the stream and the buzz of a fly on its way into the belly of a pitcher plant.

But Neil is on to other seasons, telling us stories of winter when he skins to the top of the bowl of the Tablelands and skis down in wonderful, swishy turns.

This lovely man is telling me he has skied on the mantle of our earth. He is only adding more proof to my argument that our lives are fantasy novels if we let them be.   

Preternatural—adjective—Beyond what is normal or natural.

Photos by Miles W. Griffis