The Weekender: DTLA

Whenever you mention Downtown to a long time Angeleno, they will almost always utter the appointed city-wide dialogue- “you should have seen it years ago”, alluding to a time of dejectionempty buildings, trepidation, and rampant homelessness. While the first two have been largely diminished, little progress has been made in finding solutions for the nearly 58,000 homeless in L.A. county, with up to 2,000 individuals occupying the sidewalks of Downtown’s Skid Row as the rest of the neighborhood rockets to international glory in arts, culture, and cuisine.

Despite its pockets of destitution, the neighborhood is quickly establishing itself as one of Los Angeles’ newest gayborhoods, drawing adventurous creatives, chefs, fashionistas, and other innovators who crave the possibilities of queer renovation. The neighborhood consequentially acts as its very own scruffy middle finger to West Hollywood’s obsession with smooth, clean-cut beauty. DTLA’s spooky, and at times grotesque drag scene, is just a sample of the zeal embedded in the fibers of L.A.’s newest queer neighborhood that leads the resistance with an old school punk rock rebellion flair, but in places, glitters that grit with luxurious opulence.

FRIDAY

Getting Acquainted

5pm- From the 1930s to 1960s, Pershing Square was one of the cruisiest places in Los Angeles with a lineup of gay-friendly establishments called “The Run”. 80 years later, the park joyfully flaunts its queer past in the open with DTLA Proud’s Block Party (a wildly popular festival that 7,000+ and takes place every late August, now in its third year.) Start with a walk from the lively purple and yellow embellished park and stroll Northeast along Hill street to Grand Park. Veer left in the park punctuated by pink chairs and head Northwest to Grand street for sights of the fanciful Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry.

Noms, For Days

7pm- Be delightfully overwhelmed with choice in Grand Central Market for a delicious and approachably priced dinner. The 101-year-old indoor market has an impressive collection of vendors selling exotic groceries, but more importantly, a smattering of brilliantly prepared world cuisines. For a pick me up from the travel day, try PB LA’s Red Eye, a twist on the childhood favorite with espresso peanut butter and dark chocolate raspberry jam. Or, for something more substantial, slurp some legendary Los Angeles ramen at Ramen Hood.

Cocktails

9pm- Bar Mattachine is named after the pioneering Mattachine Society, a brave collection of of souls that began their own gay rights movement in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood in the 1950s. The lounge bar now serves rebelliously innovative drinks like whisky heavy Harry Hay (named after the society’s founder) and always provides experimental entertainment. Upon one visit, go-go boys stood on boxes and silently read fine literature.

Queen Kong

10pm- Make sure to get to Precinct for Friday night’s Queen Kong before the line starts to curl on Broadway. Bring cash for the $7 dollar entry. The weekly show is constantly high energy, diverse, grotesque, and has a staggeringly high shock value rating. Bu of course it does, it’s hosted by the ghoulish Boulet Brothers, creators of the cult hit reality T.V. show “Dragula: Search for the Next Drag Supermonster”. RPDR girls appear regularly for the show with more twisted performances than their fans are accustomed too, but regular performers like drag queens Meatball and Vander Von Odd and boylesque icon Tito Bonito, are the show stealers.

SATURDAY

Flower Power

8am- Today, we rise excited for flowers like Baby’s Breath, Billy’s Balls, Asiatic Lilies and plenty of succulents. The Original Los Angeles Flower Market has been operating since 1921 and is quite naturally located in Downtown’s Flower District. The 55,000 square foot indoor marketplace features a stunning collection of up to fifty vendors with in season floral cuttings from around the world. It’s hard not to smile in such early morning efflorescence. Buy them, smell them, or just walk amongst them.

Urban Adventure

10am- Downtown is full of adventure. Check out Touchstone’s LA Boulders for a fun morning of indoor rock climbing. The 11,500 square foot building contains over 200+ climbing routes for complete beginners to expert climbers and is perfect to experience alone or with friends. The company proudly presents a trans friendly bathroom policy and celebrates Pride all June long.

Mid-Day Noms

12pm- Just around the corner from LA Boulders in the Arts District is the bustling Zinc Cafe. The restaurant, bar, cafe, and market space has a lovely outdoor patio among twisting trees and pleasant fountains: an oasis in the concrete jungle of converted warehouses. Have a lavender lemonade and a hearty of order of brunch chilaquiles.

DTLA’s Take on Beverly Hills

2pm- Spend a few hours shopping in the most audacious shopping center in Downtown, perhaps even Los Angeles. The Row DTLA features over 100 unique stores and 15 restaurants (and a boatload of office space) all housed in the old American Apparel office and manufacturing warehouses. Two stores to look out for: the high fashion French styles of 13 Bonaparte for men, and Galerie.LA which sells sustainable, eco-friendly women’s fashion picked by a Dechel McKillian, a celebrity stylist who’s dressed everyone from Lionel Richie to Nicki Minaj.

Little Tokyo

4pm- On your way to the impressive permanent collection at The Japanese American Museum (or this summer’s exhibit “What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from Iraq & Syria”) stop into Cafe Dulce for a quick snack of their famously celebrated milk-tea lattes and green tea donuts.

Sushi in the Sky

7pm- Ride up 70 floors at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown’s in speedy smart elevators to be greeted by a stunning 360 view of a twinkling Los Angeles. Sora’s intimate two person booths provide an airy view while you pick your favorites sashimi and rolls from a conveyor belt scooting around the restaurant.

DTLA’s Longest Standing Gay Bar

9pm- A bilingual staff and affable clientele welcomes all to Downtown’s oldest Latinx gay bar, The New Jalisco Bar. One Google reviewer has summarized the place on a pin- “A friendly place that might be the only place in the world which has the Blue Demon telenovela in the front and a drag show in the back.”

Late Night Life

Late Night- Downtown hosts many of Los Angeles’ queerest rotating parties. While dates are never set in stone, Saturday is usually the regular night for queer revelry. For a pansexual party paradise infused with disco and late night techno (and plenty of looques) look out for A Club Called Rhonda.

SUNDAY

Modern Art Love Triangles

10am- By now, you’ve seen most of The Broad’s permanent collection Instagramed by your friends who visited the popular modern art museum during their trip to Los Angeles. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see it for yourself. Be sure to grab tickets weeks before visiting online (or, wait in line at least 30 minutes before opening at 10.) Admission is free for the permanent collection, but special collections, like the current Jasper Johns exhibit, typically cost $25, but are well worth it to modern art enthusiasts. With the John’s exhibit, the museum now hosts a small collection each of the three men once in a famous love triangle: Johns, Cy Twombly, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Get Lost in the Stacks

12pm- “What are you waiting for? We won’t be here forever.” Reads The Last Bookstore’s foreboding slogan. While Downtown’s favorite and largest bookstore may not actually be the last bookstore in the world, it may be the last place you’re seen as you wander the stacks of new and used books. Please, be careful, an afternoon here dwindles and the traffic to LAX is never good.

The Snugs

Fancy Pants

Perch above the entire Los Angeles basin in the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown with 360 views of the shimmering Pacific, the Hollywood sign, the Inland Empire, and the lofty San Gabriel mountains from the tallest building west of Chicago. Besides the view from the 70th floor sky lobby, highlights include an incredibly sexy gym, a posh pool, six restaurants, and a 73rd story rooftop bar, but, the affable and obliging staff make the experience a true delight. Rooms from $379 and up.

Goldilocks

The Ace Hotel opened in 2014 in the historic United Artists’ building. Inside the wonderfully gothic exterior the hotel impresses with trendy, minimalist rooms sized from small, to medium terraced, to the grand suite. Of course there is a stunning rooftop pool, bar, and mezzanine, but the real draw is the hotel’s commitment to performance. Find Dublab on Sundays for progressive DJ sets, sporadic Drag Queen shows (like a Lady Bunny Brunch), as well as the historic theatre’s performance by Taylor Mac, a four part performance running every Thursday from this week onward. Rooms starting from $229 and up.

Backpackers

With a diverse set of room layouts from expansive studio suites to shared bunk rooms, The Freehand Hotel welcomes all with true California gusto. Enjoy the bright on-trend decor, a lively rooftop pool, Flowerboy shop, two bars, a cafe, and an eclectic middle-eastern restaurant. A multilingual staff helps accommodate foreign travelers. Shared bunk rooms from $59 and up, with rooms starting at $229.

Women’s Spaces Are Sparse In London, Too

Last weekend, a group of women laid down on the star-studded red carpet at the British Academy Film Awards. A London-based direct action feminist group, Sisters Uncut used the highly visible opportunity to bring attention to their work, fighting domestic, sexual, and state violence toward women, nonbinary, agender and gender variant people. This action was specifically protesting the UK government’s cuts to domestic violence services. Their shirts read “Time’s Up, Theresa,” their mission to bring awareness to Prime Minister May’s lack of action when it comes to providing funding to refuges and survivors of domestic violence.

“We saw that no one was doing anything to highlight what was happening to [domestic violence] services so we decided to do it ourselves,” Sisters Uncut member Emily (last name withheld) tells INTO.

According to the Sisters Uncut website, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in the UK, however 34 specialist domestic violence refuges have been shut down. The Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and Home Office released statistics in 2013 in An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales which reported that “85,000 women are raped on average” and “over 400,00 women are sexually assaulted each year.” “One in five women” have experienced sexual violence “since the age of 16.” Moreover, people of color, migrants, drug users, the LGBTQ community, and those who are economically marginalized are among these statistics as well.

Not unlike the current U.S. administration, a Conservative UK government has cut funding for domestic violence services, mental health trusts, and LGBTQ transitional programs in the past few years. LGBTQ-specific charities were cut up to 50 percent in income.

As a result, DIY and alternative women’s and queer spaces matter more than ever. These spaces combat the resilient setbacks and venture towards a new future for the UK underground where women and nonbinary people can seek refuge, community, and safety. When funding is slashed and rising costs of living are affecting all types of people across the UK, DIY spaces pop up and marginalized voices are brought to the forefront, with everyone feeling a pull to becoming an activist, especially as these spaces also serve as a safe space for people who seek queer or women-run environments.

Sisters Uncut meets every week in accessible venues with two different sisters facilitating the meetings. In 2016 and 2017, the group staged four reclamations of spaces. One of the spaces was a “former women’s prison to highlight the need for services for survivors.” They also hold workshops at local events in various regions. Emily explains that their actions are “always lively and welcoming, lots of music, free food, and childcare.” Sisters Uncut has many different chapters located all overLondon, Birmingham, Bristol, Portsmouth, Liverpool, and Edinburgh which make up hundreds up active members.

“Our meetings last for a couple of hours and we are normally discussing something we are planning to do or something that has happened in our local areas and how we want to respond to it,” Emily tells INTO. “We sometimes have guests visit and tell us about what they are doing or sharing their skills or knowledge with us. We read out our safer spaces policy at the beginning of every meeting, which sets out our expectations for how we behave towards each other within our community.”

For women and nonbinary people, spaces provided by Sisters Uncut and the upcoming Loud Women Festare lifelines. The latter, run by Cassie Fox of the band GUTTFULL, is a gathering that highlights women and gender nonconforming people in punk, pop, and indie music. The group behind the fest also run an online zine, produces live performances around London, and releases records from women musicians. Just like in the U.S. the UK-based music industry, Fox tells INTO, is “a male-dominated space, and the default musician is a male one.”

“Just this week I’ve seen a festival put a call out for ideas for a female artist to fill their final space, ticking a box in a lineup otherwise almost entirely male,” she says. Loud Women is here to amplify their voices as much as they can.

With a focused on safety and inclusion, Sisters Uncut and Loud Women Fest are providing crucial opportunities for cathartic solidarity. DIY or alternative spaces are typically where women are able to seek a space of this value. With lesbian and queer bars vanishing and mostly dominated by gay men in London, women-centric environments are vital for safe spaces. In fact, SHE Soho is the only venue in London that hosts nightly parties with DJs, cabaret, burlesque, and various other social events geared toward queer women.

Like in the States, most women-focused events pop up in mostly alternating spaces, with no permanent home, and not a nightly spot where you can just pop in for a quick drink. Queer nights for women (such as two-year-old gathering BUTCH, PLEASE! and Female Trouble, a new gathering celebrating rotating women-identifying DJs and fierce femmenes) are located in bars or locations that are not always focused on or generally welcoming to women-identifying people.

Moreover, there is a lot of debate that circulates around the idea of what constitutes as a “safe space.” In theory, the phrase promises to ensure that everyone in a venue will not abuse any form of power or harm. However, in reality, it can be difficult to fulfill, even for advocacy groups.

“We recognise that power, privilege and the ability to do harm exist in all of us,” Emily says of Sisters Uncut. “Many of us are LGBTQ+ survivors, and we are committed to transformative justice as a way to make our spaces safer and to address harmful behaviour within our community without seeing each us as disposable.”

Violence against women, nonbinary people, and members of the LGBTQ community remains at large in public spaces and is oftentimes a neglected issue. Discrimination and violence can exist in both public and private spaces. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women brings up an interesting point when discussing their guidelines on how to create a safe space for women.

“In order to be successful, planners and designers must pay attention to how people express themselves in, and interact with, public space,” they write. “In any given day, public spaces are the setting for a myriad of gendered social interactions. As a result of these interactions, public spaces themselves become gendered.”

Of course, this is problematic as it creates a divide, as women should be able to play with men on the same ball field, or attend the same music venue, or walk on the same path without worrying about their safety. They continue that “planning and designing safe public spaces for women and girls also means analysing the various uses of public spaces, who uses them, when, and for how long.”

Another group focused on women and non binary people in the UK is Arts Sisterhood, a grassroots organization that offers art therapy classes in alternative spaces, like the DIY Space for London. Ali Strick founded Arts Sisterhood in 2016 after the direct cuts in funding for mental health services. Artists and psychotherapists teach and supervise the classes where students can find a judgement free space of sharing stories, collaborating through expression, and immersing themselves with one another.

There is research-based evidence that women only spaces reduce the risk of harm for those involved in the space, and for Arts Sisterhood, students in the class are able to exchange information and find solidarity and support with one another. A 2015 study in Sociological Research Online found that women-only spaces reduced anxiety and fears surrounding their safety. According to the research, safe spaces encourage women to explore conflicts. “In such an environment, the conflicting ideas can be more fully, deeply explored, leading to a richer level of engagement, understanding and self-development,” the study says.

Moreover, women don’t have to fear the responsibility of responding to men. The Arts Sisterhood class guidelines include a “quiet area away from the class for those we are anxious,” and other alternatives when creating a space where people will feel vulnerable, sensitive, and possibly overwhelmed. The women-centric space is meant for healing and discussing trauma while working through a creative artistic practice. In order to ensure everyone’s safety, these alternative spaces must acknowledge possible outcomes or setbacks for all individuals involved.

“I’ll hold my hands up and admit I’ve made a couple of really bad bookings in the past – bands who have used our platform to promote harmful or anti-feminist messages, and brought with them unpleasant fans keen on undermining our event,” Fox says. “We’ve got a thankfully small blacklist, and we share information with other promoters we trust.”

Women-centric spaces in London are fiercely opposing any type of violence of discrimination that triggers or affects participants in their space. Their goal is to create a sanctuary of open discussion, free thought, and reinforce healing.

“We create spaces where women and nonbinary people can come together to fight violence, oppression and austerity,” Emily says.”We hold political actions, learning workshops and meetings where people can take action for their own safety and the safety of other people in their community. We also create blogs, videos and toolkits that people can use for free to set up their own activist groups and learn more about the way austerity is affecting survivors of violence in the UK.”

Despite the withering of women-friendly and focused spaces in London, groups like Sisters Uncut are offering opportunities for community and support, something that shouldn’t be so radical yet somehow continues to be.

In 2013, Naomi Wolf wrote a story for The Guardian titled, “Do We Still Need Women Only Spaces??” The answer in 2018: More now than ever.

Images via Getty, Instagram, and Facebook

Should Airbnb Offer An LGBTQ-Friendly Filter To Make Guests Feel More at Home?

The hosts list themselves as Pedro and Brian and they have a dog. But do they have a dog like the apartment has a dog living in it, or do they have a dog like my sister and her wife have a dogaka their starter child? Roommates or roommates? I see that one of them has an undercut and an eyebrow piercing and decide: sure, probably gay. “Request Booking,” please.

Choosing an Airbnb host when I travel is eerily familiar to being two years deep on someone’s Instagram, squinting at selfies, playing “gay or not,” and trying not to double tap. It’s trying to figure out if the hosts themselves are gay and if I’ll be sharing an apartment with others in my community. It’s trying to find a place where I won’t have to lie about my dating history and huge portions of my social and political life to straight and potentially homophobic hosts.

Let’s play a game of “Would you book this host?”

Example one: My hosts in Albania are a heterosexual couple; the husband from Albania, the wife from America. The Albanian man lived in Athens for a while, and the American woman was in the Peace Corps. There’s another American from a coastal city also staying at the house. Safe to talk about my ex-girlfriend, whose family is also Albanian?

Example two: My sister and her wife are looking for a place to stay while my sister is on a business trip located in an area of the country that voted overwhelmly for Trump. The property is a yurt and the hosts speak of international travel and hiking the Appalachian Trail. Safe to book?

In both cases, yes, they were safe. But I had to list all those factors for you first. Wouldn’t it be great if we could skip that?

Here’s what I want: I want a filter on Airbnb that would let me see only hosts that are LGBTQ- friendly. Not necessarily LGBTQ hosts, but ones welcoming to LGBTQ people, so that we didn’t have to wonder if a space would be safe. AirBNB currently has a “family/kid friendly” filter, so this wouldn’t be the first time a filter would exist for the type of guest, in addition to what amenities the guests are looking for. Much like selecting hosts who say they have wifi with an option of either choosing a private room or a whole apartment/house, I want there to be an option for LGBTQ friendliness. Other current filters I can choose for my next trip are: the aforementioned family/kid friendly, elevator, lock on bedroom door, doorman, blackout curtains, pool, free parking on premises, and suitable for pets.

It is reasonable to seek a degree of safety when leaving your comfort zone. That’s why I always check “wifi” and “private room” (as opposed to shared) when I’m booking. Sometimes I will check “private bathroom” if I’m feeling particularly anxious; sometimes “free parking” if I’m also renting a car. In large cities, I only book with “Superhosts” (a multi-variable algorithm, per Airbnb, that takes into account review history, responsiveness, and consistency), and read neighborhood descriptions either on Airbnb or through a cursory Google search. I never book with a male host with zero reviews, or one with zero reviews from women. This is all done mostly on autopilot, much like how I avoid walking down deserted streets after dark, how I hike my purse into my armpit when strolling through a market, and always get my own drinks. (For the record, I do this no matter where I book or live: from a trendy hipster neighborhood of Berlin to small village in rural Romania to a colonial city in Peru. It’s a matter of safety.)

But it’s not just safety that has me wanting this filter on Airbnb. I can, through a series of privileges and some careful fashion decisions, just closet myself again if I’m that worried. It’s annoying to guard my language and, because my life intersects heavily with queer and trans activism and politics, it makes me a less interesting person to talk to, but I can do it. My ex-boyfriend. My sister and her husband. But when I’m traveling, having to go back into a closet I insistently came out of nearly 15 years ago is a stressor I don’t want when I’m on vacation. I want to go the beach, eat tuna steaks next to the ocean, go to my temporary home at the end of the day, and be gay in peace.

Right now? I would say that Airbnb is adequate for this purpose. They currently have a nondiscrimination policy for hosts and guests. Gay travel blogger Adam Groffman says this policy makes him feel like he has “firm legal ground” should a problem arise with a host, based on his sexual identity.

“Of course some hosts might not be fully aware of the full policy, but at least there’s some safety built in,” he tells INTO. “Airbnb has done a lot to show public support for their LGBT hosts and guests,” he continues, noting their Pride sponsorships, LGBT-focused advertising, and nondiscrimination policy.

Yet Airbnb doesn’t see the need for for LGBTQ-specific filters.

“We expect all hosts to be LGBTQ-friendly through the community commitment,” says an Airbnb representative, “and if we are ever notified of a host that violates that commitment, we take appropriate action, including potentially removing the host from the platform.”

Those community standards, as stated on the Airbnb website, include an anti-discrimination policy that reads, in part: “We welcome guests of all backgrounds with authentic hospitality and open minds. Joining Airbnb, as a host or guest, means becoming part of a community of inclusion. Bias, prejudice, racism, and hatred have no place on our platform or in our community. While hosts are required to follow all applicable laws that prohibit discrimination based on such factors as race, religion, national origin, and others listed below, we commit to do more than comply with the minimum requirements established by law.”

The guidelines also specify that hosts may not “decline to rent to a guest based on gender unless the host shares living spaces (for example, bathroom, kitchen, or common areas) with the guest; Impose any different terms or conditions based on gender unless the host shares living spaces with the guest, or post any listing or make any statement that discourages or indicates a preference for or against any guest on account of gender, unless the host shares living spaces with the guest.”

The only mention of sexual orientation, however is where it says hosts cannot decline a guest or impose different terms of conditions or discourage someone of a specific sexual orientation. And indeed there are consequences for hosts who break the nondiscrimination policy. But, like many injustices, these consequences sometimes only exist when you push the issue.

A few years ago, Shadi Petosky, a trans woman who is also the creator of Amazon’s LGBTQ-themed animated series Danger & Eggs, was denied a room due to her gender identity by a host concerned about the hosts’ teenage son. Petosky waited for a year for word from Airbnb about the complaint she filed. Airbnb eventually removed the host for a year, only after Petosky brought public scrutiny and pressure to bear. To give them their due and because I think are doing good work, their nondiscrimination policy now explicitly covers gender identity in its own section.

I don’t actually think there should be a way to sort hosts by identity or orientation in Airbnbchalk it up to paranoia of Makings Lists of LGBTQ People That Also Have Addresses in the current political zeitgeist. I can continue looking for rainbow flags in the back of living room pictures if I want a specifically LGBTQ host, as I’ve become quite good at that particular detective hunt. If I want to meet more LGBTQ people when abroad, there are, as they say, apps for that. (Hi, Grindr!) The reason I am advocating for this specific filterone for friendliness over identityis also for safety purposes

Many Airbnb properties are located in parts of the world with legal or societal taboos against same-sex activity. Places like Cairo, St. Petersburg, Goa, and Kenya72 countries, all told. In 14 of those countries, the potential penalty is death. Airbnb has hosts in nine of them.

To be clear, I’m not calling for Airbnb to stop business in those countriesif multinational companies only worked in countries with a set of LGBTQ protections that I agreed with, they’d go broke and couldn’t work in over half the states in the USAbut I am noting that in those countries, it would be downright dangerous for a host to identify themselves as LGBTQ. “LGBTQ friendly” hosts could also be allies, and actual LGBTQ people could hide their signal in the noise of friendly allies.

Airbnb’s current non-discrimination policy has two sets of rules: those for hosts/guests in the USA and European Union, and those outside those limits. The company acknowledges that there are local legal restrictions that might cause a host to violate their nondiscrimination policy, and urges hosts to make those restrictions clear in the description of the listing. To quote: “In these cases, we do not require hosts to violate local laws, nor to accept guests that could expose the hosts to a real and demonstrable risk of arrest, or physical harm to their persons or property.”

So, no pressure from Airbnb to become a “LGBTQ-friendly” host, should this filter exist, if same-sex activity (definitions vary) is illegal in your country. I actually agree with this compromise, as it protects hosts from getting into legal trouble, and gives them a way to warn guests of potential issues ahead of time. But I only agree with this where there are legal restrictions against same-sex activity, and not just a license to discriminatetwo very different realities, the latter well represented here in the good old US of A.

Another drawback to my proposed filter that should be considered is that there are a lot of identities and presentations wrapped up in “LGBTQ,” and one host’s friendliness to, say, an affluent cisgender white gay couple on their honeymoon might manifest differently with a trans woman of color. We’re not solving that particular stratification of acceptance with a UX filter on a homestay/hotel website. But, much like attending a parade, applying for scholarships, or walking down the street, I’d still pick the one with the rainbow on it, because at least you’ve weeded out people for whom a conversation about your identity might not even be possible.

There are, of course, a panoply of competitors to Airbnb’s cultural monopoly on homestay accommodations. MisterB is the obvious first choice, as they specialize in being essentially Airbnb for gay men. Which is great, if you’re a gay man, and white, like most of the images on their homepage and testimonials.

Another competitor to Airbnb is Innclusive (formerly Noirbnb), which sprang up to be an alternative for POC who were looking to not deal with Airbnb’s well documented issues with racist hosts. Innclusive’s issue lies in market penetration rather than inclusivity, and their hosts outside of USA and Western Europe are more thin on the ground. Groffman says that Booking.com once had an LGBTQ filter once upon a time but it’s gone now. And finally, there are of course the gay guides to many tourist destinations with listings for specific hotels and hostels.

But I travel with Airbnb, and so do a lot of other LGBTQ people. Much like “making everyone switch to Signal” is a nice goal for cyber security experts but “encrypting Facebook Messenger” actually makes a larger change, I would like to improve the existing service that many use, rather than switch to another one with fewer hosts or where I’m also unsure of my welcome because I’m not the desired letter in the LGBTQ acronym.

Airbnb has shown documented ability to recognize services where they could improve and make giant strides. See their recent granularization of accessibility options, for example.

“Previously, travelers with disabilities could only search for homes that were labeled as ‘wheelchair accessible’ when they were searching for an accessible place to stay,” says an Airbnb representative. “You can imagine this left out many definitions for what both hosts and guests deemed ‘accessible.’” Airbnb created “new features [that] allow hosts to designate whether their listings have step-free entry to rooms, entryways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and more.”

As an American, I can already see that option (saved to my account, so I don’t have to check them every time), and they will expand this globally.

So, they can change and grow, and are a company that I do believe has a good heart, inasmuch as capitalism allows any company. Give me the LGBTQ friendly filter, Airbnb. Make my trips safer, more comfortable, and welcoming. In addition to the hovering sword of potential retribution for violating a nondiscrimination policy, add as well the positive side of the coin, and make it easy for welcoming hosts to identify themselves for a LGBTQ person or family. Proactive, not reactive. Help me find my wifi, my blackout curtains, my parking space, my step-free entry, my ability to be myself.

Half of Australians Say Religious People Should Have Right to Deny Services to Gay Weddings

Half of Australians say that individuals should have the right to refuse to officiate same-sex weddings if doing so would conflict with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

After voting closed in a controversial plebiscite on marriage equality, a new survey conducted by Lonergan Research shows that the debate may not end after results are announced. Forty-nine percent of respondents told the Sydney-based market research agency that the law should protect religious entities, service providers, and private individuals who decline to take part in same-sex unions.

Just 35 percent of the 971 people polled believed that entities should be required to provide marriage services to all couples.

The Lonergan survey also hinted that the results of the nonbinding survey on same-sex marriage may be closer than prior tracking on the subject. The most recent Guardian Essential Poll found that 64 percent of Australians who had cast a ballot in the plebiscite voted “Yes.” But 10 percent of those who claim to have voted in favor of legalizing marriage equality tell the Sydney firm that they “misled” others about their ballot.

In contrast, just six percent of those who professed to have voted “No” claim to have lied about their vote.

But “Yes” voters shouldn’t panic just yet: The Lonergan poll came to a similar conclusion about overall support for marriage equality in Australia. Sixty-five percent of respondents say that they cast a ballot in favor of same-sex unions, with just 27 percent voting against the freedom to marry for all couples.

The takeaways from this survey are somewhat mixed. But it isn’t the first poll to suggest that results, set to be announced on Nov. 15, may be more fraught than early reports of an impending “Yes” victory would suggest.

A survey of Twitter posts around Australia’s same-sex marriage plebiscite found that the “No” campaign would prevail in a tight race. The methodologies, which were developed by Griffith University’s Big Data and Smart Analytics Lab, pointed to a victory for Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. election, flying in the face of nearly every other major poll.

Announced in August, the national referendum on marriage equality has resulted in a brutish months-long dispute over LGBTQ rights, one which brought out the most extreme factions of the Australian right.

Literature distributed in Sydney mailboxes referred to homosexuality as the “tragedy of a family, a grave to the family bloodline, a curse of family sonlessness” and claimed that transgender people are sexual predators. Posters reading “stop the fags” claimed that 92 percent of children raised by same-sex couples are abused, stating that they are also likely to be depressed or overweight as a result of their upbringing.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that if the country votes in favor of same-sex unions, legislation to legalize marriage equality will be introduced by Christmas. If the “No” campaign wins a majority of the vote, there will be no change in the law.

‘It Will Pass’: Egypt Set to Enact One of the World’s Most Extreme Anti-LGBTQ Laws

Egypt is set to enact one of the world’s most sweeping and extreme pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation following a harsh crackdown on the local queer community.

On Wednesday, member of parliament Ryad Abdel Sattar introduced a bill that would criminalize homosexuality in the North African nation, where sodomy isn’t prohibited current under law. Being found guilty for engaging in “perverted sexual relations” results in a one- to three-year prison sentence. Any subsequent conviction means five years behind bars.

But the legislation goes much further than that. Similar to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, the bill attempts to totally extinguish LGBTQ life in Egypt.

“Individuals that incite same sex relations even if they don’t perform the act itself, will be punished to prison for a period no less than one year and no more than three years, as well as shutting down the venue,” the bill reads, specifically calling out spaces that “host” or “facilitate” LGBTQ events.

Multiple violations of the law, as in the prohibition against sodomy, entail a five-year sentence.

The law also targets any media, whether audio or video, which is viewed as promoting homosexuality. Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation banned any mention of LGBTQ issues in news, radio, or television broadcasts earlier this month, unless the subject of discussion is repentance for sin. The bill’s ban on media promotion would likely function similarly, blocking any remotely positive mention of queer people.

Anyone found guilty of circulating pro-LGBTQ propaganda will recieve a punishment of up to three years in jail, even if they aren’t queer or transgender.

Lastly, the extremely broad law prohibits Egyptians from carrying “any symbol or sign of the LGBTQ community,” a clear response to the hoisting of a rainbow Pride flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert last month. The legislation also states that it’s illegal to “produce, sell, market, or promote such products.” Any violation results in a prison sentence of between one and three years.

The law was proposed following a series of arrests in Egypt, as police target LGBTQ people in an unprecedented siege on the local community. More than 70 people have been jailed following the Sept. 22 music festival. Many of those detained were straight, and some remain in prison.

LGBTQ activists tell INTO that the legislation, which is likely to go into effect, will only lead to further attacks on queer people.

“The legislation will pass the parliament by a vast majority,” says Hafez, an Egyptian activist based in the United States, in a phone interview. “I don’t think anyone will vote against it. It’s going to be disastrous. It not only targets LGBTQ people, but it also targets people that are allied to the cause and support us.”

“We will be seeing many, many more arrests than we’ve seen before,” he predicts.

What makes the law so unprecedented, Hafez says, is that the legislation is a “hybrid” of many other anti-LGBTQ bills. It acts an addendum strengthening Egypt’s 1961 law on “debauchery,” a once outdated civil code that has recently been used to target sex work, as well as any public behavior the government doesn’t agree with.

The parallels to Russia’s 2013 law on “homosexual propaganda” offer a chilling warning to the LGBTQ community in Egypt.

That law, which prohibits the spread of information on “nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors, has led to an epidemic of hate crimes in the Eurasian country. Since the legislation was enacted by the Duma four years ago, numerous gay men have been kidnapped, beaten, and tortured. Their attackers frequently broadcast the victims’ humiliation on YouTube to publicly shame them.

Egypt’s law is arguably more broad than the Russian legislation.

The severity with which Egyptian authorities are lashing out at LGBTQ people is no accident, Hafez explains. The country’s military dictatorship once relied on the Muslim Brotherhood as a scapegoat, but after the Sunni Islamist group lost political power, they’re no longer a credible patsy.

“The government needs to keep that flame of hatred directed toward a group,” Hafez says. “The easiest target is the LGBTQ community. They’re weak, not organized, and in hidinga lot of people are not out.”

And the government, he adds, can count on immediate support from the conservative public in cracking down on LGBTQ people.

Queer and trans citizens have reportedly been leaving the country in droves following Egypt’s embrace of fundamentalism. The nation is no longer safe for LGBTQ individuals, Hafez says. Many have been changing their Facebook names and unfriending other members of the community in order to avoid being targeted on social media.

“People are terrified,” Hafez claims. “They’re going underground.”

As the campaign against LGBTQ people escalates, advocates are calling on foreign nations to take action. Although Hafez argues that the proposed anti-gay law is a “clear violation” of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, few member countries have challenged the crackdown. French President Emmanuel Macron recently claimed that he refused to “lecture” Egypt on LGBTQ rights.

A failure to oppose the proposed law, Hafez claims, will only allow the spread of violent homophobia in the Arab world.

“Egypt is a very influential country in the region,” he says. “Countries that are identical socially but don’t have anti-LGBTQ lawslike Jordan, Iraq, and Libyawill follow in their footsteps. It will give legitimacy to any crackdown in the region.”

“We need to stand together in this,” Hafez adds. “Today it could be Egypt, and tomorrow it could be somewhere else.”

Photography: Mostafa El Shemy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Pledges Liberalization, Vows Return to ‘Moderate’ Islam

The heir to Saudi Arabia’s throne pledged a return to “moderate” Islam in a Tuesday speech heralded as a harbinger of moderate reforms.

In an address delivered to foreign investors at the Riyadh’s Future Investment Initiative conference, 23-year-old Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to use the power of his position to “destroy extremism” in the conservative nation. Saudi Arabia is ruled by far-right Wahhabism, an ascetic form of Islam in which homosexuality is punishable by death.

“We want to live a normal life,” Mohammed said. “A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness. Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under 30, and honestly we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas.”

The young prince, who won the title over his brother earlier this year, pointed to the country’s extremist turn after 1979, a time of great upheaval in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The year marked Iran’s Islamic Revolution, when the Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown in a revival of religious fundamentalism. The same year Shiite minorities would campaign to oust the ruling monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi was not like this before 1979,” Mohammed said.

Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images

The prince’s pledge to deradicalize the Muslim nation is part of Vision 2030, a sweeping plan to modernize Saudi Arabia’s economy. The country hinted at these reforms in September by issuing a decree allowing women to drive, a policy that will be implemented in 2018. But the Persian Gulf state has a long way to go: Women must still receive the permission of a male relative to travel or to wed.

CNN also questions whether the Saudi Arabia is ready for reform. The news network claims that Mohammed’s speech “ignores opposition from those Saudis who are alarmed by even limited moves toward social liberalization.”

It also remains to be seen how pledges of liberalism will impact the local LGBTQ community, who were not explicitly mentioned in the Tuesday address.

Under Saudi Arabia’s application of Sharia law, being found guilty of same-sex relations is punishable by flogging, chemical castration, and life in prison. Two transgender Pakistanis were reportedly beaten, tortured, and killed after being arrested in Riyadh earlier this year. Eleven of those detained in the same sting operation were slapped with a $1,000 fine.

LGBTQ people may not have long to find out. The current king, Salman, is 82 and said to be in poor health. Mohammed is poised to ascend to the throne after his father’s passing.

How I Found Acceptance in a Straight Jamaican Strip Club

I had to buy board-shorts. While I have a half dozen bathing suits, not a single one of them covers my whole ass. Each Speedo I own is skimpier and gayer than the last. My favorite is bursting with images of flowers and puppies.

But I was going to Jamaica, and I knew I couldn’t flaunt my queerness. I would have to “tone it down,” so to speak. I would have to leave the “Yasss queens,” booty popping, and heels at my New York apartment.

I never imagined I’d be going to Jamaica. Given its consistentatrocious treatment of gay, lesbian, and queer folks, it wasn’t high on my traveling bucket list. In 2006, Time Magazine went as far to call JamaicaThe Most Homophobic Place on Earth. Needless to say, I didn’t want to give my money to a country whose known to commit crimes against LGBTQ folks withlittle to no repercussions from Jamaican authorities.

But my best friend from Boston had moved there to work at a cancer research facility, and it was his 30th birthday. I had to go.

I roped my ex-boyfriend (still my best friend) to go with me. I didn’t want to be the only queer person there. I wanted to have a fellow proudly identifying faggot on my side. More as a favor to me, he promised to join. Beforehand, however, we discussed our reservations.

“I’m just doing so much gay shit these days, I don’t know if I can ‘act straight’ anymore. I’m afraid something I don’t even know what will slip out,” He said.

“Trust me, I know. But we can do this. We acted straight for years before coming out, and you acted a lot longer than me. Besides, we both present traditionally masculine. We’ll be fine,” I replied.

So we went, and for the first time in years, I wore one of those bathing suits with netting that went past my knees.

At first, we fit right in. When I’m around straight people, I tend to act more traditionally “straight” and masculine, simply because that’s how they’re acting. If no one else is snapping and hollering “Werk bitch,” but rather saying, “Nice, man,” then it’s less likely that I’m going to be shouting the former.

But then came the alcohol. And with just two drinks in my system, my more effeminate mannerisms appeared. My wrists went limp, my voice shot up an octave, and my vernacular changed. My “Yassss” just couldn’t be stopped. You wouldn’t need a gaydar to recognize that in my lifetime, I’ve probably had a penis or two in my mouth.

While I knew it was happening, I couldn’t stop it. The more I drank, the worse it got. At first, I was surprised by how unable I was to keep my more stereotypically gay mannerisms in check. I was surprised how second nature they’d become. After attempting to act straight for many years, I thought the ability to conceal to lie would come back instantly. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

But then, drunkenly, I saw the beauty in that truth. I am out. I am queer. I’ve felt comfortable being myself now for so long that I can’t recloset myself, even if just for a short period of time. There’s something powerful and uplifting in how much I’ve learned to accept and be my true self.

While undoubtedly an enlightening realization, it was a very unhelpful one at the present moment. I needed to be acting straighter, and I simply couldn’t. I was getting looks, and not the good kind. I was getting the “What the fuck is this cocksucker doing here?” kind.

So I stopped dancing and only spoke to the guys I came there with. I didn’t want to stir the pot any more than I already had. After partying for a few hours, the boys wanted to end the night at a (straight) strip club. Off to Scrub a Dub we went.

The moment we entered, we saw topless women shaking their best assets in a large metal cage eerily reminiscent of the Thunderdome. They were dancing to pop and hip hop songs from the mid-2000’s (think T.I. and Akon).

Well, I simply had no choice. I started dancing. Dropping my ass low. Snapping my fingers. Shimmying like you wouldn’t believe. Seeing how much fun I was having, the strippers came off stage. They started grinding up on me, and then I started grinding up on them. I took off my shirt. The strippers invited me into the Thunderdome to dance, which, obviously, I did. Dancing my heart out for strippers and a bunch of older straight Jamaican men. I whipped out all the moves I learned from go-go dancing in Provincetown the summer before.

When I exited the Thunderdome, a stripper called me over. She mentioned how nice it was having “someone like me” in the club. Someone who dances, has fun, and is clearly “different from the other guys.”

Without saying it, she said it.

You’re not straight, but you’re welcome here.

There was a sense of safety and community I felt among the strippers in Jamaica. Our similarities far outweighed our differences. We’re both stigmatized for aspects of our sexuality. We’re both at high risk for violence. We both can’t go around flaunting who we are or what we do.

This led to an unconditional acceptance and understanding almost immediately. Even though I’m a man, and they’re women. Even though I’m queer and they’re straight. Even though our lives are seemingly nothing alike, we still found common ground.

So it was there, in the most unlikely of places, dancing shirtless with straight strippers in a Thunderdome, that I found acceptance in one of the most homophobic places on Earth.

 

Egypt’s Anti-LGBTQ Crackdown Continues: At Least 57 People Have Been Arrested by Police

The number of people arrested in Egypt following an unprecedented crackdown on the LGBTQ community continues to skyrocket: Reports state that authorities have apprehended at least 57 individuals.

Twenty-two of these arrests have taken place within the last three days, according to the independent news outlet Egyptian Streets.

The siege on LGBTQ life in the North African country ignited in response to a Mashrou’ Leila concert held last month in Cairo’s Music Park in Festival City. Several fans of the Lebanese music group, whose lead singer is openly gay, hoisted a Pride flag at a Sept. 22 show in support of the LGBTQ community. Police used photos posted on social media and security footage to identify those holding the rainbow banner.

Nine individuals arrested following the concert have been sentenced to prison, as Gay Star News reports. The sentences handed down range between one and six years.

Egypt is one of the more than 70 countries where homosexuality remains illegal, and even pro-LGBTQ displays are targeted by authorities. The detainees are currently being charged with “incitement to debauchery,” a 1961 law that police use to criminalize any activity they don’t like. At least 35 people will face prosecution under the debauchery law, including two straight Egyptians.

The defendants have allegedly been subjected to anal examinations during their arrest, a practice which has been condemned by the United Nations and World Health Organization as torture.

Egypt has responded to the police raids by banning media from expressing support for the LGBTQ community.

The Tragedy Surrounding Jamaica’s ‘Face of Pride’

On August 31, 2017, Jamaican authorities found the body of 35 year old man in his home in Kingston who had suffered numerous stab wounds and his body had begun to decompose after numerous days. His name was Dexter Pottinger and he was the 2016 “Face of Pride” for the Jamaican Forum for Gays, All-Sexuals and Gays.

At the time, J-FLAG had bestowed the honor onto him for his “his courage, sense of self, drive, relationship with his family and friends, and pride in being Jamaican and in being a gay man.” Dexter Pottinger rose to prominence in Jamaica over the past few years as model and fashion designer for numerous custom lines, including the well known “3D” line.

And it was seems due to his visibility that his life was cute short.

Maurice Tomlinson, a prominent gay lawyer and activist in Jamaica who met Dexter at a fashion show years ago, spoke with INTO about the importance of Dexter’s role as the Face of Pride, “It was the first time we’d actually seen somebody willing to put their face out there as a member of LGBT community as a recognizable icon and just really catapulted his advocacy.”

The culture of homophobia and transphobia is not only historic or cultural to the island, but it is also incorporated into its legal framework. Stemming from the British colonization of Jamaica from 1707 to 1962, anti-sodomy laws were handed down to Jamaica from Britain and still exist to today.

Although rarely enforced according to many, Maurice Tomlinson stated in a 2012 Guardian piece that the Jamaica police instead use the 1863 law “for extortion” against LGBTQ people in Jamaica. In addition, he attributed much of the island’s homophobia to the religious and financial influence of Evangelical Christians.

Today, the culture of violence towards LGBTQ people in Jamaica is apparent in many ways.

A 2006 Time Magazine article titled Jamaica “the most homophobic place on Earth. The 2014 Vice documentary explores the lives of LGBTQA Jamaicans that are forced to live in sewage systems or “gullies” once they are run away from their neighborhoods. Homophobia has become such a commonplace in certain artists’ music that it has been coined “murder music”.

The apathy by many Jamaicans towards violence against the LGBTQA community has been the most resounding response to Dexter Pottinger’s death. On the night of Dexter’s murder, Wednesday, August 30th, according to a September 4th letter to the Jamaican Gleaner, “neighbours heard cries for help and screams of “murder” in the middle of the night and did nothing”.

Many argue that the alleged silence of Dexter’s neighbors is a result of Jamaica’s 19% increased murder rate in January to June 2017 compared to the same period of time in 2016. In June 2017 alone, an average of seven murders occurred a day in Jamaica.

Maurice Tomlinson argued otherwise while speaking with INTO, “The major problem that we have with the way that Dexter’s murder was treated is the fact that his neighbors who heard him scream for help and ‘murder’ at three am in the morning and also saw someone putting stuff in the car and driving away at that time – did not respond. Yet the same people called parties on Dexter when he had parties at his home with members of the LGBT community.

“It’s the total indifference to our lives as LGBT members of society. “

Shortly after Dexter’s murder, Jamaican authorities apprehended Romario Brown for the murder of Dexter Pettinger after the murder weapon and a television stolen from Dexter’s home were found at Romario’s property. On September 30th, he was denied bail in the case of Dexter’s murder. His case is reported to continue on November 9, 2017.

When asked how members of the Jamaican LGBT community would be moving forward, Maurice Tomlinson stated that Montego Bay Pride, which is set for October 12 t0 15, 2015, will continue, “We refuse to be intimidated by this. This has empowered and encouraged us to be more visible. Many of us see this as the line in the sand.”

“We are going to claim our space because we believe that it’s because they don’t know who we are that they were able to treat his murder with such callousness.”

Dubai Police Are Targeting Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People for ‘Dressing Like Women’

A human rights organization is calling on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to stop persecuting trans and gender-nonconforming people under a law prohibiting cross-dressing.

The arrest of two Singaporean nationals in August sparked international outcry after they were detained and sentenced to a year in prison without legal representation. Muhammed Fadli Abdul Rahman and Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, who had traveled to the Arab country for a photoshoot, were reportedly apprehended by police for “looking feminine.” Rahman, 27, is a fashion photographer, and Ibrahim, 37, works as a model.

Rahman’s family has challenged authorities’ claim that he violated the local law against men dressing as women. They told media that he was wearing a white shirt, a tie, and earrings at the time of his arrest. Ibrahim, a transgender woman, is identified as a male in her identification.

Human Rights Watch, who condemned their treatment in a Thursday press release, argues that their arrest was a misapplication of the decade-old cross-dressing law.

“It’s bad enough that the UAE is arresting people solely on the basis of hairstyles and accessories, which the police rely on to make wild guesses about people’s gender identities,” says Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s Middle East and North Africa director, in a statement. “Worse, the authorities are going far beyond the letter of the law, which only applies to spaces designated for womennot shopping malls.”

As written, Article 359 of the country’s penal code would prohibit a man wearing a burka in order to gain access to a women’s-only park. That incident actually happened in the town of Sharjah in 2012. The peeping tom was exposed when women gathered in the segregated space spotted his mustache.

But the issue of trans and gender nonconforming people being targeted under the cross-dressing code is an old one.

Just days after the UAE banned cross-dressing in July 2008, 40 tourists were reportedly arrested in Dubai after locals complained about the presence of “transvestites” in shopping centers. General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim claimed at the time that their appearance was “against the UAE’s traditions and social values.”

Two tourists were fined the equivalent of $2,700 U.S. dollars for wearing dresses to a nightclub in 2014. Although the defendants were identified as “men” in local reports, media state that the pair were taking feminizing hormones.

Rahman and Ibrahim personally attest to the routine persecution of LGBTQ people. Following their imprisonment, the two were detained in a cell for “effeminate” inmates. Their fellow prisoners included a transgender woman who was arrested while wearing men’s clothing; police claimed that the problem was her “long hair.” Two detainees were waiting in line at a movie theater while they were accosted by police due to their gender presentation.

After their case gained media attention around the world, friends and family for the defendants raised more than $18,000 to fund their successful appeal. Rahman and Ibrahim’s sentence was lowered to a fine and deportation back to Singapore, which took place on August 28. Many others won’t be as lucky.

Despite its cosmopolitan image, homosexuality and premarital sex are illegal in Dubai. There have also been several arrests in recent years for kissing in public.