Tag Archives: gay rights

It’s Not Every Day That a Federal Judge Pens a Tribute to a Transgender Teen

Mother Jones

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Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender boy from Virginia, has had a rough few months. He’s suing for access to the boys’ bathroom at his high school, and in March the Supreme Court announced that it was kicking this landmark transgender rights case back to a federal appeals court.

Today, that appeals court rejected his request to expedite his case, which means it won’t be heard until after he graduates. But along with today’s order, Judge Andre Davis of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals penned a remarkable, must-read tribute to the teen, calling him a “brave individual” and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King:

Our country has a long and ignominious history of discriminating against our most vulnerable and powerless. We have an equally long history, however, of brave individuals—Dred Scott, Fred Korematsu, Linda Brown, Mildred and Richard Loving, Edie Windsor, and Jim Obergefell, to name just a few—who refused to accept quietly the injustices that were perpetuated against them. It is unsurprising, of course, that the burden of confronting and remedying injustice falls on the shoulders of the oppressed. These individuals looked to the federal courts to vindicate their claims to human dignity, but as the names listed above make clear, the judiciary’s response has been decidedly mixed. Today, G.G. adds his name to the list of plaintiffs whose struggle for justice has been delayed and rebuffed; as Dr. King reminded us, however, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” G.G.’s journey is delayed but not finished.

The tribute ends with a footnote of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. Read the whole thing here.

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It’s Not Every Day That a Federal Judge Pens a Tribute to a Transgender Teen

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North Carolina Republicans Try to Block Transgender People From Bathrooms—Again

Mother Jones

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have filed a bill that could make it more difficult for transgender people to use the bathroom by imposing stiff penalties on anyone convicted of “trespassing” in a restroom.

House Bill 562, co-sponsored by state Rep. Brenden Jones, was filed on Tuesday, shortly after the NCAA announced that it was lifting its boycott of North Carolina because the state’s Legislature partially repealed a law that had required people to use bathrooms consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth.

The text of the new bill does not mention transgender people or even refer to a person’s sex. Instead, it states that entering or remaining in a bathroom “without authorization” after being asked to leave by the owner of the facility, a manager, or anyone else in the room will be considered trespassing. “My bill will do two things,” Jones wrote in a Facebook post last Thursday. “First, it will specifically state it is a second degree trespass for entering the restroom or changing room of the opposite sex; secondly, it would enhance the punishment from what is now, a class 3 misdemeanor punishable up to only 10 days, to a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable up to 120 days in jail.” Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

Requiring “authorization” to be in a bathroom could be particularly harmful for transgender people, says Cathryn Oakley of Human Rights Campaign, a gay and transgender rights advocacy group. By Oakley’s reading of the bill, a trans male college student could be prosecuted for trespass if he uses the men’s room on his campus after being asked to leave by another student in the room.

Last week, the state Legislature replaced House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, with a new law that LGBT groups have described as “HB2.0” because it opens the door for these types of restrictive regulations. The replacement law prevents cities, schools, and localities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances for trans people in bathrooms, preventing any local guarantees that trans people can use facilities consistent with their gender identity. “There’s no backstop to prevent further anti-LGBTQ legislation from being introduced, debated, and potentially passed,” Oakley says. “The North Carolina General Assembly is not going to stop going after transgender people.”

The latest bill, says Democratic Rep. Deb Butler, appears to be a direct response to the recent replacement of the original bathroom bill. “A faction of the Republican Party here in North Carolina is angry that HB2 was repealed,” she says. “They wanted it, they liked it just the way it was. This is, I am sure, their attempt to thumb their nose at the compromise.” Butler says the new bill will likely be introduced to the Legislature on Wednesday and assigned to a committee. “The lunacy persists.” A companion bill has been filed in the state Senate.

Jones voted in favor of the HB2 replacement last week. Jones wrote on Facebook after the vote that “our children will not be forced to share bathrooms with those of the opposite sex…I will never waiver on this vital issue of privacy.” Police officers and other experts note that there is no evidence that sexual predators are taking advantage of legal protections for transgender people in public restrooms.

Update, 10:30 p.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper has come out against the trespassing bill. “The Governor is not supportive of efforts such as these as he believes we ought to be working to expand statewide protections for LGBT North Carolinians,” Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, said in a statement.

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North Carolina Republicans Try to Block Transgender People From Bathrooms—Again

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Trump Just Made Life Harder for Transgender Students

Mother Jones

On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s administration rescinded Obama era guidance directing schools to treat transgender students according to their gender identity.

While the most talked about part of Obama’s rules allowed students to use the bathroom that aligned best with their identity, the guidance also explained teachers should use students’ chosen name and pronoun and recommended steps to limit access to and amend transgender students’ school records. The move, which comes in a joint letter from the departments of justice and education, rescinds all such protections.

“This is the administration saying very clearly to anti-trans bullies…’These students are not worthy of protection….and we are not going to enforce the law,'” says Mara Keisling, the head of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The letter claims rescinding the standing rules “does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment,” and emphasizes that schools are responsible for ensuring all students “are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.” But unlike Obama’s directive, which specified that a hostile environment could, for example, be established by failing to recognize students gender identity, the Trump administration’s letter gives no such guidance. That nod to bullying and harassment was reportedly added at the urging of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who, according to the New York Times, expressed discomfort at rescinding the guidance. When asked Wednesday about infighting between DeVos and Attorney General Sessions, who pushed strongly to rescind the guidance and who has long history of opposing LGBTQ rights, the administration maintained DeVos supports the move “100 percent.”

Without federal policies, transgender students’ rights will be inconsistent state to state and even between school districts and individual schools. In a statement released shortly after the letter, DeVos argued this “is an issue best solved at the state and local level…Schools, communities, and families can find—and in many cases have found—solutions that protect all students.”

“No child in America should have their rights subject to their zip code,” said Eliza Byard Executive Director of GLSEN, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making schools safe for LGBTQ students.

The Obama administration developed the guidance after the Education Department received questions from educators, administrators, parents, and students about how Title IX, a law which bans sex discrimination in educational programs and schools receiving federal assistance, protects transgender students. Bathroom access proved to be controversial, but it was seen as a key step towards compliance with the law by department officials.

“Students in kindergarten, elementary school classes are made to line up by boys and girls to go to the bathroom,” said Catherine Lhamon, a former assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education who helped develop the guidance. “Transgender students had to face a choice everyday about which line to get in and answering questions from their peers about why they’re in one line versus another, and that causes harm and humiliation to a student to have to explain.”

Private bathrooms can also invite questions from other students, be far from classes, or require an adult to unlock them, which can make students late for class.

“There were physical consequences to students of having to go through extra barriers just to be able to relieve themselves at school,” she says. “There were psychological consequences to students from having to explain who they are inside everyday to other students rather than just being able to be who they are.”

The Trump administration’s decision to roll back the protections comes just weeks before the Supreme Court is set to hear its first transgender rights case. Virginia high schooler Gavin Grimm sued his school board after it adopted a policy barring him from the men’s bathroom. At the center of the case: the question of whether Title IX protections apply to transgender students.

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Trump Just Made Life Harder for Transgender Students

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Here Are the Very Best Signs From New York City’s Big LGBT Solidarity March

Mother Jones

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Emptying out from brunch spots wielding wickedly pointed signs, and chanting, “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” thousands of anti-Trump demonstrators from the LGBT community met for a rally on hallowed turf on Saturday afternoon: the plaza outside the Stonewall nightclub in New York City’s West Village—recently designated by the Obama administration as a National Monument for its historic role in the long fight for gay rights.

Eugene Lovendusky, 31, works in not-for-profit financing in New York City. James West

Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader, received a mixed reception when he appeared in front of the microphone. “Grow some balls!” several people shouted. “Block everything!”—a reference to the ground-swell of progressive voters demanding Schumer lead Senate Democrats in styming President Trump’s agenda and appointments. (Protesters also gathered on Tuesday night outside the minority leader’s Brooklyn apartment.)

Schumer’s pledge to block Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for education secretary—”She can take her conversion therapy back to Michigan!”—was, on the other hand, met with cheers and applause.

James West

But it was clear from talking to multiple people in the LGBT community and their allies on this chilly but sunny Saturday that battle-lines have been drawn: many felt there could be no compromise with the Trump administration.

“It’s time to stop giving in,” said Alan Brodherson, a 52-year-old attorney. “Over the years, that’s what the Democrats have consistently done.”

“I don’t believe in complacency,” he said. “Be vigilant.”

Taylor James, a 29-year-old Canadian dancer and photographer who now lives in Los Angeles, was also impressed by the renewed sense of purpose amongst protesters. “It’s inspiring. In 50 years, in 40 years, I’ll look back to see how I stood up,” he said. “It feels very personal.”

Trump, he said, “forces us to show up.”

Taylor James, 29: “When you’re a liberal, you’re fighting to get to ground zero.”

Most people I spoke to said they turned up to show solidarity with the immigrants and refugees targeted by President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, along with suspending America’s refugee program. (The Trump administration suffered a set-back on Friday night when Judge James Robart of Federal District Court in Seattle issued an order temporarily blocking Trump’s executive action.)

Jaimie McGovern, 29, showed up simply because “the LGBT community is across every spectrum. We’re Muslim, we’re Hispanic.” She surveyed the turnout: “This is fantastic.”

Marissa Nargi, left, and Jaimie McGovern, both students, turned out to show their support for immigrants and refugees. James West

“We’re not going to stand by while Trump takes away rights one by one,” said IT worker David Vazquez, 31. “It seems like every day he comes out with something new. We need to keep from being discouraged.”

Mike Hisey, dressed as Kellyanne Conway with a blond wig and an outfit that evoked her now-famous inauguration getup, stood outside Stonewall itself, attracting a constant stream of requests for photographs with a deadpan face. “Protesting and march works,” he said.

“I’ve been protesting for 30 years.”

Mike Hisey, a.k.a. “Alt-Fact Kelly,” outside Stonewall nightclub in Manhattan’s West Village. James West


Here Are the Very Best Signs From New York City’s Big LGBT Solidarity March

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How the LGBT Community Can Fight Back Against Trump

Mother Jones

After every major LGBT rights group in America campaigned in support of Donald Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton, it came as little surprise that Trump won just 14 percent of the LGBT vote on November 8. Yet, one of Trump’s most vocal and controversial cheerleaders has been a gay man, political provocateur and Breibart News writer Milo Yiannopolous. Yiannopolous—who has penned columns such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “The Conservative Father’s Guide to Cutting Off Activist Children”—repeatedly made headlines last year for his inflammatory rhetoric. At his gays-for-Trump event at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer, Yiannopolous argued the Democratic Party was “nannying us about transgender pronouns” while “pandering to an ideology that wants me dead”—his take on Islam as an anti-gay religion. He declared Trump “the most pro-gay candidate in American electoral history,” arguing Trump would be great for gay people.

Last July, Yiannopolous was banned from Twitter after inciting his followers to make racist attacks against black actress Leslie Jones. More recently, he mocked a transgender student at a college campus where he was giving a speech. Stops on Yiannopolous’ campus tour have regularly been met with protests and calls for university administrations to cancel his appearances.

When gay magazine Out put Yiannopolous on its cover last summer, the backlash was fierce and swift—especially from LGBT people of color, who recognized all too well the dangers of “normalizing” champions of bigotry.

So how should queer folk react to Yiannopolous’ hatred, and what can we do to combat it? I talked to Preston Mitchum, an LGBT rights and racial justice advocate, to find out. Mitchum—whose writing has appeared in The Atlantic, the Huffington Post, Ebony, and more—is also a policy analyst at the Center for Health and Gender Equity and a legal research professor at Georgetown University.

What follows is our conversation about racism and sexism in the LGBT community, and what queer solidarity looks like in the face of hatred.

Mother Jones: Milo is an admitted troll, and his rhetoric is over-the-top. Should we even take him seriously?

Preston Mitchum: Queer people of color have always taken those kinds of hateful ideas—and the actions that flow therefrom—seriously. Bias is not new to the LGBT community. Our community is racist, sexist, and transphobic. But Milo feels different because of the extreme nature of his statements. His views aren’t common. But he is setting the stage for what vitriol can look like in the community if left unchecked.

Preston Mitchum

MJ: Queer folk—even white ones—are marginalized too. Why would some be receptive to ideas like Milo’s?

PM: Racism, sexism, and transphobia are foundational to this country. Queer people didn’t invent them, but we can’t separate them from the LGBT community. We internalize what we see every day. I think about people like Ben Carson, who pushes ideas that have been popularized by racists. We also learn from our experiences. So Milo being a gay man does not mean that he’s going to believe everything that I believe, because I am a black man who experiences racism and homophobia at the same time. Milo doesn’t have that experience. Part of fixing this is to first recognize that we are predisposed to discrimination and then intentionally work to undo what we have been taught about racism and misogyny.

MJ: A lot of people don’t get that.

PM: They don’t. They might understand what their own oppression looks like as a white gay man, but systemically that looks different for someone who is a woman and black and gay. People who are part of multiple marginalized communities face harsher treatment just because of their intersections. Many people don’t understand privilege. What’s worse is they don’t recognize that they contribute to other queer people’s oppression, either. The same goes for a lot of mainstream white-led LGBT organizations.

MJ: Talk about that.

PM: Mainstream white individuals and white-led organizations are oftentimes the ones who sweep statements like Milo’s under the rug. A lot of it has to do with responding to donors’ demands. If your donors are sending you money to advocate for marriage equality, that’s what you’re going to do. But there are other communities who also need the support of those groups but who have been made invisible because they don’t have the money to give them to focus on their needs. It’s incumbent on those organizations who say they care about all LGBT people to find it within their capacity to still do work on behalf of black and brown LGBT people even if they’re not paying for it. That’s what solidarity looks like.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a more concerted effort to address certain racism, certain violence against black trans people—mainly black trans women. But I’m ready to see what that can look like big picture. What does it look like to have a black trans person on your board? What does it look like when you are actually starting something separate for black trans people in your organization? That is what I have yet to see.

At the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was led immediately by black queer and trans folk, you didn’t hear much from many white-led LGBT organizations, which was frustrating because a lot of the immediate leaders of the movement were black queer and trans people. And earlier than that, when there was a campaign to repeal DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, many white-led orgs sought the support of the NAACP. But when the crux of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court that same year, there was silence from those same groups. I talked to people in LGBT organizations who were immediately defensive when that critique was brought to their attention. We have to be willing to have these conversations about racism that require us to be critiqued.

MJ: Why are those conversations difficult to have?

PM: Part of the problem is that progressives are so focused on unifying against conservatives. Unity is good, but it often silences more marginalized groups. We have to be honest about what’s happening within our own community if we want to push back against Trump. It’s easy to point out people who don’t identify as you and say, “You’re the bad person here.” It’s more difficult to look within our own community and say, “We identify and have some common ground, but there’s something about you that I know is vehemently opposed to me.”

MJ: How has this bias been manifest within the LGBT community historically?

PM: It’s hard to say. LGBT people have vocally been discussed only for the past 40 years. But even in that, the way we talk about our history is racist. Only in the past couple years have we started to mention some of the black and Puerto Rican trans women who were really at the start of Stonewall. Or acknowledge people like Bayard Rustin, who was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington. We know that is the whitewashing of history. LGBT history is no different.

MJ: How are queer people of color pushing back on that exclusion—and how can the larger community root out the bias that drives that exclusion?

PM: Black Youth Project 100—which I’m a part of—has been challenging that erasure of black queer and trans folk for the past two and a half to three years, and making sure that people who are marginalized within the LGBT community are centered and that work is done to organize around their needs. There are others doing this work. But there are things that everyone can do—and that many people have been doing. One is to come prepared with information to push back on racist and sexist rhetoric. Social media is a huge way people have been doing that. Black and brown people also need to be very blunt about how oppression treats us as queer and trans folk.

One of the things that I always want to discuss is believing the experiences of people of color. We often aren’t believed until a white person confirms our stories. I would also encourage people to donate money to organizations that do this work. That’s what people can do to help fix the problem.

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How the LGBT Community Can Fight Back Against Trump

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North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill Is Still on the Books Because Republicans Pulled a Bait and Switch

Mother Jones

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In a surprising move, North Carolina lawmakers ended a special session on Wednesday without repealing House Bill 2, one of the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBT laws. The decision to leave the “bathroom bill” on the books came as a shock after Governor-elect Roy Cooper announced earlier in the week that leaders in the Republican-majority Legislature had promised to get rid of it. It seemed like a done deal, but on Wednesday the state Senate opted against a repeal, while the House adjourned without voting, leaving the law intact. “The Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina,” Cooper told reporters.

But why, and what went wrong?

To understand the drama in North Carolina, you need to first understand why Republicans had initially agreed to repeal HB2—which blocks transgender people from bathrooms of their choice and leaves other people open to discrimination. Republican leaders in the Legislature supported the law but told Cooper they’d get rid of it in exchange for something else: Charlotte, the state’s biggest city, had to nix a local nondiscrimination ordinance that protected LGBT people in the city. (Charlotte’s ordinance was a main reason why Republicans had wanted to pass HB2 in the first place, because, among other things, HB2 prohibited other cities from creating similar nondiscrimination ordinances.) With the offer on the table, Charlotte took the next step. After getting a call from Cooper, the Charlotte City Council on Monday voted to repeal key parts of its ordinance, and then Republican Gov. Pat McCrory—a passionate supporter of HB2—called for a special session of the Legislature to do away with the controversial law.

Problems quickly arose. On Tuesday, Republican leaders accused the Charlotte City Council of acting in bad faith by keeping parts of its nondiscrimination ordinance in place—the council had only gotten rid of the section dealing with LGBT protections in public accommodations and bathrooms, not the sections that prevented discrimination by city contractors or taxi drivers. “I think the city of Charlotte has been as disingenuous as anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Republican state Sen. Harry Brown, according to the Charlotte Observer. Charlotte’s city attorney said council members thought they’d done enough by addressing the issues around the public accommodations in HB2, but GOP leaders were not appeased.

On Wednesday morning, hours before the Legislature was set to meet for its special session, the Charlotte City Council called a rare emergency meeting and repealed the rest of its ordinance—effective immediately. When the special session began, however, Democrats did not get what they had hoped. A Republican leader in the Senate introduced a bill that would repeal HB2 in part but would still temporarily ban cities like Charlotte from creating nondiscrimination ordinances to protect LGBT people. LGBT rights groups were outraged—the National Center for Transgender Equality called the Republican proposal “unacceptable” and referred to the Legislature as a “national disgrace.” Cooper urged Democrats not to support the proposal, and in the end it didn’t get enough votes in the Senate. The House adjourned without voting on the repeal, leaving HB2 on the books.

Protesters immediately gathered outside the Senate chamber shouting “Shame!”

“Today the Legislature had a chance to do the right thing for North Carolina, and they failed,” Governor-elect Cooper told reporters. “I’m disappointed for the people of North Carolina—for the jobs that people won’t have,” he said, referring to the companies that have protested the law by scaling back business in the state. “I’m disappointed that we have yet to remove the stain on the reputation of our great state.” North Carolina has lost millions of dollars in revenue because of the law—companies like PayPal and Deutsche Bank decided not to expand operations in the state, musicians like Bruce Springsteen canceled performances in protest, and the NCAA pulled its championships from the state.

The city of Charlotte did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement the city council pledged that its “commitment to maintaining and protecting diverse and inclusive communities remains unchanged.” Meanwhile, a majority of North Carolinians remain opposed to HB2, according to Public Policy Polling. The Rev. William J. Barber II, a progressive leader in North Carolina and president of the state’s NAACP, said Thursday he would ask the national NAACP to call for an economic boycott of the state. And though Republicans in the Legislature seem dead set on fighting Cooper, the governor-elect vowed to keep pushing for a full repeal of the law: “This was our best chance,” he said. “It cannot be our last chance.”

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North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill Is Still on the Books Because Republicans Pulled a Bait and Switch

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“Moonlight” Is a Rare and Beautiful New Film About Growing Up Black and Gay

Mother Jones

The forthcoming film Moonlight, out October 21, is at once particular in its perspective and universally relatable. Set in Miami in the late 1980s and ’90s, the film chronicles the coming-of-age of a gay black boy—Chiron (“shy-rone”)—as he struggles with his sexuality, peer pressure, and a drug-addicted single mother. Over the course of the film, he is taken under the wing of a sympathetic local drug kingpin (Mahershala Ali), and he finds, loses, and finally reconnects with his first love, Kevin. The action unfolds in three acts—each one a different stage in the life of Chiron, whose conflicted teenage persona is captured beautifully by Ashton Sanders. Overall, the film is a moving reflection on black masculinity and human vulnerability.

Moonlight—directed by the rising filmmaker Barry Jenkins—was a breakout hit at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and is already the subject of Oscar talk. But that should come as no surprise. It is based on In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, a former international resident at London’s Royal Shakespeare Company, a 2013 recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship, and winner of numerous other accolades for plays highlighting the diversity of the African American experience. I caught up with McCraney to talk about his own coming of age and why it’s so important to tell stories about queer black identity. Watch the trailer, and then we’ll talk.

Mother Jones: Let’s start by talking about your own childhood and how that informed the play and the movie. Do you relate to Chiron?

Tarell McCraney: Yes. The movie is set in the neighborhood where I grew up. My family still lives there. A lot of what we depicted in the movie is what I saw on a daily basis. The process of growing into your own person is a pretty universal thread. I don’t know if one can write characters you don’t relate to.

MJ: I came out as bisexual in February. Even though I knew I liked boys in middle school, I didn’t apply that term to myself until my junior year in college, two years ago. In part, that had to do with the fact that people would call me gay or feminine, and it was always a word they used to hit me with. I think it was because I had to reject that label growing up that it took me so long to see myself in that space, and begin to identify with the community. So I could also relate to Chiron.

TM: That’s pressing. The film is that story of whether or not you were even allowed space to figure out for yourself.

MJ: How old were you when you knew you were gay, and were you allowed that space at home?

TM: I always knew. And there was no need for me to come out—I was out! Whenever I was bullied, it was understood why. I never hid—it more so made me feel like there was something in me that was not wanted, which is different from hiding. I can’t hide it because everybody can see it. But no is the answer—which is why this work is necessary.

Tarell McCraney

MJ: Would you say it’s harder to come out in the hood than in other places?

TM: It varies by person, the journey of coming out. It’s important for us to note that on all levels, in all parts of society, some people are able to be their full selves regardless. There were gay people in Liberty City when I was a kid. People we knew were gay, whom our parents talked to and talked about. There were people who cross-dressed. There were people who were transgender—I’m talking about the ’80s. That has always been a part of our community. Maybe people didn’t want to tell everybody that was a part of our community. But to say it’s harder to come out in the hood is not true. There’s bias everywhere.

MJ: Let’s talk about the movie. You’ve acted in and written a lot of plays. What was it like to see your work on the big screen?

TM: It was really exciting to see. It’s such a beautiful film. Those performances are earth-shatteringly good. I didn’t know you could find a young actor with that kind of power. The script was actually written in 2004, right before I went to grad school. I’ve always tried to have conversations about the difficulty in becoming one’s full self, and choosing one’s path, and what that means.

MJ: Are there any major plot points where the movie deviates from the play?

TM: There are no huge plot turns. But there are some, because it’s Barry’s movie just as much as it is mine.

MJ: In the first chapter, Chiron is looked out for by this drug dealer. In the hood, the hypermasculine gangster archetype seems like the antithesis of gayness. Rap music will tell you that. Why did this dealer feel compelled to take in this gay kid and make him feel comfortable with himself?

TM: What did you think?

MJ: I assumed he saw a vulnerability in Chiron that he recognized in himself—perhaps from a younger age.

TM: Yup. And he could see that past a perceived homosexuality, a trait they probably didn’t share. He could think back to when he was seven or eight and see himself. It’s important for all people to be able to recognize humanity.

MJ: In another scene, some boys make Kevin (Chiron’s love interest) beat him up in the schoolyard. Afterward, he cries when an administrator tells him that if he were a man he wouldn’t let the other kids pick on him. Why was that so triggering for him?

TM: Because the person he was closest to just punched him in the face and left him there.

MJ: My editor gave me the same answer and said it was obvious, but I didn’t read it that way. When Chiron keeps getting up even though Kevin is telling him to stay down, to me, Chiron is trying to show the boys he can take it like a man, but he’s also sticking it to Kevin—who cared for Chiron but opted to hit him anyway—by making Kevin do it even as Kevin tried to lessen the pain for both of them. He broke down because he felt like he’d failed at both tasks.

TM: So why did that trigger this in you?

MJ: Because my own femininity was ridiculed, and accepting my queerness meant embracing that I didn’t have to act in a conventionally masculine way.

TM: That’s one of the things in society that we don’t do well. We create a binary and try to fit everybody into it. And that’s a kind of insanity for both sides. But look at that moment in the film and see how many variations on the theme there are. You’ve got the personal: The person Chiron most trusts is hurting him the most. You’ve got the political: If I’m a man, I stand up to these people. And there’s the larger unknowable: What actually constitutes me in this moment? All those avenues pour into this section. Which is why it’s important to not just make it into one thing. Chiron cried because it was complicated.

MJ: The last time we see Kevin and Chiron together is the morning after they’ve reconnected for the first time in years. The film leaves a lot hanging. Where would you like audience members to go with this?

TM: I can only guess at what Barry wanted us to do. And I enjoyed that that leaves open possibilities about what happens next. As a storyteller, I enjoy when I’m brought to a place where I can imagine the infinite. It allows me to keep these people with me. I’m always going to be trying to figure out what’s next for them.

MJ: There’s been very little representation of queer black kids on screen. We’ve had Pariah and Tangerine most recently, but not much else. What would you want those kids to take away from the movie?

TC: The more colors we can add to the conversation the better. But kids in general are going through this. This representation is solidly for queer black kids to be able to see themselves. But I think it’s important for people to see how they’re intertwined in all of our lives. I was describing the community I came up in. It would be harmful for me to pretend that there were no gay people around. They were there. And their lives are important to be told. The transgender sex worker two doors down—her life is important. And not having it in the collective memory is dangerous. Because if we don’t remember that that’s a part of who we are, then there’s going to be somebody thinking that there’s nobody else out there like them.

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“Moonlight” Is a Rare and Beautiful New Film About Growing Up Black and Gay

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High Schools Are the Next Battleground in the Fight Over Transgender Athletes

Mother Jones

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Robby Dyas didn’t play very much as a freshman on Lincoln High School’s softball team. The shortstop got a concussion from a pop fly early in the season, and spent the following weeks learning “a lot about the strategic side” of the game from the bench. After that, Dyas was done with softball.

The Nebraskan teen was also done being a girl: Junior year, Dyas came out as transgender and began using male pronouns and the name Robby. But the longtime athlete—who’d competed in taekwondo, basketball, wrestling, and softball as a kid—never got to pitch overhand. “I just remember getting a rude comment about girls playing on the baseball team,” he recalls.

This year, transgender teens may have a better shot at high school sports in Nebraska: The state’s new policy allows trans girls and boys to compete on teams corresponding with their gender preference. But before they can do that, they’ll have to prove to a four-member Gender Identity Eligibility Committee that they’re “consistently” transgender. Trans girls, who are born male but identify as female, will have to undergo sex reassignment surgery or a year of hormone therapy to play.

Nearly 40 states have adopted policies for high school transgender athletes. Some allow students to play on teams based on gender identity, without any kind of hormone requirement, while others restrict them to teams matching the sex on their birth certificates. Nebraska’s policy takes a middle road—and has fueled outrage on all sides. It also comes at a time of national debate over trans rights in schools. Nearly half of all states are currently suing the Obama administration over whether Title IX, a law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools, should protect trans kids, too. While that legal battle centers on questions of bathroom access, experts say it could also affect athletic participation.

In the crosshairs will be kids like Robby Dyas and Asher Wells, another trans boy at Lincoln High. Wells takes gym classes during summer school instead of the regular academic year so he can avoid the girls’ locker room. When I first spoke to him, he was pondering whether to try out for the boy’s tennis team before he graduates.

It might be simpler if Asher were just a few years older. In college, the aspiring tennis player would probably get to choose whether to try out for the men’s team or the women’s team, without having to brave any gender committees; that’s because the NCAA, which makes rules for college sports at universities around the country, came up with a policy for trans athletes back in 2011. Trans men who take testosterone—to appear more masculine—can only play on men’s teams, since the hormone has been linked with muscle mass. Those like Asher, who aren’t taking testosterone, can play on whichever team they prefer. And trans women, born with male bodies, need to medically suppress their natural testosterone levels if they want to compete against other women. (In January, the International Olympic Committee updated its policy to include similar regulations.)

At first, many high schools followed the NCAA’s lead. Some hadn’t given much thought to creating their own policies, because until recently they “really hadn’t had a lot of kids come up through the school ranks identifying as transgender,” notes Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, whose policy for trans athletes once mirrored the college guidelines. Then her association, like some in other states, changed its tune, perhaps realizing that college and high school sports aren’t the same—different ages, different goals. Connecticut ditched its hormone-based policy in 2013 and adopted more inclusive rules, allowing kids to play based on their self-identification as male or female.

Pat Griffin, a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who helped develop the NCAA’s hormone-based policy, supports that kind of move. High schoolers shouldn’t have to take hormones, she says, because at that age, “most students are playing to participate.”

But absent a national governing body, high school guidelines vary widely. In Texas, a new rule prohibits students across the state from participating on teams that don’t match up with the sex on their birth certificates. On the other hand, in 2013 California became the first state to pass a law allowing trans students to play on teams matching their gender identity, no hormone therapy required; about 15 states now have similar policies. A handful of other states require trans girls to take hormones for a year before playing on girls’ teams. (See map below.)

Chris Mosier/TransAthlete.com

In Nebraska, the school athletics association had never been able to pass an athletic policy for gender-nonconforming kids, in part due to the state’s deeply conservative roots. Then in 2015, two schools alerted the Nebraska School Activities Association about some trans students who wanted to compete on winter sports teams, so the NSAA decided to take up the issue again.

In January this year, the NSAA announced its big idea: A Gender Identity Eligibility Committee will make decisions on a case-by-case basis for trans student athletes who want to play on teams matching their gender identity. The committee—made up of a doctor with experience in trans health care, a mental health professional, a school administrator, and an NSAA staff member—will consider testimony from the student’s parents, friends, and teachers, plus medical documentation, to make sure the student consistently identifies as transgender. It will also require trans girls to have sex reassignment surgery or a year’s worth of hormone therapy to reduce testosterone levels. And to play on a team, a student will need unanimous approval from the committee.

The backlash came quickly, with critics on the left decrying the gender review process as burdensome. “They have essentially put up a sign that transgender students need not apply,” said Amy Miller, a legal director for the ACLU. For starters, critics say, many teenagers don’t want to go on hormone therapy. “It’s expensive, it’s a lot of effort, it’s like going through puberty again,” says Dyas. And the idea of proving your gender to a group of strangers can be intimidating: “I would not be comfortable with that,” says Dyas, who organized a protest against the policy at the state Capitol with a handful of trans-rights supporters.

Critics on the right worry the policy makes it too easy for trans kids to compete. “As the father of two daughters, I would be very concerned about boys competing against my daughters in sports,” Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said. The Nebraska Catholic bishops weighed in, too, noting that “this would certainly have a negative impact on students’ and society’s attitudes towards the fundamental nature of the human person and the family.”

Another concern is competitive advantage. When a trans girl raced in a high school track and field state championship in Alaska in May, protesters showed up at the track. “Allowing students to play on teams of the opposite sex disproportionately impacts female students, who will lose spots on a track, soccer and volleyball teams to male students who identify as female,” said Jim Minnery, president of the conservative group Alaska Family Action. Karissa Niehoff, of the Connecticut Association of Schools, says signs of a competitive advantage haven’t come to fruition in her state since it dropped its hormone-based policy for trans teen athletes.

Susan Cahn, a professor at the University at Buffalo who wrote Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women’s Sport, can understand why female athletes might be wary about trans competitors. “Historically, girls and women have been the disadvantaged group, and they’ve been kept out of sports or haven’t been given the same kinds of training or resources,” she says. But trans kids are a disadvantaged group, too, who often put up with bullying and discrimination, she points out.

And even when we segregate sports by sex, certain kids have physical advantages. For boys’ sports, “if you look at a 9th- or 10th-grade team, you’ve got these little kids who haven’t hit puberty yet, and these giant kids, boys who have totally hit puberty. They have completely different bodies, and no one says they shouldn’t play together,” she explains. What’s more, a kid can have an upper hand for reasons unrelated to sex, like if his family has enough money to pay for summer training camps or traveling teams with the best coaches. Of all the different types of advantages, she says, testosterone is not the most critical, especially for teenagers, “so to fixate on that one is really about the politics of gender and not actual bodies.”

And the politics of gender—or rather, gender identity—have reached a fever pitch, not only in Nebraska, but on the national stage. In May this year, the US Department of Education sent a letter to public schools across the country, saying they could lose federal funding if they discriminated against transgender students. The letter made waves for its guidance on bathroom access—it said trans kids should be allowed to use facilities of their choice. It also called on schools to allow transgender kids to play on sports teams matching their identity, notes Sarah Axelson, a Title IX expert at the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Leaders in many states saw this letter as an overreach. So they turned to the courts. Now, Nebraska and 22 other states are suing the Obama administration, arguing that it has interpreted Title IX too broadly by including protections for transgender kids. On August 21, a federal judge in Texas ruled in their favor, granting a nationwide injunction that temporarily blocks the Obama administration from enforcing the recommendations in its letter about transgender rights. The administration is expected to appeal. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court is considering whether to take up a separate case about whether Title IX protects transgender students. Griffin, who helped develop the policy for trans college athletes, says she suspects that if Nebraska and other states prevail in their legal fight with the Obama administration, it will affect not only bathroom access, but sports participation.

Nebraska’s new athletic policy, adopted before this legal drama unfolded, says trans athletes have to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their birth sex or, when possible, a private facility—even if they qualify to play on teams matching their preferred gender.

“You’ve fought and you’ve fought to be able to play on the sports team,” Dyas says in response to this caveat. “And finally you’re allowed to be the boy, you’re allowed to have everything you’ve ever wanted. And then right then and there, they rip it all out of your hands and are like, ‘But actually you can’t even use the locker room.'”

Jim Tenopir, the head of Nebraska’s high school athletics association, acknowledges that this rule “flies in the face of” the Obama administration’s guidance but aligns closely with the state of Nebraska’s position on protecting the privacy rights of other kids.

Asher Wells just started his junior year at Lincoln High. He’d been considering whether to try out for the boys’ tennis team this year, but in the end he decided against it. Even if he were good enough, he worries the Gender Identity Eligibility Committee wouldn’t approve his application, he says. “And I would have to get a school physical exam, and I haven’t done that because I feel uncomfortable.” He’s also nervous about getting bullied during matches at other schools. “I’ll think about it for next year,” he says.

As executive director of the NSAA, Tenopir says he intended to create an athletic policy that gave all Nebraskan kids a chance to compete, regardless of gender identity: “Although there may be some steep hills that a transgender student has to climb to be eligible to participate, at least that opportunity is there.”

Tenopir acknowledges that high school “is probably a borderline age for kids to consider” hormone therapy. But he adds that the policy would have never been approved without this requirement—given the political muscle of right-leaning critics who argued that trans girls would otherwise have an unfair advantage. “You don’t begin to have an idea what conservative values are until you get to a place like Nebraska,” he says.

As the school year kicks off, it’s unclear when the state’s new Gender Identity Eligibility Committee will be put to the test—Tenopir says that so far, not a single transgender student has applied.

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High Schools Are the Next Battleground in the Fight Over Transgender Athletes

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Pentagon Will Reportedly Lift Transgender Service Ban in July

Mother Jones

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The Pentagon will officially lift its longstanding ban on transgender military service sometime next month, according to multiple reports.

USA Today reports that high-ranking members of the Pentagon’s personnel team could meet next week to hammer out the final details of the plan to lift the service ban. According to one defense official cited anonymously by the paper, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work could sign off on the final plan as early as next Wednesday. The end of the service ban will be announced after final approval from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and could come down as early as July 1, just before the start of the Fourth of July weekend.

The military currently does not allow openly transgender people to enlist in the military, citing medical reasons to disqualify them from service.

Citing an anonymous Defense Department official, USA Today also notes that the announcement will include a directive from the Pentagon that gives each military branch one year to “implement new policies affecting recruiting, housing and uniforms for transgender troops.”

A Pentagon official told the Washington Post that the Defense Department would likely make an official announcement sometime in July, but added that an official date for ending the ban has not been set.

If the predicted timeline holds, the lifting of the transgender military service ban will come roughly one year after Carter issued a directive commissioning a task force to come up with a plan for incorporating openly transgender service members into the military. Carter’s directive also changed the process for discharging transgender soldiers who were already in the military but had not come out publicly, elevating discharge authority out of the immediate chain of command and into the hands of a senior Pentagon official.


Pentagon Will Reportedly Lift Transgender Service Ban in July

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I’m a Transgender Man in North Carolina. Here’s What the Bathroom Law Means For Me.

Mother Jones

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Charlie Comero, a 35-year-old transgender man in Charlotte, North Carolina, was nervous about having to use women’s bathrooms after his state enacted HB2, a sweeping anti-LGBT law that says you can only use public facilities that match the sex on your birth certificate. So he decided to prepare: He printed cards (see photo below) to hand out to the women he met inside. We asked him to share his story below, in his own words, edited for length and clarity.

I grew up in Michigan, on a farm in a small town, and I moved to Charlotte almost four years ago to teach for a local high school. I was very nervous about moving to North Carolina—it’s technically the “Bible Belt”—but the truth is that Charlotte is amazing, liberal. I fell in love with the city and have stayed ever since.

Charlie Comero

Now, one person’s story is obviously not an example for the entire community. But I identify as a transgender man and as a nonbinary individual, which means I’ve never identified only as a girl or only as a boy—I’ve always identified as both. I wear men’s clothing, though I do have a closet full of five-inch high heels that I absolutely love and will never get rid of.

Growing up I always felt different from other girls and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Maybe it was a lack of representation of trans people in the media. And I didn’t see it growing up in a small town, so being transgender wasn’t an option, as far as I knew.

Not all transgender people decide to transition physically, but I decided to when I was 34 years old. It took me that long, and you know what got me there? The book The Alchemist: This talk of personal legend and embodying that, that’s what woke me up. I got a ton of support from the yoga community—I do yoga every day—and from the LGB and trans communities. Unfortunately my best friend stopped talking to me, and another dear friend changed how she acted toward me.

I probably started going into the men’s room when I was about six months into my physical transition, which is taking testosterone. I made my decision based on how I was being perceived in society. As soon as my voice got low and I was starting to be seen as male, that’s when I started going to the men’s bathroom. I was scared shitless. It was gross in there. It was liberating and scary. I had this fear that they were going to know I have a vagina. It took me a couple of weeks to realize no one in the men’s bathroom cares; there’s no way to know I wasn’t born with a biological penis.

The day HB2 became law, I was there to testify in front of the Senate, and I had my speech prepared. I was sitting there listening to the senators talk about how important this bill is and how it would protect women and children. If they really cared about women and children, Republicans would actually do things to help women and children, rather than making up some story about an imagined bogeyman walking into a women’s bathroom dressed in women’s clothes to rape women and children. It was absurd. I felt like I didn’t exist, like I wasn’t an equal human.

Afterward I was sitting down with my girlfriend at brunch and I asked her: Where do I go to the bathroom now? It’s literally against the law for me to use the men’s room, and it’s also risky. Even though I’m more than a year on testosterone—I’m getting facial hair, my hair has receded a little—I still don’t always pass as male. Or do I use the women’s room, follow the law, and clearly make people uncomfortable? We started going through the different examples of what would happen, what could happen, and she started crying because it became clear to her that I was at risk for getting hurt.

The first time I went back into a women’s bathroom, I was so nervous. I’m still nervous. I’ve created these cards—I keep them in my wallet. One time I was in a bathroom at a government center in Charlotte, and a woman asked what I was doing there. I tried handing her the card but she didn’t want to take it, she walked away. I saw her later in the hallway, and I said, “I didn’t mean to startle you.” She looked at me and said, “I hope I never make that mistake again.” I have no idea what she meant—I don’t think she knew what it meant to be a transgender man. And then the other day someone gave me a hug after I gave her my card. I don’t know if she recognized it because it’s been viral.

But here’s what I’m most afraid of: When they don’t say anything and just ignore me and leave, I’m afraid to leave the bathroom and to be met by that woman’s boyfriend or husband or an authority figure. Because I could easily be socked.

The senators who wrote this bill made it a lot more difficult for transgender people, because a lot of them have the gender on their driver’s license changed, but not their birth certificate. If I wanted to do that, I’d have to fly back to Michigan. Some of my friends would have to fly out of the country. Some people, depending on the state, have to go in front of judge, and some judges are not going to be cool with allowing a transgender person to make the change.

Last night I reached out to two really close transgender women friends who are people of color, because I’m worried about them, and they are both scared—they feel unsafe. I’m scared, yeah, I’m at risk, yeah, but not as much as them. They were already at risk before this bill, they were already a target, and now it’s multiplied. And that’s the thing that really upsets me—that this bill gives people permission to be bigots.

HB2 isn’t just about bathrooms. It’s stripping away all city ordinances that are in place to protect marginalized folks. Women, including those who aren’t transgender, are starting to realize this affects them, too. It puts all of us at risk unless you’re a white man. And who wrote the bill? White men. Isn’t that interesting?


I’m a Transgender Man in North Carolina. Here’s What the Bathroom Law Means For Me.

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