My Grandparents Created PFLAG

Since my early childhood my family made it clear that to them a person’s sexual orientation was simply part of who they were, the  same as their hair or eye color. I was taught that if you were a good person, didn’t hurt anyone, and had good manners, you should be judged based on your words and actions, not on who you loved. I had no idea that this message would also become the basis for an organization that would change — and save — lives over the next four decades. 

My grandparents, Jeanne and Jules Manford, were the founders of PFLAG, and this year we mark 45 years of family love, acceptance, and celebration, something I saw every day in my home that now lives in hearts and homes everywhere thanks to my grandparents; it’s a legacy I am very proud to carry on as a parent and ally.

Forty-five years ago, I was only 4 years old when my uncle, gay activist Morty Manford, was beaten during an act of civil disobedience. His mother, my grandmother, was furious and wrote a letter to the New York Post criticizing the bullies who beat him and declaring her love for her son. “My son is a homosexual,” she wrote, “And I love him.” It was 1972. This kind of public declaration was a revolutionary act.

My uncle asked my grandmother to protest with him in the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, an early precursor to New York Pride. She said yes, but “only if I can carry a sign.” So she marched, carrying a homemade sign that said “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.” So many young people begged her to talk to their parents, and soon our home phone began to ring. Parents of Gays (now PFLAG) was born.

People began to visit us, meeting in our living room in the Flushing section of Queens. Soon the meetings grew bigger, and the first official meeting was held at the Metropolitan Community Church in lower Manhattan in March 1973.

In every other way, my days were pretty average and, in retrospect, idyllic when I was a child living in Flushing with my grandparents, uncle, and mom. I played outside, went to school, ate cereal, and watched Sesame Street on Saturday mornings.

Once a month, however, I’d spend Saturday morning with my grandparents on the 7 train to Penn Station, from which we would make our way to Greenwich Village for the meetings. The meetings were pretty boring for a little kid. I felt sorry for the crying adults who couldn’t understand what was taught to me at such a young age: Their kids were fine. Honestly. My grandparents tried to comfort, listen, and explain.

I went to Parents of Gays meetings, marched in gay pride parades, and accompanied my grandparents all over the country when they appeared on radio and TV shows simply to declare their love for my uncle.

Some of my earliest memories are of these meetings and trips, and learning from my grandparents and uncle that just because someone is different from you doesn’t mean  they are better or worse. To think otherwise, I was taught, is bigotry — unthinking, uneducated discrimination based on fear without facts or cause.

As I sit down to write these words, it seems so basic. It is like learning about colors and letters to me. Like so many others right now, I am stunned that we have to revisit these simple ideas, yet in a cultural and political climate that is increasingly hostile to diversity and difference, we need to bring out this message more than ever.

At the time, I didn’t realize how extraordinary it was for my grandmother, a shy schoolteacher, and my humble (and very ill) grandfather to put their friendships and careers on the line to make these public statements.

The fear that others might have felt, however, didn’t matter to them. To them, the worst had already happened. You see, they had three children, but their eldest, Charles, had died by suicide. My Uncle Morty was their youngest child, their golden boy, and he too had tried to end his own life when he was first grappling with his sexuality. They were not going to let that happen.

What my grandparents didn’t know was that their intuition — that parental support and family affirmation could save their child’s life — was right on target; in fact, their instincts would turn out to be evidence-based facts.

The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University has found that LGBT youth who experience high levels of rejection by their families are:  

·      More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide
·      Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression
·      More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
·      More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases when compared with youth who are not rejected by their families because of their gay or transgender identities.

However, even the smallest amount of family acceptance can turn these numbers around.

The simple building blocks of common decency I was taught in my childhood have helped shape who I am as a person, a parent, and a doctor. I specialize in family medicine and try to give advice that is going to help the body, spirit, and mind — all related. In my office, I have patients, some young children, who are just figuring out their identity and sexuality. I have had children suffer with depression until their parents figured out that their insistence on a gender identity other than that with which they were born was not a phase. Once they are accepted for who they are, I see the happy looks on their faces and the ease in their bodies. Doctor visits for tummy aches for which there is no physical cause disappear.

The opposite, unfortunately, is also a reality: Young people who have been thrown out of their house due to their sexuality show up in my practice frequently with chronic complaints or depression. For these folks, the best path that I have seen is when they develop a community outside of family that can help with resilience and self-acceptance. There is always sadness, however, and my patients who have been rejected by their families do frequently struggle with depression, anxiety, and sometimes substance abuse. 

Having a medical home in which sexuality and gender identity are accepted as a given is important — I am so happy to provide that — but my really successful patients are the ones for whom their family primarily provides such an environment. 

My grandparents, Jeanne and Jules Manford, are gone now. They provided me with a remarkable childhood full of love and life lessons. I saw firsthand through their relationships and activities how the political was personal. I saw how individuals could make a difference by using their voices and hearts. I began, as a child, to understand how the mental and physical health of each family member was dependent on the others. My grandparents shared with me the pain of having lost a child, and they taught me through their words, political activities, and actions at home how to save a life. I believe that their message of love, pride, and acceptance is needed now more than ever, and I am so grateful that 45 years later, PFLAG carries on what they started. 

AVRIL SWAN is family physician based in San Francisco and a proud granddaughter of Jeanne and Jules Manford, the founders of PFLAG.

Danica Roem to Politicians: Don't Make People Feel Bad, 'Do Your Job'

It’s time for politics “to stop making people feel bad about themselves,” said Danica Roma.

In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News, the first openly transgender state lawmaker advocated for respect and responsibility in politics, in an era when many politicians attempt to demonize others for gain.

“Doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, or who you love … you should be able to thrive here,” said Roem. “You should be able to succeed here … because your government has your back, instead of singling you out and trying to make you feel bad about yourself.”

“Do your job,” she urged lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Roem made LGBT history when she bested a transphobic candidate to win a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Speaking to Channel 4, Roem revealed that it was Donald Trump’s presidential win, in part, that made her run for office.

“When you brag about sexually assaulting women, and then you get elected anyway? There’s no barrier for entry anymore,” Roem said, adding, “What are they gonna hit me on, my gender? OK, they did.”

But the road to the election wasn’t easy. In the interview, Roem also discussed the hardships of the campaign.

“When people asked me how many doors I knocked on, I always say ‘this many,'” said Roem, holding up her shoe with a worn sole.

The Republican leader in Virginia’s House of Delegates should listen to Roem’s advice about respect in politics — Kirk Cox wants to do away with the 400-year-old tradition of gendered titles, and many believe it’s in order to avoid referring to Roem as “gentlewoman.”

“If Danica Roem had not won the election we would still be doing the same thing we have done for 400 years, calling each other gentleman or gentlelady,” said Kenneth Plum, a Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates. “It’s unfortunate that we, in effect, have to single out her election, as unique as it is.”

But Roem, a born leader, turned Cox’s cynical move into a teachable moment, focusing on the message her win sends to trans people who now know that they can be elected to office. 

“I hope the unintended consequences of this will be non-binary Virginians feeling emboldened to run for office & win,” Roem tweeted

Watch Roem’s interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News below.

This Honey Commercial Reimagines 'The Three Bears' as Burly Gay Men

Goldilocks is out of the picture in “The Three Bears,” a new short form cooking show about three beefy gay men who love porridge, and the classic fairytale has never been more of a fantasy. 

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In the first episode, the three bears—Matt, Joel, and Phil—make a blueberry compote, keep warm by wearing their “hot pants” (underwear warmed up on the stove), share a loving bear hug, and go for a bike ride in tandem. The web series is sponsored by Rowse Honey, but it never feels like an advertisement. That’s thanks in part to the efforts of BMB creative chief Jules Chalkley, who knew the chemistry between the actors could make or break the show.

Chalkley told AdWeek, “It was important to find the characters that would make it feel authentic and genuine, who we could trust to accurately represent the gay bear community. We cast and wrote very carefully, taking advice from people within the community, and encouraged the cast to co-write the scripts and be their genuine selves. Ultimately this is a funny and charming breakfast show for everyone and made with love and fun.”

Matthew Lister, who plays one of the three bears, said “the filming process reminded me a bit of my experience of the bear community. We arrived on the first day not knowing each other, but everyone was easygoing and welcoming. Very quickly the banter and camaraderie between us all developed, and by the end we all felt like great mates.” 

But much of that banter wasn’t fit for advertising. “Even when the camera wasn’t rolling we were all in hysterics,” Chalkley said. “Unfortunately, most of it we couldn’t use, but we’ll leave that to your imagination.”

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Senators Tell of Sexual Harassment, But One Analyst Warns of 'War on Men'

Claire McCaskill

AP Photo by Jacquelyn Martin

October 22 2017 4:16 PM EDT

Four female U.S. senators shared their experiences of sexual harassment and intitmidation today on NBC’s Meet the Press – while a conservative political analyst, also a woman, claimed sexual harassment revelations are in part a “war on men.”

Sens. Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, Elizabeth Warren, and Mazie Hirono told of enduring harassment at various points in their careers. McCaskill said that when she was a young state representative in Missouri, she went to the speaker of the House to ask for advice on how to get her first bill out of committee. “And he looked at me, and he paused, and he said, ‘Well, did you bring your knee pads?’” McCaskill recalled. “I do think he was joking. But it was shocking that he would make that joke to a colleague, even a very young colleague.”

Warren told of being chased around the office of a senior faculty member when she was beginning her career as a law professor. Hirono recalled being propositioned by colleagues. And Heitkamp noted that at an event where she had spoken on domestic violence as North Dakota’s attorney general, “a law enforcement official came up to me and he pretty much put his finger in my face and he said, ‘Listen here, men will always beat their wives and you can’t stop ‘em.’”

But Danielle Pletka, a senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, expressed concern about a “war on men” and said that some women participating in the #MeToo campaign in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations “want to get on the gravy train.”

“I have no doubt that sexual harassment is real and that many women suffer from it,” she said. “But I have a strong suspicion that this is yet another one in a series of isms and complaints and grievances in our society that are used as wedges, that are used as bludgeons, that are part of, frankly, what many men feel is a war on men, certainly in universities.

“So, you know, do we need a cultural change? If women want to stand up for themselves, women should stand up for themselves for equal treatment. And if that means that someone’s going to harass them, they should stand up and call them out. This whole ‘Me, too, I want to get on the gravy train, Harvey Weinstein looked at me meanly too but I didn’t have the guts, Gwyneth Paltrow, to stand up and do anything about it,’ I’m not really into that.”

New York Times reporter Helene Cooper noted that when, where, and how to go public about sexual harassment and other abuse, such as domestic violence, is a deeply personal decision. She was working on a book about Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected president of an African country, and Sirleaf was reluctant to discuss that she was a survivor of domestic violence, Cooper said.

“There’s so much wrapped up into this that I think every woman who wants to speak up should be allowed to do so and should feel that she can speak up when she wants to,” Cooper said. “But to … it’s also very difficult to put the onus on the woman to talk at a time where she may not want to.”

Watch clips below; the one of Pletka is courtesy of Media Matters.

Fox Renewed O'Reilly Contract Despite $32 Million Harassment Settlement

Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract in February even though company officials knew he’d settled a sexual harassment claim for $32 million the previous month, The New York Times reports.

O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor, was ousted from the news channel in April amid reports he’d settled multiple suits to the tune of $13 million. But the $32 million settlement reached in January has not been reported previously.

The case involved Lis Wiehl, a longtime Fox News legal analyst who had often appeared on O’Reilly’s show. When Wiehl first appeared on the show in 2001, O’Reilly said he had gotten her the job and that she owed him for it, to which she replied, “No, no, no.”

He made suggestive remarks to her on the air for years afterward, such as recommending that she dance at a strip club, and her other complains against O’Reilly “included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter,” the Times reports. O’Reilly reportedly sent her much of the explicit material via email.

In January, O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox received a draft of a lawsuit Wiehl was planning to file. Later that month her lawyers and the company’s legal team worked out the settlement and she agreed not to sue. They agreed that all communications between her and O’Reilly would be destroyed, and she signed an affidavit saying she had “no claims against Bill O’Reilly concerning any of those emails or any of the allegations in the draft complaint,” according to the Times

O’Reilly has denied that he had a nonconsensual sexual relationship with Wiehl and, indeed, denied all the other harassment allegations brought against him. He did say that he sometimes forwarded Wiehl defamatory emails he received, some of which contained obscene material, for her legal advice on dealing with them.

The sexual harassment allegations and the publicity around them are “politically and financially motivated,” O’Reilly told the Times this week, “and we can prove it with shocking information, but I’m not going to sit here in a courtroom for a year and a half and let my kids get beaten up every single day of their lives by a tabloid press that would sit there, and you know it.”

In February, aware of Wiehl’s claims and the settlement, 21st Century Fox offered O’Reilly a new four-year contract at $25 million a year, up from about $18 million. Fredric S. Newman, O’Reilly’s lawyer, said the company was eager to have the host stay on after the departure of Megyn Kelly, another of the most popular Fox News personalities, and initiated the negotiations. Company officials said they would have renewed O’Reilly’s contract whether Kelly had stayed or not.

There have been multiple sexual harassment allegations against other Fox News personnel, including founder Roger Ailes. Former Fox host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes in July 2016 and ended up receiving a $20 million settlement; Ailes resigned from the company and has since died. But the settlement received by Wiehl is the largest reported to date.

When O’Reilly left Fox News, he received a $25 million payout.

The Intersection of Queer Identity and Atheism

I didn’t always know I was queer — not everyone realizes it right away — but I’ve been wondering where I fell on the spectrum of religious belief since I was a kid.

When I was 11 and just starting middle school, some of my new friends were strongly Christian. I didn’t have much of a religious leaning; my mother’s family is Catholic and my father’s family is Jewish, so I grew up celebrating twice as many holidays but lacked grounding in any particular teachings. So when my new friends told me about a Bible study guide they loved, one that was targeted toward “hip” Christian teens, I thought it would be a neat way to join the youth-group-going in-crowd. As far as I was concerned, I was passively agnostic, but I thought having the tools to find faith might make me feel more certain one way or the other. A friend’s mom bought me the trendy teen Bible as an early birthday present.

I was ecstatic to receive it. It was brightly colored, used wacky fonts, and had discussion pages at the ends of some sections, making parallels between Scripture and teen issues like school and dating. But there were some red flags right off the bat that made me think this might not be for me. For example, I’d never had strong feelings about premarital sex, but my friends — and this Bible — did. I figured sex would happen when it happened, and between talking with my parents, my lackluster public school sex ed, and Seventeen magazine, I had a decent grasp on how not to get pregnant. My Bible’s all-or-nothing take on sex and dating made me uneasy, like a stranger giving me serious advice I hadn’t asked for. I didn’t even bother looking at the discussion notes on gay people; I didn’t know yet that they applied to me. (I recently dug that Bible out from my pile of rejected childhood items to find that section. It’s not pretty.)

Then I found something that I took more personally. A small section of the sex and dating chapter included a stern footnote about dating non-Christians. “Don’t do it,” it said. “It’s never a good idea.”

I asked my parents about it, about whether or not God thought their interfaith marriage — and therefore, my existence — was a bad idea. They said they had talked about it a long time ago and decided that because they both believed in God, the details didn’t matter. But it was enough to turn me off of religious exploration for a long time. When I came out as bisexual in high school, I felt even less connected to my friends’ stories about church programs and their excitement about applying to Christian colleges. And eventually, I realized I didn’t need to explore anymore. The belief just wasn’t there.

This isn’t to say I disparage or disrespect those who do find comfort in faith. There are thriving communities of LGBTQ people of faith around the world, some of whom belong to progressive houses of worship and others who practice independent spirituality, who find that their faith and their LGBTQ identity strengthen one another. Today, more and more religious groups celebrate diversity, actively support LGBTQ people, and speak out against the institutions that use scripture to oppress and demean. Unfortunately, these groups are in the minority. While there are avenues for LGBTQ people to work with faith groups, the potential for allyship between LGBTQ people and atheists is far more intuitive, and certainly presents fewer institutional boundaries.

When I started writing about LGBTQ issues for Hemant Mehta’s blog, “Friendly Atheist” — which is how this book came to be — I was often stumped by the lack of news about the explicit overlaps between LGBTQ people and atheists. Stories about active collaborations between these two groups were sparse. All I seemed to read (and write) were stories of outrageous homophobic and transphobic behavior by conservative churches and evangelical politicians, all in the name of God. What I didn’t immediately realize, though, is that religious groups oppressing LGBTQ people is an atheist issue. Any abuse of religious freedom, particularly at the expense of a marginalized group, is an atheist issue.

Over and over, LGBTQ people have been berated, belittled, and bullied on the faulty premise that God frowns upon them. This erroneous explanation not only targets LGBTQ people but also contradicts ideas many atheists hold dear.

For example: When a pastor preaches that God unleashed Hurricane Sandy as punishment for same-sex marriage, as anti-gay preacher John McTernan did, that’s not just an affront to LGBTQ people; it’s an affront to science. When a county clerk cites religion as an excuse to deny LGBTQ people equal treatment, as Kentucky’s Kim Davis did, that’s a slap in the face to the separation of church and state. And when Christian schools that receive state funding fire LGBTQ teachers, as we’ve seen across the country, it’s a clear abuse of power disguised as “religious exemption.”

Science, reason, and a government free of religious influence are some of the most crucial tenets of secular humanism. Atheists  — even those who believe that philosophy begins and ends with a rejection of God’s existence — should be deeply offended when those principles are so egregiously violated.

Atheism itself is still somewhat of a subversive practice. People of faith comprise around three-quarters of the U.S. population; about 24% are unaffiliated or religious “nones,” with self-declared atheists making up only 3.4% of the country. There are no openly atheist members of Congress. In some countries, being an atheist, being LGBTQ, or both are cause for persecution or even death. And, of course, there are LGBTQ atheists in the United States and elsewhere who are doubly marginalized for identifying as both. It is in atheists’ nature to eschew societal norms in favor of ideas that feel more true to them. Joining forces with others targeted by religious groups shouldn’t be controversial. In fact, it should be expected.

Some people — though not usually atheists — actually argue against taking religion out of politics, citing the civil right to free expression. And sure, the First Amendment has its place in these conversations. A person who pushes homophobia or transphobia under the guise of religion is allowed those opinions privately and even publicly, to an extent. But once religious beliefs are invoked to interfere with the civil rights of others — say, to justify firing a qualified employee, or to provide a legal loophole for segregating LGBTQ customers — the First Amendment exits the equation. Personal beliefs cannot infringe upon the rights of others to pursue life and liberty however they choose. If atheists sit idly by as religious Americans target LGBTQ communities, they are endorsing it.

And yet America’s failure to protect LGBTQ citizens is a direct result of the overstepping of religion into politics. It’s a flagrant rejection of the Establishment Clause, and a refusal to prioritize objectivity and fairness. Equal rights for LGBTQ people should come naturally to a society that operates on evidence and reason (the kind of society atheists generally advocate for). Atheists should be invested in removing religious influence from the rule of law. And they do their own cause a disservice when they fail to defend LGBTQ people, politically and personally.

As both an atheist and a queer person, I’m doubly baffled by the intensity of religious hatred against my people — all my people. I write a lot about LGBTQ issues, and I’ve received countless anonymous messages (and some not anonymous) outlining all the reasons I’m a hellbound dyke. Sometimes, the message is just a list of Bible verses — as if I’m going to take out my copy of the New Testament and flip through it to learn why my life displeases a higher power whose existence I reject. I’m lucky to have lived mostly in liberal parts of the country (not that religious bigotry doesn’t exist in all 50 states) and that I’ve never faced faith-based discrimination outright. But thousands of others aren’t as fortunate.

LGBTQ people are fired, kicked out of their homes, pushed out of local businesses, and refused social and health services because of the “religious consciences” of others. To make matters worse, we don’t even know exactly how many LGBTQ people face discrimination every year. As in other situations when victims must choose whether to report what’s happened to them, many people refrain out of the fear of retaliation, outing, or worse. (And just because it hasn’t happened to me yet, there’s no guarantee that it won’t in the future.)

LGBTQ people and atheists aren’t the only groups hurt by religious fundamentalism. For example, the Religious Right targets women with a similar fervor. Employers fight to deny insurance coverage for birth control on the grounds of religious freedom. Women are fired for being pregnant and unmarried. Puritanical beliefs about women’s rights and roles trickle down into other elements of society. The wage gap and sexism in the media aren’t necessarily a result of religious misogyny, but they’re peddled by a lot of the same people.

And historically — though not long ago at all — people deployed religious arguments to defend segregation and other manifestations of racism. “In the 1960s, we saw institutions object to laws requiring integration in restaurants because of sincerely held beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate,” according to the ACLU. Integration was seen as an affront to God. Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Protestant school in South Carolina, didn’t drop its ban on interracial dating until the year 2000.

When you consider how extreme the consequences of bigotry can be, the harassment and disrespect atheists face for their non-belief can seem pretty mild in comparison. Society certainly doesn’t embrace atheists, but there are far fewer attacks (physical, legal, and otherwise) on atheist “lifestyles” than on LGBTQ people, women, people of color, or even other religious groups. But plenty of atheists can be and are members of all these groups, facing attacks not for their non-beliefs, but for visible elements of their identity. Virtually every minority group in the world has faced some defamation, discrimination, or mistreatment at the hands of religious extremism, one way or another. It only makes sense that we would rally together in our respective times of need.

Why LGBTQ people in particular? Because when it comes to religious suppression of civil rights, LGBTQ people have too much at stake. In recent years, the Religious Right has focused much of its energy and resources on limiting — or even eliminating — the rights of LGBTQ people. Anti-LGBTQ ideals littered the 2016 Republican Party platform and continue to serve as talking points for many GOP politicians, even though religious beliefs are supposed to be absent from the legislative process. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ rights group in the country, only four Republican senators and seven Republican members of the House of Representatives supported marriage equality in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Even Barack Obama, arguably the most progressive president in U.S. history (certainly on this issue), didn’t announce his support for marriage equality until the end of his first term, after a handful of states had already enacted same-sex marriage and Proposition 8 had twice been ruled unconstitutional.

LGBTQ issues have never been more visible, and anti-LGBTQ religious extremists have never been more fired up. If equal rights advocates don’t fight back aggressively, we can expect sweeping victories for state-approved religious bigotry. That kind of upheaval would deal a significant blow to atheism, too: imagine trying to defend secular education, the scientific method, or the separation of church and state in a country that explicitly favors one belief system over others (let alone over non-belief). We may be a long ways off from falling into an extremist religious dystopia, but it’s still worth keeping our guard up.

And it’s not enough for atheists and LGBTQ people to be allies in name alone. In order for both these groups to be treated with civility and humanity, we must support each other loudly and unapologetically, in our schools and our workplaces, at the dinner table and at the ballot box. In 2015, atheist writer Adam Lee penned an editorial for the Guardian with the headline, “If peace on earth is our goal, atheism might be the means to that end.” While that sentence might suggest a simplistic answer to a complicated problem, there is little evidence for more religious influence leading to social harmony. LGBTQ people have been political targets for decades. As society slowly begins to see us with more empathy than ever before, we deserve the peace we’ve been denied for so long. Atheists must help us get there.

A Kickstarter campaign is currently underway to help fund this book’s formatting and printing, tweaking the cover design, and helping with shipping and packaging fees. 

CAMILLE BEREDJICK is a nonprofit social media manager by day and a writer by nights, weekends and lunch breaks. Queer Disbelief is her first book. Beredjick has worked as a communications and digital media specialist at nonprofit organizations throughout New York City. Her work has focused on issues including LGBTQ rights, bullying, HIV/AIDS, PrEP, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Beredjick is the editor of, a daily blog where she covers LGBTQ news, media, and culture for an audience of more than 200,000 subscribers. Her writing about LGBTQ rights, politics, health, identity, and other topics has appeared in The Advocate, In These Times, BuzzFeed,, Mic, Daily Dot, HuffPost, Patheos and the Establishment, among others.

Coming Out Is Good Business

It’s safe to say that LGBT employees face a roulette wheel of challenges when coming out at work. These days, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the LGBT community is “subjected to unprecedented attacks — from state lawmakers plotting to undermine our historic gains, to tragic, unimaginable experiences of violence, to those who pledged to roll back our rights from the highest of offices in the land.” More than half of us nationwide hide who we are in the workplace, and 35 percent feel compelled to lie about our personal lives, despite the fact that 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It’s clear that LGBT employees still fear some form of workplace retaliation, and that problem falls on managers. 

In Samuel A. Culbert’s new book, Good People, Bad Managers, the award-winning author, researcher, and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Anderson School of Management, takes a closer look at our work culture that turns otherwise good people into bad managers. The Advocate recently sat down with Culbert to talk about why it matters to come out at work, what we can learn from Tim Cook and Donald Trump, and the corrupt management practices that lead people with good intentions to act badly and inflict negativity on the people they’re mandated to help.

The Advocate: What advice can you give to closeted employees?
Samuel A. Culbert: I think the greatest cultural transformation of my life has been the advances made by the LGBTQ community. Everyone eventually figures out that they have gay family members, work associates, and friends, and it takes too much energy and lack of human compassion to not accept that transformation. People in the closet start out in a tough spot because we’re really talking about self-confidence. We’re also talking about workplace prejudice. There are hidden persuaders that prevent people in the workplace from being their best selves. The LGBTQ community knows about these all too well and are victimized by them. These workplace force fields cause people to act inauthentic and go along with the pretense that stems from incompetence.

Authenticity is the most powerful mechanism anyone has in the workplace for accomplishing, getting cooperation, and earning trust. It’s very hard to do a person damage when they’re out in the open and not hiding anything. That takes a tremendous amount of self-acceptance, and ultimately it’s about feeling good about yourself.

A trusting work relationship is one of the greatest management tools. All work environments are politicized. and the people that seem to be the big winners are not necessarily winning — it just appears that way. The other guys, who you might think are acting straight, are also subjected to forces that lead them to act pretentious and inauthentic. The pretense required to manage, to survive, and to cope with insecurity makes authenticity difficult and therefore causes others to distrust them. I’m not saying it’s easy to come out at work, and as I mention in the book, it took Apple CEO Tim Cook 13 years with the company (three of them as CEO).

Why did Tim Cook’s coming-out impress you?
It’s not just about him being gay. It was also about a force for accepting all forms of diversity. LGBTQ people are more than their sexualities, and they are different in every way. Tim Cook’s coming-out symbolized the acceptance of diversity, and it made it much easier, at least at Apple, for people of any identity to be clear in announcing who they are and demonstrating for other people that their prejudices are not grounded in reality. Authenticity is always the best front and defense, but it’s not always the safest route to take.

There’s a Donald Trump quote in your book: “I just keep pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.” Why is this approach bad management?
Management is other-directed, and Trump’s quote is brute-force self-directed. What words do people associate with Donald Trump? “You’re fired.” He made a career out of saying that. That’s not management, that’s something else. Good management is finding out what’s on employees’ minds, learning about their commitments and identities, and bringing out their unique goals and how to reach them. One thing I wanted to do with my book is to show how managers self-victimize. They’re so busy dealing with their problems, which are the consequences of managers themselves trying to cope and survive, that they in turn block their own effectiveness.

Why do some employees think there’s a risk to being authentic in the workplace?
I can’t generalize like that. However, if management is not committed to your success, if they’re so self-involved in their own success, authenticity becomes a risky proposition. All situations are political and people want you to do what they want you to do. Unless you have a relationship that allows you to say what the other person doesn’t want to hear, you’re always kissing up and being someone’s toad. In some ways it goes back to our whole socialization process that’s based on our fear of power from people who are bigger, stronger, and with more resources at their disposal. That’s part of the baggage people bring to work. They’ve already been told that there are times when they must hold their tongues and not be themselves. Somewhere in there you elect to go to war against those forces or you become more fearful of them.

Is that why people feel that their hands are tied when it comes to changing workplace culture?
You have to use ”I-speak” and talk to people without confronting and challenging them. All interactions involve two people and three realities: It’s your reality, my reality, and the reality that we agree to talk about as if it’s true. Managers should step back from the limelight and put their own self-pursuits on hold in order to help others shine. It’s always easy to tell employees something important. The most difficult part of managing is learning how to manage better. When managers say that their door is always open, they have to realize that their invitation is hollow until they make it possible for their direct reports to speak candidly.

Why does the workplace culture of perfection inhibit workers from talking openly?
The culture of perfection assumes that everybody can be graded on any company metric. But human nature says people are imperfect. Everybody has flaws, and the genius of people is that they know how to work around them. When you believe that any employee can attend on any metric, you create a big mess. If I tell you that there’s something you do that I don’t like, do you have the capacity to stop doing what I mention? Probably not, but you do have the capacity to hide it, fake it, and always pretend.

How do you define “skilled incompetence”? 
That’s where you’re highly competent with using your defensive and self-protective habits. People who are conflict adverse are highly skilled at sidestepping conflict. I call this incompetence because in being so skilled you never learn the other stuff. We all have the same goals. We want to make ourselves as good as we can in areas that are self-gratifying. But what goes on in insecure work environments is that people stay in their comfort zones and don’t evolve themselves. We want managers with a mentality that allows people to learn and grow. That’s what every CEO and shareholder wants in a company.  They have a workforce, and their best chance at realizing corporate success is by having that workforce personally progress, learn, and become more capable at their jobs.

What skills do good managers possess?
It’s learning about other people and how they feel about themselves. Everybody has a bias in their self-preservation, but good management is not based on self-accomplishments but rather helping other people to accomplish and progress on their individualized goals. Managers need to take responsibility for the people who work for them. They must work with the psychological mind-set of the other person and find out how their employees do their work and in turn create an environment in which they can succeed. Learning about other people is not only the most effective way of managing, but it will also allow you to learn about your own preferences and why you have them. You’ll become more accepting, which will make you better equipped to deal with the imperfections of others.

Finding Room for a Trans Story in Diva World

VH1’s new summer hit Daytime Divas — based on a Star Jones novel that dramatized her time on The View — is going where very few scripted televisions shows have dared to go. One of the major storylines is the evolution of the character Heather (played by actress Fiona Gubelmann) and how she comes to terms with her young son, born Brad Jr., and his inner, authentic self, a little girl named Ella. Heather is a conservative Bible-thumping, scripture-reciting suburban working wife and mother.

Daytime Divas showrunners-producers Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler, along with creators and writers Amy Engelberg and Wendy Engelberg, connected with The Advocate to talk more about the storyline.

The Advocate: You come out of the gate swinging with a transgender character that happens to be a young kid. Why was it important to add this element to the show?
Amy Engelberg: That happened while we were writing the pilot episode. [Wendy and I] thought a conservative person in real life has gay children, has transgender people in their family. So we wanted to see what happens, and we found the first thing is she’s a mother, so she’s going to protect her child no matter what and she’s got to find a religious reason to justify it.

What’s interesting about this is because she is so public, she’s a public figure with a transgender child, and she has a fan base that’s conservative, so she has to tread lightly in a certain way because she doesn’t want to alienate her fan base. I’m really proud of this storyline because it’s very progressive for a conservative.

You brought in trans activist and author Janet Mock to play herself; what was that experience like working with a real-life person who has shaped the narrative surrounding this subject?
Engelberg: Janet really helps Heather’s character open up about her child, and this character goes through a big transformation in some of her politics throughout the course of the season.

Chessler: Heather struggles with this very much and on many levels. She deals with her own acceptance, and her husband who is much less accepting. The issue is such an up-and-down journey, and it’s sort of like a coming-out story, in a way, because she’s kept it as a secret, and when she does tell someone it’s a very hard thing to discuss, and certainly when Janet appears in episode 7, that’s what kind of helps her assimilate.

Alberghini: What I actually found very refreshing about this storyline and the character of Heather is she was actually pretty accepting of the child from the beginning, not publicly because I don’t think she felt she could be, but there are moments between the characters that show you that she continues to love and supports her transgender child.

Chessler: I was on set the day that Janet came in to do her scenes, and she was nervous because playing yourself in some ways is the hardest thing because it brings a level of self-consciousness, and Janet has such an important personal persona. She came in ready to work and had advice for us. The cast embraced her because they were just so impressed by her.  

Daytime Divas airs Monday nights at 10 Eastern on VH1.

KELSEY MINOR is a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and freelance reporter with The Advocate. You can follow him on Twitter @theKELSEYminor.

Is Japan’s Naughty Knotty BDSM Scene Too Dangerous?

Rope and Photos by Leh

TOKYO—There’s a saying in Japan, Nama byoho wa kega no moto. That is, Half-baked knowledge of the martial arts is the cause of great injury.

It turns out the same is true in the realm of Japan’s fetish subculture. Half-baked knowledge of BDSM is also the cause of great injury—especially with ropes.


Japan’s fetish scene has blossomed in recent years and become part of the popular culture. A member of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet appears to have frequented S&M bars, and even the HBO series Girls had an episode set in a Tokyo bondage club.

However, as the fetish scene has grown, so have the number of injuries, and in a culture of shame many go unreported.

For decades there has been one man in Japan’s BDSM underground who has acted as the “Doctor House” of dungeonland, offering treatment to the masters, slaves, and dabblers who have done damage to themselves or their partners: Golden-san, also known as Golden Rule S.M. or Doctor Golden, is calling for a “gentler, wiser, and kinder BDSM.”

Doctor Golden, who is an S&M practitioner and also a chiropractor, has been taking care of people, mainly women, injured in the pursuit of their pleasure for over two decades. Next month, the book he lovingly edited and oversaw, The Illustrated Manual Of (Japanese) Bondage: Avoiding Risk Edition, should finally be available in bookstores.

In a mere 129 pages, the safety essentials for binding your partner or client with rope are explained in great detail, with easy to understand illustrations. The sexy cover and comic book nudity inside don’t exactly make it a great coffee table book, unless that coffee table is located inside a shady bar frequented by Japanese politicians or your own home dungeon. But it’s a volume that is long overdue.

The Daily Beast interviewed the Doctor about the need for such a book and spoke with one of his patients and friends, the diminutive fashion photographer, clothing designer, and dominatrix, Leh, aged 28.

Doctor Golden lives alone in a small flat inside of Tokyo, with one giant rack in the front room for rope tying. He was born in the 1950s but keeps his exact age and his full identity secret—although he’s a well-known blogger and writer of the fetish scene.

He contracted juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a boy and when a judo therapist was able to cure his pain, he went to study under him.

The Doctor first became acquainted with Japan’s sexual underworld in 1999 at an orgy held at a luxury hotel. It was also a commercial event for which lawyers, doctors, and accountants paid the stiff cost of 50,000 yen ($500) to join. At the event, he was introduced to a nearly naked woman who confessed that her left hand was limp after an accident during her bondage act. He treated it and she was better after a few sessions. That was the beginning of his part-time life as an S&M chiropractor.

The Doctor’s home is what the Japanese call “the temple of last resort” for those who went a little too far. Many come to him rather than see an M.D.; he’s treated over 430 people since 2000. And there are reasons they’d rather visit his home than a hospital.

“Women in Japan are embarrassed to admit that their boyfriend ties them up or that they like it,” the Doctor says. “Men are ashamed to admit their dominatrix injured them. Some are not sure Japan’s national health insurance will cover their injuries. Things like damaged nipples are not easy to explain.

“There are many reasons those who are in the fetish world as a business hesitate to go see a real doctor—shame and fear for their professional reputation,” the Doctor says. “They also worry that the police will treat the case as an assault rather than an accident between two consenting adults. Of course, the issue of losing face is huge too.

“People in the industry, professional dominatrixes or performers in the BDSM scene, don’t want to talk about accidents. They fear losing trust and reputation if their accidents come out in the open, so they’ve been trying to keep it under wraps,” the Doctor explains. “I felt that it’s insincere to not show this side of our world beforehand, just like they show those videos of car crashes at driving schools. So if getting treatment is embarrassing for people, the best thing is preventive medicine—knowing when to stop and how to do things right.”

Leh adds, “It really looks bad as a dominatrix when you injure your slave… or as the submissive when you get injured. Sometimes both parties are at fault.”

A few years ago Leh herself was injured in a bondage show and the Doctor cured her in a few sessions.

It’s not surprising that kinbaku (rope-tying) results in injury, if you know your history, the Doctor explains.

“The roots of kinbaku come from the arrest techniques used by the police of the Edo Era [which lasted into the mid-19th century]. The police used to be very brutal. It wasn’t a democratic country back then and the cops were often just as likely to execute criminals as they were to arrest them. The authorities cut off their little finger sometimes so criminals would have a weaker grip on their swords. If people had a criminal record that would be tattooed on their faces. If police did just arrest them, they’d tie the criminals up—using rope.

“You don’t need steel handcuffs if you tie the ropes right so that the knots don’t move around,” says the Doctor. “It’s very effective if you run the rope across the vital points and places where the blood circulates. Since it was originally a technique to capture criminals, it sometimes resulted in limb necrosis. Of course, converting this into a form of pleasure would cause accidents.”

According to the Doctor, it was in the Meiji era, as Japan modernized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that kinbaku was adapted for entertainment and sensual delight. Over time, the masters worked out the safest ways to apply the ropes, but not everyone learns the ropes of the art with the diligence required.

The Doctor has been trying to change that in the last two years, giving lectures at clubs, at meet-ups of S&M adherents, and conducting safety seminars. He almost always refuses to take money for his medical work—and is offended by how many men won’t take responsibility for the damages.

“There are some injuries too much for me to handle. There are a lot of cases where the men who injure the women aren’t willing to pay the medical fees,” he says. “Since it was a consensual act and the accidents weren’t planned, they should hold 50 percent of the responsibility. The injured women are subject to a life of disability.”

Rope-related injuries aren’t the only thing BDSM practitioners have to worry about. People get whiplash, neck problems, burns from hot candle wax, jaw problems from biting the rope too hard, dislocated shoulders, elbows, knees, and nerve issues. Candles are often used for setting the mood in BDSM and dripping the hot wax on a naked body is classic stimulation, but it can result in burns.

Basic knowledge of anatomy also helps. “For example, the further you go down the ribcage, the weaker the bones get,” the Doctor explains. “If you tie someone around the lower ribs, they can get fractured or broken.”

Good to know.

You might wonder, if S&M is so dangerous, especially the rope-tying—why do it?

“The ropes, the whips, the candles, the role-playing—it’s all about mutual pleasure. Sometimes it’s love,” says the Doctor. “One thing I have to say is that I’m against dividing people into who is M and who is S and so on. S&M isn’t anything special.”

(The S derives from the name of the Marquis de Sade, seen as glorifying the infliction of pain for purposes of arousal, the M from the 19th century Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who arranged to serve his mistress as a slave. His most famous book is Venus in Furs. And while we’re sorting acronyms, BDSM covers bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism.)

“When couples come to me for advice,” says the Doctor, “I tell them to develop the woman’s erogenous zones and learn rhythm. People good at sex are usually good with musical instruments. They can do different things with their hands at the same time and they have good rhythm and a sense of push and pull. In sex, the dynamism of the rhythms and timing is so important. Japanese people need to have a better sex life, so I want to make BDSM better, promote it, and make couples happy. If you don’t know a woman’s body and tie them up, you’re not going to have decent sex.”

It’s not only bad techniques that cause accidents, he points out. “Things go wrong because people don’t know enough about the other person’s body; they’re selfish. It’s not all about the reaction or the live performance aspect of it. There needs to be an awareness of how it feels for the other person and compassion. Both sides need to talk. There may be a master-servant relationship but we are all the masters of our own lives. You’ve got to carefully enjoy how the session unfolds,” he says philosophically.

In the West, there has been for obvious reasons a view of kinbaku as demeaning to women and the ropes as symbols of oppression (although it shows signs of becoming mainstream kink). The works of the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, which often depict naked Japanese women tied up in contorted positions, are controversial even in Japan. Is the whole thing misogynist?

Leh disagrees.

“Everyone’s BDSM is different and everyone’s rope-play objective—what they hope to get out of it—is different. Yes, stereotypically it’s older, kinky guys tying up women. Tying them in sexual positions or even getting off from humiliating or controlling the girls in those positions.

“For me,” says Leh, “from a woman’s perspective that does nothing for me sexually. It was from a purely artistic perspective that I started learning kinbaku. When I’m on the tying side of rope play, I see it as an art form. I prefer to tie the girls in elegant poses and in sets which set the mood and create stories. Abandoned houses, rooftops, bamboo gardens. I really love seeing the girls’ happy reactions when I show them the pictures I take later. Of course during the shoot, it may be a sexually stimulating experience for the girls if they have masochistic or submissive tendencies.

“I also know this because I have masochistic tendencies. When I get tied up I experience what’s called nawayoi—being drunk on ropes. It’s like being high. You let go, empty your head, and leave yourself in the hands of another. There’s a real sense of trust and romance in that. At the end of the session you really don’t want to be untied. You want to stay tied to your play partner. The act of binding a person is not easy. After all, you cannot connect unless you understand loneliness and transient love.”

Love indeed is a naughty knotty thing. And the good doctor has taken a step in making sure that those love-knots are tied a little more safely, the candle burns a little farther from the skin.

Original article appeared at:

How Fitness Changed His Life

Kevin Carnell is more than just an Instagram star (with nearly 80,000 followers). The 25-year old is also an activist — seen biking at the 2015 and 2016 AIDS/LifeCycle wearing only a small, tight Speedo and a smile. Carnell ended up raising $10,000 for people with HIV while on the ride. Expect him again next year too. But don’t let his sexy snaps fool you. Carnell wasn’t always so confident.

After dealing with low self-esteem and poor body image all his life, Carnell finally came out five years ago, explaining to The Advocate that he wanted to find a way to love himself and embrace who he was without the sexual attention of others.

“I would sleep with [guys], using my body with the hopes of being desired and kept — only to be tossed aside for the next best thing. It wasn’t the best decision, but it was something that I needed to learn.”

[ Related: 23 Photos of Kevin Carnell’s Life, Friends, and Remarkable Physique ]

He goes on to say that his fitness journey came about by making a promise to himself that he’s worth more.

“If I wanted to be happy with how I viewed myself, I needed to set a goal and start from within,” he admits. “[Fitness] shaped how I saw myself, without the input or advice from others. When I see myself every morning, I only have one person to answer to, one person to compare myself to, and one person to impress. It was never about having the perfect body. It was about having the perfect mind-set for how I viewed my body.”

He says he looks back at “old photos of myself and I’m so happy to see my journey … I’m happiest knowing I was able to chisel the way I viewed myself and value the importance of my self-worth, aside from sexual attention. I don’t have a goal weight, goal bench press max, etc. I push myself to the limits I am comfortable with and go off of how I feel. Our bodies and our time on this earth are temporary, so I’m looking to make the most of it.”