Janeane Garofalo Is Still the Voice of My Generation

It’s probably the dread of Midwestern girls all over: moving to Hollywood with their dreamboat actor boyfriend only to find him in bed with another man. But in The Happys, Tracy (Amanda Bauer) not only persists, opening herself up to the quirky neighbors in her Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, dubbed “the Happys,” she also sticks with Mark (played by The Fosters’ Jack DePew). As Tracy and Mark, both 21, learn what we all must eventually — that finding what you thought would make you happy very frequently does not — the film turns charming and thoughtful, with a sense of introspection that goes with the California dream. 

This makes The Happys (which opens today in select cities) a delightfully queer film about millennial adulting, in which we’re rooting for the straight girl as much as the bi/gay guys. At the center of Tracy’s new hood is a Latino food truck owner, a gay magazine reporter, Mark’s delightfully butchy manager who tries to straighten him out (a hilarious turn by The Walking Dead’s Melissa McBride), and importantly Luann. The latter, a compassionate, nurturing, free-spirited former child star who invested in real estate and seems to own half the rental cottages in Los Feliz, is played by Janeane Garofalo. The character, she says, is the complete opposite of the actress herself (a self-described nearly asexual New Yorker with a long-term boyfriend).

The voice of Generation X, Garofalo had her breakout role in the 1994 Winona Ryder film Reality Bites. She was dark and sardonic, attractive, sarcastic yet seemingly sincere. She became a Gen X icon immediately and through the next nearly two decades she worked steadily in film and television, having broken into the latter on the beloved but short-lived Ben Stiller Show on Fox in 1992 (alongside friends Andy Dick and Bob Odenkirk). From there came the role of the short, slightly frumpy, delightfully sardonic Paula on The Larry Sanders Show on HBO, which earned her two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

More films would follow, from the cult hits (Mystery Men, Wet Hot American Summer) to the blockbusters (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), with many excellent indies in between (including The Matchmaker, Cop Land, Clay Pigeons, and Dogma).

But her feisty stand-up comedy and outspoken progressive activism (she was fighting Republicans long before Donald Trump became one) made Garofalo the voice of a generation — at least a generation of women who, in the era before social media made connectivity, nonhomogenous imagery, and intersectionality ubiquitous, didn’t fit the mold of what Hollywood had always told us we needed to be.

The Advocate: I love the overarching theme of The Happys — that sort of dichotomy between what we think will make us happy versus what really does. I’m wondering, do you think that’s a universal experience?
Garofalo: I assume most things, in a way, are universal experiences, if you’re dealing with human beings. Now, obviously with The Happys, it’s a slice of life that … I live in New York, but I think it’s supposed to be a comment on a slice of life in a particular neighborhood. Certainly the experiences those people have are not universal, given that 90 percent of the global population lives on less than $2 a day. …  So it’s a comment on what [the writers] have experienced [in Los Feliz], but certainly lots of people don’t live that way.

This isn’t the typical Janeane Garofalo role. I’ve heard film critics use this as shorthand: “Well, that’s the Janeane Garofalo role,” meaning the witty, acerbic, cynical character, a lot of times, female character. Have you heard that before?
In the ‘90s, I was certainly typecast. There’s no doubt about that. I didn’t start acting until I was 27, which is very late. I started doing stand-up at 19, but I got lucky when I was 27 through Garry Shandling and Ben Stiller, who I was friends with, and got cast on their shows. Now, on Larry Sanders, my character was based on a real person who worked at [Late Show With David Letterman]. The Sanders show was a little bit about behind the scenes of Letterman. That person was, I guess, what you could call acerbic, taciturn, and so I was tasked with doing that. And I guess people thought I was pretty good at it. And then combined with the way I look, which entertainment, and life in general, people like to put you in categories.

I wasn’t savvy enough to realize, “Oh, you’re going to get typecast.” I was just so flattered to get a job. I couldn’t believe my good luck. I am extremely chatty. I’d like to think I’m polite. I’m much more polite now that I’m older than I was. I used to be drunk a lot, so I don’t know how polite I was all the time in the ‘90s, but still, I like to think of myself these days as a door holder, a holder of doors.

Unfortunately, in my early stand-up, due to insecurity, I … probably behaved in a more, I guess, what could be called cynical way only because I was nervous. And then as the years went on and I became more comfortable in my own skin as a stand-up, I speak in the way that I’m speaking to you now. So I’m terribly embarrassed by any old footage of me doing stand-up, like I’m too cool for school. because I’ve never felt that way about myself. I am embarrassed that I behaved that way. …  I have done a lot of roles that are different; it’s just that no one ever sees them anymore.

Especially the small indie films. They just don’t get the wide attention.
There’s a lot of them. And not all of them deserve to get [attention]. A lot of times you’re on the set going, “Why are we making [this?] Why did this story need to be told?”

You’ve also gotten a little bit choosier about your projects.
It’s not like people are banging down my door. But luckily, when I was successful in the ‘90s, I didn’t buy anything. … I’m not a big spender, and I don’t have children … I can afford to be “choosy” and again, it’s not like I have a ton of people saying, “Hey, please do this.” I don’t have to do certain things because I don’t have to think in terms of, “Oh, I need to put this money away for my kids.” I own the apartment I live in. I don’t have a car. And that’s about the extent of it.

There’s not a lot of roles for middle-aged women as it is. There’s also less roles for middle-aged women who are not considered conventionally attractive, and not a lot of roles for middle-aged women not considered conventionally attractive who have been pigeonholed. Again, I’m not complaining, I’m just answering.

Did you ever have a moment in your career that you were like, “This is it, I’ve made it?”
Not so much, “This is it, I’ve made it,” but just pure joy, meeting certain idols like Catherine O’Hara, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Albert Brooks, those kind of things. Those were moments where I felt, “Oh. my gosh, this is amazing,” Catherine O’Hara being one of the biggest. … It’s not “I made it,” it’s like, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m doing a scene with these people.”

That’s probably a smart way to do it.
I think it is because a lot of people start buying stuff … [and] very, very few have sustained career success. It looks like there’s a lot, I guess to the outside eye, but as you’ll note, there are a handful of actors that work and work and work and work and work. And a lot of times females drop off. You know what I mean? There is a precious few that work and work and work well into their 60s and 70s. And they tend to get a lot of the jobs. A lot of the men get old, they keep going, and the women get younger.

It requires a great deal of luck, but also a great deal of hard work, and I must say I am not the hardest-working woman in show business. I am a person who is easily defeated, and I’m the first to say, “I’m out, I’ll pass.” You know what I mean? Except for smoking and making jewelry and doing stand-up, I’m what you call a quitter. It requires a great deal to sustain, to stay in the game. And a lot of the stuff that I just don’t want to do. And sometimes I feel bad about that, and then sometimes I realize that’s not my nature. I don’t want to be on that metaphorical treadmill. It requires a great deal of things outside of the actual job of just acting that I don’t have any interest in.

Also, I don’t want to take care of myself physically. I don’t want to take care of my skin. That’s a full-time job. I also have no social media platforms. There’s a fake me tweeting and a fake Facebook me, but I don’t work the social media, which is a full-time job. I don’t want to dress up and go somewhere to have my picture taken. I don’t want to do any of that. I never have wanted to. The business requires you to do that, and I don’t want to do it.

And a lot of those folks end up doing stage work too.
I’ve done plays, and I’m happy to do that. I did this summer. I was on Broadway with Lili Taylor in a revival of Marvin’s Room. It was a great learning experience, but I did not enjoy some of the process. I enjoyed actually doing it with Lili, when we really got in our rhythm. But then there’s the repetition. And the tech rehearsals. Some people really like it. I did not, but I did love working with Lili Taylor.

Do you identify with your character Luann in The Happys?
Actually, no, there’s really nothing similar to us in certain ways. She and I did this movie a long time ago, so forgive me. She became a landlord of sorts and was responsible for people and collecting rent checks, stuff which wouldn’t be great for me. I feel like I wouldn’t be that kind of person. Also, she was much more flighty. …  She’s a nurturer, which I can be that, but I am not as like, “Oh, say yes to life, and go for it.” I’m not like that.

How old were you when you were able to really admit what made you happy?
I think I’ve always been able to admit it, but I think, as I’ve gotten older, as probably as everyone does, you realize who you are, I think. Still, one hopes to evolve. I think I really know my nature. I really know what I do and don’t want to do. Sometimes that’s fine, and sometimes I can become more cut off. I’m the chattiest introvert you’ll ever meet.

You know what my greatest joy is, to tell you the truth? Walking, just walking around. That’s one of the greatest parts of New York and the outer boroughs, but also any cities I go do stand-up in. That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to bring my phone with me, and I don’t want to have a plan. Now, if there are bead stores, that’s the cherry on top of the cake, if I can wander into a good bead store. I just want to walk around. I want to read. I want to go to a bead store.

I love walking across the bridges in New York at night — either the Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, or the Manhattan Bridge at night — on a cold, brisk night. That’s when I feel as happy as can be by myself. I have no problems being alone.

And you’re not afraid for your safety?
Oh, no … New York is so safe. I think people misunderstand that because everybody’s out walking, and everything’s open. Now, that’s not true of every city, which I find out the hard way lots of times.

I love that you bead.
Oh, I’m a beadist, yes. I like making jewelry. I just make it for the fun of it, but also, I give it as gifts for free. It’s not like I’m good at it, and I would never charge anyone for it. I just enjoy the process and the ritual, I think.

Do you ever look back on some of the jobs you had before you were successful?
I was a bad bike messenger who was quickly demoted to a walking messenger. This is back in the day before the internet’s open. In downtown Boston in the Financial District, there’s papers that need to be delivered between buildings. So there was a lot of work for walking messengers that does not exist now. I was a terrible waitress who was demoted to ice scream scooper and then dishwasher and then fired. And I worked at a shoe store, was terrible at that. I was fired. I worked in retail, was fired. And I say this with no pride, no pride whatsoever … I can’t follow directions very well. I get easily overwhelmed, and I’m really stupid sometimes, like pitifully stupid.

Have you ever had that problem in acting?
Actually, no, because it’s a different kind of multitasking. It’s more talking and doing. When I first started acting, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, and it was hard for me. You pick up the glass of water here while walking. That was really hard, because … I didn’t realize you have to stay within certain parameters, and then you have to do the same thing again. So that took a while to naturally walk and talk, which you wouldn’t think would be so hard. But as soon as somebody says action, it’s like, “What do I do? What?”

I don’t have a problem memorizing lines at all. I used to have a problem with “Do I have to pick up the water here? Can’t I just do it without the water?” That kind of thing. I used to have a problem with that. It’s a different kind of skill set. … I still get lost on the way to jobs all the time in Los Angeles in my rental car. I’m a terrible orienteer … I always build in an extra hour of getting lost time. I don’t know how to work the GPS.

Well, everybody gets lost in L.A., so that’s good.
I like to be punctual too. … It’s disrespectful [not to be]. [Perpetual late-comers] absolutely are doing it with the full knowledge that they are going to be late. And texting has just allowed people to do that. I don’t do that. If I’m late, it’s because it was something that was absolutely unforeseen. I do not build in an extra 15 minutes to be late like most people do.

In many ways you helped reinvent stand-up, the form of it.
I am credited in some instances with somehow pioneering alternative stand-up, which I don’t think is true … it’s just an undisciplined way of doing stand-up. It’s just the way that I happen to do stand-up. They say your style chooses you rather than you choosing it, and my style was always, I’m bringing the notes onstage. I don’t want to write it all out or rehearse it because then it doesn’t sound right to me. Also, I want to leave it open to maybe I don’t want to say that tonight. Maybe I want to talk about something else.

That was just a style I always did because that’s just my nature and a lack of discipline. Now, when I had to do TV stuff with stand-up … you have to tell [producers] what you’re going to say, this, that, and the other. And you have to shorten it, and so I find that it’s very difficult for me to do five-minute sets, 10-minute sets. It’s really easy for me to do an hour or more. It’s hard for me to contain it.

Mort Sahl used to do similar things and Paula Poundstone, and I really think the first sort of alternative stand-up is Patti Smith. There’s tapes of her speaking at events where she’s hilarious, and she’s doing what I think sounds like stand-up meeting spoken-word type stuff, which is sometimes called alternative comedy. Alternative comedy really just means in venues that are an alternative to a comedy club. But some people think it means the content is different, but I disagree with that. I think it just means that people are doing stand-up in venues that are not comedy club proper.

Also, the audience tends to be different. They’re willing to listen more and go on the journey with the person onstage than, understandably, people at a comedy club who have paid money for the tickets, and there’s a two-drink minimum, that kind of thing. They kind of, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, really would like the comedy the way they want it.

You’re talking about two women who were basically doing stand-up in their own way, in a way that was different than we had seen before in a lot of venues and stuff. I think in some ways that does sort of demand a reinvention.
Well, yeah, sure. But I think that there’s a tradition of it in, when I read about the ;50s and the coffeehouse scene in the ’60s in certain cities, there was spoken-word people and poetry slam people and comedy in the jazz clubs and things like that. So that has always existed. There’s always been people who have pioneered different ways like Beth Lapides, UnCabaret in Los Angeles, when she really worked very hard to establish a scene that would cause an alternative comedy scene. She deserves lots and lots of credit for that.

One of the things that happened early on with you, at least from my perspective, is we always thought you gave off a queer vibe.
Everyone thinks I’m gay and Jewish, to which I say, “Thank you,” because it makes me seem far more interesting than an asexual atheist.

Right-wing pundits for a long time liked to attack you far more than somebody who is also a left-wing comedian.
Oh, yeah, because it’s low-hanging fruit, right? It’s easy to mock and marginalize anyone in show business, especially if they’re female. And that’s why a lot of mainstream news outlets only book people in entertainment to speak about a lot of social issues, especially when it comes to military-industrial complex issues, because they’re easy to dismiss and dislike and to ignore. Let’s use a rock as an example: There were plenty of people in the Pentagon and within the military industrial complex that people could have gone, “Wow, that person’s against the Iraq invasion?” But they didn’t do that. There’s a reason they don’t do that. They put Susan Sarandon on and Tim Robbins and myself and others just to make it look silly. Right? Because it’s easy to ignore it and dislike it. I get so angry with people like, “Oh, just shut up and sing,” like with the Dixie Chicks. What? Are they not taxpaying citizens?

Yeah, or now with the NFL.
Exactly. And that’s just lazy. That is a person looking for an excuse to disengage. Are you telling me if I’m a plumber, you listen to your plumber? Oh, shut up and plumb, shut up and fix my pipes. How dare you. And they, of course the type of people that would say shut up and sing, are the first people to voice their opinion, right? Why wouldn’t you say to them, “So, what makes your opinion more valuable?” Also, some of these things are not opinions, they’re facts. They’re facts when people talk about social justice issues.

And science. That’s a thing.
Right. It’s not two sides to this story about LGBTQ issues. There’s not two sides to the story with climate change. There’s not two sides to the story with the lack of weapons of mass destruction. There’s not two sides to the story with the Trump administration. Facts are facts are facts. The mainstream media also likes to pretend there’s two sides.

The mainstream media has been trained to for the longest time. They’ve been trained to think that’s how it works, and now it’s really coming back to roost.
It looks cowardly. It’s just cowardly, and it’s just corporate.

In your case, part of the right-wing playbook is to call a woman a lesbian. You can point out that she doesn’t have children, that she doesn’t have a husband. Those are all ways to somehow discredit her.
It’s as silly a thing to say as “Don’t walk under a ladder — it’s bad luck.” You know what I mean? It’s verbal dust. It’s nothing, and right-wing politics media, it’s a blood sport. It’s a blood sport. It’s got nothing to do with issues, per se. It has everything to do with the most visceral, base instincts of a human.

What it is to be a conservative or a Republican today is a very bad thing, and one should be deeply ashamed of it. I would have said that for the last 30 years, almost, but for sure, today. It’s like when somebody says, “I voted for Brexit, but I didn’t think it would happen.” Keep that to yourself. Jesus. You sound like an idiot. And anybody who identifies as Republican or conservative today, I don’t understand that. Don’t say that out loud. You know what I mean? There’s no party for you, unless you’re admitting to me that you are unrestrained id, that you have no emotional intelligence and no empathy.

I wrote an essay a while ago about how I abandoned the Republican Party when I came out and got educated. I do think in Idaho, where I’m from, it was always a libertarian’s dream, a live and let live.
But they’re not live and let live.

Nowadays there’s no moral compass. There’s the lack of intelligence and morality and humanness about it.
They’ve been moving that way since the civil rights era. They are certainly not the party of Lincoln. They have always been the party that uses racial dog whistles and sexist things. They are a repository for the seven deadly [sins] or whatever it is that’s wrong. All the flaws in human nature gravitate toward that party and have since the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s just really obvious now. They used to try and hide it.

Yeah, it’s kind of like white supremacists.
It’s just human nature, and until the human condition changes, until human nature is upgraded as easily as software is, there will always be a place for people like that — as long as there are people who are ignorant or lack emotional intelligence or are racists, who are sexist, who are anxious, who are xenophobic, who are unkind, who are uninformed, or who are greedy. There’s always a place for you in the big tent. The GOP, they always call themselves a big-tent party. Yeah, a tent full of hate has elastic walls. And they do not represent the majority. That’s the good news. And that’s why they have to steal elections, and that’s why they have to redistrict, and that’s why they have to roll back the Voting Rights Act and gerrymander.

They cannot legally and ethically win anymore, and I don’t think there’s been an honest win by conservatives in certain districts and the White House since Bobby Kennedy got shot. That sounds like tinfoil hat stuff to some people, but it’s just business. They have not represented the country since the 1960s.

And how do people combat that?
Well, first of all, there certainly has to be people fighting for voting rights to be protected, for the illegal gerrymandering and redistricting to be undone. Now, obviously, Trump should have been arrested already. How Robert Mueller is going — how long is this going to take? I mean, if you watch The First 48, they get it done in 48 hours. They just have a carcass and the nickname of a guy that might have seen somebody, and then they solve it, right? But when it comes to this, how much evidence do you need?

Now, also, it was known that this happened prior to the election, and Mitch McConnell, of course, did everything he could to stop it because he’s a piece of shit. And Barack Obama, as much as I love him, conciliatory, who in the end allowed it to happen because he didn’t think that Trump would win. But the thing is, Barack Obama knew about it, but, of course, Mitch McConnell stood in the way as much as he could to keep the lid on it.

We don’t live in a democracy; we never have. It’s a managed democracy, and there’s never really been free and fair elections. That’s just a fact. That’s just business. The late Antonin Scalia illegally installed George W. Bush. That should have never happened. Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. That was the agreement in the Rose Garden before they even installed him. You know what I mean?

It’s always been as corrupt as most other countries. We’re really quick to point the finger at other countries about their stolen elections. It’s front-page news. Then here it isn’t. I mean, it is now — you know what I mean? You can’t avoid it now, but people would drag their feet if they could. But there is just so much Trump stuff, and there’s some really good journalism going on, luckily.

Do you actually identify as asexual?
No, no, I just say that in my life. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 17 years. … What I’m saying is, it is what it is after 17 years. But I actually have always had a very low libido. Honestly. I think it is biology. I think some people have it. I think it’s just the way you’re hard-wired. From youth, I have had a very, very low libido. Now, when I was drinking heavy, it was much more active. Then there was a brief period in my late 30s and early 40s where, again, I think it was biology. This drive kicked in because I think it was my body saying, “If you want to have a baby, this is it.” The libido kicked in. And then it went back to where it is, which is basically at a base, low level. When you’re with the same person in a one-bedroom apartment for 17 years, I say asexual. I mean, we’re closer now than we ever have been before, but it’s not like romantic anymore.

I don’t see it as a problem. It’s just the way I am. I used to think it was weird. And also, when I would drink a lot, and I would be more sexual, it made me feel more normal, I guess. “This seems to be what other people are doing.” Looking now, it really doesn’t matter to me that much. It just is what it is. I’m just not really moved by sexuality that much.

Do you ever think about what your legacy is if there are no kids to remember you, if there are no children that are yours?
No, no, I’ve never actually wanted children. Now, I like other people’s kids. And I have seven nieces and nephews, and that’s fine. I have never, from earliest memories, wanted to be married or have children. It’s just, honestly, one of those things. There have been brief periods where I’ve thought, Should I just do it? And then I realize very quickly, no, no. I have never been more sure of anything. But also, a legacy, it’s weird to me when people say, “I want so-and-so to carry on my name.” And it’s like, “Oh, thank you, John Quackenberry. What would we do without a son to carry—” Who gives a shit? I don’t care. I realize that we are all here just mere specks for a brief time. You know what I mean? No one will be worse off if there is no legacy from me. … It doesn’t negatively affect anyone.

I’m not trying to degrade anybody or disparage anybody who feels they want that, but I don’t get it. There’s a lot of great reasons to have children, but just to leave a legacy isn’t one of them. … And if you’re concerned about a legacy, it’s best, then, really, get your ass going and do stuff that when you leave this earth, people are better off for your having been here. That’s more important than just naming someone after you.

I hear a lot about who will take care of me when I’m older, those kinds of questions.
It’s not my kids’ responsibility. … Who will take care of me when I’m older? Hopefully I’ll be financially OK to do it, or whatever, but that is not my children’s responsibility.

My favorite Janeane Garofalo movie, and thank God I’m not going to say The Truth About Cats and Dogs. My favorite Janeane Garofalo movie is The Mystery Men.
Oh, thank you, on behalf of the writer and producers, directors, thank you. I have the bowling ball right here. They gave it to me, and I put it out every Halloween, and the kids in the building love it.

You didn’t have a lot of dialogue, you didn’t have a lot you had to do, but there was something about it I just found very empowering for me.
Aw, I’m blushing.

Tell me what you’re favorite Janeane Garofalo movie has been.
Favorite as the best time I had, I can only speak to it in terms of the good memories. So my favorite experiences movie-wise have been — Wet Hot American Summer and The MatchMaker are two that come to mind. Just being in Ireland was so wonderful. I also loved doing a TV series called Ideal in Manchester, England, for two seasons that was on BBC Three. And also living in Manchester briefly, those kinds of things I’m very fond of.

I would say that the most important work I’ve done is working at Air America radio. I look on that and say, “That was important.” Although there’s a project that people would say, “That needed to be done.” I mean, I was happy to be part of The Laramie Project, happy to be part of Marvin’s Room, happy to be part of the Abbie Hoffman biopic. But I feel like I’m proudest of Air America radio.

Can you tell me a little bit more about Air America?
Well, it was just something I felt was important to do. I was very flattered I was able to do it. It also allowed me to work with Sam Seder, my cohost, who has gone on to continue his career in political podcasting and being on MSNBC and CNN. Sam Seder is a wonderful person, and also Rachel Maddow, Al Franken, Lizz Winstead, Marc Maron worked there. Just lots of great people, and I still — I made Al Franken a friend and I’m a supporter of Al Franken. I know that some people consider that controversial.

Discussing the #MeToo movement is like talking about Israel, for Christ’s sake. It’s one of the things, you know what I mean? People are like, “Uh-oh.” But Al Franken did a lot of great work, a lot of great work, and was a big supporter of Planned Parenthood and all kinds of things. And I think, in his case, it is OK to question the accuser, who had worked at Fox News, and Breitbart had contacted her. And I think when the word Breitbart is mentioned, everybody has the right to question what the heck is going on. And I think that’s fair. And the spirited gender-neutral bathrooms, you know what I mean?

I’m going to say, consider the source when it, like when we discussed earlier, the Republicans, it’s a blood sport. As soon as the game becomes there’s a lot of Republicans guilty of sexual harassment, you know the accusations are coming hard at Matt Taibbi and Al Franken. You know what I mean? Like I said, if you hear the word Breitbart, then you have every right to wonder what’s going on. And as you know, Democrats are the first to throw each other under the bus.

Yeah, we’re first to step down, we’re the first throw each other under the bus, and we’re also the first to do the right thing.
Well, because that’s who we are, and that’s why we’re liberals progressing as Democrats. And pieces of shit are not. And they double down on their stuff. They double down on it, but I don’t know why Democrats keep bringing a tennis rackuet to a baseball game. Why Obama believed there was going to be bipartisanship, why any Democrats still believe you can be bipartisan is shocking to me, especially when [Republicans] state it, they state it that they will not do it. It’s a weird one, but it’s human nature that draws us one way or the other. And if your nature is tainted, you are going to go to the right, but I do think Democrats really make a big mistake when they throw people under the bus so quickly, because sometimes you’re really losing a good person who is not defined by this accusation.

Here’s another thing. The person who accused Al Franken, now they were in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s your takeaway. That’s your takeaway from the experiences you saw over there? Is this picture bothering you? Have you seen the way women are treated over there? Have you seen the way veterans are treated when they return? Have you seen how many casualties from the drones? This is what bothers you? You know what I mean? It would have been one thing if she was upset about that picture, which by the way I think what Al Franken is guilty of is not being clever in a photo. It’s just a ridiculously unfunny photo. It took months for that to be a problem, for the accuser, who as I said, worked for a Fox affiliate and was contacted by Breitbart.

It would be one thing if that picture bothered her and she spoke about how veterans are treated, how many casualties there are, and how women are treated, not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but by our own military. That I could accept.

I think the problem with the #MeToo movement is it’s really wonderful what’s happening for young women and young women coming out and speaking about stuff. It’s difficult, and there are many people you can see — Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey — all these people where you can see egregious crimes. When we look back 30 yeas prior at things that weren’t considered harassment, and the in current light we talk about them as though it’s the same. It’s difficult.
It isn’t. It’s not. It’s like lights out on Maple Street from Twilight Zone. You know what I mean? The same thing happens with these movements — always starting out with the best of intentions, always bringing us toward progress. That’s all to the good. The bad thing is now everything, now we’re casting a wide net. Now we’re casting a wide net. You cannot put Al Franken with Harvey Weinstein. You can’t. There’s not any similarity whatsoever. Harvey Weinstein, horrible human being. Al Franken, a decent human being who has devoted his life in the last 15 years to public service. And he’s a guy who’s a feminist. That photo is just stupid. It’s just a dumb photo.

We watched the TV when they announced that he was going to resign. We were like, “No! No, they’ve won!”
I cried. We can’t afford to lose good Democrats. We can’t afford it. It’s too important. And also, does nobody want to discuss the things he’s done or been trying to do? You know what I mean? It’s a part of that, and that photo, that’s the thing? That’s so strange. Actually, probably out of office, one could get more accomplished. It’s not like it’s easy to get shit done in Congress.

Do you think he’ll continue to do stuff in that realm?
I certainly hope so, but I’m sure he’s been emotionally impacted egregiously by this. And I’m sure it’s going to take him some time to recover emotionally from what’s happened and how fast it happened and how his coworkers were not there for him, etcetera. Who knows what. I haven’t spoken to him recently, so I don’t know what kind of mental state he’s in or his family’s in. I don’t know. And then people say, “Well, how do you think the woman in the picture feels?” She doesn’t give a shit, and actually, nothing happened to her. It’s just a shit picture. Also, for the rehearsal that she was upset that he kissed her. You know what, tell him. Tell him. Call him up. You guys were together day and night for weeks. Say, “Hey, man, get off me. Don’t touch me.” Had she no agency, you know what I mean, no personal sovereignty? Make it clear you don’t want that.

The one thing that I’ve heard from a number of actresses I’ve talked with who’ve said that happens all the time — it’s not necessarily meant to be harassment. It’s meant to be capturing those moments or whatever for the film.
Right, to make it real. There’s a huge difference between people who physically force themselves on a person. That’s a whole different category, and I’ve nothing but compassion, and they should be heard from, people that are physically and emotionally abused. That is certainly a different category than Al Franken taking this picture and then in rehearsal kissed me, and an octogenarian, George Bush touched my butt from his wheelchair. That’s just sad, you know what I mean? Come on.

And also, with these things, do you have to discuss that publicly? He’s senile, for Christ’s sake, and he’s also at your butt level. He’s sitting in a chair. You know what my problem with George Bush Sr. is his time with the CIA and his illegal invasion of Iraq. That’s my problem with him. And his work with Eli Lilly, and his work at the Carlisle Group. Now that’s something to have a problem with. 

A Trans Woman's Experiences at the Conservative Movement's Woodstock

In life, sometimes you come back to a place where, in many ways, you feel at home, while others in your tribe may feel fear and dread. Such a place may also be where, like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken, you have a “special set of skills” through which you can make positive change happen. Your skills and your uniqueness may bridge gaps that seem unbridgeable to others.

That is exactly what happened recently when three other transgender women and I attended the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. We each were there for four days to meet and network with our fellow conservatives and to advocate for transgender Americans and our broader LGBTQ community. For those unfamiliar with CPAC, it is the conservative movement’s annual Woodstock, with an expected 14,000 attendees coming from the United States and around the world.

None of us are wealthy, and all of us made our own way to CPAC without financial support from any political action committee, donor, advocacy group, or anyone else telling us what to do or how to do it. We ventured from across the country as happy rainbow warriors looking to network, exchange views, learn, and make inroads for the future as we represented our transgender community. We met fellow conservatives from red states, blue states, and purple states as well as from Europe, Australia, and Japan.

Our message was simple: “We are equals, we agree on many things (but not all), and if you aren’t already on board with LGBTQ liberty, freedom, and equality … let’s have a conversation!” We expected to have a lot of interesting discussions, but what we didn’t expect was to have about two dozen LGBTQ community members or their parents and relatives share a hug and introduce themselves as they thanked us for being there. In addition to interactions with these amazing, supportive folks, we received more hugs, fist bumps, high fives, and even a few kisses on the cheek as we engaged with our fellow conservatives in real discussions about our community. Many CPAC attendees asked us to pose for pictures with them and to come back next year.

To help make conversations happen, Adelynn Campbell, Jordan Evans, Gina Roberts, and I dressed in business attire and wore distinct handmade pins my wife had made that said, “Proud to Be Conservative … Proud to Be Transgender … Proud to Be American … #SameTeam.” To make sure that no was confused about our message, she also placed a Republican elephant with one-half of the inset being the great Transgender Pride flag. One thing I learned when I began my LGBTQ advocacy as the only openly transgender delegate at the massive Republican National Convention was that if you want to meet a lot of people and dispel any myths and fears they may have about our community, you need to advertise. Politely introducing yourself to people one by one is great, but being small in number won’t allow you to achieve critical mass. In addition to our loud and proud buttons, we also held my wife’s handmade signs with the same “Proud to Be…” slogan in large type to make sure no one missed us or the positive message that we sought to bring.

This wouldn’t be the first time that these special signs and buttons appeared at CPAC. Last year, my colleague Jordan Evans joined me to advocate for our transgender community and help hold a replica of our country’s original Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flag from the American Revolution. It was quite effective in helping us capture the eyeballs of passersby last year and create great moments of conversation after CPAC attendees flashed surprise at two real-life transgender people being in their midst. This occurred the very day after President Trump’s administration rescinded the Obama guidance on accommodations that helped protect transgender schoolchildren in the United States. To say that Jordan Evans and I were unhappy about the Trump administration’s unwise decision would be a vast understatement, and as 2017 rolled along, we did everything we could to advocate against this action and others that followed.

Obviously, this past year has been a difficult one for our LGBTQ tribe and especially our transgender community. Even as Republicans and conservative Americans, we felt the sting and frustration of what seemed like an unrelenting round of announcements, press conferences, tweets, breaking news, and actual actions regarding our administration’s direction on the lives of LGBTQ Americans. We also had to contend with state-level discriminatory actions against transgender people around our country and campaign against them when they cropped up. So this year, I knew that we would need to go one better with our using an attention-grabbing flag representing  freedom, liberty, and equality. Fortunately, our colleague Gina Roberts graciously donated a rainbow flag with the famous Gadsden snake and “Don’t Tread on Me” emblazoned on it.

Each of us who advocated at CPAC realize that many in our LGBTQ community who don’t share our conservative and Republican perspectives may prefer that we demonstrate, display anger, or outwardly challenge our fellow CPAC attendees. For reaching our brothers and sisters in the conservative movement, that is not a winning strategy. In our collective opinion, to win any hearts and minds of this crowd and many other conservatives and Republicans around the country, one needs to be respectful, civil, and prepared to elicit questions and provide honest, fact-filled, yet heartfelt answers as needed. You must also share your own story over and over and over. Not through confrontation or name-calling.

There are many conservatives and Republicans who actually don’t hate or dislike LGBTQ people, nor reject others based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and who are embarrassed by what some others are doing in their name. They actually do support our community. However, as we have found at CPAC, many have never been offered the opportunity to meet or express their support to someone who is LGBTQ. Some conservatives have met a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person, but most have never met a transgender person before. By letting them meet us, we as advocates were given the chance to change their hearts and then, their minds — what I call the “Harvey Milk Rule.”

To paraphrase the great Harvey Milk: Maybe, just maybe, once they connect with us, they will become much less likely to vote against LGBTQ people instead of voting to help strip away our freedoms, liberties, and rights. In our case, the conservatives and Republicans we met would remember “those nice ladies from CPAC” before voting to hurt our community.

By being present at the Conservative Political Action Conference and inviting a conversation, we achieved our goal. We had the type of conversations that need to be had at this time. Over the many hours we stood with our rainbow Gadsden flag, message signs, GOP/Trans Pride buttons, and smiles and roamed CPAC, we spoke with hundreds of attendees. Many thousands more saw us as they walked back and forth between speeches and breakout sessions.

We worked hard to have those necessary conversations, minute by minute, hour by hour, with conservatives from all demographics and age groups. As one might imagine, we were more popular with millennials than with older generations. As a Gen X member myself, I know that most of my generation are supportive of LGBTQ people, but transgender liberty and freedom still seem to be a work in progress. Overall, millennial conservatives clearly have less issues with LGBTQ people than someone like Ben Shapiro would suggest.

After Shapiro’s appearance at CPAC, three of us were challenged to a debate by a group of young college men loaded for bear with talking points. Adelynn Campbell, Jordan Evans, and I held our rainbow Gadsden flag and our signs as defused their prepared arguments for denying our existence as transgender Americans. We also provided more than enough Trans 101 to destroy their myths about our community before a growing crowd for nearly 30 minutes. At one point in the debate, Jordan Evans and I switched places in order to tackle different questions from our debate opponents. By being at CPAC as fellow conservatives, we were able to counter and refute anti-transgender comments in speeches by Shapiro, Michelle Malkin, and France’s Marion Le Pen, live and in person. Nothing could stop us from taking questions and advocating for our community; not even a guy walking behind us with a crucifix a few times.

We were also able to offer a beacon of support to a number of LGBT conservatives who came to speak with us. We shared some of our experiences and were able to tell them things are getting better on our side of the aisle and that they too can be part of the change they want to see. It was wonderful to meet with them and to realize that the number of LGBTQ conservatives and Republicans is growing and that they already have a home in the fight to protect our community’s liberties, freedoms, and equality. I was honored to meet a quiet young gay man from North Carolina and learn about his desire to get more involved politically in his community and party. I’d like to think meeting some transgender women at CPAC may have made his decision and his journey a little easier.

However, some of our most meaningful conversations were with military veterans. Several veterans spoke with us to express their support for our using our right to free speech that they fought for in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other tough places. One Navy veteran said, “I may not understand everything about y’all, but I’m really glad you are here!” It was hard not to tear up through my smile as he slowly made his way to another speech. I would never try to convince Advocate readers that we changed the world, but I do think we are changing our little corner of it.

Two years ago, I attended CPAC 2016 alone in order to reintroduce myself to many old friends. Of the several dozen people whom I nervously reintroduced myself to, each one said that they were still my friend, but they all asked me the same question: “Are you still a conservative (or a Republican)?” Once I said yes, they were relieved at my answer. I saw great potential for the future in those quiet, friendly encounters where I shared my authenticity with my fellow conservatives. I learned that I could be a conservative advocate for my transgender/LGBTQ community on the right side of the aisle. Last year, one transgender conservative advocate at CPAC became two, and this year, there were four of us. I feel blessed to have had three more sisters from our community who happen to be conservative and Republican break with convention to advocate with me without any guarantee of a safe or successful outcome.

Now it is up to the rest of our greater LGBTQ community to keep the conversation going. We can achieve more by working together and engaging others whom too many not have given a chance in the past. No matter our political labels, ultimately we are in this fight for liberty and freedom together.

JENNIFER WILLIAMS is a transgender activist and was the first out trans delegate at the Republican National Convention.

Alan Cumming: From 'Cabaret' to a Queer 'Murder, She Wrote'

Alan Cumming is no stranger to breaking ground. The Scottish-American bisexual actor and activist has never held back from expressing his opinions or tackling unconventional roles. Now Cumming is setting a new precedent, playing the first out gay lead character in a network TV drama.

In Instinct, a CBS series premiering Sunday and based on James Patterson’s 2017 book Murder Games, Cumming plays Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a gifted author, university professor, and former CIA operative who is lured back to his old life when New York detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic) recruits him to track down a serial killer. The killer, it turns out, is using Reinhart’s book as a tutorial for murder.

Oddly enough, Cumming says he wasn’t a Patterson fan before being cast, and jokes that he “had no idea that one in 17 books sold in this country are written by him.”

“I met him and had a lovely chat with him, actually,” Cumming says. “I was sent a very early draft of [Murder Games] and found it a real page-turner. The combination of the many traits the character Dylan has — and also this kind of page-turner murder mystery, and the aspect that he was gay and how it wasn’t conforming to people’s expectation — I found it all enticing.”

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For an artist as precise and authentic as Cumming, it’s not surprising the most interesting aspect of his researching the role was learning from real CIA operatives what life was like undercover.

“They all shared this idea that what a kind of strange and odd and lonely life it was … living this double life,” he says. “I found that really fascinating. One of the most fascinating things I found out is that somewhere around 30 percent of the CIA are Mormon. Isn’t that crazy? Go figure.”

In many ways, being a CIA operative is no different from acting: Both professions require you to observe human behavior and appear to be someone you are not.

“I always say, observation is the first rule of acting — and I really think it is,” Cumming says. “That’s what’s difficult about becoming more and more well-known, is that it’s less easy to observe people because most people are observing you. But I find it really fascinating to watch people and listen to them. You find out so much by just a hand gesture or a tapping of a foot or an intonation. I think that’s at the root of my study of acting or [Dylan’s] study in abnormal behavior: watching and listening.”

The actor has had a string of hits and projects, from a popular role on CBS’s The Good Wife to his Tony Award-winning turn in Cabaret. There are blockbusters (X2) and thinky films (Emma), a stint on PBS, a memoir, a novel, a kids’ book, and even a cologne called — tongue-in-cheekily — Cumming.

Despite Cumming’s immense success, the actor-activist says that starting his rise to stardom later in life has proven to be a huge blessing. The Scotsman first moved to America at 30 and says, “I had a whole life — really 30 years of my life — in a totally different environment and a totally different culture. I think that stands me in good stead for having a healthy attitude about life now. … If something went wrong and I couldn’t tug it, I’m confident, I know that I existed and was happy in the life I had before. And that’s a really heartening thing to know.”

Now 53, Cumming has been married to Grant Shaffer since 2012.

“The life I have now is so alien to anything I could have possibly imagined in high school,” he admits looking back. “People say to me, ‘Oh, you must be living your dream,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m not,’ because I didn’t dream about this. I think that’s why I have a really good attitude — being an outsider in your own life is actually healthy, and I think it gives you a good perspective.”

Why Does the World Disregard LGBT People in Latin America?

LGBT advocates do not speak about Latin America very often. The region is home to 625 million people, and yet it is commonly disregarded in international conferences and reports on sexual orientation and gender identity. I think it has to do with the fact that, to most, Latin America seems to be doing “well enough.”

To be fair, “well enough” seems accurate to some extent. When compared to other regions of the world (primarily Africa and Southeast Asia), most countries in Latin America seems to be doing just fine in terms of liberties for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Same-sex activity is legal in practically all the countries of the region (eastern Caribbean islands aside). Same-sex marriage is recognized in Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil. Some countries, like Argentina, have some of the most advanced legal gender recognition norms in the world. And every summer, tens of thousands fill the streets of Rio, Santiago, Montevideo, Mexico City, and many others, with joyful marches of Pride.

Behind this salubrious portrait, however, lies a lackluster reality.

The weak rule of law that persists in most countries renders their ultraprogressive legislation practically useless. In Brazil, a person is killed because of his or her sexual orientation every 25 hours. Mexico had over 1,000 homophobic murders in only two decades. And the region as a whole has four out of the five countries with the highest murder rates of trans and gender-diverse people in the world.

In practically all 33 countries, homophobia and transphobia continue to be widespread. In some, such as Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, and several others, it is encouraged de facto by the state. In the rest, it is allowed and often perpetrated by police officers, judges, politicians and civil servants.

LGBT activists in the region, however, are often left to put up the fight alone. With limited resources, multinational foundations and nonprofits often gear their international LGBT work toward Africa and Southeast Asia. The language barrier also limits the capabilities of small LGBT organizations in the United States and Europe, as they often do not have Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking staff.

Regional organizations also lack the capability to support the work of LGBT activists. At the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for example, the LGBT rapporteurship has one staff member, or sometimes two, if the rapporteurship is lucky enough to get a fellow or an intern that year. Yet the rapporteurship has 35 countries to cover (the U.S. and Canada included), each of them with a drastically different reality.

In the meantime, conservative organizations have mustered unprecedented resources and are orchestrating a powerful and coordinated backlash across the region. In the past three years alone, they managed to stop a presidential reform to recognize marriage equality nationwide in Mexico; they derailed a proposed LGBT-inclusive curriculum in Peru; and most recently, they have used deceitful campaigns in Ecuador, Chile. and Uruguay to launch a defense of the so-called traditional family against what they term “gender ideology.” LGBT rights were also under tough scrutiny last year in Brazil, where a judge rolled back a ban on“conversion therapy,” and in Chile, where the same-sex marriage bill remained stagnant in Congress.

Latin America is at a delicate tipping point. The significant progress that was achieved over the last decade could easily be lost if the region falls into complacency. LGBT advocates are working hard to impede setbacks, but they cannot do it alone. They have the courage, the will, and the inspiration, but they lack the advocacy skills, the financial resources, and the brand recognition that only international organizations can build and sustain.

The timing is right. In early January, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights published a landmark advisory opinion that signals the possibility to acknowledge marriage equality and legal gender recognition under the American Convention of Human Rights.

If the international LGBT rights movement supports the region and builds robust transnational networks to share information, resources, and strategies, not only will the area be able to deter possible setbacks; it can emerge as an example that may have a domino effect elsewhere in the hemisphere, and around the world.

We have to start caring about Latin America. We have to stop thinking that “well enough” is good enough for LGBT people in the region. And we have to do so now, before it is too late.

DANIEL BEREZOWSKY is an LGBT advocate from Mexico City. He is an HBO Point Foundation Scholar, currently pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University. During his studies, Daniel has interned at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and at the LGBT rights division of Human Rights Watch.

BREAKING: Doug Jones Defeats Homophobe Roy Moore in Alabama

Democrat Doug Jones has pulled off a stunning upset of notorious homophobe Roy Moore in the race for U.S. senator from Alabama.

Jones was leading Moore, a Republican, by 49.7 percent to 48.7 percent when The New York Times and CNN called the race for him. Jones will serve the remainder of the Senate term of Republican Jeff Sessions, expiring in January 2021. Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general.

Jones will be Alabama’s first Democratic U.S. senator since the 1990s. The last Democrat the state elected to that office was Howell Heflin, to whom Jones was once an aide.

In the end, what derailed Moore was probably not his extreme-right views on LGBT rights, abortion, gun control, and more. During the Senate campaign Moore became the subject of allegations that he sexually abused teenage girls when he was in his early 30s, about 40 years ago. He was accused, among other things, of molesting a 14-year-old and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old. He denied all the allegations, but they likely cost him votes. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, there were about 21,000 write-in votes for other candidates — more than the difference between the totals for Jones and Moore. 

“On this day Alabama stood for victims. It stood for women. It stood for compassion,” John Archibald wrote on AL.com, a website for several Alabama newspapers. He noted, “Roy Moore and his supporters called [his accusers] liars and whiners. And some Alabamians joined in the disdain, calling them sluts and worse, insisting that it was once the Alabama way to find mates too young to drive, and that once upon a time, groping was an acceptable act. But Alabama, against the odds and conventional wisdom, stood and rejected that behavior.”

The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore has long been known for his extremely anti-LGBT views, saying marriage equality will destroy the nation, that homosexual “activity” should be illegal, and that transgender people have no rights. He is also an abortion opponent and a gun rights absolutist. He once said that Keith Ellison shouldn’t be seated in Congress because he is a Muslim, and suggested that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. 

He was twice removed from the court for defying federal court orders — in 2003 for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument at the state courthouse, an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and in 2016 for ethics violations related to his efforts to block marriage equality in the state. (He appealed the latter decision to a special court, and it was upheld in 2017.) After the latest removal, he decided to run for Senate.

Jones, who has taken pro-LGBT stances, is a former U.S. attorney. After finishing law school in the late 1970s, he was staff counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Howell Heflin, the last Democrat Alabamians sent to the U.S. Senate.

Later, Jones worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. In 1997, President Clinton appointed him U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. In that capacity, he led the prosecution of two of the men who bombed a black church in Birmingham in 1963, killing four young girls and injuring 16 other people. Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry were both convicted of murder, in 2001 and 2002 respectively. They were two other suspects in the case — Robert Chambliss, who was convicted of murder in 1977, and Herman Frank Cash, who died in 1994, before he could be tried.

New 'Yass' Community Center Linked to Peter Thiel Money

A new LGBT community workspace called Yass debuts next year in San Francisco — if it can survive the backlash of having Peter Thiel as a backer.

Thiel is Silicon Valley’s best known Donald Trump supporter, and Yass would become a members-only community gathering place that costs up to $300 per month in dues. Its website calls it “A headquarters & hangout for today’s generation of queer people to bring out the best in each other.” How much you pay to join (what seems a lot like an LGBT center, which are usually free) depends on your industry.

The Guardian reported Thursday that Thiel’s venture capital firm is its only backer. There’s no word on how much Thiel’s firm has put behind the center; he reportedly gave $1.25 million to the Trump campaign. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Thiel’s association isn’t clear cut: “The investment in Yass, though it came from a Thiel-backed firm, was actually made by Cyan Banister, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur who told Wired in 2016 that she identifies as both a man and a woman and calls herself genderqueer. Banister is a partner at Founders Fund, the Presidio-based venture capital firm Peter Thiel co-founded in 2005.”

Still, even that much of a link comes with consequences. The Huffington Post reports that some on Twitter are pledging never to join. 

Thiel’s connection to the LGBT community is tentative. He famously sued Gawker into oblivion in retribution for outing him. He did it by secretly backing a number of unrelated lawsuits, with the Hulk Hogan case breaking the company.

After historian Jim Downs wrote a guest op-ed for The Advocate calling out Thiel for backing Trump, Thiel lashed out at all LGBT people, saying their “intolerance has taken on some bizarre forms. The Advocate, a magazine which once praised me as a ‘gay innovator,’ even published an article saying that as of now I am, and I quote, ‘not a gay man,’ because I don’t agree with their politics. The lie behind the buzzword of ‘diversity’ could not be made more clear: If you don’t conform, then you don’t count as ‘diverse,’ no matter what your personal background.”

Downs had written that, “By the logic of gay liberation, Thiel is an example of a man who has sex with other men, but not a gay man. Because he does not embrace the struggle of people to embrace their distinctive identity.”

Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention and proudly declared he’s gay, helping to drive home the notion that Trump would be a good choice for LGBT people. Trump went on as president to try banning transgender people from the military while rolling back inclusive guidelines for trans students. His Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, issued a “religious freedom” order that lets federal agencies and contractors turn away LGBT people without repercussions. Activists call it a “license to discriminate.” Most recently, Trump’s spokesperson said he believes religious freedom means businesses can post “No Gays Allowed” signs.

Having Thiel’s support these days isn’t what it once was. In November, Silicon Valley learned that famed incubator Y Combinator was no longer affiliated with Thiel. That’s according to a news release from 2015 when the company had announced it was welcoming Thiel. It’s now been revised.

Whether Yass can recover from the Thiel affiliation, it will still have to contend with criticism that its name further appropriates ball culture, and that its location is another example of the worst kinds of gentrification. Read more at about those issue from SFGate.com.

Kentucky Southern Baptists Consider Expelling LGBT-Affirming Churches

A Baptist group is considering whether to lift a ban on LGBT employees, putting it at odds with more conservative Baptists and putting some Kentucky churches in the middle.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which formed in the 1990s as an alternative to the ultraconservative Southern Baptist Convention, has formed a committee, the Illumination Project, to study the anti-LGBT policy and recommend changes, due in February, reports The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky.

But some Kentucky churches affiliated with the fellowship are also affiliated with the state’s Southern Baptist branch, the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which is monitoring the fellowship’s actions and is open to expelling churches that don’t conform to the Southern Baptists’ anti-LGBT dogma. To hire “practicing homosexuals” would be “redefining sin,” Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, told The Courier-Journal. R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, added that “a church that endorses homosexuality is no longer cooperating with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The fellowship, a national group with about 1,900 congregations, began reconsidering the anti-LGBT policy after leaders offered a prayer for victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando last year. Some activists thought it was hypocritical in light of the fellowship’s homophobic policy and called for change.

Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, a volunteer who leads an LGBT ministry at the fellowship-affiliated Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, was one of those activists. But a problem with the Illumination Project is that it has no LGBT members, he told The Courier-Journal. “They’re discussing our inclusion without including us,” said Blanchard, who was also one of the plaintiffs in the Kentucky marriage equality case.

Chitwood said he doubts that many of the fellowship churches will OK hiring LGBT clergy or other employees. “I don’t think [the Illumination Project] will have a big impact,” he told the newspaper. 

Study: Straight Women/Gay Men Thirst for Wealthy, White, Worked-Out


Submissions to TubeCrush.net

November 21 2017 4:50 PM EST

A new study suggests that even in an epicenter of diversity like London, tastes in men are curiously conforming.

The paper — authored by researchers Adrienne Evans and Sarah Riley at the University of Coverntry in the Feminist Media Studies journal — analyzed submissions to TubeCrush.net, a website where straight women and gay men upload covert snaps of men they found attractive on the London Underground.

The analysis showed trends in the submissions that received the highest ratings and engagement from visitors. In terms of clothing, the most remarked-upon men wore either markers of wealth, like a suit or an expensive watch, or gym gear. They also tended to be in peak physical fitness, with muscled arms or legs. They also tended to be white.

“We suggest that in TubeCrush, value is directed onto the bodies of particular men, creating a visual economy of post-feminist masculinity of whiteness, physical strength, and economic wealth,” the study noted in its abstract. “This celebration of masculine capital is achieved through humor and the knowing wink, but the outcome is a reaffirmation of urban hegemonic masculinity.”

TubeCrush was founded in 2011 by accountant Steve Motion, who sought to “pay ‘Homage to the Hommes’ on our infamous transportation infrastructure.” It has built a large social media following, with around 11,000 fans on Facebook and 10,000 on Twitter.

The captions also focused on masculine physical features and high-end apparel.

In an interview with Business Insider, Evans called the behavior of commenters “ahistorical,” because it shifts the role of the objectified party from women to men.

“It’s transformative, but also at the same time it shows we’re still very much fitting into the same boxes and conventions when it comes to beauty and attraction,” Evans said.


Donald Trump  showed his willingness to turn back civil rights progress and banned transgender people from military service, he announced today. 

The decision will likely lead to discharge for the many transgender people who had come out of the closet when President Obama’s administration announced a repeal of the previous ban. And it will only further encourage a wave of anti-trans sentiment that is spreading across the country, putting transgender people even outside the military in danger.

Transgender people in the military were able to serve openly and have access to insurance coverage for transition-related medical procedures since last year, under a policy announced by Ash Carter, Defense secretary under President Obama. Previously, trans people were barred from serving, although many did — in the closet and without the coverage. Now the country will return to those days, except that so many trans people had already come out of the closet. They will presumably now be discharged. The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates there are 15,000 transgender Americans now serving.

Enrollment of new trans recruits was supposed to begin July 1 of this year, but the current Defense secretary, James Mattis, decided to delay that by six months. Mattis actually opposes military service by all LGBT people, including gays and lesbians. In a book published in 2016, long after repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy by the Obama administration, Mattis and his fellow editors said they “fear that an uninformed public is permitting political leaders to impose an accretion of social conventions that are diminishing the combat power of our military.” Mattis coedited the book, Warriors & Citizens: American Views of Our Military, with a policy adviser from the failed McCain-Palin campaign.

Foreign Policy magazine reported on Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence had been working to undo advances made by the Obama administration. His spokesman had denied the report. Meanwhile, a push to ban medical coverage for transgender military service members had just been turned back. The House of Representatives on July 13 narrowly voted down an amendment to a Defense spending bill put forth by Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri.

One day before Trump announced his military ban, senators in Texas voted to ban transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity whenever they’re in a state building or at a public school. The ban, which still must be approved by the House, would have an immediate impact on thousands of kids in schools. That follows on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolling back guidance from the Obama administration that had asked schools to acknowledge transgender people exist by always recognizing them by their gender identity.

While running for president, candidate Trump repeatedly claimed to be an ally to LGBT people — an even better ally than Hillary Clinton, he’d said. While LGBT people themselves were largely not fooled by the rhetoric, some family and friends were. This latest action by the Trump administration is further evidence that Trump opposed to LGBT rights, activists say.

“His administration will stop at nothing to implement its anti-LGBTQ ideology within our government – even if it means denying some of our bravest Americans the right to serve and protect our nation,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD. “Today further exposed President Trump’s overall goal to erase LGBTQ Americans from this nation. Trump has never been a friend to LGBTQ Americans, and this action couldn’t make that any more clear.”

Trudy Ring contributed to this report.

A Queer Takeover at the Southern Baptist Convention

“Love him for me.”

That was what a Southern Baptist pastor’s wife said about her gay son to Stan Mitchell, senior pastor of the LGBT-accepting GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tenn., when she encountered Mitchell at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in mid-June.

Mitchell was part of a group of volunteers organized by Faith in America and partner groups who went to Phoenix for the Southern Baptist confab with the goal of engaging attendees on LGBT issues as part of the “Save yOur Kids” campaign. By deeming it a sin to be LGBT, the denomination — the largest Protestant body in the U.S. — is hurting children and teens, Faith in America officials say.

(PHOTOS: Faith in America Takes a Stand for Equality)

Mitchell, who’s also Faith in America’s national director of religion, learned that the woman’s son had recently come out to her and her husband. They did not disown him, but they told him that by being gay, he was not living according to God’s plan.

“She wept and said, ‘He is the best of our four children, and we have failed him,’” Mitchell says. Since he’s going to school in Nashville, she suggested that he attend services at nearby GracePointe, a Christian congregation that has made a declaration of full LGBT inclusion and equality.

“We had a lot of those kinds of encounters,” Mitchell continues. He doesn’t know if the conversations will make a difference immediately, “but some seeds were planted,” he says. He notes that he didn’t always come from a place of acceptance, but he evolved. “I know that there are pastors out there like me,” he says.

The Faith in America volunteers were, for the most part, unable to get inside the meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center. Faith in America cofounder Mitchell Gold, cochair Robert Hoffman, and a few others got into the venue and were asked to leave. But mostly the volunteers they spoke with attendees outside and handed out pamphlets detailing the harm that religious condemnation does to LGBT young people — heightening their risk of homelessness and suicide.

The activity felt similar to one familiar to fundamentalist Christians, says Stan Mitchell, who comes from that background. “I swore I’d never do street evangelism again, but here I was, doing street evangelism,” he says.

The “evangelists” included not only many LGBT people but straight and cisgender allies like Mitchell and Jane Clementi, whose gay son Tyler committed suicide in 2010 after a fellow student at Rutgers University used a webcam to spy on Tyler having a romantic encounter with another man.

“My voice was the voice of a mother,” says Clementi, who has gone on to found the Tyler Clementi Foundation (with her husband, Joseph) to fight bullying. “I was using my voice in sharing Tyler’s story and our story.”

Tyler had come out to the family shortly before starting school at Rutgers, and he apparently found the response lacking. “I was most upset that he did not think he could be a Christian and be gay,” his mother recalls, noting that at the time the family attended a church that was not accepting. “He viewed that statement as judgmental, I think.”

Jane Clementi, who has another gay son, James, has become a strong advocate of acceptance and inclusivity in religion. “We need to stop teaching that someone is broken or worthless” because of being LGBT, she says.

“I believe that God’s will is to become open and affirming,” she adds. “When Jesus was on earth, it was all about being open and welcoming.”

Most of the attendees she spoke with were “cordial,” although “entrenched in their beliefs,” she says. But like Mitchell, she notes, “Hopefully, some seeds were planted.” For changing hearts and minds, she says, “I believe it takes a personal encounter with someone and hearing their stories,” and that’s exactly what the volunteers set out to provide.

“I actually feel we do a great service to these communities,” says Hoffman. “We model loving, even Christlike behavior for these people of faith.”

Liz Owen, director of communications for PFLAG National, attended the Phoenix event and says it confirmed that LGBT acceptance is a value that religious people can embrace. “PFLAG’s work in faith communities across the country continues to reinforce what we know: that to be a person who is LGBTQ or a supportive ally, and a person of faith, are not mutually exclusive,” she says. “My week in Phoenix bore this out, as I watched volunteers — many of them people of faith — engage in meaningful dialogue in a truly PFLAG way, meeting attendees where they were and finding our common bond in our concern for all children, moving everyone closer to acceptance and affirmation by sharing personal stories. We look forward to our continued work with Faith in America.”

Gold says one of the most compelling encounters he had during the meeting was with a white Southern Baptist pastor who had adopted African-American children. “He has become more sensitive to the prejudices of his denomination,” Gold says. (The denomination even originated as a pro-slavery one, splitting off from antislavery Baptists in the northern U.S.; the Southern Baptist Convention has apologized for its support of slavery.) At the Phoenix event, some of the church’s leaders didn’t want to present a resolution denouncing white supremacy, and although the resolution was eventually presented and approved, some attendees opposed it. In speaking with the pastor about various types of prejudice, “you could see his wheels turning,” Gold says.

Gold, now head of the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture company and a member of what he calls the “be nice to people” faith, comes from a Reform Jewish family. Reform Judaism has evolved into one of the most LGBT-affirming religions anywhere, but Gold recalls that as a gay youth, “I grew up believing that homosexuality was a sin. I grew up believing I was broken. No teenage kid should have to believe that about themselves.”

In addition to sharing stories, another factor that may make religions more accepting is generational change, according to some of the Faith in America volunteers. “I think the demographic change ultimately will change most groups,” says Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist who attended to provide scientific evidence that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is not a mental illness — something mental health professionals recognized decades ago. He notes that younger people are significantly more LGBT-friendly than older generations. “It won’t happen overnight, but I believe change is inevitable,” he says.

Hoffman agrees. “Part of [change] is seeing some of the baby boomers age out and some of the millennials assume greater roles of responsibility,” he says.

However, there’s also the possibility that those accepting millennials might just leave less-than-accepting faiths, and at any rate, Faith in America and groups like it don’t intend to just wait around for change to happen. “We’re going to do more of this, going to more anti-LGBT religious groups,” Gold says.

The volunteers hoped to get a meeting with members of the Southern Baptist hierarchy; they didn’t during the Phoenix meeting, but a group of them do intend to visit the denomination’s leaders in August, Hoffman says. They also plan to have a presence at a large Catholic convention in August.

For a long time, Gold notes, LGBT advocates shied away from talking about religion, but it’s actually incumbent on them to do so. “We not only can do it but have to do it,” he says.

Faith in America’s partners in the Phoenix event were the Trevor Project, Nomad Partnerships, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Soulforce, the Reformation Project, Campus Pride, Equality California, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Auburn Seminary, PFLAG, and two Phoenix churches, Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church and First Congregational United Church of Christ. Find out more about Faith in America here and about the “Save yOur Kids” campaign here.