Sex With HPV: What You Need to KNow

HPV should not become the new scarlet letter. There is no reason to feel dirty, shameful, or demeaned in any way for being diagnosed with the human papillomavirus. If you’re a man who has sex with men, it shouldn’t restrict you from being a top — or make you any less entitled to be a bottom.

HPV is relatively commonplace among gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender and cisgender women. And its very existence, unfortunately, does lead to medical, emotional, and sexual ramifications. Researchers estimate the prevalence of HPV in men who have sex with men ranges from 60 percent to nearly 90 percent (the latter among those who are also HIV-positive). HPV is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., with up to 14 million people diagnosed every year. It is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, which means all the things we love to do — licking, rubbing, kissing, and fucking (with or without condoms) — come with risk.

Most people get exposed to HPV at some point in their lives but are never aware of it. A small group of individuals develop some manifestations of the infection — the most common being anal or genital warts, which one will notice when new bumps develop in the genital or oral regions, or bleeding and itching that occurs in the affected area. For men, who don’t have the benefit of a gynecologist as most women do, symptoms should warrant a comprehensive internal and external evaluation by a professional who specializes in gay and bi men’s sexual health. That means full anal swabs for better characterization of the subtypes and cancer risk, and a generalized whole-body dermatological examination.

Clearly, these medical ramifications need thorough evaluation and appropriate management. This can consist of localized creams for external disease, freezing or burning of both internal and external lesions, or a combination of both modalities. All should be followed by the HPV vaccine, if you have not already obtained it.

I tell clients that anal warts are like “barnacles on the tail of a whale.” The whale doesn’t even know they exist. If it did, the whale would easily flick them off. The same goes for the warts on the top layer of cells of our buttocks — the body doesn’t know they exist. The above treatment modalities allow your body to create an immune response as a defense against recurrence and the possibility of cancer development. I cannot stress enough the importance of serial follow-up once one has completed treatment. In the immediate period following infection, standard evaluation should occur every three months for continued surveillance. Then, over time, this can be relaxed to just once a year. Aggressive early management allows for complete eradication, which limits recurrence.

Through all my years as a medical provider, I have found that people are too quick to internalize their HPV diagnosis, feeling guilt and embarrassment that can lead to sexual dysfunction. Once one has fully accepted it while educating themselves on HPV’s method of transmission and various treatment approaches, the most common questions include:

What do I need to disclose to my sexual partners? How can I prevent transmission or prevent clinical symptoms from arising?

First, making sure that all partners are free of active HPV through a full internal and external evaluation with a high-resolution camera by an experienced physician or other medical provider is paramount.

Second, condom use can decrease transmission, so bareback sex should be avoided. However, since one can contract it through skin-to-skin contact, simply engaging in foreplay prior to sex carries a high risk. Post-play showering does aid in reduction of transmission and should be used as another effective prevention method, as it can wash away the virus particles.

Third, another wonderful risk-reducing strategy is the HPV vaccine, especially with the increased amount of recent evidence supporting its validity even over the recommended age of 26. I bet they all tell you you’re too old to get it, but that’s completely false. If during testing, your partner does not have the type that you do, in theory, getting the vaccine could protect them. If you’re under 26 and HPV-negative, getting the vaccine is recommended for men and women, whether they’re cisgender, transgender, or gender-fluid.

We must demand appropriate anal swabs, testing for HPV, and an understanding of the results from our physicians. With this knowledge and understanding, vaccination can be key to a low or no-risk sexual encounter.

There are several methods to aid in risk-reduction, but the most valuable component is open dialogue between partners, taking responsibility for our active engagements, and harboring an educational foundation on the science behind HPV, its treatment protocols, and finally, annual maintenance evaluations.

The initial shock of diagnosis can be mitigated by earlier education on this subject and all sexual health issues worldwide. At least now with a full understanding of its commonality, treatment, and prevention, everyone can be a true advocate for decreasing HPV transmission.

The Advocate’s sexual health expert, DR. EVAN GOLDSTEIN, is the founder and CEO of Bespoke Surgical — a first-of-its-kind health practice specializing in gay men’s sexual health and wellness. (

For This Black Woman, 'A Wrinkle in Time Got It Right,' Including the Hair

The first thing I thought after the experience of watching A Wrinkle in Time:

I don’t have words to explain the feelings that moved with me through watching this film. It was like a million micro-aggression cuts getting their first salve and beginning to close.

Seriously, I cried through a good part of the film, not because of sadness, but because my soul was sighing.

I sat next to my child with tears streaming down my face experiencing delight and deep soul sighs. I saw it again a few days later. It’s themes of love overcoming our darkness and that our greatest enemy is our own self-hatred — the inability to accept ourselves, flaws and all — touched the most tender parts of me.  

Those themes coupled with the combination of science and magic, whimsical beauty, and authentic emotional moments had me enthralled with Ava DuVernay’s sweeping adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The collaborators who created this film went beyond a pointed focus on diversity in the casting of Storm Reid in the lead as Meg and Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling in pivotal roles. They flowed that sensibility through the stunning visual images and the writing that includes quotes as far-flung as from Shakespeare, Rumi, and Outkast, giving credit to which part of Earth each poet is from. The kind of attention to detail the filmmakers gave to Wrinkle highlights the beauty of art.

Wrinkle spoke to me so movingly because I was that little girl/young woman who didn’t love herself, who ached with loneliness, who didn’t see my own beauty. I am a black woman who was once a little black girl with kinky curly hair who was told I was ugly and that my lips were too big and my skin too dark and that my hair was pretty… when I straightened it.

I love sci-fi and fantasy, and throughout my entire life, I never saw anyone who looked like me at the center of any of those types of stories I loved so well. To be honest, I didn’t see myself at the center of almost any stories. I was squealing inside within the first few minutes of A Wrinkle in Time. From the outset of the film, Meg, a strong, smart, bad-ass young woman who speaks her mind is front-and-center.  She is flawed and beautiful and scared and persistent. As a woman, and a black woman, in particular, this character is an oasis in the desert.

While it may have eluded many viewers, I was so poignantly aware of a black woman’s lens on this film when it came to the character’s hair — the details of which were so subtly woven in and beautifully handled. Meg realistically wet her hair first and sensibly put it up mid-adventure! I cannot tell you how much life it gave me to watch her re-moisturize her hair, to manipulate her natural curls, and to style them on screen. Seriously, it was so simple and real, and something I’ve never seen on screen. It’s so incredibly important that in this film we are seen and that the film was directed through the lens of a black woman.  
I don’t know any little black girl who grew up in America that has not had a complex relationship with her hair. We live in a predominantly white cultural environment where the media constantly feeds us images that for the most part do not look like us, and when those images do look like us they are a more Euro-centric and digestible version that those in charge feel is more acceptable.
In the world we live in, hair becomes more than just a style choice. As people of color, we live in a sociological climate that forces us to reconcile ourselves with the way our hair naturally grows out of our head.
Think about that for a minute.
We’re fed so many images of something other than what we are, that it’s a journey to accept the hair growing out of our heads. Visibility and representation matters and a Wrinkle in Time got it so right. 
In recent years, stories about actresses like Viola Davis or Zendaya wearing natural styles on the red carpet became main topics of the news cycle for days, which means we still have a long way to go. In some states, women can still be fired for wearing their hair in natural styles. My hair, and the way I style it is a message, a statement, and sometimes a dissertation — whether I want it to be or not. In the context of the history of hair, watching Meg move from her self-loathing to self-acceptance with her big, beautiful, natural curls takes on even more meaning. 
If you have not seen A Wrinkle in Time yet, go. The story is told more simply than a film intended for an older audience, yet there are so many layers that touched me deeply in this universal story that integrates many different people and cultures — something almost unheard of, even in 2018. Support it, and all diverse productions, with your dollars.

DALILA ALI RAJAH is an actress and creator of the show Cherry Bomb. Follow her on Twitter @dalilaalirajah.

When Black Professionals Must Work Twice as Hard

I suck at self-care. I’ll admit that. The very act of thinking about it stresses me out, which I worry defeats the purpose. When people encourage me to take care of myself, I often reply, “Who has time for that?” And I know I’m not alone.

It might be because I didn’t have great models of self-care in my life. My father — who had been a sharecropper, a soldier, and an entrepreneur, before becoming a minister — never took a day off. The man worked seven days a week, until he physically couldn’t move anymore. My mother — who raised eight children from the time she was 16 to when she was 54 — never applied self-care either. I don’t know anyone stronger than my parents.

My professional socialization has also made it difficult to apply self-care. When I was working in nonprofit organizations, the water cooler conversation (or in our case, the coffee pot conversations) centered on how busy we were — and how stressed out we were. This was our office gossip. I used to call it productivity performance art: whoever can perform being the most stressed out or the busiest, wins the award.

As a black person working in white-led nonprofit organizations, before I founded my own (The Counter Narrative Project), I learned that we’re often perceived as not working very hard. That’s not just in nonprofit organizations, but in all institutions rooted in white supremacy.

There are racist narratives that create a toxic culture around black employees. So many of us suffer an incredible amount of emotional violence in the workplace. Racism thrives on punishing and controlling black flesh. To survive, you internalize the “you have to be twice as good” narrative. These issues arise even in the most well-intentioned and progressive work places.

It’s hard not to become paranoid. God forbid you don’t respond immediately to each email, or you fail to get that project done early. We end up working ourselves to death, literally, trying to counter these kinds of stereotypes. “See,” we say, “I work harder than you.” Yet, you still don’t get the promotion, nor that raise you deserve. Then you burn out.

Social media is hard, too. Even after we filter our content, we still see pain and cruelty. We’re reminded every day of what it means to be part of the oppressed class, and that we live in a world where we are disposable. One might say, “Take a social media break.” That’s fair. And I don’t disagree.

If you can’t actually take a vacation, one might suggest for you to take baths with candles, chant, or do other centering activities. Some of that works for me momentarily, but I find it difficult to sustain. Sure, I’ll start out doing it and maybe even put it on my calendar, but then life happens. Or I end up being too tired. The labor to even plan self-care rituals can feel overwhelming at times.

My work is the work of liberation. It’s the work of freedom and joy and love, but it’s also the work of pain. This is the path we travel in our commitment to social justice. It’s working in communities that experience profound suffering, and because these are my communities, it’s a suffering I also know and feel. You don’t get to turn it off.

To travel this path, you become wounded. There will be scars you can’t cover up with achievements, lovers, or material things. Healing is imperative if we are to survive.

During the writing of this piece, I’m currently coming out of a kind of funk. In these moments — some might call them tests — we get a chance to see if the elaborate systems we set up in our life actually work. That’s when self-care practice goes from abstract to tangible.

What I’ve learned, and am reminded of, is that I can’t do much of my work around self-care by myself. No one can. I need to have people support me, take care of me, and affirm me. That’s what self-care looks like. My mistake has been thinking self-care requires me to be alone, or to do it alone.

It’s not that at all.

Maybe, just maybe, if I’m able to integrate more of a communal approach to “self-care,” I might be more successful moving forward. When you make yourself a priority, success undoubtedly follows. Let’s try it together.

Contributing editor CHARLES STEPHENS is an Atlanta-based writer and activist. He is the executive director of the Counter Narrative Project. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesDotSteph.

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. 

Why a 'Grey's Anatomy' Character Meant the World to Me

Last week it was announced that Grey’s Anatomy would be writing two characters, Arizona Robbins and April Kepner, out of the coming season. When the news broke, many longtime fans of the show were heartbroken and furious because both characters put a face on underrepresented communities, as Arizona was queer and April was a devout Christian whose principles evolved. For many on Twitter, the loss of Arizona and April felt personal, and some began writing about other characters they’d prefer to see written out of the show.  

The only series I watched religiously from August 2015 to August 2016 was Grey’s Anatomy. I had heard so many rave reviews from my friends over the years, and once I moved into my freshman dorm, the time that I had used to work, cook, and commute became free time, most of which I spent catching up on Shonda Rhimes’s long-running medical drama. When I reached the fifth season, around November of 2015, the series introduced me to Arizona, played by Jessica Capshaw. Arizona was intelligent, beautiful, and a lesbian.

Arizona quickly became one of my favorite characters on the show. Her generosity in taking long-running character Dr. Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) under her wing to help him discover his love for pediatrics is still one of my favorite storylines ouf of the show’s entire 14 seasons. Through a plane crash, unexpected children, divorce, and loss, Arizona was undeniably herself — a beacon of light for the LGBTQ+ community. She never apologized for her sexuality or who she was, inside and outside of the hospital. Her relationship with Callie (Sara Ramirez), another character who helped further visibility for LGBT people as one of prime-time TV’s first bisexual characters, not only helped me come to terms with my own bisexuality but aided me in becoming less apologetic for who I was.

Arizona and Callie’s relationship came to me at a time when I was figuring out who I was. I was a freshman in college, had recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend, and was just starting to truly explore my sexuality in 2015 (around the time Arizona was introduced on Grey’s). Around the time Callie began falling for Arizona on the show, I entered my first relationship with a woman who almost exclusively dated women. We watched Grey’s together, and “Calzona” was our favorite part of the show. Their relationship, without my realizing it, helped me through my first queer experience. The love and understanding Arizona showed Callie made me think harder about whether I would receive that same acceptance from my family and friends.

In December of 2015, I came out to my mom; the following April, I came out to everyone else. In hindsight, I think that Arizona and Callie’s partnership was more than just a TV relationship to me. Arizona’s understanding of Callie’s bisexuality, after Erica (Callie’s previous partner) had written it off by saying someone cannot be “half-gay,” gave me a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether I realized it then or not. Watching Arizona embrace Callie and watching their subsequent relationship through good times and turmoil not only helped me but it provided positive representation of queer women for numerous other women coming to terms with their sexuality too.

Arizona was about the only lesbian characters on prime-time when she made her debut on Grey’s. She was smiling and bright, and she entered her first scene wearing a pair of Heely’s (shoes with built-in roller skates) with her unending passion for helping the “tiny humans,” as she referred to kids. She inspired Grey’s fans to push beyond their preconceived limitations, to be more than what they think they may be, and to love deeper, without prejudice. Before watching Grey’s, I knew how important representation was in the media. What I did not realize, until I was introduced to Arizona, was how important the representation of a queer blond girl would be to me.

While I could make this article a piece on why I believe there are better characters to write off, I don’t think Arizona, with her inherent generosity, would be so appreciative of that negativity. So, thank you to Jessica Capshaw for playing the character so beautifully. Thank you to Rhimes for creating such an exemplarary character. And thank you to Arizona for being my and several others’ favorite character throughout 14 seasons of Grey’s. Thank you for always being “a good man in a storm,” as she once referred to herself. 

MICHAYLAH KIMBLER is an editorial intern with The Advocate.

Love, Simon's Joey Pollari: Every Love Story Is a Coming Out Story

In Love, Simon, a closeted teen, Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) wrestles with his identity. Despite having supportive friends and family members, he fears being an out gay person might affect these relationships. He worries the future he had envisioned for himself will be destroyed. 

It’s a situation familiar to many members of the LGBT community, including Joey Pollari, who portrays Lyle — a potential love interest for Simon — in the groundbreaking romantic comedy, which is the first backed by a major studio to center on a gay teen.

“His experience was similar to mine,” said the 23-year-old actor, who began his career in  Disney Channel movies like Skyrunners and Avalon High before graduating to ABC’s American Crime.

In Love, Simon, Pollari plays a server at a Waffle House who may or may not be Blue, a closeted teen who corresponds with Simon through email. For most of the film, Blue’s identity is a secret, leaving a lovestruck Simon to guess who the identity of his crush might be. Along the way, Simon is blackmailed by a fellow classmate, who discovers that he is gay and uses that information against him.

Pollari came out as gay at age 18 to friends and family — although thankfully, unlike Simon, he did not have to contend with blackmail. Overall, Pollari’s coming-out was a “positive” experience. “I think all my friends and family knew on some level. I think maybe two people were shocked.”

“The only part that was difficult was me coming out to myself. And I think that is the most difficult coming out,” he said. His supportive mother had been “waiting for a very, very long time” to hear her son speak those words. “My mom knew. She laid hints for me everywhere,” he said, recalling conversations they had in the past about acceptance of gay people.

There were other early indicators for the Minnesota native — a love of The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland that inspired a Wicked Witch Halloween costume at age 2; an early interest in foreign films like Y Tu Mama Tambien with a “completely different approach to sexuality” than American fare, with exceptions like Brokeback Mountain, which he had seen by age 12; an interest in gay literature like James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (a “heartbreaking rite of passage” for a gay person) and the work of AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer.

But for a long time, despite these resources and a support network, something held Pollari back.

“A lot of the trouble was self shame. I do believe a system of power, of patriarchy, of masculinity did impact me,” he reflected, adding, “The greatest difficulty I found was that it didn’t match my idea of myself. It seemed incongruent with the future I imagined for myself, the identity I had struck up with others. The interplay between me and women, me and men, now suddenly seemed entirely different. That just didn’t seem fair or right.”

Fortunately, Pollari discovered that his greatest fears of being out were unfounded.

“While it does have a big impact on [my] identity, it doesn’t in the ways that I thought it would,” he said. When he was in the closet, his mind would often contemplate “nightmares” about what being an out gay man would be like. “On the other side, it’s a lot plainer than I thought,” he found.

“The real scary stuff and the real exciting stuff is falling in love with someone,” Pollari said. That’s the prize of it.” In addition, of course, to the prize “loving oneself.”

Pollari also sees this message in Love, Simon. The film transcends some of the “more stereotypical torture” present in queer films, he perceived, because Simon’s coming out as gay “is tied to a narrative of finding love and self love.” It’s an experience he believes any audience would relate to.

“Every love story, gay or straight, has to come from a place of coming out of some closet of some previous fear into a new territory. This one just makes it a little bit more explicit and ties it to the gay experience,” he said. 

In fact, Pollari has found that there are a million things to come out about, in addition to being gay. Life is a series of “different doors to go through, into bigger, and bigger, and bigger rooms,” he said.

Love, Simon‘s historic representation as a gay-centered teen rom-com is not lost on Pollari, who reflected on the “positive impact” such a production would have had on him growing up. “It feels great to be a part of something that people could connect to the LGBTQ plus community, and youth could find themselves in or be moved by. That’s a cool experience.”

This is not Pollari’s first project that was a milestone in LGBT visibility. The actor was in in season 2 of American Crime, in which he portrayed Eric Tanner, a gay high school basketball player accused of sexually assaulting another male student. The acclaimed production aired in 2016, but it dealt with many issues that reverberate today, among them campus rape, as well as the dangers of toxic masculinity and the closet.

Although Pollari had recently experienced a closeted high school life himself, he found his character struggled with a “magnified” shame that came from “a masculinity tribe, his basketball team,” he said. “Although I wanted part in that as a teenager I was, I was in theater, in plays, and going to see foreign films, reading books. I took a little bit of an outside approach to that stuff.”

While Eric may or may not have committed a crime, he’s no one-dimensional villain. His father is not accepting of his sexuality, he is outed to his school, and his gay identity is used as a political weapon by the administration. Portraying him was educational for Pollari. “The show is centered around, its emotional core, sexuality, but it’s really about truth. And he finds that this truth [of his gay identity] has actually come to define him. It’s curious that he sees the injustice of it. I don’t think that’s hard to relate to. Having one’s self defined by their sexuality or defined by any one part of yourself can be frustrating.”

Overall, Pollari called the experience on American Crime, created by John Ridley and starring Felicity Huffman, Regina King, and Timothy Hutton, a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to work with top names in the entertainment industry for an impactful social message. “I dreamed of as a kid [to] get to be part of that community,” he said.

On Love, Simon, Pollari also discovered a community of passionate people who cared about the film’s social meaning. The movie is directed by the gay director Greg Berlanti (“wonderful to work with,” said Pollari) as well as several gay actors, like Clark Moore, who understood firsthand the importance of visibility as well as the power of being out.

From an early age, Pollari recognized the importance of queer public figures to his own life. It’s why he felt it was important for him to be out as an actor.

“It’s part of my goal to be more transparent, especially in the public sphere,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing. Anybody who’s out? It was helpful to me when I was in the closet. I think just adding another voice there is a good thing to do.” 

“It meant a lot to me when I was younger,” he added. “To see people who are out, to see people who are all kinds of things — people who are so clear in their anger, people who are clear about their arrogance, their pettiness, their desperation. I mean, that’s why I go to the movies… I go to learn something about someone else. In a byproduct, I learn about myself. That’s the power of representation.”

Love, Simon premieres March 16. Watch the trailer below.

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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.

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.

Discriminating in the Name of God Is Still Discrimination

Across the United States, there are an estimated 438,000 children in foster care, many of whom are hoping to find families to accept, nurture and protect them. Having represented thousands of these youth in federal class actions that challenge the lack of safe, stable foster homes and the overinstitutionalization of our kids, I know the importance of recruiting as many loving foster and adoptive parents as possible — including in Georgia, where children in state care have recently slept in hotels or offices due a lack of available homes.

But a new bill that recently passed the state Senate would actually deprive children of loving families.

Known as the Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act, the bill paves the way for child-placing agencies, such as adoption organizations and foster care providers, to create unnecessary obstacles for potential LGBTQ adoptive and foster parents. It would also allow these agencies to refuse to serve LGBTQ youth on the basis of “religious freedom.”

As lead counsel on Kenny A. v. Deal, I represent a broad class of children that has suffered from the lack of appropriate homes in metro Atlanta. When we filed in 2002, our named plaintiffs included Kara B., a 14-year-old girl who had up to 15 different placements before ending up in a residential treatment facility where a staff member sexually abused her. Maya C., a former honor student, grew hopeless and abandoned her education after being placed in an emergency shelter.

Fast forward to 2018, when there has been a 73 percent increase in the foster care population — from 7,800 in 2013 to 13,500 in 2017 — due, in part, to the opioid epidemic. We desperately need more foster and adoptive homes, including affirming homes for LGBTQ youth, who are overrepresented in Georgia and across the country. A survey by the Williams Institute found that 13.6 percent of foster youth identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and 5.6 percent as transgender, compared to 7.2 percent and 2.25 percent of the general youth population respectively.

These kids are at a heightened risk of being physically, verbally. and sexually assaulted or exploited, being placed in inappropriate and overly restrictive settings, and receiving inadequate and nonaffirming healthcare services. They are also at risk of experiencing rejection, violence, trauma, and religious condemnation due to their gender identity or sexuality, having suicidal thoughts, abusing substances, being vulnerable to sex trafficking, and resorting to survival sex to access safe places to stay.

In the face of this, Georgia stands out as being one of 10 states with no express protection against discrimination on account of sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex (or gender) in child welfare policy, according to “Safe Havens,” a landmark report by Children’s Rights, Lambda Legal, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy. Meanwhile, Atlanta is lovingly referred to as the epicenter of the LGBTQ South. Georgia is home to over 260,000 LGBTQ adults and over 21,000 same-sex couples. Twenty percent of these couples are raising children, and 12 percent are raising adopted children, compared to 3 percent of different-sex couples

If state law authorizes providers to discriminate against this community, we lose an excellent potential foster and adoption resource. These LGBTQ couples will be alienated from the system, keeping loving families from being built, and inflicting needless trauma on the vulnerable young people the state of Georgia is charged with protecting. Additionally, the bill dramatically increases the risk that young people who identify as LGBTQ or are questioning their identity will be inadvertently placed in the custody of a provider who discriminates.

The consequences of that can be devastating. I remember interviewing a young man who had aged out of foster care a success story but was still haunted by the discrimination he experienced while in care. He went to college, had a part-time job working for the Methodist Children’s Home, and even purchased a car on his own. But with tears in his eyes, he told me he still believed what his foster parents had told him for years — that gay people were condemned to hell.

Under color of state law, Georgia is trying to officially sanction this type of condemnation and discrimination. Now is the time to send Georgia’s House a strong message: the state cannot license providers to discriminate against loving foster or adoptive parents and youth in the name of God.

CHRISTINA WILSON REMLIN is a lead attorney for Children’s Rights, a national nonprofit advocacy organization.

Nearly Two Years After Pulse Massacre, the Trial of Omar Mateen's Widow Begins

Omar Mateen will never stand trial for the murder of 49 people killed in the Pulse nightclub in 2016, but federal prosecutors plan to bring his wife to justice for her alleged role in one of America’s most notorious mass shootings. Jury selection begins today in the trial of Noor Salman, who faces charges of providing material support to a terrorist and obstruction of justice through destruction of records.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman William Daniels says the trial could last four full weeks, during which time prosecutors intend to prove Salman knew her husband planned an attack on the Orlando gay bar and that she lied about it to law enforcement. Phone records show Mateen called his wife from inside the club, and he reportedly asked her if she had seen the attack on the news. Mateen died in a shootout with police after an hours-long standoff the early morning of June 12, 2016. In phone calls with police, Mateen swore an allegiance to the Islamic State.

During the week before the shooting, Mateen gave his wife several large pieces of jewelry, including a diamond ring and matching band, a gold charm, and a set of earrings. Prosecutors are asking a jury to allow the seizure of the jewelry should they find Salman guilty. Searches of Mateen’s personal computer also indicate that he had visited the website for Pulse, and witnesses say he visited the club on numerous occasions.

The day before the shooting, Salman texted back and forth with Mateen, at one point saying that should his mom ask where he was that night, she would say a friend named “nimo” invited him over. Prosecutors say that Mateen’s friend, referred to only as “Nemo” in court documents, said he frequently served as an alibi while Mateen cheated on his wife. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will likely use this information in different ways in the trial. Prosecutors argue it’s evidence that Salman actively helped create a cover story for Mateen’s absence if his family inquired. Meanwhile, defense attorney Charles Swift has argued Mateen that used the same alibi with Salman that he had used before to cover up his infidelity, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Records also show that Salman’s own story to Fort Pierce, Fla., police after they showed up at her home changed multiple times. FBI agents say Salman initially said she had no knowledge of Mateen’s whereabouts but later said he had left with a gun and she knew he was going to “do something bad” but was in denial. “My fears had come true and he did what he said he was going to do. I was in denial and I could not believe that the father of my child was going to hurt other people,” reads a statement from Salman released in December.

Medical expert testimony unsealed Wednesday reveals a defense tactic for Swift’s team. Clinical psychologist Bruce Frumkin writes that based on a meeting with Salman in prison, she suffers from a “significant mental disorder” and shows signs of post-traumatic stress caused by Mateen’s abuse. He says her IQ measured around 84 and that she was likely to falsely confess to a crime. And Jacquelyn Campbell, a Baltimore expert with a Ph.D. in nursing, writes, “Noor Salman is a severely abused woman who was in realistic fear for her life from her abusive husband.”

In a survey about domestic abuse, Salman herself affirmatively checked a number of elements of abuse, including alleging that Mateen had choked and raped her, threatened to kill her, and beat her while she was pregnant with their son.