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. (

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.”

When It Comes to Labor Rights, We're Still Fighting MLK's Battles

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments Monday for the most consequential legal case for labor rights in a generation — Janus v. AFSCME. At the heart of the debate is whether public employees truly have the ability to come together to raise their voices in a strong union. Along with coalition partners in the LGBTQ movement, the Human Rights Campaign has filed a friend of the court, or amicus, brief in support of these workers and their right to organize. We know that collective bargaining has been a powerful force for civil rights including for LGBTQ equality.

This year, we mark 50 years since one of the most historic civil and human rights actions of all time — the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike. Spurred to action following the tragic deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were killed on the job, 700 fellow sanitation workers began a months-long strike. They sought fair pay and an end to dangerous working conditions with the support of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Their bold strike drew civil rights leaders from across the nation, including Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. and Bayard Rustin among so many others. While most know his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech,  Dr. King lost his life in Memphis fighting for more than 1,300 public sector workers, mostly black men, demanding dignity in the workplace and basic human rights. One of Dr. King’s most trusted advisers was Rustin, the openly gay man and labor organizer who was chief architect of the nonviolence movement,  which laid the foundation for the iconic March on Washington.

The Memphis sanitation workers strike was one of many protests at the intersection of campaigns for racial and economic justice. And as marchers carried signs proclaiming “I Am a Man,” they paved the way for generations of public sector workers — sanitation workers, teachers, social workers, firefighters, health care workers, and more — to come together and  improve their lives and their communities through collective bargaining.

The history of the labor movement is inextricably bound with advances for civil rights and human rights. Labor leaders have been prominent voices in the fight for marriage equality and the ongoing effort to end discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Through collective bargaining, unions have made it possible for LGBTQ workers to secure crucial rights. Union collective bargaining agreements started banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as early as 1974 — long before those protections were enshrined in state laws. In the absence of clear, guaranteed federal employment protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, these contracts remain critically important.

Let’s not forget that public servants are often the frontline allies of the LGBTQ community — whether it’s the teacher who sponsors an LGBTQ club at their school, the nurse who provides care for a transgender patient, or the social worker who helped this lesbian mom with her adoption so many years ago.

When it comes to fighting for civil rights — for recognition of our humanity and inherent worth — victories are not won by one person alone. They are won by the amplified voices of the many groups who know we are stronger together. They are won when we stand together in our truths and build coalitions across movements. That is why the Human Rights Campaign is proud to stand beside our partners in the labor movement today.

Unions have played a critical role in strengthening and protecting so many American families, including LGBTQ families. Strong unions help working people achieve a level-playing field, gain safety, and be treated fairly on the job. They allow workers  to advocate for others and to be their full selves at work no matter who you are. At the end of the day, Janus v. AFSCME is about whether we weaken or hold firm to the freedoms Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, and the sanitation workers fought for so bravely 50 years ago.

MARY BETH MAXWELL is the senior vice president for programs, research, and training at the Human Rights Campaign.

Lesbian Romance 'Tipping the Velvet' Comes to Streaming Service for Valentine's Day

Lesbian Romance Tipping the Velvet Comes to Streaming Service for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a day for chocolate, roses, champagne, sentimental cards, and — if you want some women-centric entertainment — Tipping the Velvet.

The 2002 BBC miniseries about a lesbian romance in 1890s London, based on Sarah Waters’s first novel, has just come to BritBox, the digital streaming service from BBC Worldwide and IFC. The series tells the story of Nan Astley, a young woman from the provinces who loses her heart to Kitty Butler, a “male impersonator” and music hall star.

Rachael Stirling (The Bletchley Circle, Snow White and the Huntsman, Their Finest) portrays Nan, and Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs, The Durrells in Corfu) plays Kitty.  Also in the cast are Anna Chancellor, Jodhi May, Alexei Sale, John Bowe, and a couple of stars in the making — Sally Hawkins and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Screenwriter Andrew Davies, known for Bridget Jones’s Diary, the 2008 version of Brideshead Revisited, and numerous British miniseries, adapted Waters’s novel, and Geoffrey Sax (Victoria, Christopher and His Kind) directed the series.

Authors aren’t always pleased with screen versions of their work, but Waters has nothing but good to say about the treatment of Tipping the Velvet.

“The adaptation was a wonderful experience for me,” she tells The Advocate via email from London. “It was a fascinating process to be part of; there was a great team of people involved; it raised my profile enormously and took the story of Tipping the Velvet to a huge new audience. Most of all, I loved — and still love — the fact that the series stays true to the upbeat lesbian rompiness of the novel. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s romantic — and it puts lesbians center stage the entire time. We see lesbians quite a lot on mainstream television these days, but they’re often in minor or secondary roles — dispensable roles, which means they’re vulnerable to being bumped off. So I still enjoy the fact that Tipping is this thoroughly lesbian drama from start to finish.”

Waters was “astonished,” she says, that anyone wanted to bring her novel to the screen. “I was an inexperienced writer with pretty modest ambitions, writing lesbian stories for, I imagined, a largely lesbian readership,” she recalls. “When the producers told me that Andrew Davies was interested in writing the screenplay, I was amazed — he was such a huge name. Then Andrew told me he would only do it if the BBC agreed to keep in all the sex, dildos included, and I thought, This is never going to happen. But I think the BBC saw it as a chance to do something a bit daring — so I guess it suited everyone. I think the only sex they felt they had to leave out was a bit of fisting.” (The title, by the way, is slang for cunnilingus.)

Several Waters’s other novels have been adapted for film or TV, including Fingersmith, Affinity, and The Night Watch. Tipping the Velvet is “the most playful and lighthearted of all my adaptations, because that’s very much the spirit of the book it’s based on,” she says. “My novels since then have been a bit more somber, and the adaptations have been darker or more melancholy. I like them all, though. They’ve had some amazing actors in them: Sally Hawkins, Keeley Hawes, Charles Dance, Imelda Staunton, Claire Foy…”

Hawkins is an Oscar nominee for Best Actress this year for her performance in The Shape of Water, and she was nominated previously for her supporting role in 2013’s Blue Jasmine. “I knew that Sally Hawkins was going to be a star — she was just so brilliant,” Waters recalls. “She was lovely too, and she took her roles in Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith really seriously, doing lots of research — she used to go around the set of Fingersmith with a copy of the novel bristling with underlinings and Post-it notes. I’m so happy that she’s done so well. Every time I see her in a movie now I feel a ridiculous, possessive glow.”

And we can expect more Waters works on the screen. A feature-film adaptation of her 2009 thriller, The Little Stranger, is due out in late summer, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, and Ruth Wilson. It’s directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Room), with a screenplay by Lucinda Coxon (The Danish Girl). “I haven’t seen any edited footage and am longing to,” Waters says. “I visited the filming last year, and it all looked incredible.”

We can also probably look forward to an adaptation of her most recent novel, the lesbian love story The Paying Guests, published in 2014. It’s “in the pipeline,” Waters says, “but it’s very early days, so I won’t say too much about it yet.”

Waters is working on another novel, set in the early 1950s. “It isn’t gay this time — it’s my other passion, rather gothic,” she says. “I’m about two-thirds of the way through the writing process — though I’m such a slow writer that that means I still have another year or so to go. So it won’t be out any time soon, I’m afraid — but it’s definitely well on the way.”

For that we can be grateful, and also for the chance to stream Tipping the Velvet. And if you want tales of love between men for Valentine’s Day, BritBox is also offering, beginning this week, Christopher and His Kind, based on Christopher Isherwood’s memoir of his relationship with a German man in the 1930s, and Against the Law, an adaptation of journalist Peter Wildeblood’s autobiographical tale of his affair with a military man in the 1950s.

Find all of BritBox’s movies and miniseries here, and watch a trailer for Tipping the Velvet below.

The Entertainment Industry Is Gay for Pay. But Is That Bad?

The Entertainment Industry Is Gay for Pay. But Is That Bad?

Reading Julia Himberg’s recent book in public, even in Los Angeles, is a bit like wearing a statement piece to church. Fellow coffee shop dwellers, lunchers, and friends see the rainbow-colored television screen emblazoned on the cover, their eyes run over the title, and one question generally leads the conversation: “What is The New Gay for Pay?”

“Gay for pay usually brings one or two things to mind,” Himberg told me. “First is probably porn, when a straight actor plays the role for money. There’s also business gay for pay, which is when a company appeals to LGBT consumers basically for the sake of financial gain.”

Himberg’s book looks at shows like Will & Grace, Glee, and The Fosters and explores how their LGBT storylines are constructed and how those calling the shots — producers, publicists, and even the networks’ corporate social responsibility officers — help construct narratives on queer life that help shape public opinion.

The topic is polarizing: Many see mainstream corporations, of which TV networks are a part, as incompatible with LGBT people (take, for example, the recent uproar over corporate sponsorship of Pride festivals). But Himberg, who holds a Ph.D. in critical media studies from the University of Southern California and currently teaches at Arizona State University, understands the relationship as complex — a system of both support and profiteering — and brings forth surprising evidence in her research that gay-for-pay business can sometimes benefit LGBTQ communities.

These conflicting ideas must be kept in mind in order to understand the function of contemporary LGBT television and advocate for effective media policies, Himberg argues.

“The reason that I went to that old notion, or used ‘gay for pay’ in [the title] is that these are things that are thought of as exploitative by some and others think of them as kind of liberating,” she said. “The television industry and those working in it live this contradiction each day. Their work in many ways is liberating. They’re working diligently for LGBT audiences, and they’re also meeting the needs of the industry, which can mean exploiting those same audiences at other times.”

It’s difficult to imagine companies with traditional needs (growth, profit) and traditional customers advocating for LGBT communities. But in her extensive industry interviews with the likes of Andy Cohen, who was executive vice president of original programming and development for Bravo at the time, and former president of entertainment for Showtime Robert Greenblatt (now NBC Entertainment chairman), Himberg found it to happen more often than she expected.

“The thing that was most fascinating to me was how much activism truly happens under the radar within the television industry,” she said. “When I say under the radar, I mean that it is strategically kept out of view because of how many audiences television tries to please.”

Another difficult thing to comprehend: If a company or a prominent executive does pro bono or charitable work for an LGBT organization, why not publicize it?

“Audiences are fragmented, segmented,” Himberg explained. “We see that so embodied in Fox News versus MSNBC, where television is seeking very specific audiences, and yet there is still this demand to please people of all different political affiliations and social values.” Networks accomplish this through a variety of means, including multicasting, defined by Himberg as the process of drawing in audiences to programming based on demographics shaped and refined by market research.

That balancing act can make even objectively charitable work a danger for those in positions of power. In an interview with an executive at Disney ABC Television Group, she heard the story of an openly gay man who had struggled to come out and find acceptance within his family. The executive told her that he oversaw programs that supported LGBTQ homeless youth, programs he said were close to his heart.

“He was really clear that those kinds of initiatives were kept strategically out of view, because, he said, ‘I get to make the kind of changes I want, I get to advocate for the people I believe in supporting,’ but he actually says, ‘Many of our viewers are people who would vote for Mike Huckabee.’ So he gets to pursue things that are important to him, and at the same time he meets the demand of the company, which doesn’t want to alienate a portion of the population.”

Himberg said she was surprised to learn about this under-the-radar activism. “What do you mean you’re serving the interests of Mike Huckabee voters and serving LGBTQ youth?” she asked, laughing. “You can’t imagine how those things go hand in hand, and yet when I learned about what was going on behind the scenes, those were the kinds of practices happening every single day.”

Other interviews Himberg conducted proved just as surprising. When speaking with Bravo’s Cohen, he put forth the belief that the network’s branding mirrors his own sexuality. “We’re gay without necessarily having to come out of the closet,” he said, which Himberg sees as specifically positioning gay identity as not a primary factor in the network’s image.

Cohen had previously described the network as having a sexual identity in a 2012 interview with NPR, saying, “People always ask me if Bravo is gay, and I always say I think Bravo is bi, because I think Bravo is open enough to go home with whoever is most attractive at the end of the night.”

Bravo originated shows like Project Runway, the Real Housewives franchise, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which market themselves to gay audiences as well as affluent, educated, high-tech audiences that aren’t necessarily LGBTQ, as noted in The New Gay for Pay. According to Himberg, Cohen’s method of labeling the network’s sexuality, always with stipulation, works at a larger strategy of audience attraction.

“There is a very popular idea out there that we have somehow reached a post-gay era,” she said. “There is a desire to create characters and programs with the belief the fact that they are LGBTQ is irrelevant to the storyline, is not important to their character development, doesn’t affect plot. … And it’s very aspirational.”

The ability to move beyond a character’s sexuality represents social and political progress in networks’ eyes, Himberg says, and allows them to market themselves to socially and politically progressive demographics while theoretically doing less to leave non-LGBT audiences feeling alienated.

Cohen’s post-gay belief isn’t an uncommon one, and one that can be seen in a host of influential media: Call Me by Your Name, for example. The relationship within the film is centered around two male characters, but the point of the film isn’t a decided, explicit take on LGBT communities’ place in a political or social landscape. The film’s director, Luca Guadagnino, has stated publicly that Elio will not necessarily be gay.

“This is where in some ways the entertainment industry keeps its audiences in a much more utopian world than actually exists,” Himberg said. “When you look at the statistics of the number of trans women of color who are attacked, brutalized, murdered — those are the stories that are hard for people to hear about. That’s where we need to be focusing money, attention, and advocacy work.”

With the exceptions of Moonlight or Tangerine, Himberg says, “we aren’t seeing those stories being told because they don’t fit a post-gay discourse. They contradict it.”

Himberg sees this as part of a larger trend that revolves around catering to networks’ built-in audiences and aspirational, post-gay thinking.

“If you think about the shows that they’re bringing back with gay characters (Will & Grace, Queer Eye), they are gay characters — they are white gay men, middle- to upper-class, educated, and they’re very clearly gay,” she said, linking the normativity of the shows to audience comfort. “Because media does influence policy, it does risk taking away essential resources from people who need it the most — who need protection and need legislative protections. It runs the risk of perpetuating already existing forms of homophobia and gender discrimination and potentially overlooking where the resources need to go.”

Acknowledging the amount of positive change that has been made for LGBTQ people in a relatively short span of time, Himberg stressed the importance of remaining vigilant and knowing how to create change, especially in the current political climate.

“I think we need to be mindful of how quickly, how easily things can be taken away in our current political climate,” she said.

The New Gay for Pay: The Sexual Politics of American Television Production is available through University of Texas Press.

Pence Aide Hits Back at Gay Olympian Adam Rippon

Vice President Mike Pence, who will lead the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, is striking back at criticism by gay Olympian Adam Rippon over his anti-LGBT record.

In an interview with USA Today this week, figure skater Rippon said he’s not eager to meet Pence, “the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy.” He added, “If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick.”

The story was published Wednesday, leading Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, to issue this statement to the newspaper: “The vice president is proud to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics and support America’s incredible athletes. This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact. Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.”

Actually, it does have some basis. In 2000, when Pence was running for Congress from Indiana, his campaign website carried this statement about the Ryan White Care Act, a federal law that appropriates funds for community-based AIDS service organizations: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

That doesn’t explicitly mention “ex-gay” therapy; after the statement resurfaced when Pence became Donald Trump’s running mate in 2016, some readers of fact-checking site PolitiFact noted that Pence could have meant programs encouraging abstinence or safer-sex practices. Given Pence’s record, the idea that he would support abstinence is plausible, but safer sex, not so much. But it’s also plausible that he would support conversion therapy, although he didn’t have the power to fund it outright, or at least send a dog whistle about it to religious conservatives.

As a member of the U.S. House from 2001 to 2013, Pence supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, opposed LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes legislation, and opposed repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” — and at one point even supported reverting to the even stricter military gay ban that DADT replaced.

He also opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. “By extending the reach of federal law to cover sexual orientation, employment discrimination protections, in effect, can wage war on the free exercise of religion in the workplace,” he said on the House floor in 2007.

Then, while governor of Indiana, a post he held from 2013 to 2017, he signed into law the state’s infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said would allow businesses to deny goods and services to LGBT people and others who offend a proprietor’s religious sensibilities. Public outcry and boycotts followed his signing of the law in 2015, and it had to be amended so as to ostensibly not allow discrimination.

As vice president, he has reportedly been the champion of the transgender military ban, which Trump is seeking to reinstate, an action temporarily blocked by courts. Pence “has been spearheading the trans ban reinstatement since last May, at the behest of conservative leaders such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers,” the Los Angeles Blade reported in August.

“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” Rippon told USA Today of Pence. “To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory. If he’s OK with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘shitholes,’ I think he should really go to church.”

The figure skater added that he might be willing to meet with Pence after his event. “There might be a possibility to have an open conversation,” Rippon said. “He seems more mild-mannered than Donald Trump. … But I don’t think the current administration represents the values that I was taught growing up. Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I really believe in.” Rippon has also said he won’t attend a post-Olympics celebration Trump plans to host at the White House.

'Falling for Angels' Covers the Gay Threesome Issues

Finally, an episode of Falling for Angels, Here TV’s anthology series examining gay Los Angeles life, detailing the things people love to hate about Angelenos. In no particular order: the excess, the hedonism, the superficiality, the accent, the ostentatiousness. Seeing them at play with characters in “Silver Lake” is great for audiences who know these stereotypes, not least because these characters are ultimately sympathetic.

Here is a story of a three-way gone awry. “I just think we have so much, we could share this with someone,” says Brendon (Daniel Franzese of Looking), spitballing to husband Jeffrey (Johnny Kostrey) on why a three-man relationship is a good idea. “Maybe somebody else might help us appreciate more what we have.” “I do miss having sex. I miss the passion we used to have,” says Jeffrey. “We don’t have to live in that normal box that straight people have to live in,” replies Brendon.

And so the guys go down a road they’ve labeled badass queer radicalism — when they probably both worry they’re making a mistake. After all, for some this becomes the gay equivalent of an unhappy straight couple making a baby to save their marriage.

The Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake is full of guys like film editor Jeffrey and event-planner Brendon: hairy, curvy, vaguely alternative. “Hipster,” to put it briefly, though these two are sliding out of young adulthood. They aren’t kinksters, but they’d fit in on harnesses night at the neighborhood leather bar. These men are from a gay scene that only thrives in cities big enough to support gay bars that are not overrun by bachelorette parties every weekend — where ethnographer Jason Orne describes a vibrant, shady, queer sexy community existing contra gay assimilation into straight culture. Writer-director Billy Clift, who lives in Silver Lake, did research with “throuples” when writing his script. It shows. This feels very much like an urban gay story. “This is something that is very Silver Lake,” said Clift.

At any rate, we know this is a deeply L.A. story when a bright-eyed aspiring singer-songwriter who has taken the name Star (Diego Escobar) arrives on the scene from some backwater called Phoenix. The two pick him up at the Tom of Finland House in neighboring Echo Park, so beginning their vapid relationship.

Star makes out with each in turn at a bar, though he lingers with the smoother Jeffrey rather than Brendon, who is heavyset. Brendon instigated finding a third, and Jeffrey pauses before they take him home to make sure he’s still down. He is. They take Star home. This is another thing that Clift knows well: The born-into-show-business writer-director was, while modeling as a teenager, the guest of a rich man or two at the Beverly Hilton. “I eventually wised up,” he told me, working for years as a hair-and-makeup artist before making a leap into writing and directing and fulfilling a childhood wish.

I hate to even comment on the PrEP-talk in this episode because I want to see it normalized, but I am so overjoyed that it occurs. One of the partners is poz, the other on PrEP. Star is on PrEP too. “That was the first thing I did when I got out here,” he says. “Nobody really talked about it back home,” but his friend in L.A. sat him down right after he moved and convinced him to get on it. PrEP seems to be the norm at this point for HIV-negative gays in big cities, and it’s good to see this reflected on television. The scene ends, and the plot thread reaches a satisfying, quick conclusion.

Star shares his weed with a youthful stoner’s boundless enthusiasm, clearly proud of himself for delivering the goods. “This is really good shit. It’s organic, from Humboldt. I know this guy who used to work at the farm, and they’re so conscientious about the way it’s grown.” Tally another point upon which outsiders hate on people from LA: their over-indulgence in save-the-earth hippie life. “I do that with everything. Won’t eat unless it’s organic or anything like that.” Brendon reenters the room, offering the kid an organic whiskey.

They go to bed, where Brendon is progressively left out. He rises early and makes an extravagant breakfast, then goes to fetch the guys and sees them having super-hot sex without him again. Brendon behaves with a profound degree of petulance until Star leaves. Brendon continues to behave petulantly until his husband questions their future together.

The third act is a lovingly directed interaction between a sister (Calpernia Addams) who chills out to incense and a tanpura’s drone and her wounded gay brother. Special is the show that really embraces actors portraying a messy emotional crisis (that primordial gay state) and a sister’s freewheeling emotional support while both are pretty inebriated. “I can’t hold your hand through all these bullshit feelings,” she gets out after Brendon tearfully spills from one store of self-pity to another. She talks him down as only someone who has known him his whole life could.

I realized that the reason I liked neither one of the married guys was that we might be seeing them at their relationship’s breaking point. The intention was to invite a third into the relationship, but they couldn’t even handle a three-way. “I just wanted to observe and bring up what could occur if we look at this kind of experience. I can’t imagine that every gay couple, especially if they’ve been together for a while, ponder something like this,” said Clift. Drama surrounding an open or closed relationship, whether a single man can fully satisfy another: these are never-ending issues for gay couples, tales as old as time. “I think that my episode could possibly give an insight into that.” Amen.

Wolff Said Trump Enacted Trans Military Ban for 'No Evident Reason'; But He's Wrong

Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, says Donald Trump’s transgender military ban was a snap judgment that was made with “no evident reason” — a claim in conflict with prior news reports.

The new exposé, which the president called a “phony book … full of lies, misrepresentations, and sources that don’t exist,” provides background to the controversial move Trump announced via Twitter on July 26. The tweet reversed an action of the Obama administration that allowed trans troops to serve openly — although courts have since blocked it from taking effect.

According to Fire and Fury, the week preceding the ban was a “head-slammer” for the Trump administration, which included the ongoing “comic-opera effort to appeal Obamacare,” Jared Kushner’s public denial of connections to Russia “in a reedy, self- pitying voice,” and a West Virginia trip ending in an embarrassing speech to the Boy Scouts of America.

“The quick trip did not seem to improve Trump’s mood: the next morning, seething, the president again publicly attacked his attorney general and — for good measure and no evident reason — tweeted his ban of transgender people in the military,” Wolff recounted.

Earlier in the day, Wolff said, “the president had been presented with four different options related to the military’s transgender policy. The presentation was meant to frame an ongoing discussion, but ten minutes after receiving the discussion points, and without further consultation, Trump tweeted his transgender ban.”

The characterization of Trump’s tweet as out-of-the-blue contradicts a July report from Politico, among others. That week, a spending bill that included funds for a Mexican border wall — a top campaign promise of the president — was compromised due to infighting among House Republicans over the Pentagon’s funding of gender-confirmation surgeries.

Trump learned the proposal to increase the Pentagon’s budget was in danger from anti-trans Republicans, who alerted the president. He then made the snap judgment to institute the ban as “a last-ditch attempt to save a House proposal full of his campaign promises that was on the verge of defeat,” according to Politico‘s Capitol Hill sources.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump’s ban on allowing trans troops “to serve in any capacity” would have been an extreme response to the matter being debated, which centered only on medical costs — the move blindsided many Republicans and military leaders, in addition to the general public. 

However, the assertion that Trump instituted the ban with “no evident reason” is false. The move, if hurried, was made in calculated self-interest. It helped work toward Trump’s campaign promise to not only build a border wall but also to undo the legacy of President Barack Obama.

Moreover, the ban is in line with the president’s bowing to his base — right-wing conservatives. In fact, The New York Times reported that Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, “pressed Mr. Trump for months to make the statement he issued … saying transgender people would be barred from the military.”

So to view Trump’s attacks on LGBT rights as random outbursts is misleading, because it ignores the influence of those who have long plotted how to take away the rights of transgender people. And now they have the ear of the president.

Russian Senator Argues that Protecting Animals Will Lead to LGBT Rights

Earlier this year the chief executive of the Kenya Film Classification Board alleged that a pair of male lions who appeared to be mating at a reserve there must have learned the behavior from gay people who visited the park. 

Now, Russian Senator Sergei Kalashnikov, who has no interest in protecting animals or LGBT people, said that maintaining rights for animals would lead to protecting gay rights.  During the Federation Council’s attempt to strike down a bill to protect against cruelty to animals, Kalashnikov said that keeping protections in place for animals could lead to protecting rights for LGBT people. 

“We treat many western fads with humor, including political correctness, the rights of sexual minorities and others,” Kalashnikov said prior to the vote, according to The Moscow Times. “Any thought, however humanitarian, becomes absurd when carried to its logical conclusion.  We’re not only passing a law that won’t work for many reasons, but we’re also demonstrating that we’re following the same path, so to speak, of defending the rights of sexual minorities.”

Russia’s anti-gay stance is well documented especially since the implementation of the “Gay Propaganda” law adopted in 2013 that bans any positive mention of LGBT issues in venues accessible to minors and has been used against Pride parades and other events. Just this November a study by the Center for Independent Social Research in St. Petersburg found that anti-LGBT crimes in Russia had doubled since the law was passed. 

When it seemed like Kalashnikov’s comments were at the zenith of anti-LGBT rhetoric in the discussion about animal versus LGBT rights, the vice-chairman of the Agrarian Committee, Sen. Stepan Zhiryakov, offended by the comparison of animals to LGBT people for all of the wrong reasons said, “should not be equated to sexual minorities,” according to The Moscow Times.

These Schools Get Millions Of Tax Dollars To Discriminate Against LGBTQ Students

LYNCHBURG, Va. ― Sunnie Kahle used to think that if she promised to be good, she could go back to her old school.

She’d plead with her great-grandmother to let her enroll again at Timberlake Christian Schools, where she had gone since she was 3 years old. Even if teachers were mean to her, even if other kids said bad things about her, she wouldn’t be mad. She just wanted her old life back.

Her great-grandmother and guardian, Doris Thompson, 74, didn’t know how to tell Sunnie she wasn’t allowed back at the school. Administrators didn’t want her there. In a 2014 letter to Thompson that essentially expelled Sunnie, the school referenced several passages from the Bible as to why they wouldn’t take her back. They suggested Sunnie wasn’t acting “Christlike” by wearing her hair short and preferring pants to skirts.

Sunnie was 8 years old. She wasn’t traditionally feminine enough for them.  

Timberlake Christian Schools in Virginia is one of over at least 700 religious schools in America currently receiving public money while openly advertising and practicing anti-LGBTQ policies, HuffPost has found in a new investigation.

HuffPost has been examining private schools that receive taxpayer dollars through voucher or tax credit programs. We created a database of more than 7,000 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia with private school choice programs that give public money to private religious schools. 

In the first story of this investigation, which we published earlier in December, we looked at what was being taught. We discovered thousands of schools that used evangelical Christian curricula, largely considered inaccurate and unscientific. In our second article, we singled out a handful of schools that purported to be secular but maintained strong ties to the Church of Scientology. For this story, we researched the number of schools in our database that practice discrimination toward LGBTQ students and staff members.

We visited every website of each school in search of evidence of their attitudes and policies on gender-nonconforming and LGBTQ students. If a school did not advertise a specific policy, we followed up via email or a call. For Catholic schools, we looked for diocese-wide policies on these issues. Often, these schools had policies against heterosexual sex before marriage, as well.

We found at least 14 percent of religious schools take an active stance against LGBTQ staff and students. Some of these schools have policies on their websites generally broadcasting their opposition to same-sex marriage or even stating their belief that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality. Others have harsher policies ― specifically stating that students can face punishments, like expulsion, for displaying signs of a “homosexual lifestyle” or “alternate gender identity.” At least 5 percent of these schools also have explicit policies against hiring or retaining LGBTQ staff.

On the other hand, we also found many schools that have policies specifically protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  

Many more of these schools belong to larger churches that preach anti-LGBTQ sentiment. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is “opposed to homosexual practices and relationships,” per the denomination’s website. The Roman Catholic Church says marriage can occur only between a man and woman. We did not assume that schools identifying with these groups were hostile places for LGBTQ students. In our count, we included only schools (or dioceses) that had a specific anti-LGBTQ policy. In that way, our numbers represent a bare minimum of schools where LGBTQ students may encounter hostility.

Religious schools are generally exempt from the types of regulations that would protect students and teachers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s only in recent years, though, that these schools have received an injection of taxpayer funds with the rise and expansion of state-level private school choice programs.

Since President Donald Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, have expressed the desire to use federal dollars to increase private school choice, it’s worth closely examining which students are served and which are not. 

After Sunnie was kicked out of Timberlake, her great-grandma transferred her to public school. Thompson, who is emphatic when she talks about Sunnie, in the way only proud grandmas do, has a tattoo on her wrist that says, “Family is forever.”

Sitting in her living room, the walls lined with photos of Sunnie, here in this city just a couple of hours from Richmond, the Virginia capital, Thompson explained how she came to be Sunnie’s guardian. It’s a complicated tale of mental illness and addiction, but since Sunnie was 2 months old, Thompson has been her protector.  

In February of 2014, when Sunnie was in the second grade, the school principal sent a letter home to Thompson saying that, although Sunnie was a “very bright girl,” she recommended that Sunnie not re-enroll the next year if she wasn’t able to “dress” and behave accordingly with her “God-ordained identity” as a female.

Thompson pulled her out of the school immediately.

“They pretty much ruined a little girl’s life,” said Thompson, who helps with her husband Carroll’s truck repair business.

Sunnie didn’t attend Timberlake using a publicly funded scholarship through Virginia’s tax credit program for low-income students. But the year she was kicked out, other students did. During the fiscal year of 2014, Timberlake received $104,121.57 in scholarships. That number has increased. For the fiscal year of 2017, the school received $237,500, per the Virginia Department of Education.

In Virginia, tax credits are given to individuals and corporations that donate to scholarship programs. These scholarship groups then help low-income students attend private schools. Voucher programs are more direct: Taxpayer funds help provide voucher scholarships for students who meet certain requirements to attend private schools.

A 2016 analysis of voucher program rules conducted by Indiana University professor Suzanne Eckes found that not a single one had protections preventing discrimination for LGBTQ students. Eckes did not include tax credit programs in her research.

So HuffPost conducted a similar analysis including programs that were left out by Eckes. We found the same trend. Only one state’s program, Maryland’s, protected students from discrimination based on sexual orientation. While in our research we found a handful of Maryland schools that expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality, each stopped short of saying they would deny these students admission.

DeVos has been pressed before on if private schools receiving federal money under a possible voucher program would be required to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination. In June, testifying before a Senate subcommittee, DeVos said that such a program would have to follow federal law.

Indeed, in an email to HuffPost, a spokesperson for DeVos emphasized the fact that there is no federal voucher program and that, if there were, it “would have to comply with federal law.”

The problem is federal law is murky.

The Obama administration interpreted Title IX ― the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools ― to include protections for LGBTQ students. The Trump administration seems to think these decisions should be made at the local level.

“There’s no federal protections for LGBTQ students outside of Title IX,” said Nathan Smith, director for public policy for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “We still think it covers LGBTQ students, despite the fact that this administration doesn’t think so.”

Advocates of school choice emphasize that anti-LGBTQ bullying is a problem in all schools, not just private religious ones that participate in voucher programs. They preach the bigger cause of giving parents the ability to choose the most appropriate school for their child. Indeed, voucher programs are typically targeted to low-income families who normally wouldn’t be able to afford the private school of their choice.

“I abhor discrimination and I would hope that schools would not discriminate against LGBTQ students even if the issue is part of their statements of faith,” wrote Robert Enlow, CEO and president of EdChoice, an education reform group, in an email. “I also recognize, though, that we live in a pluralistic society that values choice, individual freedom and an abiding respect for all faiths. I trust parents to make the best choices for their kids based on their shared values and goals.”

But Thompson hopes leaders at Timberlake know that their interpretation of faith is one without merit. 

I feel sorry for them,” Thompson said, referring to administrators at Timberlake, “if they have to answer and stand before our God one day.”

The 74-year-old describes Sunnie as the great love of her life. Even after raising two kids and helping with three grandkids, Sunnie is her ultimate baby. The child has always been fiercely loyal and unfailingly independent, and she has a heart as sweet as apple pie, Thompson said, beaming with pride when asked about Sunnie’s personality.

But now, at 12, Sunnie is also angry and sad.

Life was never going to be easy for Sunnie. Sunnie’s mom had her as a teen. Sunny’s father has not been a consistent presence, Thompson said.

Sunnie’s story of being kicked out of Timberlake was largely covered in the media when it first happened in 2014. Headlines screamed outrage. Sunnie was another victim of homophobia, another viral story here today and gone tomorrow.

What wasn’t covered is what happened next. Sunnie didn’t want to leave Timberlake. From her point of view, it was a place where she was loved and accepted by her friends.

At her new public school, she was teased. The other students would call her “it” and “gay.” Sunnie made one friend ― he used to come over on weekends, and they would play games, Thompson recalled. Then, suddenly, the boy’s father stopped letting him come over. The father said Sunnie needed to “find out her gender” before they could hang out again.

Things didn’t get better. First, Sunnie faked being sick so often that truancy became a problem.

Sunnie didn’t talk to HuffPost for this article for reasons that HuffPost is not reporting to protect the privacy of a minor.

But Thompson wants Sunnie’s story to be heard.

“Being so young, she really doesn’t know how she feels. She doesn’t know what she wants to be. Or who she wants to be,” Thompson said as her eyes welled with tears, reliving the trauma Sunnie experienced. 

Sunnie still doesn’t talk about feelings she may or may not be having. She’s on the verge of puberty. But Thompson worries about what will happen next.

At the time that Sunnie was kicked out of school, lawyers for Timberlake Christian Schools told the media: “Parents and guardians send their children to the School because of our Christian beliefs and standards. We have a duty to create an environment that is supportive of these Christian values.”

HuffPost reached out to the school and asked if they had anything further to add about Sunnie’s situation, years later. They said they did not.

The school’s anti-LGBTQ policy remains in place.

Punishable behaviors include, “but is not necessarily limited to, living in, condoning or supporting sexual immorality; practicing homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity; promoting such practices; or otherwise having the inability to support the moral principles of the school,” according to the school’s website.

Sunnie’s story is unusual because of how young she is. She had adult thoughts and projections pushed on her before she was even close to having them herself.

But a similar version of this story plays out around the country regularly.

In 2012, the same year 15,000 Indiana students used vouchers, Warren came out to his family and friends as transgender, he told HuffPost. At the end of his junior year, he informed the principal at his Catholic school that he would be returning as a boy for his senior year.

The bishop from the diocese overseeing Cathedral High School thought this was unacceptable. But instead of kicking Warren out, or telling him not to come back, administrators ignored the way he chose to identify, Warren said.

Teachers were told that if they called Warren by his chosen name, they would face reprisal. Those with whom Warren was close, who wanted to respect his new identity, were afraid to buck the diocese, he said. Some found workarounds by calling him by his last name or initials.

Warren was deeply involved in the school marching band as well as the school’s plays. During the marching band performances, they would announce the performers. Warren asked announcers to leave his name out, since he knew only his “dead name” would be announced. He asked not to be listed in the programs for the school plays.  

“I was pretty depressed a lot of the  time. I had horrible social anxiety,” said Warren, who’s withholding his last name because his college peers are not aware of his transition.

Even after Warren got his name changed legally that school year, the school refused to accept it. They sent off his high school transcripts to colleges with the wrong name, compelling Warren to explain the confusion to admissions offices, thereby being forced to out himself.

A representative of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis said that it opens its doors to “all who are committed to a quality Catholic education, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, socio-economics, religion, learning differences, etc. Our admissions policies and practices at each local site conform to this approach.” The high school did not respond to requests for comment on the situation.

The diocese does, however, have a policy against employing staff members in same-sex unions, a representative told HuffPost during data collection.

For Warren and Sunnie, other kids at their private schools were not the problem. They were supportive.

It was the adults.

Thompson only hopes the adults at Timberlake learn to treat children with kindness and empathy.

“God wants you to love everybody,” she said. “Especially his children. He loves his children.”

Thompson is attending regular counseling sessions to educate herself on how to be the best parent she can be to her great-granddaughter. 

Course, now I’m 74 years old, so I don’t know that I’m going to be around here 10 years, when she’ll be 22 years old. I hope to God that he will let me stay here until she is grown. But I hope that she will make something of herself. Be somebody, and be proud of who she is.” 

Data and graphics by Alissa Scheller.

If you have experienced discrimination in schools, email

This is the third story in a HuffPost investigation on the policies and curriculum of schools that participate in private school choice programs. The first story, looking at the curriculum used in evangelical Christian schools, is here. The second story, dealing with schools with strong ties to Scientology, is here