One Equal World

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

San Francisco is one of the historic homes of gay culture in the United States. 50 years ago, before California amended their state Constitution to take the teeth out of their anti-sodomy laws (which are, incidentally, still on the books), gay bars like The Stud had to operate a little below the radar. Today, though The Stud is free to fly its colors proudly, it’s still in danger.

Not from bigots, but from landlords.

Historically, gay bars like The Stud are being rent-gouged out of existence. This June, the Stud’s building was sold and the owner immediately received notice that the bar’s lease would increase more than double, leaping from $3800 to more than $9000 a month.

The owner had no choice – within a week, he announced to his regulars that the bar would soon be ending its half-century run.

It’s not a lone tale of misfortune. San Francisco is becoming wealthier with the continuing boom of high-income tech jobs. Neighborhood businesses all over the city are being priced out. Coin-operated laundries are suddenly scarce. Family-owned shops are being replaced by trendy cafes, high-dollar art galleries, and the brief flares of start-ups.

Across the street from the doomed Stud is a building where single-bedroom apartments go for $4500 a month. Many of the bar’s regulars, people who used to live in the neighborhood, have been forced out, but they still make the effort to come into the city to visit a place that has been a friendly home since 1966.

Regulars like Chris Coombs, who met his boyfriend in the bar and has been coming since he was old enough to drink.

“With all the changes that are going on, with all the new construction, there’s a sense that this culture and everything that finds a home at this bar is sort of being diluted,” Coombs said. “It’s hard to see something like that sort of pushed aside, which is almost what it feels like.”

Unfortunately, their patronage won’t be enough. The Stud will close this September, and a piece of San Francisco will die with the shutting of its doors.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Video games have never been particularly welcoming to the gay community. And if you’ve ever played video games online with strangers, you’ve probably encountered a lot of homophobic comments.

And frankly, finding representations of homosexuality in video games is pretty rare. When games do represent homosexuality, it’s usually an option that a player can engage with, such as in the Mass Effect or Dragon Age games where you can choose to play your characters as gay, straight, or bisexual. But those games are about player choice, and many games imply you to follow along as they tell the story of (usually) a white, male, straight protagonist.

Enter indie game designer and teacher Robert Yang, who has gained fame (and infamy) for creating gay video games. His titles include Hurt Me Plenty, Stick Shift, Succulent, Rinse and Repeat, and Cobra Club, all of which require the player to play gay men. These are games very much about gay sexuality, consent, and representation. Yang grew up playing games where he didn’t see himself represented, and he wanted to change that. He realizes that his games aren’t likely to change the world, but he feels like he’s contributing.

The games themselves have been met with criticism, as you no doubt expected, and getting them out to the public has been a challenge, but it seems like it’s getting easier with subsequent games. Representation of LGBTQ+ people in video games (and in media generally) is growing, but we’re probably some ways away from a gay action star or a transgender hero in a series as popular as Uncharted or Call of Duty. Characters who aren’t straight, white men, and in which the game isn’t specifically about their sexuality, are the goal for a lot of gamers. Imagine playing a game where the charming action hero has a boyfriend he has to save, instead of a girlfriend. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

2016 has not been a banner year for transgender rights, with a number of states proposing, considering, or even passing “bathroom bills” that dictate what bathrooms, locker rooms, or other gendered facilities transgender people can use, usually based on the gender they were assigned at birth. The lives of transgender people are being pulled out into the public eye whether they like it or not, and their existence is being treated like a talking point similar to trade or gun control: something a politician is for or against.

But it’s not all bad, and the attention that transgender people are receiving is helping to bring their troubles to light and, in some cases, things are looking up. The United States military has decided that transgender people can serve openly, and two transgender candidates for the United States Senate have won their primaries, making them the first transgender candidates to that office.

There have been openly transgender people serving in political office before, but they’re few and far between, and they’ve generally come out after being elected. For many of them, coming out, or being outed by the press or political rivals, has generally spelled the end of their political careers. But this is the first time openly transgender people have run for such high office. Misty Snow of Utah, and Misty Plowright of Colorado, are running for seats in generally conservative districts in their respective states. While their hopes of winning those elections seem kind of thin, the fact remains that this is a big step for the transgender community.

Transgender people face more discrimination and violence than pretty much anyone else in the LGBT+ community. To see not one but two transgender people not only willing to run openly, but also getting the nomination, means that people are starting to come around to the idea that transgender people are just that: people. And who knows, maybe one of them (or both!) will win, and score some victories for the transgender community.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Ash Carter, Secretary of the Department of Defense, has announced that transgender individuals will be able to openly serve in the United States military without qualification, and will receive medical coverage for transition within their military provided insurance. They cannot be discriminated against in any way, and will be held to the same standards as any service member.

While the right to serve openly in the military may not be everyone’s cup of tea, neither is getting married, but both stand as significant achievements for people in the LGBT community. As Carter pointed out, the military needs the best people it can get, who are willing and able to fight for their country, and that includes transgender individuals. The stigma on transgender individuals, or anyone else for that matter, from serving openly or at all, tells those marginalized people that they are not truly citizens of the United States. There are many great rights that come with being a citizen, but being told that you can’t serve in the military is basically being told that we don’t trust you with our security.

Research shows that there are already a number of transgender service members in the military, and that most of them are accepted by their units and commanders, but even then they faced hardships that their peers did not. Medical services were a big one, as there were not clear policies for dealing with things like hormone therapy or other medical necessities. That influenced the decision, but the general attitude of the United States has changed too, and although transgender people still face huge obstacles, employers and society in general is increasingly embracing them. As more companies include gender identity in anti-discrimination policies, and more insurance companies begin covering transition treatments, it has become impossible to justify not doing the same in the military. And now they don’t have to.

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Jalaluddin al-Rumi was a 13th Century Muslim poet. Considered as one of the best poets who ever lived, he’s still praised today, even among non-Muslims. That’s why David Franzoni, the writer of Gladiator, wants to make a film about him. According to Franzoni, such a film would challenge the way Muslims are usually portrayed in western cinema.

That’s a laudable goal, and one that many people could get behind, normally. But in typical, tone-deaf, racist Hollywood fashion, who’s the studio’s first pick for the actor to play Rumi? Leonardo DiCaprio.

Let that sink in for a second. These filmmakers want to “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters” by making a movie about a poet born in what is today Afghanistan and who died in what is now Turkey, and they want to cast a white man to play him. And, they want to cast another white man, Robert Downey Jr., to play the mysterious mystic Shams of Tabriz, who played an important role in Rumi’s life.

Understandably, people on Twitter are already up in arms about this. We don’t even know if the actors have been approached. But the fact that their first thought was “cast famous white men” instead of “find actors of Middle-Eastern descent to play these important men from the Middle-East” is indicative of just how endemic white-washing Hollywood is.

And this comes after the backlash to white-washing characters in upcoming films based on Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell. These are actual historical figures that are being cast, not fictional characters. This is attempted white-washing on an entirely more vile level, and begs the question: are Hollywood producers that racist, or are they just that stupid?

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Dylan Marron is one of those individuals dedicated to being the change he wants to see in the world. He is the creator of “Every Single Word,” a series of videos highlighting the deafening silence of people of color in popular films, and “Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People,” a platform for trans people to talk about their lives and issues.

In the stunned aftermath of the Orlando shootings of June 12th, he spoke out again, creating the hashtag #queerselflove, a space meant for people of all persuasions of LGBT to tell the world who they are and what they love about themselves.

“I am a soft-spoken brown queer man who wears his mother’s pearl earrings. And I love my queerneess. Let’s start a #queerselflove hashtag.” (@dylanmarron, 14 June)

It was picked up immediately by Cecil Baldwin, his co-star in the cult-popular podcast series “Welcome to Nightvate.”

“I am a skinny, hairy HIV+ gay man who smokes pot and battles with anxiety… And I love my queerness! #queerselflove” tweeted Baldwin.

From them, the hashtag has spread widely, with thousands of LGBT people worldwide sharing brief, glowing messages about themselves, lights against the dark of recent news. By June 15th, the hashtag was on Twitter’s trending list. Messages have poured in about it saving lives, easing pain, and being a comfort to people in need. Many have included pictures of themselves and their significant others, every one with a smile.

Dylan Marron is a gift that keeps on giving. As he does his best to highlight as many of the responses to his hashtag as he can, he brings together every facet of the queer community. Just scrolling down his page, it’s full of queer faces. Lesbian, bi, pan, gay, trans, nonbinary, and every nationality imaginable.

We shouldn’t let #queerselflove fade away. Keep telling the world what we love about ourselves.

Catherina Pareto, left, and her partner Karla Arguello celebrate on the court house steps after Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel lifted a stay on her July ruling that Florida's same sex marriage ban violates equal protections under the U.S. Constitution, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015 in Miami. Judge Zabel provided a jump-start Monday to Florida's entry as the 36th state where gays and lesbians can legally marry, saying she saw no reason why same-sex couples couldn't immediately get their licenses in Miami-Dade County ahead of a midnight launch statewide. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Image: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Only a year ago, Florida ruled for same-sex marriages. Ordinarily, a year after the wedding would be the time when young couples start getting asked about their first kid. But in for gay couples in Florida, it’s been a little more complicated than that.

Like many states, Florida still uses birth certificates that offer a space for two names; specifically labeled ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ Many defend this as both traditional and ‘scientifically accurate.’ But both of those defenses ignore the reality of same-sex parents. And the strict boxes have been used repeated by hospitals, birth centers, and midwives to only put one parent of a legally married same-sex couple on the birth certificate, with state support

In early 2016, three same-sex couples filed a joint federal lawsuit against the state of Florida to address this practice. In their suit, they specified that this policy violated their constitutional right to equal protection.

Most of us have never had to care what names are on our birth certificate. Whether we come from a married family or not, no one would question whether the people we name as mother and father are, in fact, our parents. For the children of gay parents, this is harder. If Parent A is on the birth certificate but Parent B is not, B may end up not being allowed to make health care decisions, visit the hospital, or even pick the child up from school, depending on how strict an administrator wants to be. Formal adoption processes after the birth can be very expensive. So it’s easy to see how this can become a major matter.

Federal judges clarified the matter for Florida officials, however. Any legally married couple is entitled to have both their names on the birth certificate, regardless of sex. New, gender-neutral birth certificate forms will come into use throughout Florida sometime in July, and any non-compliant hospitals, birth centers, or midwives should be reported to the Department of Health.

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