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A photo of a sign that reads, "Welcome to Cleveland State University."

Photo credit: Bill Ragan / Shutterstock

The fliers found in Cleveland State University’s main classrooms building last week might have seemed innocuous at first glance, but not after a second’s thought.

A cover-sheet showed a man and woman, over the words “We have a right to exist.” But if the art looks familiar, that’s because it’s taken from ’40s propaganda posters of the Nazi Aryan ideal. And lifting the cover sheet makes the poster even worse.

The second page is a hanged man in silhouette. In rainbow text and a slur, the poster exhorts LGBT viewers to commit suicide. The poster was signed “Fascist Solutions.”

While it was an isolated posting on CSU’s campus, a similar poster was found at a bus stop in Texas in May.

The poster itself, however, is not the spark of the outrage currently entangling the campus. Rather, it is that CSU’s president Ronald Berkman took pains to remind students that free speech protected the poster, in lieu of any statement assuring LGBT students of their safety. Only after the outcry did he address that matter.

The poster was removed, but only because it had not been approved to be posted through the required channels. Berkman’s insistence that he would have had to post it, had the source followed proper procedure, is what has angered students.

The jury has never been in on the fine and nebulous line between freedom of speech and protection from hate speech. It’s a controversial matter, and one that arises frequently at state-funded universities which are on the fringe of being entities of the government. But speech exhorting violence or crime is explicitly not covered under free speech, and this poster undeniably promoted both, in a vicious manner.

And as for the cover sheet? “We have a right to exist.” Cleveland State University is 66% white, its faculty even more so. Perhaps they should check their remedial math courses for the culprit.

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A photo of trans activist Marsha P. Johnson. The words, "Nice girls don't make history" are written across the bottom of the photo.

Marsha P. Johnson.
Photo courtesy of Glaurung Quena via Flickr Creative Commons.

It’s about time that Marsha “pay it no mind” Johnson had a modern documentary about her life. The legacy of this black trans woman and activist is writ large across American LBGT history. And it should be cause for celebration that “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” is trending on Netflix this week. But there’s ugliness just under the surface.

David France, the filmmaker releasing the new Netflix documentary, is a white, cis, gay man with a history of writing about the dramatic and tragic in queer history. He has books on sexual abuse and Iraq’s death penalties, and a book-turned-documentary about the AIDS crisis, titled “How to Survive a Plague.” He’s undeniably a part of the queer community, but not always a part of the stories he chooses to tell.

Now, another filmmaker, Reina Gossett has spoken up to say that France has stolen from her years of work on Johnson. She alleges that France stole her language and research, got websites to remove her work, stole her contacts and hired away her research adviser. Gossett, who is black and trans, took to social media to air her grievances, which France has claimed are baseless.

“This kind of extraction/excavation of black life, disabled life, poor life, trans life, is so old and so deeply connected to the violence Marsha had to deal with throughout her life,” Gossett said on Instagram.

In the wake of the terrible 2015 movie about the Stonewall riots which completely erased Johnson and the other non-white, non-cis originators of that iconic event, it is tone-deaf to pretend to be blind to these identities. The pool of funding for a documentary on a trans woman of color is not bottomless, and Gossett’s production, titled “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” is stalled in the cradle after three years of work. Whether or not France has done what Gossett alleges, the controversy stands—which of these two artists should have the multi-million dollar Netflix deal?

A photo of Hudson River Park taken at sunset.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

In June of 2016, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo established a commission to seek out a design for a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida that had happened earlier that month. Submissions were accepted in October, and on Sunday, June 25th 2017, the winning design was announced

Anthony Goicolea, the victorious designer, was perhaps destined to win it. A Cuban-American who grew up in the south and now shares a Brooklyn home with his husband, he is a part of the communities hit hardest by the shooting, which stands as the deadliest civilian incident of gun violence in the United States.

His design is an arrangement of nine boulders, most of them bisected by thick, polished layers of refractive glass. The glass slices will act as prisms, using any available light to throw rainbows in all directions. The boulders, in their loose circle, will remind visitors to the space of ancient sites, like Stonehenge and burial mounds.

“This monument will serve as a communal space filled with light, color, and hope where the visitors can sit, mourn, love, and remember for years to come,” Giocolea stated. 

The site of the new monument, Hudson River Park, is Giocolea’s home turf. He often runs there. And it is an important place to the LGBT community as well; the Stonewall Inn is only a short walk away.

“It feels like there are certain shapes and patterns that are encoded in our DNA as humans that transcend any particular culture and speak to how we are unified in the larger scheme,” Giocolea added. “I wanted to create a space that feels familiar, even though it is new.”

While the announcement of the winning design was timed to coincide with NYC Pride festivities, there is currently no official date for the completion of the installation.

A photo of a legal document that's titled "lawsuit."

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Donna Kikkert calls herself a “mainstream” student. By that, the 59-year-old woman chasing her first degree at the University of Wisconsin means that she is straight, white, and Christian. She took a poetry class, and is suing the professor for choosing a reading selection that did not “serve her needs.”

Without naming titles, Kikkert claimed in course records that the assigned readings for her Creative Writing Poetry course focused on “lesbians, illicit sexual relationships, incest, and frequent swearing.” She had demanded more “classic” works, and when that was denied, she complained first to the professor, then to the university, and then, after her failing grade was upheld and the course was finished, to court.

Kikkert’s demands included not only an A grade for herself, but also that the teacher, Professor Patricia Dyjak, be fired or suspended without pay for a full year—four times the length of the course. Kikkert also made personal accusations of inappropriate behavior against Dyjak, accusations refuted by other students.

For generations, literature studies have included only the works of white men and the occasional white woman, only the experiences of the majority. Decades of poetry written by LGBT people, people of color, women, and other “fringe” populations have been left out of the curriculum, and now that they are there, the “mainstream” students feel attacked by their very presence.

There’s a supported study by Australian Dale Spender which indicates that men feel that women are dominating the conversation if women speak 30% of the time. One assumes the same winds up true no matter which majority and minority you substitute in.

Kikkert could have chosen to include the titles from her professor’s curriculum. That she didn’t implies that she knew an actual review of the content wouldn’t support her accusation. And even if those accusations were true, there’s nothing in the law or in the tenants of University of Wisconsin that requires a course to cater to her. That’s why the court not only dismissed her case, but also her request for free counsel.

A mass gathering of protestors in Taiwan who are holding signs in favor of marriage equality.

Protestors gather in Taiwan to voice their support for marriage equality.
Photo credit: weniliou / Shutterstock

Chi Chia-Wei spent more than five months in jail in 1986 for publicly being out as a gay man. That was when Taiwan was under martial law, and he secured a pardon before the year was out, but that was only the beginning of his fight for actual justice. In the 30 years since then, Chia-Wei has campaigned for gay rights in Taiwan, leading petitions and lawsuits against the island nation’s evolving government.

His work has finally borne fruit. In a ruling that may set a brand new precedent for Asia, Taiwan’s constitutional court announced on Wednesday, May 24th, that laws against same-sex marriage have been found unconstitutional. The legislature has two years to amend their Civil Code to reflect the decision or to pass laws specifically regarding same-sex marriages. If they fail to do so, those marriages will be legalized by default.

The justice’s wording called sexual orientation an “immutable characteristic that is resistant to change,” and therefore laws against same-sex relationships violate the personal freedom and protections of everybody.

While Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, has shown only lukewarm support for the cause and there have been outspoken rallies against it, the general atmosphere around this decision is not one of surprise. In 2013, the marriage of two transgender women was upheld. In 2015, the most recent year Chi applied for permission to marry his committed partner, the legislature was already considering changing Taiwan’s Civil Code, which they are now obligated to do.

Chi and many others are going to remain active in the legislative process surrounding the new decision. They are adamant that it is the Civil Code which must be amended, rather than a separate marriage law for same-sex couples.

“In Asia, every country’s situation is different,” Chi said after the announcement. “But this should certainly offer some encouragement to different societies to consider following in Taiwan’s footsteps and giving gays and lesbians the right to marry.”

The YouTube logo.

Image credit: rvlsoft/ Shutterstock

In its constant push to make YouTube into a mainstream, profit-generating machine, Google has (hopefully inadvertently) started blocking content by LGBTQ+ creators. The introduction of a “restricted mode” for the service is designed to make it more “family friendly,” allowing parents to feel better about their kids poking around YouTube, which can contain a lot of profanity, hate speech, and nudity.

The problem is that somehow or another, the system used to define what is restricted has flagged some videos from LGBTQ+ content creators. The implication seems to be that content by and for LGBTQ+ people isn’t “family friendly,” an outmoded way of thinking for sure.

According to Tyler Oakley, a gay content creator, YouTube is “often the first place many LGBTQ+ youth around the world see themselves and their stories shared and celebrated.” Representation, whether of the LGBTQ+ community or other marginalized groups, is hard to come by in mainstream media.

For the most part, YouTube has, until some recent changes, been a place where anyone can post content and be seen. And while it’s still true that anyone can post content, it appears that not everyone is being seen. This comes at a time when LGBTQ+ visibility is more important than ever before.

For the record, Google has never taken an outward stance against diversity or the LGBTQ+ crowd, so it’s unlikely that the system is flagging such videos intentionally. The system uses “community flagging” and other signals to filter out content. There are literally millions of videos on the platform, so Google uses a software system to streamline the process.

But YouTube is also a place where bigots gather, so it’s entirely possible that somebody figured out that those videos could be blocked by flagging them as inappropriate. It wouldn’t be the first time that trolls abused a system to punish people they don’t like.

An elderly woman at a gay pride festival.

An elderly woman takes part in a gay pride parade.
Photo credit: Ivan Bandura at Flickr Creative Commons.

There are roughly 2.7 million Americans over the age of 50 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and that number of expected to hit 5 million by the year 2060. So why is it that a recent study from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work is the first to actually study this population?

The longitudinal study, called Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study, interviewed 2,450 adults aged 50 to 100. The study investigated factors such as race and ethnicity, relationship status, resiliency among HIV-positive gay and bisexual men, and transgender people who served in the military. Researchers found “higher rates of disability, cardiovascular disease, depression and social isolation” among this population, compared to other people in the same age group.

Studies like this are important because they help shed light on an underrepresented population. While the LGBTQ+ rights movement has scored some victories in recent years, the primary focus has been on the younger population. We have to remember that older people should be included in this movement as well. If anything, they should be front and center of it, considering that the previous generations paved the way for the rights we have today.

But we also need to remain cognizant of the fact that populations experience aging (and the medical, emotional, and psychological affects thereof) in different ways. That’s why it’s important to study populations through various lenses and remember that being gay and being old are not mutually exclusive. Information from studies like this allow us to better address the problems of the population in question and also allow us to better plan for the future. Everyone stands to benefit from this type of work, considering that we’re all going to get old someday.