Movies

How A Simple Favor Delivers on Queer Representation

I wrote a blog post earlier in the summer about how Ocean’s 8 was the gayest movie of the year, but I was wrong. I was so wrong. A Simple Favor is the gayest movie of the year.

Not only did this movie deftly navigate the fine line between comedy and suspense, it actually delivers on queer representation. Unlike other movies that hinge their promotions on queerbaiting (*cough* pitch perfect *cough*), A Simple Favor doesn’t shy away from depicting the sexual tension between Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) and Emily (Blake Lively).

Their chemistry is evident from the second the pair meet. Emily, sporting a three piece suit, walks in slow motion toward Stephanie, whose reaction is literally the definition of gay panic.

SEX

It doesn’t take long for Stephanie and Emily to develop a close relationship that is laden with heavy flirtation and intense eye contact. (To be honest, if Blake Lively called me baby that many times in a 15 minute period while sipping a martini, then I would have literally burst into flames.) 

Continue reading “How A Simple Favor Delivers on Queer Representation”

TV Shows

What does a bisexual man look like?

A little over a year ago, I met a guy who made me experience something I had never felt for another man before – attraction.

I was shocked, bewildered, and confused. I had never in my life even considered the possibility of being anything but straight. And yet, here we were. After accepting that I was a bisexual male, I began wondering if I should start presenting differently. 

I would frequently wonder, “How gay should I be acting?” “Is this gay enough?” “Is this too gay?”

This internal dialogue reminds me of a scene in Love, Simon. (Spoilers, if you somehow haven’t seen it yet) The main character, Simon Spier, is outed by a classmate during winter break. The morning he’s set to return to school, Simon finds himself trying on all sorts of different outfits, all while Googling “how to dress like a gay guy”.

68747470733a2f2f73332e616d617a6f6e6177732e636f6d2f776174747061642d6d656469612d736572766963652f53746f7279496d6167652f63494b736765696367585f6277413d3d2d3537313836343336352e313532633965343164303837636162663531343137303330323434302e676966.gif

Simon’s trepidation and uncertainty on how to present, is reminiscent of the struggles bisexual men face on a daily basis. For me, I wanted my outward expression to convey my interest in men without convincing people that I batted entirely for the other team. Considering my bisexuality made me acutely aware of how I walked, talked, dressed, and even wrote. It was extremely difficult to find a way to present as equally gay and straight. 

But none of it really mattered.

Continue reading “What does a bisexual man look like?”

religion

Blaming the gays won’t end the Catholic sex abuse scandal

Pedophilia and homosexuality are not the same thing. Should I say it louder for those in the back? Pedophilia and homosexuality are not the same thing. I know this may come as a real shock if you’ve been listening to conservative news outlets lately, but it’s true. Most pedophiles don’t even experience any sexual desire for adults, but for those who do, the vast majority identify as heterosexual. 

Unfortunately, with the recent allegations of sex abuse within the Catholic church, this outdated argument has resurfaced. “It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord,” wrote Bishop Robert Morlino in a letter to the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.

Really? You can’t do any better than the classic “blame the gays” excuse?

For decades, Bible wielding pastors have blamed natural disasters and terrorist attacks on the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people. These arguments are usually so absurd they’re almost humorous, but I refuse to laugh now. With more than 1,000 children reporting that they were molested by hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in just six Pennsylvania dioceses, we must contest all claims that this is a “homosexual problem.”

c_scale,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800

As one America magazine writer explains, “using an abuse and accountability scandal to scapegoat Catholic queerness is not okay.” In fact, blaming homosexuality for sex abuse just enables the church to avoid addressing the actual problem. Attributing this issue to those evil, inherently disordered gays, is a far easier pill for certain religious people to swallow than confronting the fact that their institution has been complicit in truly horrific crimes and requires systemic change.

I personally witnessed the effectiveness of this destructive narrative last week. I have to be vague for the sake of privacy, but I will say that I was in a professional setting when

Continue reading “Blaming the gays won’t end the Catholic sex abuse scandal”

TV Shows

The Gifted on Fox seems really gay, so why isn’t it actually?

Shunned by loved ones, persecuted by religious groups and forced to conceal their true identities, mutants in “The Gifted” experience struggles similar to queer people today.

And that’s intentional.

Ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first conceptualized the X-men comics, which The Gifted is based on, it has served as an allegory for the oppression of marginalized people. “The X-Men are hated, feared, and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants,” explains X-men writer, Chris Claremont. “So what we have, intended or not, is a [series] that is about racism, bigotry, and prejudice.”

In the 1960s, this prejudice was predominately associated with the civil rights movement. The plight of the X-Men, who were discriminated against simply because of their genetics, underscored the importance of racial equality. However, as time passed, other groups began to identify with the baseless disdain mutants were forced to endure, including the queer community.

XLjYPIZaK5G136Y6KFbb_1082012401 “While LGBT people couldn’t be part of the X-Men’s text, the experiences of LGBT people came to dominate the X-Men’s subtext,” said Andrew Wheeler, editor-in-chief of Comics Alliance, a website dedicated to covering the comic book industry. Due to creative ambiguity and visual subtlety, queer people were given their first taste of representation in popular media. Suddenly, mutant was a codeword for gay and the queer themes strongly resonated with LGBTQ people.

Myself included.

giphyWhen I watched X-Men: First Class, the fifth installment of the film series, I couldn’t stop thinking about Mystique saying the phrase: “mutant and proud.” [And it wasn’t because I’m in love with Jennifer Lawrence…although that definitely didn’t hurt]. I found myself writing it on sheets of paper, whispering it at random and replaying it over and over in my head. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this phrase offered me the ability to safely contemplate my sexuality. I could look in the mirror and say that I was a mutant without fear of accidentally outing myself. To me, it was synonymous with lesbian but, unlike the latter, I could say mutant as loudly as I wanted. In fact, repeating it so often was the precursor to finally being able to write that I was gay and proud at the end of a 13 page coming out letter to my parents. [Can’t ever claim I’m not thorough…] 

Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of the X-Men. So, when I heard about The Gifted I binged all 13 episodes in a single weekend. (Judge me)

As expected, it was absolutely drenched in queer metaphors.

10 ways The Gifted is super gay:

The Gifted centers around the Struckers, your typical family living in a sleepy, nondescript American suburb. Reed, the father, works for a governmental organization that prosecutes mutants while Caitlin, the mother, works in the medical field. However, their perfect life is completely uprooted after discovering their son (Andy) and daughter (Lauren) are mutants.

The Gifted expertly evokes the confusion, sadness, elation and terror queer people oscillate between during the coming out process.

Just imagine these scenes a little differently.

1) When a loved one says something homophobic for the first time 

Gifted 2

It doesn’t even have to be malicious. Just an offensive joke, an offhanded comment or an ignorant observation, stings deeply when you’re not out. The night before I came out I had to endure arguments about how homosexuals are “just unnatural,” caveated by insistence that the argument wasn’t anti-gay.  In this scene, I can literally feel Lauren’s fear of being rejected by her family.

2) The terror you experience around religious extremists

Gifted 31

In The Gifted, purifiers believe that mutants are a threat to society and must be stringently monitored or eliminated entirely. Sound familiar to those religious arguments about how gay people are destroying the fabric of society? It’s no accident the purifiers are wearing massive crosses on their chest. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard people claim, in the name of God, that queer people are worthy of death.

3) Realizing your sexuality or gender identity during puberty 

Continue reading “The Gifted on Fox seems really gay, so why isn’t it actually?”

History

Domestic abuse in LGBT relationships: why aren’t we talking about it?

I was tortured for two years.

Not in the conventional sense. My tormentor wasn’t fond of physical restraints. Her fits of rage never left me with cuts, bruises or broken bones. In fact, there wasn’t a single visible sign of the pain she inflicted…and that’s the way she preferred it.

To an observer, I was completely free and yet I lived in utter captivity.

It’s no secret that domestic abuse is a pervasive problem in our society. Nearly half of all women and men in the US have experienced psychological aggression, or emotional abuse, by “an intimate partner” in their lifetime and emotional abuse is largely considered to be the most common form of abuse. 

And yet, after enduring two years of torment, I couldn’t help but wonder: how did I miss it? If it’s so common, then why wasn’t I able to recognize the signs?

They had been drilled into me since I was a child. “Don’t date a man who tells you what to wear, where to go or who to hang out with.” “Don’t let a man pressure you into sex when you want to say no.” “Find a nice guy, someone who respects you and treats you well.” 

And that’s when I realized it.

I was only prepared to recognize the hallmarks of heterosexual abuse. As a lesbian woman, who was raised by two heterosexual parents in an exceedingly heterosexual community, I had no reference for a healthy lesbian relationship. My knowledge of queer romances stemmed solely from fleeting displays of affection on TV. [Hands up if you remember Alex and Marissa on the OC]. 

oc5.gif

While these teen dramas were on the forefront of pushing LGBTQ representation in media, many inadvertently normalized toxic behavior. They depicted women as innately more emotional than men, so two women together was just a powder keg of uncontrollable emotion. As a result, intensity and obsession was considered to be romantic or desirable in lesbian relationships. The lack of positive, realistic and healthy queer romances left me with no idea of what abusive behavior actually looked like between two women.

It’s estimated that 1 in 4 LGBTQ people experience domestic abuse and yet it’s rarely discussed or reported. And I can understand why.

I didn’t discuss it myself. Not even when I was a crumpled mess, sobbing on the kitchen floor unable to trust my own thoughts. I didn’t tell anyone. I even made up lies about how well she was treating me.

Why it’s not discussed:

Growing up in a conservative Catholic environment, I was taught to believe that homosexuality was inherently sinful. Gay people, when acting upon their disordered nature, were “tearing their souls” from God. I even had a woman tell me that, “gay relationships only result in depression, drug addiction and suicide.”

When I came out, I vowed to prove them wrong. I wanted everyone to see how much happier I was being open and confident in my sexuality. I wouldn’t settle for anything less than perfect.

So, when my first serious relationship with a woman turned toxic, I refused to admit it. lgbt-4Despite desperately needing help and slowly drowning in a situation I couldn’t control, the thought of admitting the abused I experienced seemed so much worse. To me, it meant that I had failed. I was nothing more than another disordered, suicidal lesbian who got what she deserved.

Many months later, I discovered that this is actually one of the reasons LGBTQ people don’t report abuse. We’re afraid to show a “lack of solidarity” with other LGBTQ people. We view discussing this topic as a betrayal of our community because we think it’ll confirm society’s assumption that same-sex relationships are inherently dysfunctional.

But that isn’t true.

I wish I could scream it from the mountaintops. If you are being abused, then please seek help. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, queer, trans, cis, asexual, etc. You do not deserve to endure abuse.  You are not betraying your community by coming forward and ending abuse. Being controlled by an abuser is just another closet that you don’t deserve to be in. There is bravery in admitting that you need help.

My story:

I met my abuser shortly after graduating from college. I had a job I loved, lived in a gorgeous place and was finally comfortable with my sexuality.

And then I met her.

(For the sake of privacy, I’ll just refer to her as Grace.) She was everything I thought I wanted: interesting, kind, charming, bold and beautiful. She had been out since she was a teenager and I admired her ability to be so brazenly gay. Grace spent her days caring for those with severe physical handicaps, occasionally volunteered with the food insecure and planned on spending her life tending to the sick. She seemed perfect… right?  Continue reading “Domestic abuse in LGBT relationships: why aren’t we talking about it?”

TV Shows

How Timeless gave a voice to the LGBT community, POC and women

Writers on NBC’s Timeless could have easily allowed Agent Christopher, a senior Homeland Security field agent, to become a one-dimensional character. It’s something we’ve seen a hundred times: a brazenly confident leader, capable of making the tough calls until it comes to his own wife and kids. [Here’s looking at you Oliver Queen]. Agent Christopher is just one power pose away from falling prey to classic stoic white male trope…except she’s an Indian-American woman.

That’s right.

The show’s boss is a middle aged lesbian of color who is in a loving, interracial marriage with a black woman, Michelle, and has two children: Mark and Olivia.

LEsbian.gifSince the show’s conception, this time traveling drama has been intent on highlighting voices that are frequently overlooked in the history books. To rectify this problem, the show’s second season intentionally placed a strong emphasis on telling the stories of people of color and women. Co-creator, Shawn Ryan, addressed their desire to spotlight these hidden figures by saying, “so much of history as it’s taught revolves around powerful white men, and one of the things that was of great interest to us this year was to see if there was a way to explore history beyond that.”

In addition to learning about Wendell Scott, who became the first African American NASCAR driver to win a Grand National race in 1961, and Grace Humiston, a celebrated lawyer and famous New York detective who solved one of the highest profile disappearance cases in 1917, Timeless created a modern, beautiful queer storyline.

Typically, LGBTQ characters on TV are portrayed as young, white and unattached. In fact, according to the most recent data available on GLAAD’s 2016 and 2017 “Where Are We on TV” reports, 77% of queer characters on streaming originals were white and 72% of queer characters on broadcast and cable were also white. Focusing solely on the stories of queer white individuals is just as detrimental to societal progress as white feminism. It completely overlooks the difficulties unique to people of color and that’s a massive problem.

Luckily, Agent Denise Christopher is the solution.

Christopher.gifNot only is she a woman of color in a white male dominated field but she wasn’t forced to sacrifice her career in order to have a family. Agent Christopher was able to get the girl, the job and the respect of her employees. Essentially, she is the pinnacle of success for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

However, Timeless is careful not to gloss over the challenges that Agent Christopher was forced to overcome in order to earn her life.

Continue reading “How Timeless gave a voice to the LGBT community, POC and women”

History

Are companies really supporting the LGBTQ community or are they just profiting off of gay pride?

As any gay worth their rainbow knows, June is pride month. For the next few weeks our newsfeeds will be flooded with endless iterations of ROY G. BIV inspired products and LGBTQ inclusive advertisements. While it’s extremely tempting to lose ourselves in the rainbows, glitter and flamboyant unicorns, it’s important to consider why companies are marketing to the LGBTQ community.

Do they really care about the interests of queer people or are they simply capitalizing on pride to turn a profit?

It’s no secret that attitudes toward LGBTQ people have changed drastically in recent years. In fact, support for gay marriage among U.S. citizens has risen from 32% in 2002 to 67% in 2018 and 92% of LGBTQ adults say society has become more accepting of them in the past decade.  This acceptance of the LGBTQ community has become increasingly reflective in advertisements and companies are now publicly supporting gay rights.

But it’s easy to just slap a rainbow on shoes, shirts or bottles of alcohol for pride. The real question is: where were these companies before supporting queer people benefited their bottom line?

1c1176aaabd68eb4bf70d7c35adaffb5

The truth is, “these brands are now feeling like it’s safe and less risky to [support gay rights],” says Jenn T. Grace, an LGBTQ business strategist. “The message it sends is, ‘you weren’t important to us before when it was risky but now, only when it’s safe, we’re willing to put our neck out there and support this community. It could be that it’s the right thing to do…but if it’s not making them money, they wouldn’t do it.”

With the influx of rainbow themed logos and commercials with same-sex partners, it’s not always easy to determine which companies are genuinely supportive of gay rights. Luckily, the Human Rights Campaign developed a reliable way to assess a company’s actual attitude toward LGBTQ people: the Corporate Equality Index (CEI). This index rates American businesses (between -25-100) based on their treatment of LGBTQ employees, consumers and investors. It gives invaluable insight into a company’s true intention when using gay pride to market their products.

Below is an analysis of companies who have used LGBTQ themes to market their products. It’s up to you to decide if they’ve earned it or not!

1) Apple Inc. 

apple-pride

In 2014, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, became the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Since then, Cook has capitalized on his position of power to become a prominent advocate for gay rights. He has publicly condemned the anti-LGBTQ “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (signed by then Indiana Governor Mike Pence),  personally donated a substantial amount of money to gay rights efforts in the south, led about 8,000 Apple employees in San Francisco’s gay pride parade and used his platform, and buzz about the the iPhone X, to advocate for marriage equality in Australia.

rainbow_apple_logo1-100274483-orig

Surprisingly, Cook’s support of the LGBTQ community has actually been good for business. His relentless corporate activism, or speaking out on controversial issues largely unrelated to a company’s bottom line, is increasing sales of Apple products. According to researchers at Harvard and Duke, this happens “when CEOs take public stands on controversial issues [because] they can galvanize support for their company from those who share the same viewpoint.”

While Cook has definitely propelled Apple’s fight for equality through his personal commitment to gay rights, the tech company has a long history of supporting the queer community. In fact, few companies have consistently supported the LGBTQ community quite like Apple Inc., formerly known as Apple Computers Inc. In 2002, the year the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index began, Apple was 1 of just 13 companies to earn the highest possible rating (100.) And, every year since, Apple has managed to maintain that perfect score.

mOMr4c0lEven when the majority of Americans did not support gay rights, Apple prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, provided diversity training in relation to sexuality and gender identity and offered transgender-inclusive insurance coverage.

In the early 1990’s, Apple even refused to build an $80 million office complex in Round Rock, Texas unless their tax-break, which was rescinded due to the company’s pro gay policies, was reinstated. Residents had accused the tech company of “bringing homosexuality into Williamson County” and even took to wearing pins that expressed their disproval of the company’s commitment to equality. In response, Apple said, “that as a matter of both principle and economics the company would not build on the 128-acre site” unless they were reimbursed for the tax-break. Ultimately, the county folded and Apple broke ground on the project in 1994.

In more recent years, Apple has continued to fight for LGBTQ rights by removing anti-gay apps from the iTunes store and supporting a Supreme Court decision, that declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in 2013. After the DOMA decision, the company issued an unequivocal statement of support saying, “Apple strongly supports marriage equality and we consider it a civil rights issue. We applaud the Supreme Court for its decisions today.”

It looks like Apple has earned their right to market to the LGBTQ community! Here is Apple’s latest options for pride.

2) Target 

Target has had a somewhat complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community for the past several years. While their stores proudly display shirts promoting equality and pride, in 2010 Target gave $150,000 to a Republican-friendly political fund, MN Forward, who ran TV ads supporting state legislator Tom Emmer. At that time, Emmer was a vehement opponent of gay marriage who actively worked to support a “constitutional marriage amendment that protects traditional marriage.”

Continue reading “Are companies really supporting the LGBTQ community or are they just profiting off of gay pride?”

Movies

Ocean’s 8 is the gayest movie of the year, let’s make Ocean’s 9 even gayer

This weekend I saw Ocean’s Gay.

Oops.

I mean Ocean’s 8. (Although, maybe they should consider a name change…) This fourth installment of the Ocean’s franchise, featured a diverse all-female cast who showcased intelligence, bad-assery and, if you exist for homoerotic subtext like I do, lesbian love.

While (tragically) no character was openly gay, there was a near painful amount of sexual tension between Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and Lou (Cate Blanchett). [Slight spoilers ahead] From the second that Lou’s character is introduced, (in all her pant suit glory) she can’t seem to keep her hands off Debbie. In fact, after a ridiculously flirty exchange that occurs when the pair reunites after Debbie’s release from prison, Lou grabs her “friend’s” head and kisses it with a little too much passion. (Talk about muscle memory, right?)  

As the plot begins to unfold, Lou and Debbie’s storyline starts to parallel a classic heterosexual romance montage that’s frequently seen on the Hallmark channel. Ready?

Here’s Debbie slowly and suggestively eating eating her food. [Side note: shortly after this, Debbie refers to Lou as “baby” and the pair make quips about getting engaged. #ClassicUhaulLesbian]

EAT

As the meal winds down, Debbie makes intense eye contact with Lou and insist on feeding her. You know, like all straight females friends do…. [Can we talk about the look of pure ecstasy on Lou’s face? There’s literally nothing good on that fork, girl. We know that’s not what you’re excited about.] 

06-sandra-bullock-cate-blanchett-oceans-8.w710.h473.2x.jpg

Here they are sitting exceedingly close together on a very, very large bench while Lou’s grip is obviously intended to frighten away possible male suitors. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 10.02.08 PM

Here’s Lou explaining how she easily seduced Debbie to their wildly confused friend. 

oceans 04919.dng

And here’s Lou looking cocky AF the morning after (which I’m sure she earned.) 

source-1.gif

All joking aside, there are so many hints throughout the film that Debbie and Lou are way more than platonic friends. They refer to each other as “partners,” routinely speak less than an inch apart and clearly share a deep, affectionate bond. At one point in the movie Debbie literally says, “I don’t want a him, I want a her.”

Continue reading “Ocean’s 8 is the gayest movie of the year, let’s make Ocean’s 9 even gayer”

Uncategorized

21 best LGBT quotes in honor of pride

June is the best month of the year because it’s also the gayest. In honor of pride month, I’ve compiled 21 of my favorite quotes about being queer/the gay community. Even if you don’t feel accepted by loved ones, the LGBTQIA+ community will always be there for you. Be proud and realize that tons of people love you exactly as you 🙂

1) “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.”

Jason Collins, a retired professional basketball player. In 2014, he became the first openly gay male athlete to play in U.S. professional sports.

150324-stern-out-win-tease_oklcdk

2) “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”

Harvey Milk, an American politician and the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, where he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. After serving only 11 months in office, Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978. He was acutely aware of this possibility and is even quoted as saying, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

source

3) “It takes some intelligence and insight to figure out you’re gay and then a tremendous amount of balls to live it and live it proudly.”

Jason Bateman, actor and gay rights activist.
MarvelousOrdinaryCatfish-size_restricted

4) “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.”

Laverne Cox, a transgender woman, actress and LGBT advocate who became famous for her role of Sophia Burset in Netflix series, Orange is the New Black.

giphy

5) “I very much want to inject gay culture into the mainstream. It’s not an underground tool for me. It’s my whole life.”

Lady Gaga. In 2009, the singer and gay rights activist came out as bisexual. However, in recent years, it’s possible that her sexuality has changed.

Equlity-Speech

6) “I think being gay is a blessing, and it’s something I am thankful for every single day.”

Anderson Cooper, award-winning journalist, television personality and author. In 2012, Cooper publicly came out as gay. 37c89873397dd3b2c9f49de5d278d16c.jpg

Continue reading “21 best LGBT quotes in honor of pride”

History

Remembering LGBT voices in military history

In the United States, Memorial Day is a time to remember all those who have died in service to our country. Social media will likely flood with images of widows and widowers mourning at grave sites, videos of soldiers reuniting with loved ones at airports and stories about selfless acts of valor. This somber, commemorative day is intended to evoke a deep sense of patriotism in all Americans.

But what’s missing from this picture? Would stories about military personnel mourning, rejoicing or sacrificing elicit the same sense of pride if the soldiers were members of the LGBT community? Unfortunately, the military has a long, complicated history with mistreating queer people.

Until President Obama repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, being gay was grounds for termination from the military. This makes it nearly impossible to determine how many queer people made the ultimate sacrifice for our safety.  But, being allies and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we have an obligation to remember these unsung heroes with vigor equal to that of their straight and cisgendered counterparts. This blog post is an attempt to highlight the service of these queer voices and depict the hardships they faced throughout history.

As you can imagine, it was difficult to be a member of the LGBT community while enlisted in the military. These brave women, men and gender nonconforming people were forced to lie about their sexual orientations just so they could protect and serve this country. In addition to risking their lives on the battlefield, LGBT service members faced potential violence in their own units and immediate discharge if their sexuality was discovered. In the 1940s, people with homosexual or bisexual orientations began receiving a “blue discharge” which made them ineligible for G.I. Bill benefits. During this time, service members suspected of queer orientations would receive an “undesirable discharge” while those guilty of homosexual activity (or engaging in “same-sex behavior”) would be “dishonorably discharged.” 

Sergeant Leonard Matlovich famously contested the armed forces’ discriminatory policies against queer people in 1975. Matlovich, who had served for 12 years in the Air Force, was a highly respected member of the military.  He had received a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and shrapnel wounds during the Vietnam War. Simply put, Matlovich was an exemplary member of the military. However, when he chose to disclose his sexuality to his superiors, Matlovich was immediately discharged.

In September of 1975, his story made the cover of TIME magazine and prompted outrage in both proponents and opponent of gay rights. Some called him “a disgrace to the uniform of an honorable service” while others supported his bravery in challenging an outdated system. Tragically, Matlovich died of AIDS in 1988 but used his tombstone as a poignant and permanent reminder of the prejudice he endured. It reads: “A Gay Vietnam Veteran… when I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

831_LEONARD-MATLOVICH-GRAVESTON.jpg
Matlovich’s grave

It’s no secret that ever since the Revolutionary War people “have been drummed out of the U.S. military for homosexual acts.”  In 1919,  for instance, Navy officials encouraged some enlisted men to “entrap and seduce suspected gay sailors” so they could “obtain information and evidence pertaining to cocksuckers and rectum receivers.” During World War II, doctors even placed tongue depressors into patients’ throats to gauge their gag reflexes. The assumption was that men who performed oral sex on other men would lack this natural reflex.

Despite the severe repercussions of homosexual activity, some members of the military still risked their lives to have profound relationships with members of the same sex. In 1939, Gordon Bowsher and Gilbert Bradley did exactly that. Before he joined the British Army, Bradley was already in love with Bowsher.

In fact, the two men were so enamored with each other that they exchanged hundreds of romantic letters throughout the war that were only recently discovered.  Bowsher and Bradley risked imprisonment and death just to write about their desire for one another and fantasies for their future together. Unlike their heterosexual counterparts who could proudly discuss their sweethearts back home, these men were forced to hide their affection. The hopeful, albeit melancholic, tone of these letters is best summarized in the line: “wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time? Then all the world could see how in love we are.”

In discussing these letters, Peter Roscoe, a gay rights activist, explains that they serve as an important reminder that “there is a gay history and it isn’t always negative and tearful…despite all the awful circumstances, gay men and lesbians managed to rise above it all.”

3D4AE72300000578-0-image-a-32_1487262299681.jpg
Letters between Bowsher and Bradley

Two decades after Gordon Bowsher and Gilbert Bradley penned these letters, Fannie Mae Clackum became the first person to successfully challenge her discharge on the grounds of homosexuality from the U.S military. During the late 1940s and early 1950s Fannie served as a US Air Force Reservist and developed a close relationship with fellow Air Force Reservist, Grace Garner. Due to the pair’s intimate relationship, they were suspected of homosexual activity. In an attempt to prove these suspicions, the Air Force arranged for Fannie, Grace and a fellow solider to stay overnight in a motel together. In a cruel act of deception, the fellow solider served as an informant for the Air Force. Shortly after their motel stay, and despite Fannie’s and Grace’s denial of anything romantic occurring, the two women were dishonorably discharged from the Air Force.

Once discharged, Fannie and Grace moved in together, under the pretense of better fighting their dismissal. After eight years of court hearings, the pair finally prevailed in 1960 and the Air Force invalidated their discharges. Both women were awarded back pay for the remainder of their enlistment periods. [It’s important to note that both women denied having a sexual relationship but, considering that they lived together and had a very close relationship, it’s highly likely they were closeted.]

Fannie-Mae-Clackum.jpg
Fannie, Grace and other members of the Air Force

As time progressed, attitudes toward homosexuality began to soften. Interestingly, Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was actually intended to lift the ban on homosexual service. The policy, which went into effect on October 1, 1993, instructed that military personnel “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue and don’t harass” queer members of the armed forces.

An article written prior to the establishment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” examined the role of allowing lesbians to serve in the military. The article cited a 1984 study in the Journal of Homosexuality that found gay women were “significantly more likely to have served in the military than heterosexual women” and referenced research that estimated 25% of all woman in the armed forces were gay. Unfortunately, this presumed prevalence of lesbians in the military made all women easy targets for discharge and dismissal.

Continue reading “Remembering LGBT voices in military history”