Russia’s State Duma unanimously supported new draft legislation to further restrict freedom of expression regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposals prohibit sharing positive and even neutral information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and publicly displaying non-heterosexual orientations, with hefty fines for noncompliance. The legislation is now pending approval by the parliament’s upper chamber and the president.
The original “gay propaganda” ban, introduced in 2013, purported to protect children from “propaganda,” broadly defined to mean any positive or neutral depiction or discussion of non-heterosexual relations. The draft legislation, while maintaining aggravated penalties when children are involved, extends it to a blanket ban that covers all public information or activities.
The new ban would isolate children from any information on alternative sexual orientation and gender identity, including gender transition. It introduces fines up to the equivalent of US$6,500 for individuals and US$81,000 for legal entities, such as NGOs, for disseminating such information. The draft legislation classifies displays of non-heterosexual relations or orientation as “information harmful to children’s health and development” and provides that websites and other online sources hosting information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people can be blocked. The proposed legislation does not provide any exclusions for art, scientific studies, or education. The bill also perpetuates false and damaging messaging that tries to link LGBT people with pedophiles, repeatedly referring to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations and (or) preferences, pedophilia, and sex change.”
“The 2013 ‘gay propaganda’ law was an unabashed example of political homophobia, and the new draft legislation amplifies that in broader and harsher ways,” said Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Just as the original law resulted in significant stigma and harm toward LGBT people in Russia, this updated version will have an even more stifling effect on freedom of expression, well-being and security.”
The 2013 “gay propaganda,” law has been extensively used by the government to stifle pro-LGBT events and to shutdown organizations and online media. The ban clearly violates the right to freedom from discrimination and to impart and receive information, especially with regard to children. This is something that has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. The authorities used the legislation to harass children for participation in cultural events as well as for promoting art that teaches tolerance and LGBT-themed posts on social media.
In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee found the 2013 law to be “ambiguous, disproportionate and discriminatory” and denounced “a blanket restriction on legitimate expressions of sexual orientation.” The European Court of Human Rights reiterated similar conclusions, in particular that “differences based solely on considerations of sexual orientation are unacceptable under the [European Convention on Human Rights]” and that Russian legislation stating the inferiority of same-sex relationships was not justifiable.
In November 2022, after examining Russia’s performance of its rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee again reiterated its “substantial concern about institutionalized discrimination and stigmatization of LGBT persons”, including through the said law and its proposed amendments, and called for it to be repealed. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged the Russian legislators to repeal the law rather than expanding it, noting the negative impact of exclusion, stigmatization and discrimination on the society.
The new proposed legislation goes even further in undermining Russia’s obligations under international law to protect freedom of expression and prevent discrimination.
“This law – like its predecessor – doesn’t protect anyone, but seeks to stoke fear and hatred about a minority. It cuts off kids from the services they need to thrive, and in some cases even survive,” Lokshina said. “The proposed legislation and the original ‘gay propaganda’ ban have no place in any society and belong in the trash.”
Other states have also sought to restrict gender-affirming care. Alabama, Arkansas, and Arizona have all banned different forms of gender-affirming care, with Alabama subjecting medical providers to felony charges. Oklahoma has withheld funding to healthcare providers who offer gender-affirming care, and Texas has investigated parents who help their children obtain needed care.
Tennessee’s bill suggests that lawmakers intend to put the rights of LGBT people at risk once again in 2023. Lawmakers, including governors, should stand strong against these efforts and reject bills that interfere with children’s rights to information and health care.
A 35-year-old bookstore was set on fire in North Hollywood in November and is believed to be a target of an alleged arson attack.
LA Fire responded to the call, seeing the front of the rear entrance of Iliad Bookshop, located at 5400 Calhuega, fully engulfed in flames after an unknown person or persons stacked up books and items left out by the store, according to the Los Angeles Blade.
Bookstore owner Daniel Weinstein told multiple news outlets that a flyer was left at the scene of the blaze, considered “terrorist.”
The extent of damage to the store’s inventory is unknown, according to the Blade.
“We were very lucky: neighbors saw the flames and flagged down a passing fire truck; had the firefighters arrived mere moments later, the entire store would probably have gone up. As it is, we suffered heavy damage to the main entry. The doors (which are metal) are still functional, but will need to be either replaced or fixed. We lost lighting fixtures, signage, and wood framing; we also suffered damage to the mural on the right side of the doors. Smoke filled the interior of the store, but we were able to rescue our two cats Zeus and Apollo and we’re hopeful that the damage to the books and fixtures is minimal,” said Weinstein.
“We have high insurance deductibles, so we need to cover the cost of replacing the exterior lights, sign, and trim, and touching up the mural. We expect the funds we’re looking for to be divided between repair costs and a mural artist,” he continued in the GoFundMe description.
Iliad is known for its cozy mix of “librarial reverence and old lore magic,” according to magazine writer Augustus Britton.
“Weinstein’s 10 employees are awesome. There are no better poetic words to describe them. One could say they all look like fictional characters. Grateful Dead fans, Philip K. Dick spies or Stendhal savants eating Chinese food at the counter while the shop’s spunky cats Zeus and Apollo — more nods to Greek mythology — climb over their shoulders,” Brittan said about the bookstore.
LAFD’s arson investigators are currently looking into what caused the fire, according to the Blade.
The ACLU and six other civil rights groups filed complaints Monday against two Texas school districts, asking the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate policies they say unlawfully discriminate against transgender students, The Hill reports.
The policies at the center of the complaint include one censoring books that discuss “gender fluidity” and another forcing trans students to use bathrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth rather than their gender.
“The effect of the [book] policy, absent federal civil rights intervention, will be to stigmatize LGBTQ+ and particularly transgender, non-binary, gender diverse, and intersex students in Keller ISD, to uniquely deprive them of the opportunity to read books that reflect their identities, and to create an environment in which unlawful discrimination flourishes,” the complaint states.
Opponents of the bathroom policy say that it would allow districts to ignore the gender listed on a student’s legal documents, including amended birth certificates.
“This policy seemingly allows Frisco ISD and its teachers and administrators to ignore and erase students’ gender identities in violation of federal law,” the complaint states. “School districts have no right to question students’ sexual characteristics such as genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes.”
The ACLU of Texas is encouraging impacted students to reach out.
According to the Texas Tribune, the complaints are just the latest filed by civil rights groups in opposition to anti-trans policies in Texas school districts. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a similar complaint against the state’s Carroll Independent School District over concerns it failed to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, and race.
In the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District, the school board recently adopted policies that effectively force teachers to deny the existence of transgender people. Its new guidelines prohibit discussion of “gender fluidity,” the use of gender-affirming pronouns, and the use of gender-congruent restrooms.
At the state level, Texas Republicans recently proposed creating a book rating system for school libraries. In a statement on the proposed legislation, PEN America called the system “a dangerous escalation in the movement to censor public education.”
The policies are part of a national trend pushed forward by coordinated action from right-wing activist groups like Moms for Liberty. Similar book bans have been proposed or adopted in Michigan, Florida, South Carolina, and other states. Many states have likewise considered policies prohibiting trans students from using facilities that align with their gender, or otherwise restricting their rights.
According to the Republican National Committee for Life, “The Republican Party must continue to uphold the principle that every human being, born and unborn, young and old, healthy and disabled, has a fundamental, individual right to life.”
With the stunning revelations of a leaked 98-page majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito proposing to completely gut the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, it seemed inevitable with the unprecedented maneuvering and court-packing of ultra-conservative “justices” under the Trump regime.
The Supreme Court, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, provided states the ability to take away the constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion, which has been granted for the past 49 years. It could reverse, as well, the right to contraception, marriage equality for same-sex couples, interracial marriage, sexuality education, and the total erasure of voting rights.
Get the Daily Brief
The news you care about, reported on by the people who care about you.
Republican leaders announced that among their primary and immediate items on their legislative agenda after the election of Donald Trump was to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. While these healthcare clinics do not receive direct federal funding, they collect approximately $500 million in federal programs from payments and grants, which comprise about 40% of the organization’s yearly budget.
Though an estimated 2.5 million people throughout the country access Planned Parenthood each year for annual health checkups, screenings for diseases, and contraceptives, Republicans had attempted to defund Planned Parenthood only to face a veto when President Obama sat in the Oval Office.
On November 20, 2022, as we commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance, a shooter in Colorado murdered five and injured 18 beautiful people at Club Q. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. As a nation, we must confront the hatred while continuing to demand gun safety measures.
In addition to the shooter, I indict our society that stereotypes and weaponizes our LGBTQ bodies as fodder for advancing its patriarchal Christian white supremacist authoritarian agendas.
We experience today many politicians, clergy, community and school officials who are targeting queer, trans, and gender non-binary people in promoting bigotry with their words and their actions by marginalizing and disenfranchising us through their legislation to prevent discussions of our lives in the classrooms and by banning books discussing our lives, by promoting fear and hatred by calling us “groomers,” by criminalizing parents who support their children’s gender identities and forms of expression, by eliminating trans athletes from sports, from preventing trans and non-binary folks from using public accommodations corresponding with their gender identities.
In my continuing quest to understand and make meaning of current political, economic, and social realities, I constantly glance back into historical eras looking for similarities and parallels from which I can draw conclusions and possibly learn from past mistakes we as humans have made. While each era unquestionably poses unique conditions and challenges in many respects, I believe history has enumerable lessons to teach if we are willing to learn.
Though I rarely offer comparisons between events transpiring before and during the ascension to power of the German Third Reich with resemblances to the contemporary United States – since to do so could result in trivializing one of the most horrific episodes in human history – nonetheless, I am haunted by certain parallels that demand voicing.
I am troubled by multiple similarities between that time not so very long ago and the discourses expressed and events transpiring today. I want, therefore, to highlight, in particular, the parallels I see in Nazi portrayals and understandings of sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression: a divisive and brutal program that was anti-feminist, anti-women’s equality, anti-women’s reproductive freedoms (anti-family planning, anti-contraception, anti-abortion), anti-lesbian, anti-gay, anti-bisexual, anti-transgender, anti-gender nonconforming, anti-sexuality education in schools.
The Nazis ruthlessly enforced and eventually extended Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code dating back to 1871 with the unification of Germany: “Unnatural vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished by imprisonment; the verdict may also include the loss of civil rights.”
Nazi ideology rested on the assessment that homosexuals (males) lowered the German birth rate; they endangered, recruited, enticed, and corrupted youth; that a possible homosexual epidemic could spread; that homosexuals are “potential oppositionists” and enemies of respectable society; and that sexual relations between people of the same sex impairs their “sense of shame” and undermines morality, which inevitably will bring about the “decline of social community.”
“Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we once again become the strong. But this we can achieve only in one way — the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline. We, therefore, reject any sexual deviation, particularly between man and man, because it robs us of the last possibility of freeing our people from the slave-chains in which it is now forced to toil.”
While Nazi ideology and practice rejected lesbianism as well, they did not criminalize same-sex sexuality between women, as they had in Germany’s Paragraph 175 of the Penal Code, because they believed that so-called “Aryan” lesbians could at least birth children for the “New Germany.”
On the other hand, Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo head and chief architect of the Reich’s anti-homosexual campaign, justified his actions by arguing that male homosexuals were “like women” and, therefore, could not fight in any German war effort.
Subsequently, he conducted surveillance operations on an estimated 90,000 suspected homosexuals, arrested approximately 50,000, and transported somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 to several concentration camps throughout the Nazi dominion. Very few survived.
Upon coming to power in 1933, under their Youth Leader, Baldur von Shirach, the Nazis took over all youth groups converting them into Hitler Youth groups. One action taken following consolidation was to eliminate all signs of “homosexual corrosion” because it allegedly threatened state control by “fostering political conspiracies.”
Nazi leaders purged all boys suspected of “homosexual tendencies.” They tried and convicted an estimated 6,000 youth under Paragraph 175 between 1933 and 1943.
Hitler also proposed eliminating all sex education from the German school system and encouraged parents to take on the primary responsibilities for sexuality instruction within the home.
While the Catholic Church spoke out then and today against same-sex sexuality, their policies boomeranged and hit them in their faces. Used primarily to silence any potential resistance from the Church, the Nazis conducted their so-called “Cloister Trials” in which they dissolved Catholic youth fraternities, arrested and incarcerated large numbers of priests, religious brothers, and Catholic laity in prisons and concentration camps, accusing them of being “threats to the state” on fabricated charges of homosexuality. For example, prison guards at Dachau concentration camp murdered Catholic priest Fr. Alois Abdritzki, one of many fatalities from the “Cloister Trials.”
Alfred Rosenberg, one of the Nazi’s chief ideologues, directed his misogynist outrage against women: “The emancipation of women from the women’s emancipation movement is the first demand of a female generation trying to rescue nation and race, the eternally unconscious, the foundation of all civilization, from decline…. A woman should have every opportunity to realize her potential, but one thing must be made clear: Only a man must be and remain judge, soldier, and politician.”
Englebert Huber, a Nazi propagandist, dictated the “proper” place of women in the Third Reich, figuratively (and literally as well) beneath men: “In the ideology of National Socialism, there is no room for the political woman….[Our] movement places woman in her natural sphere of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political, that post-war creature, who rarely ‘cut a good figure’ in parliamentary debates, represents the denigration of women. The German uprising is a male phenomenon.”
The Nazis added Paragraph 218 of the German Penal Code to outlaw abortions and established a national file on women who had undergone and doctors who had performed abortions.
In their increasing obsession with “purifying” the social sphere, Nazi leadership enacted the “Decree for Combating Public Indecency,” which included such provisions as working to eliminate prostitution, closing all bars and clubs that “are misused for the furtherance of public indecency” including “public houses solely or mainly frequented by persons engaging in unnatural sex acts” (a.k.a. homosexuals), and closing kiosks and magazine stands in libraries and bookshops “whether because they include nude illustrations or because of their title or contents, are liable to produce erotic effects in the beholder.”
Though Pope Pius XII maintained a position of neutrality and rarely spoke out against the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime, of which he was roundly criticized in some circles, The Vatican, on April 3, 1933, praised the Reich on this policy:
“The Vatican welcomes the struggle of National Germany against obscene material. The strong measures that Prussia’s Minister of the Interior Göring has ordered for the combating of obscene writings and pictures…have received serious attention in Vatican circles. It will be recalled that Pius XII, in his recent encyclicals, has repeatedly and vigorously stressed that defensive actions against obscene material are of fundamental importance for the bodily and spiritual health of family and nation, and he most warmly welcomes the type and manner…with which this struggle has been undertaken in the new Germany.”
The Patriarchal Connecting Strand
The Nazi regime connected multiple forms of oppression when Heinrich Himmler reorganized the Reich Criminal Police Bureau to centralize operations by creating a national file on male homosexuals, transgender people, what they referred to as “wage abortionists” (women and their doctors), and to monitor the production and ban the use of contraceptives to “Aryan” women.
Within this Bureau, they established The Reich Office for Combatting Homosexuality and Abortion, which in the single year of 1938 alone, conducted 28,366 arrests for abortion, and 28, 882 arrests of male homosexuals.
The common thread running through Nazi ideology regarding gender, gender expression, and sexuality was an intensive campaign to control individuals’ bodies and the bodies of members of entire communities in an attempt to control their minds.
Women and LGBTQ people have been constructed as second-class and even third-class citizens not merely in Nazi Germany but today as the current political discourse indicates. But women and LGBTQ are certainly not victims because through it all, women and LGBTQ people as individuals and as groups have resisted and challenged the inequities and have pushed back against patriarchal constraints.
I hope, though, that we as a society can learn from the tyranny of the past.
While LGBTQ candidates and their supporters celebrated several milestone victories around the nation in this year’s midterm elections, California quietly reached its own: At least 10% of its state lawmakers identify publicly as LGBTQ, believed to be a first for any U.S. legislature.
The California legislators, all Democrats, are proud of their success but say it underscores the hard work that remains in their own state and elsewhere, such as handling the fallout from measures such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans some lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, or laws in other states limiting transgender students’ participation in sports or blocking gender-affirming medical care for youths.
The milestone was further shrouded by the Saturday night shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado, which killed five people and wounded many others. The suspect was charged with murder and hate crimes. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who just won a second term, was the first openly gay man elected as a state’s governor when he won in 2018.
“When it comes to LGBTQ people, we’re on two tracks: One track is that societally we’re winning. People by and large are totally fine with LGBTQ people, they support us, they are accepting and willing to vote for LGBTQ candidates,” California state Sen. Scott Wiener, a member of the LGBTQ Caucus, said Monday.
Yet, he said, “despite the fact that we are winning the battle in society at large, you have a very vocal, dangerous minority of extremists who are consistently attacking and demonizing our community.”
At least 519 out LGBTQ candidates won elected office this year, in positions ranging from school board up to Congress and governor, said LGBTQ Victory Fund press secretary Albert Fujii. That’s a record, well up from 2020, when 336 LGBTQ candidates won, according to the group, which along with Equality California calculated that California is the first state to pass the 10% threshold.
Of the 12 current or soon-to-be members of the California Legislature, eight were already part of its LGBTQ Caucus, including the leader of the Senate and three other senators whose terms run until 2024. Four current Assembly members won reelection Nov. 8, with two new Assembly members and two new senators joining them, increasing the caucus’s ranks by 50%. The AP has not yet called one remaining race that could add an additional LGBTQ lawmaker.
The lawmakers will be sworn in for their new terms Dec. 5; between both chambers there are 120 total legislators.
The U.S. census has found that 9.1% of Californians identified as LGBT — compared with 7.9% for the nation overall — so the Legislature will have roughly reached parity in sexual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, the Legislature has not yet reached parity in gender or in race and ethnicity, according to statistics from the California State Library.
New Hampshire and Vermont have each had more LGBTQ legislators, according to the institute, but their legislatures are bigger than California’s and so have not reached the 10% threshold.
The 2022 elections are a landscape of firsts for LGBTQ people, including Corey Jackson, the California Legislature’s first gay Black man, who noted that African Americans — particularly Black trans people — are especially marginalized.
“I think this is an opportunity just to say that number one, we are here, we do have something to contribute and we can lead and represent with the best of them,” said Jackson, a school board member from Riverside County.
Alaska and South Dakota elected their first out LGBTQ legislators, and Montana and Minnesota elected their first transgender legislators, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In New Hampshire, Democrat James Roesener, 26, became the first trans man elected to any U.S. state legislature.
He said he was motivated to run after a state bill that would have required schools to notify parents of developments in their children’s gender identity and expression failed only narrowly. Opponents of such requirements say they invade children’s privacy and can put them at risk of abuse at home.
Leigh Finke, who was elected in Minnesota, also was driven by growing anti-transgender rhetoric.
Finke hopes to ban so-called conversion therapy in Minnesota and, like California, make the state a sanctuary for children, and their parents, who can’t access gender-affirming health care elsewhere.
“I just thought, ‘This can’t stand.’ We have to have trans people in these rooms. If we are going to lose our rights, at least they have to look us in the eye when they do it,” she said.
Charlotte Perri, a 23-year-old voting organizer in Portland, Oregon, said she got emotional hearing Gov.-elect Tina Kotek talk at a campaign event about young people thanking her for running.
“It’s hard to feel optimistic as a young queer person with everything that’s going on,” Perri said.
Though the newly elected LGBTQ officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, at least one gay Republican — George Santos, a supporter of former President Donald Trump — won a U.S. House seat in New York by defeating another gay man, a Democrat.
The increase in LGBTQ lawmakers contrasts with efforts in some states led by members of Santos’ party to limit the influence, visibility and rights of LGBTQ people.
In Tennessee, leaders of the state’s Republican legislative supermajority said the first bill of the 2023 session will seek to ban gender-affirming care for minors. Tennessee has one LGTBQ lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Torrey Harris.
The state already has banned transgender athletes from participating in girls middle and high school sports and restricted which bathrooms transgender students and employees can use.
The Human Rights Campaign tracked what it identified as anti-LGTBQ bills introduced in 23 states this year and said they became law in 13: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Louisiana.
By contrast, “as California’s Legislative LGBTQ Caucus has grown, the state has led the nation in passing groundbreaking legislation protecting LGBTQ+ civil rights,” said Equality California spokesperson Samuel Garrett-Pate.
Wiener carried California’s sanctuary bill for transgender youths, which has been copied by Democratic lawmakers in other states. He and a fellow Assembly member teamed up in 2019 to expand access to HIV prevention medication. Other laws pushed by LGBTQ legislators over the years gave foster children rights to gender-affirming care and allowed nonbinary gender markers on state identification.
It’s too soon to have a solid plan for new legislation, California caucus members said, but Wiener noted realms to consider include employment resources for transgender people; homelessness and crime among at-risk LGTBQ youth; and sexual health services.
Jackson said he found hope in the election returns not only in California, but also nationwide.
“We have U.S. senators now, we have governors now, we actually have trans legislators now in this country,” Jackson said. “So in the midst of stories of hatred and stories of demonization, you still see rainbows of hope throughout our nation.”
Q.Digital CEO Scott Gatz penned this foreword for Joe Gantz’s new book, The Secret I Can’t Tell: The First Generation of Children from Openly Gay and Lesbian Homes. Gantz located five same-sex-headed households in different parts of the nation, embedded with them for a week, and from 1979–1983 interviewed these lesbian and gay parents and their children about what effects the fear-mongering and anti-gay pressures had on them. Updated in 2022 with new interviews with the children (now adults in their 50s), the book is a fascinating glimpse into how far the LGBTQ community has come – and how far it still has to go. Q.Digital is the publisher of LGBTQ Nation.
When my son was in kindergarten, the children taught their classmates about their life outside the classroom. The kids learned a bit about each other’s day-to-day lives, what they liked to do for fun, and all about their pets and family members. Toward the end of the year, the class read Todd Parr’s The Family Book, a brightly-hued book that celebrates all different kinds of families through fun illustrations and humor. Taking inspiration from The Family Book, the kindergartners drew their own pages for a book with two captions that included “All families have_____” and “Some families have_____.” The answers reflected their age: “Some families have dogs,” “Some families have cats,” “All families have love,” and “All families have toys.” And most importantly for my family: “Some families have two dads,” and “Some families have two moms.”
That kindergarten exercise probably could never have been imagined by the families interviewed in A Secret I Can’t Tell. In the 40 years since this book was originally published, we have come a very, very long way. Unlike the era in which marriage was not available to people like my husband and me, today, LGBTQ people in the United States (and in 29 countries) enjoy equal marriage—and, according to a Family Equality Council survey, 63% of millennial LGBTQ people want to start a family, or grow theirs. Marriage isn’t just a ceremony or a piece of paper, either. According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 1,138 statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges.
Get the Daily Brief
The news you care about, reported on by the people who care about you.
The kids Joe Gantz interviewed between 1979–1983 were raised by same-sex couples who did not have the right to exist in the way they do today. These families were not supported by the law or their communities, and the children frequently expressed the view that no one their age would understand their family structure. That came with a grave cost: keeping their home life concealed.
Unfathomable to those young people is the kind of world my son is now growing up in. It’s a world where he can see many families just like his, and it’s a world in which young people feel much safer coming out and are doing so in record numbers. Each summer, Family Week in Provincetown, Massachusetts, brings together hundreds of LGBTQ-parented families for a week of connection, activities, and fun. It’s truly awe-inspiring to look across a beach of thousands of people, all from LGBTQ families. Today we have organizations supporting us, like those that run Family Week. Family Equality is the organization advocating for and connecting LGBTQ Parents, and COLAGE is dedicated to connecting children of LGBTQ people. These organizations help families find each other—even in isolated places with very few LGBTQ people. I treasure that my son gets to grow up knowing that a community of people supports him and that his family isn’t something he needs to keep secret.
Chapter 1’s Selena sums it up best in her 2022 update: “I think it is going to be really hard for anyone who is being raised in a gay family now to understand what it was like to be a part of that forty years ago. Because it was a completely different world…[The change has] felt like the speed of light!”
The stories in these chapters contain pain, love, dysfunction, and joy. Any family has a mix of all of these things in different measures. But these families had more than their fair share of pain, dysfunction, and difficulty as they held tightly onto their secret. They feared being ostracized or losing their jobs, but more frighteningly feared their families being split up. Some lesbian and gay parents were stripped of their parental rights because being in a same-sex relationship meant they were violating state sodomy laws or they were viewed as “deviants” by family court judges. With distance, we can see that these fears led to anguish, anger, poor behavior, dysfunction, and a lot of pain. The pressure to keep a secret likely exacerbated normal teenage angst and added stress to already stressful parenting situations. This pain was caused by a society that forced these families to hide in fear. As you read these interviews, I encourage you to remember the prevailing societal force that shaped many of these moments.
By returning to his subjects in 2022, Joe shows their stories in true context. Time heals many wounds, and as we grow older, we remember the good times and gain perspective on the bad times. These families were full of love and wanted to be the best they could be for each other. Some of the kids are now parents, some are married, and some are divorced, creating new chapters in their lives undoubtedly marked—but not always limited by—the secrecy they were forced to maintain growing up. I delight in reading the stories of their own kids knowing LGBTQ kids and families, and how their grandparents were LGBTQ. In just one generation, their families are in a whole new world.
Our society is a much better one today now that families like ours can live freely and openly. The unfair pressure on parents and kids to keep a secret is devastating to witness, and I’m glad that for many families, this is in the past.
Sadly, we are at risk of returning to some of those days.
We live in a societal backlash that seeks to force our families back into the closet. Laws in multiple states (most infamously Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill) are shutting down all discussion or mention of LGBTQ people and our families in schools. Todd Parr’s The Family Book has become one of the most banned books in U.S. schools and libraries. Teachers and students are forcing themselves and the story of their families back into the closet, once again making their lives a secret they can’t tell. And several justices on the Supreme Court have signaled their interest in overturning the Obergefell decision that made marriage equality the law of the land. And the Equality Act has yet to pass, meaning there is no federal law protecting equal marriage and the many family rights that come with it.
I recently met a young transgender girl in Texas, roughly the same age as many of the children in A Secret I Can’t Tell. She kept her gender identity a secret from her classmates until someone found out and told everyone. Her family was forced to pull her out of school and has since moved to another state after Texas enacted a law criminalizing parents who provide gender affirming care to their children. It is unfair and unacceptable to put this burden on our children, and yet here we are again.
It’s been 40 years since Joe Gantz interviewed these families. Even today, the love and laughs and struggles are something we can all relate to. The forced secrecy and pressure these kids and parents felt are foreign to most people today, and that’s a testament to how far we really have come. I hope that we can all read these stories, the 1983 interviews and the 2022 updates, and see a fully rounded picture of how alike we all are and how unique their challenges were. I hope that these stories teach us what once was and could be again if we don’t course correct.
These stories, rich and complex, are not just a view into another era. They are a time capsule. Let’s act to ensure that they do not also contain an urgent warning for our future.
From the halls of Congress to popular films and TV shows, Indigenous queer people have long made historic contributions to politics, art and advocacy — and they continue to do so.
November marks Native American Heritage Month, and the following 10 LGBTQ+ Indigenous trailblazers are bringing important representation to TV, challenging traditional gender expectations at powwows and elevating issues affecting Indigenous people, such as the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Rep. Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, became the first LGBTQ Native American elected to Congress and one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress after winning her race for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District in 2018. Raised by a single mom who served over two decades in the Army, Davids was also the first person in her family to attend college, according to her House biography. After graduating from Cornell Law School, Davids worked in economic and community development on Native American reservations, which led her to apply for the White House Fellows program, where she served in the Department of Transportation under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Davids won re-election in her district earlier this month.
Sean Snyder and Adrian Stevens
Sean Snyder, who is of Navajo and Southern Ute, and Adrian Matthias Stevens, who is of Northern Ute, Shoshone-Bannock and San Carlos Apache, are a two-spirit dancing couple who challenge traditional boundaries at powwows across the country. Two-spirit people have “both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders,” according to Indian Country Today.
In 2017, the couple made headlines after being disqualified for competing together in a couples category at a powwow in San Bernardino, California. While same-sex partners are not regularly recognized at powwows, Stevens and Snyder quickly created their own narrative and have evolved into a vessel of advocacy for the Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ community, an acronym that includes two-spirit people. In June, the couple was featured in Nike’s Be True Campaign, and in August they recreated OUT magazine’s December 2000 “Queer as Folk” cover.
A triple threat in the film world, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, director and writer Sydney Freeland of the Navajo Nation is shining a light on Indigenous life and stories. Freeland, who is transgender, recently broke new ground in Indigenous on-screen representation with the FX drama “Reservation Dogs.” Freeland is currently working on NBC’s “Sovereign” — the first drama on network television about a Native American family — which she will write and executive produce alongside Ava DuVernay and Bird Runningwater. Also on her list of upcoming projects is the Netflix film “Rez Ball,” a coming-of-age drama about Native American basketball.
Kairyn Potts of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation is a two-spirit social media advocate who hopes to save lives through representation online. He has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok, Twitch and Instagram with content centered around Indigenous and two-spirit visibility. Potts also co-hosts the Snapchat series “Reclaim(ed),” the first Canadian Snapchat series that explores Indigenous culture through a Gen-Z perspective.
“I don’t make content for everybody. I make content for people like me, and I make content for the 12-year-old version of me who would have really needed somebody like me, growing up,” Potts said “That’s why I think it’s important.”
Ky Victor, who is widely known as drag artist and community activist Lady Shug, is using her drag to spotlight the Indigenous community and the difficult topics that affect it. Shug’s dazzling performances are interlaced with educational information about suicide prevention meant to spark conversation. One topic in particular featured in Shug’s performances is suicide prevention.
The Native youth suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the overall national average, data from the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, shows. It is the highest across all ethnic and racial groups, according to the National Indian Council on Aging.
Lady Shug is also featured in Seasons One and Two of the HBO series “We’re Here,” a reality television show that follows drag queens Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara and Shangela across small-town America, inspiring their “drag daughters” to express their genuine selves in front of their families, friends and communities.
“I’m trying to find a way with my voice and my platform to give back,” Shug said. “I always say I hate to be called an activist. I like to call myself a community activist because my activism work is not for me, it’s for my community.”
Charlie Amáyá Scott
Navajo Nation citizen Charlie Amáyá Scott, 27, is a transgender social media influencer, scholar and advocate. Scott, of Aurora, Colorado, who uses she and they pronouns, leverages her platform to highlight issues affecting the queer Indigenous community. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Denver focusing on higher education and settler colonialism.
“Native Heritage Month is more than just a month of awareness,” she said. “This a time of celebration, a time of remembrance, and for us, as Queer Indigenous Peoples, a moment to dream and demand a world better than what we have. We are more than what this world thinks of us, and together, we will change narratives about us and write our own.”
Scott Wabano, who is Cree from Eeyou Istchee and Mushkegowuk, fell in love with fashion at a young age, designing his own traditional regalia for powwows and traditional ceremonies. Wabano, who is two-spirit, said the lack of Indigenous representation in fashion magazines pushed him to create a space for his community.
In May 2021, Wabano launched his genderless clothing label, Wabano, inspired by two-spirit surroundings and traditional culture. His talent and drive landed him two major lead roles with Sephora and Lululemon for their National Indigenous History Month campaigns. In 2022, Wabano was featured on The Globe and Mail’s annual Canada’s Best Dressed List, which highlights eco-friendly fashion trendsetters.
“My goal is to eventually be the first Indigenous creative director of a major fashion house,” Wabano said. “I just want to flood the industry with Indigenous people, Indigenous models, Indigenous stories, and Indigenous designers.”
Kali Reis (KO)
Kali Reis, who is Seaconke Wampanaak and Cape Verdean, is a trailblazing Indigenous two-spirit athlete who wears many hats. She is a world champion boxer, actor and advocate. In February, she made her acting debut in the award-winning IFC Films thriller “Catch the Fair One.” In addition to starring in the film, Reis co-wrote the screenplay, which is in part about the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women — a topic she actively advocates for on her social media.
Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, known professionally as Devery Jacobs, is an award-winning Indigenous actor and filmmaker born and raised in Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, a reservation in Quebec, Canada.
Jacobs, 28, is best known for her starring role as Elora in the FX series “Reservation Dogs.” Her short film “Rae” was an official selection of the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, and it won best youth work at the 2017 imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival.
“Indigenous people are the original caretakers and storytellers of this land,” she said. “We come from diverse communities and cultures who have persevered and survived genocide, who deserve to be cherished and celebrated. Native American Heritage Month invites non-Native folks in joining us in recognizing our histories and celebrating our communities. Representation in film does meaningful work in bringing our stories to the forefront — where we’ve been historically excluded.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.