ABC is reassembling the team of the 2008 movie Milk for another project about the gay rights movement, eight-hour miniseries When We Rise. Milk director Gus Van Sant has joined the mini, written/executive produced by Milk writer Dustin Lance Black and executive produced by the film’s producer Bruce Cohen. The project, which had been in development at ABC for more than two years, has now been officially greenlighted for production with Van Sant directing the first two-hour episode. He will executive produce the mini alongside Black, Cohen and Laurence Mark.
When We Rise chronicles the personal and political struggles, setbacks and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. civil rights movement from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to its successes today.
This is the second episodic order for ABC in the past week — the network also gave a 13-episode straight-to-series order to drama Designated Survivor starring Kiefer Sutherland.
ABC, once known for its big-budget miniseries, most notably from producers Oprah Winfrey and Robert Halmi Sr., has scaled back on the genre like all broadcasters. Its two most recent efforts, The Assets and the upcoming Madoff, are produced by ABC News’ Lincoln Square Prods. When We Rise comes from ABC Studios.
Milk landed eight Oscar nominations, winning for best screenplay (Black) and best actor (Sean Penn). The film earned Van Sant his second directing Oscar nom following Good Will Hunting.
When Marlon James won Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction in October, it came as a surprise to many — including the 44-year-old, out gay Jamaican author. James won for “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” a long, violent, sexually explicit, and altogether brilliant novel that takes off from the 1976 attempted assassination of reggae icon Bob Marley to encompass the CIA-backed destabilization of Jamaica during the latter years of the Cold War; political warfare in the ghettos of Kingston, the island’s capital; the crack cocaine scourge of the ‘80s and early ‘90s; and sexuality — and particularly homosexuality.Of recent fiction that I have read, the only books that for me compare to James’ achievement are the Neapolitan novels of the (pseudonymous) Italian author Elena Ferrante. Both writers weave complex social tapestries that unfold over decades and span varied locales. The Jamaican and the Italian portray characters living in impoverished, violence-ridden communities who, oppressed by corrupt political and economic systems, experience the vicissitudes of history in their daily lives, in their flesh and bones. James and Ferrante also are postmodern traditionalists — masters of narrative who combine stylistic experimentation and great storytelling.
James is the first Jamaican author to win the Booker Prize, which Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, presented to him at a ceremony in London. (Nice irony there — a royal awarding one of the world’s major literary prizes to a native of one of the colonies the British empire had ruled and exploited.) He beat some tough competition; the finalists for the $77,000 prize included the American novelist Anne Tyler. Besides being critically acclaimed, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” topped the bestseller lists in the UK and the US in hardcover; the paperback edition currently is in the New York Times top 10.
I recently spoke on the phone with James, who lives in Minneapolis (he moved there nearly nine years ago) and teaches writing at Macalester College in St. Paul. Our conversation covered the Booker prize, literary style, gay life in Jamaica, and the relationship between American and Jamaican gay activism, among other topics.
When James won the Booker for “A Brief History,” his third novel, he said he was surprised because he considered himself “not an easy writer to like.” How so?
“Well, the stories don’t necessarily end well,” James said. “The characters go into dark avenues, there’s a lot of violence. There also is a certain kind of inherently hopeful view a lot of people want from their fiction, which I just don’t deliver. I’m not interested in delivering it. It’s great when people understand or love it. But I don’t believe in making things easy for the reader, whether in terms of content or form. The only thing I owe the reader is a riveting story, while not necessarily making it easy.”
Novelist and Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James. | JEFFREY SKEMP
There is no single voice or point of view in the nearly 700-page novel. Different characters narrate the book’s chapters — ghetto gang leaders and their young henchmen, a CIA agent, a white rock journalist, a rebellious, middle-class Jamaican woman, a dead Jamaican politician. Although the novel is prismatic, it is not fractured; the chapters are linked by incident and theme and a narrative arc that carries the reader forward.
“I’m hugely inspired by Victorian novels,” James said. “That page-turning element and that sense of suspense are important to me, especially when I write something that is also kind of experimental. I still believe in that Dickens thing — make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait. It’s very important I don’t lose sight of that no matter how experimental I get.”
James originally intended “A Brief History of Seven Killings” to be a shorter crime novel but instead it became an epic.
“It changed,” he said, “because I started to really pay attention to the story. In a crime novel, in the really good ones, like James Elroy’s ‘American Tabloid,’ you realize that there are bigger things going on, a bigger story there. I started to open my eyes wider than I had before.
“Some people in Jamaica got guns to shoot Bob Marley. So, I ask, where did those guns come from, since these people can’t even afford food much less guns? And if I ask where the guns come from, I’m going to end up in politics, in CIA, in global conflicts, in the Cold War. It’s one thing to have a guy get shot, but where did those guns come from, where did those bullets come from? The longer I stared at the situation, the longer I gazed at the blood, the bigger it got.
“At one point, I wondered whether I bit off more than I could chew.”
James used researchers for the book. He said that although he gave them an open-ended mandate, he wasn’t looking for “stuff I already knew.”
He explained, “Having grown up in Jamaica in the ‘70s and ‘80s, a lot of what I wrote about I knew— I didn’t have to research it.”
James, who was raised in a middle-class home in a Kingston suburb, said he had his researchers look for “trivial stuff — what brand of chewing gum would people have in 1976.”
“It’s not necessarily the big things that make a story authentic,” he said. “I think it’s the little things. You can have the most riveting narrative in the world. But the minutiae, the fine details that add resonance to scenes — getting that correct is crucial.”
“I did do a lot of research on the politics,” he continued. “I read all the books and all the material I could get on the Cold War, the CIA, economic destabilization, from different perspectives.”
Some of the novel’s characters are, or were, real people; others are fictional. How did James decide which would be which?
“One thing made it easy. Who did I know the most about? I knew the least about the guys who fired the actual shots [at Bob Marley], so pretty much all of them had to be fictitious. Some characters, like [gang leader] Josey Wales, are composite characters. Some came from my imagination. I don’t know if any of the gunmen were gay, but I think it complicates the story profoundly if one of them is.”
In the novel, the CIA and the right-wing, US-supported Jamaica Labour Party target Marley for assassination because they fear that he has aligned himself with the leftist government of Prime Minister Michael Manley, and, by extension, with Cuba and Communism. Among the hitmen who shoot up Marley’s home (wounding him, his wife, and manager) is an ex-con gangbanger named Weeper. One of the novel’s most compelling — and surprising— characters, Weeper had a sexual relationship with a fellow prisoner, and he does not hide it from his fellow thugs. Although he also has sex with women, he comes to realize that his heterosexual exploits are just him “trying to fuck the gay out” of himself.
Later in the novel, when he is living in New York and working for a Jamaican drug posse, Weeper, a hardened, macho killer, comes to accept not only that he is gay but also that he prefers being a bottom. This realization strikes him in a sexually explicit scene that, said James, some have criticized.
“People have asked why the explicit sex scenes, why do we need a sex scene of a finger up Weeper’s ass? The reason it’s necessary, why it couldn’t be reported but had to be blow-by-blow, or literally stroke-by-stroke, is that it is only by fully giving over to the expression of his sexuality that he can come anywhere near to accepting himself. I’m not saying that fucking is the path to enlightenment, although it might be. But his gradual coming to accept himself happens through expressing himself sexually.”
Another memorable character is Alex Pierce, a Rolling Stone reporter on assignment in Jamaica. Pierce, said James, “tries to figure out Jamaica, and he fails.”
“But no one could succeed, because no Jamaican can figure out Jamaica. I still can’t,” James said.
“Jamaica is super-progressive in one way and very retrogressive in another,” he continued. “There’s so much creativity and yet every time you leave JA and come back, it’s exactly as you left it. It can be a really thrilling but also really frustrating country to deal with.”
During our conversation, James had quite a bit to say about homosexuality and homophobia in his homeland. In a March 2015 New York Times article, he wrote, “Whether it was in a plane or a coffin, I knew I had to get out of Jamaica.” After he won the Booker, some media, including Britain’s Daily Mail, were “desperate to find information about me being a victim of some brutal attack by some anti-gay gestapo. Which didn’t happen.” He acknowledged, however, that while many Jamaicans, including family members, were thrilled by his success, “It’s not like there’s been an all-embracing acceptance of the gay guy who won the Booker Prize. Some people have been downright hostile.”
Although James hasn’t experienced it, violence against gay men, lesbians, and transgender people is all too common in Jamaica. But what is even more pervasive, he said, is a climate of fear. Even those who believe that being middle- or upper-class protects them from the worst abuse “still display their fears in subtle ways.”
“You’re having all your friends over and they’re all men,” he explained. “So let’s make sure the shades are drawn. But why? Heaven forbid that you should try to kiss someone in your own house. You have to make sure everything is closed and the gardener is gone. If the gardener becomes worthless and irresponsible on the job, make sure you keep him because if you fire him he’s going to come back with a mob and kill you.”
James drew a parallel between the fear gays have in Jamaica and his mother’s fear of crime.
“It adds up to a fear to be fully in your own skin,” he said. “She hasn’t been the victim of a violent attack, nobody’s tried to break in the house and rob her. She may very well live to the end of her life never having been robbed or anything like that. But the possibility is always there. And because of that she can never be fully at ease. I think it’s the same thing with being gay in Jamaica. Even if you never experience anything because you are protected by class, you will never be fully at ease.”
James criticized those Jamaicans who, though not homophobic themselves, “are not actually going to stick their necks out for anybody’s rights.” Anti-gay forces are far less inhibited. In addition to violent assaults, there have been political manifestations of bigotry, including mass rallies against revoking Jamaica’s colonial-era anti-sodomy laws. Jamaica’s twice-elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller made pro-gay comments during both of her campaigns, but the rhetoric has not informed policy or legislation.
Noting that American gay activists as well as international human rights organizations have spoken out against homophobia in Jamaica, James said that though foreign support for the nation’s LGBT community may be well-intended, “One of the problems we have sometimes is that it comes across as culturally superior.” And politically misguided, as with American gay activists’ calls in 2009 for a boycott of the Jamaican beer Red Stripe. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) criticized the boycott, noting that Red Stripe had committed itself to not supporting concerts and other events that featured homophobic reggae artists. “Jamaica’s deeply ingrained antipathy towards homosexuality and homosexuals is a social phenomenon that will not be undone by boycott campaigns or government dictate,” JFLAG stated. “It requires the painstaking effort of confronting the society and talking to social actors who can bring change in the way society sees LGBT people.”
“One of major ways feminism stumbled,” James said, “was when it tried to export itself in the ‘70s and couldn’t get past its own sense of cultural imperialism — just be like me and you’ll be free, backward colored person. But you’re not going to get very far by insulting people.
“You have to allow people to define and liberate themselves in ways they feel liberated. You can’t force one view or one narrative, saying this is what being a gay citizen or a black citizen means and there’s one way to define it.”
James said that he visits Jamaica every year. His father, who shared his love of literature with Marlon (and to whom “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is dedicated), is dead, but his mother and sister still live there.
“For all its flaws, most of us still love our country quite a bit and you can’t necessarily sever that link,” he said. “I talk to Jamaican friends literally every day of the week on Facebook. A big part of who I am is Jamaican, and most of my sensibilities as a writer were shaped in Jamaica.”
What’s next for Marlon James?
He said that he is developing a pilot for an HBO series based on “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” He also is about to start his next novel, which will be set in Africa during the 11th and 12th centuries.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has announced that a record number of U.S. cities have achieved perfect scores on its 2015 Municipal Equality Index by establishing fully-inclusive local protections for LGBT people. The most notable trend in the annual report is the rapidly growing number of cities and towns across the nation stepping up to ensure that all people are treated equally, even in states where fully-inclusive LGBT laws and policies remain elusive.
Since the MEI debuted in 2012, the number of cities earning perfect scores has more than quadrupled, and today at least 32 million people live in cities with fully-inclusive local protections that are not guaranteed by the states in which they live. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation is the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.
However, while the HRC Foundation’s 2015 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) shows that, in every state in the nation, cities large and small are fueling momentum for LGBT equality, much work remains. Equality in many cities, particularly those in America’s southern regions, continues to be elusive, with too many municipalities still failing to protect their LGBT residents and employees.
Cities are proving, however, that they can ensure equality even in states that are lagging behind in enacting LGBT-inclusive laws and policies. New top-scoring cities this year include Louisville, Kentucky; Detroit, Michigan; and Bloomington, Indiana, which are among the MEI’s 31 “All Stars”– cities paving the way on LGBT equality in states that still lack fully-inclusive LGBT non-discrimination laws.
Progress on transgender equality has been particularly noteworthy in cities across America this year, continuing a positive trend that the MEI has tracked each year. To earn perfect scores, cities must embrace comprehensive transgender-inclusive laws and policies that often go beyond explicit protections offered by their state or the federal government.
“While this has been an historic year for equality, we are constantly reminded of just how far we still have to go,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “In too many communities, LGBT Americans continue to face barriers to equality, overt discrimination, and even violence. We believe those challenges make full equality and strong legal protections all the more important, and today’s report makes clear that hundreds of local communities throughout all 50 states wholeheartedly agree.”
Other key findings contained in the MEI, issued in partnership with the Equality Federation, provide a revealing snapshot of LGBT equality in 408 municipalities of varying sizes, and from every state in the nation. The report also includes two issue briefs — the first focuses on actions cities should take immediately to address anti-transgender violencein their community; the second underscores the continued importance of offering city employees domestic partner benefits.
“Across the nation, cities and towns are leading the way on equality for millions of LGBT Americans,” Griffin added. “This year, a record number of communities have earned top scores in our Municipal Equality Index because they’ve extended fully-inclusive benefits and protections to LGBT people and their families. What makes this progress especially remarkable is that these cities and towns are often going above and beyond state and federal laws to ensure LGBT residents and visitors are protected and treated equally.”
HRC researched hundreds of cities for the 2015 MEI, including all 50 state capitals, the nation’s 200 most populous cities, the five largest cities in every state, the communities home to each state’s two largest public universities, and an equal mix of 75 of the nation’s large, mid-size and small municipalities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.
Key findings from the 2015 Municipal Equality Index include:
47 cities earned perfect 100-point scores. This continues a steady increase over 38 cities in 2014, 25 cities in 2013 and 11 cities in 2012, the first year the MEI was published. Perfect scores are earned by cities with exemplary LGBT policies, ranging from non-discrimination laws and equal employee benefits, to cutting-edge city services and strong relationships with the LGBT community;
32 million people now live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state or the federal government, underscoring the reality that 31 states lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections in employment and housing.
Cities in every region of the country boasted at least one 100-point city, showing a commitment to LGBT equality in all regions of the country. Cities in the West, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions led the country with the densest concentration of top-scoring cities. The Mountain, Plains, Southeast, and Southwest regions fell below the average national score of 56.
Cities continue to excel even in the absence of state laws: 19 “All Star” cities in states lacking comprehensive non-discrimination laws scored a perfect 100 score, up from 15 last year, eight in 2013, and just two in 2012.
66 cities, or 16 percent, of those rated in 2015 are offering transgender-inclusive health care options to city employees. This is up from 42 cities in 2014, and just 16 cities in 2013.
The average city score was 56 points, with half of the cities researched scoring over 59 points. Eleven percent scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 78 points; 25 percent scored under 31 points; and five percent scored fewer than 10 points;
Cities with a higher proportion of same-sex couples, as tabulated by the U.S. Census, tended to score better, and the presence of openly-LGBT city officials and LGBT police liaisons also were correlated with higher scores.
The MEI rates cities based on 41 criteria that fall into five broad categories:
Municipal employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage and non-discrimination requirements for contractors
Inclusiveness of city services
Law enforcement, including hate crimes reporting
Municipal leadership on matters of equality
The MEI’s standard criteria for earning points this year no longer includes relationship recognition due to the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision affirming nationwide marriage equality, and it now places greater emphasis on non-discrimination protections. The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.
Atlantis Events, Inc., the world’s largest gay and lesbian vacation company, makes history in 2016 with the first charter of Royal Caribbean’s revolutionary 4200-guest Anthem of the Seas megaship sailing from New York City. This legendary voyage marks the celebration of Atlantis’ 25th anniversary.
Anthem of the Seas brings Atlantis guests more innovative experiences than any other ship, including North Star – a sky ride soaring 300 feet above the ocean, RipCord skydiving simulator, and 18 dynamic restaurants. Innovative venues such as Two70 theater, Music Hall concert space, and the massive SeaPlex sport and entertainment complex create spectacular places for Atlantis’ legendary parties and performers. As befits a cruise from New York, Atlantis features non-stop superstar entertainers, including many signature Atlantis performers from the past 25 years. And in true Atlantis tradition, a feature star will be named very soon. Past entertainers have included Jennifer Hudson, Rosie O’Donnell, Patti LuPone, Roseanne Barr, Wayne Brady, and more.
Atlantis President Rich Campbell says, “Our guests have been asking us for this incredible ship since she was first announced and we’re thrilled to be the first to charter her. There simply never has been an Atlantis cruise with so much to offer and it’s the perfect way for us to usher in the new generation of all-gay cruises!”
This unique all-gay cruise sails from New York on May 21, 2016 to Port Canaveral, Nassau, and the private island of Coco Cay — arriving back to the city on Memorial Day Weekend. Fares start at $999USD per person.
The Atlantis 2016 Anthem Caribbean Cruise complements the company’s other cruises and resort vacations to Tahiti, the Mediterranean, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Complete details can be found at atlantisevents.com or by calling 310-859-8800.
Atlantis Events is the world’s largest company specializing in all-gay vacations. In 2016, Atlantis celebrates 25 years of hosting over 200,000 guests on over 190 unique cruises and resort experiences worldwide. Atlantis creates a unique vacation experience for its gay and lesbian guests by chartering entire cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts around the world for their guest’s exclusive enjoyment. The experience is completely customized with world-class entertainers, unique parties, original activities, and a team of talented hosts.
An openly gay Air Force officer who grew up in the Bay Area was one of six American troops killed in a suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan on Monday.
Facebook postings on Tuesday by friends and family of Air Force Major Adrianna Vorderbruggen mourned her death on Monday and sent condolences to her wife Heather and son Jacob, who live near Washington, D.C.
“We do find comfort in knowing that Heather and Jacob are no longer in the shadows and will be extended the rights and protections due any American military family as they move through this incredibly difficult period in their lives,” said the posting from Military Partners and Families Coalition.
Vorderbruggen was celebrated for marrying shortly after the military repealed its policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Her marriage couldn’t have happened without the repeal, which was signed five years ago.
A Department of Defense spokesman said the names of all the American troops killed in the attack would be released later on Tuesday.
Six American troops, including Vorderbruggen, were killed Monday when a suicide bomber on a motorbike struck their patrol in the deadliest attack on U.S. forces this year.
Bagram, around 40 km (25 miles) north of Kabul, is one of the main bases for the 9,800 U.S. troops left in Afghanistan after international troops ended combat operations last year.
The victims included New York City Detective Joseph Lemm, a 15-year veteran of the NYPD who also volunteered in the U.S. Air National Guard and was on his third deployment to war zones.
“Detective Joseph Lemm epitomized the selflessness we can only strive for: putting his country and city first,” New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio sent his condolences to Lemm’s wife and two children, saying in a statement they were among so many American families this holiday season “who have an empty chair at the dinner table because one of their loved ones went off to defend our country and never came back.”
Lemm was deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq, Bratton said.
The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the strike, remains resilient 14 years after the start of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan. It has ramped up its attacks this year, inflicting heavier casualties on Afghan security forces.
Just last week, the Pentagon warned of deteriorating security in Afghanistan and assessed the performance of Afghan security forces as “uneven and mixed.”
More than 2,300 U.S. troops have died in the Afghan war since the 2001 invasion, but the pace of U.S. deaths has fallen off sharply since the end of formal U.S. combat and a drawdown of American forces.
Pentagon data showed there have been 10 so-called “hostile” deaths of U.S. service members in Afghanistan this year. There have been 10 non-hostile deaths, largely from aircraft crashes.
A gay-to-straight “conversion therapy” provider found by a New Jersey jury to have violated the state’s consumer fraud protections will permanently cease operations and dissolve its corporate entity as part of a settlement that precludes an appeal of a jury’s verdict in the landmark lawsuit.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. granted a permanent injunction on Friday after an agreement by both parties requiring JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) to shut down entirely and prohibiting founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing from engaging in any form of conversion therapy commerce in New Jersey.
The jury in the case found unanimously on June 25 that by offering services it claimed could turn gay people straight, JONAH committed consumer fraud and engaged in unconscionable commercial practices.
The therapy, based on the idea that LGBT people are sick and need to be cured, has been denounced by every major U.S. medical and mental health association. Not only can it be psychologically damaging, the American Psychological Association has noted that it promotes a climate of bigotry and discrimination against the LGBT community.
“JONAH’s conversion therapy program harmed countless LGBT people and their families,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “JONAH peddled discredited, pseudo-scientific treatments to people who weren’t sick, who weren’t broken, and who needed nothing but love and support.
“The end of JONAH signals that conversion therapy, however packaged, is fraudulent – plain and simple. Other conversion therapy providers would be well-advised to examine what happened to JONAH, and to abandon their foolish efforts to make gay people straight.”
New York-based Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and New Jersey-based Lite DePalma Greenberg LLC served as SPLC’s co-counsel in the case, the first case in the nation to challenge conversion therapy under a state consumer fraud act.
“JONAH is finally being held accountable for the untold harm it inflicted on hundreds of people. I’m proud to see an organization that preyed on and exploited vulnerable young men and women shutting its doors,” said James Bromley, partner at co-counsel Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.
The SPLC filed the lawsuit – Michael Ferguson, et al., v. JONAH – in 2012. The case has reinforced state efforts to ban the practice and inspired consumer fraud-based federal legislation. President Obama in April publicly supported a nationwide ban against conversion therapy.
Under the settlement, the defendants will pay the full $72,400 in damages awarded by the jury to compensate the plaintiffs for the fees they paid to JONAH and for remedial mental health counseling for one plaintiff. The proposed judgment includes a $3.5 million award of legal fees. The plaintiffs agreed to accept an undisclosed portion of that award, but the defendants will be liable for the full amount if they violate the agreement.
JONAH will be required to shut down all of its operations within 30 days after the order is entered, and its websites and online listservs must be removed. JONAH also will have to liquidate its assets and permanently dissolve as a corporate entity within six months.
“Defendants are permanently enjoined from engaging, whether directly or through referrals, in any therapy, counseling, treatment or activity that has the goal of changing, affecting or influencing sexual orientation, ‘same-sex attraction’ or ‘gender wholeness’ or any other equivalent term,” in New Jersey, including advertising or promoting the practice, the order states. Downing must stop providing conversion therapy to current clients within 30 days of the order.”
The plaintiffs – three young men and two mothers – lauded the development.
“I’m hopeful that this will be an important step in making sure that no one is ever harmed by conversion therapy again,” said Chaim Levin, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family and entered JONAH’s program at 18. “I want to thank my attorneys and parents for supporting me and my mom for bravely testifying. It wasn’t easy on her, but she made me proud to be her son.”
His mother, Bella, paid about $4,000 for treatment and testified about JONAH’s harm and false promises. “It was a mistake on my part that I did not question Goldberg too much,” she testified at trial. “He was just a really good salesman.”
Michael Ferguson, who is from a Mormon community, said JONAH’s destructive practices affected him deeply. “Gay conversion therapy stole years from my life, and nearly stole my life,” Ferguson said after the settlement. “My hope is that others can be spared the unneeded harm that comes from the lies the defendants and those like them spread.”
As part of the settlement, JONAH will not appeal the jury verdict reached by seven jurors after a three-week trial in June that drew national and international media attention.
In a seminal pre-trial ruling on Feb. 5, Bariso excluded several leading conversion therapy proponents, including Joseph Nicolosi and Christopher Doyle, from testifying as defense experts. Ruling that their opinions were based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder, Bariso wrote that “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted.”
Testimony at the trial revealed the JONAH program’s bizarre and abusive techniques, which included instructing men to undress and instructing one plaintiff to touch his genitals in a private counseling session. JONAH orchestrated violent role-play exercises, encouraging clients to beat effigies of their mothers, who were sometimes blamed for their sons’ homosexuality. Male counselors advocated “healthy touch” sessions that included prolonged cuddling. JONAH’s tactics alienated some clients from their families and caused them to blame themselves or family members for their sexual orientation.
A federal judge in California has ruled that the nation’s ban on sex discrimination in education includes a ban on sexual orientation discrimination, in a ruling thought to be the first of its kind, according to Think Progress and Buzzfeed.
In the case of lesbians Layana White and Haley Videckis vs. Pepperdine University, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson decided last week “ that sexual orientation discrimination is not a category distinct from sex or gender discrimination.”
The women, who are in a relationship, sued the school, claiming they were mistreated by their basketball coach at the Christian university due to their sexual orientation.
“I was being targeted and some of the treatment, I thought, was just completely unfair,” Videckis told Los Angeles TV station KABC earlier this year. The coach said “lesbianism isn’t tolerated here. Lesbianism is real and a big problem in women’s basketball. And I directly remember the date of that meeting because it just stood out to me that someone could use that word in such a derogatory way,” Videckis told the station.
According to legal filings, the women were repeatedly interrogated by their coach as to whether there were any lesbian or bisexual basketball players on their team. They were asked whether they slept with their beds pushed together, whether they went on vacations together and asked to provide gynecological records.
They filed a lawsuit against the school alleging discrimination in 2014. White claimed the stress of discrimination caused her to suffer from severe depression and even attempt suicide.
Students at the school were supportive of the couple, staging a protest against the university. In a statement, the University said: “We take allegations of this kind, and they are only allegations, very seriously.” However, the judge’s ruling came after the university attempted to have several of the charges against it dismissed, claiming Title IX law did not apply to sexual orientation discrimination.
The judge disagreed. “Claims of sexual orientation discrimination are gender stereotype or sexual discrimination claims,” he wrote.
This “appears to be the first time a federal judge has issued such a ruling as it pertains to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal ban on sex discrimination in education,” wrote BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner.
Sculptor Barb Davis has a vision. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, she plans to bring together a group of authors to write essays which Barb will use as inspiration to create an art piece to convey a cohesive artistic expression.
When the women Barb has chosen gather for the project’s writing retreat, drama and hijinks abound and it starts to look as if the venture will never be successful. First, there’s the constant bickering between Viv and Towanda. Then there’s Quinn, who’s very distracted because of her focus on winning a Pro-Am bass fishing tournament and she’s never wielded a rod in her life. Kate and Shawn bring their own problems. The two obviously love each other, but they can’t seem to figure out how to be together; and that’s only a small portion of the issues the two women bring to the group. Barb herself is an enigma. She’s obviously a talented artist, but something seems a little off—and you have to wonder why has she chosen the acerbic Mavis Pants to come along on this journey?
McMan has a lot of story to tell and, as she reveals more and more about the characters of Backcast, something magical begins to happen. At first blush, the title seems to take its name from a fishing technique. However, the characters are also spied drinking Backcast Ale at the resort bar where the retreat takes place. Finally, as the author essays unfold, we realize that the short backward motion in fly fishing to prepare the line for its forward cast is a metaphor for the deeper meaning of the story. The glimpses we get of the women’s past experiences make us feel deeply for them, and we see how the events serve to thrust them—and us with them—forward into a future full of promise or of undefined possibilities.
Throughout these deep, soul-exposing revelations, the story is filled with quirkiness and humor. Most notably, there’s Quinn. She’s never fished before and she has a lot to learn from a legendary bass comically named Phoebe. Turns out, what she learns is more about her own strength than about how to win a fishing tournament. The other authors vacillate between mockery and mild interest in what Quinn is doing, but an underlying respect for the character and her undertaking is always present. Finally, the knock-down, drag-out fights that occur, both physically and verbally, make for some pretty humorous and remarkable dialogue among the populace of the story. Then, there are the side bets on outcomes.
Thirteen characters are skillfully presented with important roles to play within the story. The authors are expertly interwoven and linked, like the final sculpture Barb creates, with a thread that binds them together through experiences, interactions, and in some cases, romance. Minor characters support the story well without overshadowing the main roles, and dialogue is crisp and well written, giving us a clear picture of each woman with varied personalities ranging from shy and introspective to brassy, take-no-prisoners types.
The story is lighter on narrative in comparison to dialogue, but it works well. Within a scene, two or a few characters interact with each other, which helps parse out the story and prevents the sheer number of characters from overwhelming the reader. However, use of passive voice in descriptive passages sometimes presents missed opportunities for stronger writing of the narrative itself. This aside, McMan is the master of metaphor, using the perfect imagery to shore up feelings and experiences. She skillfully surrounds the character’s essays with an air of mystery, leaving out the author’s identity when each essay appears. Some authors are easily recognized. Some are more obscure, leaving our minds to puzzle out what we have read with questions dangling like gossamer threads until the very last of the story is revealed and the final character divulges the motivation for it all.
Backcast is a memorable story about the unbreakable strength and resilience of women. Skillfully executed, the story is easy to become emotionally invested in, with characters that are guaranteed to entertain and enthrall.
By Ann McMan
Paperback, 9781612940632, 364 pp.
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The title of James Sie’s novel Still Life Las Vegas evokes a perplexing contradiction. The city of Las Vegas, with its raucous slot machines and flashy performers, seems like a poor place to suggest a still life painting. The most interesting part of James Sie’s novel, however, describes the nascent relationship between Walter, an artistically talented high school student, and Chrystos, a “living statue” who creates scenes from Greek mythology for tourists in The Venetian casino. Sie assembles a kind of narrative still life as he twists through an often showy, sometimes sexy, and yet very careful arrangement of incidents.
Walter, the central character in Still Life Las Vegas, takes care of his seriously depressed father between shifts at Viva Las Vegas!, a tourist trap where he works while he waits to graduate from high school. Walter begins drawing Chrystos and his sister, the human statues who appear in The Venetian, before the friendship between Walter and Chrystos moves outside the casino. Through Chrystos, Walters discovers that he is gay and learns how he can escape his supposedly cursed past.
Walter’s over-medicated father, Owen, depends on a Walter to take care of him. Years ago, Owen was a college professor but a tragic incident turned his life upside down. He continues to instruct Walter in legends from classical mythology and to recount stories about his missing mother. The backbone of the novel describes how Owen and his son wound up in Las Vegas in search of Owen’s missing wife.
Walter searches for his mother, Emily. She was an adopted Vietnamese orphan who developed an early fascination for Liberace, even imagining that he might be her father. When Emily’s life becomes unbearable as an adult, she tries to regain some control by leaving her husband and son for Las Vegas. She confronts a range of wacky characters on her flight from Wisconsin including a knowledgeable guide named Lee (which is what Liberace’s friends called him) and two Liberace-loving gay men named Big Bang and Little Bang. Considering how dark parts of Still Life Las Vegas are, it contains a number of remarkably humorous scenes. While awkwardly shoehorned in, Little Bang’s story is probably the funniest part of the book.
Chrystos was trained in classic posing techniques in Greece and flaunts the muscles of a porn-quality demi-god. He serves as the catalyst to bring Walter out of his shell as he introduces him to alcohol and sex. Walter inevitably falls in love with the handsome Greek and begins to explore his new-found gay identity with him.
Part of a page from Still Life Las Vegas, drawn by Sungyoon Choi.
Still Life Las Vegas includes four visually arresting graphic sections by Sungyoon Choi that might mislead a reader into thinking that the novel might be aimed at young readers. These sections are not “illustrations” of the novel but reveal portions of the story that advance the plot in crucial ways and present some of the darkest portions of the story.
Sie gives his short chapters titles such as “Walter / Home / Later” and “Owen / Wisconsin / Earlier” to define the point of view and the time when the section take place. These jumbled views reveal horrible past incidents in small doses. Sie’s disjointed method of exposing secrets, Walter’s troublesome parents, the almost explicit sex, and the melancholy windup of the story differentiates the story from young adult books. .
Still Life Las Vegas is an innovative and engaging first novel from Sie. Some of the plot twists at the end are unsatisfying, but switching from Walter’s coming of age story, to his father’s fatalistic accounts of family curses, to his mother’s flight from Wisconsin, to Sungyoon’s graphic novel kept me absorbed. While a young reader would enjoy putting the story together, Sie has aimed the novel’s dark themes at adults who will be transfixed by this story of family dysfunction and the redemption of a teen coming out under difficult circumstances.
Six of the Republican candidates vying for the presidency have signed a pledge promising to support legislation during their first 100 days in the White House that would use the guise of “religious liberty” to give individuals and businesses the right to openly discriminate against LGBT people.
Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee vowed to push for the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), legislation that would prohibit the federal government from stopping discrimination by people or businesses that believe “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” or that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
The pledge is supported by three conservative groups: the American Principles Project, Heritage Action for America, and Family Research Council Action.
“It has become clear that the First Amendment Defense Act is rapidly becoming a signature issue that unifies the GOP,” Maggie Gallagher, Senior Fellow at American Principles Project, said in the group’s statement announcing the pledge. “Three out of the four top contenders for the nomination — Carson, Cruz, and Rubio — have pledged to prioritize passing FADA in their first 100 days of office. Additionally, Bush, Graham, Paul, and now for the first time, Donald Trump, have publicly expressed support for FADA.”
Gallagher added that a Republican win in 2016 could mean that FADA becomes reality. “Real, concrete protections for gay marriage dissenters appear to be just one election victory away,” she said.
But instead of protecting “gay marriage dissenters,” FADA gives people and businesses license to openly discriminate against same sex couples. If it were to pass, it would mean that government workers could refuse to perform their duties, and businesses and organizations — including those that operate with the support of taxpayer dollars — would be free to discriminate. The American Civil Liberties Union has called it “a Pandora’s Box of taxpayer-funded discrimination against same-sex couples and their children.”
The legislation was previously introduced by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) under the moniker of the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act.” As the Family Research Council explained when it endorsed the bill in June, anybody who refuses to recognize a same-sex couple’s marriage would be immune to any penalization by the government.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has endorsed FADA, but it’s unlikely that the legislation would pass Congress and make it to the president’s desk.
A number of other conservative groups have also been eager to get the GOP candidates to sign anti-gay pledges. Earlier this year, the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBT group, issued a pledge that it asked Republican presidential candidates to sign, affirming their wholehearted opposition to marriage equality and gay rights generally. In August, only four of the then 17 candidates signed their names — Cruz, Santorum, Carson, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has since dropped out of the race.