The law often operates as the apparatus that facilitates instead of prevents the untimely deaths of so many in historically excluded and oppressed communities – including the LGBTQ community. The deaths of both Aimee Stephens and Don Zarda, whose workplace discrimination cases the Supreme Court decided posthumously in their favor on Monday, are a case in point. Aimee, who died of complications related to kidney disease just weeks ago and Don, who died in an accident, did not live to see the outcome of their cases, in which the highest court ruled that their livelihoods — and, thus, in America today, their health insurance — shouldn’t be predicated on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
So after living for decades under a patchwork of state and local laws and lower court opinions, the entire country now has protections against discrimination at work if they are LGBTQ. For me, it was a galvanizing reminder of how sometimes advocates can still find hope in our work despite the compromises inherent to the law, and be reinvigorated for and invested in the transformative work for justice that lies again.
Decades of work — in the streets, in legislatures and in the courts — went into the simple, clear, unequivocal ruling by the court that, yes, it is illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against someone for being LGBTQ, which was written by Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberals.
The entire architecture of the Trump administration’s explicit attacks on LGBTQ people came crumbling down in an instant — an instant built on the lives and labor of so many advocates leading up to the breathtaking win.
Nothing happens in law without the resistance and organizing of people in the streets, in their homes and families, in their schools and communities, within prisons and jails, and at workplaces. Monday’s decision, for example, came one day after more than 15,000 people gathered in Brooklyn to rally for Black Trans Lives, and less than two weeks after hundreds marked the beginning of Pride and the Black Lives Matter movement by gathering at New York City’s Stonewall Inn to call for justice for Nina Pop, a Black trans woman, and Tony McDade, a Black trans man killed by police. It also came the same week that Riah Milton was killed in Ohio and the remains of Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells were found in Philadelphia — both Black trans women.
And just last Friday, the Trump administration rushed out a rule designed to allow discrimination in health care settings against trans people under the Affordable Care Act. The entire 336-page rule — which read much like author J.K. Rowling’s now-infamous anti-trans screed — was premised on a notion of sex discrimination that the Supreme Court has now wholly rejected; Monday’s decision should essentially nullify the rule entirely as being outside the agency’s authority.
Whether they like it or not, the Trump administration is not the final word on the meaning or scope of federal statutes that prohibit discrimination because of sex: the Supreme Court is and they have spoken. Thus, the many actions that the Trump administration has taken to systemically attack LGBTQ people — particularly trans youth — are completely neutralized. From efforts to target trans youth in schools, to those designed to push trans people out of homeless shelters, to those intended to deny us health care, every single one of the Trump administration’s anti-trans policy actions are now likely as legally enforceable as Rowling’s anti-trans ponderings.
The sweeping victory for LGBTQ workers is a moment of hope that feels particularly meaningful in the context of the widespread organizing and resistance to anti-Black state violence, as well as the widespread mobilizing in defense of Black trans lives. We won this case because so many Black and Brown people fought and died to give us the chance to demand justice before the highest court in the United States and from each other as Americans.
But in the same day that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBTQ workers, it rejected cases that would have evaluated the legal doctrine of qualified immunity that effectively allows police to act with impunity and, in the coming weeks, the court may issue harmful decisions on the law allowing undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children to remain here legally (known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and abortion and contraception. All of these will have disproportionately negative effects on communities of color; in fact, the qualified immunity doctrine is largely understood as a product of white supremacy and central to the culture of impunity that allows the police to get away with disproportionate acts of violence against Black and Brown people.
The future, then, will be a test of how we build on this victory together. Employment protections are crucial but only the beginning, because ours is not a call for equality but for justice. And justice means showing up for the unhoused, the undocumented, the incarcerated, and the ill. Without decriminalization of sex work, without an end to discrimination based on past criminal conviction, without defunding the police, and without reinstating and greatly expanding DACA, Monday’s win will be hollow. The work for, as the pledge our children recite in school (often in violation of the First Amendment) promises, “justice for all” continues — and, in this moment of great transformation, a new kind of work begins.
Last June, it felt as if the entire world was converging on New York City’s West Village to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, rebranded as World Pride. Around 5 million people from all over the globe descended upon the Big Apple in what was the largest LGBTQ gathering of its kind, and the city’s streets were literally paved with Pride.
Storefronts and bars and signposts were festooned with corporate-sponsored rainbow flags, balloons, boas, paint, tinsel and posters — you name it, and there was a rainbow flag and the logo of some corporate sponsor on it. Seemingly every company was hocking LGBTQ Pride merch, no matter their history of discrimination against us or whether their C-suite was comprised of Trump’s biggest donors.
It might have appeared as if we and our allies were all wrapped in a big, colorful, feathery collective embrace as we partied together, paraded together, wore our queer positive T-shirts and hats together, reveling in the fact that what few civil rights we LGTBQ people had were still tenuously intact.
But there was something a bit disingenuous about a big tent, corporatized, police-guarded celebration that, despite the queer and independent media’s best efforts, had all but forgotten the real story behind the festivities: that the LGBTQ liberation movement we celebrate with Pride began with a fight against police brutality.
Stonewall began because, night after night, cops had been raiding our bars, arresting gay men, lesbians, gender nonbinary people and transgender people, loading us into patrol wagons and carting us off to jail for living our authentic lives in relatively private spaces.
So when, at 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, as the New York City Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn — handcuffing people and loading them into police vehicles — Stormé DeLarverie, who had been hit on the head by a cop with a baton when she complained her handcuffs were too tight, urged the crowd of onlookers to “do something,” they did.
Stormé — a Black, self-identified “stone butch” lesbian and celebrated drag performer — is said to have thrown the first punch. And the Stonewall riots (they didn’t refer to them as protests then, either) lasted six days. They weren’t the first uprisings for LGBTQ liberation, but they were the largest at the time.
And now, one year after the milestone anniversary of that history-changing rebellion against police brutality, many LGBTQ people have been protesting against police brutality in the names of (only most recently) George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade, a Black trans man fatally shot by police in Tallahassee, Florida.
We did so while our communities are all still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic — a deadly disease the government ignored for too long being familiar territory to the older among us — flinging open our doors and putting on our masks, some of us for the first time since the stay-at-home orders were issued in New York City in mid-March, to march as part of or alongside Black Lives Matter.
We were all risking our lives not only by marching in close contact with others in the midst of a pandemic, but we were facing off cops — many of them not wearing masks — who were armed to the teeth with the familiar batons, and now rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and military-grade weapons and vehicles.
And, not surprisingly, the cops were still raiding our community’s bars and hurting peaceful protesters. On May 30 in Raleigh, North Carolina, police opened fire with “less lethal rounds” outside Ruby Deluxe, a gay bar, because owner Tim Lemuel and some friends were setting up a first-aid station for protesters. On June 1, cops in full riot gear raided Blazing Saddles gay bar in Des Moines, Iowa, for the same reason: providing first-aid for demonstrators. They arrested three people, who were cuffed face down on the sidewalk, and then spent over two hours waiting to be processed in jail and two more hours in jail after they’d been bailed out, according to the bar’s Facebook page.
In New York City on June 2, LGBTQ activists held a rally in front of the Stonewall Inn to protest the murders of Black trans people. As the rally was wrapping up — just moments after the city-imposed 8 p.m. curfew — NYPD officers beat and arrested activists in attendance, including City Council candidate and drag performer Marti Gould Cummings and activist Jason Rosenberg, who was beaten bloody and denied medical attention. He wound up with a broken arm and six stitches on his head for the “crime” of linking arms with other activists.
That’s only a small sampling of the apparently vengeful violence cops around the country exacted on protesters of police brutality. Journalists reporting on the rallies and marches have been shot at close range with rubber bullets, many more activists have been beaten with batons, run down by police cars, tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed, shoved backward to the ground courting head injuries and put in jail without masks and in close quarters for hours on end.
There have been protests in big cities and in small towns in states you’d least expect — Idaho, who knew — and in countries acrossthree continents. Not only has the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd been charged with second-degree murder, but Minneapolis has committed to dismantling its police department; New York has vowed to outlaw chokeholds, like the one that killed Eric Garner, provide more transparency about police misconduct and reform the NYPD; and Confederate statues in Virginia and Alabama have been toppled. The protests have also led to a surge of registered voters … and Trump has never been more unpopular.
And that’s just in the first two weeks of this ever-growing movement to combat police brutality. The month is young. Imagine what more we can do as we all continue to march and protest to reform the criminal justice system to finally protect us all. That, rather than corporate sponsorship of a rainbow-hued parade, would most definitely be something to take pride in and celebrate — masked, and 6 feet apart, of course.
Twelve months ago, we were preparing for the city’s annual Pride celebration and marking 50 years since Stonewall with parades, galas and Madonna performing in New York City. At the Blade, we were also celebrating 50 years since the newspaper’s founding in 1969.
A year later, more than 100,000 Americans are dead of coronavirus, a pandemic that brought the world to a standstill. Unemployment is at Great Depression-era levels. Small businesses everywhere are hanging on by a thread. Police brutality against black citizens continues, triggering mass protests after George Floyd was murdered by a cop on video. And the president of the United States, hiding in a bunker and surrounded by fences, turns law enforcement officials against his own people, gassing peaceful demonstrators in service of a clumsy, cheesy photo op.
We are living through unprecedented times. As we reflect on Pride this week, we should remember that our own modern movement for equality began as a protest against police violence and raids on our bars. I can think of no better tribute to Pride than joining the movement for racial equality and the protests against police brutality and racism.
As the peaceful protests continued this weekend in communities large and small and in countries around the world, many asked what’s next for the movement. Many ideas are being floated, from investing more in mental health to outright defunding police departments. But one thing we should all agree on: On Nov. 3, we must clean house of the Republican Party and send not just Donald Trump packing, but all of his enablers in Congress who have turned a blind eye to this president’s criminal abuse of power, his cruelty, and his tactic of dividing the American people at a perilous time.
Trump didn’t create the coronavirus, but his incompetent response and delayed action unnecessarily cost thousands of American lives. Trump didn’t create racism or police brutality, but his heartless and cowardly response to Floyd’s murder served to exacerbate the exploding tensions. At a time when the country needed unity, our president doubled down on division and used the Bible as a prop to excite his shrinking base.
The time is now for Republicans everywhere to earn an ounce of redemption by condemning Trump, endorsing Joe Biden and actively campaigning for him. We don’t need coy innuendo from George W. and Laura Bush, who have issued vague statements hinting they won’t vote for Trump. They should publicly endorse Biden and then actively campaign all over Texas for his election. Polls show that Texas may be winnable for Biden. Imagine if the Bushes spent the summer crisscrossing the state for him. That may be a pipedream, but imagine.
The same is true of congressional Republicans who have cowered in fear of Trump’s twitter attacks and enabled this madness. The cracks are starting to appear, as Sen. Mitt Romney declared this weekend, “Black Lives Matter.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, too, is hinting that she will oppose Trump’s re-election.
Polls show that Sen. Lindsay Graham, a target this weekend of sex worker tweets alleging all sorts of things that have long been rumored about his sexual orientation, is vulnerable in South Carolina. He must go, along with the ultimate toadie, Sen. Mitch McConnell.
They and so many other Republicans have shirked their responsibility to the Constitution in service of a racist, sexist fake president.
So in honor of Pride, LGBTQ Americans should resolve to vote in November and to protest against racism and police brutality. Let’s look forward to an unprecedented celebration next year of a new, pro-equality president, a favorable Supreme Court ruling expected any day now on LGBTQ workplace rights, and the sight of Donald Trump being led away in handcuffs.
Lesbian athletes Billie Jean King and Megan Rapinoe are calling on the National Collegiate Athletics Association to move a major basketball competition from Idaho in the wake of the state enacting a law barring transgender girls from playing in school sports.
In a letter dated June 10, the athletes ask to “move all NCAA championship events in 2021 out of Idaho,” which is currently set to host the 2021 Men’s Basketball Championship that year.
“As the unifying governing body of college athletics, the NCAA has tremendous power in setting the standard for how values of diversity and inclusion can be reflected in policies and practices, and inspiring athletes, teams, schools and other institutions to do the same,” the letter says. “This is the time for the NCAA to stand with us on the right side of history, in support of the rights of all athletes in Idaho to compete in the sports they love.”
Nearly 50 professional, Olympic and Paralympic athletes signed the letter, including Jason Collins, the first openly gay man to play men’s professional basketball, and Chris Mosier, a transgender advocate and triathlete.
Separate letters from advocacy groups and more than 400 college student-athletes were made public Wednesday also denouncing House Bill 500, an anti-trans measure quietly signed into law by Idaho Gov. Brad Little at the height of the coronavirus crisis, and they call on the NCAA to move sports events out of the state.
The law requires college and public school sports teams to be designed as male, female and co-ed — and any female athletic team “shall not be open to students of the male sex.”
In the event of a dispute, a student may be required to produce a physician’s statement to affirm her biological sex based on reproductive anatomy, normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone and an analysis of the student’s genetic makeup.
That would effectively ban transgender athletes from participating in sports. Although similar measures had been percolating in state legislatures, Idaho is the first state to enact such a law.
Hudson Taylor, executive director of LGBTQ group Athlete Ally, said in a statement the athletes against House Bill 500 “took a powerful stand in support of trans athletes having equal access and opportunity in sport.”
“With one unified voice, professional athletes, student athletes and advocacy groups are demanding the NCAA stand on the right side of history by reaffirming their commitment to ensuring sport is safe and welcoming for all, and that trans athletes are able to be fully who they are on and off the playing field,” Taylor said.
Prior to the enactment of House Bill 500, Idaho High School Activities Association already had in its rules a requirement that transgender girls “complete one year of hormone treatment related to the gender transition before competing on a girls team.”
According to the Idaho Statesman, IHSAA says as of March 2020 it had “received just a couple of inquiries about Idaho’s policy and has fielded occasional calls about potential transgender athletes over the past five or six years, but so far, Idaho has not had an athlete use the policy.”
Although the NCAA hasn’t yet indicated it would move sports events from Idaho over enactment of House Bill 500, the organization did issue a statement against the law, according to advocacy groups.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for policy and action with the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement the sports league should back up its earlier stated opposition with action.
“Transgender athletes deserve the same dignity and respect entitled to all NCAA athletes. Because of HB 500, that simply isn’t possible in Idaho,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “We applaud the NCAA for speaking out against HB 500 and now encourage them to back up their words with action.”
If the NCAA decides to move sports events from Idaho over the law, it wouldn’t be the first time the league has taken such action over an anti-trans measure.
When North Carolina passed House Bill 2, which prohibited transgender people from using restrooms in government buildings consistent with their gender identity, the NCAA joined other sports leagues and businesses in cancelling events in the state.
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed House Bill 2, lost re-election to now-Gov. Roy Cooper, who worked with the legislature to enact a compromise measure loosening the anti-trans restrictions under the law (although transgender advocates still objected to it).
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement “full participation in school sports is fundamentally a civil and human rights issue.”
“Anti-transgender discrimination has no place in any of our institutions, including school athletics,” Gupta said. “The NCAA must uphold its own non-discrimination policy, and we urge them to relocate games from Idaho while HB 500 is law.”
Meanwhile, litigation against House Bill 500, which was filed in April by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Idaho, Legal Voice, and Cooley LLP, remains pending in federal court.
Arli Christian, campaign strategist for the ACLU, said in a statement “transgender people belong everywhere — and that includes in sports and in Idaho.”
“While the lawsuit against the state of Idaho moves through the courts, it is important for everyone to speak out so that Idaho — and the rest of the country — sees how misguided and dangerous this law is,” Christian said.
The Washington Blade has placed a request with the NCAA seeking comment on whether the organization will move events from Idaho over the anti-trans law.
Connecticut’s policy allowing transgender girls to compete as girls in high school sports violates the civil rights of athletes who have always identified as female, the U.S. Education Department has determined in a decision that could force the state to change course to keep federal funding and influence others to do the same.
A letter from the department’s civil rights office, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, came in response to a complaint filed last year by several cisgender female track athletes who argued that two transgender female runners had an unfair physical advantage.
The office said in the 45-page letter that it may seek to withhold federal funding over the policy, which allows athletes to participate under the gender with which they identify. The policy is a violation of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that guarantees equal education opportunities for women, including in athletics, the office said.
It has “denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits,” according to the letter, which is dated May 15.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference says its policy complies with a state law barring schools from discriminating against transgender students.
“Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes — including high school sports,” the athletic conference said in a statement. “To do otherwise would not only be discriminatory but would deprive high school students of the meaningful opportunity to participate in educational activities, including inter-scholastic sports, based on sex-stereotyping and prejudice sought to be prevented by Title IX and Connecticut state law.”
The federal decision carries implications beyond Connecticut, said Roger Brooks, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the girls who brought the complaint.
“Around the nation, districts are going to want to be reading this, because it does have legal implications,” he said. “It is a first decision from the agency charged with enforcing Title IX addressing the question of whether males on the playing field or on the track are depriving girls of opportunities consistent with Title IX.”
The decision by the civil rights office names the conference, along with the school districts for which the transgender runners and those filing the complaint competed — Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Hartford, Cromwell, Canton and Danbury.
The office said it will “either initiate administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue and defer financial assistance” to the conference and those districts or refer the cases to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In its letter, the civil rights office said that it notified the athletic conference and the school districts of its pending decision in February, but that later negotiations failed to result in an agreement.
“All that today’s finding represents is yet another attack from the Trump administration on transgender students,” said Chase Strangio, who leads transgender justice initiatives for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project.
“Trans students belong in our schools, including on sports teams, and we aren’t backing down from this fight,” Strangio said.
The dispute, already the subject of a federal lawsuit, centers on two transgender sprinters, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, who have frequently outperformed their competitors, winning a combined 15 girls state indoor or outdoor championship races since 2017, according to the lawsuit.
The ACLU’s lawyers for the transgender athletes have argued both are undergoing hormone treatments that have put them on an equal footing with the girls they are competing against.
Brooks said he hopes the judge in the lawsuit will take the Education Department decision into consideration.
One of the plaintiffs, Chelsea Mitchell, won two state indoor title races over Miller this year.
Mitchell, a senior, said Thursday that she is both happy and relieved by the Department of Education’s decision.
“It feels like we are finally headed in the right direction, and that we will be able to get justice for the countless girls along with myself that have faced discrimination for years,” she said. “It is liberating to know that my voice, my story, my loss, has been heard; that those championships I lost mean something.”
The plaintiffs sought to block the participation of Miller and Yearwood, both seniors, from spring track meets, which were later canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were also seeking to erase all records set by the transgender athletes.
Connecticut is one of 18 states, along with Washington, D.C., that allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions, according to Transathlete.com.
Several other states have polices barring the participation of transgender athletes, and Idaho recently became the first to pass a law banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports.
The ACLU and Legal Voice filed a federal lawsuit contending that law violates the U.S. Constitution because it is discriminatory and an invasion of privacy.
It was perhaps ironic that Little Richard and Roy Horn (of Siegfried & Roy) died within hours of each other this month. Though they were from totally separate pop culture factions, seeing their obits side by side in some outlets, such as the May 10 New York Times, was a sobering reminder of how an older generation of gay men — Horn, who died at 75 was on the outer cusp of the Boomers; Richard was 12 years older — dealt with (or didn’t deal with) their sexuality in a pre-Stonewall era when practically nobody was officially out but demeanor, style, stage persona and more “read” gay to middle America the same way sexual innuendo was implied in early jazz and movies long before it was discussed or depicted openly.
Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman was his legal name) was known for a string of ’50s hits like “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” whose impact went far beyond their initial chart peaks. Richard has been widely lauded as a rock and roll innovator and the first pop star to integrate black and white audiences in a time of rigid segregation in music and society. He died May 9 from bone cancer at his home in Tullahoma, Tenn., after a two-month illness. He was 87.
Horn came to fame with his nearly life-long professional (and for a time personal) partner Siegfried Fischbacher, who were known for their flashy Las Vegas act in which they made lions and tigers (and each other) vanish and reappear. They came to Vegas in 1967 and had a sellout run at the Mirage Resort and Casino from 1990-2003 that found them performing 500 shows yearly. By 1999, the show had grossed half a billion dollars and they were Vegas’s highest-paid entertainers.
Sadly, their careers ended abruptly on Oct. 3, 2003 (Horn’s birthday) when one of the tigers attacked Horn resulting in serious injury. Suffering a stroke and partial paralysis on his left side, Horn was eventually able to walk with assistance but never performed again. The duo made one final public appearance in 2009 with a tiger at a benefit for the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, the Times reported, before retiring officially in 2010. Horn died of COVID-19.
The duo (both German immigrants) only officially came out in 2007 in a National Enquirer article that announced “We’re gay” on the cover. They gave few interviews (even in their heyday) and could be testy about it when pressed.
Behind the glitz
But with their over-the-top costumes (including Roy’s trademark codpiece), ostentatious Vegas home and inseparable public image (and never a hint that either might be involved romantically with anyone else), they didn’t have to state it explicitly. They donned capes and silver space suits, battled a sorceress and a fire-breathing dragon amidst smoke machines, lasers and, of course, lions and tigers, many of which were white, which are uber rare. Their act had a Liberace-esque flair to it, even if neither were ever quite that fey. Siegfried was the magician; Roy the animal trainer. They presented a yin/yang-type persona and lived together at Jungle Palace, an eight-acre Vegas estate (a much larger ranch was just outside the city proper) with, as of 1999, 55 tigers and 16 lions. Horn was the “Tiger King” decades before anybody heard of Joe Exotic (also gay) of the hit Netflix series.
“So you go deeper and say what is going on in my bedroom and in Roy’s bedroom,” Fischbacher said in a 1999 Vanity Fair profile. “I don’t care, I don’t know. I tell you this because this is me and I wouldn’t ask what you do with your dick either.”
Both said they were “very honored” to be considered gay icons but spoke of gay as “other.”
“I have a lot of friends who are gay and I made a lot of friends in show business and I found out that they are always interesting, intelligent and good people and fun to be with,” Fischbacher told Vanity Fair.
“I am flattered to think that people think that I am versatile,” Horn said. “You don’t have to define everything and I don’t want to disillusion people because I’m not a guy who kisses and tells.”
Pal Shirley MacLaine told the magazine they “used to be lovers a long time ago, yeah? In this day and age, who cares?”
Mainstream media only coyly touched on Horn’s sexuality. The Times said Fischbacher and Horn “were domestic as well as professional partners” but left it at that. Journalist Steve Friess, who in The Advocate called them “the world’s most openly closeted celebrities,” said a Mirage spokesperson told him the night of Horn’s attack that “it’s well known that they were lovers at one time.”
They were said to have little presence in Vegas gay life, according to Friess and others, and outside of buying an ad in a program book for an AIDS fundraiser, were not known to have used any of their vast wealth to support LGBTQ rights.
For some, that’s not a problem.
Milt Larsen, founder of The Magic Castle, a private club for magicians and enthusiasts in Hollywood, is 89, straight and knew Siegfried and Roy for many years, initially through his late sister-in-law, Irene Larsen. She and her husband Bill Larsen (Milt’s brother) loved magic and animals and discovered Siegfried & Roy in their early years in Vegas. Larsen later met the duo through his brother and sister-in-law and says Horn was “a dear, great friend.”
“Before Siegfried & Roy, magicians were very seldom anything other than an opening act,” Larsen says. “They came along and went from being an opening act to the headliner with their own huge show because it was so popular. … They were the best.”
Larsen’s friend Dale Hindman also know Siegfried & Roy and says he was at their house several times. He says Roy “fought like crazy” to recover and “they had the best medical people” working with him. He did daily physical therapy, swam and would zip around the grounds on a scooter. He recalls one Vegas convention in which Horn made a rare, post-accident appearance and walked to the podium.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Hindman says. “I saw him a number of times at different places. He was in the scooter, he would talk, he loved people, he had great quality of life and they had the resources to have the best medical care. It’s such a shame that something like this virus came along and killed him.”
Larsen and Hindman say Horn’s sexuality was understood but “never really discussed.”
“I’ve been in show business a long time and sometimes it feels like just about everybody I’ve ever known was gay,” Larsen says with a laugh. “It was a different world then. I just don’t recall anybody ever talking much about it.”
Hindman says it was generational and gradual when more celebrities started coming out officially. Larsen says Fischbacher, especially (whom he calls a “great” businessman), just “never made a big point of it.”
“They were a couple in the sense that they were absolute partners in what they did and that their lives were their business,” he says. “People are people and in the world we live in today, it’s just not questioned as much.”
Larsen remembers “many, many times” being backstage in their Vegas dressing room post-show.
“The Champagne would be flowing and there were lots of wonderful friends,” Larsen says. “[Roy] was very, very gregarious and he and Irene really got to know each other and became wonderful friends.”
“There would be drinks and hors d’oeuvres and plenty of people,” Hindman says. “After awhile, Roy would go play with the animals. Siegfried would say, “I’m tired but you all stay as long as you want.’”
Out magician/actor Michael Carbonaro, 44, of reality show “The Carbonaro Effect,” said in a written comment to the Blade it didn’t matter if Siegfried & Roy were coy about their sexuality.
“I actually don’t know what Siegfried & Roy ever did or didn’t put into words,” he said. “I grew up seeing two gorgeous men living their magic dreams in bedazzled outfits, so they were always an iconic form of queer inspiration.”
Others, however, aren’t willing to let them off the gay hook so easily.
Matthew Rettenmund, a gay blogger and pop culture historian/author, says Horn’s approach to being “out” reminds him of singer Barry Manilow who finally came out in 2017 at age 73 after decades of evading the question.
“They’re men who have convinced themselves that being gay in private is the same thing as being out,” he said in an e-mail. “Which is simply not true. I do hope that as the Rip Taylors and Richard Simmonses of the world leave us, as sad as it is to lose their talent, that they won’t be replaced by more of the same. Hiding in plain sight is still hiding and it still sends such a warped message of self-acceptance.”
Long-time gay Vegas resident/historian Dennis McBride says he can see where both sides of the issue were coming from.
“Siegfried and Roy were never involved in the Las Vegas queer community in any public way I’m aware of,” McBride wrote in an e-mail to the Blade. “They were much like Liberace in that respect — they were Las Vegas icons, counted Las Vegas as their personal and professional home, but deeply closeted because they came of age and established their careers during a time when they could have been jailed for being gay and lost those very lucrative careers. I remember there was some resentment in the community because we needed role models — particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s during the worst of the AIDS pandemic — and both Liberace and Sigfried & Roy might have been a great help in our struggle, brought credibility and support to our fight. I don’t think any of us entirely blamed them, though, because we were all in danger then ourselves as queer people.”
And while Richard stated he was gay explicitly on multiple occasions, he was never at peace with it and at multiple times in his career recorded gospel music and even for a time sold Bibles in a repudiation of the rock and roll and gay “devil’s” music and “lifestyle.” For him, being gay was a vexation and something to be overcome, which is, to some, even more troubling than Horn’s avoiding the issue.
“The problem is his religiosity and self doubt forced him back in the closet just as many times, “Rettenmund wrote. “And though he camped it up to earn a living in his final decades, it was homophobia that won. He died an ‘ex-gay,’ a sad loss.”
Richard was married to a woman from 1957-1964. They had one adopted son. As recently as 2017, he was condemning gay sex. “God, Jesus, he made men, men, he made women, women, you know? And you’ve got to live the way God wants you to live,” Richard told the Three Angels Broadcasting Network, a religious channel, reported by The Advocate.
Gay author/actor Michael Kearns (who’s been on “Cheers,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “The Waltons,” “Knots Landing” et. al. and has said in interviews and books he had sex with Rock Hudson and Barry Manilow) says Richard deserves a more compassionate assessment.
“I don’t know how much gay sex he was having, but for me it was all about him having such a gay persona,” Kearns says. “I think what young men like me found so stirring and exciting is that it gave us something to grasp onto. Here was this sissy, this exciting, flamboyant, theatrical, wild persona and yeah, he later had the doubts and went back into the closet as a religious fanatic, well, of course he did. He was a black man from the South dealing with all that church stuff. I mean that’s a big struggle and I think people just don’t give him enough human credit for battling that publicly.”
McBride says after their performing years, Sigfried & Roy were occasioally seen in Vegas’s gay spots. They separated romantically in 1996, he says, when Fischbacher got his own house in Spanish Trails. In more recent years, after Horn’s accident, speaking out for gay causes wouldn’t have carried as much weight, he says.
“No one really cared by then,” McBride says. “The moment when their honesty mght have made a positive difference to the Las Vegas queer community had long passed and so had the careers they might have lost if they’d come out earlier.”
He says they were “largely circumspect” but “we still saw them discreetly out and about.”
“Even before (they broke up), when we saw them in the community, it was usually separately,” he says. “The two of them would visit the Le Cafe nightclub in the 1970s which then stood on the northwest corner of Tropicana Avenue and Paradise Road. The club’s lesbian owner, Marge Jacques, counted them as friends. In the 1980s, separately or together, they’d come to Gipsy, which then was an upscale dance club on Paradise Road and Naples Drive.”
They were also spotted occasionally at seedier gay spots, McBride says.
“Roy seemed to enjoy the Talk of the Town adult bookstore when it was in the Crestwood Shopping Center on East Charleston Boulevard and one or the other was occasionally seen at the Camp David bath house on Industrial Road,” he says. “But mostly, they and their circle of gay friends — which included Liberace and Hans Klok, who came out about the same time Sigfried & Roy did in 2007, and their protege, Darren Romeo, who just came out during his run in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., — kept themselves pretty much sequestered at Little Bavaria back in the day. I think the idea of a queer community was alien to them, outside their experience, maybe even distracting and a bit threatening.”
Gospel music producer/historian Anthony Heilbut has written at length about how black Christian denominations have shamed or welcomed queer musicians to varying degrees in the ‘50s, ‘60s and prior. He knew Little Richard — not well, but they’d met on several occasions — and says one must consider the era when deciding how much blame to assign him. He wanders into another room of his New York apartment during a phone interview last week and puts on a recording of gospel singer Marion Williams (1927-1994), who for a time was in The Famous Ward Singers, helmed by Clara Ward (one of Aretha Franklin’s major influences) and who also had a significant solo career. He holds the phone up to a recording of her whooping and hollering and it’s easy to see where Little Richard got some of his inspiration. Richard appeared at the Kennedy Center Honors when Williams was inducted.
“His phrasings and his timbre and even his ballad singing, and he was a great ballad singer although we typically think of him as this sort of rock and roll clown, all that came from Marion Williams,” Heilbut, who’s gay, says. “You can’t copyright phrasings. That’s what singers could take from each other.”
Heilbut also says Richard, whom he first met in 1961 and says he’s “one of the very few people who ever saw him sing on a gospel program,” says Richard’s gospel singing career was never terribly convincing or memorable partially because he came from a staid denomination (Seventh Day Adventist, not nearly as musically rowdy as black Baptists and those in the Sanctified Church) and the fact that it was performed more dutifully than his rock and roll material.
“He was singing, ‘I quit show business and I wanna go straight/I wanna serve the Lord before it’s too late,’” Heilbut says. “His singing was very bland. There was more of the real gospel drama in his R&B and rock music.”
Heilbut also says Richard admired Williams in the traditional way gay men have worshiped show-stopping divas. He remembers seeing Richard at a Nashville studio when Heilbut was producing one of Williams’ later recordings. He mimics Richard’s speech patterns, recalling the conversation: “‘Is she still fabulous? Do she still make notes? I makes notes. I heard she preaching. I preaching too. … She always war my heart, she know, she know. I’ve been singing like her down through the years. Mahalia good, but Marion always were my singer.’”
Heilbut also says Richard’s various stints in gospel music robbed his career of momentum in rock. As respected as he was among rock pioneers, he’s almost wholly associated with his ‘50s heyday. Attempts at secular music comebacks in the ‘60s and ‘70s could not come close to matching his peak period.
“He made some very lovely records later and he could be a wonderful singer, but by then the audience had changed,” Heilbut says. “The train had passed.”
Later in life, Heilbut says, Richard was seen socializing in gay bars. He never personally saw him but says friends reported him being “the belle of the ball” at St. Louis gay bars on various occasions.
Richard, whom Heilbut says “always struck me as very goofy,” was ultimately “just incredibly confused.”
Roy, Richard ‘lacked courage’
Gay activist/entrepreneur Mitchell Gold, who like Siegfried & Roy, knows something about being linked for life to a former partner — he and business partner/former domestic partner Bob Williams formed their eponymous furniture company Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams in 1989, which they continue to run jointly. He says celebrities holding onto or returning to the closet are a reminder of “how horrible these religious teachings are, how toxic.”
“I don’t even know what it’s like to live like that,” Gold says. “I was tortured about it until I was 24, 25 but then that was the end of it. These guys who live their whole lives having to be careful about that they said, it’s just horrible. I don’t know as much about Siegfried & Roy except that after awhile it just gets to be ridiculous, like the Barry Manilow thing was for so many years.”
Gold understands Richard not being out in the ‘50s or Siegfried & Roy at the advent of their careers but later in life, once they were financially secure, he says they “lacked courage.”
“I never cared if we lost money for being out,” Gold says. “I don’t have to be a gazillionnaire. If I make less, I make less and it’s the same for Siegfried & Roy. At some point they had plenty of money and so why wouldn’t they speak out for people who aren’t being sheltered the way they are and are forced to live a closeted, unhealthy life. The only thing I can say is I don’t think these folks even know what a healthy life looks like.”
Gay journalist/author Michael Musto agrees.
“It’s partly generational, though many of their generation ended up being belatedly but wonderfully out and proud — Richard Chamberlain, Joel Grey, etc.,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It’s more of a sort of self-loathing-tinged caution based on a lifelong fear of an image adjustment or career damage. Roy played to Middle American high rollers, but obviously didn’t want to gamble on his own career. One of his magic tricks was being cagey about his sexuality.”
Musto says the music business has been especially troubling for non-straight black entertainers.
“Little Richard renounced his queerness when he should have just been at peace with it and allowed himself to celebrate and be celebrated by our community,” Musto says. “Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and many others were unwilling to step out of the shadows because the people around them (and sometimes their own inner voices) told them not to. Little Richard was so queer that it seems like a ‘duh’ that he should have just gone there. But with Adam Lambert, Sam Smith and many others (and Elton John, Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang having led the way), things have inalterably changed.”
Although Fischbacher and Horn never spoke of their religious influences — their decor reflected influences of Eastern religion and Horn would sound a large gong in his bedroom to let the tigers know he was awake — for Richard, Kearns says, it was tragic.
“I’m not saying there aren’t some fabulously evolved people who are religious but we’ve seen time and time again how religion gets its hold on gay people at a very early age and just does not let go and the result can be horrific,” Kearns says. “Richard is a fascinating creature to me. In a way, it’s amazing he lived as long as he did with this struggle. He deserves a lot of credit. He didn’t have an easy time of it.”
Here’s a Democratic campaign ad for you: show Trump speaking at a rally to a stadium full of people who gradually disappear and their cheers die away.
Weakness in a president is deadly.
The day after Donald Trump suggested injecting disinfectant and using ultraviolet light inside people’s bodies as treatments for COVID-19 during his daily improv routine in the White House briefing room, which resulted in a viral video of Dr. Deborah Birx struggling to compose herself, he walked it back and blamed the press.
“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.” No you weren’t, clown. STFU.
Everyone from the Environmental Protection Agency to cleanser makers to song parodist Randy Rainbow urged people not to follow the president’s dangerous suggestion. Across the nation, the ridicule was as rampant as the warnings. Jokes about chewable Clorox tablets went around. During cocktails via Zoom with friends from Nellie’s Sports Bar, one couple drank what I am sure were not really “Lysoltinis.”
My first impulse after hearing Dr. Trump’s brainstorm was to say “Go right ahead,” but the thought of gullible parents poisoning their children stopped me short.
On April 24, a White House official threatened to summon the Secret Service when Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson refused to switch seats in the briefing room with CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan’s questioning had displeased the Maximum Leader, so they ordered her back to Chris’s seat. Well sorry, but the White House Correspondents’ Association, not the Trump Administration, determines seating assignments. Kudos to Chris and Kaitlan for staying put.
Imagine the insecurity that would impel a president to blame and punish reporters for his own murderous ignorance. When members of the press corps refuse to be bullied or set against one another, they uphold their crucial role enshrined by our Founders in the First Amendment.
Trump’s lies, threats, and wishful thinking, his responsibility dodging and refusal to respect expertise, have already killed more Americans than the 58,220 who died in Vietnam. The question is whether that and the tanked economy will cost him reelection, and there the news is encouraging. Polls show he is in trouble, and his desperate flailing shows that he knows it. Republicans are afraid that his disastrous handling of the public health crisis will cost them the Senate as well as the White House.
Still, the election is six months away, and Trump’s mischief proceeds apace. A few examples:
The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services (which sounds like something George Orwell thought up to entertain himself during the Blitz) is going to let doctors refuse to treat LGBTQ patients for religious reasons. Never mind that there are far more biblical injunctions against everything Trump does than against queers.
Trump issued an executive order last week temporarily suspending the issuance of new green cards, though it carved out exceptions such as for essential workers—including, presumably, resort staff and Slovenian models. His invocation of health and jobs as justification is a thin veil for the racism that he and advisor Stephen Miller have fomented all along.
Trump’s decision to speak at West Point, prompted by Mike Pence’s Air Force Academy appearance, will require 1,000 graduating cadets to return to the military academy from the homes to which they scattered because of the pandemic. They will be tested for the virus, given masks, monitored, and segregated in the mess hall—all to serve as props for one insatiable ego.
We respond to a challenging time in various ways. Businesses adapt, fresh connections are improvised, new charities spring up. A few blocks from me, Metropolitan AME Church, like many other houses of worship, has gone enthusiastically virtual with a range of programs.
As for that confrontation in the briefing room, it is notable that the president’s aide backed down. Secret Service agents are not a dictator’s thugs, as he may discover if he refuses to leave the White House on January 20. For now, he will resort to any destructive act and tell any lie in his growing fury, while the reporters he slanders and abuses labor on. Let them be our inspiration.
This is being done in the name of safety and fairness in sport for cisgender women and girls.
But the scientific evidence for excluding trans women and girls from sport on the basis this will maintain fairness for cisgender women and girls doesn’t exist, as Dr Vinny Chulani, director of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Adolescent Medicine Program, explained in an interview yesterday with them.
“This is a decision that is really not based on science,” said Chulani, an esteemed practitioner in the field of LGBT+ care.
“There are so many characteristics that contribute to excellence in sports. And the same attributes don’t always carry over from one sport to the next. You need different skills for golfing than you need for archery, basketball, soccer, or gymnastics.
“Plus, there’s not really any sound body of evidence that speaks to the advantage that testosterone confers. When you take a look at some of the studies that have been done on transgender females in terms of their athletic ability, it overlaps with the range that you would find in cisgender women.
Chulani added that there were huge misunderstandings about sex, gender and bodies among legislators and those advocating for the exclusion of trans women from sport.
“Bills like Idaho’s fail to recognise the diversity within the transgender female population.
“They also fail to understand the biology of puberty and where we are presently in terms of treatment, specifically with puberty blockers.
“Remember that when you take a look at pre-pubertal bodies, assigned male and assigned female bodies look a lot alike; it’s not until puberty that they go their different ways under the influence of sex steroids…
“Nowadays, if you have a patient in early puberty who was assigned male at birth and has gender distress or gender questions, we can use puberty blockers to suppress male puberty.
“They would not develop the traits that would theoretically afford them the advantage. Yet this child, under Idaho law, would still be excluded.”
Chulani went on to talk about what he sees as a huge problem with the bill – how to implement a law that will “force women to prove their womanhood”.
With the burden of proof on those accused of not being women, those who cannot afford blood tests or genital exams to offer up medical evidence to schools and colleges that they are female will not be able to play sports.
“The other thing that’s crazy about this is that it’s being applied to kids in K-12,” Chulani said.
“That means the rules for participating in K-12 sports will be more stringent than those governing the Olympics.”
Finally, Chulani said, it’s important not to lose sight of what this bill really is: part of a larger anti-trans movement.
“This law in Idaho has to be viewed in the context of the march that we are seeing in legislative houses across the country,” he said. “Let’s not be ignorant, right? This is part of a larger anti-transgender agenda.”
It’s a surprise to no one when the New York Times writes, “Tensions persist between Trump and medical advisors over coronavirus.” We already know our president is a moron and gets a failing grade for how he is handling the coronavirus crisis.
Trump talks about filling sports stadiums while thousands are dying from a virus we know is passed by close contact. We also know despite Trump’s total incompetence the United States will survive this pandemic. We will mourn the loss of lives caused by Trump’s failure to effectively address COVID-19. Despite his efforts to blame others — whether the Chinese for lying or the Democrats for impeaching him — the reality is he has failed us.
The LGBTQ community has seen a president put his head in the sand during a crisis before. The first cases of AIDS in the United States were seen in 1981 and the term AIDS was first used in 1982. President Ronald Reagan would not use it until 1985 and it was 1987 until he declared it “public enemy number one” in a speech to the College of Physicians.
Today we look at various timelines on what and when Trump did anything about COVID-19 and they all point to his refusal to act soon enough. PolitiFact details Trump’s response from the time we heard about the cases in China. Other timelines detail more of his activities in between responses when he spent his time golfing or holding mass political rallies where he insisted it was a Democratic hoax. No matter what timeline you look at, it’s clear Trump refused to deal with the pandemic. Still today he makes light of it while people are dying by the thousands claiming it will be like a ‘miracle’ when it suddenly ends. His responses can be explained by one thing: He is seeing his second term in office slip away from him.
We must be thankful some Democratic governors like Jay Inslee in Washington, Gavin Newsom in California, Andrew Cuomo in New York and Republican Larry Hogan in Maryland, among others, were willing to act on their own to try to save as many people in their states as possible. They called out the president but that is all they could do. Trump is still lying about the national stockpile of equipment and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the quintessential know-nothing, is making statements like, “It’s our stockpile” in response to governors’ requests for help with materials.
Some of the federal government’s failure to lead goes back to the days after Trump was elected in the surprising results of 2016. He never expected to be president and every day since has proven what an error the country made when it elected a failed businessman turned reality TV star. Many key positions in government remain unfilled or are filled with acting officials hampering response to the coronavirus. There was never a full transition of government after Trump fired all the Obama appointees as soon as he took office.
I agree with former President Bill Clinton who recently said, “I have always believed that our country’s strength is our people. We see that every day, in the heroic work of health care workers, first responders, and everyday people reaching out to lend each other a hand. The rest of us must take care of all the workers who are taking care of us and keeping our country going, and our families and loved ones, however we can.”
Americans as a whole are showing we can and will do that. Let’s not focus on the few who selfishly pretend this epidemic is not real or the rules for co-existence and shared responsibility for each other are not something they have to consider. Those few governors who still refuse to issue ‘stay at home’ orders or the outrageous pastors who are still asking their congregants to come to their churches. Thankfully they are in the minority and most of the rest of us will manage to survive them.
The fight for the Democratic nomination is now set: Joe Biden vs. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Contrary to Sanders’s view, it is not a fight over who is more progressive, rather it is a fight over big promises that might never be kept and a more rational progressive way to move us forward and recover from four years of chaos under Donald Trump.
The fight is also over which nominee will help down-ballot Democrats the most. Who can help the members of the House of Representatives in swing districts keep their seats? Who can help Democratic United States Senate candidates in purple states win their races to rid us of ‘Moscow Mitch?’ There are hundreds of bills passed by the current Democratic House waiting to be passed again, this time with a Senate that will also pass them and send them on to a Democratic president who will sign them into law. So the nominee must be the person who can best make that happen.
Both candidates are flawed yet both are better than the sexist, racist, homophobic pig in the White House. But from here through Milwaukee where Democrats choose their candidate let’s not continue to say “blue no matter who” and sit back on our hands. Instead let’s decide that yes blue but know who it is matters. Many including me don’t like that the two potential nominees are old white men. But then so is the president so we need to deal with it. One way to do that is have the nominee select a younger woman of color as a running mate.
It is amazing to me that young people so enthusiastically support a nearly 80-year-old white man who just had a heart attack on the campaign trail. They clearly believe his promises of free healthcare, free college, forgiving their college debt and in essence having government provide for all of them regardless of their own or their parent’s economic circumstance.
What they overlook is that Sanders won’t be able to do most of that even if elected president, as no president can wave a magic wand and get things done. Just look at the failures of Trump who was elected because he promised to open the coal mines, reopen factories, build a wall on our southern border and a host of other things he has not been able to do. His voters fell for his promises in the same way so many young people are falling for Sanders’s promises.
If the young people supporting Bernie would take a moment to look at his 30-year record in Congress they would know the word compromise is not in his vocabulary. That is not a positive trait and has resulted in his never being able to pass any major legislation. He has never introduced legislation to move forward equality for women, the LGBTQ community, African Americans or any minority.
Biden has made mistakes but has a record of moving us forward. He was wrong on Anita Hill and was wrong on the Iraq War. What he did right was be an early fighter for taking big money out of politics and climate control. He passed the Violence Against Women Act and took on the National Rifle Association, winning twice. First with passage of the Brady background check bill, and then with the passage of bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
So Super Tuesday is now history. We move forward with a two-man race: Biden vs. Sanders. So far, 38 percent of the delegates have been awarded and no one is near the 1,991 needed to become the nominee. Next we should see Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg, both with no chance of being the nominee, do the smart thing and drop out.