Mixed State of the Queer World

I went for a check-up last week, and when the doc asked, “What’s new?” I blurted out, “It’s the End of Days. That’s what’s new.” Then I grinned so he wouldn’t haul me off to Bellevue. I hadn’t seen him since before the election when he told me there was no way Trump would win.

Now, we have straight up Nazis in the very White House, daily earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, islands in the Caribbean destroyed beyond belief. Narrow shaves on Obamacare. And I’m in the middle of my own middle-aged dyke job search, which is going demoralizingly, and terrifyingly, slow.

I am premature in my despair. Here in New York anyway, we’ve kept our feet dry during this hurricane season. The mayor and the governor speak out for immigrants and promise to keep providing health care for struggling New Yorkers. The Planned Parenthood nearby does get demonstrators, but abortions are still available and safe. Queers can get married under both federal and state law. And there is a reasonable amount of protections for us.


New York City even has a department that investigates civil rights violations, especially important now that the Supreme Court will be confronted by the Trump administration view that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (barring job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) doesn’t protect queer workers.

And here we can go to the several Trump Towers and protest in relative security, while in St. Louis, cops shout, “Who’s streets, our streets,” arresting protesters as violently as possible. If I walk down the street here, I may occasionally get harassed as a queer by other private citizens, but not by the cops or security enforcing the will of a government that hates my guts. At least not yet.

There’s a special kind of terror for queers who don’t just experience a violent discrimination, but whose very existence has been declared illegal. The BBC reported a couple of weeks ago, that in Tanzania, where gay male sex is a crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison, 20 people were arrested and charged for alleged homosexuality. Their crime: sitting in a hotel to receive training about HIV/ AIDS. Earlier this year, the government made HIV/ AIDS services illegal even in private health clinics because, they claimed, even talking about AIDS promotes gay sex.

In Baku, Azerbaijan, where homo sex is theoretically legal, the cops recently used the excuse of an anti-prostitution campaign to beat, humiliate, even arrest at least 100 gay men and trans women, not only grabbing them in public spaces, but in their homes. According to the Advocate, “Victims report they have been subject to verbal abuse, beatings, and forced medical examinations. (In addition, trans women’s heads have been forcibly shaved.) Many were only allowed to leave after providing names and addresses of other LGBT people.”

An anti-gay purge continues in Chechnya, as well, targeting gay and bi men using dating aps, in which victims expect to meet a hook-up, but find cops and security forces who stick a bag on their head and drag them off to be interrogated and tortured. And when they’ve given up a bunch of names, are outed to their families, which often respond with violence. This according to Kimahli Powell, head of the Rainbow Railroad, which has been working with the Canadian government to get them to safety. Canada has declared that Chechen queers qualify as refugees.

Plenty of Americans sympathize — with the Chechen regime. While our federal government doesn’t yet have the power to strip us entirely of civil rights, Trump and his henchmen continue to attack basic freedoms. And the hateful language of our bigot-in-chief is echoed everywhere from the New York City subways to Olathe, Kansas.

Participating in a football homecoming parade there, members of a Gay-Straight Alliance were taunted by classmates throwing things at them, and chanting, “Make America straight again,” along with an assortment of slurs, insults, and encouragements to go kill themselves. The school district denounced the behavior, but some students in the group were so shaken they didn’t return to school the next day.

There have been a few queer bright spots, too. In Hong Kong, an appeals court just ruled — unanimously — that a British lesbian whose partner works in the city should be granted a spousal visa, because the government had not proved the necessity of “indirect discrimination on account of sexual orientation.”

In the US, Lena Waithe became the first black woman to pick up an Emmy for comedy writing for an episode of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” drawing on her own story as an out lesbian.

And lastly, the brand Lululemon is aiming to move beyond skinny white girl territory by adding a menswear collection. The company is launching it with a campaign called “Strength to Be” that features the likes of out gay Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz and queer hip-hop artist Zebra Katz. Nice.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.