Slowly but surely, we’re winning the war against the gay “cure”

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New York bans gay conversion,  protects trans people

In the state of New York bills to ban therapists and other mental health providers from engaging in gay conversion therapy with minors and prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression passed the state Assembly and Senate.

The bill makes it a an act of professional misconduct for mental health providers to engage in any practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation of any individual under the age of 18, including “efforts to change behaviours, gender identity or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards individuals of the same sex.” Read more about the the ban of gay conversion on minors here and about the new protections for trans people here.

The long war against a gay “cure”

For most of human history, homosexuality has been condemned on three grounds: that it is a sin, a crime, and a sickness. Despite the emergence in recent decades of gay-affirming scriptural exegeses, many major religious denominations continue to regard homosexual acts, if not the homosexual inclination itself, as immoral. As to the second rationalization, only in 2003, with the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, was gay sex decriminalized across the United States, thereby lifting the menace of legal sanction that had long shadowed gay lives. And thirty years earlier, a similar liberation had taken place when the stigma of mental illness was officially disassociated from same-sex attraction.

For this latter advance in human understanding, we largely have Frank Kameny to thank. A Harvard-trained astronomer fired from his job in the Army Map Service in 1957 because of his sexual orientation, Kameny was the first person to challenge the federal government over its anti-gay discrimination policies. Understanding that the rationale for barring highly qualified homosexuals like him from public service rested not only upon the McCarthyite claim that they were liable to subversion, but also that they were mentally unfit, he took it upon himself to change the scientific consensus. Kameny’s most consequential insight as an activist was that it was not the homosexual who is sick, but rather the society that deems him so.

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The trans-rights activist who was decades ahead of his time

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The Trump administration continues its assault on transgender rights. In July 2017, Trump sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military. Then, this past October, The New York Times obtained a memo indicating that the administration was considering narrowly defining gender “as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.”

Anyone wishing to challenge their officially-assigned sex would have to have the matter resolved by genetic testing. Those opposed to recognizing gender identity sometimes call it a form of “radical gender ideology” or “political correctness” gone too far.

But recognition of transgender identity is no recent phenomenon: Some doctors acknowledged gender nonconforming people far earlier than most might realise. Perhaps the most important pioneer was German physician Magnus Hirschfeld, who was born 150 years ago, in 1868. As a historian of gender and sexuality in Germany, I’m struck by how he paved the way for the legal recognition of gender nonconforming people.

Magnus Hirschfeld

Magnus Hirschfeld, on the right, sits with his partner, Tao Li, at the fourth conference of the World League for Sexual Reform in 1932. 

In recent years, the medical and psychological professions have come to a consensus that sex assignment at birth is inadequate for understanding individuals’ sexual and gender identity – and that failure to recognise this fact can have a devastating impact.

Magnus Hirschfeld was the first doctor to openly research and advocate for people whose gender did not correspond with their sex assignment at birth. He’s often remembered today as an advocate of gay rights, and in the early 20th century, his activism played a major role in nearly overturning Germany’s law criminalising male same-sex relations.

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Historical Hotties *1

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Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891), often dubbed “the boy poet”,  offended writer Charles Clos by using his poems as toilet paper, is said to have masturbated into the drink of pianist Ernest Cabaner, & enjoyed spoiling poetry readings by shouting ‘SHIT’ at the end of every line.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Arthur Rimbaud in the film Total Eclipse in a scene with fellow poet and lover Paul Verlaine (David Thewlis)

Lauded as one of the greatest French poets in history, Rimbaud has inspired many generations of poets. He also wrote the bulk of his poetry in his teens and gave up on writing altogether at 21, after finishing one of his most revered pieces, Illuminations. 

His love affair with Paul Verlaine, was marked as turbulent, to say the least. Their relationship ended rather violently, with Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in the wrist with a revolver in Bruxelles.

 

Rainbow Arcade: the history of queer gaming 1985-2018

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Schwules Museum, a well-known queer museum in Berlin, Germany, has launched an exhibition titled Rainbow Arcade. It explores the rich history of queer themes and characters in video games since 1985.

The exhibition leads its visitors through different sections highlighted in different colours. The exhibit covers more than 30 years of queer content in games through fan art, memorabilia and video interviews with designers. The last part of the rainbow tour also presents several playable contemporary LGBTI titles.

The exhibition was curated by Adrienne Shaw with Jan Schnorrenberg from the Schwules Museum and German gaming journalist Sarah Rudolph. Shaw was also responsible for the rediscovery of 1989 explicitly queer game Caper in the Castro, by developer CM Ralph. The game takes place in San Francisco and the protagonist is a lesbian detective, Tracker McDyke. She will need to solve the disappearance of her friend and drag queen Tessy LaFemme.

Moreover, Shaw created the LGTBQ Video Game Archive website in 2016, the first attempt to catalogue queer content in games. “Until the archive, there just wasn’t a historical understanding of LGBTI content in this medium,” she told The Guardian. “It makes it really easy to forget that this kind of content has always been in games.”

According to their website, “the exhibition will be taking stock of contemporary pop cultural questions of representation, stereotypical and discriminatory narratives in entertainment media, and our cultural memory.” This will also be the first time a museum will show the research by the LGBTQ Game Archive.

“Rainbow Arcade is special because it explores the intersection of queer history and game history, two distinct areas of contemporary culture that have been neglected and underestimated for a long time and therefore haven’t been archived really well,” explains Schnorrenberg. “It is actually one of the very first sociopolitical video game exhibitions ever and many video games and designers that we are featuring have never been shown in a museum before.”

The art of Pierre Joubert

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Pierre Joubert (June 27, 1910 – January 13, 2002), was a famous French illustrator. He was closely associated with the creation of Scouting and could be called the father of the idolised image of the boy scout in France and Belgium.

He illustrated dozens of books and magazines with images of scouts and other boys in adventurous and escapist settings, shaping the daydreams of generations of teens.

William Beckford

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Few men attained greater celebrity during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries than William Beckford (1760—1844), the wealthiest man in England.

With enormous wealth as his Aladdin’s lamp, he decided to make his Arabian dreams come true. By the time he died at the venerable age of 84, he had built the loftiest domestic residence in the world, had assembled a virtual harem of boys, had his own militia to protect his Fonthill estate of 6,000 acres, had written the first Oriental-Gothic horror novel in English literature, and had become the most scandalous connoisseur of hedonism in the modern world. His society bemusedly tolerated most eccentrics — even nouveau riche ones — but they chose to ostracize this remarkable personality, dubbing him “The Fool of Fonthill.”

Beckford’s father, twice Lord Mayor of London, was the richest man in England, with extensive holdings in the cloth industry, property, government bonds, and sugar plantations. As a result, Beckford received a brilliant education, and was widely learned in French, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, philosophy, law, literature and physics by the age of 17.

His private piano teacher was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — at least that is the legend, too romantic to be discouraged. He was being brought up as an empire builder, but his father died when Beckford was only ten, leaving him with no political ambition, and a millionaire’s taste for pleasure

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Matthew Shepard died twenty years ago but his legacy lives on

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Twenty years ago, on October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was assaulted and then left for dead in a vicious hate crime that transformed the way America thinks about the abuse endured by queer people. After the devastating crime Matthew’s family worked tirelessly to create a legacy of safety and acceptance, pushing for a hate crime bill that took a decade to pass — and that could now be undone by the Republican party.

Matthew was studying politics and language in Laramie, Wyoming, when he met the two men who would eventually murder him. They offered Matthew a ride home after becoming acquainted at a bar. But on their car ride, they stopped to beat and torture him before tying him to a fence where he was left to die. A description of the crime scene detailed Matthew’s face completely covered in blood except for the streaks left by his tears.

The killers didn’t get far. That same night, they got into a fight with a group of people and police were called, quickly finding evidence of the assault. Meanwhile, Matthew was found by a cyclist passing by the fence early in the morning. He was still alive, and was brought to a trauma centre in Colorado. There, he was found to have suffered extensive brain injuries, leaving his body unable to regulate his heart. He passed away a week later on October 12.

In their defence, the killers’ attorney claimed they were driven into a murderous rage after learning that Matthew was gay. This is the so-called “gay panic” defence, by which the perpetrators of violence seek to defend their actions by claiming they’re unable to control themselves in the presence of queer people. Such defences are still employed by people in the U.S., even to this day.

The country was horrified by the violent killing, but also galvanised to action. After enduring the loss of their child, Matthew’s parents formed a foundation to advocate for an end to violence as well as services to ensure the safety of queer youth. Friends and family pushed hard for new hate crime laws, but faced intense resistance from Republicans who sought to protect anti-gay violence. State and federal Republicans did everything in their power to block hate crime laws from taking effect.

It took a decade of hard work, but finally, in 2009, Democrats were able to push through the roadblocks and pass The Matthew Shepard Act in 2009. The bill expands hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

But many Republicans still oppose protections for queer people, and the law could be undermined by determined anti-LGBTQ extremists. In particular, Donald Trump‘s pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, has been tied to efforts to undo progress. Kavanaugh worked in the Bush White House at a time when the administration was doing everything in its power to sabotage hate crime laws. Now that he was appointed to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh might find a way to roll back what protections we now have. The work of honouring Matthew Shepard’s legacy is still not finished.

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Gay Life flourished in Berlin before the Nazis snuffed it out

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Last year, close to 13 million people visited Berlin, twice the number of annual visitors recorded 10 years previously. The city is positively bursting at the seams. Not many years ago, a vast number of Berlin apartments stood empty; these days, a pervasive housing shortage threatens to get worse. Berlin is in. But Berlin is also a projection surface for dreams and desires, a promise of a different, freer, better life.

Now, this Berlin enthusiasm is nothing new. Close to a century ago – as the Weimar Republic was nearing its end – Berlin was already a vibrant metropolis the likes of which could not be found anywhere else in the world.

“The city looks to me like a scintillating gem,” the American dancer and singer Josephine Baker observed.  “These big coffee shops are like ocean steamers, and the orchestras are their machines that resound all over the place, keeping it in motion. The music is everywhere.”

Visitors both German and foreign, such as the two English writers W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, felt almost magically attracted by Berlin – by the city’s great size, by its rhythm, but most of all by its gay scene. “Berlin,” Auden remarked, “is a dream for pederasts.” And Isherwood, years afterward, expressed the city’s fascination most succinctly: “To Christopher,” he wrote, “Berlin meant boys.” Everything seemed possible; everything was possible.

As the capital city of the German Empire (the Second Reich, dissolved in 1919), Berlin was already the home of a multibranched, many-sided queer subculture. In the 1920s, Berlin could offer more than a hundred cafés, bars, and taverns that were mainly frequented by queer people of all stripes.

The writer Emil Szittya remembered a visit to a transvestite bar named “Mikado”: “At the piano sat the Herr Baron Sattlergrün, who however preferred to be called ‘Baroness.’” Another legendary spot was Silhouette, a small, permanently smoke-filled pub that did a thriving business well into the wee hours of the morning. While the guests ate chicken soup, a pale young man, wearing woman’s clothes and accompanied by a blind pianist, would sing melancholy songs; Marlene Dietrich and the composer Friedrich Hollaender were two of Silhouette’s regular customers.

In the evening hours, certain parts of the Tiergarten (the large park in the middle of the city) were turned into gay playgrounds; moreover, there were veritable gay brothels, camouflaged as bathhouses or massage parlors, where men could meet and have sex.

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