The UN is Finally Taking on Cultural Appropriation


Indigenous advocates have been calling for a ban on the cultural appropriation of their cultures for years—and now the United Nations is finally taking note.

via Take Part

Last week, a UN specialized international committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) convened in Geneva to work on three pieces of international law that will protect indigenous cultures from being misappropriated. The committee, officially known as Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) has been calling for these sanctions for 16 years.

Delegates from 189 countries spent last week going through three draft documents of the legislation, which would expand property regulations to include cultural aspects like language, traditional knowledge and designs as indigenous intellectual property. This expansion would protect indigenous cultures from misappropriation and exploitation by outside parties, especially corporations that use ideas, expressions and designs from these cultures to sell products.

It’s no secret that cultural appropriation, intentional or not, has become commonplace in many different sectors—from the Bon Appétit video of a white chef demonstrating the “right” way to eat the Vietnamese dish pho to the widespread adornment of bindis and headdresses at music festivals. In recent years, celebrities, events and brands have been coming under close scrutiny for their misappropriation of other cultures. Just earlier this month, Katy Perry apologized for former instances of cultural appropriation on activist Deray McKesson’s “Pod Save the People.”

Oftentimes, women of color are most blatantly targeted by appropriative trends. Although some schools have banned cornrows, non-black celebrities like Katy Perry and Kylie Jenner wear them as “trendy.” Bindis, which are important cultural symbols for South Asian women, have become typical accessories at Coachella sets. The rampant sexualization and exotification of women of color has become a cultural staple through cultural appropriation. Images of “exotic” foreign women perpetuated by the media resurface in the forms of Halloween costumes and short-lived fashion trends.

James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado—who was commissioned by the specialized committee in 2014—recalled the Urban Outfitter’s Navajo line as a specific example of the cultural appropriation the new laws aim to address. The Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for its illegal use of the tribe’s name for the 2012 clothing line, which featured items like flasks and women’s underwear, though the case was ultimately settled out of court. The company’s use of the Navajo name for financial profit, Anaya argued, illustrates the need for legal consequences to this non-consensual appropriation.

Although previously slow progress on the three drafts of international law has been sped up by the committee’s convening in Geneva, indigenous advocates remain concerned about how little indigenous voices are actually included in these discussions. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Company, many indigenous groups do not even know about the forthcoming legislation, as few are included in the deliberations of their member states.

While increasing indigenous representation will be necessary for these new laws to come to fruition, the convening of last week’s committee served as an important measure in preventing more harmful instances of appropriation. Cultural appropriation not only exploits the complex histories of other cultures for commercial profit, but it also too often perpetuates the exotification and commodification of the women who belong to those cultures.

Developing and enforcing international laws to counter the misappropriation of indigenous cultures will be a crucial step in a larger effort to protect those whose cultures are appropriated in similar ways—including the women whose rich histories and identities are unfairly flattened in the process.

Maddie Kim is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a sophomore at Stanford University, where she studies English and creative writing. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Norman Mailer Center, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada Review and Adroit Prizes. She is a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. When she’s not writing, she likes tap dancing and taking blurry photos of her dogs. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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Listening to Learn: Becoming Allies with Muslim Women


A few weeks after the election of Donald Trump, 75 community members signed up for a listening event in East Williamsburg. Most of them had never met before. They greeted each other and quietly took their seats as Muslim women were given microphones. For two hours of uninterrupted time, the speakers shared about their lives, their faith, the challenges they face and ways everyone in the room could be allies.

Photo courtesy of The Ripple / Kennedy Carroll

 

The event was the first of a new series put on by The Ripple, a feminist collective designed to elevate diverse voices, in partnership with New Women Space in Brooklyn, a mixed use venue designed to create lasting community impact through in-person gatherings. “When Muslim Women’s issues are discussed [on television]—or Trans Women’s issues, or Native Women’s issues—the marginalized group is almost never present,” says The Ripple Co-Founder Dana Suchow. “We want to give women a platform to stand on while we hold the mic for them.”

Daisy Khan, the Founder of WISE (Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality) was among the first to share. Originally an architect, Daisy led design and construction projects in several locations, including an office in the twin towers prior to 9/11. “I was very familiar with the 106th floor of that building,” she said. “It was the neighborhood where I worked and worshiped. Our city was attacked by people who professed to share my faith.”

Photo courtesy of The Ripple / Kennedy Carroll

Many of the speakers said that 9/11 changed the way they moved through the United States. That they woke up to a world where being Muslim came with the expectation to be ambassadors for their faith and to explain it to others. “The media created a caricature of a world religion,” said Daisy, who is also the wife of an Imam. “One misconception is that people think Muslim women have to abandon their faith in order to speak their rights. My faith informs my work and inspires me to advance human rights.”

Laila Alawa, the founder of a tech and media company called The Tempest, spoke about the discrimination she’s faced in her daily life. “Just the other day I was standing at a counter waiting for my coffee, and a woman came up and questioned my background,” she told the group. “She made assumptions about who I was, where I was coming from, why I wore my headscarf. I’ve had incidents happen in jobs, on the train and on the bus. People around me just watched or pretended they were busy.”

When asked if the election of Donald Trump had elevated tensions, Shireen Soliman, a professor at the Pratt Institute took the mic. “I think that a fear of Muslims in general has existed and is now surfacing,” she asserted. “Somehow [this election] has made people feel that they have permission to speak openly about it.”

Photo courtesy of The Ripple / Kennedy Carroll

Shireen attended the event with her 15-year-old daughter, who proudly snapped pictures of her mother speaking to the group. “What do I want for my daughter in the era of Trump?” Shireen wondered. “I want her safety. The truth can be dangerous. The injustices can wear one down. The act of being oneself can leave one weary. I want for her to learn self-care, self-affirmation and preservation. I dream that she will see in her lifetime profound social change and will be able to be her fullest, most authentic expression of herself. I wish that for her and for all our children.”

The conversation turned to the question of how community members could show up. Laila had a few ideas. “It’s easy to say: Hey, I’m an ally!but what does that mean in the real world? Are you stepping in on conversations when friends or family are expressing bigoted or unjust positions? Are you putting yourself in a place where you fact check or correct them? Change happens within social circles.”

The speakers were happy to share their ideas but reminded everyone that while they can offer a few individual perspectives, their voices do not represent an entire group. As the afternoon continued, there was repeated concern voiced against the President’s push toward a Muslim Ban. There was also an emphasis on the role women can play building bridges. “Women need to be at the forefront of breaking down barriers and get on with the business at hand,” said Aisha al-Adawiya, the Founder of Women in Islam. “As women, I think that we are qualified to step into that role. Women have a uniqueness. It’s not about domination and control.”

Photo courtesy of The Ripple / Kennedy Carroll

The event ended with a few minutes of breakout groups where attendees were invited to think through their take-aways. Many wanted to create more listening parties and felt that in-person gatherings would be a priority in the months to come. The speakers agreed that they would love to attend events like this for other groups, such as The Ripple’s upcoming listening night with Trans Women.

“I think that talks like this are valuable and something we need to replicate on a national level,” said Aisha. “In too many instances we’ve lost human connection; that ability to meet people in a space. I love social media but there is no substitute for personal contact and interaction.”

Emily Sernaker
Emily Sernaker is a writer and activist. She holds a MSc in Equality Studies from University College Dublin and currently studies Creative Writing at Pacific University. She lives in New York. 

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Fighting for Black Girlhood


A new study reveals that American adults think black girls are less innocent than white girls, among a slew of other biases differentiating black girls from their white counterparts. While the study is the first in its kind to center on black girls, it confirms a disturbing national trend of characterizing black girls as adult-like and therefore held to a different standard from their white peers, which the study has termed the “adultification” of black girls.

U.S. Air Force photo by Jerry Saslav

The study—“Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood”—was released by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality earlier this week. For the study, 325 adults from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds were asked to complete a questionnaire that was meant to measure their perceptions of either black girls or white girls. Authors Rebecca Epstein, Jamilia J. Blake and Thalia González then used a scale of child innocence adapted from a 2014 Phillip Goff study on perceptions of black boys to find that adults carry a significant amount of biases toward black girls. A majority of the participants were white—74 percent—and female—62 percent—and 69 percent had an advanced degree.

The scope of the survey’s results are broad and troubling. The report reveals not only that black girls seem older than white girls of the same age to adults, but also that respondents believe that black girls need less nurturing, less protection, less support and less comfort than white girls. Additionally, adults see black girls as more independent than white girls, and more mature—black girls were viewed as knowing more about adult topics and sex than white girls. The most significant differences in opinions toward black and white girls spanned from the ages of five to fourteen.

This long string of biases confirms the well-established fact that black girls are disciplined differentlymeaning more harshly—than their white counterparts. The study links these views to statistics on the high rates at which black girls are disciplined: black girls are five times as likely to be suspended as white girls, and twice as likely as white boys; they are 3.7 times as likely to be referred to juvenile justice and 1.2 times as likely to be detained than white girls, and prosecutors dismiss white girls’ cases much more often than those of black girls. Although black girls only account for 16 percent of girls at school, they comprise 28 percent of referrals and 37 percent of arrests.

While a 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that black girls are suspended more than girls of any other race and most boys, it did not expand on the causes for these high rates of suspension. “Girlhood Interrupted” fills the gaps and says what has not before been officially acknowledged: prejudice and stereotype harbored against black girls causes them to be treated more harshly. The views that black girls are less innocent and older than their peers enable educators and school-based police officers to believe that black girls should be held more culpable for their actions for the same behaviors in which their white counterparts engage.

The biases against black girls that begin at such young ages can also reflect black women’s reproductive justice and the erasure of black women’s experiences. “These findings show that pervasive stereotypes of black women as hypersexualized and combative are reaching into our schools and playgrounds and helping rob black girls of the protections other children enjoy,” said Blake. Views of black girls as in need of less nurturing and comforting than their peers echoes in the lack of attention placed on mothers whose children are killed by police. Views of black girls as needing less protection perhaps reflects itself in the lack of coverage of police brutality against black women in the media. While links between police brutality, reproductive justice and violence against black women are clear, black women’s experiences often go unnoticed or erased by the media, and this study illustrates just how deeply this erasure stems.

This erasure of girlhood, rooted in racist stereotypes, led the authors to call for change. They suggest that further studies be conducted on the adultification of black girls, and that educators and law enforcement officials be trained on this adultification to be able to identify and counter their own biases.

It’s time to recognize the effects of these harmful biases against black girls and to work toward eliminating them—in our schools, in our justice system and in our society. We must fight for black girlhood and for black girls.

Maddie Kim is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a sophomore at Stanford University, where she studies English and creative writing. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Norman Mailer Center, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada Review and Adroit Prizes. She is a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. When she’s not writing, she likes tap dancing and taking blurry photos of her dogs. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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Can an Exiled Lesbian Exist?


What does it mean to be an exiled lesbian? Exile is usually seen as expulsion from one’s country for political reasons. To me, however, it is more complicated than that.

Since citizenship is based on the relationship between the State and the individual who is essentially seen as a man in male-chauvinistic societies, a female lesbian is never perceived as a full citizen in her country. Hence, physical exile turns the lesbian from being less than half a citizen in her familiar milieu to becoming stigmatized as a “refugee” or a non-citizen, stripped of self-esteem and worth in the world. The question raised by Hannah Ardent was: how can the displaced realize dignity and human belonging in tangible political terms in a world where rights and liberties are attached to citizenship? And my question is: how can an exiled lesbian become a citizen anywhere?

Many years ago, I was a University professor in Syria, defending my personal rights and freedom of expression. I had to be interrogated about my motives behind teaching Sylvia Plath and lesbian poems in my course on American Poetry. I was subjected to a ‘tight siege’ that included several disciplinary practices, discriminatory restrictions on my freedom of movement and costly, material punitive measures. So, I ended up becoming a refugee in my home. Writing was my only means of salvation, existence and resistance.

In a hetero-sexist system that treats every single girl as a potential heterosexual woman, self-assertion becomes an exhausting journey that has no foreseen destination. When I was still a University student, a classmate shouted at me angrily, “Why don’t you get married?” I proudly said, “I am a lesbian.” He responded, “So what? You can marry a man.” Such a disturbing argument used to be repeated in different ways with various members of the society. The more I openly asserted my lesbian identity, the more I was denied and persecuted.

Though I was an outlaw to the system and an outcast to society, I somehow liked my solitary life in my flat. I did my best to enjoy my self-exile, but I couldn’t escape harassment and intimidation. I was the only resident in my building, but I was never left alone without surveillance. After I painted the front door of the building blue, a new neighbor emerged to re-paint it in a brown color. He never lived in the building; he simply forced his point and vanished afterwards. I had no freedom to make any change in my surroundings, even when it came to choosing the color of my door.

Despite annoyances, I didn’t wish to leave my home. Perhaps I got used to my difficult situations in it, so I found it safer to stay in the insecurity of the known than to move to the insecurity of the unknown. I couldn’t see my position in the world till I was stuck abroad unable to go back home and unable to build a new home somewhere else. I left my country on the assumption that I will soon return to my self-exile in it. I had to travel to many cities and in each country, I had to confront new ways of looking and new systems of control. Coming out of my internal exile in my country to an external exile in other countries, I somehow became more free to move in a bigger box, but I also became more dis-empowered and marginalized without citizenship rights.

The relationship between the exiled person and one’s country and the host country is complex. Exile is not only a bodily consuming experience; it is a mind-draining one. Starting anew anywhere and leaving the memories of the past behind is almost impossible. One has to establish a support system which usually takes a lifetime. Besides, the relationship between the exiled and any new system is like the relationship between the guest, and the host or the owner of the house. There will always be a sense of insecurity, instability and subordination on the part of the displaced guest, and a sort of superiority, suspicion, caution and expectation of gratitude for the philanthropic hospitality on the part of the host. It takes a lot of courage, intelligence and self-esteem on the part of the displaced guest to liberate the self from the hegemony of the host.

In organizations that promote the rights of the exiled LGBT groups, lesbians tend to be invisible. When I was a Post-doctoral researcher in The Netherlands, I noticed that many displaced gay men had not enough respect for lesbians, and they shared the same chauvinistic attitudes of many heterosexual men. Most organizations focused on Gay Parade and on holding the rainbow flags as a sign of gay liberation, disregarding the fact that most exiled groups rarely understood its meaning. Despite the importance of the Gay Day, it does not provide the most vulnerable groups with the power to create their own tools of existence and their means of resistance. What a displaced lesbian needs is to make everyday in life a Pride Day.

Though most EU laws support LGBT rights, European societies are still conservative and conventional in their attitudes towards gays and lesbians. Even in gay-friendly countries, a lesbian can face denial. My interpretation of the Swedish poet Karin Boye as being lesbian was firmly rejected by some Swedish men who strongly believed that “there are no lesbians,” disregarding my clear and loud assertion of my lesbian identity. Nevertheless, my presence was unseen and my voice was unheard.

In my childhood, I told my parents, “When I grow up, I want to marry a woman.” My father laughed and my mother said, “Live your life as you wish.” I knew then that my homeland is in a woman’s heart and in the zones of the female body, not within the borders of a particular land. Deep down, I hear the echo of my mother’s cherished saying, “East or West, home is best.” But, when homes and countries are turned into prisons and borders, it becomes harder for an exiled free soul to belong anywhere.

More than half a century ago, Virginia Woolf wrote, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” I can now add: “As a lesbian, my country is nowhere in a controlled and prejudiced world, but elsewhere in a free and tolerant world.”

This post originally appeared in Expressen.  

Iman Al-Ghafari is a poet, doctor of literature and refugee author in Sigtuna.

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The Horror Moves West


The sordid spectacle of Donald Trump’s first State of the Union brought to mind Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s withering attack on the smugness of western countries whose veneer of civilization masks unacknowledged depths of savagery and barbarism.

Subterranean currents of authoritarianism, tribal violence and open bigotry are now ascendant in America and western Europe—societies that flatter themselves as being immune to such dark impulses by virtue of their cultures and institutions. The foundation of liberal democracy appears to be much more threadbare than we thought, and it would be unwise to delude ourselves into believing that fascist dictatorship is something that only happens in other times and places. The heart of darkness, “the horror, the horror” of which Conrad warned, lies not in some distant jungle—but right here, in our midst.

Liz Lemon / Creative Commons

As a transgender woman, I believe that certain signs of danger are more visible to me than to most people. Authoritarian regimes rarely display the outward trappings that the imagination ascribes to them, and for most people living under them, not much changes as democracy recedes. However, for those belonging to certain groups—people of color, women, activists, journalists—the upheaval is far more pronounced. Transgender people, especially women, are among the first individuals to experience expressive and physical violence when the norms of civil behavior disappear, as well as being barometric victims of the sacrifice of science and truth over irrational and fear-driven lies. Fascist elements often single us out, along with the rest of the queer community, as their first target. In many ways, we are the canary in the coal mine—and I sense the air is becoming noxious.

The current revival of populism, parochialism and authoritarianism that the West is experiencing is tearing away at the delicate fabric of civil society and the unwritten rules of democracy. The ascension to power of a right-wing populist demagogue to the presidency is a big nail in the coffin of western democracies.

The reign of Vladimir Putin, greatly admired by right-wing leaders in both America and Europe, provides significant clues as to what lies ahead. Putin’s repressive instincts have been evident since he first became president in 1999. The politically motivated arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once considered one of the wealthiest men in Russia, was an early signal of Putin’s merciless approach to opponents. Khodorkovsky had been an outspoken critic of the corruption endemic in the Russian government and he provided substantial financial backing to progressive political parties opposed to the regime. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and there was international pressure to address the lack of due process, but he was sentenced and imprisoned until his pardon by Putin in 2013 on the condition that he would promise to avoid politics.

For years, the impunity with which the Kremlin stifled dissent while wreaking economic havoc and violating human rights was something to behold. Opponents were jailed or murdered, cronies of the power elite were recruited into an expanding kleptocracy and Putin’s power became steadily more entrenched. Today, critics are afraid to speak out against him, the state-owned media has a monopoly on communications and he has successfully created a self-sustaining aura of invincibility. This degree of monocratic power would be impossible in a society possessed of a free press, fair elections, an independent judiciary and other elements of a democratic society. All of those democratic pillars are the focus of a despot’s destructive machinery, and Putin eliminated them with ruthless efficiency.

Putin’s exploitation of LGBT vulnerability went beyond serving to distract the public from his corruption and mismanagement, and was a chief constituent of his war plan against the fledgling post-Soviet democracy. The crippling attacks on Russia’s queer community include legislation passed in 2013 effectively banning LGBT individuals from public life, and these were calculated tactics to weaken civil society, solidifying oppression while supplanting truth and fact with fear and hysteria. Human Rights Watch issued documented the rise in vigilante homophobic and transphobic violence coinciding with the passage of that law, finding that “most people who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that this [violence] intensified in 2013.”

Anti-LGBT vitriol is central to the cult of strongman hyper-masculinity to which tyrants frequently appeal. Putin has invested much into cementing this image, coupling gratuitously cruel anti-LGBT laws with extralegal brutality and mob violence involving legions of young men who idolize the violent power of the manly autocrat. A common instrument to buttress a man’s masculinity is to openly defile women and “sissy” culture, of which transgender womanhood is considered the apotheosis.

I recall, shortly after reading about the new indignities being legislatively inflicted on queer Russians, coming across a YouTube video of a transgender woman being assaulted and viciously beaten in a Moscow park. According to HRW’s License to Harm report on the 2013 law and anti-LGBT violence in Russia, “hundreds of such videos have been posted online” of kidnappings and violent humiliation of queer adults and teenagers by networks of “radical nationalist men.”

The report details that “such encounters have often involved perpetrators pouring urine over their victims and in some cases forcing them to drink it… they hit their victims with dildos… and/or sprayed them with construction foam in the genital area,” and it concludes that “victims face insurmountable obstacles seeking justice,” resulting in “widespread impunity for homophobic crimes.”

This is Putin’s Russia, and the disturbing trends we are witnessing indicate that it may be Trump’s vision of America.

The principal outcome of attacking a stigmatized group—whether it is gay people, trans people or ethnic and racial minorities—is that the social psyche starts to normalize such actions. Invisible constraints begin to fray, opening the way for authoritarian rule. As with Jews in Nazi Germany, it is often convenient for the regime to select the group that is most despised by society, and hence most easy to dehumanize. Queer people and particularly transgender women happen to be that group in many parts of the world today.

Transgender women are widely considered sexual deviants or mentally ill, and acutely socially isolated. A high number of people, even in Western nations, regard transgender women as a blight on society deserving of abuse and violence, and even higher numbers of people are ignorant, fearful and uncomfortable with trans identity. A 2015 Williams Institute paper by Andrew Flores cites that only 11 percent of Americans are estimated to know a transgender person, compared to 58 percent who know someone who is gay or lesbian.

All these factors combined render trans women easy targets for abuse and expressive violence. Trans women, and especially trans women of color, are killed at epidemic rates—in numbers steadily rising year by year. I have personally received violent threats for asserting my right to use women’s restrooms; death threats were made towards nine-year-old transgender girl Avery Jackson and her family for appearing on National Geographic’s January 2017 cover. Feminists have also frequently been targeted with threats of violence, rape, and murder for defying the patriarchal norms of society—as we have seen, among other examples, in the sexist harassment campaign against female game developers called GamerGate.

Challenging rigidly hierarchical and exclusively binary gender-sex norms provokes violent retribution from an apparently vast reservoir of latent misogyny simmering beneath our sociocultural terrain—and autocrats are richly rewarded when they tap into it. Perhaps for that reason, misogyny has long been a feature of populist strongmen such as Putin and Trump, and the power they grant male chauvinism by virtue of their public contempt and exploitation of women augments their popularity. The maligned traits of compassion and compromise ascribed to the feminine are amputated from the body politic and replaced with socially heralded muscular repression applauded when coming from male leaders. There are few ways to curry favor among the public that are as effective as exploiting the inherent misogyny in our societies and projecting hyper-masculinity while lambasting the feminine.

Men like Donald Trump benefit from assaults on civility in which norms of common decency and respect for others are dismissed as “political correctness.” They assert that offensive behavior toward racial, religious and sexual minorities, as well as women, is just a form of self-defense against the true threats to the white man.

In a New York Times op-ed, Donald Moynihan delves into these troubling double standards:

Steve Nass, a state senator from Whitewater, has urged university leaders not to give way to ‘the political correctness crowd demanding safe spaces, safe words, universal apologies for hurt feelings, and speech/thought police’… But last July, Senator Nass also sent a letter to university leaders to complain about an “offensive” essay assignment on gay men’s sexual preferences. A few days ago he said that a university program that explored masculinity “declares war on men” after asking, “Will we have the courage to reform the U.W. system in the 2017-19 biennial budget?” Is Senator Nass not demanding a ‘safe-space’ from queer literature and threatening budget cuts if he does not get it?

Such demagoguery is not restricted to this incident, or to Wisconsin, or even to Russia. There is substantial pressure nationwide from Republican politicians on professors who teach courses on homosexuality, gender and race. Anti-political correctness advocates have been exceptionally successful in flipping the first amendment on its head by using it as a justification for expressive violence which silences and erases the very minority voices that free speech protections were meant to defend. This in turn opens the door for socially sanctioned—even encouraged—brutalization and oppression of other vulnerable groups and keeps them in a state of fear. Marginal groups provide authoritarian regimes with readily available scapegoats whenever needed to distract the public from their incompetence and misdeeds.

Transgender people are especially vulnerable in this regard, being a small and beleaguered minority facing multiple lines of attack from politically established opponents and culturally dominant forces. Conservatives declare expressions of trans and genderqueer identity as unsuitable for public spaces, workplaces and schools, essentially demanding an extreme form of censorship—but when trans people counter misinformation and offensive remarks targeting us or ask to be addressed with appropriate pronouns, we are labeled as the “politically correct thought police.”

Donald Trump was immensely effective in obliterating the importance of ethics, facts and truth throughout his campaign and first year in office. In his success in doing so, he is consolidating power in a context and framework where he is well-poised to wreak havoc on both written and assumed laws and codes of conduct and demolish the institutions in free societies that essentially rely on public trust and confidence. “Truth” for a frighteningly large number of Americans is coming to mean whatever Trump tweets, regardless of verifiable and copious evidence to the contrary. No one should underestimate the violence American journalists, academics and civil society will continue to face under Trump.

Ten years ago, hired assassins murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya on Vladimir Putin’s birthday, presumably as a gift to the autocrat. Though I was far from the elevator in the block of flats in Moscow where she was found dead with multiple point-blank shots including one in her chest, her murder consumed me with sorrow. Over the years, her courageous and incisive writing had marked me, and she was one of the lone voices from within Russia that brought attention to the atrocities that were visited upon a small ethnic group by one of the world’s most formidable armies.

Anna Politkovskaya exposed Russia as it gained international credibility and was being invited to the table as a key player in the global economy. She embarrassed its leaders by showing the world that its soldiers in Chechnya were engaged in mass murder, torture and rapes. Her murder remains unsolved—the perpetrators were unsuccessfully brought to trial, and the evidence of who hired them has been buried—but her assassination changed Russian journalism forever. Ten years later, Russian journalists gathered under a banner bearing the distressing reminder that “the sponsor is still at large.”

Such “unsolved” murders of Putin’s critics have become a fixture in the Russian political scene, so routine that they no longer prompt shock or outrage. Night has fallen over his society. We must be careful—and vigilant—if we want to ensure we do not find ourselves in similar darkness.

Mischa Haider is a transgender mother, writer and activist based at Harvard University. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and serves on the board of Lambda Literary.

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Talkin’ About a Revolution: JP Howard on Raising Her Fist—and Queer Women’s Voices


We are living in the midst of an extraordinary renaissance of literary work by lesbian and queer women of color. Some of the most powerful literary productions are by queer women of color and by lesbians of color; they are winning top literary prizes, gaining recognition in and outside of LGBTQ communities and gathering new audiences of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. This current issue of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal—expertly curated by JP Howard and Amber Atiya, two extraordinary poets in their own right—reflects and celebrates that reality. This issue lifts up the voices of African-American lesbians for us all to hear, see and know.

Howard is a 2018 featured author in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program, was a 2017 Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism finalist, won a 2016 Lambda Literary Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award and has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, VONA, Lambda, Astraea and Brooklyn Arts Council.  Her debut poetry collection, SAY/MIRROR (The Operating System), was a 2016 Lambda Literary finalist; she is also the author of bury your love poems here (Belladonna*). Howard curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and is an Editor-at-Large at Mom Egg Review online, and her work has been published by Academy of American Poets, Anomaly, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Muzzle Magazine and The Best American Poetry Blog.

Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution! gathers together new writing by an array of emerging and established black lesbian and queer women writers. I spoke with Howard about editing Sinister Wisdom and she provided fascinating insights into the process and intentions of both editors in putting together the issue.

I have been so excited to publish Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution. How did you come to select this topic as the theme for the issue? And how did you select the title?

I selected the titled based on my favorite black lesbian poet/muse/activist/ and agitator Pat Parker, who once said: “The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.” The goal of the issue was to create a revolution of words. Black lesbian writers were invited to document their unique, powerful and diverse voices. The theme was inspired directly by Parker’s quote; essentially a call to be our full selves, to show up on the page, to use our words and voices and artistic images to create a revolution.

This issue speaks powerfully to histories of African-American lesbians and also imagines various futures. Can you talk a little bit about why this issue in this particular political moment?

This issue, a call for black queer womyn to share our voices and our art is needed, especially during this current political moment where LGBTQ, POC and marginalized voices are constantly under attack. It is crucial, in fact necessary, to have literary spaces like Sinister Wisdom to raise our voices, lift our symbolic fists and say “We are here! We are not going anywhere. We refuse to be silenced.”

How did you make your selections for inclusion in this issue? What principles operated for you as an editor while working on this issue?

It was urgent to have diverse voices represented in this issue. It was a long collaborative process to make sure that we included a wide spectrum of voices. The most difficult task was narrowing down selections, as we had more submissions than we could accommodate in this issue. As an editor, I was looking for work that fit the call, work that was revolutionary, work that was original and inspirational, work that could agitate, work that was sexy, work that honored our black lesbian ancestors, work that was forward thinking, work that was magical, work that refused to be silenced.

Talk to me about the gorgeous cover art. How did you find the artists? What speaks to each of you about these images?

Akinfe Fatou’s cover art features a striking photo of Amadi Agbomah titled Liberation. Amber and I put out a call to both visual artists and black queer womyn writers for recommendations of black queer womyn artists. Akinfe is an amazing writer and visual artist and actually ended up doing a cover photo shoot with a number of pieces for us to consider for our cover. Amber and I immediately gravitated towards Liberation and knew almost immediately that this was our cover. It is FIYAH! We are forever grateful to Akinfe and Amadi for this powerful and revolutionary cover. Our stunning back cover art piece is by phenomenal artist/photographer Nye’ Lyn Tho. I actually discovered N’ye’s artwork/photos from Sinister Wisdom contributor, poet Arisa White, who curates the Beautiful Things Project. I remember seeing striking work by Nye’ Lyn Tho when she and Arisa collaborated in California and posted photos of their collaborative project. Those visuals stuck with me and I asked Arisa if she could put us in contact with the artist. The rest, as they say, is herstory.

Can you discuss one of the challenges you encountered working together? What was the challenge? How did or did you not resolve it?

I think a big challenge was coordinating our schedules and finding time to actually meet to discuss and narrow down our choices. Sometimes Amber and I literally stayed up until early morning hours collaborating online via shared google documents. If we had a disagreement about a piece we would advocate vigorously for “why” it should or should not be included and then we would organize in order of preference, the pieces that we were each most inclined to accept. Often we were able to come to a joint resolution and sometimes one of us would defer to the other if a persuasive argument was made for accepting or rejecting a piece. Mostly, this process worked for us over time. It was definitely a labor of love on both our parts and I am forever grateful to Amber for accepting my invite to co-edit this issue of Sinister Wisdom with me.

What are you most proud of in this issue?

I am most proud of the amazing diversity of voices and black lesbian/queer womyn represented throughout. We have contributors from around the world, with so many parts of the United States represented. Our contributors are intergenerational, with a phenomenal line-up of both emerging and established writers and artists included. It includes black queer womyn whose work I have admired for decades and also work of new writers and artists who I only first discovered through the submission process.

Tell me about your relationship to feminism and lesbian-feminism. Is your relationship to feminism and lesbian-feminism informed by your understand of race? How?

I discovered the powerful words of Pat Parker and Cheryl Clarke, black lesbian feminists, while at Barnard College in the mid-to-latter part of the 1980’s. Cheryl Clarke’s words from “New Notes on Lesbianism” still resonate with me, so many decades later. I think because that is around the same time that I came out of the closet, that the world lesbian still feels most natural to me when I describe myself. Clarke said: “I name myself ‘lesbian’ because this culture oppresses, silences, and destroys lesbians, even lesbians who do don’t call themselves ‘lesbians.’ I name myself ‘lesbian’ because I want to be visible to other black lesbians. I name myself ‘lesbian’ because I do not subscribe to predatory/institutionalized heterosexuality” is definitely something that has influenced how I walk through the world. However, I also am acutely aware that many lesbian-feminist spaces are overwhelmingly white and as a black lesbian/queer womyn in this world, unfortunately those spaces are often not welcoming to me nor do they consistently celebrate how I walk through the world.

What advice would you give to future guest editors?

Future editors should start as early as possible to gather submissions and begin reviewing work on a rolling basis, set clear time deadlines and tasks, perhaps mid-way through the process, they can reassess and chart out new priorities based on earlier deadlines. Also please make sure to celebrate the issue as you are putting it together, it’s a HUGE accomplishment!

Interested in Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution? Order your copy here.

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a scholar and a poet. Her book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ and Frontiers. She is the author of four poetry collections—Avowed, Lilith’s Demons, Sisterhood and Handmade Love—and is editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker, which won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry, and Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, which was a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom and is a book reviewer for the The Rumpus and Calyx. 

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Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless


I’ve been surprised to see the conversation on how we raise boys taken to the mainstream by Michael Ian Black, care of the New York Times. It’s a critique of masculinity I’m extremely familiar with—and it’s been going on for longer than I’ve been a card-carrying member of the queer community.

I remember, just after coming out, returning to the church I grew up in for my grandfather’s funeral. Smack on the door, as I was grieving and walking into the building, I was treated to a poster advertising a brand new class on teaching boy children to be “real boys” so that they don’t grow up to be gay. That was ten years ago. Just after Elliot Rodger shot students at Isla Vista and his misogynistic manifesto came under public scrutiny, I spent a week on a mountain with about three hundred queer people; women, non binary folks, trans men. (Basically every sort of person except cis men.) We were certainly talking about toxic masculinity then, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was. That was four years ago.

Of our 99 problems, strict adherence to the gender binary is involved in most of them. As many as 43 percent of homeless youth identify as queer and are ejected from their homes because of their rejection of these rules. The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is said to be 35 years—largely because they live at a precarious, often dangerous intersection of racism, misogyny and bearing the brunt of the toxic masculinity those around them wield, literally, as a weapon.

As a result, queers have been working to provide alternative models of masculinity for as long as I have known queers. And in our current cultural moment, the queer community has attained a level of representation in pop culture that challenges and remakes this toxic outlook in spaces where children are present. Which is why it is shocking that, as the conversation on masculinity moves into the mouths of straight, cis men in the wake of the Parkland shooting, I hear confusion, powerlessness and handwringing. As I read and hear published critique from men outside gender studies departments and queer clubs, there is a profound sense of being oppressed by masculinity, and a deep sadness that men have been required to adhere to it. I also hear the undertones of hopelessness—straight, cis men don’t seem to know what to do about fixing what it means to be masculine in this country.

And that’s frustrating. Because queer folks have not been stingy with examples. We have been, for decades, demonstrating what it is to unmake violent masculinity. And right now, young queers and creators alike are bringing new masculinities to life.

Look at Steven Universe, an animated show created by Rebecca Sugar, a bisexual woman. It features an empathetic pre-teen and teen male protagonist in Steven, and when he uses his powers and “fuses” with his best friend, Connie, they together become a genderless “experience” of a person. This is a show that has an entire episode dedicated to teaching children of all genders how to deal with emotions after trauma; it unmakes the masculinity of emotional repression regularly. Look at Lumberjanes, a comic with the character of Barney who doesn’t want to be a Scouting Lad and jumps ship to the camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” Look at Moonstruck, which features Chet, a genderqueer centaur who uses neutral pronouns.

Queer Eye rebooted on Netflix this month, and the updated Fab Five represent a group of men heading into Georgia to fix masculinity. They don’t even commit to “for the straight guy,” as they did years ago; I wonder if and hope that it is because masculinity needs interrogating no matter where one falls on the Kinsey scale. I watched Queer Eye when I was a kid—it was one of the first family-friendly representations of subversive masculinity that I remember, and it’s even more subversive now. The group tackles race, Christianity, conservatism and what it means to take care of oneself and others as a man. Whether or not this show is intended for the younger set, I can near about guarantee that they are watching. I was.

We can already see the effects of that expansive gender outlook, that work women and queers have been up to for decades. Less than half of teens today identify as straight. Fifty-six percent of them know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns. Seventy percent want to see ubiquitous gender neutral bathrooms.

A rise in queers, women and young folks making media has provided Generation Z with a lot more possibility models than we ever had. We built those possibility models for ourselves, and they exist for generations older to partake in as well—should they choose to look. So why, then, are middle-aged men so ready to throw up their hands and mourn the restrictive childhoods that led to their restrictive genders? Why, when Michael Ian Black’s teenager stomps up the stairs, does he not feel empowered to model different choices about what masculinity can become?

I can only guess it’s because it’s easier. Men have learned helplessness. Blaming masculinity itself seeks to absolve grown men of their agency in actively creating masculinity; it’s not an entity that lives without the decisions of people. Cis men have always had the power to expand the definition of what it means to be masculine. Men can actively make different choices about what masculinity means. I say this as a queer person who creates their own masculinity with active choices every day, who believes in the expansive constellation of masculinity; that there is so much more space in there than cis men believe there to be.

If adult cis men are now chafing in an ill-fitting gender, perhaps instead of sounding the lament and shrugging their shoulders at the insurmountability of a society they created, they can follow the younger generations into new territory. They can engage with the narratives that Millennials and Generation Z are insisting on—and have been for quite some time.

And most importantly, they can legislate gun control in the way the youth are asking them to instead of staring frightened and helpless into the masculinity of their own making.

A.E. Osworth is Part-Time Faculty at The New School, Managing Editor of Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard College and has spent the last half a decade as Geekery Editor at Autostraddle. Keep in touch @AEOsworth on Twitter and at aeosworth.com.

The post Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless


I’ve been surprised to see the conversation on how we raise boys taken to the mainstream by Michael Ian Black, care of the New York Times. It’s a critique of masculinity I’m extremely familiar with—and it’s been going on for longer than I’ve been a card-carrying member of the queer community.

I remember, just after coming out, returning to the church I grew up in for my grandfather’s funeral. Smack on the door, as I was grieving and walking into the building, I was treated to a poster advertising a brand new class on teaching boy children to be “real boys” so that they don’t grow up to be gay. That was ten years ago. Just after Elliot Rodger shot students at Isla Vista and his misogynistic manifesto came under public scrutiny, I spent a week on a mountain with about three hundred queer people; women, non binary folks, trans men. (Basically every sort of person except cis men.) We were certainly talking about toxic masculinity then, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was. That was four years ago.

Of our 99 problems, strict adherence to the gender binary is involved in most of them. As many as 43 percent of homeless youth identify as queer and are ejected from their homes because of their rejection of these rules. The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is said to be 35 years—largely because they live at a precarious, often dangerous intersection of racism, misogyny and bearing the brunt of the toxic masculinity those around them wield, literally, as a weapon.

As a result, queers have been working to provide alternative models of masculinity for as long as I have known queers. And in our current cultural moment, the queer community has attained a level of representation in pop culture that challenges and remakes this toxic outlook in spaces where children are present. Which is why it is shocking that, as the conversation on masculinity moves into the mouths of straight, cis men in the wake of the Parkland shooting, I hear confusion, powerlessness and handwringing. As I read and hear published critique from men outside gender studies departments and queer clubs, there is a profound sense of being oppressed by masculinity, and a deep sadness that men have been required to adhere to it. I also hear the undertones of hopelessness—straight, cis men don’t seem to know what to do about fixing what it means to be masculine in this country.

And that’s frustrating. Because queer folks have not been stingy with examples. We have been, for decades, demonstrating what it is to unmake violent masculinity. And right now, young queers and creators alike are bringing new masculinities to life.

Look at Steven Universe, an animated show created by Rebecca Sugar, a bisexual woman. It features an empathetic pre-teen and teen male protagonist in Steven, and when he uses his powers and “fuses” with his best friend, Connie, they together become a genderless “experience” of a person. This is a show that has an entire episode dedicated to teaching children of all genders how to deal with emotions after trauma; it unmakes the masculinity of emotional repression regularly. Look at Lumberjanes, a comic with the character of Barney who doesn’t want to be a Scouting Lad and jumps ship to the camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” Look at Moonstruck, which features Chet, a genderqueer centaur who uses neutral pronouns.

Queer Eye rebooted on Netflix this month, and the updated Fab Five represent a group of men heading into Georgia to fix masculinity. They don’t even commit to “for the straight guy,” as they did years ago; I wonder if and hope that it is because masculinity needs interrogating no matter where one falls on the Kinsey scale. I watched Queer Eye when I was a kid—it was one of the first family-friendly representations of subversive masculinity that I remember, and it’s even more subversive now. The group tackles race, Christianity, conservatism and what it means to take care of oneself and others as a man. Whether or not this show is intended for the younger set, I can near about guarantee that they are watching. I was.

We can already see the effects of that expansive gender outlook, that work women and queers have been up to for decades. Less than half of teens today identify as straight. Fifty-six percent of them know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns. Seventy percent want to see ubiquitous gender neutral bathrooms.

A rise in queers, women and young folks making media has provided Generation Z with a lot more possibility models than we ever had. We built those possibility models for ourselves, and they exist for generations older to partake in as well—should they choose to look. So why, then, are middle-aged men so ready to throw up their hands and mourn the restrictive childhoods that led to their restrictive genders? Why, when Michael Ian Black’s teenager stomps up the stairs, does he not feel empowered to model different choices about what masculinity can become?

I can only guess it’s because it’s easier. Men have learned helplessness. Blaming masculinity itself seeks to absolve grown men of their agency in actively creating masculinity; it’s not an entity that lives without the decisions of people. Cis men have always had the power to expand the definition of what it means to be masculine. Men can actively make different choices about what masculinity means. I say this as a queer person who creates their own masculinity with active choices every day, who believes in the expansive constellation of masculinity; that there is so much more space in there than cis men believe there to be.

If adult cis men are now chafing in an ill-fitting gender, perhaps instead of sounding the lament and shrugging their shoulders at the insurmountability of a society they created, they can follow the younger generations into new territory. They can engage with the narratives that Millennials and Generation Z are insisting on—and have been for quite some time.

And most importantly, they can legislate gun control in the way the youth are asking them to instead of staring frightened and helpless into the masculinity of their own making.

A.E. Osworth is Part-Time Faculty at The New School, Managing Editor of Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard College and has spent the last half a decade as Geekery Editor at Autostraddle. Keep in touch @AEOsworth on Twitter and at aeosworth.com.

The post Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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Birth Control Empowered Me to Build the Career and Family Life That I Wanted—On My Own Terms


I was born in Bogota, Colombia to traditional Latino parents who valued family above all else. But when I met my husband in my early twenties, I was making my way in a highly competitive field—so we delayed starting a one of our own.

My father, instead of asking me constantly when I would give him grandchildren, always told me to travel the world, and to live life fully before settling down. Many Latina mothers would have urged their only daughter to have children early; my mother never pushed me. Her support of every life choice was always without judgment and helped to provide the strength I needed to embrace my ambitions, focus on the issues I cared about in politics and make a difference while pursuing the career I wanted. While both my parents encouraged us to follow our dreams, my mother instilled in us the value of an education, taught us to be self-confident, and stressed in me the power of financial independence.

While my parents provided the emotional support I needed, birth control actually allowed me the opportunity to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant. I was in my late thirties when I decided to start trying, and I was thankful that I was able to get pregnant very quickly. Soon after the birth of my son, we decided to started trying for our daughter. At 40 years old, I found myself with two small children, a loving husband and partner and a demanding career—and it was exactly where I wanted to be.

Birth control provided me with the ability to live my life on my own terms. Every young person, regardless of who they are or where they live or what their circumstances may be, should have the same choices I had. Unfortunately, for too many young Latinas, that is never an option.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice activists at a pro-choice rally outside the Supreme Court. (NARAL)

Coming from traditional Latino families, young women are often encouraged to start families early, and they often lack access to the full range of contraceptive methods available. Teen pregnancy rates for Latina and Black women are still more than twice as high as their white counterparts; in addition, women who make less money and have less education are more than five times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. To compound these already existing challenges, more than 19 million women in need of publicly funded contraception lack reasonable access in their county to a public clinic that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. These locations are commonly referred to as contraceptive deserts.

Thanks to my mother’s constant support, and the ability to plan out when I would have my family, I have enjoyed an amazing career bringing awareness to the issues that impact the Latino community I love. But it is without question that my professional life would have been different if my children had come earlier in life. I am thankful that my parents never judged my decision to delay having a family. With their support, I was able to build my professional career and guarantee financial independence for myself and my children. But even moreso, I am thankful for birth control—and the ways it empowered me to determine not just my family matters, but my economic life.

Birth control has only been around for 45 years—and in that short time, women’s contributions to the workforce have been significant, and more and more women have exercised their rightful choice to delay pregnancy and focus on school and career. Imagine where we’ll be in the next 45.

I hope that one day my daughter finds herself, in whatever career path she chooses, surrounded by women and men who love and support her—and understand that ultimately only she should have the power to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant.

Maria Cardona is principal at the Dewey Square Group. She is a CNN and CNN Español Political Commentator.

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How LGBTQ Politics are Shaping Alabama’s Gubernatorial Race


With the 2018 election now in full swing, the Ms. Blog is excited to bring you content presented in conjunction with Gender Watch 2018 , a project of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics. They’ll be tracking, analyzing and illuminating gender dynamics during election season—so check back with us regularly!

Opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Ms. is published by Feminist Majority Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and does not endorse candidates.

The chain of events over the past week that led to the septuagenarian governor’s denunciation of claims that she was a closeted lesbian have injected some turmoil into an otherwise sleepy Republican primary in Alabama.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey at the Alabama Emergency Management Operations Center in 2017. (Alabama EMA / Creative Commons)

In the only recent public poll, incumbent Kay Ivey—who ascended to the governorship in 2017 when then-Governor Robert Bentley resigned after pleading guilty to charges related to campaign finance violations—was 36 points ahead of her nearest challenger and just three points shy of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off in next month’s primary election. With 30 percent of the primary electorate undecided, she looked all but certain to do so and cruise to a relatively easy win in the general election.

Then, last Tuesday, one of Ivey’s primary opponents criticized her for allowing funding to go to a local LGBTQ non-profit. She responded to evangelist Scott Dawson’s comments mostly with an eye-roll, claiming he was “getting desperate” in response to low polling numbers and noting that the funding was federally mandated. She also mentioned that she “certainly [doesn’t] agree with the agenda or the values of that organization.” While this may all seem fairly standard for a Republican primary in Alabama, one retiring State Representative took exception to Ivey’s comment on the values of Free2Be. Patricia Todd, a Democrat who recently received a standing ovation from her colleagues upon announcing her retirement after 12 years in office, and who also happens to be an out lesbian, reacted publicly—and outrageously.

“Will someone out her for God’s sake,” Todd posted on both her Facebook and Twitter accounts. “I have heard for years that she is gay and moved her girlfriend out of her house when she became Gov. I am sick of closeted elected officials.”  In each post, she linked to the article containing Ivey’s rebuttal to Dawson.

Count mine among the jaws that had to be scooped off of the floor after reading Todd’s tweet. Several years ago, Todd did warn in a Facebook post that she would expose hypocrites in Alabama politics, specifically mentioning legislators who “talk about ‘family values’ when they have affairs” and those “elected officials who want to hide in the closet.” Still, the comments were entirely unexpected, and much of Alabama’s political establishment reacted quickly and firmly.

In a statement posted to her social media accounts, Governor Ivey managed in just 66 words to call Todd’s claim “disgraceful,” “a disgusting lie,” “false,” “wrong,” “a bald-faced lie” and “everything that’s wrong with politics today.” She further reiterated in a TV interview that her “biblically-based faith definition of marriage is that it is between a man and a woman.” Ivey’s fellow Republican primary candidates largely steered clear of the commotion, denouncing the focus on the Governor’s personal life and calling for a return to a discussion of the issues most important to Alabama. Terry Lathan, the chair of the state Republican Party, called Todd’s comments “shameful rumor mongering;” Republican State Representative Phil Williams told AL.com that he “took it as one of the meanest things I’ve ever heard her say.”

Todd, the first out gay lawmaker in Alabama, has faced backlash from the LGBT community as well. Some advocates in the community accused her of “weaponizing queerness” and “psychic and emotional violence.” The One Orlando Alliance, the umbrella organization of LGBT groups for which Todd was set to serve as Executive Director, rescinded her job offer on the grounds that involuntarily outing a person, regardless of perceived hypocrisy, is against their values.

Todd, for her part, is refusing to back down. During a radio interview on Friday, she apologized for “the inappropriate way” she delivered her message and conceded she should have commented on the Governor’s remarks rather than her personal life. Still, when asked if she thought Ivey would identify as gay, Todd dug in her heels. “There’s a lot of men who have sex with men,” she responded, “who don’t identify as gay.”

If Kay Ivey was hoping for an apology or recantation from Todd, it certainly did not come during that appearance. Instead, this was the political equivalent of a mic drop—and the reverberations are being felt throughout Alabama.

Scholarship concerning out LGBT political officeholders and candidates is under-developed, though a study by David Niven suggested that a gay or lesbian candidate’s sexual orientation no longer poses a political disadvantage. In fact, he finds that such an orientation may even help the candidate win office. Such findings contradict those of other academic work that has shown that downplaying traits traditionally associated with LGBT people—“tells” that might give away someone’s sexual orientation—is the best strategy for success. Doan and Haider-Markel found that gay and lesbian candidates are perceived as less honest, weaker and amoral—especially among male, Evangelical, less educated, conservative, Republican and older respondents, a veritable cross-section of the Alabama Republican primary electorate. Jerry Harvey found through experimental research that candidates identified as being gay or lesbian lose support compared to otherwise identical non-LGBT candidates, and Billy Kluttz argued that out candidates often “mute” their sexuality during their campaigns so that, even if elected, voters may never have even known they identify as LGBT.

Ewa Golebiowska found that context is key for gay and lesbian candidates: They do better when they disclose their sexual orientation after they are well-known to voters for their positions on issues. And the context of place matters as well. In the UK, for example, Magni and Reynolds found that LGBT candidates perform at least as well as their straight counterparts, even in more conservative areas, and in some more progressive locales, an LGBT identity may even help a candidate, as David Niven suggests. In Palm Springs, California, as an anecdotal example, the mayor, city manager and entire city council identify as part of the LGBT community; in fact, Councilwoman Christy Holstege, who is married to a man and identifies as bisexual, was accused of inventing her bisexuality for political gain and was often asked to somehow “prove” her sexual orientation.

While identifying as LGBT may be a boon in some places, this is unlikely to be the case in Alabama, suggesting that Todd’s comments would amount to the weaponization of queerness that some critics have claimed. A recent Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) study found Alabama to be the only state in the nation with a majority of residents who still oppose same-sex marriage, and one of just six where the issue garners less than 50 percent support. Alabama also registered the second-lowest level of support for legally protecting LGBT people from discrimination, and the state does not have any such statewide protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gov. Ivey herself signed a bill in May 2017 that allows religious-based adoption agencies to refuse placement of children with LGBT parents. Roy Moore was famously removed as the state’s Chief Justice, for the second time, for instructing his probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in direct violation of the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. And as of June 2017, at least eight Alabama counties still refuse to issue any marriage license , asserting that by denying all couples marriage licenses they are not treating same-sex couples in a disparate manner.

Regardless of the Gov. Ivey’s actual sexual orientation, the accusations levied against her by Todd have shone a spotlight on the darker side of identity politics. Dawson, Ivey and Todd have all been criticized for their roles and responses to the developments, though it remains to be seen whether the episode will have any tangible effect on the Governor’s race. Ivey is still highly favored to win her primary, though the allegations and fallout could prevent her from winning the 50 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a run-off election.

Perhaps the major takeaway from the incident should not center around the accusations themselves, but instead the reactions to them. The statements and actions of the principal players in this story, regardless of party or politics, were all widely panned as insensitive, unnecessary and even bigoted. In their disagreement, however, lies a reminder that the politics of candidate sexual orientation and gender identity remain unsettled—not only in Alabama, but nationwide.

That won’t be resolved in any one election cycle—but, for Governor Ivey at least, the effect these claims regarding her personal life will be revealed by voters’ choices at the ballot box during the primary on June 5.

Rick Kavin is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Rutgers-New Brunswick and a research assistant at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. 

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