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Tom of Finland Art and Culture Fest unleashes Queer Erotica on LA

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“Richard,” photo by Tom of Finland Foundation resident artist Phuc Le, is among the work of over 60 artists to be featured at the 23rd Annual Tom of Finland Art and Culture Festival (Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation).

When it comes to Queer Erotic Art, few artists cast a larger shadow than Tom of Finland.

Born Touko Laaksonen (in Finland, obviously), his anatomically-idealized representations of the male form were first introduced to the world through his illustrations in Physique Pictorial in the 1950s and went on to become iconic; hyper-masculine, overtly sexual, and usually depicted in leather or other fetish gear, the men in his drawings helped to define an important aesthetic of gay male culture throughout the mid- and late-20th Century and remains a potent influence to this day.

As many gay Angelenos know – at least those who are involved in the leather and fetish communities – Tom’s legacy is maintained here in L.A. through the “Tom House,” the Echo Park home where the late artist lived and worked for the last decade of his life, and which is now headquarters to the Tom of Finland Foundation.   This historical and cultural landmark serves as a museum, gallery, and cultural center devoted to the Foundation’s mission of “protecting, preserving, and promoting erotic art.”

As a platform in furthering that mission, one of the key public events initiated and run by the Tom of Finland Foundation is the Tom of Finland Art and Culture Festival, an annual art fair which will convene for its 23rd incarnation at Tom House on October 6-7.  Over 60 Queer artists will be featured, including Seth Bogart, Hector Silva, and the late Michael Kirwan.

This year’s theme for the festival is “Eye on Collecting,” and its programming will focus on the purposeful commitment of collecting art.

“What better way to say ‘thank you’ to an artist than investing in his vision?” says Durk Dehner, president and cofounder of Tom of Finland Foundation.  “A review in a magazine, or a comment left, is definitely a way to show support – but to buy something by them is the ultimate way of acknowledging them.  At the Festival you find what represents you, and you then get to share the artwork in your home with your friends – the gratitude is circulated.”

The theme is also intended to celebrate of the release of a new book, “My Gay Eye (Mein schwules Auge),” a special Tom of Finland Foundation edition which spotlights the work of numerous important queer erotic artists – many of whom will be represented at the Festival with works available for sale.

Some of these will be included within the Rubén Esparza Curatorial, which will be showing Marcel Alcala, Amina Cruz, Cleonette Harris, Peter Kalisch, Naruki Kukita, Bruce LaBruce, Slava Mogutin, Gio Black Peter, Oliver Sarley, Phil Tarley and Jon Vaz Gar; others will be represented in Rick Castro’s Dungeon, which will feature John Blackburn, Sierra Domino, Paul Mahler and Joel-Peter Witkin.

Drawings by Miguel Angel Reyes are among the work of over 60 artists to be featured at the 23rd Annual Tom of Finland Art and Culture Festival (Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation).

The festival is not just about visual art, though.  Literature will also be celebrated.  Special guest artist Slava Mogutin, a photographer, poet and Russian dissident, will read and be on hand to sign books.  In addition, poet and educator Steven Reigns has invited other notable authors to share their written words on Saturday, including author Clint Catalyst and performance artist Ron Athey.

There will also be a preview of Secret Gay Box, curated by John Wolf.  An expansive history of “Queerness embodied in a menagerie of objects from across time,” the show features works by Brian Andrew, Patrick Angus, Paul Cadmus, Hossein Edalatkhah, Don Joint, Mike Kuchar, Joseph La Piana, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jose Gonzalo Garcia Munoz, Justin Olerud, Stuart Sandford, Matt Siegle, Andy Warhol and David Wojnarowicz.

Other attractions include:

Drawings by Silvia Prada from her recently released artist book, “Tom,” developed in collaboration with Tom of Finland Foundation.

A series of photographs by Daniel Trese taken at the Foundation in 2014, showcased in conjunction with his exhibition “Surface Streets” at Tom of Finland Store.

A booth by Los Angeles’ Lethal Amounts, showcasing their collaborations with artists and musicians on subversive and counter culture themes.

Works by Jeremy Lucido, photographer and publisher of Starrfucker, featuring zines as art.

Works by resident artist Phuc Le will display his photography.

Works by Josh Paul Thomas, whose photography is the cover for “My Gay Eye,” and who works across multiple mediums.

Previews of upcoming exhibitions by artists Miguel Angel Reyes, Jess Scott, and Stefan Pinto.

A live auction on Sunday which will allow attendees to bid on classic Homoerotica.

A Saturday night screening of “Born to Raise Hell” (1974), a time-honored film which has been the standard by which all Gay S/M films are judged around the world.  It will be introduced by writer and director, Roger Earl, who received the Tom of Finland Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Finally, for those with an interest in creating a little art of their own, Miguel Angel Reyes will direct life drawing sessions from 12pm-2pm on both days.

Visitors who want a little break from the artistic attractions can get their footgear shined and benefit from expert hair and facial grooming.  There will also be food and beverage offered throughout the day.

Anyone who has been to the Tom House can tell you that a visit there is always a treat.  When it plays host to an important cultural and artistic event such as this one, it’s guaranteed to be a stimulating – and sexy – adventure.

“Tom of Finland Art and Culture Festival: Eye on Collecting,” Oct 6-7, Tom of Finland Foundation’s Tom House, 1421 Laveta Terrace, Los Angeles, CA 90026.

$10 Each day- Eventbrite (tomsfoundation.eventbrite.com) and at door.

For a complete list of participating artists, schedule and more information visit here.

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Sports

Nuns denounce Harrison Butker’s speech

The Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica and the L.A. Chargers join GLAAD, as others come to defense of Kansas City Chiefs kicker

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Photo courtesy of The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica.

ATCHISON, Kan. — As anyone who’s ever attended a Catholic-run school knows, the first rule about nuns is, don’t do anything that will draw their ire. Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, whose commencement address this month at Benedictine College has been heavily criticized for misogyny and homophobia, has violated that rule by pissing off the pious sisters of Mount St. Scholastica.

“The Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica do not believe that Harrison Butker’s comments in his 2024 Benedictine College commencement address represent the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college that our founders envisioned and in which we have been so invested,” the nuns wrote in a statement posted on Facebook, adding “We reject a narrow definition of what it means to be Catholic.”

“Instead of promoting unity in our church, our nation, and the world, his comments seem to have fostered division,” the nuns wrote. “One of our concerns was the assertion that being a homemaker is the highest calling for a woman. We sisters have dedicated our lives to God and God’s people, including the many women whom we have taught and influenced during the past 160 years. These women have made a tremendous difference in the world in their roles as wives and mothers and through their God-given gifts in leadership, scholarship, and their careers.” 

Photo courtesy of The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica.

The vast majority of the comments in response to the post expressed gratitude to the sisters for standing up for women. 

As the Los Angeles Blade reported, the NFL player called on female graduates to aspire to be homemakers, like his wife, in his May 11 commencement address. Butker, who has won three Super Bowl rings, made no mention of his own mother, an accomplished physicist

“I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker,” said Butker.  “It is you, the women, who have had the most diabolic lies told to you. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

Ever since that remark, along with his comments against abortion, IVF, “dangerous gender ideologies” and his comparison to Pride month as one of the biblical deadly sins, Butker has been hounded by critics and followers on his social media

“I didn’t graduate with an engineering degree and become a Rocket Scientist to cook some dude’s dinner!” said one. “I am Christian and I have a PhD. Thanks to generations of feminists, I was able to study. I was able to have a family. I was able to do both. I was able to have the choice. You should be ashamed,” said another. 

And there was this comment on Butker’s Instagram post captioned, “For the greater glory of God.” 

“Bro…your boss @nfl just agreed with the majority of women….maybe you should stick to the locker room….I mean, you went after women and pride month in one fell swoop…@chiefs can you get a refund and pick up a practice team player? Asking for millions of successful women who can not have children and have jobs outside the home.”

She’s referring to the NFL statement putting distance between the league and Butker’s remarks: “Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” said the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane earlier this month. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

Pearl Jam rocker Eddie Vedder reportedly took time to bash Butker from the stage of the band’s Las Vegas concert Saturday night, noting that two of the band members in the opening act, including its lead singer, are women.

“The singer, Jessica, and the keyboard player, Patti, they must not have believed that ‘diabolical lie’ that women should take pride in taking a back seat to their man,” Vedder said, according to Variety. “There should be pride in homemaking if you’re a man or a woman… it’s one of the hardest jobs and you should definitely take pride in it, but you’re going to benefit by giving up your dreams?” said Vedder. “I couldn’t understand the logic, so I’m questioning it in public right now… It’s not a graduation speech.”

The Chiefs’ NFL rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers, also mocked Butker in a Sims-style video on X, showing an animated, bearded Chiefs player with his number 7 toiling in the kitchen. It’s a blink or you’ll miss it moment at 2:55. 

GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis was among those who immediately denounced Butker’s comments, calling them “inaccurate, ill-informed and woefully out of step with Americans about Pride, LGBTQ people and women.”

But Butker does have his supporters, including the wife and eldest daughter of Kansas City Chiefs CEO. Clark Hunt himself has not commented publicly.

“I’ve always encouraged my daughters to be highly educated and chase their dreams,” Tavia Hunt wrote on Instagram, alongside photographs of herself with her children. “I want them to know that they can do whatever they want (that honors God). But I also want them to know that I believe finding a spouse who loves and honors you as or before himself and raising a family together is one of the greatest blessings this world has to offer.”

25-year-old Gracie Hunt, the oldest daughter of Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt, had this to say on FOX & Friends: “Well, I can only speak from my own experience, which is I’ve had the most incredible mom who had the ability to stay home and be with us as kids growing up,” she said. “And I understand that there are many women out there who can’t make that decision. But for me and my life, I know it was really formative and in shaping me and my siblings into who we are.”

 Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones also voiced support for Butker in a post on social media, declaring: “I love you @buttkicker7! My brotha.” 

Actress Patricia Heaton, a conservative Christian anti-abortion activist who TV viewers may remember from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” also weighed-in in support of Butker, in an Instagram video. 

One thing is for sure, if Butker wants to join his teammates at the White House when President Biden invites the Chiefs to celebrate their Super Bowl championship, he will be welcomed despite his disparaging remarks about President Biden. Butker referred to him as “delusional” in his commencement address. 

“What I can say is all of the team, per usual when there is a championship team, gets invited,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on May 17. “I don’t have anything to add on their attendance or how that looks, but the team is always invited. Everyone on the team is invited.”

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Events

LA LGBT Center celebrates with stars at annual gala raising $1.6M

Cynthia Erivo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lena Waithe, Zaya Wade, Jewel, MUNA, and more Help Los Angeles LGBT Center Raise $1.6M

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(L-R) Joel Kim Booster, Susan Feniger, Francis Dennis Pond, and Joe Hollendoner pose for a photo onstage during the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Annual Gala at Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on May 18, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for the Los Angeles LGBT Center)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles LGBT Center held their annual Gala Saturday night. which celebrates the unwavering dedication and remarkable achievements of LGBTQ+ leaders and advocates.

Held at the Shrine Auditorium just off the USC campus in the University Park neighborhood, The Center Gala with about 900 supporters and a bevy of entertainment celebrities was able to raise $1.6M to support its ongoing lifeline services and advocacy programs.

The Center honored Cynthia Erivo, Mickalene Thomas, and MUNA for their contributions to the LGBTQ+ community. The Gala was hosted by actor, writer, and comedian Joel Kim Booster, and featured a special performance by power pop trio MUNA—who were surprised onstage by music icon Jewel for a rendition of the chart-topping hit, “Silk Chiffon.”

Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning and Oscar-nominated actress, singer, songwriter and producer Cynthia Erivo was honored with the Rand Schrader Award. Jada Pinkett-Smith presented her with the honor, which recognized her for her stellar achievements in entertainment and activism championing the LGBTQ+ community. During her remarks, Erivo spoke about the impact of Wicked and the importance of art in polarizing times.

“We are, as we all know, living through intensely polarized times. It seems that, all over, we are keen on seeing the world in black-and-white, rather than embracing the difficult (but beautiful) complexities of our humanity,” Erivo said. “I see it as no coincidence that the universe urged a director by the name of Jon M Chu to take on the mammoth task that is Wicked…As I stand here in front of you: Black, bald-headed, pierced, and queer, I can say I know a thing or two about being the other. Elphaba’s story is… about how a colorful, powerful, magical woman—despite being disparaged, demonized, and discriminated against—becomes a hero. Wicked is a reclamation and a reimagining of the labels used against her. It is the proclamation of her right to exist in all her power. If that sounds familiar to you colorful, magical people in this room—it should.”

Award-winning multidisciplinary artist Mickalene Thomas, considered one of the most influential visual artists of our time, was honored with this year’s Vanguard Award. Tasha Smith presented the award in recognition of her advocacy and commitment to intersecting complexities of Black and female identity within the Western canon.

“As our community faces unprecedented challenges, we all have a responsibility to create change,” said Thomas. “Each and every one of us in the room has a responsibility in our own small ways—wherever you are, however we involve ourselves within the community. It takes one person.”

The Gala’s live programming included an auction and special musical performance by power pop trio MUNA. MUNA was also presented with the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts presented by singer-songwriter Jewel.

“Our queerness is about working toward so many things that feel so hard to imagine,” said MUNA’s lead singer Katie Gavin. “Our queerness is overwhelmed by all the big things that we want for this world, but we try anyway and make each other laugh along the way. So, in Leslie’s honor today, we say: ‘Watch us twirl, daddy.'”

The Los Angeles LGBT Center uses funds raised by its annual Gala to support its holistic model of care—services that are accessed more than 500,000 times per year by LGBTQ+ people. This year, according to CEO Joe Hollendoner, the Center has been responding to nearly unprecedented levels of hate and hate-related violence, as the LGBTQ+ community in California experiences a political backlash. 

“When our political opponents are at their worst, your Center is at its best,” said Hollendoner. “Nearly every day, I see a new young person arrive at our Anita May Rosenstein intergenerational Campus, failed by the systems meant to care for them. But unlike the parents, schools, or religious institutions that have turned their backs on these teenagers, I see the Center opening our doors and welcoming these youth into a community like none other.”

To emphasize the Center’s commitment to this fight, Joel Kim Booster announced the debut of the organization’s new PSA, titled “We Are Family,” voiced by award-winning actress Jennifer Garner. 

Other highlights for the evening included the unveiling of three short films directed by National Anthem director Luke Gilford, who profiled three different clients of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The videos were presented by RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Symone, Valentina, and Laith Ashley.

Comedian Dana Goldberg presided over the live auction, which featured prizes from longtime LGBTQ+ advocates and musical icons, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera.

This year’s Gala was supported by Presenting Sponsor: Gilead Sciences, Inc. Platinum Sponsors include Glamazon L.A.—Amazon’s LGBTQIA+ Affinity Group and Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Gold Sponsors are Contractors State License Schools and Construction Insurance Agency, PS, and U.S. Bank. The event’s Official Airline Partner is American Airlines.  

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Television

‘Interview with the Vampire’ returns in triumph

Long-awaited season 2 continues to get story exactly right

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Assad Zaman and Jacob Anderson star in 'Interview with the Vampire.' (Photo courtesy of AMC)

When AMC debuted its long-awaited series adaptation of “Interview With the Vampire” – Anne Rice’s seminal proto-postmodern horror novel that set the stage and paved the way for a decades-long literary franchise that has kept millions of readers, queer and straight alike, passionately engaged since first reading its thinly veiled allegorical document of life as a being with heightened awareness on the edge of human existence – in 2022, we were among the first to sing its praises as a triumph of narrative storytelling,

We were not the last. The series, created by Rolin Jones in collaboration with Christopher Rice – the original author’s son and a successful horror novelist in his own right – and the late Anne Rice herself, was one of its season’s best-reviewed shows, earning particular praise for its writing, in which the queer “subtext” of Rice’s original works was given the kind of unequivocal full weight denied to it in the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise-starring Neil Jordan-helmed film adaptation from 1994. 

Though purist fans of the original boom series took occasional umbrage to some of the show’s leaps – changing the historical period of the story to illuminate themes of racism and deepen its resonance for those living as “others” on the fringe of society, and making the book’s protagonist, Louis Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson), a closeted Black Creole man in early 20th-century New Orleans – the series won most of its naysayers over by its season finale. It delivered a deliciously subversive, unapologetically queer interpretation that remained true to Rice’s original gothic re-imaginings while expanding the scope to encompass social and cultural factors that have become central to the moral and ideological conflicts that plague us in the first quarter of the 21st century.

To put it bluntly, the show’s willingness to embrace the story’s countercultural queer eroticism and place its transgressively amoral “moral compass” front and center was more than enough to smooth over any nitpicking over faithfulness to narrative detail or tone that might otherwise have kept Rice’s legion of acolytes from signing on to the new-and-contemporized vision of the book that Rollins built as the foundation for his daunting project.

Now, after a buzz-tempering delay borne of last year’s actor’s strike, the series has returned for its second season. And we’re happy to assure you that its feet hit the ground running, keeping up both passion and narrative momentum to pick up the story with electrifying energy after leaving off (at the end of season one) with the shocking murder and seeming elimination of Lestat (Sam Reid), the exquisitely amoral “rock star” vampire who served as both protector and lover of Louis, and the departure of the latter and his perpetually juvenile “daughter,” Claudia (Bailey Bass) on s quest to find others like themselves.

Fans of the book might, in fact, find new reasons to take exception to the show’s adaptation, which, as in season one, makes significant departures from the original narrative. After moving the story’s setting forward by roughly half a century, Louis and Claudia’s secretive sojourn now takes place in the traumatized landscape of post-WWII Europe, and spins a scenario in which the two ex-pat vampires, navigating their way through the perils of Soviet-occupied Central Europe after the fall of the Nazi regime, spend time in a refugee shelter while investigating rumors of old-world vampires who might provide a link to their “family history.”

When we rejoin this pair of relative fledgling vampires, their undead existence is a far cry from the decadent elegance they enjoyed in the New Orleans setting of season one. Enduring a near-feral existence as they make their way through a war-ravaged landscape, they find no shortage of prey in the aftermath of the Third Reich, but the “creature comforts” of their former “afterlives” are now only a memory. Louis is devoted, as always, to Claudia (now portrayed by Delainey Hayles, presumably due to scheduling conflicts for original actor Bass, who is set to reprise her role from “Avatar: The Way of Water” in the next installment of filmmaker James Cameron’s high-dollar sci-fi franchise), but remains haunted by his vampire maker and former lover Lestat, whose undead corpse remains buried on another continent but whose charismatic presence manifests itself in his private moments, nonetheless. In the first episode, the pair have used their supernatural wiles to journey into the “old country” long associated with their kind, tracking human tales of monstrous terrors in the night in hope of connecting with more of their kind. Louis, as always, struggles with his compassion for the mortal beings around him, while the more savage Claudia simply sees them as prey, and holds little hope of finding other vampires, if they even exist. For her part, Claudia has forgiven – but not forgotten – his refusal to ensure Lestat’s demise by burning his body, and is now solely focused on finding others like her.

Of course, the adventures of these two undead companions are only half the equation in “Interview With the Vampire.” The past is, as always, merely a flashback, as Louis relates the story of his afterlife experiences to mortal journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian). In the present, the skeptical Molloy casts doubt on the truth of his memories, forcing the vampire to re-examine them as he goes. Perhaps more interestingly, in the long game of a series which, if it comes to full fruition, will eventually encompass the entire Rice vampire saga, these contemporary scenes give us a look at the relationship between Louis and Armand (Assad Zaman), revealed in the season one finale to be not a mere servant in Louis’ household but a centuries-old fellow vampire who is now Louis’ lover and companion.

Fans of the books, of course, know that Armand plays a significant role in the story of the past, too, and while we won’t spoil anything, we can say that history begins to unspool as season two progresses – but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. For now, what we can say is that season two’s first episode, while it may veer away from the familiarity of Rice’s original tale in service of reimagining it for 21st-century audiences, continues the first season’s dedication to breathing thrilling new life into this now-iconic, deeply queer saga; superb performances all around, an elegantly cinematic presentation and literate writing, and a lush musical score by Daniel Hart all combine to sweep us quickly and irresistibly into the story, making us not just fall in love with these vampires, but want to be one of them. 

That, of course, is the gloriously sexy and subversive point of Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles,” and this long-awaited series continues to get it exactly right.

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Sports

Misogynistic & homophobic remarks by NFL player sparks outrage

Those in attendance laughed in support of Butker when he mocked Pride month as he cited a recent article headlined: “‘A step back in time’

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Harrison Butker (Screenshot/YouTube Benedictine College)

ATICHSON, Kan. — Addressing a friendly audience at a private, Catholic liberal arts college, three-time Super Bowl champion Harrison Butker spoke from his heart about his faith and revealed his personal beliefs as a cisgender man about women and the LGBTQ+ community. 

In his 20-minute commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs kicker said LGBTQ+ Pride month events are an example of biblical “deadly sins,” denounced “dangerous gender ideologies” and the “diabolical lies told to women,” declared a woman’s most important title is “homemaker,” and offered his take on abortion, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, as well as President Joe Biden. 

Butker, 28, criticized Biden’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and questioned his devotion to Roman Catholicism, calling him “delusional.” Speaking directly to the men in the audience, the athlete advised them to “be unapologetic in your masculinity,” and to “fight against the cultural emasculation of men.”

The pro football player announced that God had given him a platform to speak and that, “I have no other choice but to embrace it,” he said. 

Those in attendance laughed in support of Butker when he mocked Pride month as he cited a recent article by the Associated Press, headlined: “‘A step back in time’: America’s Catholic Church sees an immense shift toward the old ways.” The article detailed the institution’s shift “toward the old ways” and highlighted Benedictine’s rules that “seem like precepts of a bygone age,” which include “volunteering for 3 a.m. prayers” and “pornography, premarital sex and sunbathing in swimsuits being forbidden.”

“I am certain the reporters at the AP could not have imagined that their attempt to rebuke and embarrass places and people like those here at Benedictine wouldn’t be met with anger but instead met with excitement and pride,” said Butker. “Not the deadly sins sort of Pride that has an entire month dedicated to it, but the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify him.” Butker went on to say that only by surrendering one’s self to Christ will anyone find happiness. 

“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane said in a statement addressing his comments. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, called Butker’s speech “inaccurate, ill-informed and woefully out of step with Americans about Pride, LGBTQ people and women.”

“Those with expansive platforms, especially athletes, should use their voices to uplift and expand understand and acceptance in the world,” she said in a statement. “Instead, Butker’s remarks undermine experiences not of his own and reveal him to be one who goes against his own team’s commitment to the Kansas City community, and the NFL’s standards for respect, inclusion and diversity across the league.”

Butker called on religious leaders “to stay in their lane and lead,” and told women their place was in the kitchen and the maternity ward.  

“I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker,” said Butker, and his words were met with thunderous applause. 

“It is you, the women, who have had the most diabolic lies told to you. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

The Chiefs did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but someone who handles social media for Kansas City posted on X that Butker doesn’t even live in Kansas City but in a suburb 30 miles outside city limits, in a now-deleted tweet. 

Someone then posted an apology using that account:

And Kansas City’s mayor himself apologized, also on X, saying “A message appeared earlier this evening from a City public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account,” he posted. “The City has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”: 

Butker’s comments earned him comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, both in his words and in how his beard appeared similar to one of the Hulu series’ characters. 

You can watch Butker’s commencement address in full here: 

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Sports

Engaged lesbian teammates spoil Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut

Connecticut Sun fans saw the powerful duo of Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner lead the home team to victory

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Former college basketball phenom Caitlin Clark at the WNBA Draft Press Conference, April 15, 2024. (Screenshot/YouTube WNBA)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The sold-out crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena came to see former college basketball phenom Caitlin Clark in her professional debut, but thanks to two women in love with one another, fans also saw the powerful duo of Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner lead the home team to victory. 

The Connecticut Sun broke the Indiana Fever, 92 to 71, on the league’s regular season opening night.

Clark, the WNBA’s number one draft pick, finished with 20 points on 5-of-15 shooting, 4-of-11 on 3-pointers, 6-of-6 free throws. The 22-year-old also had 3 assists, 2 steals and 10 turnovers. But considering this was her WNBA debut, it was a lousy start: Clark went scoreless in the first quarter and missed her first four shots before finally getting on the board midway through the second period.

The Fever offense was overpowered by Thomas, who led the Sun with 13 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds for her ninth career triple-double, which extends her all-time record to 12 if you include the playoffs. 

“I’m just doing what I do,” said Thomas, in a post-game interview with ESPN on the hardwood. “This is my game.” 

Her fiancée, meanwhile, had 20 points and moved into fifth place on the all-time WNBA scoring list, and Thomas spoke about Bonner following the game. 

“I think she’s underrated,” Thomas told ESPN. “Fifth, all time? I mean, come on! It’s unheard of, and at her age? She’s incredible. She makes it look easy out there.” 

Bonner, 36, passed former Phoenix Mercury teammate — and ex-wife Candice Dupree — who finished her career with 6,895 points and last week was named head coach at Tennessee State University.  Bonner did so on a layup in the middle of the third quarter. She now has 6,901 points, and, after a timeout, raised her hands before the crowd to acknowledge the accomplishment.

Thomas, 32, has been dating Bonner since the COVID lockdowns of 2020, when they spent time together in the WNBA “bubble,” as the Los Angeles Blade reported following their engagement in July 2023. 

Bonner, the mother of twin girls with Dupree, also was a major reason for Clark’s early offensive struggles, hounding the guard who before this was the NCAA’s all-time Division I scoring leader. 

Earlier in the game, Clark managed a steal around the foul line and drove the length of the court before sinking the ball. She later added two free throws and hit a 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds left in the first half. Clark finished the opening 20 minutes with seven points, sinking two of her seven shot attempts. The Fever trailed 49-39 at the break. 

Late in the third quarter, the Fever staged a comeback and closed within six points, with the score 63-57, thanks to two free throws by Clark. But Indiana never got closer the rest of this first game of the season.

DiJonai Carrington and Tyasha Harris each added 16 points for the Sun, who finished the 2023 regular season with a 27–13 record and were the third seed in the 2023 WNBA Playoffs. 

Those 27 wins were the most in franchise history. Unfortunately, they lost 81–92 to the New York Liberty in a must-win game four of the semifinal series to end their season. 

Last month, team president Jennifer Rizzotti accepted the Team Leadership Award at the Connecticut Voice Magazine Honors Gala in Hartford, Conn. She accepted this award on behalf of the Connecticut Sun as the organization continues to lead efforts in DEI and supporting creative and inclusive spaces for those in the LGBTQ+, underrepresented and underserved communities.

Jennifer Rizzotti accepted the Team Leadership Award at the Connecticut Voice Magazine Honors Gala in Hartford, Conn. (Photo: Dawn Ennis/CT Voice)

Next up for the Sun: The Washington Mystics visit Uncasville on Friday, while the Fever host the Liberty on Thursday.

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Notables

Jimmy Carter’s grandson believes his granddad nearing the end

“There’s a part of that faith journey that you only can live at the very end. And I think he has been there in that space”

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Former President Jimmy Carter being interviewed by CBS News in 2006. (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

By Jill Nolin | ATLANTA, Ga. – The grandson of former President Jimmy Carter provided an update on his grandfather’s condition Tuesday at the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, which was the first held since the former first lady’s death.

Grandson Jason Carter said he visited his grandfather at his home in Plains a couple weeks ago to watch an Atlanta Braves baseball game.

“I said, ‘Pawpaw, people ask me how you’re doing, and I say, I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘well, I don’t know myself,’” Jason Carter said during the event at the Carter Center in Atlanta. “He’s still there.” 

Jimmy Carter, who at 99 years old is the longest lived president, has been in hospice care since early 2023. Rosalynn Carter, his wife of 77 years, died in November.

Jason Carter said he believes his grandfather is nearing the end.

“There’s a part of this faith journey that is so important to him, and there’s a part of that faith journey that you only can live at the very end. And I think he has been there in that space,” Jason Carter said. 

His grandfather’s time in hospice care has been a reminder of the work Rosalynn Carter did to advance caregiving and mental health, he said.

“The caregiving associated with mental health and mental illness is so crucial and so fundamental to the work that we all do in this room and to her legacy that it is remarkable and important, and we’ve all experienced it very first hand over the last year so we give thanks for that as well,” Jason Carter said. 

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Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Georgia Recorder and is republished with permission.

The Georgia Recorder is an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on connecting public policies to the stories of the people and communities affected by them. We bring a fresh perspective to coverage of the state’s biggest issues from our perch near the Capitol in downtown Atlanta. We view news as a vital community service and believe that government accountability and transparency are valued by all Georgians.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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GLAAD Media Awards

Journalist Erin Reed wins Best Blog at 35th annual GLAAD awards

Los Angeles and Washington Blade(s) contributor, journalist Erin Reed, took home a GLAAD media award for her reporting on LGBTQ+ laws, people

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Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-Missoula) with her fiancée journalist Erin Reed at the 2024 GLAAD Media awards held in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Erin Reed)

NEW YORK – Los Angeles and Washington Blade’s contributor, journalist Erin Reed, took home a GLAAD media award this past Saturday as she was honored for her reporting on LGBTQ+ laws, people, and moments around the world with special emphasis on in-depth reporting on issues affecting the trans community, of which she along with her fiancée Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-Missoula) are part of.

Reflecting on her recognition by the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization winning for Outstanding Blog: Reed said:

When I started reporting on queer and trans issues several years ago, I never envisioned myself becoming a journalist in this space. Instead, I was simply trying to help people understand where to get their healthcare resources, what laws challenged those resources, and what they could do to advocate for themselves through the legislative process and courts. I moved to writing long-form content almost two years ago when I realized that major media outlets were leaving a giant void in reporting on queer and trans issues.

I have been so blessed to be in the position I am in, where I can tell our stories every day. I cannot do this without standing on the shoulders of giants—the trans kids I saw tonight at the Gender Cool Project, the trans elders who fought for our healthcare long before us, and the activists in every single state messaging me every time they see something important. I also could not do it without all of you, the subscribers who make this work sustainable.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You make this work worth it.”

The 35th Annual GLAAD Media Awards:

Honorees Jennifer Hudson & Orville Peck took the stage with host Ross Mathews as Loren Allred & Scott Hoying  performed live. (Photos: GLAAD/Getty Images)

GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, introduced by Attorney General of New York Letitia James, said in part: “Ten years ago when I started at GLAAD, It was a much different landscape…And now we have the urgent need to protect it all. Our latest poll shows that more than half of American voters are turned off by candidates who are anti-trans. Hating us is becoming a losing proposition. We have to keep telling our stories, raising our voices, pushing back on the rhetoric.”

GLAAD presented the following awards onstage in New York:

  • “Our America Who I’m Meant to Be – Episode 3” received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Journalism – Long-Form presented by Don Lemon
  • Family Karma received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program presented by the cast of We’re Here (Jaida Essence Hall, Latrice Royale, Priyanka, Sasha Velour)
  • Melissa Etheridge: My Window received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Broadway Production presented by Uma Thurman
  • “Jennifer Hudson Surprises HIV Activist with $10,000” The Jennifer Hudson Show received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Variety or Talk Show Episode presented by Carla Gugino and Mary McDonnell
  • Red, White, and Royal Blue received the GLAAD Media Award for Queer Fan Favorite presented by Cody Rigsby and Beanie Feldstein

GLAAD also announced these winners in an offstage video reel in New York:

Outstanding Podcast: Las Culturistas (iHeart)

Outstanding Film – Streaming Or TV: Rustin (Netflix)

Outstanding Documentary: Beyond the Aggressives: 25 Years Later (MTV Documentary Films), Kokomo City (Magnolia Pictures), and The Stroll (HBO | Max Documentary Films)

Outstanding New Series: The Last of Us (HBO)

Outstanding Kids & Family Programming or Film – Live Action: Heartstopper (Netflix)

Outstanding Broadway Production: Melissa Etheridge: My Window, by Melissa Etheridge

Outstanding TV Journalism Segment: “New York City Gay Bar Deaths Classified as Homicides” (NBC News Now)

Outstanding Live TV Journalism – Segment or Special: “Indiana Students Put on LGBTQ-Themed Play Themselves After it’s Canceled By the School” Yasmin Vossoughian Reports (MSNBC)

Outstanding Print Article: “As Drag Bans Proliferate, Maren Morris Goes Deep With Drag’s Biggest Stars on Why the Show Must Go On” by Stephen Daw (Billboard)

Outstanding Online Journalism Article: “The AP Interview: Pope Francis Says Homosexuality Not a Crime” by Nicole Winfield (AP.com)

Outstanding Online Journalism – Video or Multimedia: 7 Remarkable Trans Elders Share Lessons for the Next Generation” (them.us)

Outstanding Blog: Erin Reed – Erin in the Morning

Spanish Language – Outstanding Online Journalism Article: Personas mayores LGBTQIA+ ‘tienen que regresar a un clóset para poder buscar vivienda‘” por David Cordero Mercado y Joaquín A. Rosado Lebrón (PeriodismoInvestigativo.com & ElNuevoDia.com)

Spanish Language – Outstanding Online Journalism – Video or Multimedia: “Conoce a la primera diputada negra y trans de Brasil” por Natalia Barrera Francis, Joyce García, David von Blohn, Paula Daibert y Claudia Escobar (Descoloniza – AJ+ Español)

GLAAD previously announced Special Recognition awards for The Dads (Netflix), Love in Gravity, Relighting Candles (Hulu), Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce (AMC Theatres), The Tennessee Holler, Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story, Drag Latina (Revry / LATV), Enamorándonos (UniMás), El sabor de la navidad (ViX), Wendy, perdida pero famosa (ViX)

GLAAD also previously announced that +Life Media received the Barbara Gittings Award for Excellence in LGBTQ Media.

The following winners were announced at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles on March 14th:

Outstanding Drama Series: Yellowjackets (Showtime)

Outstanding Comedy Series: Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series: Fellow Travelers (Showtime)

Outstanding Film – Wide Theatrical Release: Bottoms (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Outstanding Film – Limited Theatrical Release: Monica (IFC Films)

Outstanding Reality Competition Program: RuPaul’s Drag Race (MTV)

Outstanding Music Artist: Renee Rapp, Snow Angel (Interscope)

Outstanding Breakthrough Music Artist: David Archuleta (Archie Music)

Outstanding Children’s Programming: “Blue River Wedding” Ada Twist: Scientist (Netflix)

Outstanding Kids & Family Programming or Film – Animated: Hailey’s On It! (Disney Channel)

Outstanding Magazine Overall Coverage: Out

Outstanding Video Game: Baldur’s Gate 3 (Larian Studios)

Outstanding Comic Book; Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, written by Alyssa Wong (Marvel Comics)

Outstanding Original Graphic Novel/Anthology: Four-Color Heroes, by Richard Fairgray (Fanbase Press)

Outstanding Scripted Television Series – Spanish Language: Las Noches de Tefía (Atresplayer)

Outstanding TV Journalism – Spanish Language: “Adolescentes trans relatan su experiencia” Noticiero Telemundo (Telemundo)

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Online/Digital Streaming Media

Deliciously queer ‘Dead Boy Detectives’ a case worth taking on

A light-hearted, smart, and complex sensibility behind the fantasy

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The cast of ‘Dead Boy Detectives.’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Believe it or not, there was once a time when the Hollywood entertainment industry didn’t take comic books very seriously — but then, neither did anyone else.

In the early days, comics were dismissed by most adults as childish fantasy; indeed, those with a penchant for clutching pearls saw them as a threat to their children’s intellectual development and therefore to the future of America itself. Their popularity could not be denied, however, and Hollywood, ever eager to capitalize on a trend, was certainly hungry to get a piece of the action.

The problem was that the studio lackeys assigned to adapt the comics for the screen during those “golden years” were never actually fans of the comics themselves. The result was a parade of kitschy – if occasionally stylish – low-budget serials, kiddie matinees, and “B movies” which operated, for the most part, at the level of cartoons, and mindless ones at that. Even in the 1960s, when comics like “X-Men” had begun exploring mature themes and turning the comic book into a counterculture phenomenon, the best that Hollywood – now deploying the then-relatively new medium of television – was a “Batman” series that felt even campier than the corny serials of three decades before.

Yet despite being treated as a throwaway genre with no cultural significance or intellectual value, the popularity never went away – and with the generation that grew up with comics now old enough to be working in Hollywood themselves, a new burst of creativity began to infuse the screen’s version of the genre with the kind of nuance and sophistication that fans had always known was there. Fast forward to 2024, when comics-based content dominates not just our movie screens – nobody needs to be told about the way it has shaped (some would say crippled) the mainstream film industry for the last decade or so – but all our other screens, as well. And while much of the material that has resulted from this obsessive fascination with comics (and comics-adjacent material like “Star Wars” and other similar fantasy franchises) often suffers from the same safe “appeal to the LCD” mentality that robbed the vintage stuff of its potential, the artistry of creators who are fans themselves has also resulted in a lot of genuinely good storytelling.

In the latter category, we offer up “Dead Boy Detectives” – a new series derived from a supplemental thread in renowned comics creator-turned-bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking “Sandman”, which debuted last week on Netflix  – as a counter to the increasingly popular notion that comic books have hamstrung the industry’s creativity.

Based on characters and storylines that emerged during the original run of Gaiman’s iconic book (published by DC Comics via its Vertigo imprint), it’s a fresh, funny-yet-emotionally engaging supernatural saga in which two ghosts who died in their youth – the titular “Dead Boys” – operate a detective agency in London, solving mysteries for other spirits who need closure before moving on to the afterlife.

The boys – Edwin (George Rexstrew) and Charles (Jayden Revri) – are not themselves quite ready to depart the earthly plane, however; on the contrary, they operate on the lam, making sure to keep one step ahead of Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, reprising her role from Netflix’s acclaimed “Sandman” adaptation) so that she can’t drag them out of it before they’re ready. Something of a mismatched pair (both died at the same English boarding school, but 60 years apart), they nevertheless have established a fondness for each other and a dynamic together that makes them an excellent team in solving the supernatural crimes they encounter in their work. Their biggest handicap is the difficulty of dealing with the living – who, for the most part, cannot see or hear them – when it becomes necessary in an investigation. Fortunately for them (and for the story, of course), they find a solution to that issue during episode one.

Enlisted by the ghost of a Victorian child to rescue the human medium – Crystal Palace (Kassius Nelson), possessed by a former boyfriend who was actually a demon (David Iacono) – that has been trying to help her “cross over”, the detectives find themselves with a living ally who can not only interact with them, but also with the “real” world in which they do their work. With Crystal  on the team, they are soon called to an American seaport town to investigate the disappearance of a child – who, it turns out, has been abducted by a witch (Jenn Lyon) intent on draining her youthful essence in pursuit of her own immortal beauty. We don’t want to give anything away, but during the course of the case they not only incur her wrath, they set off alarm bells on the “other side”, calling attention to the fact that two AWOL souls are still lingering in the human world.

Things get worse for them in the second episode, when Edwin attracts the interest of the local “Cat King” (Lukas Gage, “White Lotus,” “Down Low”) and subsequently finds himself cursed to remain until he has “counted all the cats” in town – a daunting and maybe impossible task. 

Though jumping into the second installment might feel like getting ahead of ourselves, it’s important to look ahead for the sake of exploring the show’s deliciously pervasive queerness, so forgive the spoiler-ish leap; because it is Edwin, who died in an era long before being openly attracted to other boys could even be discussed, let alone accepted, that serves to root the story’s tension into a real-life context that helps all the supernatural nonsense connect with relatable real-world experience and emotion. Uncomfortable more than a century after his death with the secrets of his own sexuality, he finds himself hampered by his jealousy of the obvious growing attraction between his literal BFF and the new girl psychic who has joined their team – as well as vulnerable to manipulation from both the witch who has it in for him and the Cat King who… well, let’s just say that Edwin’s cat-counting curse could be easily lifted if he would only accept another way to appease the libidinous (and far from unappealing) feline monarch.

It’s best we stop there, before we reveal too much; the series – developed by Steve Yockey and produced by (among others) original author Gaiman and out queer TV impresario Greg Berlanti – sets up its story arc very plainly from the beginning, so savvy viewers will read the subtext long before any definitive events take place, but much of what makes it fun is watching how it all unfolds.

Suffice to say that, with engaging performances from all its players, a light-hearted, smart, and complex sensibility behind all of its fantasy elements, and a palpably queer vibe that leaves plenty of room for allies to jump on board, too, it’s one of the more worthwhile (and meaningful) “comic book” stories to hit our screens in a long while.

Maybe more importantly, it’s also entertaining, which makes it easy for us to recommend “Dead Boy Detectives” as a case you’ll definitely want to accept.

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Books

‘Mean Boys’ raises questions of life, death, and belonging

“Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beach read or something you’ll breeze through in a weekend

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(Boom cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Mean Boys: A Personal History’
By Geoffrey Mak
c.2024, Bloomsbury 
$28.99/267 pages

It’s how a pleasant conversation is fed, with give and take, back and forth, wandering casually and naturally, a bit of one subject easing into the next with no preamble. It’s communication you can enjoy, like what you’ll find inside “Mean Boys” by Geoffrey Mak.

Sometimes, a conversation ends up exactly where it started.

Take, for instance, Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” which leads Mak to think about his life and his inability to “cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense.” Part of that problem, he says, was that his living arrangements weren’t consistent. He sometimes “never really knew where I was living,” whether it was Berlin or California, in a studio or high-end accommodations. The parties, the jokes, the internet consumption were as varied as the homes and sometimes, “it didn’t really matter.” Sometimes, you have to accept things and just “move on.”

When he was 12 years old, Mak’s father left his corporate job, saying that he was “called by God” to become a minister. It created a lot of resentment for Mak, for the lack of respect his father got, and because his parents were “passionately anti-gay.” He moved as far away from home as he could, and he blocked all communication with his parents for years, until he realized that “By hating my father, I ended up hating myself, too.”

And then there was club life which, in Mak’s descriptions, doesn’t sound much different in Berghain (Germany) as it is in New York. He says he “threw myself into night life,” in New York Houses, in places that gave “a skinny Chinese kid from the suburbs… rules I still live by,” on random dance floors, and in Pornceptual. Eventually this, drugs, work, politics, pandemic, basically everything and life in general led to a mental crisis, and Mak sought help.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Mak says at one point. “Sometimes life was bad, and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes it just was.”

Though there are times when this book feels like having a heart-to-heart with an interesting new acquaintance, “Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beach read or something you’ll breeze through in a weekend.

No, author Geoffrey Mak jumps from one random topic to another with enough frequency to make you pay close to attention to his words, lest you miss something. That won’t leave you whiplashed; instead, you’re pulled into the often-dissipated melee just enough to feel almost involved with it – but with a distinct sense that you’re being held at arms’ length, too. That some stories have no definitive timeline or geographical stamp – making it hard to find solid ground – also adds to the slight loss of equilibrium here, like walking on slippery river rocks.

Surprisingly, that’s not entirely unpleasant but readers will want to know that the ending in “Mean Boys” could leave their heads swirling with a dozen thoughts on life, belonging, and death. If you like depth in your memoirs, you’ll like that — and this.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Online Culture

Online safe spaces for queer youth increasingly at risk

“Social media [are] where young people increasingly turn to get information about their community, their history, their bodies & themselves” 

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Los Angeles Blade/Bigstock

By Henry Carnell | MIAMI, Fla.  – “They had LGBTQ-inclusive books in every single classroom and school library,” Maxx Fenning says of his high school experience. “They were even working on LGBTQ-specific course codes to get approved by the state,” he said, describing courses on queer studies and LGBTQ Black history. 

No, Fenning didn’t grow up in Portland or a Boston suburb. Fenning graduated from a South Florida high school in 2020. Florida’s transformation from mostly affirming to “Don’t Say Gay” has been swift, he says. “It feels like a parallel universe.” 

Fenning, who just graduated from the University of Florida, follows the developments closely as the executive director of PRISM FL Inc., a youth-led LGBTQ nonprofit he founded at 17. “I’ve watched so many of the things that I kind of took advantage of be stripped away from all of the students that came after me,” Fenning says. “It’s one thing to be in an environment that’s not supportive of you. It’s another thing to be in an environment that’s supportive of you and then watch it fall apart.”

“It’s just gut-wrenching,” Fenning explained, describing how Florida’s increasingly hostile legislation has transformed the state he has lived in most of his life. 

Most recently, Florida passed HB3, “Online Protections for Minors,” which bans youth under 14 from having social media accounts. Youths aged 14 and 15 need parental consent before getting accounts and any minor must be protected from “harmful content” online.

Unlike the previous legislation, which came predominately from the right and directly targeted issues like gender-affirming healthcare or DEI, HB3 is part of a bipartisan push across the country to regulate social media, specifically for youth. HB3 was co-sponsored by Michele K. Rayner, the openly queer Black member of the Florida Legislature, alongside many of her colleagues across the aisle. Similar national legislation, like Kids Online Safety Act, includes 68 Democratic and Republican sponsors.

Shae Gardner, policy director at LGBT Tech, explains that this legislation disproportionately harms LGBTQ youth, regardless of intentions or sponsors. 

Gardner says that while all these bills claim they are for the safety of kids, for LGBTQ youth, “you are putting them at risk if you keep them offline.” She explains that “a majority of LGBTQ youth do not have access to affirming spaces in their homes and their communities. They go online to look like that. A majority say online spaces are affirming.” 

Research by the Trevor Project, which reports that more than 80% of LGBTQ youth “feel safe and understood in specific online spaces” backs this up. Specific online spaces that are under target from legislation, like TikTok, are disproportionately spaces where LGBTQ youth of color feel safest.

“For LGBTQ people, social media has provided spaces, which are, at once both public and private, that encourage, and enhance … a great deal of self-expression that is so important for these communities,” confirms Dr. Paromita Pain, professor, Global Media Studies & Cybersecurity at University of Nevada, Reno. She is the editor of the books “Global LGBTQ Activism” and “LGBTQ digital cultures.”

Fenning emphasizes that with bills like “Don’t Say Gay,” in Florida — and other states including North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa, and Indiana — LGBTQ youth have less access to vital information about their health and history. “Social media [are] where young people increasingly turn to get information about their community, their history, their bodies and themselves.” 

At PRISM, Fenning works to get accurate, fact-backed information to Florida youth through these pathways, ranging from information on health and wellbeing to LGBTQ history to current events. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Often youth tell him “I wish I learned this in school,” which is a bittersweet feeling for Fenning since it represents how much young LGBTQ youth are missing out on in their education. 

Morgan Mayfaire, executive director of TransSOCIAL, a Florida advocacy group, said that these internet bans are an extension of book bans, because when he was a teen, books were his pathway into the LGBTQ community. “For me it was the library and the bookstores that we knew were LGBTQ friendly.” Now 65, Mayfaire understands that “kids today have grown up with the internet. That’s where they get all their information. You start closing this off, and you’re basically boxing them in and closing every single avenue that they have. What do you think is going to happen? Of course, it’s going to have an impact emotionally and mentally.”

Fenning says that social media and the internet were powerful to him as a teen. “I was able to really come into my own and learn about myself also through social media. It was really powerful for me, building a sense of self.” Gardner agrees, sharing that legislation like this, which would have limited “15-year-old me, searching ‘if it was OK to be gay’ online, would have stagnated my journey into finding out who I was.”

Gardner also explains that many of the bills, like HB3, limit content that is “harmful” or “obscene” but do not specifically define what that content is. Those definitions can be used to limit LGBTQ content.

“Existing content moderation tools already over-censor LGBTQ+ content and users,” says Gardner, “they have a hard time distinguishing between sexual content and LGBTQ+ content.” Pain emphasizes that this is no accident, “there are algorithms that have been created to specifically keep these communities out.”

With the threat of fines and litigation from HB3, says Gardner, “moderation tools and the platforms that use them is only going to worsen,” especially since the same legislators may use the same terms to define other queer content like family-friendly drag performances. 

In addition to being biased, it has devastating effects on LGBTQ youth understanding of their sense of identity, Fenning explains. “That perception of queer people as being overly sexual or their relationships and love being inherently sexual in a way that other relationships aren’t does harm to our community.”

Gardner acknowledges that online safety has a long way to go — pointing to online harassment, cybercrime, and data privacy—but that these bills are not the correct pathways. She emphasizes “everybody’s data could be better protected, and that should be happening on a federal level. First and foremost, that should be the floor of protection.” 

She also emphasizes that content moderation has a long way to go from targeting the LGBTQ community to protecting it. “Trans users are the most harassed of any demographic across the board. That is the conversation I wish we were having, instead of just banning kids from being online in the first place.”

Being queer on the ground in Florida is scary. “The community is very fearful. This [legislation] has a big impact on us,” explains Mayfaire. 

“I mean, it sucks. Right?” Fenning chuckles unhappily, “to be a queer person in Florida. In a state that feels like it is just continuously doing everything it can to destroy your life and all facets and then all realms.”

Despite the legislative steamrolling, several court wins and coordinated action by LGBTQ activists help residents see a brighter future. “There’s a weird tinge of hope that that has really been carrying so many queer people and I know myself especially this year as we’re seeing the rescinding of so many of these harmful policies and laws.”

Florida students protest the state’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. (Photo courtesy Maxx Fenning)

For example, this March, Florida settled a challenge to its “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that significantly lessens its impact. Already, experts warn that HB3 will face legal challenges.

Pain emphasizes that social media is central to LGBTQ activism, especially in Florida. “There have been examples of various movements, where social media has been used extremely effectively, to put across voices to highlight issues that they would not have otherwise had a chance to talk about,” she says, specifically citing counteraction to “Don’t Say Gay.” That is another reason why legislation like this disproportionately harms LGBTQ people and other minority groups, it limits their ability to organize.

Fenning emphasizes that HB3 directly attacks spaces like PRISM, which do not just share information for the LGBTQ community, but provide spaces for them. “Foundationally it provides an opportunity for the community,” he says, but more than anything, it provides a space, where “you can you can learn from your queer ancestors, so to speak, and take charge.” And that is invaluable. 

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Henry Carnell is a reporter and researcher specializing in climate, science, technology, disinformation, and, sometimes, the LGBTQ community.

He is also a Williams College graduate and Mother Jones’ Ben Bagdikian 2023-2024 Editorial Fellow. He is also a fellow at the Washington Blade through The Digital Equity Local Voices Lab. Previously, they have worked at MIT Press and 5280 Magazine.

His reporting has appeared in ThemMother JonesInside Climate News5280, and LGBTQ Nation

This story is part of the Digital Equity Local Voices Fellowship lab through News is Out. The lab initiative is made possible with support from Comcast NBCUniversal.

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