LGBTQ & The Media

By the day, our world seems to grow smaller and smaller. Global communications technology has connected nearly every single human being on the planet, and media entertainment sources continue to thrive with what many would call rich diversity of film, music and television programming.

But not everyone would call it that.

A recent column on Variety.com has again brought to light the unfortunate and somewhat alarming truth about under-representation or even misrepresentation of certain groups in the world, specifically the politically-charged-particularly-as-of-recent-years LGBTQ community.

In fact, as of 2012, the representation of the LGBTQ community had been so poor on the silver screen that GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) brought about a standard for grading films to determine their representation and inclusion of the LGBTQ population: the Vito Russo Test, a measure included as part of the Studio Responsibility Index. In order for a film to pass the Vito Russo Test, the following must be true:

  • The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.
  • The character cannot be defined or portrayed predominantly through their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • The character must matter to the story in that their removal would have a significant effect on plot progression. This means the character cannot be present for the sole purpose of color commentary or to set up a punchline.

According to a poll that included films as recent as 2016, the authentic and realistic representation of LGBTQ characters has been alarmingly low. Out of 125 major films released, only 23 of them contained any character that identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – a staggering 18.4%. And of those 23 films that actually portrayed a character who identified within the LGBTQ community, only nine of those films actually passed the Vito Russo test – 39%. The real sad part was that this statistic was a “bounce back” year from the previous, which scored 36% of films passing the test, down from 55% the year before.

39% out of 18.4%. I’m not necessarily saying that every single film needs to have clear-cut gender- or sexuality-identifying characters. But, when the final tally of well-represented characters from the LGBTQ community in all major films across the entire year equates to 7.2%, there is most certainly a problem with representation.

Unfortunately, as Monica Trasandes wrote for Variety.com, the bottom line is money and “inclusion is good for the bottom line.” This is not to say that all platforms are failing in this regard. Trasandes points out examples such as “Orange is the New Black” and the ever-popular “Will and Grace,” which is recently seeing a revival on network television, and streaming platforms such as Netflix are putting in effort with more shows.

What is unfortunate is that, despite younger crowds being the target audience for most of these media entertainment outlets, their inclusion into this entertainment is often being put to the wayside. Trasandes notes that research from Harris Poll and GLAAD concluded that 20% of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 34 did not identify as heterosexual.

One fifth of everyone surveyed did not identify as heterosexual. And yet Hollywood cannot get even half of their films that portray a character within the LGBTQ community to represent them well. GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in 2016, “Leaving LGBT people out of the picture – or including them only as a punchline – keeps old prejudices alive and creates an unsafe environment, not only here in America, but around the world where most audiences see these depictions.”

If inclusion is good for the bottom line, then the major motion picture industry might want to get its act together rather quickly.

Who was Bayard Rustin?

During the 1960’s, America was undergoing drastic change and opposition when it came to the civil rights movement. Demonstrations were being made frequently, some peacefully and some not so peacefully. And everyone knows the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the man credited as the champion of the civil rights movement for African Americans. A name many people probably aren’t as familiar with, however, is that of one of King’s assistants and possibly the greatest influence on King’s nonviolent approaches to civil rights reform – Bayard Rustin.

Born on March 17, 1912, Rustin was an advocate for civil rights and protested segregation in the military and in civilian settings. He was also a supporter of rights for the LGBT community, though there were complications in publicly disclosing his own sexuality until later on in life, entering into the 1980’s. Rustin was well-known for writing poetry as well his strong convictions regarding desegregation and nonviolent protest, as well as his unfortunate knack for being forced to leave causes which he had supported. He had been a supporter and member of the Youth Communist League, subsequently asked to leave due to protesting desegregation within the armed forces. He participated in the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947, only later to find himself on a chain gang after already serving 3 years in prison due to refusing service in World War II as a conscientious objector. He was also forced to resign from the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1953 due to an alleged sexual act with two white men in an automobile – this after having joined the FOR 12 years prior. All of these acts had put Rustin on the FBI watch list, compromising his ability to perform for various groups at the time.

Rustin was an outspoken believer in nonviolent protest, having attended a world pacifist conference being held in India in 1948. He was a supporter of Gandhi’s ideals and was determined to bring them back to America to implement them. He reached out and assisted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in an effort to expand his resumé to peaceful protests before Dr. King was forced to part with Rustin due to threats of spreading rumors that Dr. King and Rustin were gay lovers. While Dr. King suffered a hit to his credibility, Rustin appeared unphased and continued his efforts through other avenues.

Rustin ended up being recruited by A. Philip Randolph, who was attempting to organize a march on Washington in 1963. Reaching out to Dr. King again, Rustin helped form a coalition of several different civil rights reform groups for one massive march on Washington. And while he had to take a backseat due to his weight as a “liability” according to Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, the march was closer than ever to being underway. But Rustin and his credibility would be tested again, this time by Strom Thurmond who personally read from Rustin’s FBI file, which caused internal turmoil among the coalition heads that needed to be addressed.

In the end, the march on Washington was a rousing success, even if it came at great personal cost for Bayard Rustin. And Rustin’s credibility would only continue to decline from there, as many claim he had begun to neglect the causes he had once tried so fervently to champion: hesitating to decry the war in Vietnam, alienating himself from “proponents of black power” by associating closely with the Democratic party, and cautioning Dr. King against speaking out at Riverside Church. Despite this, Rustin remained active in the pursuit of civil rights (and economic) justice, and even expanded his efforts internationally to the likes of Israel, Central America and Africa.

In the 1980’s, only a handful of years before his death, Rustin came out publicly regarding his sexuality and urged others like him to do the same for the sake of civil rights aimed toward the LGBT community, as they had become the new standard for “judging the character of people in regard to human rights…” Rustin died in 1987, leaving behind a legacy of nonviolent protest and support for civil rights involving various and diverse social groups – and nearly all of it from behind the scenes.

THE CONNECTION: RAINBOW FLAG AND GAY RIGHTS

The rainbow flag has been an iconic symbol for the gay-rights movement, and now the LGBTQ community, for going on four decaes now. And for all intents and purposes, it has always been part of the gay rights movement as an original work, though even the original maker of the flag may admit that it was a variation of another rainbow-like flag that was prominent in the 1960s Hippie movement.

But the rainbow flag as it has been known in the gay community has always been part of the movement and hasn’t varied much, except when certain colors of fabric were not available (or so it’s said).

While the rainbow flag has always been part of the gay-rights movement since its original use in the late 1970s, how did it become the predominant symbol of the movement?

It started with an openly gay artist in San Francisco named Gilbert Baker, and the San Francisco City Council  member, Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay elected official and was a staunch gay-rights activist.

The story goes that Baker met Milk in 1974, while Milk was an influential gay-rights advocate in the Bay Area, and the two began a friendship. In 1977, as Milk was ascending in state and national prominence with his dabbing in local politics, Milk asked Baker to come up with a symbol of gay rights that could be included in the upcoming Gay Rights Parade that was going through the streets of San Francisco the following year.

Baker , in looking for inspiration, was aid to have been partially inspired by Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” (Garland was reportedly one of the first gay heroines), and was partially inspired by a rainbow-themed flag of the Hippie movement of the 1960s, which featured five horizontal stripes representing the human races (red, white, brown, yellow, black).

From those two motivations, Baker came up with a rainbow flag with eight horizontal stripes to serve as the symbol for gay pride. Baker even gave all eight stripes specific meanings:

  • Bright pink: Sex
  • Red: Life
  • Orange: Healing
  • Yellow: Sunlight
  • Green: Nature
  • Turquoise: Magic or Art
  • Indigo: Serenity
  • Violet: Spirit

The rainbow flag gained widespread popularity following Milk’s assassination in 1978, but the flag went through a couple of modifications. As demand for the rainbow flag surged, the flag company which made the flags found very low supply of bright-pink fabric, so the company dropped the top stripe and sold a seven-striped rainbow flag.

Then in 1979, the flag was modified again, as the turquoise stripe was dropped, resulting in a six-stripe flag – mainly because the turquoise stripe was always obscured when the flags were hung from street lamps along Market Street in San Francisco.

The eight-striped flag celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003, and a movement tried to establish the original flag as the symbol of the wider  LGBT community. However, the six-striped design has remained the choice of the general community, while the eight-stripe version is still used in some parts to represent gay pride and the gay and lesbian community specifically.

WHATIS WITH THE ‘QIA’ IN LBGTQIA?

There is nothing if not inclusivity in the LBGTQ world.

By now, many people understand the minority group that identified itself as the LGBT community. Of course many of us know the letters stand for Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender, which is a group that has fought hard for equal rights and protections under the law, regardless of whether their sexuality is a choice, their gender identity is a choice or whether it’s all or partially dictated by genetics and natural biology. Much in civil and human rights has been challenged, and many of those rights have been won, through the work of a unified LGBT community.

Sometimes, however, and especially more often recently, that familiar acronym has gradually expanded to express more of the community in a more comprehensive and accurate way – not forcing some people of a minority orientation to “choose” a “category” in which to fit. After all, there are some who don’t fit snugly into any of the four categories suggested by LGBT. The letter “Q” has been added recently, and in some circles you will see two additional letters, plus even a math symbol – as in LGBTQIA+.

Let us take a quick moment and answer the inevitable questions about these recent additional letters to the generally accepted acronym and understand what they mean and why they perhaps may be necessary for the sake of inclusion.

Q stands for either “queer” or “questioning.” “Queer” was a slur 40 and 50 years ago, and because of that heritage it can sstill be seen as an epithet in some circles within this community. However, “queer” is essentially a self-aplied label that only means what that individual accepts and wants it to mean for him or herself – but it is usually identifying a person calling him or herself “queer” as in being outside of normal either in gender, identity or orientation.

“Queer” tends to include all members of the LGBT community, while “questioning” usually applies to those who are “curious” about their orientation or exploring ggender identities – someone who is bi-curious, for example, would be considered “questioning.”

The I stands for “intersex,” which is a very interesting term. It is also controversial, in that there are some intersex people who would rather not be identified and are OK with being in the shadows. An intersex person is someone who has sexual organs, features, chromosomes, characteristics, etc., that are not easily placed into a binary, male or female category.

The A more generally stands for “asexual/aromantic” or less-frequently “ally.” An asexual or aromantic person is one who does not feel any sexual or romantic attraction to anyone, or has no sexual orientation or identity. An ally is simply a person who does not personally fit into any part of the community (so, usually a hetero person) but supports the community in its various efforts to gain acceptance and human-rights protections.

Sometimes, the “+” can include allies as well as any people who have orientation or identity that stil does not fit with any of the definitions included in the acronym.

What Is A Drag Queen?

People are judgmental, and we often strive to conform to a rather strict set of social standards that few can truly achieve with perfection. If you’re a man, you’re expected to stand up for yourself. You can be aggressive and violent, but only if you’re playing a contact sport. You grow up given trucks and dinosaurs to play with, but don’t even think about touching that barbie doll. If you’re a man, you’re not allowed to cry. You’re not allowed to cuddle with another man. And you’re certainly not allowed to dress up like a woman. Cross-dressing is most definitely frowned upon, but gay men have found a way to take it to the extreme. And that extreme is one of the greatest things in the world: the drag queen.

But what is a drag queen exactly?

Most drag queens are men. They dress up like women (like, really really well), and they exaggerate the feminine qualities of women (also really well). They might do this for fashion or they might do it for entertainment, it’s their personal choice. A drag show often consists of a performer telling jokes, singing, dancing, and lip-syncing. No matter what the reason, drag queens have become an important and major part of gay culture. It should be noted that while many drag queens are gay, and the drag queen is most definitely a strong gay symbol, not all those who perform as drag queens are gay. A drag “king” is a woman who dresses up as a man.

There are a number of myths that arise because of the nature of this phenomenon. Naturally, most of them arise from the mouths of perpetually dumb straight people.

One common myth is that drag queens have an intrinsic desire to be women. Sure, some drag queens are transgender, but then again some drag queens are straight. People dress up because it’s fun. It’s a different kind of fun to dress up like another person and experience life in a different way. But more than that, dressing up in drag is an art form. It doesn’t make those who choose to do it less masculine or less manly than anyone else. It just means they like participating in a different form of entertainment or art than a lot of the psychologically-conditioned people outside of the gay community could possibly understand.

There are different kinds of drag queens as well. Not all men shave, and not all drag queens shave either. This phenomenon is often called “bear” or “skag” drag. Because drag is an art form, it is up to the individual to decide how he or she wants to present the art!

Many people are unfamiliar with the concept of drag or what it really entails, but the best way to enlighten yourself is to befriend someone who does it, ask questions, and have fun!

What is a “Bear” in Gay Culture?

It seems like the “dude” side of gay culture always gets the most attention; women are excluded from all the fun. On the male side of the gay community, various physical types are categorized, each with its own distinct name. A twink, for example, is a younger guy with boyish good looks. One step below a bear is an otter. These are slightly hairy guys who might not be quite as big as their counterparts. What exactly is a “bear” in gay culture?

Bears are usually on the bigger side. They aren’t necessarily obese or overweight, but they bring some bulk to the table. They might not be muscular, but when you imagine a bear you imagine the picture of masculinity. They might not portray the same rugged disposition in person as they do when in a picture frame, and so a photograph of a bear might not do them justice. Before the term was popularized, it was used for any hairy gay man. The term has continued to evolve.

Bear Magazine brought the term into the mainstream, and gay culture has used it ever since. Even today, however, there is a lot of debate surrounding exactly what a bear is. The fact that so many other names (twink and otter included) have developed over the decades has led to confusion even within the gay community, as not everyone knows them all.

Within gay culture, there is a much more elaborate bear community. Because there are now so many different types of bears, some feel discriminated against. During some events, chubbier guys are excluded so that more muscular bears may participate. This causes a lot of criticism from both inside and outside of the gay community, as discrimination of those who don’t fit one person’s standards has become a lot more pervasive. Considering the common struggles of the gay community as a whole, it doesn’t seem to make sense that there is so much in-fighting and rampant discrimination within the community itself.

More controversy has developed because of the focus on physical features, but that same criticism surrounds the entire gay community and its subdivisions, as most all of them focus on the same type of similarities or differences.

Other subdivisions of the bear in gay culture include the cub, or a younger bear. The chub is more likely to be overweight or obese. A panda is an Asian bear. A polar bear is an older man who has experienced hair color loss. An ursula refers to a female bear. Although criticism of these divisions is common, popular culture continues to take note of this tiny detail of gay culture.

Brazil Tries To “Cure” Homosexuality With Conversion Therapy

Everything we know about the mind and body confirms one simple fact: falling in love with the same sex does not constitute an illness or disease. Yet there are many cultures around the world that still choose to define it as such, in spite of everything the greatest minds have already proven to be true. One judge in Brazil has taken a step into very extreme and very dangerous territory, approving “conversion therapy” after ruling that homosexuality is a disease. How this is still up to a judicial branch and not medical practitioners is beyond reason, but there it is.

Federal Brazilian Judge Waldemar de Carvalho made the decision, and there was a near-immediate uproar by gay rights activists worldwide. Carvalho chose to listen to an evangelical psychologist–Rozangela Justino–who believes conversion therapy is a tried and true way to get rid of the gay.

What is conversion therapy, exactly?

Well it’s sort of a catch-all phrase for government-backed bullying, if nothing else. The therapy ranges from lobotomizing the “patient” with an ice pick to chemical castration to electrically shocking the genitals. Others prefer a more crude means of treatment, as sometimes simple beatings will suffice. Many times conversion therapy results in permanent physical damage or death, and of course the psychological damage can be just as bad.

Then again, that seems to be the point. Those who believe the therapy works know that it’s possible to condition an animal (humans included) to enact a certain behavior through means of psychological reinforcement. If you want to condition a dog not to defecate indoors, for example, then you might raise your voice when catching it in the act, and then lead it outdoors to finish its business there. You might reward proper behavior with a treat. Do this enough times, and sooner or later the behavior you want to reinforce will be a matter of habit.

The problem is, being gay isn’t a behavior. Who you fall in love with may govern certain other behaviors that generally play out behind closed doors, but feelings are just that–feelings. They aren’t behaviors, and so they can’t be conditioned into whatever you want them to be through brutality or any other kind of barbaric psychological reinforcement. Conversion therapy does not work, and we already know that. You might push someone into a couple years of pretending (or suicide), but that’s it.

Why do people still advocate for the administration of this therapy in government and certain social circles? That’s a lot more simple: because conservative members of some religions believe that homosexuality is a sin. Openly gay members of government, real psychologists (not the ones who dabble in pseudoscience), actors and pop stars have all banded together to say that this advocation of conversion therapy is a major blow to equal rights, and without a doubt a step backwards.

You can’t “cure” homosexuality, no matter how much you might hate it. It’s time for our societies to grow up a little and stop squandering precious resources on the things that matter the least.

Who is TV Producer Jamie Babbit?

Jamie Babbit is a role model to many aspiring actors, directors and producers in the film industry where she has worked for over two decades. She is known for the films she has directed, included The Quiet and Itty Bitty Titty Committee, and also the TV shows Gilmore Girls, United States of Tara, Malcolm in the Middle, and more. She is openly gay and has two children with a former partner. She lives with her wife, and is still involved in the film industry.

Many of the productions she has worked on focus on relatable family issues with a fair bit of dark comedy thrown in for good measure.

She started acting at the young age of seven, enjoying humble beginnings at the Cleveland Play House before she transitioning to more technical aspects of production such as lighting and stage management. She always yearned to stay in the field, but she remained pragmatic while in college, first studying West African history before she graduated at Barnard College in 1993. She went on to study film at NYU–but only during summer vacation.

Like many of the biggest names in Hollywood, Babbit started at the bottom of the totem pole and quickly climbed upwards. She was first the assistant of an assistant to Martin Scorsese, then an intern for The Secret of Roan Inish. She finally made a jump to script supervisor when The Journey of August King was being filmed. She only got the job by lying through her teeth, and according to her she was grossly unqualified for the position. She learned fast, and continued onto similar jobs in the greater New York area.

Her goal was direction, and she made it happen in 1996 when she co-directed Frog Crossing with Ari Gold. Her next job was Sleeping Beauties in 1999. That was the same year that she directed the feature film But I’m a Cheerleader, making the gap between finishing education and her first feature a respectably short six years.

During her time in the film industry, Babbit hasn’t shied away from complex issues. In addition to the aforementioned shows, she also worked on Dirty Sexy Money, Drop Dead Diva, Looking, and the L Word.

Although she hopes to continue to make respectable feature-length films, she enjoys television and will continue to work in that field in the future. In doing so, she can spend more time with actors and enjoy a break from the added responsibility and pressures of directing feature films even as she conceives new ideas for the latter. She currently lives in Los Angeles at the age of 46.

Who is TV Actress Michelle Bonilla?

Michelle Bonilla is a gay latina actress who paved her own way through Hollywood over the years, but as difficult as that road has been she believes that it’s a lot worse for the men who are more often discriminated against for their race or sexual orientation. Even so, she felt her fair share of pushback due to a completely open portrayal of her own sexual orientation, and she believes that it is important to make sure fewer people experience that in the future. She avoids roles of the traditionally stereotyped latina, and she advises those trying to make it in the industry to go your own way and fight for what you want regardless of who tells you it’s impossible or that you don’t have what it takes.

When Bonilla made a short film with a deeply personal meaning for her peers (and herself), it was widely accepted by everyone in the industry–except her own newly hired agent. It was her own short from the get-go, and it was subsequently reviewed favorably by the critics after making it into several film festivals. It even won awards. Yet she still got criticized for the “type” of gay character she portrayed. The film about a gay relationship was autobiographical. To her, the criticism might have stung, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter because it was real. She found its creation fulfilling, and that’s the only thing that should matter to those who seek to create good art and make sure that the people who want to experience it are able to do so.

Bonilla briefly studied at California State University in Northridge, where aspiring actors train the same way. She received Stanislavsky training, and it wasn’t her cup of tea. Eventually, she found an alternative style in the Meisner technique, and it worked wonders for her creative spirit.

Because of the way latina individuals are often typecast to fit the mold of a particular stereotype, she has often turned down roles that don’t fit with her perception of her own community. After all, if those roles are the only ones people ever see, then that’s the way the rest of the world will see the latina community.

Bonilla is best known for her time on ER, where she sporadically played an ambulance worker in 58 episodes over the course of a decade, starting in 1999. She caught the acting bug early on at age ten before studying music, dance, and theater. Interestingly, she finds that better roles are coming her way now that she’s getting older. She continues to learn every day.

History of Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner is a transgendered television personality and former Olympic gold medalist. Born William Bruce Jenner in the year of 1949, Caitlyn’s journey has been highly publicized throughout the years.

In 1972, Caitlyn, then known as Bruce, began competing in the men’s decathlon events of the Olympics. Around this time, Bruce entered into the first marriage to girlfriend Chrystie Crownover. Chrystie provided the majority of the family’s income by working as a flight attendant, while Bruce trained during the day and sold insurance by night.

Training ended in Olympic success for Jenner. In the years that followed, Bruce won many events and was inducted into many different halls of fame. During this time, however, Olympic athletes were not paid as they are now. They were not allowed to seek or receive payment as sports celebrities. So instead, Bruce sought to earn from his celebrity in a different way. This was accomplished by being a spokesperson for a variety of different products and even appearing on the cover of magazines like Sports Illustrated.

Bruce eventually moved on to starting a television, motorsports, and business career. Prior to her public gender transition, Bruce was married to three different women which produced a total of six children. Her most famous marriage was to Kris Kardashian, mother of Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe Kardashian, as well as son Robert. Together they had Kendall and Kylie.

Bruce and Jenner divorced in 2015, the same year that Bruce formerly came out as Caitlyn. She discussed how she had dealt with gender dysphoria since her youth and would often dress up as a female. She even engaged in hormone replacement therapy until her relationship with Kris Jenner became more serious and they decided to marry.

Caitlyn has undergone cosmetic surgery, and in January of 2017, she received sex reassignment surgery. While Caitlyn has transitioned, she states that she has never experienced an attraction to men. Rather, she always found herself to be sexually attracted to females. As she does not believe gender identity and sexual orientation need to go hand-in-hand, she has decided to identify as asexual for the time being.

In conclusion, Caitlyn Jenner has lived a very rich and fulfilling life. She has also bravely let her transition be publically documented, opening up the way for others to feel free to transition themselves.