Holly Johnson – Gay Icon

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Openly and unapologetically gay, partnered to a man for 30 years and responsible for one of the most explicit songs in pop – we couldn’t find a gayer gay icon. Holly found fame and notoriety as the lead singer of agent provocateurs Frankie Goes to Hollywood, is about to release new album Europa this month and happily dishes the dirt on that golden era of gay pop music.

We meet Holly at a members club in Soho, though it’s not our first encounter. He’s a champion and supporter of new gay artists, and we’ve bumped into him at a couple of gigs like The Irrepressibles and Xiu Xiu. So straight away, we’re catching up with the warm Liverpudlian and into chatty mode. We start swapping stories and discussing someone who’s been interviewed recently in GT, but wasn’t prepared to talk about their sexuality. Despite being quite gay.

“For me, it’s really weird, having always been open about it since 1983 when I first did an interview for NME. It seems really strange we’re in that state of affairs, brushing it all under the carpet for higher record sales and acceptance. It’s almost as if me and Jimmy Somerville and all that work in the 80s has been for nothing in a sense, in pop music.”

Our conversation takes many jumps and tangents – “You haven’t seen Kate Bush? You’re such a rubbish gay!” – but keeps coming back to the 80s. And in particular, the lack of camaraderie between fellow gays of the time.

“It was highly bitchy,” Holly says when we ask him if there was any sense of community. “You’d be sitting next to another gay artist in the makeup chair, in the BBC or wherever in the world, and not speaking to them. That went on A LOT. It’s a totally different atmosphere, because it was competition in a sense. ‘Only room for one queen in this town!’ It was a little bit like that. I remember Morrissey coming up to me and standing very close on Top of the Pops with a hearing aid in his ear and I remember thinking ‘I’m not speaking to her…’” and here, Holly is on full on stand-up comedy routine, putting on a mock-affected voice and making us laugh far too raucously for the hushed surrounds of a sophisticated daytime members club.

“She’s only number 32 this week, we’re number one! Turned me nose up, turned on me heel and walked away…”

Both Gay Times and Frankie Goes to Hollywood took some of the flack of the era, with the hysterical approach to homophobia. Obscenity trials, blasphemy, being banned from the radio by the BBC – all these things were common place, from the expected sources and a few surprising ones.

“Mary Whitehouse. She didn’t like Relax either,” he says with a knowing grin. “But neither did Boy George. He wrote to Sounds, which was a music paper at the time, saying that we gave gays a bad name – which is quite funny… now. During the 80s, it was a little bit like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, if you know what I mean.”

Oh, we do. “We did become really good friends later on, everything’s tickety-boo now.”


 

We love hearing stories like this. We could listen to inter-popstar banter all day, and Holly really hit his stride when the dictaphone was turned off – let’s just say the classic rock and pop closet is more crowded than you’d think. But we’re not here to dish the dirt. We’re here to salute Mr Johnson’s status as a genuine, bona fide gay icon.

“I’m SUCH an icon!” Holly claims, dripping with sarcasm. “I’m not even an icon in the traditional sense, I think of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey… I thought you had to be female and with a bit of a tragic backstory; alcohol, pregnancy situation, once being married to David Gest…” we let out another inappropriately loud laugh.

There are many things we can think of that make Holly an icon – mostly for the way he’s lived his life openly as a gay man, and for publicly talking about the realities of being HIV positive, helping to challenge the stigma that remains so strong because people are unwilling to discuss it. And these simple things, played out in the public eye, have a knock on effect of allowing people to live theirs the same way. It is, in a way, a political act.

“It is,” Holly concedes, “but I was never asking for acceptance. I was saying ‘I’m gay and if you don’t like it – up yours!’ It really was like that.”

In Holly’s own eyes, he should have some recognition for being with his boyfriend Wolfgang for three decades.

“That’s quite iconic, being with someone for 30 years. It’s fairly unheard of, isn’t it? I know it exists, but not much. I always say if I’d have killed him, I’d be out by now. Well, he laughs anyway. Politely.”

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Holly has gone against convention and isn’t married.

“I absolutely respect the people who worked for it, and I’m really glad for the people who want it. Go back tothe 1990s when I was really ill and there was no combination therapy on the horizon, I would’ve done it in a flash to protect my partner from being turfed out of the house, my body being claimed by some family member and him being excluded from the funeral – which was happening all the time to people in that time period.

“I think it’s great that it exists, but some of us don’t feel the need. It’s like children. I always thought that was one of the great things about being gay, that you don’t have to! You can have nephews and nieces and give them back at the end of the day.”

Finally, it’s worth mentioning Holly has a new album out called Europa. From the upbeat synth-pop of latest single In and Out of Love, it has Holly’s soulful vocals stamped all over it. And in an ever-changing record industry, it’s the personal touches that make this very physical release to so special. “I’ve hand signed over 1,000 items. I’ve got wankers cramp. Autographers cramp, we should call it, signing art prints, deluxe CDs, vinyl editions…”

So boys, here’s your chance to lend a helping hand to an out gay artist. And one that’s still a bit of an icon at that.

Words Bob Henderson


 

Taken from GayTimes.Co.Uk

Married gay priest Jeremy Davies: ‘The bishops say we’re not modelling teachings of the church. Yes we are’

gay priest 2Christmas is a time of little rest for priests, and Jeremy Davies is no exception. He took midnight mass on Christmas Eve in his local church – the stunning Wren-designed All Saints’ in Farley, Wiltshire – followed by two morning services there and at another nearby church on Christmas Day.

Although he retired four years ago, Davies is delighted still to be leading congregations in worship and officiating at weddings, christenings and funerals in the Church of England, to which he has devoted his life. “You don’t stop being a parish priest when you retire,” he says. “I hope I’ll go on until I’m gaga.”

That, however, is far from guaranteed. A year ago, Davies married his partner of 28 years, Simon McEnery. It was the second time the couple had publicly affirmed their love and mutual commitment: they entered a civil partnership 10 years ago, on Davies’s 60th birthday.

But their wedding vows – to love and cherish one another, for better and for worse, until death does them part – have put them at odds with the church’s teaching that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. This has already resulted in Davies being banned from taking church services a few miles away in the neighbouring diocese of Winchester. Meanwhile, illustrating the C of E’s gay marriage postcode lottery, the bishop of Salisbury – Davies’s own diocese – merely rapped his knuckles with an obligatory letter of rebuke.

As messages of support from within and outside the church have poured into the couple’s home – a converted Methodist chapel eight miles from Salisbury cathedral, where Davies worked for 30 years – he and McEnery have found their own responses to the ecclesiastical fallout of their marriage diverging.

Over salmon pasta and a glass of wine in their bright kitchen, crammed with Christmas cards and the detritus of everyday life, McEnery describes bishop Tim Dakin’s refusal to grant Davies “permission to officiate” in the diocese of Winchester as “an affront and an insult. It says to Jeremy: your 40-plus years of ministry are worth nothing.” He defiantly posted news of the bishop’s confidential decision on Facebook. “I think the church needs a damn good jolt,” he adds.

Davies, meanwhile, has faced the ban – and his disagreement with his husband about exactly how to handle it – with equanimity. “I don’t need to be angry, because there are so many people feeling angry on our behalf. One of the good things [about the decision] is that it may encourage people to think again.”

Gay vicars, of course, are nothing new. But for centuries, the C of E generally took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. That has unravelled as social attitudes towards homosexuality have liberalised, accompanied by changes to the law over the last half century: decriminalisation in 1967, the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005, and marriage equality in 2014.

As a result, the church has been plunged into tortured debate over the issue, which has threatened to split the wider Anglican communion amid theological wrangling and bitter accusations of homophobia and discrimination.

The C of E’s position is this: clergy are permitted to enter into same-sex civil partnerships, so long as they give assurances that the relationship is celibate. Same-sex marriage is banned for clergy, as the church defines marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. But, in recognition of the “new reality” of legal and social change, the archbishops of Canterbury and York have committed the church to “a process offacilitated conversations” around human sexuality and interpretations of the scriptures. So, although many senior church figures want the “bedroom issue” to go away, allowing them to focus on what they see as Christian priorities of social action, pastoral care and spreading the word of God, it is likely to dominate for some time to come. Meanwhile, much of secular society regards the C of E’s agonised convolutions on a scale ranging from bemusement to derision.

As a result, the church has been plunged into tortured debate over the issue, which has threatened to split the wider Anglican communion amid theological wrangling and bitter accusations of homophobia and discrimination.

The C of E’s position is this: clergy are permitted to enter into same-sex civil partnerships, so long as they give assurances that the relationship is celibate. Same-sex marriage is banned for clergy, as the church defines marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. But, in recognition of the “new reality” of legal and social change, the archbishops of Canterbury and York have committed the church to “a process offacilitated conversations” around human sexuality and interpretations of the scriptures. So, although many senior church figures want the “bedroom issue” to go away, allowing them to focus on what they see as Christian priorities of social action, pastoral care and spreading the word of God, it is likely to dominate for some time to come. Meanwhile, much of secular society regards the C of E’s agonised convolutions on a scale ranging from bemusement to derision.

Davies also had a musical background. He was brought up in Cardiff, as a Welsh-speaking Baptist until the age of seven, when he was baptised into the Anglican church. He became a chorister at Llandaff cathedral, followed by Hurstpierpoint College, a public school he readily acknowledges as elitist, but where he gained a first-class education and the opportunity to develop his passions for music, drama and rugby. From there, he read English literature as a choral scholar at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

He had long been certain his future lay with the church. “I was taken with religion at an early age. I can’t really explain it, but I was caught by it, I loved it.” As a small child, he preached sermons to his sisters and dispatched himself to three different Sunday schools each week. “I knew I was going to be a priest.”

As he grew older and came to understand his sexual orientation, he also grappled with the “question of whether you could be a priest and be homosexual at the same time. But I’m a great optimist; I believe there’s always a way through; things can be reconciled. And things were beginning to change.”

Social attitudes were relaxing, and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised homosexuality, was passed while Davies was at Cambridge. “There was a background noise which encouraged me to think theology couldn’t, and wasn’t, standing still. It was a very exciting time.”

The abstract questions became real when he fell in love for the first time, while studying theology after Cambridge in preparation for priesthood. “It made me realise that I needed to take my sexuality into my theology, otherwise I’d be a very emasculated priest. If you couldn’t take half of what you were into a ministry, what kind of ministry would it be? A very dishonest ministry.”

The relationship lasted a couple of years before the two incipient priests were parted by geography. Davies took jobs in London and Cardiff before moving to Salisbury and meeting McEnery, the son of a Church of England vicar, who had recently come out as gay after years of sexual confusion.

“I was still very wary; I didn’t know how to conduct such a relationship,” says Davies. “After all, I was the precentor of Salisbury cathedral; I wasn’t going to flaunt my sexuality, I didn’t want to become known as the gay priest.

“At first we’d go to concerts and sit separately, and Simon went along with this extraordinary collusion with the norms of the church. But, by degrees, it was he who helped me come to terms with this as a good and Godly thing to be relished and enjoyed, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”

After McEnery completed his studies in singing and jazz at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the couple began living together. “People just got used to us being around,” says Davies; he had a run-in with a dean over their cohabitation “but I basically told him where to go”. According to McEnery, “nobody cared really, except within the church where people are much more worked up than in society at large”.

Gay couples were permitted to register their relationships as civil partnerships from 21 December 2005. Seventeen days later, Davies and McEnery signed the papers and threw a party to celebrate with friends and colleagues. Davies informed the then bishop of Salisbury about his new status, and volunteered an assurance that the relationship complied with church requirements on sexual activity.

Now he regrets having offered that assurance. Pointing out that what constitutes sexual activity is different for each individual and in each relationship, he adds: “The whole process seems untruthful. Why should I collude with a dishonest intrusion into a private relationship? I don’t see that a sexual relationship is incompatible with a loving relationship, whether it’s between people of the same gender or not. So in fact to give that assurance was, I think, colluding with the system. It shouldn’t have happened.”

When it became legally possible to marry, Davies was hesitant. “I resisted it. I thought a partnership is fine, but you can’t have a marriage between two men or two women. Simon was all in favour of same-sex marriage, and I was against it. I had to be persuaded. I began to look again at the marriage service. And I thought the theology of marriage is not about a man and a woman.”

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The marriage vows, he says, are about mutual society, human relationships. “And why shouldn’t two men or two women, who love each other and want to commit their lives to each other for ever, say these things? When the bishops said that clergy who enter into same-sex marriages are not modelling the teaching of the church – yes we are. It is embodied in that vow.”

The mutual society between Davies and McEnery is evident in their daily lives. “We’re an awful middle-class cliche,” says McEnery, referring to their Waitrose shopping, holidays in Madeira, outings to the opera and theatre, and addiction to the afternoon TV quiz show Pointless. Davies sings in the Salisbury Chamber Chorus, which is conducted by McEnery. The house is filled with books, paintings and the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Just inside their front door hangs the figure of Jesus impaled on a crucifix; by their kitchen door hangs a raunchy gay calendar. Matching blue Peugeots are parked outside.

Both men appear supremely content with the life they have built together. But there are differences: Davies, who will be 70 in January, has quietly reconciled his faith and sexuality, whereas McEnery – who “gave up on God” 15 years ago – verges on contempt for an institution he feels has cruelly rebuffed the couple.

The bishop of Winchester took five months to respond to Davies’s request for his permission to officiate at services in the diocese, made after mounting requests for the priest to help out in stretched parishes over the county border. Dakin’s letter, and a media statement issued after the refusal became public, referred to the House of Bishops’ pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage.

It says: “The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union … of one man with one woman.” Same-sex weddings in church “will not be possible”, it adds. And “it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.”

“Perhaps I was naive. I thought it would be a formality,” concedes Davies, who at the time was unaware of Dakin’s views or “possible prejudices”. He hopes to meet the bishop early in 2016 to discuss the reasons behind the refusal. He will also need to renew his permission to officiate in the diocese of Salisbury when it expires, and may seek permission to officiate elsewhere. Whether or not he can continue to carry out his duties as a priest remains to be seen.

Through it all, the clergyman retains a remarkable magnanimity. I think [Dakin] is behind the curve,” he says, “but it’s a legitimate curve to be on. The church is on the move, but it takes a long time. This is very frustrating to many people, but the issue of sexuality in human relationships has been on the church’s agenda for 2,000 years.”

In the end, whatever the theological contortions the church is putting itself through, Davies comes back to a simple principle. Same-sex marriage, he says, “is not about putting two fingers up to the bishops or the Church of England. It’s what people who love each other and want to commit to a long-term relationship do.”


 

Taken from TheGuardian.com

Gay Leather Scene Tones Down from Hardcore to Dress-Up

24LEATHER1-master675On a warm Saturday night in November, about 800 gay men wearing harnesses and other items made of leather gathered at Brut, a party held at Santos Party House in Lower Manhattan.

Mostly in their 20s and 30s, the men danced to pounding house music, flirted in an intimate lounge below the dance floor and ogled two beefy go-go men gyrating on boxes. Shirts came off, but leather harnesses stayed on all night, as Brut bills itself as New York’s only monthly leather party.

But if the party was introducing the leather scene to younger gay men who had never heard of the Village People, it also underscored a social shift: The leather scene has lost much of its overt sadomasochistic edge, and is now more about dressing up.

“I’m wearing a harness from Nasty Pig” — a sex-oriented clothing store in Chelsea — “but I’m not a part of the leather community,” said Joseph Alexiou, 31, a writer in New York, who was taking a break from the dance floor. “This party is introducing leather in a fun way that doesn’t seem so serious.”

Stalwarts of the leather scene agree that there has been a shift from lifestyle to sexy dress-up.

David Lauterstein, who opened Nasty Pig in 1994 with his husband, Frederick Kearney, said that his store has undergone a transformation of its own. While the store still carries leather harnesses and chaps, they have become seasonal items tied to specific parties; most racks these days display flannel shirts, hoodies and nylon bomber jackets.

“Leather has been integrated into the larger downtown culture, as gay sexuality has become more accepted,” Mr. Lauterstein said. “Being into kinky stuff doesn’t mean you have to wear certain clothing to let the world know.”

The leather scene used to occupy a very visible part of gay culture. In the 1960s through the early ’80s, men in leather caps and chaps could be seen strutting about Christopher Street, looking as if they had emerged from aTom of Finland illustration by way of a Marlon Brando movie still.

“Leather became metaphoric for claiming masculinity,” said Michael Bronski, a gender and sexuality studies professor at Harvard University and author of “A Queer History of the United States.” “These guys were baby boomers who’d been told that being gay meant being a sweater queen or being fluffy or effeminate.”

Gay leather bars dotted Manhattan, with names like the Spike, Rawhide, the Ramrod and Badlands. And during the city’s annual gay pride parade, wearers of leather played a prominent role. Indeed, the annual Leather Pride Night party was one of the parade’s main sources of funding.

But “progress” in the name of same-sex marriage, social acceptance and civil rights seemed to have taken its toll on the leather scene.

“Many factors, like gentrification and the fight for marriage equality, have contributed to the rise in homonormality,” said Jeremiah Moss, who chronicles the city’s evolution on the site Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. “This is a very American melting pot phenomenon: If you assimilate, if you give up what makes you different, you can have rights.”

The Internet has also impacted the leather scene. “The fact that the bulk of most people’s kinky lives are being lived out online or on their phone has diminished the prominence of what I would call classic leather,” said Matt Johnson, the chairman of Folsom Street East, an annual street fair in Manhattan that celebrates all things leather. “However, the growth of the virtual world has democratized kink to a greater extent, and has led to a proliferation of kinky styles.”

AIDS also had a dramatic effect, according to Mr. Bronski. “Leather shifted and became less aggressively sexual,” he said. “You see the emergence of bear communities, which is about being supportive and huggy.”

In Hell’s Kitchen, which has become Manhattan’s leading gay neighborhood, leather isn’t nearly as visible as button-down shirts, tank tops and cargo pants.

Earlier this year, the organizers of Leather Pride Night announced thatafter 31 years they were ending its annual fund-raiser. “Leather Pride Night has run its course as a broad-based community event,” the group said in a statement.

Taken From NYTIMES.COM

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Keke Palmer Refuses To Label Her Sexuality After New Music Video Sparks Bisexual Rumors

“I’m making the rules for myself, and I don’t have to be stuck down to one label.”

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Actress and singer Keke Palmer addressed her sexuality this week, after the music video for her song “I Don’t Belong To You” created speculation that she may be bisexual.

The video finds the Scream Queens star leaving her boyfriend behind to instead hook up with R&B singer Cassie.

“The video was to represent the young woman today – it’s not the traditional woman anymore – and not the specifics of ’Am I gay? Am I straight? Am I bi?’” she shared. “I’m making the rules for myself, and I don’t have to be stuck down to one label.”

“I don’t feel the need to define nothin’ to nobody, because I’m always changing,” she added. “Why say that I’m this or that, when I might not be tomorrow? I’m gonna follow my own feelings and my own heart.”

You can watch the new video for “I Don’t Belong To You” below.

 


 

Taken from NewNowNext.com

Watching This Guy Trick Straight Men Into Being in a “Gay” Music Video Is Just Not Funny

Gay Rap Video2Sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying to refute the myth that black people have a monopoly on homophobia when there’s some colored cornball rushing to perpetuate this falsehood for white consumption.

When I was sent “Being a Gay Rapper: A Social Experiment,” I assumed based on the title that maybe it would be some fresh, funny take on the actual state of homophobia in hip-hop as opposed to the trope that speaks more to 1995 than 2015. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. Instead, comedian – and I’m using that title out of courtesy – Ben Bizuneh focuses on the disingenuous question, “Just how accepted homosexuality is in black America?”

You can’t see me, but at this very moment, I’m trying to stop myself from falling asleep at my desk. In any event, the skit begins with a joke and Bizuneh goes on to note, “It’s even worse in the black community.” That’s a lie considering it’s long been proven that black people make up the largest share of the LGBT community.

 

There’s also a new study that shows a majority of Christians in the U.S. are now more accepting of homosexuality.

Yes, Pew found that when it comes to support between 2007 to now, seven-in-10 Catholics say “the gay” should be accepted. For others, mainline Protestants (from 56% to 66%), Orthodox Christians (from 48% to 62%) and members of the historically black Protestant tradition (from 39% to 51%) have jumped in support as well. Remember: not all black Christians are in the black protestant tradition.

But why would facts matter to when your aim is to snuggle mainstream media folklore for careerist goals?

Bizuneh goes on to argue, “Black dudes can’t even pretend to be gay for acting roles.” He then lists all of these white actors who have played gay, though Will Smith playing a gay man in Six Degrees of Separation predates them all. Bizuneh then conveniently leaves out the reality that when it comes to offering a wide spectrum of black manhood, Hollywood – controlled majorly by non-black people – is lacking overall.

Are you laughing yet?

Then there is the actual “gag” in which Bizuneh seeks to recreate a hip-hop video based on every cliché he learned about the culture from BET videos that aired damn near a decade ago only with a twist: a song that’s actually about a man giving another man a hand job. In essence, he wants to troll a bunch of straight men by having them stand there and sing along to a song about a man jerking off another man.

Hear this in Toni Braxton’s voice: How many ways, I hate you.

For starters, this skit features someone who doesn’t really seem to understand the culture trying to speak on it. He does by way of trolling people as he has them perform the very stereotypes about gay people that make these kind of straight men uncomfortable. He is reducing gay men to sex, which is no less a stereotype than the effeminate gay male or down low brother (a term that should’ve caught a fatal stroke after that episode Oprah). Gay men are sexual beings, but to goad straight men into performing a song that plays directly into their fears feels fruitless if the intent is to highlight how gay men can – gasp – be just like any other man.

By the way, did I hear “followed by my posse?” Who talks like that? Well, outside Sir-Mix-A-Lot, circa the early 1990s?

Hip-hop has its problems – hypermasculinity and misogyny being the main culprits – but there has been a slow but steady evolution (the same goes for the society in which hip-hop culture merely reflects upon). If one can’t acknowledge that even in doing “comedy,” it’s not authentic representation of the problem as it stands todayversus the one in your figment of imagination.

This skit is not funny enough to make me forget any of that. While I may have grown tired of repeating myself, I will continue to so long as I have to keep hearing this lie repeated over and over again. Especially from someone with a Black face, who by now should know not to be as clueless as someone looking from the outside.

This skit can directly to hell and stay there. Happy Holidays!


 

Taken From VH1.com

JONAH, THE LARGEST JEWISH GAY CONVERSION THERAPY ORGANIZATION, TAKES ITS LAST BREATH

A therapist’s notes can contain the most horrifying, embarrassing and mundane confessions of his client, the rawest of fears and most guarded of feelings, from sexual desires to homicidal impulses. The key to a good therapy session is that what is said behind that closed door is honest, unfiltered and, like confessions to a priest, completely private. Confidential. A therapist’s notes are not written to be seen by others, much less projected on a screen in a room full of strangers. But on a Thursday afternoon in June, Benjy Unger was in the witness box as notes from one of his therapy sessions were blown up on a monitor next to the jury. The goal of that counseling was to turn Unger from gay to straight.

Unger and all the people in that Jersey City, New Jersey, courtroom were not shocked by what they were seeing, but they were clearly perplexed. In the middle of one notebook page, Unger’s therapist, Alan Downing, had drawn a stick figure with a bulging gluteus maximus, annotated with truncated phrases—“butt = I am cute,” “play with me” and “fluffy butt.” Below the stick figure, he had written, “Explored his attraction to male butts. Could be dominance, vulnerability, innocence, connection.”

This drawing was put into evidence as Unger, now 28, was questioned by David Dinielli, a senior attorney in a legal team representing Unger, his friend Chaim Levin, 26, and two other young men. All four were treated at JONAH, the only Jewish gay conversion therapy organization in the country. Three of the four had sessions with Downing, who has no psychology degree or mental health license of any kind, nor any higher education outside of an undergraduate degree in music and theater. Despite that thin resume, Arthur Goldberg, the man who started and still runs JONAH, often boasted that Downing was “an expert in the field” of turning gay men straight. Like many conversion therapists, Downing claims he has been “cured” of homosexuality, or, in the jargon preferred by the industry, he has “overcome” his “unwanted SSA,” same-sex attraction. (JONAH’s legal team declined to comment for this article.)

Dinielli [ pointing to the “fluffy butt” slide ]: “Do you know what that is?”

Unger : “These are not my words. I do not really know what that is about.”

Dinielli : “What percentage of sessions that you had with Alan Downing would you estimate involved discussing particular body parts that you found attractive?”

Unger : “Specific body parts? I would say around 80 to 90 percent.”


 

Downing seemed obsessed with Unger’s sexual proclivities during their sessions. One of his notes included a matrix of all the men Unger found attractive, paired with detailed notes about their physical characteristics. “Smooth skinned, no facial, attracted to buttocks,” Downing wrote next to one man’s name.

Later, in his office, Downing would ask Unger to strip naked. He would frolic in a field, naked too, with people he was supposed to be “healing.” He would ask other men to hold each other in darkened rooms. It was all part of the therapy, practiced on tens of thousands of young men in the U.S. and abroad, by a wide network of “life coaches” like Downing.

For years, very little was known about these methods. When Dinielli joined the Southern Poverty Law Center from a high-powered corporate law firm, he knew he would be working to end gay conversion therapy—one of the firm’s stated goals—but he had no idea how shoddy and sordid the practice was. The deeper they looked, he says, the darker it got. He’d known gay-conversion is a cruel fraud, but he hadn’t realized how deeply perverse it is. “I hadn’t necessarily conceived of it as something so akin to child abuse and sexual abuse,” he says, but he does now. As the firm’s case against JONAH came together, Dinielli was introduced to a surreal world of pseudo-scientific methods and jargon, traumatizing psychodramas and nude cuddling with counselors.

Selling Bonds to Cannibals

JONAH’s origin story begins with fraud. Arthur Goldberg opened it in 1999, 10 years after the “ one-time Wall Street wunderkind ” (in the words of thePhiladelphia Inquirer ) was convicted in a wide-ranging bond fraud scandal; his firm lured low-income communities into the municipal-bond business, and then issued millions of dollars worth of bonds for housing projects and trash plants that never got built. He defrauded the municipality of East St. Louis with a bogus$233 million bond for a river port that was never constructed, and referred to selling bonds to Guam as “selling bonds to the cannibals,” according to an FBI report. Goldberg, who also held a law degree, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and disbarred. Back then, he went by Arthur Abba Goldberg, but when he got out, he dropped his middle name, effectively disappearing into the search engine abyss amid thousands of Arthur Goldbergs.

Goldberg says he became interested in gay conversion therapy in the late 1990s, while his son was “struggling with homosexuality.” The conversion therapy industry, made up of mostly Christian ministries, was thriving at the time.Exodus International , the largest conversion therapy umbrella group, had opened hundreds of what they called “ex-gay” ministries across the U.S. and in 18 other countries. (It crumbled in 2013 after many of its foremost figures came out as gay.) Goldberg saw the opportunity to bring those methods to a new market. “There were a lot of Christian-based organizations. There were some secular-based organizations, but there was nothing in the Jewish world,” he told the court on the second day of the JONAH trial.

He reached out to the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an ex-gay organization (he would later serve on its board). A NARTH therapist put Goldberg in touch with Elaine Berk, who also had a gay child, and was also Jewish. Together, they opened up JONAH in Jersey City, and began offering referrals to conversion therapy practitioners. (The acronym originally stood for Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality; the last word has since been switched out for “Healing.”)

Goldberg became the organization’s public face. Though his only graduate degree was in law, he referred to himself as “Dr. Goldberg” in emails to clients and their parents, as well as on the promotional website for his 2009 book, Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change.” Meanwhile, Berk handled clients and ran an active email “listserv” for JONAH men, where they could write emails asking for encouragement when the therapy didn’t seem to be working, or when their crushes on male friends became too hard to repress. Berk regularly responded to the men, issuing reminders of the ramifications of what she called “the gay deathstyle”: AIDS, bowel disease, early death, and, as she put it in one email, “lives based on soul-numbing promiscuity.”

Berk also offered wide-ranging analysis of what causes people to be gay. “I believe there’s no such thing as a gay man,” she wrote. Instead, all men are born straight, and “something arrested the normal biologically mandated growth pattern that is built into our genes…. The more SSA activity you have experienced, the more neural pathways, habits you have built up that have to be overcome. Then you begin to build up new neural pathways that help you reach your goal of growing out of SSA,” she wrote. “Growing out of SSA is like growing out of any other life damaging disorder.”

“But, Ms. Berk, you’re not a neurologist?” Dinielli asked her in court.

“No, I’m not.”

“And you can’t really explain what a neural pathway is?”

“No, I can’t.”

Nude Weekends in the Woods

In over a decade of operation, JONAH had thousands of clients, most of them young, Jewish men. Its success was due, in large part, to the fact that the Jewish communities it catered to believed that gay identity was simply a set of behaviors that could be changed. After all, God would never place an insurmountable obstacle to obeying the laws of the Torah in front of a person. Likewise, Ultra-orthodox Jews see the recent era of gay rights as part of a broad category of secular influences it actively rejects. So, naturally, Ultra-orthodox Judaism provides a solution: The talmudic concept of teshuvah —turning away from transgression in one’s past—which was highlighted in a letter endorsing conversion therapy published online, and signed by 55 rabbis and Arthur Goldberg. (The letter was taken offline without explanation this month.)


 

That’s what brought Chaim Levin to JONAH. He says he had been routinely sexually assaulted by his cousin, Sholom Eichler, as a child. Nearly every day, from the time Levin was 6 until he was 10, Eichler, six years his senior, waited on Levin’s aunt and uncle’s front porch for him to come home from school. Levinwon a civil suit against Eichler in 2013. Later, when a teenaged Levin realized he was attracted to other boys, he thought it must be the direct result of that abuse. It had to come from somewhere , since it was entirely incompatible with his understanding of how to be a good Hasidic Jew. And that led him to believe his homosexuality was simply an obstacle he would have to overcome. “I used to tell people in yeshiva, ‘Oh, I was abused as a child, and by consequence, this thing happened to me, and I have this problem that I’m working on fixing,’” Levin says.

He started to talk about the abuse with his parents when he was 14. A year later, Levin began talk therapy with an Orthodox practitioner, who agreed that his attractions must be linked to the abuse. Like most teenaged men in his community, Levin spent some time studying at yeshivas—Orthodox Jewish seminaries—abroad, first in Israel, and then in Paris. Every two weeks, he’d have a phone session with a therapist back in Brooklyn. “The motto was, ‘Just for today, I’m not going to touch another boy.’ That’s how we were dealing with it.” But that was untenable, and just before he turned 18, while back in New York, he had sex with a man he met on Craigslist. His therapist was disgusted, he said, and told him she didn’t know how to help him anymore. That’s when a family rabbi pointed Levin to JONAH.

Soon after joining JONAH, Levin soon found himself in the woods at a rented church campground in rural Pennsylvania, signing a nondisclosure form and confirming to a counselor that, yes, he’d left his cell phone in the car. He was there for a therapeutic weekend retreat recommended by Goldberg, where he would begin to regain his manhood—a key step in turning from gay to straight.

The retreats were run by People Can Change (PCC), a conversion organization founded by Rich Wyler, a Mormon who says he’s “ex-gay.” Having “unwanted same-sex attraction,” he explains, “comes from an emotional deficit around same-gender bonding. It comes oftentimes from this sense of a deficit in inner sense of masculinity.” Some men try to “close that gap romantically.”

Wyler began organizing weekend programs in 2002. Downing attended the first one that year, while he was in ex-gay therapy with David Matheson, founder of The Center for Gender Wholeness, a Mormon conversion therapy group that had an office in JONAH’s building in Jersey City. Downing told the court he’d “basically resolved” his feelings toward men after less than a year of therapy, and has been staffing Wyler’s weekends ever since. He also had a hand in crafting their highly detailed scripts that dictated nearly every line of dialogue between staffers, who played various roles on the weekends, which were reminiscent of elaborate stage dramas. He and Goldberg routinely sent JONAH’s clients to Wyler’s weekends.

For many years, the retreats were a deeply hidden secret—because that’s the way Wyler and JONAH wanted it. For the “advanced” weekend, called “Journey Beyond,” participants signed nondisclosure agreements stipulating $5,000 in damages if they ever spoke about what happened there. When JONAH was on trial, Wyler attempted to exclude information about Journey Beyond on the basis of trade secret law, but the judge shot him down, and unsealed testimony from Jonathan Hoffman—a star witness for JONAH, a “success story” they held up as validation of their methodology. In it, Hoffman described a nude “rebirthing” ceremony.

The simulated birth is the beginning of a psychodrama-packed weekend spent almost entirely naked. First, attendees of the retreat strip down, and tie on blindfolds. Naked and blind, they are led to mattresses laid out on the floor. Staffers swaddle the men in blankets, tight, to “simulate the womb.” The men then wriggle out of their plush blankets—meant to approximate a birth canal—and staffers “come and kind of nurture these new babies…you know, kind of wipe water on their face, and kind of clean them up, and it feels very real,” Hoffman said. Next, the men play out boyhood, with a “crazy, fun father who like bursts into the nursery and says ‘Come on, boys, let’s have some fun together!’” (Downing sometimes played the role of “father.”) By this stage, both participants and staff members are nude. The men are lead out of the “nursery” and into a field, where a “wild party” begins. There’s a waterslide, fireworks and “brotherly dancing” around a campfire. The naked men fling mud and throw cake—laid out for just that purpose—at each other. They’re all “just expressing their little boyish energy” for about an hour, explained Hoffman, who now lives with his wife and child in Jerusalem, where he works as a conversion therapy life coach.

Afterward, everyone showers together. “It’s just carefree, you know, if there’s cake on my back, can you help me get it off my back,” said Hoffman, adding that the nudity “becomes very secondary.” He explained that if men got erections during the weekend, they were encouraged to talk to a staffer to “process it,” talk about what might be causing it until it went away. In gay conversion therapy, sexual attraction is never just sexual attraction; there must be some sublimated drive, deficit or trauma to be dealt with.

Both Levin and Unger attended PCC’s entry-level weekend: Journey Into Manhood. The core theme is a loose interpretation of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, in which Jack (played by a staff member) is reclaiming his beans—his masculinity. The participants are awarded a satchel of beans to wear around their necks at the end of the weekend. The script dispels any ambiguity early on:

Jack : So what is up with the beanstalk?
Elder [a second counselor]: The beanstalk is a masculine image, a phallic symbol.

Jack: So the beanstalk is a big penis?

Elder: Well, symbolically, yes.

In another Journey Into Manhood scenario, participants are blindfolded while facilitators bounce basketballs around them in a crude reenactment of grade school gym class, while shouting scripted epithets such as, “Catch the ball next time or I’ll shove it up your ass” and “Hey, guys, let’s get that little queer in the shower.” For another exercise, called “Facing the Feminine,” the floor is littered with “feminine objects,” like a wooden spoon, an apron and a tampon. Participants are blindfolded while counselors shout “Don’t touch your penis, it’s dirty!” or “I was really hoping you would be born a girl!” or “Can’t get it up!” and “You’re not the man I thought I married!”

Toward the end of the weekend, participants are emotionally raw, Levin remembers. That’s when cuddling begins.

Spirit Guide [a counselor]: Can you connect to that boy inside you now?

Jack : Yes.

Spirit Guide : Would that little boy like to be touched or held?

Jack : Yes.

Jack and the Spirit Guide then cradle each other on the floor, and the lights go down. Music comes on: Spiritual “life coach” and singer Shaina Noll’s saccharine rendition of “ How Could Anyone .” How could anyone ever tell you that you were anything less than beautiful?/How could anyone ever tell you you were less than whole?

Eventually, all the men are on the floor, staffers cradling participants. Unger remembers staffers whispering “I love you,” “you’re beautiful,” and other affectionate phrases during the cradling—which Downing calls “healthy touch”—as “How Could Anyone” played over and over.


 

Strip Therapy

“I sang it to Benjy sometimes,” Dinielli says, laughing, on a Friday night months after the trial ended. He begins humming the first few bars of “How Could Anyone.” Unger narrows his eyes and feigns a scowl, but then joins in before looking past us to tend to another customer. We are sitting at the bar at the upscale restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen where Unger, now 28, tends bar. Online reviews of the place typically include the phrase “gay friendly.” It was the busiest shift of the week and Unger mixed drinks quickly, biceps flexing under his uniform, a black fitted t-shirt with the words “Heaven” on the front, and “in Hell” across the back.

“I see you flirting with all your customers,” Dinielli teases Unger.

“It’s called healthy touch, David,” Unger shoots back, grinning. JONAH jokes.

The chatty bartender is barely recognizable in the round-faced 17-year-old in a yarmulke pictured on Unger’s driver’s license. He’s made a point not to change the photo. “Why would I? It’s who I was. It’s where I came from. It’s also good first-date conversation.” Back then, he prayed three times a day, wearing a black brimmed hat over his yarmulke, the white threads of his tzitzit hanging down from the waist of his black dress pants. From age 11 or 12, he had crushes on classmates in his all-boys yeshivas, and then in the all-male rabbinical school in Jerusalem where he spent a year and a half. He says he was always “toeing the line” in these places, and figured his attraction to boys would pass. It had to be a phase—no one in his Orthodox Jewish world was gay.

But in a community where nearly all contact with the opposite sex is forbidden and teenage hormones raged, it was not uncommon for young men to get a little too close, to slap each other on the butt, to cuddle. “I played it off as the straight guy so comfortable with his sexuality that he could cuddle his friends and it wasn’t a big deal,” Unger says. He was popular and athletic. “I played football. No one knew.”

But by 18, when he was in rabbinical school in Jerusalem, he began to worry that “it” wasn’t going away. He thought about his return home to Borough Park, Brooklyn, where men are matched up to marriageable women immediately after their stints in Israel. Unger knew he’d soon be fielding “resumes” of eligible women from family and friends, each woman’s photograph pinned to the top-right corner. The stress derailed his studies. On a trip home for Passover, he finally told his parents about his attraction to men.

It went better than he expected. They were “extremely loving,” but just as confused as he was about how to proceed. One rabbi said it might be a chemical imbalance, and that Unger should seek medical attention. Another was sure Unger would live a happy enough life if he just found a wife who could cook really well. Eventually, Unger’s father gave him the number for “Rabbi Arthur Goldberg.”

Two to four years, Goldberg told Unger over the phone. That’s how long it would take for JONAH’s program to turn him from gay to straight, if he just put in the work. And paid the money. JONAH was registered as a nonprofit, and Downing charged $100 for each one-on-one counseling session, and $60 for group sessions, which Unger’s father would pay. Goldberg—who is not ordained as a rabbi—was reassuring, authoritative, confident. The therapy was scientifically proven, he said, and he’d seen it work hundreds of times. “I was ecstatic,” Unger testified in court.

Putting in the work, it turned out, meant beating a pillow effigy of his mother with a tennis racket until his hands bled, screaming “Mom!” with each blow. It meant cutting off contact with his mother for several months, because Downing determined their relationship was “too close.” It meant cuddling with men, often older, ex-gay men, with lights dimmed and “How Could Anyone” playing over and over. It involved Journey into Manhood weekends in the woods, blindfolded, enduring psychodrama after psychodrama. Most of them were generalized, archetypal, like the gym class scene with the basketballs, but Levin also watched while participants role-played scenes from his childhood sexual abuse.

Their “treatment” also involved undressing in front of a full-length mirror in Downing’s office.

Unger and Levin were both told “to say one negative thing about [themselves], remove an article of clothing, then repeat the process,” according to court transcripts. In Unger’s case, Downing stood behind him, hand on his shoulder, breath on his neck. Unger stopped the exercise when Downing told him to take off his pants. Levin testified that Downing had him strip down completely, then told him to hold his penis, to “feel his masculinity.” He complied. (In court, Downing said he couldn’t remember whether or not Levin held his penis, but that he “certainly didn’t” tell him to.)

There were clinical-sounding names for all of the strange things JONAH asked of its patients. Beating the pillow was “bioenergetics,” or “guts work.” Cuddling with men was “healthy touch.” Stripping in front of the mirror was “body work,” to deal with “body image issues.” Downing also told Unger that getting erections around men might have nothing to do with sexual attraction; he called them “NRBs,” or “no-reason boners.” He gave an example: “He said, ‘Just like when your nephew sits on your lap, and you might get an erection sometimes, it doesn’t mean anything.’”


 

The pseudo-professional language Goldberg and Downing used mirrored that of the ex-gay therapy community worldwide, an interconnected world where people, many without psychology degrees, write books that borrow the language of psychology but none of its rigor, and tend to mostly cite one another, Dinielli says. Dozens of books with titles like Growing into Manhood and Healing Homosexuality are available online, and JONAH tailored the notions laid out in these books for their Jewish clientele: As part of the “gender-affirming” therapy, Unger says Downing told him to go to the ritual Jewish bath, the mikvah , with his father as much as possible “and to just stare at his penis.”

‘Rationalized Homophobia’

Conversion therapy is dying in chunks. Four states and the District of Columbia have recently banned the practice for minors, and bills are pending in Massachusetts, New York, Washington state and New Hampshire to do the same. Last month, President Barack Obama called for a nationwide end to conversion therapy for minors and the medical community almost unanimously agrees that conversion therapy does not work , and can cause harm .

But despite making regular appearances in the news for years, the how of conversion therapy has been missing. The JONAH case was the first time the public heard what happens inside the rooms where young men go to be “fixed.” The big reveal began in 2010, when Wayne Bessen, a gay rights activist who runs the nonprofit Truth Wins Out, shot a video of Unger and Levin talking about their therapy sessions with Downing. Bessen uploaded it to YouTube , where it garnered a few thousand clicks. Later, Levin wrote an op-ed describing his experience in the Jewish Press, the local Orthodox Jewish newspaper; it was a first for the typically conservative publication, which also advertised JONAH’s services in its pages. In it, Levin proudly announced he was gay, and criticized the Orthodox community for buying into “ the worst kind of rationalized homophobia ” by sending their children to therapy like that offered by JONAH.

In 2012, Sam Wolfe, a senior staff attorney at the SPLC, met Levin at an Exodus International conference for ex-gay practitioners and patients, where he was protesting. Wolfe, who was raised Mormon and went through a form of conversion therapy, was looking for plaintiffs for a conversion therapy case. Shortly after, they began to piece together a robust legal team. It included Scott McCoy, the first openly gay state senator in Utah, and several other openly gay men, among them Dinielli and Wolfe. “It was so amazing to show my parents my gay lawyers,” says Levin. “For people here, gays don’t exist. There aren’t gays in Crown Heights; there are gays in the Village.”

The lawyers, from the SPLC and two high-powered corporate firms who took on the case pro-bono, went after JONAH on unconventional ground: They sued not for emotional damages, but for consumer fraud. They contended that by telling its clients homosexuality was a disorder, and taking their money to perform a cure, JONAH was defrauding customers. Legally, you can’t claim to fix what isn’t broken, and homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of disorders in 1973. They didn’t need to prove malicious behavior, or willful deceit; they only needed to prove JONAH was selling junk.

That turned out to be pretty easy. After listening to the graphic details of the process for four weeks this June, the jury unanimously voted JONAH guilty of consumer fraud on all counts. Because consumer fraud cases can only recuperate money spent, the sum at issue was chump change; the plaintiffs had paid for one-on-one and group counseling, plus $650 for each therapeutic weekend in the woods. In total, they won just $72,400, but by January 17, following a settlement agreement, JONAH will have to shut down for good. By June 15, all its assets must be liquidated, and all trace of it removed from the web.

The case sets a legal precedent: virtually any conversion therapy organization can now be sued on the same grounds. And there’s plenty to go after. There is no complete tally of conversion therapy outfits, but several institutions continue operation, like Joseph Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, California, and Desert Stream, a Christian ex-gay ministry with chapters across the country. And m any counselors practice conversion therapy independently of any ministry or clinic. They still have some political clout, too: in 2014, the Texas Republican Party adopted support for “reparative therapy” as an official party plank .

Wyler says the JONAH trial was rigged; Judge Peter Bariso was “extraordinarily” biased, he says, evidenced by the fact that he barred several people JONAH wanted to call as experts. (Bariso ruled their testimony inadmissible, because, hewrote , “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but—like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it—instead is outdated and refuted.”)

One of Wyler’s major complaints is that the plaintiffs and the court misinterpreted the weekends he still organizes eight times a year: “Why is it that in our homoerotic culture we’ve…made it so any male touch is now sexual? It was really horrible to have something to me that is powerful and sacred and brotherly and nonsexual and beautiful be mocked and sexualized and eroticized. It was just criminal what they were trying to do,” he said, his voice rising with exasperation. “And all because they want people like us to go away.”

The Last of ‘Alan’s Boys’

When I met Chaim Levin and David Dinielli at a kosher bagel shop in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn on a Friday afternoon in November, they were chatting like old friends as I picked my way through tables of ultra-Orthodox families eating whitefish and lox on plump, hand-rolled bagels. Levin was raised three blocks away, ultra-Orthodox, in the Chabad tradition, and had nearly no secular education, as is standard for children in the community—Yiddish was spoken in school, and Hebrew read in synagogue, but no English reading, writing, math, science or secular history was taught in Levin’s yeshiva. His parents paid for one hour of secular tutoring a week. Chaim is agnostic now, and a self-described activist for LGBT rights in the Jewish community. But he still lives in heavily ultra-Orthodox Crown Heights, and has no problem with putting on a yarmulke now and again; he’s trying to normalize being gay in Crown Heights—walking through the neighborhood on the Sabbath with his head uncovered would only alienate his neighbors.

Dinielli finishes his bagel and lox, and Levin leans forward in the noisy shop to say that he doesn’t cry much. He can count the times he’s cried on one hand. Downing noted it too; in a session note, he wrote that it was probably a “protective mechanism” Levin had developed to deal with his abuse. But when Downing testified at trial, claiming over and over that his former clients were misstating events, Levin broke down, sobbing. He left the courtroom and slumped into a corner, tears streaming—he’d finally realized how “vastly manipulative” Downing was. “What’s sad for me is that I got to realize it, but a lot of the other guys still don’t. He was so slick.”

While he was in therapy, Levin’s emails to the Listserv referred to his sessions with Downing, and to Goldberg and Berk, with reverence. He had fully trusted and believed in JONAH. So had many others; some of Downing’s clients even called themselves “Alan’s Boys.”

 


 

“This trial probably saved my life,” Levin says. He struggled with depression after leaving JONAH, and was hospitalized twice for suicide attempts. On this unseasonably warm morning, he grins broadly and speaks gregariously, gesturing and waving to neighbors as the three of us leave the bagel shop and walk down the block. Out on the sidewalk, women in long skirts push strollers full of children in matching outfits, and men in yarmulkes and black coats carry packages and dip in and out of stores. Levin says he gained weight during the trial due to stress; since it ended, he’d lost 15 pounds. Dimples flashed beneath his short beard.

Levin is now finding his way in the secular world. He’s quit smoking, he’s dating, he just signed up for college classes. He’s happy, he says, for the first time in years. “[JONAH] shutting down is another step toward making sure the 18-year-old version of Chaim Levin doesn’t get conned into buying a fake cure for something that doesn’t need to be fixed,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean the fight is over, by any means, because there are still Orthodox therapists doing this.” He knows several Orthodox men, now married to women, who sought therapy to suppress their attraction to men. He suspects some in his community still call him “faygeleh,” the yiddish colloquialism for “faggot,” behind his back, but he’s seeing small changes in Crown Heights; a Hasidic synagogue there asked him to help organize a panel for January on how to better engage gay Jews.

We walk past his childhood yeshiva, and past the stately brick apartment building where his cousin once lived. Levin points to the windows on the fourth floor, where his cousin used to take him. “That room, and that room.” It took him years to be able to walk near this intersection again. Then he points toward a wide thoroughfare lined with callery pear trees where black-hatted men mill about. “The litmus test is still, would you walk down Kingston Avenue holding a boy’s hand?” Not yet, he says, but soon.


 

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Taken From europe.newsweek.com

Gay rights organisation: The EU no longer leading on LGBT rights

Many Western European countries have rested on their laurels in recent years when it comes to gay rights – and are now overlooking issues around trans and intersex rights, says Evelyne Paradis.

Evelyne Paradis is executive director of ILGA-Europe, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

Paradis spoke to Henriette Jacobsen.

When it comes to gay rights, how are EU member states faring compared to other places in the world?

In many ways, EU member states are still leading and at the forefront when it comes to legal protection of LGBT people. The ones who set the benchmarks 15 years ago were EU member states. Although there was a slight going backwards, we still have a few EU member states that continue to set benchmarks. For example, on trans rights and now intersex rights, which is a newer category of issues. But overall, I don’t think that Europe can claim to have the leadership on LGBT rights the way it did 10-15 years ago, when it was clearly the region where clear advances were made.

I say that because I think many Western European countries have rested on their laurels a little bit, having achieved quite extraordinary advances when it came to recognition of couples to marriage equality. I think it took some time for many western European governments to realise that marriage was not the end of the fighting, that achieving equality requires many more measures and that many western countries had overlooked the importance of proactive public policies and pro-active work to bring public opinion along. Many European countries have overlooked issues around trans rights and are not looking into intersex rights.

On the whole, most parts of the EU are, of course, relatively speaking, a better place to be an LGBT person than in other parts of the world. But it’s no longer the only place where it’s going forward and there are areas where things are going backwards.

You mentioned that some countries have stopped being proactive. Can we only blame their governments, or is it also their gay rights organisations who have stopped being ambitious?

It’s a good point. I think it has been a combination of factors. In many parts of Europe, the LGBT activists have tended to place a huge focus on changing laws, so on legislative change, and by doing so, have actually overlooked the fact that changing laws is only part of bringing about change for people. You change the law, but you also need to make sure that you implement the laws. Then you also need to make sure that people also agree with the laws you change. That has been the realisation for many activists in the last five years, broadly speaking, in Europe.

Then it’s true that the LGBT movement has gone through phases. Years ago, it was more an LGB movement, but now it’s LGBT, and includes trans people and now it’s inclusive of intersex people as things have progressed, and the agenda of LGBTI groups has also broadened.

Now it’s also not just about LGBTI, but people are realising that people have multiple elements of their identities, that there is a diversity within the LGBTI community. So it’s one thing to be a white gay man in London, to use a cliché, but it’s quite another one to be a gay man of ethnic minority origin in some rural area in France, for instance. So the experience varies. This piece of work is increasingly becoming a priority within the LGBT movement.

Why does ILGA focus so much on legislation?

We consider change to be three main things: it is legal change, it is political change and it is social change. In order to get full equality, you need to have change happening at all the different levels. It’s true that, for example, our Rainbow Index is measuring legal change. All three levels of change are really crucial. If you only have social change, but not legal change, the danger is that people don’t have their rights enshrined in law, and it becomes sometimes much harder to claim those rights if your rights are being violated.

But then we of course know by now very well that it’s possible to have the most beautiful laws in the books, but they don’t mean anything in practice because there is no political will to make sure that those laws get implemented properly. There are sometimes no resources for the person who is in charge of implementing those laws. Sometimes, there is not even knowledge that these laws exist, and people don’t know that they have certain rights.

We all need to be looking at it in a comprehensive way. That’s the biggest change in the way most of us have done our work over the past five years, because now there is greater understanding among LGBT groups across Europe that we do need to work on all fronts at the same time.

What is your ‘Rainbow Index’ about and why is it necessary to have it?

The Rainbow Index focuses only on legal change, and there are several reasons for that. We do consider that in our societies, you do need to have legal protection. That’s a minimum to make sure that the rights are actually going to be protected. So we want to have benchmarks for all governments and public authorities to say that those are the minimum conditions, you all need to meet.

It’s also very practical, because laws are elements of change that we can actually measure, as one indicator of change.

Do you send the Rainbow Index to governments, and do you feel they take it into account when they make new laws?

We have huge interaction with policymakers regarding the Index, including ministers. The main use of the Rainbow Index by policymakers is as a roadmap every year about what they need to do.

We present it every year at this forum, where government officials and NGOs meet. We present it in front of ministers, and the reaction that we have had in the last few years is that you immediately see the ministers going to their score and then the question they ask is ‘What do I need to do to be gaining points next year?’. They do take it seriously and they do look at where in Europe there are good practices and laws that they can use as models. The Rainbow map is a conversation starter with many policymakers, high-level officials and governments.

Few countries are adopting laws on trans rights, and the minister in Denmark was surprised Denmark wasn’t ranking higher on the Index. My response was one that I have given to many governments: ‘Yes, you’re doing good on the LGB and sexual orientation front, but you are not doing well on the gender identity front.’ Then the question was, what are the good models in Europe? At the time there was frankly no model. The best model in the world was Argentina’s. The following day, I met with the Maltese minister who asked the same question. They therefore entered a positive competition on who would be adopting the first law that would set the benchmark for Europe.

In a year, Denmark adopted what was then the best law, and Malta followed suit by adopting an even better law. I’m not saying that the Index is the reason for it, but it is a really affective conversation starter.

What are the some of the rights that you are fighting for right now?

They are essentially around family protection and recognition of couples and parenting rights. We do have lots of kids with parents who have very little protection or no legal protection. A lot of the work still needs to happen in that front. It’s easy to overlook. I think we have all been impressed by the changes in Ireland (the referendum that approved gay marriage) and seeing countries like Ireland moving forward very profoundly. But at least half of the member states still need to be seriously looking at how they protect existing families.

The other huge gap, which applies almost across the EU, is on enabling trans people to get their gender changed in legal documents. There’s little legislation that allows that allows that, and very little legislation protects trans people against discrimination in many different ways.

If we put countries in to three different categories, those that are moving forward, those that are standing still and those that are going backwards, where would you place some of the EU countries?

There are some Western European countries that have a poor record on the basic legal rights. Italy comes to mind. It’s one of the founding members of the EU, but it ranks extremely low on our Index. There’s virtually nothing in terms of recognition of LGBT rights, not only when it comes to family rights, but also basic protection. There’s a whole legal framework to develop in Italy.

There are many countries that have progressed well in terms of adopting laws, but have a lot of work to do in terms of actually giving meat to those laws and translating the legislative change into meaningful change for the daily life of people. Here, I would mention a country like France where the reality in Paris is one thing, but the reality in most of rural France and smaller cities in France is rather different. In education at the moment, there is a huge fight in France about whether you can even talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Then there are the countries that are going backwards. Hungary is not an LGBT-specific issue. I think there’s an overall political context which is extremely undermining of general human rights policies. We are still monitoring very closely the developments in Lithuania, where less than two weeks ago,  we managed to put a hold on a recurring bill that get presented to their parliament which is similar to the law that got adopted a few years ago in Russia, on propaganda against homosexuality. So that’s the other extreme of what is happening within the EU.

What is normally keeping politicians back from moving forward on LGBT rights?

It’s hard to give a uniform answer for the whole of the EU. Some common denominators are always prejudice and fear which get translated and expressed differently depending on the context.

If you are a politician, you will access what the impact will be if you are supportive or not supportive. From time to time, we’re lucky enough to find politicians and public officials, who will do what we consider to be the right thing, because they think that no matter the political cost, but unfortunately those tend to be the exception rather than the norm. Too often politicians are just calculating the risk of taking a step in one way or another.

In countries where there is a very prominent either religious or conservative discourse, where it seems to be that is what will sway public opinion and what will matter with voters at the time of elections, (it) is the force that we will have to work with.

How would you rate the Commission, and the Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, on rights, after their first year in office?

We have had some very strong public statements. One might say even stronger than what we have had in a long time. It was surprising to hear Vice-President Timmermans at the gala we organised in June speak in favour of marriage equality, for instance, because that’s clearly not an issue that ILGA raises in an EU context. We know it falls out of the EU’s competences. It has never been an issue which we have advocated for within the EU institutions. It is good to see the personal commitment to the issue, but we are critical, like many other social justice organisations, of the actual record of the Commission at the moment.

There are indications that the Commission might take some steps and I think there will be some very specific actions taken next year, which is positive. But it’s really not to the level of ambition that we could have expected and wanted and feel is needed.

So what he’s talking about is actually not what you need right now?

It’s not. It’s nice from a public policy view to hear someone saying that marriage equality is important, but it’s not something he can do anything about though there are lots of areas in which the EU, the Commission especially, can do something about. It can put some topics on the table for discussion, even if they don’t have a clear competence at the moment when we know that the living together part is difficult and is a huge challenge for Europe, whether it falls under gender issues or cultural issues and so on. You do need to look at how we all live together and education seems like a topic you can bring to the table of EU discussions even when it doesn’t fall under clear competences.

There’s so much more the EU could do to combat homophobic and transphobic violence. This continues to be proven by data across Europe as an EU-wide phenomenon. It doesn’t matter whether you live in the UK, which has one of the best legislative frameworks or whether you live in Slovakia where people still experience violence on a daily basis. That is clearly an area where the EU could pull even more of its strength together.

While there will be some actions proposed next year, which is of course better than nothing, there is a lot more that the EU could be doing. Our priorities fall under the Commission’s priorities such as social cohesion and creating a Europe where there is not dozens of layers of citizenship. What we’re suggesting is contributing to that goal. At the moment, like any other social justice advocates, we get squeezed by the multiplicity of other political priorities. We’re at the bottom of the priorities of current affairs, which range from security and the eurozone to whether the UK will stay in the EU. We get completely de-prioritised.

With the way the Commission is now structured, and with Timmermans at the top, cutting what he believes is red tape… are you considering that maybe there are others you should talk to?

One of the concrete things that we have been calling for is a policy framework, call it a strategy, an action plan, a roadmap, but a policy framework that brings coherence. When we look at it from a better regulation perspective, we find that coherence is better regulation. A coherent framework will allow you to be setting clear priorities, objectives and enable everybody to know where we are going, allow people to access progress and give a clear narrative around what the Commission is doing.

We think it ticks all of the boxes of what better regulation is about and we know that there is support from within the other DGs and other commissioners to have this because it would help their work as well. They will be able to see how the work that happens under Enlargement fits with the work under Justice. We have yet to really convince the Commission to take that step at that level.

Sam Smith Draws Crowd Outside Australian Club Dressed In Police Uniform

Sam Smith has been gaining popularity since he released his debut album, In The Lonely Hour, and apparently not just among music fans. According to the Daily Mail, the 23-year-old singer found himself surrounded by male fans as he was on his way out of Sydney’s Qantas Credit Union Arena, heading to a famous Sydney gay bar called “Stonewall.”
Sam Smith

The reason why male fans took so much interest in Sam Smith — apart from being extremely handsome and a music superstar — is because he was dressed in a tight-fitting NYPD uniform.

The “Money On My Mind” singer, who is currently on a world tour, was apparently inspired by George Michael’s “Outside” music video, which features footage of gay couples. Sam Smith confirmed his outfit on Instagram.

After completing a local show of his current world tour, Sam Smith had a “cheat day” and broke his diet by heading to KFC, according to the Daily Mail. It has been reported that Sam Smith lost as many as 22kg after becoming popular in the music industry.

Sam Smith recently visited Adelaide on his current world tour, performing to a packed crowd at the Adelaide Entertainment Center Theatre, according to the Advertiser.

Sam Smith 2

Backed by a seven-piece band, Sam Smith was dressed in a black blazer and a white top, and performed his hits to the audience. His performance was full of passion, and he was good at delivering it. With his heart-breaking “Leave Your Lover,” Sam Smith made both young and old cry at the beginning of his show, according to the Advertiser. Accompanied by modest stage setup and an average light show, the singer was all smiles and chirpy, owning the large stage and confidently performing his top hits.

 

Taken from Inquisitr.com

Gay Vlogger Supports Donald Trump [WTF]

So I came across this guy. A gay Vlogger who seriously supports Donald Trump. I’m not sure what others think of this and if maybe I’m the only person who didn’t get this joke but here it is.

This is a slap in the face to not only LGBTQ people but also…

 

  • Latinos.
  • Immigrants.
  • People with disabilities.
  • Muslims.
  • Black people.
  • Babies.
  • POWs.

 

Houston musician Richard Ramirez brings his harsh noise and gay porn aesthetic to Day For Night festival

rramirezLocal hard noise music pioneer, Richard Ramirez is one to look out for at the experimental arts and music festival, Day For Night.

Ramirez has been affiliated with various Houston bands such as “Black Leather Jesus” and “House of the Black
Death.” He is considered to be one of the first harsh noise artists and is credited for his influence in that genre of music. Hard noise is a combination of musical and non-musical sounds, which use distorting effects and static noises.

Ramirez has brought his sound to various cities in the U.S., as well as Japan, Canada, and Europe.  Ramirez’s music normally tends to highlight violence and war and he uses a strong homosexual and gay porn/bondage aesthetic his album cover designs and song titles.

Ramirez will join the long list of visual artists and renowned musical acts showcasing their talent from December 19th through the 20th.

 

[Taken from LaVoz Houston]

Alternative Electronic Music: The Roots of Indietronica and Synthpunk

Alternative Electronic Music: The Roots of Indietronica and Synthpunk

deadmau5
Deadmau5

Electronic music has been on the rise, with artists like Sia and Kesha using heavy electronic editing in their records. The use of synthesizers, drum machines, and software has been steadily growing. This is a look back at the alternative electronic music scene that still thrives to this day.

The branches of electronic music usually combine electronic, punk, rock, and pop. Their instruments include samplers, synthesizers, electronic keyboards, drum machines, and software synthesizers.


Indie Electronic

Indie Electronic or indietronica is basically a mixture of two other genres of music — electro music and indie rock. Electro music is a subgenre of electronic music that’s has direct influence from the use of drum machines and has some funk sampling, and typically sports-laden electronic audio sounds with no or little vocals. The vocals, however, are usually delivered in a monotone way, with a lot of distortion from talkboxing, vocoding, etc.

Indie rock, on the other hand, means rock and roll music released through independent — hence the name — and mostly low-budget labels. Indie rock is usually more daring when it comes to experimenting with the music, with a diverse range of influences.

Snythpunk

Synthpunk is basically punk rock bands making use of electronic keyboards and synthesizers, which was a bit controversial in the punk rock scene at the time, with synthesizers often playing lead instead of guitar.

A Brief History

It was at the end of the 1960s that rock bands started using electronic instruments such as the Mellotron and the Theremin in their music, which includes The Beatles and the Beach Boys. Eventually, synthesizers came to the forefront of the rock sound, from Pink Floyd to Genesis, Yes to Lake and Palmer. This popularity gave way for the development of synthpop, which then led to synthesizers taking over pop and rock music in the beginning of the 1980s. Groups such as Duran Duran, the Eurythmics, and Flock of Seagulls were key advancers of this new wave of electronic pop music. Using synthesizers became so popular that they sometimes replaced all other instruments, but this began to become unpopular by the middle of the 1980s.

It was in the mid 1970s that punk rock groups started using synthesizers with Suicide’s rehearsal tape in 1979; The Units and the Screamers’ demo with Pat Garret in 1977, and can be considered the first in synthpunk. The Screamers were even classified as “techno-punk” at one point, but the term didn’t stick.

Alternative music and indie music, on the other hand, used to be interchangeable terms in the 1980s, but the commercial success of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and many others brought “alternative” music into the mainstream, making the “alternative rock” term contradictory to what it was and indie, or “independent,” was used for music being made for its own sake and not commercial success. Indie music had a wide range of influences, from grunge to heavy metal, and even punk-folk songs, such as the type of music Ani DiFranco does, and the indie scene grew, but never went mainstream anyway.

Bands like Stereolab and Disco Inferno became the heralds of indietronica in the beginning of the 1990s. The indietronica scene really began to bloom in the 2000s along with new technological advancements. Acts included the American band BOBBY, the German Lali Puna, and the UK act Broadcast, wherein they mixed indie music with electronic instruments and styles, while the term punksynth or synthpunk was mostly used for any band with punk style guitars and synthesizers. The term is used to describe early bands that used this style such as the Epoxies, Blowoff/BobMOuld, Full Minute of Mercury, and Ima Robot, who had vague punk influences combined with the use of synthesizer. Currently, bands like Parenting and Mindless Self-Indulgence are continuing to expand punk/rock by using only vocals, drums, and synthesizers in making music.

Right now, electronic dance music has been all the rage, with Skrillex, DeadMau5, and Avicii at the forefront, a relatively big invasion of electronic music on the hip-hop genre, and electronic music continues to have a strong influence on all genres. And as the popularity of electronic music grows, so will alternative electronic music, especially for those not into mainstream music.