‘It’s Not Over’ book tour
Wednesday, April 22
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
With even anti-LGBT forces conceding a turning tide against them in the marriage wars, gay rights activists are in a place they like with same-sex marriage support polling higher than ever (only 33 percent oppose according to last month’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll) and marriage equality in 37 states plus D.C.
But marriage, of course, isn’t the only issue and radio host and author Michelangelo Signorile says the movement is in danger of succumbing to “victory blindness,” a phenomenon wherein “we’re overcome by the heady whirl of a narrative of victory, a kind of bedtime story that tells us we’ve reached the promised land, that can make everything else seem like a blur.” In his new book “It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia & Winning True Equality,” a wide-ranging book culled from years of activism and insight gleaned from his long-running eponymous show on Sirius XM radio, Signorile warns of potential dangers ahead.
Dubbed both “a wake-up call” and “a battle plan for the fights to come,” Signorile, who’ll be in Washington to promote it and sign copies at Politics & Prose next week, says there’s much work to do. Though he makes a compelling case, we played devil’s advocate with him by phone for an hour last week. His comments have been edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: The book is so timely and full of up-to-the-minute developments. Aren’t you concerned it will be outdated very quickly?
MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE: It’s the nature of our entire communications industry that everything moves so quickly and books occupy a different place than they used to. They have to do something different. What had continued to strike me over the last few years is that although we kept having these victories, the facts on the ground weren’t matching the celebrations and there was still a lot of discrimination. That was something that was remaining true regardless of what the latest victory was …. so it was really an issue of which examples to use. Some of the older ones, I just decided not to use. There were newer ones that would carry the basic idea through.
BLADE: In the last chapter you outline what you feel is the best way to proceed from here. Nobody has a crystal ball, but with the information you have, how likely do you feel that scenario is?
SIGNORILE: It’s hard to know because if you had asked me 10 or 15 years ago, how soon we would have full marriage equality, I would have said 25 or 50 years, something like that, so I think it could happen a lot quicker but a lot of it really is related to how kids are taught about gender and sexual orientation, that really is key. … In terms of getting full civil rights, who knows when Democrats will have full control again. I almost see that as taking longer, maybe 10 years or more.
BLADE: You write about the dangers of “victory blindness.” Do you see any parallels or mistakes at comparable points in the African-American civil rights movement or the women’s movement that we can avoid? Do any of the rumblings that still bubble up in society on those issues stems from issues of victory blindness their respective leaders might have succumbed to at comparable points to where we are now?
SIGNORILE: Yeah, we’ve seen victory blindness with every group and every civil rights movement. There’s a point where there’s a major win and a lot of people become complacent and apathetic and pull back and it’s really the worst time for that to happen because that’s really when the opponents really begin to organize in a fierce way and take advantage of that apathy and we have certainly seen that with women’s rights. If you go back to the ‘70s, … there was a real cultural shift and the sexual revolution and then people kind of thought it was over, we’d arrived. People don’t anticipate the backlash, often in the form of a religious revival, which we saw in the ‘80s with the Christian evangelical revival, which has happened at various times all throughout history. … Now we’re seeing the Voting Rights Act stripped away, another clear example where people don’t anticipate the backlash. You can change the laws, but it doesn’t change the attitudes and you can’t just say it’s over.
BLADE: But couldn’t that be construed as an argument in favor of the incrementalist approach you argue against in the book? If you don’t come in like such a barnstormer, wouldn’t it stave off some of the fervor of the backlash?
SIGNORILE: I think you do have to come in like a barnstormer and demand full equality and then stick with it. The problem is people get a part of it and may even get much of it, but then don’t stick with it for further change. Whether you do it incrementally or not, your enemies will still organize against you. I don’t think you’re taken seriously when you just ask for a little bit or crumbs and I don’t think it really energizes and captivates your own people and the larger public when you do it that way. You have to really demand that full equality and whatever you get you get, but then you have to stick with it and keep fighting for it. … The lesson for a minority is that you’re always going to be fighting. The roots of bigotry go very deep.
BLADE: So is it a mistake for groups like Freedom to Marry to say they’ll close if the Supreme Court rules in our favor?
SIGNORILE: I think it depends how they’re talking about it. Evan Wolfson has been very clear that the fight is far from over. … The bigger problems are the groups that only like to focus on winning and see it as a downer or not good fundraising to focus on losing. That’s the real problem because then you look like you’re not taking up a fight, like you’re in denial. None of us can still figure out why HRC was silent through the entire period when Arkansas passed that law that rescinded all the civil rights ordinances. Yes, the local HRC chapter said a few things but we heard nothing at all from Chad Griffin, no national press release, nothing. I don’t know what to conclude from that but it seems they gave up and thought, “Well, it’s a loser.” Then a couple weeks later, they were focused on the religious liberty law in that state which they were able to beat back. It just seems they were picking what they could win … but I don’t think it does us any good when it looks like we’re running away from battle. (HRC declined to comment.)
BLADE: You’re gay and include some biographical passages in the book. Might it be more compelling to the moveable middle if there was somebody out there who was making these points who didn’t have a proverbial dog in the fight? Is anyone doing that?
SIGNORILE: I don’t really see this idea of more objectivity in journalism as something that really furthers discussion because you can’t really claim to be objective but you can be fair and open and you can entertain the thinking of those who disagree with you. … There are people like Rush Limbaugh who have their own point of view and just shut everybody else out and then you have the New York Times that claims it’s objective but that’s really impossible because even what you omit from a story requires subjectivity. I would prefer outlets that say, “This is our opinion, but let’s entertain their thoughts and see what they think.” That’s what I try to do on my show. I always try to talk to people who are oppositional. I may have arguments and it may get passionate, but I don’t shut them out. Actually people who call my show who are on the opposite side are more likely to get on because I think we need to have a discussion.
BLADE: You never hear anybody arguing against our issues that it’s not one step removed from some sort of religious argument. You never hear of an atheist arguing against gay rights but nobody really seems to point that out. Why?
SIGNORILE: I’ve made that point sometimes. Somebody always comes forth and mentions some obscure historical figure who was an atheist but was supposedly still anti-Semitic or anti-gay but I do believe whether someone is religious or not, the ideology all stems from religion. I don’t think there’s any natural aversion to homosexuality. What religion has done to modern society is really demonize homosexuality and in that sense it really is all religion-based. A lot of the media have a hard time having any kind of discussion about it without bringing some religion person on and I think they need to stop doing that because if that’s your religious belief, that’s the end of that but if you want to argue with two people coming at it from a scientific point of view, they can’t seem to find anybody because it’s all religion-based.
BLADE: Why don’t we have more Republican allies? With Republican ideals of less regulation, freer trade, fewer embargoes, why doesn’t some of that brand of thinking trickle down to more personal freedom on our issues?
SIGNORILE: There are some free market fiscal Republicans who are not anti-gay themselves and do not agree with those who want to ban marriage or throw gays out of a restaurant or whatever, but the short answer is that it’s because the religious right still has such a stranglehold on the party it has to contend with so I still hold those other people accountable if they’re still comfortable being in that party and still vote with those who have an anti-gay point of view. It becomes a bit more difficult for the party because they can’t stomach any more blatant ugly homophobic language so they have to adapt the language a bit. It still slips out every now and then, like with women’s issues when somebody says “legitimate rape” and it ruins everything again. But instead of trying to shun those people, they try to rephrase and rebrand those arguments so others will be more comfortable being in the party. Now they’re going with the religious liberty argument hoping that will stick.
BLADE: You write about the spillover into pop culture and the ramifications of that. We have strong representation on hit shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” But invariably shows like “Duck Dynasty” and the Duggers’ show “19 Kids and Counting” come along and go through the roof becoming a mega cultural phenomenon. Are we going to look back in 20 years and see them as cultural anachronisms a la “Amos ’n’ Andy”? When attitudes are clearly changing in our favor, how do these kinds of shows get such traction?
SIGNORILE: These shows are a reflection of where the culture is and it’s quite clear there are millions of people out there who connect with these shows. Don’t forget that even though the people who run the industry might themselves be described as liberal, they know where the money is and where it isn’t and where it isn’t is in portraying LGBT people in a more realistic way. I think we’ll look back on “Modern Family” and say, “OK, why did these people never have any real connection.” There isn’t any discernible sexual energy between them. It’s been sanitized … to be more palatable to a mainstream audience in a way that won’t scare them.
BLADE: You say Aaron Schock should have been grilled and investigated a lot harder on possibly being a closet case. Lots of people argued there was no smoking gun and that everybody was just speculating based on tired stereotypes like the way he dressed and decorated his office. Short of some gay sex tape leaking, which is highly unlikely, these kinds of things become very hard to prove and any discussions end up being based on innuendo and stereotype. Is that unfair? How acute or fair do you feel the public’s overall gaydar is?
SIGNORILE: Well, what’s been forgotten in all this is the Itay Hod story …
BLADE: Well that sounded really wobbly — a second-hand thing where he didn’t even say for sure whom he was talking about.
SIGNORILE: He now has confirmed that’s who he was talking about and so while yes, it’s a second-hand source, it’s not something based on how he dresses or looks, but a second-hand account based on a sexual interaction. All of these issues are troublesome because they’re treated differently than they would be with any other story about a public figure. All of a sudden if it’s a gay rumor, we have a much higher burden of proof than we have with anybody else. Why didn’t anybody go investigate this? Why didn’t anybody go to Iowa? Why didn’t anybody go to Dupont Circle and start asking around? We have no problem going through Ted Cruz’s records. Why was this treated differently?
BLADE: How do you know that didn’t happen? Perhaps nothing was found.
SIGNORILE: I don’t think it happened. I asked specifically if people were looking into it and it seemed reporters were just not interested. They saw it as some sort of prying. What’s wrong with us talking about it? People go digging into Rand Paul’s background and he was maybe using a bong in college or whatever. Nobody attacks them as invading his privacy but with Schock, it’s a case of unless you have the proof, you can’t even talk about it. We take tips from visual cues all the time. The whole story of his downfall came from a visual cue, the way he had his office decorated which looked like excess and like maybe he was spending public money. Nobody had any proof, but they started looking into it and they found that he was doing lots of things that were very lavish and getting them paid for in all kinds of creative ways. … On this issue, they treat it differently and it’s not something they want to look into or talk about and I think what shows is that they’re still very uncomfortable talking about the issue of homosexuality.
BLADE: Have we ever really dismantled the slippery slope argument against marriage? We tend to laugh it off and say we’re not marrying our daughter or an animal, yet it still seems to play so well in the heartland and in the South. What’s our best response to that and what does it mean for the poly-inclined among us?
SIGNORILE: I think it really is kind of a ludicrous argument because we’ve changed marriage probably a thousand times over the last several hundred years and we always change it in the way society comes to believe it should be changed, at least in a democratic society. We’ve shown before how it was unfair to women, unfair to children, that women should have more rights and rights to divorce as well to make it easier to get out of abusive marriages. Now we’ve made the argument of why gay people should be included. The polygamy argument was made a long time ago by the Mormons and it didn’t take off and the Supreme Court didn’t go with that. When they keep saying, it’s going to lead to polygamy and all that, well, the Bible has that. That’s what it was and you know, it just seems to me they keep grasping at straws every time they argue that. There is no movement of people in this country who want to marry animals, there’s no organizing around that that has tried to capture the public imagination. They say, “Well, once the door is open …,” but the door is always open on every institution for rational change and marriage has changed too. We’ve made it better.
BLADE: How did you feel about John Aravosis ending AMERICAblog?
SIGNORILE: I think it’s a tough time for blogs as social media has become the real force. John was at the forefront of so much activism, particularly in the early years of blogging … in the way people now do on social media. I think he and others used that forum for activism in the best possible way you could at the time and I think the forum shifted and it has become more difficult to do that and to sustain it, so hats off to him for the work he did in those years. I’m glad he was able to transition.
BLADE: What would happen in our worst-case scenario? Say we get a Republican president elected to two terms who gets to appoint several Supreme Court justices who really bring out the guns. Do we have enough groundswell support to combat that in any substantive way and if so, what does that even look like? Would everything just get pushed back a generation or could some extreme scenario play out where the whole movement has to go underground?
SIGNORILE: It’s so hard to tell and I think any of those things are possible. We talked about how I think the arguments made to the general public are weak, but what the general public thinks often doesn’t matter because it becomes about who’s on the court and who’s lobbying and who’s in Congress and where the money is. The majority of the public believes we should have tougher gun laws but we don’t because of the NRA. And most people think Citizens United was a terrible decision and we could make the argument in the court of public opinion, but what most people don’t realize is that we’re likely going to get marriage equality because one man on the court (Justice Kennedy) thinks gay people should have some protection. He may now get another man on the court to agree with him, but he’s thought that for a while. Not in the same way legal progressives have, but he’s thought that. He’s made terrible decisions on women’s rights and terrible decisions about voting rights. It’s all so precarious and arbitrary and that’s what people don’t get. They think there’s some sort of natural thing going on, some sort of natural evolution toward justice that’s happening but what we’re dealing with is a Supreme Court that by the luck of the draw on this issues, has the five votes and may convert a sixth but we all know that could change at any time. If there’s a Republican president to replace Justice Kennedy and more gay rights issues come up, who knows what could happen. I think a lot people aren’t really thinking about how precarious this all really is.
Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes
Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility
HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.
The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.
While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.
Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said:
“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!
“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.
“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”
As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces
New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022
More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.
Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).
The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”
Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”
McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.
McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”
McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.
Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.
They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.
Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance. In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.
McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.
Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.
Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.
Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.
The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.
Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.
To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.
Need a list-minute gift idea?
Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices
You knew this was coming.
You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.
And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.
If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.
For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.
If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.
So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.
The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.
Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.
The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.
For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.
Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.
This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.
Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:
• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org
• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming, thedccenter.org/donate
• Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org
• HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org
• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org
• Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org
• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org
• Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org
• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate
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