Published in: November-December 2013 issue.


A White Elephant  What are we to make of a lifelong Republican strategist and opponent of marriage equality who does a complete 180 and decides, not only that he’s now pro-gay marriage, but that he plans to spearhead an effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Arizona and Florida? This would describe Tim Mooney, a Rick Perry associate who has advised Republican candidates on how to turn gay marriage into a wedge issue, and who surfaced this year with a plan to put marriage equality on the ballot in two states that have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which would entail repealing the existing laws. And who could object to that? The trouble is, Arizona and Florida are both states where marriage equality would almost certainly go down to defeat if put to a popular vote. Such an outcome could deal a serious blow to the momentum for marriage equality across the U.S. GLBT activists and organizations have responded with skepticism and withheld their support, and with good reason: both states require a super-majority to repeal a constitutional amendment—in Florida it’s an insurmountable sixty percent—and both run behind the national average in public support for marriage equality. Whether defeats in these states would in fact slow down the marriage bandwagon is open to question. It may be that the urge to re-enact marriage bans for no reason is akin to the U.S. House voting to repeal Obamacare for the thirty-something’th time: it’s pointless, but it feels so good.

 Follow-up on the News  How many erogenous zones can you find in play in this photo? A previous BTW reported on a movement in France devoted to resisting the legalization of same-sex marriage, now a fait accompli, and it quoted an article that asked, “Is this the HOMMEN-CROTCH
most homoerotic anti-gay protest ever?” Well, they’re back! Now at best the protest is a rear-guard action—or an excuse to come together, take off your shirt, and embrace the cause along with your mates. Calling themselves “Hommen”—which seems to combine the French and English words for “men”—they like to paint their uniformly buff torsos with slogans that sometimes mangle the two languages, as in “Démocratie Is Dead.” But they also sport peace symbols and sometimes wear white masks  à la Phantom of the Opera. Their one consistent article of doctrine appears to be: no shirts, ever!

A Symbol Stands  A recent book has thrown a bucket of ice water onto an icon of GLBT rights. In The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, author Steve Jimenez claims that Shepard’s murder wasn’t a hate crime at all but was instead motivated by a complicated relationship between the killers and the victim, fueled by methamphetamines. Jimenez’ research has revealed that Shepard knew the killers, especially Aaron McKinney, with whom he’d even had a sexual relationship. Both McKinney and his accomplice Russell Henderson had been on a crystal meth bender for five days when they encountered Shepard at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming, and the murder may have been motivated by a drug turf dispute. Needless to say, these claims have not gone unchallenged. Moisés Kaufman, author of The Laramie Project, dismissed the new account as a whitewash. But really, does it matter? The storming of the Bastille became the gunpowder for the French Revolution—no matter that the symbol of oppression turned out to be an empty shell housing a few lunatics. The Shepard case came to prominence only because of its bizarre nature, notably the crucifixion-like method of execution. But gay bashings and murders do take place every day, albeit less theatrically. Just as France’s ancien régime was genuinely oppressive and people were starving, hate crimes really happen and the people needed to be told.

Is the Pope Catholic?  It came as a bolt out of the blue when the new Pope declared in effect that the Catholic Church’s war on gay people was coming to a close. He spoke of the Church’s “obsession” with gay issues along with abortion and birth control: “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently … otherwise the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.” Lest one complain that the Pope is only changing his tune in response to shifting cultural winds—nothing new for the Catholic Church—be it noted that Francis’ message closely follows the argument, and even the rhetoric, of an article published a few months ago in Commonweal magazine by the influential theologian Joseph Bottum, former editor of the journal First Things. Here Bottum left no doubt about the Realpolitik reasons for the shift. “Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression.” Opposing same-sex marriage at this point would be foolhardy: “That ship has sailed,” wrote Bottum. Finally, hats off to the source of this story for not indulging in a single, all-too-easy pun on the theologian’s name, especially considering the special resonance of these syllables in the gay community. And the source: On Top magazine (8/24/13).

Afterlife of a Star  Ever wonder what happens to porn stars when they retire from an industry in which aging is an occupational Stryker-pothazard? They don’t all become accountants, as witness: one of the biggest stars of all time has landed on his feet, and he’s doing something downright useful. What’s more, it’s refreshing to see Jeff Stryker (twice!) looking pretty great for a guy whose famous penis made its debut in 1985 (and finally withdrew in 1999). And it’s reassuring to find that he’s now in an industry whose benefits don’t diminish with age. (Actually, the book doesn’t yet exist, and Mr. Stryker is looking for funding. Just Google the title and author’s name to find out how you can help.)

Boycott Russian Everything  The sad and tragic situation in Russia, where all discussion of GLBT topics or issues is legally banned as “propaganda of homosexuality,” doesn’t seem like ready fare for this column—but we’re talking about Russia, soputin drag there are bound to be some enigmas and conundrums, if not elements of the grotesque. And sure enough, it turns out the first person to be arrested under the new law is a young gay man who was turned over to the authorities by his own parents. Also: the Duma is now working on a bill that would offer government funding for “ex-gay” therapy—even as some U.S. states are banning this discredited practice. Here at home, a company called has launched a program to send a dildo to Vladimir Putin for every sex toy it sells, all in the hope that they might help him to “open up” on sexual matters and gay rights. Oh, and to avoid being boycotted, Stoli is now claiming that it’s not a Russian company—and all things Russian are taking on a radioactive glow. Sochi Olympics, here we come!