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How the Outrage Over the Pope's Kim Davis Meeting May Have Paid Off in a Big Way

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 2, 2015   10:53 AM ET

The Vatican has now spoken out publicly in response to the international outrage over Pope Francis' meeting with Kim Davis, saying it was not an endorsement of her stand. And one unnamed Vatican official even noted to the media that there is a "sense of regret." The Vatican and those close to it described the meeting in the way that some Vatican-watchers had speculated in recent days, based on their own sources: Davis' meeting was not arranged by the Vatican, and it appears she was part of a procession line of people greeting the pope.

The pope, according to the Vatican's clarification, knew little of the particulars of her story. It appears it was not a private meeting to endorse her. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi even described it as not "a real audience" -- quite an insult to Davis -- unlike some of the pope's other meetings. And Fr. Tom Rosica, who assists the Vatican press office, said Francis personally approved the clarification, so the rebuke is coming straight from the top. Whatever the case, it is very rare that the Vatican offers a clarification of any kind. So this is a slap at Davis and her lawyers for using the meeting in a political manner.

That is great, and the fact that the rebuke is coming from Pope Francis himself is huge. It was absolutely necessary and will go a long way. And there are two important points that should be taken away from this:

1. The Vatican got itself into this mess, and further exacerbated it.

The Vatican is saying it didn't organize a meeting with Davis, implying someone with an agenda brought her there. There have been various speculative accounts about this in recent days, some focusing on the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., who is described as a long-time Benedict supporter who was perhaps determined to undermine Francis. Whatever the case, someone either screwed up royally at the Vatican Embassy by even allowing Davis to get through, or the Vatican planned the meeting and this is all damage control for what it now realizes was a big mistake.

And then, the second screw up was the Vatican's issuing a "neither confirm nor deny" statement about the meeting only to later issue a "won't deny" statement. This is really what lit the torch that spread outrage around the world. The Vatican must learn that it needs to put out a fire with all the might it has before its spreads. Instead, it poured gasoline on the fire. The Vatican perhaps thought it could get away with not insulting Davis and evangelicals even after the meeting was made public and that it could just sweep this under the rug. It was wrong.

2. Contrary to those who are demanding apologies from those of us who spoke out, it is in fact the moral outrage that got the Vatican to issue its clarification.

The Vatican rarely clarifies anything, often still clinging to its worn-out image as a centuries-old mysterious institution that sits above the fray, even though it is a global empire with websites, social media accounts and sophisticated p.r. operatives who work for it in dozens of countries. Had there not been a collective sense of betrayal expressed in a forceful way by people around the world, the Vatican would have done nothing.

In that case, Liberty Counsel, the anti-gay legal firm associated with the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and which represents Kim Davis, would have gotten away with using the pope and the Catholic Church for its hateful, hideous, law-breaking agenda. So, actually, we did the pope a favor in forcing the Vatican to speak out. And more importantly, we exposed Liberty Counsel and pressured the Catholic Church, in a rare instance, to slam an anti-gay entity by exposing its lie. In its now-thwarted master plan, Liberty Counsel expected the Vatican to simply do what it has done in the past: Put out a vague comment and let it stand, thus allowing Liberty Counsel to continue to control the narrative. But the outrage -- and only the outrage, from millions of people globally -- changed that: Now the church controls the narrative while Liberty Counsel is rebuked even as it is now trying to continue a war of words with the Vatican.

The damage is still there for Pope Francis, no doubt. This was a bad incident, and not the punctuation he wanted on his trip. Hopefully he'll deal with those around him who put him in this position. The Vatican needed to issue this clarification as a first step. Maybe the pope has further plans.

To those who say that we should have given the pope the benefit of the doubt, I again say that without the outrage there would be no response.

But more importantly: This is a powerful church that still condemns homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered," attacks transgender people and allows its institutions worldwide to discriminate against LGBT people, with Catholic schools in the U.S. firing gay or lesbian teachers, for example, after finding out they're exercising their right to marry . The pope has both refused meetings with LGBT Catholics on these issues and refused to stop that discrimination.

The church surely cannot be seen as a "friend" of LGBT people even if we see a very slight -- in a centuries-long context -- overture by this new pope. It will need to be treated as a hostile institution for a long time. In the meantime, it's important to expose hypocrisies and encourage the pope -- who doesn't want this issue bogging him down and keeping him from focusing on the issues he's passionate about -- to do much, much more. The pressure got him to take control of this situation. That was big. It means that we need to keep the pressure up.

Also on HuffPost:

How Pope Francis Undermined the Goodwill of His Trip and Proved to Be a Coward

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 30, 2015   12:39 PM ET

After first refusing to confirm or deny it, the Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis met with the Kentucky clerk Kim Davis at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, where Davis' attorney -- who made the news public after the pope's trip ended -- said Francis told her to "stay strong." And that simple encounter completely undermines all the goodwill the pope created in downplaying "the gay issue" on his U.S. trip.

The pope played us for fools, trying to have it both ways. As I noted last week, he's an artful politician, telling different audiences what they want to hear on homosexuality. He did that in Argentina as a cardinal -- railing against gay marriage when the Vatican expected him to do so -- and he's done that since becoming pope, striking a softer tone on the issue after Benedict's harsh denunciations were a p.r. disaster for the Catholic Church in the West. But this news about Kim Davis portrays him as a more sinister kind of politician. That's the kind that secretly supports hate, ushering the bigots in the back door -- knowing they're an embarrassment -- while speaking publicly about about how none of us can judge one another.

I would have more respect for the pope if he had publicly embraced Kim Davis and made an argument for her, as he did in his visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are battling against filling out a form to exempt themselves from Obamacare's contraception requirement, claiming that even filling out the form violates their religious liberty -- even though I vehemently disagree with the pope on that issue. I'd have more respect if he boldly, explicitly made a public statement (not the vague, general statement he made on his plane on the way home only in response to a reporter's question about Davis), as he did in trying to stop the execution of a Georgia inmate who was put to death this morning. But by meeting with Davis secretly, and then at first having the Vatican neither confirm nor deny the encounter -- and now having the Vatican say it "won't deny" the meeting while it still won't offer any other details -- the pope comes off as a coward.

He shows himself to be antithetical to much of what he preaches and teaches. He talks about dialogue and having the courage of one's convictions and the courage to speak out. But he swept this Davis meeting under the rug, seemingly ashamed and certainly not wanting to broach the subject. Even Davis's supporters should find that insulting to them.

We all knew Francis was playing a p.r. game, and we were fine with that. He was focusing on climate change, immigration and other issues passionate to him -- and certainly I, and I hope everyone, still welcome whatever influence he can have on those issues. And it appeared he viewed the LGBT rights debate as a distraction from a focus on those causes. He even told U.S. bishops in a meeting during his trip that they should stop complaining about it and turn their attention to other issues. The sense was that he was probably not passionate about gay rights, but not passionate about attacking them either.

But by telling Davis that she should "stay strong" -- if her attorney's account of the encounter is to be believed -- the pope is only encouraging the bigots, even if he's doing so quietly. We don't know all the details yet regarding how Davis came to meet Francis -- if, for example, it was one of the more vocally anti-gay U.S. Catholic Church leaders who brought her along, or if the Vatican invited her.

But the optics of it are bad no matter what. Rather than moving us forward on LGBT rights ever so slightly, as many viewed the pope as doing, he now, with this meeting, emboldens the haters in the church who will be pushing to make sure church doctrine continues to call homosexuality "intrinsically disordered." And it sends a message to all those people who've experienced anti-gay discrimination -- like the Catholic school teachers fired from their jobs in the U.S. simply because of who they are -- that this pope is not going to end that discrimination any time soon. Rather than stopping that discrimination, he welcomed, with open arms in the Vatican's own embassy, the bigots who promote that discrimination but who've turned themselves into the victims.

Also on The Huffington Post:

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 30, 2015   12:00 AM ET

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been a vocal opponent of marriage equality along with his attorney general, Derek Schmidt, who unsuccessfully represented the state in federal court in 2014. 

Then, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned gay marriage bans in June, Brownback issued an executive order in July asserting that both clergy and religious organizations are exempt from recognizing or providing services for same-sex marriages. LGBT rights activists charged that the order promoted the false premise that clergy could be forced to marry gay couples, The Washington Post reported. There was also a concern that the order could even allow hospitals and other religiously affiliated institutions to not recognize the marriages of gay couples.

Now Brownback, a Republican, is predicting that Obergefell v. Hodges, the case behind the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling on same-sex marriage, will go the way of Roe v. Wade, and a decades-long culture war will ensue.

“We’ve been in the life fight for over 45 years since Roe v. Wade,” he said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress at the Values Voter Summit last weekend. “I believe life begins at conception and should be protected. I think now, you’re going where, there’s going to be a long battle on the issue of marriage. We’ve seen this play before. The public is now pro-life, after 45 years, because they now look and they say, ‘Life does begin at conception,’ a majority. [On marriage] it is not over. I don’t know what will happen. I just know a number of people look at this as: civilizations for millennia define marriage as a man and woman.”

Brownback's remarks contradict the results of a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year, in which more people described themselves as “pro-choice” than “pro-life” for the first time in eight years.

Also on HuffPost:

What Pope Francis Really Said About (Gay) Marriage -- and What He Did Not

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 25, 2015    8:48 AM ET

The United States this past June did something that the Catholic Church and the Vatican have for years railed against: granted marriage equality to its gay and lesbian citizens.

Yet, Pope Francis had nothing to say about it. Not then and not now.

Considering that Pope Benedict often vocally expressed harsh condemnation of marriage equality -- even traveling to Spain to speak out against it when that country was among the first to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians and called it a "threat to the future of humanity"-- it's astonishing how silent Francis is on the issue. I've noted in the past how he had no comment as country after country in Europe legalized marriage for gays and lesbians. And then this past June, he had no comment after the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

And yet, while some of the American media noted the significance of his non-mention of the issue during his address to Congress, others were determined to read into his comments something that simply was not there.

On CNN, anchors claimed the pope spoke about "traditional" marriage and decided that this was a remark intended to refer to same-sex marriage. (In fact, Francis never used the word "traditional" in his remarks.) The AP reported his discussion of marriage and the family was "an allusion to gay marriage in a country that recently legalized same-sex marriage across the land."

But that was a stretch by even the most liberal interpretation of Francis' words. All of this seemed to be part of an insistent mainstream media narrative that the pope, on his trip to the U.S., is making comments that "both sides" -- mostly meaning Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and progressives -- will be happy about. This is simply not true. The pope spent little time in his address to Congress on abortion -- without mentioning the word -- while going full force against the death penalty and emphatically using the term. From climate change to immigration, his passions are clear. Even conservatives are noting that on abortion and gay equality, the pope was subdued.

And here's exactly what he said about marriage and the family:

It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

First off, it goes without saying that gay and lesbian people are a part of families and have families, and many are parents and raise children -- and Francis knows this because he has met with gay activists who are married and who have children. So if he meant that the other "options" that are offered in the "culture" today which are "dissuading" people from "starting a family" include the ability to live as out gay people -- and it's possible he did -- then it's pretty weak and he intentionally didn't make his case with clarity.

Secondly, again, this is a country, the most powerful in the world, that just made marriage legal for all gay and lesbian citizens and the pope didn't directly -- or even indirectly -- address it? No mention of marriage being between a "man and woman" or children needing a "mother and a father"? Really? No mention of passing laws that could inhibit marriage for gays and "protect" those opposed to it, like the Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis? That, again, is astonishing. Francis was, after all, speaking to the legislative body that could do something about it -- and which is trying to, with Republicans having introduced the odious First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow clerks like Kim Davis and bakers and florists and others to deny services to gay and lesbian couples.

Also sitting right before Francis during his address to Congress were three of the five Supreme Court justices -- a majority of the majority -- who ruled for marriage equality in June: Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kennedy. The pope had his big chance to be clear and emphatic about the terrible thing they'd supposedly done and he blew it? Maybe he just didn't care all that much.

The pope's main concern about the family, according to what he said in his comments to Congress, is that people -- children in particular -- seem to be "disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair." That sounds more like someone promoting social programs to help the poor and stop gun-violence than someone trying to end same-sex marriage.

Again, this is the head of a a church that has for years condemned gays as "intrinsically disordered" (and still does, in its doctrine) and has seen marriage equality as harming the culture. And yet, the pope, who in the past asked "Who am I to judge?" when the question of homosexuality was raised to him, decided not to reiterate that church doctrine.

None of this, of course, is to say that the pope is not an artful politician, sometimes telling different audiences what they want to hear. In the Philippines in January -- a country in the third world, where the church sees its best chances for expansion, and the most Catholic country in Asia -- Francis made a comment that was reasonably interpreted as more of a denunciation of marriage equality: "The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life."

Though he stayed clear of marriage being between a "man and a woman," the term "redefine marriage" is a standard charge of anti-gay conservatives. In the West -- where the money is, and where the pope seemingly would rather find common ground -- that would be seen as a direct attack on marriage equality, so interestingly we didn't hear that term in the past few days. Francis may still be more emphatic at the conference on families he's attending in Philadelphia after his trip to New York. We'll know for sure in a couple of days.

But so far, the pope at best spoke in code -- as when, during his address at the White House, and sounding like Republican political candidates, he talked of defending "religious liberty" in the context of also protecting people against discrimination -- and at worst (for anti-gay conservatives, of course) he completely dodged the issue during his address to Congress, focusing instead on other forces plaguing the family. Whether or not it's all calculated, and though it represents no change of any kind in the doctrine of the church, it's still a win for LGBT people and an angering loss for anti-LGBT forces in America.

Why Asking Is Not 'Outing' In 2015

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 22, 2015   10:26 AM ET

It's 2015, and we now have marriage equality across the land, from the biggest cities to the most remote rural areas. Every day homosexuality is made part of a public record, entered forever into an official government document as people celebrate that bond of same-sex matrimony.

And yet, there's a bizarre disconnect. Many people still argue that being gay or bisexual is a "private" matter, one which should never be broached, even among privileged public figures whose lives are an open book in the media regarding just about every other subject -- including every aspect of heterosexuality. If they're straight, every actual, potential or former sex partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife -- is speculated about and reported on. And certainly the individual in question is asked about it, and can choose to address it outright or be coy. But when it comes to homosexuality or bisexuality, the media, still queasy about sexual orientation (and I think still just plain confused), view even simply asking the question as invasive. And too many gay people give them license to do so.

When my HuffPost colleague Noah Michelson wrote a blog post defending a journalist from a gay publication who asked actor Tom Hardy -- who plays a gay gangster in the new film "Legend" -- about his sexual orientation, Noah was savaged in the comments by people who ignored his basic point: There is nothing offensive about asking a public figure about his or her sexual orientation.

Instead, the angry mob responded with emotion rather than reason, defending the "privacy" of Hardy, who called the reporter's question -- which initially was an open-ended question, simply asking if it was difficult for actors to discuss their sexuality -- "disrespectful." Many argued that everyone must come out on his or her own timetable. (For the record, Hardy, even after the ensuing uproar, still hasn't addressed his sexual orientation, saying only that "there's nothing ambiguous about my sexuality... I know who I am." But he has in the past discussed having experimented with same-sex experiences "as a boy.")

But the truth is, Hardy and every other public figure forfeited much of their privacy when they pursued public lives and became public figures -- and certainly forfeited "timetables" about any heterosexual affairs they may have, as well as many other aspects of their lives. They could have chosen to stay as private citizens, and they'd retain privacy in all aspects of their lives, from their tax returns to their romances. Instead, they decided to seek lives in the spotlight. And ever since the landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling in New York Times V. Sullivan, whatever is true about public figures is legally reportable and not considered private. More than that, in recent years state courts, including New York's highest court, have ruled that it's not wrong, or "defamatory," to even falsely say someone is gay, largely because the culture has changed and become more accepting. How can any of us argue that it's bad or harmful to even ask the question of a public figure when courts have ruled that it's not slanderous or harmful to even inaccurately call someone gay, based on the progress we've made?

We claim we want to be treated equally as gay people, but then, in 2015, with much more acceptance in the culture, we still ask for special treatment of gay and bisexual public figures while every aspect of the sex and romantic lives of heterosexual public figures is dissected every day. We can't have it both ways any longer.

Of course it's true that, unlike heterosexuals, LGBT people experience a great deal of discrimination in the majority of states, where there are no protections in housing, employment and public accommodations. And there is no federal law protecting LGBT Americans. Bullying and suicides occur at alarming rates and LGBT teens are ejected from their homes in terrible numbers, with 40 percent of all homeless youth being LGBT. As I've written quite a bit -- including in an entire book -- our work is certainly not over, not by a long shot.

But ironically, when we refuse to broach the subject of gayness among public figures -- and we are only discussing public figures here, not private individuals -- we're covering for people who mostly live in liberal bastions of the coasts who have full protections, who use the media to publicize their work and who know that doing so comes with a great deal of scrutiny. More than that, as prominent celebrities, media figures and politicians, they are privileged individuals who enjoy the great accomplishments of the LGBT movement while those kids are being thrown onto the streets.

And it's not going to change for those kids -- and all kids -- until they and everyone else see that homosexuality isn't treated as an unmentionable subject among the most privileged and powerful people in society. Asking the question is not "outing" -- a term I can't stand, and, if you read my pieces here on Gay Voices, you know why -- and a public figure can answer in any way that he or she chooses, from dodging the question (as Hardy did) to obscuring or outright lying about it. But I believe in 2015 a great many will simply choose to be honest when the question is asked, particularly if it's asked again and again, and if the culture just stops coddling them.

It's not the media's job to cover up for public figures. And it's certainly not the media's job to send the mixed message to young people that, though they can now get married in any state if they're gay, heterosexuality is glamorous and exciting -- and reportable -- but homosexuality is a dirty secret that should never be raised.

All You Need To Know About GOP Anti-Gay Bigotry For 2016

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 17, 2015   10:14 AM ET

Last night's second debate of the top tier GOP candidates -- as well as the earlier bottom feeeders' debate -- confirmed something so many pundits claimed would not be the case: Marriage equality and LGBT rights are 2016 campaign issues, and probably will be issues in the GOP for a long time to come.

Jeb Bush agreed with Mike Huckabee that Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to give out marriage licenses, should be provided special "accommodations" so she could opt-out of serving certain members of the public. Bush equated Davis to the florists who've refused to serve gay couples for their weddings in states where gays and lesbians are protected against discrimination in public accommodations.

This is extraordinary considering the polling that has shown the vast majority of Americans -- 63 percent in a Washington Post/ABC poll -- believe Davis should be required to give out licenses. Even some prominent religious conservative thinkers have said Davis is a disaster for their cause. The clerk issue plays out differently than the cases of bakers and florists refusing service because most Americans have less of an understanding about private businesses and anti-discrimination laws while they definitely believe a government employee, paid by taxpayer dollars, should do her job. It's a clear-cut issue of a state worker and following the rule of law.

Considering this, how laughable is it now thinking back to when some reporters early on -- based largely on anonymous sources, too afraid to publicly say Bush is supposedly secretly pro-gay -- were telling us that Jeb Bush was going to be 2016's "gay friendly Republican"?

Among the supposed proof of this was that he hired an openly gay communications director, Tim Miller -- as if having a gay spokesman makes the anti-gay rhetoric go down easier. That was back in the beginning of the year, when Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT group, gave a front page interview for the Washington Post, headlined "Has Jeb Bush Shown Republicans a New Way to Talk About Gay Marriage?" in which he slobbered all over Bush, who was once his nice neighbor and an "early mentor."

Well, last night showed us that Bush, rather than teaching the GOP how to talk about the issue in a new way, has been completely schooled by the Mike Huckabee crowd that you've still got to speak about it in the same old bigoted way in the GOP. Huckabee, distorting the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court while defending Davis, implied that he and Bush had the same position about the Kentucky clerk, and Bush refused to distance himself. While Bush made a gesture to following the law, he said:

"There should be some accommodation for her conscience, just as there should be for florists that don't want to participate in weddings or bakers," Bush said. "A great country like us should find a way to have accommodations for people so that we can solve this problem in the right way. This should be solved at the local level."

And then Bush added, regarding Huckabee, "And so we do agree... If a law needs to be changed in the state of Kentucky, which is what she's advocating, it should be changed."

None of this should be surprising, however, since Bush by spring of this year had shown what direction he was going to go -- and it was decidedly not "gay friendly," earlier reports notwithstanding. In the context of marriage equality he spoke of defending "religious liberty" -- the new code word for promoting anti-gay positions -- and has since said, as he did last night, that florists and other businesses should be exempted from serving gays even where laws protect LGBT people against such discrimination.

In the second-tier debate earlier in the night, both Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal stoked the Kim Davis issue in ridiculous and ugly ways, playing to the base and clearly viewing it as their only way to get some traction. If the issue were dead, Jeb Bush, one of the GOP establishment's great hopes, would not be putting himself in bed with these guys but would rather be standing up to their continued bigotry.

From immigration to foreign policy, the GOP, via its field of presidential candidates, has shown it is as extreme as ever. And, no matter the pundits' claims or the hopes of some gay activists, that holds true on LGBT rights as well.

Why Bernie Sanders Must Start Touting His Stellar LGBT Rights Record

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 15, 2015    8:42 AM ET

It's been the belief of some political journalists for a while now that Hillary Clinton has wrapped up the LGBT vote. But that thinking is beginning to fray as some major LGBT donors look at a possible run by Joe Biden, and as reports suggest discontent over Clinton's perceived lack of enthusiasm in taking on big challenges ahead to ensure full equality. Some donors and activists expressed concern to Alex Seitz-Wald at that the Clinton campaign still hasn't hired an LGBT outreach coordinator while it has done so with other key constituencies, from African-Americans to organized labor:

"People are frustrated. They want the candidate to succeed. But they also want to feel that there's forward momentum," said a person familiar with the thinking of some major LGBT donors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to damage relations with the campaign. "The idea that after marriage, everything's solved is a very dangerous idea."

Bernie Sanders can quickly and easily take advantage of that frustration at a time when Clinton is vulnerable for other reasons and as he is surging in the polls in New Hampshire and Iowa. All he has to do is talk about his impeccable, incomparable record on LGBT equality that dates back over 20 years. Bafflingly, the Vermont senator largely hasn't done so. Intentionally or not, he's obscured or hidden that record at a time when an influential, politically organized constituency that raises lots of money for candidates can help put him over the top.

Sanders is a hero among LGBT Vermonters, fighting the fight for them and for all LGBT Americans during his past years in the House in the '90s and well into his current years in the Senate. He was among only 67 House members to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which Bill Clinton signed into law. In an interview earlier in the year he supported adding full civil rights in housing, employment and public accommodation for LGBT people to the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- months before Democrats introduced such a bill in Congress, after which Hillary Clinton expressed support for the first time, in a tweet.

And yet, Sanders' stump speeches have tended to focus on his passionate stand against corporate greed and economic inequality to the exclusion of other major issues. This has cost him, such as when he was challenged in July at Netroots Nation, the annual convention of progressive activists, by Black Lives Matter activists who charge that he'd not addressed police brutality against African-Americans at a defining moment. Sanders reacted badly, seemingly shocked that anyone would challenge him because of his great record of supporting civil rights for African-Americans, to the point of threatening to leave the stage. He didn't seem to get that people wanted to know, based on his past record, what he was going to do in this current moment of crisis.

He has since focused on the issue more -- and faced more protests -- and has tried to tap into the black vote, speaking over the weekend to an audience at a historically black college in South Carolina. Sanders' issues section on his campaign website includes a section titled, "Racial Justice." It also includes a section on "Women's Rights." But, quite glaringly -- and unlike Hillary Clinton's site -- it does not have an "LGBT Rights" section explaining what he'll do moving forward.

Again, that's baffling, especially since Kentucky clerk Kim Davis and the GOP presidential candidates who support her have guaranteed that marriage equality and LGBT rights will be issues in the 2106 presidential election, contrary to the predictions of political pundits who claimed LGBT rights would fade as an issue.

Both Iowa and New Hampshire -- where the first primary contests will take place in a matter of months -- have organized, active LGBT electorates that energize the base and help raise money and support. Both states were out front on marriage equality and both states saw -- and still see -- an onslaught of attacks from a very organized religious right that has tried to roll back LGBT rights gains via influence in the states' respective Republican parties. In Iowa in 2010, retention votes at the ballot led by anti-gay conservatives resulted in the removal of three justices from the Iowa Supreme Court who decided in favor of marriage equality. It was the first time judicial retentions occurred in Iowa history. A second campaign to remove a justice, in the presidential election year of 2012, failed. In New Hampshire, Republicans in the legislature several times attempted (and failed) to repeal marriage equality, which passed in 2009.

Sucesses or failures, in both states religious conservatives continue to plot, and all eyes in Iowa are on the influential conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader, who demands GOP candidates bow to him -- his group is holding a candidates' forum in November -- and who, like other anti-gay conservatives, offensively compared the Supreme Court's marriage decision to the Dred Scott decision.

If Sanders wants to make further inroads against Clinton he should be speaking out against Vander Plaats and attempts to attack LGBT rights in Iowa, and should be touting his own stellar record on LGBT rights in his stump speeches everywhere. Neither Clinton nor even passionate Joe Biden -- who speaks much of LGBT equality now, but voted for DOMA as a U.S. senator in '96 -- can beat Sanders' long-time record of support. He needs to hit hard on that.

And he must get "LGBT rights" up on his website. That any Democratic candidate can omit it in 2015 is offensive and an embarrassment, and it further reveals a political myopia that Sanders has evidenced. Sanders should learn from what happened with Black Lives Matter. A candidate can't rely on people knowing what he's done in the past and needs to both speak about that past record and about what he's going to do right now.

Michelangelo Signorile's latest book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

How Kim Davis' Defenders Are Sounding Increasingly Absurd and Desperate

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 7, 2015   11:08 AM ET

In the wake of the controversy surrounding currently-jailed Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, some smarter, more honest conservatives have realized this may be a disaster for them.

Longtime intellectual crusader for religious conservatives, Rod Dreher, admits at The American Conservative that, after this saga, "A huge number of secular and/or liberal people in this country will be far less disposed to listen to anybody talk about religious liberty, and will be more willing to regard all religious liberty claims as Kim Davis-like special pleading." And he bemoans, "Kim Davis is a bad martyr for the cause of religious liberty, and we conservative Christians will come to regret her stance."

But then there's Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, given space to write an an op-ed in The New York Times in defense of Davis, headlined, "We Don't Need Kim Davis to Be in Jail." Like many defenders, at National Review, Breitbart, TownHall,com, The Christian Post and all across the Internet, he twists himself into a pretzel, distorting the facts. Anderson is always slick. But reading his op-ed carefully it becomes clear how he disingenuously and absurdly implies there is some sort of compromise on something that is simply about civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans. It betrays that his side realizes they're losing the battle over popular opinion on this and is getting more desperate.

Anderson writes that Kim Davis didn't need to go to jail if only we'd made "accommodations" for state employees like her in the way that he says North Carolina did earlier this year by passing a law shielding those employees. And he holds that problematic law up as a model.

Senate bill 2, vetoed by the Republican North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, who was overridden by the legislature, became law in June. It allows some government officials to opt-out of same sex marriages. It's a blatant violation of church and state separation, allowing state employees to abdicate their jobs. The governor was right to veto it.

But Anderson distorts and obscures what the law states and is in fact refusing to acknowledge that Kim Davis could have done -- and could now do -- exactly what the North Carolina employees are able to do under their law, while he ignores what the employees in North Carolina are still mandated to do and which Davis won't do. Davis is demanding something far for extreme than what North Carolina has allowed with its already far-reaching law.

The North Carolina law states that "magistrates can be recused from performing all
lawful marriages and assistant and deputy registers of deeds can be recused from issuing all lawful marriage licenses, based upon a sincerely held religious objection." If they do choose to turn away any couple, however, these state employees are not allowed to issue any licenses or perform any marriages for a period of six months.

Furthermore, the law states that, "Each register of deeds would be required to ensure that all qualified applicants for marriage licenses are issued a license, and each chief district court judge would be required to ensure that marriages" are performed by another magistrate should one opt-out. (Over 30 magistrates have opted-out, and LGBT activists point out that it forces people to schedule their weddings around the hours another magistrate might be available, rather than simply being able to get married during any regular business hours.)

Let's put aside for a moment the issue of magistrates who, like, justices of the peace, actually officiate over a marriage once a license is obtained. In North Carolina the register of deeds office is equivalent to the county clerk's office in Kentucky, issuing the marriage licenses, as well as other kinds of licenses. The opt-out law in North Carolina states that the "assistant and deputy registers of deeds," similar to the deputy clerks in Kentucky, "can be recused from issuing all lawful marriage licenses," but the register of deeds, the equivalent of the county clerk -- Kim Davis -- would be "required to ensure that all qualified applicants for marriage licenses are issued a license."

Yet Kim Davis refused to do this. In North Carolina, the register of deeds must make sure another deputy register will issue a license if one of them has a religious objection. But Kim Davis refused to give any of her deputies any power to issue licenses. Indeed, a federal judge, David L. Bunning, offered Davis this option in return for letting her out of jail. She refused, so Judge Bunning kept her in jail and ordered the deputy clerks to issue the licenses.

Then Davis and her attorneys at the anti-gay Liberty Counsel claimed that the licenses being issued weren't valid because she hadn't given authority and her name was still on the licenses even if the deputies were signing them. And Ryan T. Anderson backs her on this, writing, "Because each marriage license issued by the clerk's office bore her name and title, Ms. Davis concluded that her religious beliefs meant she could not have her office issue licenses to same-sex couples."

But in North Carolina, no matter which deputy or assistant register of deeds signs a license, the name of the register of deeds appears on the license. See a sample here of a marriage license issued in Wake County, North Carolina, with the name of the register of deeds, Laura M. Riddick, even as the assistant register, P. Anne Redd, signed it.

It appears there is no full opt-out provision in North Carolina for the register of deeds himself or herself. This individual, equivalent to the county clerk in Kentucky, must "ensure" that all couples get a license, and his or her name will appear on those licenses no matter who signs it. Furthermore, though magistrates may opt-out of performing a marriage of a licensed couple, the chief district court judge must "ensure" that another magistrate is available to officiate. And it appears the chief district court judge cannot opt-out of this task.

In other words, in North Carolina certain government officials at certain levels cannot opt-out -- including at the level equivalent to the county clerk in Kentucky. Thus Kim Davis would not be happy with the North Carolina law -- as draconian as it is -- nor would have abided by a similar one in Kentucky, nor would many religious conservative be satisfied with anything like it in the long run. Anderson, in his desperation, holds up the North Carolina law as an example of "peaceful co-existence" but his goal and Kim Davis's goal, really, is to deny others of rights based on their religious beliefs, and, in the case of marriage equality, to inhibit it as much as they can.

That's clear by Anderson preposterously blaming the Supreme Court, which he claimed "redefined marriage for the nation," for causing this problem by stepping in rather than leaving the issue to the Kentucky legislature.

"Had same-sex marriage come to Kentucky through the Legislature, lawmakers could have simultaneously created religious liberty protections and reasonable accommodations for civil servants," he wrote. The statement is ridiculous for a couple of reasons. First, as I stated, there are no "accommodations" that truly would suffice for the most zealous and vocal religious conservatives. But more importantly, there was no way that same-sex marriage was going to come to Kentucky through the conservative legislature, just as laws protecting racial minorities were not going to come through Southern legislatures. The Supreme Court had to step in and do exactly what it is supposed to do.

The Kim Davis story is not about marriage equality or religious freedom. It's about the rule of law. And few Americans see any compromise there.

Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis Wants To Be Removed From Office. So Be It.

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 1, 2015    2:05 PM ET

It's clear now that Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone because of her religious opposition to marriage equality, is going to be a martyr to the cause. She and her supporters want a photo-op of her perhaps being physically removed from office so they can visually show what they claim is religious "persecution."

And now it's time for those of us who support justice to say, "So be it." We cannot be held hostage to the theatrics of religious extremists, nor should we allow them to think that supposedly bad "optics" will deter us in demanding our rights. Defying the Supreme Court, which refused to grant her a stay as she appeals a ruling ordering her to issue licenses, Davis turned away couples again today. When asked under who's authority she was doing this, she replied, "God's authority," and also said she'd face the "consequences" and told a gay couple they too "will face the consequences when it comes time for judgement."

Some are seeking to get her fined, while the district attorney's office is looking into official misconduct charges and the ACLU filed a motion in federal court seeking to have her held in contempt of the federal judge's original order that she grant marriage licenses.

But none of that will stop Kim Davis and her attorneys at the Liberty Counsel, the anti-gay legal group that has represented her. She's ready to put her job and probably her body on the line, like a fellow clerk who supports her and said he'd "die" for the cause. They'd relish an image of Davis being dragged out of the office, and perhaps facing a fine or time in jail or both. They'll use it to galvanize religious conservatives across the country (who will surely raise money for any fines she incurs) and it will give the GOP something with which to energize evangelical voters.

Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin is already defending Davis and attacking his Democratic opponent for not doing so. As I've noted, GOP presidential candidates, from Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, have been supporting individuals like Davis in their fight for "religious liberty" in the wake of the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling in June. And a bill in Congress introduced by GOP members, the First Amendment Defense Act, seeks to exempt people like Kim Davis from doing their jobs based on religious beliefs.

So, yes, a photo-op will be used to give red meat to the enemies of equality. Nonetheless, it's time that all Americans see the hatred front and center against LGBT people -- and see what people are willing to do in the name of that hate. A friend of mine suggested the "optics"of Davis being removed from office would be bad, and that it's better for the gay couples to stage a sit-in and get arrested, thus showing they truly are the ones being persecuted here. He noted that during the lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement it was those discriminated against who were arrested, an action that further showed the discrimination, and not the owners of the restaurants who were arrested, an action which would have brought those business owners sympathy.

It's a fair point, but all of that happened before civil rights for racial and religious minorities became the law of the land with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Marriage equality now is the law of the land. We should not and cannot worry that it might create backlash with many other Americans if they see Davis, now flagrantly defying a court order, brought to justice, even if means charges are brought against her and her supporters get their photo-op. The moment we pull back, fearful of the supposed ramifications, we are giving fuel to bigots and allowing them to organize further. They'll then have a foothold while we show weakness. The majority of Americans know this is discrimination and are with LGBT people. We must stand strong and demand full equality everywhere.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Also on The Huffington Post:

How A Kentucky Clerk Became An Ultimate Symbol Of Bigotry

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 28, 2015   10:47 AM ET

Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has received international attention for defying the U.S. Supreme Court, is still refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples today, more than two months after the high court's historic ruling in Obergefell.

This, even after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling denying Davis a stay as she fights gay couples suing her for marriage licenses, claiming she has the right to deny them -- as a public servant -- based on her religious beliefs. Defying the appeals court order, she and her attorneys at the Liberty Counsel -- the anti-gay legal group affiliated with the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University -- are instead appealing to the Supreme Court, where they are likely to lose as well.

No matter. Davis is going down as a martyr to the cause, having galvanized bigots and religious extremists across Kentucky and across the country, claiming that their religious freedom has been infringed upon by the Supreme Court's ruling. Thousands turned out for a rally in the Kentucky capital, Frankfort, last weekend, expressing their support for Davis and against homosexuality. They clutched bibles and waved hateful signs condemning homosexuality. "An illustrated poster with the words 'first the baker, then the clerk, next the pastors' was plastered to a Capitol wall," reported the Daily Independent.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis (no relation to Kim Davis) has been on a bike ride across the state in support of the Rowan County clerk, doing interviews along the way and saying he is ready to "die" for the cause of discrimination.

"It's a war on Christianity," he said in one radio interview. "If it takes it, I will go to jail over -- if it takes my life, I will die for because I believe I owe that to the people that fought so I can have the freedom that I have, I owe that to them today, and you do, we all do."

If the Supreme Court denies Kim Davis's stay the ball is back in a federal judge's court. Because she is an elected official, only the legislature can remove her in an impeachment, which no one expects to happen. But Daniel J. Canon, one of the attorneys for the couples who filed suit to get their marriage licenses, told me that "she could be removed if she were criminally prosecuted for something," which would mean the judge finding her in contempt of his order and possibly even sending her to jail (as unlikely as that might be).

That is exactly what Davis -- and the Republican Party -- would relish. At the rally over the weekend, Matt Bevin, a Republican running for the Kentucky governorship, cheered the crowd on, telling them that "religious liberties are being oppressed," and clearly seeing the issue as a great one for his campaign.

And that is true of the GOP presidential candidates, desperate to find issues to galvanize religious conservatives. "Religious liberty" is a term Jeb Bush has invoked several times in the context of gay rights, and Ted Cruz has been stoking the issue for months, claiming Christians are under attack. As I've written in weeks past, it's clear that the issue is being carefully developed by GOP leaders in Congress as a campaign issue to energize evangelical voters. A bill introduced by Republicans in the House and the Senate earlier in the year, the First Amendment Defense Act, proposes, among other things, to exempt people like Kim Davis from issuing marriage licenses if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Davis will lose her battle in coming days. But GOP leaders in Washington and across the country, heading into a political campaign, will take that as a win.

Michelangelo Signorile's new book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Also on The Huffington Post:

Will Gays Abandon Hillary Clinton if Joe Biden Jumps Into the Presidential Race?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 25, 2015    9:21 AM ET

There are few politicians who've been more outspoken on LGBT rights in a gut-level, passionate way than Vice President Joe Biden. Nor has there been any politician so public in his or her opinions and so close to a president who catapulted LGBT rights during his two terms, profoundly making history. Political strategists still debate whether Biden forced President Obama to move more quickly on marriage equality -- something Biden surely would like us to believe -- or if he was part of a trial balloon days before the president finally announced support in the spring of 2012 (most reports point to the former). But the bottom line is Biden was first, ahead of Obama and Hillary Clinton -- who was last out of the gate among the three.

And that may present a problem for Clinton -- who some recent reports suggest has wide support among LGBT voters -- if Biden jumps in the race, in the same way we saw support from LGBT activists begin to cleave between Clinton and Obama during the 2008 primaries. The LGBT electorate is not a big one. But it is a politically active, organized and influential one, raising a lot of money for candidates and, like other minority groups focused on attaining rights, providing worker bees during campaigns who galvanize and energize the larger electorate -- and in the case of LGBT organizers, that's had a big impact on energizing younger voters too.

In 2012, Biden also said transgender rights are "the civil rights issue our time," ahead of Clinton's discussion of the issue, which, to her credit, she has taken up, as she also has, finally, come out for an all-inclusive LGBT civil rights bill in recent weeks (in a tweet). She also brings up the issues a bit more in her speeches now. What's lacking with Clinton is a passion that gets to the much-discussed "authenticity" criticism about her. It's something to which I've not really given a lot of credence in the past, and have mostly thought it was overblown: different people have different styles and different ways of connecting. But on this issue of LGBT civil rights, when comparing Clinton to Biden, it's definitely there.

Whereas Biden was so moved by the plight of gay couples that he seemingly blurted out his support in an emotional interview response --ahead of his president -- Clinton came out for marriage equality a year after the president, long after she departed the administration and after most other Democrats in Congress, in a carefully orchestrated video she made for the gay lobbying group, the Human Rights Campaign, which the group released. Spontaneous and warm, it was not. Every statement from Clinton on LGBT rights since has seemed to be just as calibrated: A seemingly parsed tweet here, a strategic few sentences or a well-placed photo there. We just don't get the full-throttled, frank embrace that we get from Joe. In fact, the few times Hillary has spoken more frankly on the issue, she's been awkward, defensive and uncomfortable, as was evidenced in the interview on NPR in 2014 with Terry Gross in which she stumbled on the question of her evolution.

Rather than encourage her to speak boldly on the issues to draw people in, it appears like the campaign has gone the safer route of enlisting a cadre of supporters to create a drumbeat in which Hillary Clinton is held up as some sort of icon to gays who will simply get LGBT support by default.

"We get her like we get our mom," said Fred Sainz, then of the Human Rights Campaign, to The New York Times, in a statement that many felt was insulting to LGBT voters, Hillary Clinton and all female politicians at once. Paul Schindler, editor of the New York bi-weekly newspaper Gay City News called it "cringe-worthy." Other supporters have pushed the stereotypical idea that Clinton is similar to the many strong Hollywood and pop culture women gay men have iconized, comparing her to Judy Garland, Liza Minelli and others.

"She is a cultural icon in a way that a number of other women known by only one name are," Seth Bringman, who worked on Clinton's 2008 campaign and served as communications director for the Ready for Hillary super PAC, told's Alex Seitz-Wald. "Hillary is the Madonna or the Cher to a younger generation of gay guys across the country. They see a part of themselves in her."

That kind of rhetoric is counter-productive in the long-run. Hillary Clinton is not your mom. She's a politician who should be expressing specifics on our issues -- something which will increasingly be demanded of her -- and held to the same standard as any other politician (unlike your mom). Nor is her appeal something that should be likened to entertainers like Cher or Madonna (two women who, by the way, are risk-takers and the furthest thing from risk-averse Hillary Clinton).

This superficial branding creates its own bubble, much like the inevitability bubble of early frontrunner status itself, which can burst when the seeming real deal, like a Joe Biden, comes along. It's true, as I've discussed before, that Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley both have longer records of support for marriage equality than Clinton -- Sanders, as a House member in 1996, was one of the few members of Congress to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, which Bill Clinton signed into law -- but neither has been very vocal on the issue recently nor so pivotal to President Obama's successes on LGBT rights as has Biden.

None of this is to say, by any stretch, that Clinton herself is not the real deal, nor that she doesn't right now have solid support from LGBT voters and activists. One recent article interviewed some long-time gay Clinton supporters who said the story of Clinton's emails isn't costing her support among LGBT Democrats. That may be true, but most Democrats don' t care about the email story, which is an obsession of the media and the right.

What they care about much more right now is whether or not a candidate embraces their issues with zeal (as the Sanders surge shows). On LGBT rights, Clinton needs to portray herself that way, speaking forcefully and passionately to the issues, if she wants to make sure a possible Biden run doesn't tap into LGBT support.

Black Lives Matter, ACT UP and the Urgency of Violence and Death

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 19, 2015   12:03 PM ET

There's been lots of criticism from some progressives after Senator Bernie Sanders was shouted down by Black Lives Matters activists in Seattle recently, especially from supporters of Sanders' presidential campaign. The basic tenor is that Sanders is a "friend" and thus protesting him is a waste of time, diverting from going after the "real" enemy. But much context is missing among the critics of Black Lives Matter, and, in one case in which a a comparison to the fiery AIDS activist group ACT UP is made, there's a bit of unintentional historical revisionism that needs to be cleared up.

I was sitting in the crowd when former Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley, was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protestors in Phoenix at Netroots Nation last month. The activists took the stage and made the point that the issue of police violence and killings of black citizens weren't being discussed adequately by progressives and political candidates. They demanded answers from O'Malley, and, directly afterward, from Bernie Sanders. It was disruptive, loud, tense and passionate.

And the first thing that came to my mind was ACT UP, a group of which I was a part, chairing its media committee back in the late '80s, and which engaged in similar kinds of protest and disruption, including against Democratic presidential candidates. The urgency of the protest was similar as well: People are dying, and no one in power seems to be doing anything to stop it.

That's why I was perplexed by at least one critic of Black Lives Matter suggesting that the group could take a page from ACT UP, which is portrayed as having engaged in a more productive form of disruption. Charles Pierce, a sharp, progressive writer I've followed for years and who does great work, criticized Black Lives Matter on for protesting Sanders in Seattle -- preventing him from speaking -- and like many other progressive critics he called the action "stupid" and "counterproductive" since Sanders basically supports the cause, unlike GOP presidential candidates. In a follow-up post he took back the word "counterproductive" but stuck by his general criticism and used ACT UP, which transformed the response by government, media and the health care establishment to HIV, as a model of activism which Black Lives Matter should follow.

The implied message was that ACT UP was successful by only targeting obvious enemies and not offending supposed allies. But that is simply not true. ACT UP was hated, despised, ridiculed and attacked by supposed friends -- including many in the gay community itself -- who claimed we were hitting the "wrong" targets, including our supposed allies, similar to the criticism Black Lives Matter is receiving now. The progressive Village Voice, born in the 1960s' rebellion, was perhaps the biggest critic of ACT UP in the early years. According to some progressive critics there and elsewhere, we were fascists or Stalinists who silenced people with angry and confrontational protests. Or we were alienating the very people we were supposed to bring in.

The same was true of the criticism of the tactics of the various offshoots of ACT UP in the early '90s, such as Queer Nation, which focused on the violence against gays and engaged in guerrilla actions to promote queer visibility, staging kiss-ins and wheat-pasting posters around major cities which revealed the sexual orientation of closeted prominent Hollywood and political figures.

And there were virulent attacks on OutWeek magazine, another ACT UP offshoot, founded by ACT UP members, which was at the center of the so-called "outing" movement (and where I was an editor). The writer Fran Leibowitz, a darling of liberal intellectuals, said of OutWeek, "It's damaging, it's immoral, its McCarthyism, it's terrorism, its cannibalism, it's beneath contempt."

ACT UP regularly protested that supposed friend of liberals, The New York Times, and ACT UP activists literally hijacked the set of Dan Rather's live broadcast on the CBS Evening News, flashing a message opposing the first Iraq war and calling instead for money for AIDS research. The group disrupted trading at the New York Stock Exchange, unfurling a banner on the floor, invaded St. Patrick's Cathedral with a civil disobedience action against the Catholic Church and shouted down Democratic presidential candidates, like Bill Clinton, getting promises from them on fighting the AIDS epidemic.

Years later, people herald ACT UP for the work it did, but they all seem to forget that in the moment there was enormous tension between the group and the larger progressive community -- as well with the larger gay community -- as people accused ACT UP of alienating allies by being confrontational. And that has actually been true of every protest movement for every cause: In the moment they're criticized, while later they're heralded. Black Lives Matter is doing exactly what it should be doing. And it is getting exactly the response it should be getting, bringing attention in every way possible to an urgent life and death issue.

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 17, 2015    9:04 AM ET

Zachary Quinto, who stars in the new action film “Hitman: Agent 47,” is one of the hardest-working and most varied actors in Hollywood. He moves from stage to screen and back, from Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" on Broadway to films like "Hitman," playing gay roles and straight roles interchangeably. He’s proof-positive that being openly gay –- and being vocal about such issues as HIV prevention, marriage equality and the plight of LGBT teens -- shouldn’t limit any actor’s career in 2015.

He discussed the fear among some actors that their careers will be harmed if they come out in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “The only way to change that is to stop giving it power,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to work with integrity, to live with integrity. And if I do those two things I feel like the idea of limitations based on who I spend my life with or who I sleep with is everybody else’s problem. That’s not mine. Mine is to do good work, to show up, to be who I am and to, in some way, be one of many, many, many voices that over the last generation made incredible and very powerful changes in the way that we treat LGBT people.”

For Quinto, it took  “a long time, personally, to come to a place” where he could “have that dialogue about my sexuality publicly.” He came out in New York Magazine in 2011, he said, to be part of a “larger conversation” in the country. “That conversation is about the well-being of kids who are struggling to come to terms with who they are in the world,” he explained. “And that’s what motivated my decision.”

But Quinto acknowledged that as a gay public figure his words sometimes resonate in ways that cause him to “catch some flak.” Last year there was outrage among some HIV/AIDS activists when Quinto said in an interview in Out magazine that he thought that Truvada, the once-a-day pill that prevents HIV infection (also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP) could cause “complacency” about the epidemic. “We need to be really vigilant and open about the fact that these drugs are not to be taken to increase our ability to have recreational sex,” he had warned, pointing to an “incredible underlying irresponsibility.”

Activists charged back that there was nothing wrong with recreational sex – or increasing it – as long as it’s safe. And they noted that PrEP is itself a form of safer sex and that people who use it are in fact taking steps to protect themselves. Quinto responded to the criticism in a blog post on HuffPost Gay Voices explaining that he’s a “well-adjusted and well-educated gay man” who had read up on the science of PrEP but still had concerns about the younger generation letting “our guard down.”

Although the debate over PrEP is still ongoing, Quinto told me he knows “tons of people who are taking it and using it,” and that it’s “a thing to do now,” though it’s “not for me.” He also reiterated his thoughts on HIV prevention. 

“Look, I just think we need to be vigilant as a community and a community of gay men,” he said during our interview. “It was not my intention to judge anybody or to rankle anybody, or to put myself in some kind of superior position by any means. I think if people use PrEP as part of a responsible regimen of taking care of themselves and preserving their bodies and their well-being and the well-being of the people they’re having sex with, then more power to them. There was this thing that I was ‘slut-shaming.’ Anybody who knows me knows that that is the last thing I would ever do. I just think that we can’t let our guard down.”

In my interview, Quinto seemed to suggest that the very idea of PrEP itself might influence everyone to let his or her guard down by forgetting the past and the reality of HIV and AIDS. “I’m old enough to understand how absolutely horrific and decimating that time was,” he explained. “And I think I was speaking more to [infection rates being the same now as in the past].” Quinto sees his critique as a way to remind people of that earlier time, and to “honor the people we lost, an entire generation of men, and to be responsible to who we are and how we relate to one another, how we take care of each other.” He adds, “That’s all I was trying to talk about. I wasn’t trying to heap any judgment on anybody.”

It doesn’t appear that any pushback is about to silence Quinto. And it shouldn’t. 

Acknowledging that it will happen, he noted, “You know, what can you do?”

Also on HuffPost:

Michelangelo Signorile   |   August 5, 2015    9:43 AM ET

Upon its 10th anniversary, we’ve seen a slew of stories, interviews and articles commemorating the iconic film "Brokeback Mountain," which starred Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger as two cowboys who fall in love. And that’s not to mention the myriad of books and lengthy stories of years past about the film. Yet in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, the Academy Award-winning "Brokeback" screenwriters revealed still more about a film we can’t seem to get enough of.

Prolific screenwriter Diana Ossana and acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, discussed how they wrote the 2005 film after reading Annie Proulx’s New Yorker story, eight years earlier; optioned their screenplay several times over a period of years; were intimately involved in casting; and were present on the set throughout the filming. Some interesting observations and lesser-known facts emerged.

Studio executives didn’t think Ledger was “macho” enough for the role of ranch hand Ennis Del Mar.

“[Ennis] was the most difficult role to cast,” recalled Ossana. “And that seemed to be the perpetual problem as we went on. And even a little bit for [director] Ang [Lee]. Another actor had committed [to the role of Ennis] and we had suggested Heath. But the studio [Focus Features] didn’t feel he was macho enough. I thought that was a rather odd comment. But we just sort of stuck with it. And when that [other] actor backed out — and he did, after three months — I called Heath’s agent.”

Ossana won’t now reveal nor confirm rumors about the actor who was initially cast in the role of Ennis but pulled out — but she will tell all at some point in the future.

“No — I plan to write a book about it all someday. I kept a journal on set. And so I have lots of wonderful things, memories.”

Director Ang Lee, who took home the Best Director Academy Award for the film in 2006, wanted the actor, as well as co-star Gyllenhaal, to turn up the butch quotient. But Ledger would have none of it.

“It was interesting,” Ossana said. “Early on, Ang had wanted both the boys to be lifting weights and get all buff. Heath said,  ‘You know, I’m the ranch hand [in the film]. I wouldn’t have time to be lifting weights. I’m kind of scrawny and young.' He said, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ So he didn’t.”

McMurtry, a Pulitzer Prize winning-author of over 40 books, initially didn’t want to read Proulx’s New Yorker story, let alone base a screenplay on it.

“I was gobsmacked [by the story],” Ossana exclaimed. “It was like someone struck me with lightning. It was so intense, and I got up the next morning  and asked Larry to read the story. But… Larry?”

“I didn’t want to read it —  but I did,” McMurtry responded. “I am not a writer of short fiction, I don’t write it and I don’t read it. If I could write it I probably would read it. But I did read this at Diana’s very urgent behest. And I was stunned. It’s a very short story, eleven pages. It has a grandeur, both of theme and setting and emotion that is very rare — in short fiction or any fiction. And of course I grew up in cattle country. I grew up on a ranch and I could imagine what would have happened on our ranch if two of the cowboys, if some of the cowboys, turned out to be gay — which probably they were. But it was clear immediately that it was a masterpiece.”

McMurtry was a bit bummed and jealous that he hadn’t written the story  himself.

“Actually, I first felt a tingle of jealously,” he admitted, “because that story has been hanging there all of my life. And why didn’t I write it? Just a tingle of that. That’s never happened before. I really wished, ‘Oh my, I wish I could have written that.’ But I knew it was great. I've written down about 30 or 40 screenplays and a lot of books. And in screenplays very seldom had I thought I’d encountered anything that had a level of grandeur like this story. And I felt that it was great rather than just okay.”

And Ossana hasn’t watched the film since Ledger’s death in 2008, at the age of 28, caused by an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

“I was stunned [by his death],” Ossana explained. “In fact, to be honest with you, I haven’t been able to watch the movie since he died. I’ve watched it probably 150 times before that. But since he passed away I haven’t been able to watch the film. And I’m destined to watch it again. I’m hoping that I can get through it. We’re doing a little 10th anniversary thing at The Loft [Cinema] in Tucson [at The Loft Film Festival in October], where it premiered. And I hope I’m up to watching it then.”