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10 Hours of Catcalling Straight Men in NYC as a Gay Man: How to Get Fag-Bashed

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 20, 2014    2:06 PM ET

The reactions to "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman," the recent viral video from the anti-street-harassment group Hollaback, have run the gamut from angry and mocking to inspired and supportive, and some are fascinating. In case you missed the video, which has received almost 37 million views since it was posted to YouTube on Oct. 28, it shows a woman walking through various New York City neighborhoods while enduring constant attempts by men to get her attention by making various comments, documenting "100+ instances of verbal street harassment." It has spawned a slew of parody videos as well as countless vlog and blog responses.

The video was rightly criticized for showing mostly men of color harassing the woman, many of them sitting in chairs on the street as if they have nothing to do but harass women. (Hollaback later apologized for editing out many of the white men who'd engaged in the same behavior, calling it "unintended racial bias.") Some women on YouTube responded that most of what Hollaback viewed as harassment they themselves viewed as compliments, like "Nice!" and "Hey, beautiful!" or as benign greetings, such as "Have a good morning." One parody video trivialized the Hollaback video by showing a straight male model in a tight T-shirt walking for three hours, getting catcalls from both women and men, smiling and clearly not seeing any of this as harassment. A popular YouTube prankster made what seemed like an earnest attempt to expose homophobia on the streets of New York by walking for three hours "as a homosexual" -- in orange pants and holding a Victoria's Secret bag -- and was called a "faggot" quite a few times, logging "50+ instances of verbal harassment."

Many of the responses, however, didn't get the point that context and history matter. When straight men are "complimenting" women on their bodies while they're walking down the street, or throwing homophobic slurs at gay men doing the same thing, it represents a potential threat of violence in a way that a woman or a gay man "complimenting" a straight man walking down the street simply doesn't, because the latter doesn't carry a history of women raping men or of gay men "straight-bashing" heterosexual men.

That important fact was completely lost in the angrier response videos by straight men, some of which went viral, like this one, in which women are told that by wearing tight jeans they are simply inviting men to comment and should stop whining and enjoy what they're asking for. One man compares the Hollaback video with another spin-off, "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman in Hijab," and concludes that since the woman in hijab received no catcalls, this is all simply about how women dress. If women don't want catcalls, he reasons, they should just dress "modestly," even joking that they should don burqas. "You're not expecting for men, which are hardwired, to notice these things?" he asks rhetorically. The implication, of course, is that men are so "hardwired" this way that they can't help but verbalize what they "notice."

But if catcalling is just about how men are "hardwired" and therefore should be accepted, surely straight men should have no problem with gay men paying them compliments on their bodies and offering greetings on the street, right? Wrong. I don't even have to make the video to know what would happen if I walked the city for even one hour telling straight men that they're hot while smiling and greeting them. Imagine that I walked the city -- and, to avoid the sort of criticism that the Hollaback video received, let's choose the whitest neighborhoods -- saying to random straight men what men say to the woman in the Hollaback video: "What's up, beautiful? Have a good day"; "Sexy"; "Hey, baby"; "Smile"; "Someone's acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say 'thank you' more"; and even just "How are you doing today?" And let's say I made these comments to straight men while they were in front of other straight men, their buddies or work colleagues, for example. How likely is it that I would get punched in the face, spit on, chased down the street or, at the very least, called a "faggot" or a "queer"? Even many straight men who wouldn't react violently or hurl a slur -- which, I want to believe, would be most -- would feel uncomfortable, objectified and embarrassed.

That exposes the fallacy of men who say that they're "just being men" when greeting women on the street, and that these are simply compliments that women should accept -- because they surely wouldn't accept men "just being men" when the men in question are gay. It reveals that catcalling isn't about giving compliments to women but about straight men retaining the privilege to demand that women pay attention to them, even if it means making women feel uncomfortable or annoyed as they're heading to work or school, including with a comment as seemingly innocuous as "Nice!" or "Smile." That demand is the essence of harassment.

Bizarro Election 2014: When Homophobes Backed Gay-Equality Supporters and Vice Versa

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 13, 2014   12:33 PM ET

In 2014 hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer backed some of the most anti-gay politicians -- and defeated others committed to full LGBT equality -- by pouring millions into super PACS and the Republican Governor's Association.

He helped anti-gay, personhood-amendment-backing Joni Ernst win a U.S. Senate seat in Iowa. He aided the kooky anti-gay extremist Paul LePage (who's obsessed with sodomy and Vaseline and once said President Obama "hates white people") in winning reelection as governor of Maine, sinking the near win of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who would have become the first openly gay man elected as a governor in the United States. Singer helped defeat Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed a gay-marriage bill into law. And he backed Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, Cory Gardner in Colorado and other anti-gay right-wingers who helped the GOP take the Senate. They will no doubt join Ted Cruz as he further stokes anti-gay sentiments (he's pushing another marriage amendment) and rails about how "religious liberties" are under assault by gays while he seeks a possible presidential run.

But Paul Singer considers himself pro-gay. He's characterized as such in puffy media stories (which mention none of his support of anti-gay candidates) that conveniently dovetailed with the GOP leadership's desire to make the party seem more inclusive. "GOP super PAC plans gay-rights push this fall," ran the headline in USA Today. The Washington Post headline read, "Meet the billionaire hedge fund manager quietly shaping the GOP gay marriage debate." In these stories Singer is portrayed as elusive (only answering questions by email for the Washington Post), but the reporters get the scoop to tell us how he created a PAC that would be backing the very few GOP candidates who already support gay marriage. Singer's PAC got behind Carl DeMaio, the openly gay GOP congressional candidate now infamous for allegedly masturbating in front of more than one staffer (and was reviled in the gay community in San Diego, having not spoken out against Prop 8 in years past), and openly gay GOPer Richard Tisei in Massachusetts.

Both were of course running in districts in very blue states where Democrats held the seat, and these gay candidates would both help expand the GOP majority and put some gay face on a not-so-gay-friendly Republican Party. Their first vote would be for the majority leader John Boehner, who won't let a vote happen on any legislation to protect LGBT people. Both of them thankfully lost.

But in the bizarro election of 2014, the viciously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) actually supported DeMaio's and Tisei's progressive, gay-friendly Democratic opponents. The group even took credit on its website for helping defeat the two gay GOPers. In the Massachusetts race, NOM endorsed Seth Moulton, a progressive Democrat and former Marine who was mentored by the late, openly gay Harvard chaplain Peter Gomes and was a candidate who proudly stated that his brother is gay and deserves full equality. (Moulton had beaten long-time Democratic incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary; for the record, he vehemently rejected NOM's endorsement, as he should have.) And NOM's Brian Brown robocalled voters in San Diego urging them to vote for pro-gay U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-California) over DeMaio.

This seemed bonkers (and was pretty desperate), but NOM and other radical-right groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) have their priorities. They want to show the GOP that they will help defeat any Republican candidate who veers from the evangelical right's agenda on gay marriage, abortion and a number of other issues. Conversely, NOM and FRC heralded the election of Ernst and Gardner, and, according to exit polling, despite the fact that the GOP concealed the extremism of these two and others for the general election, religious conservatives did turn out to vote for them, secure in the understanding that they will deliver for them.

Paul Singer is showing where his priorities lie too. In Marc Solomon's fast-paced and informative new history of the marriage-equality movement, Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits -- and Won, Singer is described as being moved by looking through his gay son's wedding album, and in 2011 he put his heart into helping pass marriage equality in New York, where his influence and money helped convince four Republicans in the New York State Senate to join all but one of the Democrats in passing the bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed. Singer has given millions to groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry, the group for which Solomon is National Campaign Director.

But here he is helping the corporate-friendly GOP take control of the U.S. Senate even if that means electing social conservatives who will try to halt further rights for LGBT people and attempt to strip those gained. In this wave election, more Republicans were elected to state legislatures than at any time since the 1920s, something that will have a dramatic effect on state legislation and on congressional redistricting for a long time to come.

Already we're seeing bills like the proposed constitutional amendment introduced in Texas that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people based on their owners' religious beliefs. Again, don't think Ted Cruz, joined by Ernst, Gardner and others, won't push such bills at the federal level, while we can forget about any pro-gay legislation getting a vote. In the bizarro election of 2014, where anti-gay NOM backed pro-gay candidates, pro-gay Paul Singer helped create this new reality.

Meet The First Openly Gay Man Elected To Idaho's House Of Representatives

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 9, 2014   10:19 AM ET

While Election Day brought bad news for many Democrats, there was a big win for LGBT equality in the deeply red state of Idaho. Democrat John McCrositie became the first openly gay man elected to Idaho’s House of Representatives, and became only the second openly gay, lesbian or bisexual elected official in the state, after openly lesbian Nicole LeFavour had been elected in 2008 and served until 2012.

“I had to decide for myself,” the longtime schoolteacher said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, regarding the moment when the opportunity presented itself for him to run in Boise’s 16th district. “I want to represent education in our state legislature. But the reality of life is, I’m a gay man. And people are going to find out that I’m gay. I can either run with integrity and let people know, ‘Yep I’m gay.’ Or I can lose that integrity.”

It’s a bit of a transition for McCrostie, going from teaching band, choir and guitar to middle and high school students, to the public life of a politician. But education and the economy were issues he was becoming passionate about politically, he said, and he knew he could also use the platform to speak out for LGBT equality.

He’s been doing just that since he announced in 2013 that he’d be running for the Democratic primary, which he won last May. McCrostie publicly supported the "Add the Words" protests that rocked the legislature earlier this year, when many were arrested in acts of civil disobedience while demanding the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to Idaho’s human rights protections. And he criticized Governor Butch Otter as the GOP governor vowed to fight the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that brought marriage equality to Idaho last month.

McCrostie didn’t have a moment when he “came out” as a budding politician, he said, but rather has been out all along.

“The people in the community know me,” he said. “They know my partner, currently my husband, as of December of last year, according to Hawaii standards -- according to Idaho standards, as of October 15, once the Supreme Court denied the second stay [of the 9th Circuit's ruling].”

Still, his being gay, refreshingly, has been such a non-issue in his Boise race that even some gay people didn’t always know he was gay.

“I even had a fundraiser recently at our local gay bar, and I was talking to some folks and they said, ‘You know John, I’m so happy to have a candidate that is so gay-friendly,’” he recounted. “And I told him right there, ‘You know, I’m about as gay-friendly as they come. And you can take the "friendly" off.'"

Listen to the interview below:

What Makes Men 'Gay'?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 3, 2014   12:32 PM ET

David and Jason Benham aren't gay. Each is married (to a woman), and they have nine children between them. In fact, the twin brothers lost their HGTV reality show, Flip It Forward, last April, before it even got off the ground, after videos and audio surfaced on Right Wing Watch showing David Benham condemning homosexuality as "demonic" and revealing that both brothers had led a prayer rally against "homosexuality and and its agenda." They are the sons of Flip Benham, who heads Operation Save America (which split off from the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue) and has stood in front of mosques yelling, "Jesus hates Muslims." And there they were at the Family Research Council's anti-gay "I Stand Sunday" rally in Houston yesterday, cavorting with Mike Huckabee.

Yet when the Benham brothers were hired for the HGTV show, their buff, chiseled looks, their sense of style and their flair for design couldn't have been lost on HGTV producers, who certainly know their audience includes lots of gay men who would be glued to their TVs watching these men charmingly buy fixer-upper homes and transform them. Interestingly, after the reports of their anti-gay activities surfaced and HGTV killed the show, the gaydar of many a gay blogger went off when they witnessed the pristinely groomed North Carolina brothers in their pastel-colored dress shirts defending themselves on CNN, or when they saw other photos of them in their just-a-bit-too-perfectly-styled T-shirts and baseball caps, looking like they were headed to the gay bar down the street. Americablog's John Aravosis noted they were dressing "as gay as possible" and commented on their "perfectly-coiffed" hair.

I recently interviewed the Benham brothers at the Values Voter Summit, the annual convention of religious political activists hosted by the Family Research Council. They were making the rounds along with others whom religious-right leaders claim have been targets of supposed attacks on religious freedom. (The Benhams, by the way, completely accept that HGTV, in canceling their show, made a business decision within the free market, and they bear no grudge against the network -- which is a bit refreshing compared with others who've been cast as "victims" of supposed attacks on their religious beliefs.) They're affable, and, if I didn't know better, I'd say they're a bit flirty. As I began to interview them, the first thing they did was comment on my outfit, both men running their fingers along my sports jacket. "Man, this guy is sharp," one of them said. "Look at this guy! I like this guy." (Listen to the audio below.) Honestly, had I not known anything about them and the controversy, I'd have thought I'd just met a pair of gay twins -- that is, until seconds later, when, with gleaming smiles on their faces, they quoted Bible verses, warned of the "depth of depravity" to which the culture has sunk and explained how "Satan has chosen homosexuality to slap an agenda over." (I should point out that I don't believe they knew I'm gay or knew anything about my background as a journalist, though of course my name and affiliation were made clear to them.) Then, at the end of the interview, they once again were commenting on my clothes. "Thank you," one of them said. "We loved it. You're a sharp guy."

Later, I ran into them again, with one of them greeting me with, "Hey, stud," and I posed for a photo with them:

2014-10-31-WP_20140926_12_35_19_Raw.jpg

A few minutes after that, I passed the other one (I apologize for confusing them and not knowing which was which by name) as he was giving a radio interview, and he winked at me, Sarah Palin-style, flashing a bright smile.

All of this had me asking myself: What makes men "gay"? Of course, I don't mean what makes people actually homosexual, biologically, or what inspires them to desire gay sex. Rather, what makes men appear "gay" within popular culture and thought to be gay even by gay men themselves? And how has that changed? At the time that the Benham brothers' show was canceled, The New Yorker ran a satirical piece by Sarah Miller headlined, "HGTV Was Worried Audience Might Think Benham Brothers Were Gay." It included a photo of them in their tight T-shirts and fictional quotations from a fictional HGTV executive:

"We have decided to cancel 'Flip It Forward' because David and Jason Benham just look so incredibly gay," said Chip Fordew, an HGTV spokesperson. "Plus, they look like they're together. And, by together, I mean that they have sex, trade off turns on the Pec Deck, go to Tulum at Christmas, and are adopting a baby."

The Benham brothers have attributes and just a general vibe that, for years, have translated as "gay." But obviously there are a lot of straight men, even homophobes, who now exhibit these characteristics, seemingly free to act on their creative instincts, more comfortable about it -- precisely because of the queer movement's challenge to conventional ideas about masculinity. Some of these men might be bisexual, openly or not. But a few years ago straight men who were something like this were labeled with the (dreadful) term "metrosexual," except metrosexuals were straight guys who were secure in being fashionable in part because they completely accepted homosexuality and supported gay rights. The Benhams decidedly do not.

So have gay men actually liberated many straight men to the point that they can appropriate "gayness" even while still being virulently anti-gay? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Pastor Who Will Keep Ordination After Performing Gay Marriage: 'I Will Never Be Silent Again'

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 29, 2014    2:30 PM ET

The Rev. Frank Schaefer was jubilant yesterday, discussing what’s been dubbed his “refrocking" in the United Methodist Church (UMC), calling it a “huge” decision for LGBT rights.

The UMC’s Judicial Council ruled this week that he would continue to be an ordained minister in the church, overruling a Pennsylvania church jury that had defrocked him in 2013 after he’d both officiated over his son’s same-sex wedding several years earlier and refused to promise that he would not perform same-sex marriages in the future.

“It was a very technical argument, and some argue that I got off on a technicality,” he said about the decision, which didn’t change church doctrine opposed to gay marriage. The church’s high court rather overruled the jury decision, it stated, because the penalty was wrongfully handed down for a violation not yet committed. Schaefer had been given a 30-day suspension for officiating over his son’s wedding, but the Judicial Council said he could not be penalized further, with defrocking, for the possibility of a future violation.

However technical the decision, Shaefer believes it was a big step forward.

“Yesterday’s decision, I felt like, wow, now I got my day in court,” he said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “Justice was recognized and done in an LGBTQ case and it’s huge. To me, it’s a very, very huge decision.”

Schaefer, who was transferred from his conservative congregation in Eastern Pennsylvania to one in California in July, said he will not back down on speaking out for equality for LGBT people in the church, including marriage equality.

“One of the things I vowed during this whole period was that I will never be silent again," he said. “I will continue to be a voice and one of the things we encourage all pastors to do is declare that they will be willing to perform a same-sex marriage if they are asked to do that. We call that the 'open altar' action. And so, we are working toward all kinds of strategies, and plan all kinds of strategies for our General Conference in 2016...I am hoping and praying that something will change at that conference, because if it doesn’t I fear that a schism might be a real possibility.”

Be sure to check out Shaefer's book, Defrocked: How A Father's Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church, here.

Attorney Who Scored Historic Gay Marriage Win Discusses Her Next Big Groundbreaking Move

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 25, 2014    9:00 AM ET

Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who represented Edie Windsor in the landmark case, United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, filed suit this week in federal court in Jackson to overturn Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage on behalf of two lesbian couples: Rebecca "Becky" Bickett and Andrea Sanders of Harrison County; and Jocelyn "Joce" Pritchett and Carla Webb of Jackson, who married in Maine in 2013. Kaplan noted that Mississippi has the highest percentage of gay couples with children, and that was one of the reasons why she thought it was an important case to take.

”They said, 'We need rights. We need to have our families protected the way other families are,'” she told me in an interview on SiriusXM Progress. “I agreed with them. I agreed it was the right time and we put a case together pretty quickly.”

The case has been fast-tracked by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves, an appointee of President Obama, who scheduled a hearing for November 12. The LGBT rights group Campaign for Southern Equality is also a plaintiff, and the plaintiffs are also represented by Mississippi attorney Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, based in Jackson.

“We asked the court to kind of, on a very expedited schedule, decide that our clients were right and give them the right to marry at the very beginning of the case,” Kaplan explained. “And I have to say, writing the brief — I’m a bit of legal geek, so writing briefs for me is fun, which, already, I admit, is somewhat strange — but writing this brief was one of the best experiences of my life. [That’s] because the entire case just quotes case after post-Windsor case, just making the argument over and over and over again for why we’re right. Normally in a brief you have to analogize to other situations as to why you’re right. Here, we didn’t have to analogize. We have 40-plus decisions already deciding exactly the same thing.”

Kaplan also weighed in on the U.S. Supreme Court’s momentous decision nearly three weeks ago -- what she called its "non-decision decision" -- to let several circuit court decisions stand, bringing marriage equality to many more states but obviously not stepping in to rule on marriage equality for all 50 states, as some had hoped and expected. She referred to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s statements of a few weeks before, in which Ginsburg said the court would likely wait until a circuit court ruled against gay marriage before it stepped in. Ginsburg's remarks seemed to reflect the take-it-slow approach she has telegraphed on the issue in the past.

"Along with [the late Justice] Thurgood Marshall, Justice Ginsburg was one of the greatest strategic litigators of our country’s history,” Kaplan said.“When [Justice Ginsburg] says, ‘You know, you guys should take your victories, and let it happen,’ you know, call me crazy. But I listen very carefully to Justice Ginsburg, and I tend to take her advice.”

What's the Probability That Michael Sam Was Cut Because He's Gay, Really?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 24, 2014   12:09 PM ET

I've seen a little too much insistence this week, online and on social media, that Michael Sam's being cut from the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad had nothing to do with his being gay. It's a bit overwrought and defensive. A lot of fans seem to want to believe the NFL is not a homophobic institution, and that the Sam story somehow proved it: The NFL gave a shot to the first openly gay player ever drafted and treated him well, and his fate was based on his performance, and that's that.

But Michael Sam's being gay has been so much a part of this story from the moment he came out, with anonymous NFL executives saying he wouldn't be accepted, and some commentators and even some players making anti-gay remarks, right up through his late-round drafting and beyond. Can anyone really say for sure whether or not his being gay had anything to do with his being cut?

As both Outsports' Jim Buzinski and WCBS sports radio host Jared Max point out, there are no other openly gay players in the NFL right now, and if the NBA's Jason Collins indeed retires soon, as many commentators are predicting, there will be no openly gay player in any of the four major sports leagues. That's not exactly a sign of acceptance. Add to this the fact that the NFL has given minor or no penalties to players like the San Francisco 49ers' Chris Culliver after homophobic incidents. It also stood by the hiring of anti-gay former New York Giant David Tyree -- who worked to stop marriage equality, adheres to an extremist anti-gay ideology and has expressed the belief that gays can be made straight -- as the New York Giants' director of player development.

So it can't be ruled out that Michael Sam was cut because he's gay, not with the NFL's record. People can point to Sam's performance at this or that juncture, but that's been countered by pointing to other players who've performed similarly and have done just fine. Buzinski notes, looking at the chronology of events, that it was all quite suspicious:

Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year in 2013. Yet he was drafted in the seventh round, 249 out of 256 players selected. That's three rounds and 124 players later than what bookies set his draft order at. It's also by far the lowest any SEC defensive player of the year had been drafted in at least a decade. ...

With the draft winding down, I have always suspected that the league made calls to St. Louis to encourage/cajole/plead with the Rams to take Sam. ... Sam not being drafted would have been a huge embarrassment to the league and set back its efforts to appear more inclusive of gays.

After former voach Tony Dungy called Sam a "distraction" and said he'd have stayed away from picking him, Sam seemed to become even more of a hot potato. The Rams chose not to keep him, which seemed like a football decision, since he wasn't what they needed. But the fact that he wasn't immediately chosen by another team was "unprecedented," according to Michael Freeman of the Bleacher Report:

It can't be stressed enough how Sam not being signed despite a productive preseason is almost unprecedented. In my two decades of covering the NFL, it isn't just rare; it's basically unheard of for a player to not make the league after playing well in the preseason.

And Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted:

NFL insider Peter King, of MMQB.com and NBC, reported that the Cowboys finally took Sam for the practice squad after "a league official contacted multiple teams asking if they'd evaluated Sam," and that the NFL "avoided a nightmare situation" when the Cowboys signed him. (The NFL denied King's claim.) Then, a month and a half later, he was cut, almost unnoticed, while the country was focused on Ebola, the attack on the Canadian Parliament and other pressing concerns.

Again, any of the individual actions can be explained away as a football decision. But when you add it all up and throw in the NFL's past and current disregard for homophobia (in incidents and hiring), it's impossible to escape the very real probability that Sam's being gay was a factor that determined his fate. And Jim Buzinski is right when he says it will give any other player pause about coming out, which may be exactly what the NFL wanted.

Alan Cumming: I Was In Drag The Last Time I Ever Spoke With My Abusive Father

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 15, 2014   10:31 AM ET

Alan Cumming’s new memoir, "Not My Father's Son," revisits a lot of painful, harrowing childhood memories, as he recounts being physically and verbally abused by his father. But that doesn’t mean the actor’s wry sense of humor isn’t on display.

“There also are bits in the book that are about my life now,” he said. “And there’s a bit that I think’s the most hilarious, the final conversation with my father, which is really a very devastating conversation — I actually said to him, ‘This is the last time we’ll ever speak to one another.’ I put the phone down and I realized I was entirely dressed in drag. And he’d be totally horrified if he could have seen me, because I was making a mini-series in South Africa and was being a transvestite.”

He goes on: “Certain moments with my father, there’s a surreal quality that can be funny. I don’t think humor is something I’m particularly using as a salve. I just think that maybe because I’m Scottish, that’s something that’s part of our national, natural condition, in that we infuse everything with a dark sense of humor.”

Cumming, who came out as bisexual in the ‘90s and is married to a man today, doesn’t believe his sexual orientation was necessarily an issue surrounding the abuse he experienced.

"I could see why some people might think that,” he said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “And maybe one of the components of my father hating me so much was that he might have thought I was effeminate or gay or something. I’m sure that’s part of it. But there are many other irrational parts of his psyche. That wasn’t really a big deal — and he was absolutely equally as horrible to my brother, who is as straight as they come.”

One of the busiest actors in entertainment, Cumming is currently reprising his Tony Award-winning role as the Emcee in “Cabaret” on Broadway. And he’s known to TV watchers as Eli Gold, the high-strung Chicago political strategist, crisis manager and governor’s aide in CBS’s Emmy-winning "The Good Wife," a role he’s played since 2010 and which seems light years from the person he, Alan Cumming, is.

“I said to my team, ideally I'd like to do a TV show based in New York, an ensemble thing, so that I wouldn’t have to work crazy all the time," Cumming said, explaining one of the reasons why he took the role. “And my New Year’s resolution that year was to try and wear more suits. Isn’t that a crazy resolution? Within weeks I was Eli… It feels like when I put on these clothes I just become him. At the start I just kind of tried to think of uptight people I knew, just to try and get that energy.”

In New York, after each performance of "Cabaret," when many might think he’d be exhausted, Cumming hosts party in his dressing room for friends and assorted visitors, dubbed Club Cumming.

“Club Cumming, I really like it,” he said, “because I really do enjoy watching people relax in my company. It gives me great joy… There’s nothing I like more than playing music and having a few drinks with people and seeing them let go. And when you finish doing a show like that you’re very up and what’s different for me about doing this show is that it’s all about engaging with the audience. My biggest co-star is the audience and that changes every night, so I’ve got to be on my toes. I’ve got to guide them into a different place. So when I come off the show, I’m in that zone.”

Living Marriage Equality: Redeeming the Dream and All I Love and Know

Janet Mason   |   October 8, 2014   12:38 PM ET

I was elated with the recent victory for same-sex marriage. The dominoes are falling -- even if we still have a fight ahead of us. I was delighted to read, in Michelangelo Signorile's post on the right's new strategy, that one of the crusaders against gay marriage is "furious and stunned." It is a complex issue -- states rights vs. federal law and Signorile's warning that "we had better pay attention" is an apt one.

I am a new convert to the cause of same-sex marriage. I have been a lesbian for most of my life and a second generation feminist. When I was young, I never dreamed of being married. When I came out (in the early 1980s), I was hugely relieved that I had dodged the matrimonial bullet.

It was only after turning 50, that I began to see the light. I was so hugely relieved -- yes, relieved -- when marriage became legal in the state in which I live, that I stopped to think about the fact of having lived under layers of oppression my entire life.

Recently, I read two books -- Redeeming The Dream by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson and All I love and Know, a novel by Judith Frank -- that put this into perspective.

Redeeming the Dream, The Case for Marriage Equality (Viking, 2014) tells the reader how two establishment lawyers, one liberal, one conservative, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson decided to work together to defeat Proposition Eight, a history making case that ended up at the Supreme Court of the United States along with Edith Windsor's landmark case against DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act).

The book (complete with photographs) is a good primer on the history of LGBT rights as well as a compelling read about the behind the scenes context of this historic legal battle.

A central argument to the belief systems of the authors and the case was that the illegality of same sex marriage is related to bullying, hate crimes, and all other forms of discrimination that LGBT people face.

Another central argument is that everyone has a right to marry. The authors cite Loving vs. Virginia (the landmark case decided by the Supreme Court in 1967 which struck down laws against interracial marriage) as a legal precedent:

Loving had confirmed that marriage was a fundamental right, and that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from infringing on an individual's right to marry without a sound basis.

The central argument from the opposition was that marriage is for the purpose of procreation. After winning the case against Proposition Eight at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the proponents of Proposition Eight appealed and the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

When faced with the refutation of the procreation rationale, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan asked about the constitutionality of denying the right to marry to heterosexuals over the age of fifty five.

Justice Kagan interrupted to say, "No, really, because if the couple -- I can assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of fifty-five, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.''

And the rest, as they say, is history.

All I Love And Know, a novel by Judith Frank (HarperCollins, 2014) explores the lives of a gay male couple who unexpectedly become parents when one of character's brother, who lived in Israel with his wife, was killed along with his wife by a suicide bomber. The brother and his wife had previously made arrangements for the gay brother and his partner to become the guardians of their two children, an infant boy, and a little girl with a developing and edgy personality.

In addition to dealing with their own tragic loss, the two men are suddenly faced with the reality of becoming parents. The novel is multi-layered, the writing is illuminating and compelling (and takes up the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the issue of gay marriage doesn't come up until late in the story. However, the two gay men continually face the issue of homophobia. The (non-Jewish) partner of the man whose brother was killed does his best to become a good parent (and is, in fact, a natural) -- but a rift develops between them based, in part, on the discounting of their relationship.

It is a novel about many things but mostly it is about family -- including the legal ties that bind a family.

The novel is set in Israel and Northampton, Massachusetts, at the same time that Massachusetts is the first U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

At the risk of revealing too much I will say that the little girl with the very big personality is thrilled that these two men can get married.

And that is what it is all about.


You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here

The Right's New Strategy After Gay Marriage Loss: Finding the Gay 'Partial Birth Abortion'

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 7, 2014   10:25 AM ET

A little over a week ago at the Values Voters Summit (VVS), I spoke with Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), and he was positively certain that the Supreme Court would take one of the marriage cases it rejected yesterday (listen to the audio below). Not only that, he was pretty sure that, since the high court had stayed decisions and stopped gay marriages from proceeding in Utah and Virginia after lower courts had rule those states' bans unconstitutional, marriage equality opponents would prevail after the court took the case, upholding gay marriage bans all across the country.

Instead, the court not only brought marriage equality instantly to five states by not hearing the appeals of the lower court rulings; in short order another six states in the circuits affected will likely have marriage equality. And today, Brian Brown is furious and stunned at the decision. But he and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and others are vowing to fight on. They are delusional if not just doing fundraising -- claiming they can still win at the high court -- but they're also being pragmatic, looking to the future. And it's on that last note that we had better pay attention.

At the Values Voters Summit they trotted out Melissa Klein, the Oregon baker who shut down her bakery rather than serve gay and lesbian couples, and incurred a fine for discrimination. She and a bunch of others were paraded around -- she even cried on a panel on the main stage -- as victims of the left's supposed war on their freedom of religion. The plan now is to turn themselves into the victims, persecuted as their "religious liberties" are under terrible assault, and to use the dangerous Hobby Lobby decision from the Supreme Court to discriminate in the name of religious liberties. We've of course seen some of this rhetoric both before and after Hobby Lobby. Expect it just to intensify big time.

On a panel at VVS titled "The Future of Marriage," Frank Schubert, the mastermind strategist of the Proposition 8 campaign and other marriage ban campaigns across the country, said that if by chance marriage equality opponents lost at the high court, as pretty much happened yesterday, they would have to go the route they did with abortion after Roe v. Wade. They'd have to seek "incremental" wins, he said, as they did then, chipping away slowly at abortion rights, which of course has been very successful. Schubert then said they'd have to the find the gay "version" of "partial birth abortion." I almost fell off my seat on that one.

Later, I asked Schubert what he meant by that statement (listen to the audio above), and he talked about "conscience clauses" and "religious liberties," which brings us back to Hobby Lobby, businesses that don't want to serve gays, adoption by gay parents, and lots of other issues. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association told me at VVS that they aren't giving up and, persistent as he is, he tweeted that to me last night as well. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the VVS straw poll, railed yesterday against the "tragic and indefensible" Supreme Court decision, calling for a new marriage amendment as he possibly marches in a presidential campaign. Nobody should think that they won't regroup and find different ways to attack LGBT people and other groups, armed with a new plan. It's simply what they do.

Michele Bachmann: Gay Marriage Is 'Not An Issue... In Fact, It's Boring'

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 27, 2014    8:30 AM ET

Is even Michele Bachmann throwing in the towel on marriage equality?

For years, the GOP congresswoman from Minnesota has been a leader among Christian evangelicals and a vocal opponent of gay marriage. She not only supported a federal marriage amendment; she worked tirelessly as a state legislator in years past to get a an amendment on the ballot banning gay marriage in her home state's constitution. It finally got on the ballot in 2012 and was defeated. And then in 2013, Minnesota passed marriage equality.

Now Bachmann seems so disillusioned she’s got only one word for gay marriage: “Boring.”

Asked about gay marriage in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Friday, Bachmann said, “It’s not an issue," before walking off and adding, “In fact, it’s boring.”

This seems consistent with what she told Meghan McCain two weeks ago in an interview: "I think that was an issue, yeah. I think it was in the last election and the previous election, but I think, you know, it's changing now.”

Asked his response to Bachmann’s comments, the American Family Association’s radio host Bryan Fischer, broadcasting from the Values Voter Summit, strongly disagreed.

"Well, I’d have to know more about what Representative Bachmann meant when she said that,” he responded. “The debate is far from settled. We’ve got a long way to go. Unfortunately, there are people in the conservative movement who have sort of given up. There are even evangelical leaders sending signals that the battle is over, that the battle is lost. ‘We’ll never be able to capture the millennials. They’re gone.’ I think it’s way premature for that. You know, when the homosexual lobby was 0 and 31 [having lost at the ballot in 31 states on marriage], the gay lobby didn’t quit. They didn’t give up. They didn’t do it. They didn’t give up, and neither are we.”

Update: An earlier version of this story quoted Representative Michele Bachmann saying of gay marriage, "It's not an issue." Rep. Bachmann's communications director, Dan Kotman, notes that Rep. Bachmann stated more fully, "It's not an issue in this upcoming election."

'The Roosevelts:' Ken Burns Closets Eleanor, Disappears FDR's Gay Sex-Entrapment Scandal in the Navy

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 23, 2014    9:29 AM ET

I enjoyed watching Ken Burns' The Roosevelts: An Intimate History last week, keeping in mind that these PBS documentary series are usually a heavy bit of American myth-making, sanitizing some facts in offering a particular version of history. Still, there are a few things just too glaring to hide or treat with discretion in 2014, though Burns arrogantly thinks he can.

How could we not hear about the scandalous anti-gay witch hunt beginning in 1919 in Newport overseen by then assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt? As detailed in historian John Loughery's 1998 book The Other Side of Silence, Navy sailors were recruited to entrap other men to have sex with them, with the undercover "operatives" engaging in sex to orgasmic completion -- oral, and yes, some anal -- with the men they entrapped, and logging all of this in their own reports.

At first, the sting focused on men in the Navy, in an attempt to clean up what was seen as "moral conditions" at the Newport base, but it soon expanded to the civilian population in Newport and resulted in the arrests and sometimes imprisonment of 17 sailors and a prominent Episcopal Navy chaplain. When the methods of the witch hunt became known there were headlines across the country, legal inquires and a hearing and denouncement from a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs. The Senate report called FDR's behavior "reprehensible," and stated that the actions "violated the code of the American citizen and ignored the rights of every American boy who enlisted in the navy to fight for his country." The New York Times went with the headline, "LAY NAVY SCANDAL TO F. D. ROOSEVELT, DETAILS ARE UNPRINTABLE."

And what happened to any discussion of career diplomat Sumner Welles, FDR's right-hand man and Under Secretary of State, considered one of the most influential global strategists of the 20th century? He was FDR's school chum -- and page boy at Eleanor and FDR's wedding -- and he was also bisexual and quite sexually active, something about which FDR apparently looked the other way. Eventually, though, Roosevelt reluctantly accepted his resignation in 1943 after one of Welles's rivals in the state department seized upon information that Welles had solicited sex from two black men, Pullman porters on the same train that carried the president from the House Speaker's funeral in Alabama, and threatened to provide the details to a GOP Senate enemy unless Roosevelt dumped him. Surely, this downfall of a close aide and lifelong friend, and the reasons why he fell, should have a place in something described as "an intimate history."

It's long been discussed that Eleanor Roosevelt had a close and deep relationship with the Associated Press reporter, Lorena Hickok, with whom she went on a road trip, alone, across the country, and who even had a room in the White House for a time -- and those facts are included in the series. Also included is the fact that Eleanor had friends and colleagues with whom she organized on women's issues who were lesbians, some of them in deeply committed relationships.

But the way Burns treats all of this is to discuss Eleanor and Hickok as close and intimate "friends" -- he has Doris Kearns Goodwin telling us Hickok was "in love" with Eleanor, almost as if it was one-sided -- but never using the "L" word, or even raising the possibility of sex, seeming to view that as sleazy.

Burns even admitted as much, reiterating what he'd said in a talk at the Television Critics Association in July, in an answer to a question at a discussion at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago in September:

I assume when you say a relationship you are assuming that there was a sexual relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. We have no evidence whatsoever of that, and none of the historians and experts believe it. This is an intimate [look at the Roosevelts] not a tabloid and we just don't know ... We have to be very careful because sometimes we want to read into things that aren't there.

First off, why is it "tabloid" rather than "intimate" to speak of the possibility of a sexual relationship between two women? Burns, after all, had no problem discussing, quite extensively, FDR's sexual affair with Eleanor's secretary Lucy Mercer.

Secondly, it's factually incorrect to state that "none of the historians and experts believe it." That depends on the historians with whom one consults, and, apparently what gender they are. Noted scholars such as Blanche Wiesen Cook -- whom Burns interviewed extensively in the documentary series, but curiously not about this issue -- as well as Leila J. Rupp, and Lillian Faderman, have discussed and documented what they concluded was a deeply passionate, physical relationship, in which Roosevelt and Hickok wrote one another about sleeping in bed together while holding one another in their arms, and kissing on the mouth.

Faderman told Carrie Maxwell at the Windy City Times, "If the documentary does deal with FDR's extramarital relationship with Lucy Mercer then it's inexcusable that he didn't deal with Eleanor's extramarital relationships particularly with Lorena Hickok."

Burns needn't have definitively decided whether Eleanor Roosevelt was bisexual or had sexual relationships with women or not. But he surely could have had an interesting discussion, with various points of view. Such discussions shed important light on the lives of these prominent American figures and the treatment of homosexuality in our history.

Certainly, for FDR to have once overseen an anti-gay witch hunt only to later be married to a woman who may have had an affair with another woman -- right in the White House itself -- is interesting, as is his having had an aide, a lifelong friend, who was bisexual and whose resignation he reluctantly accepted over his sex with men. But more so, what did all of this mean about how this powerful and great president, and his enormously influential wife, treated an issue that, shortly after World War II, and later in the '60s, would explode further in the American consciousness?

As long as Burns saw some historical facts and mysteries as too "tabloid" to broach, however, those important questions weren't about to be raised.

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Welles "had sex with" two train porters. It has since been changed to "solicited sex from" porters, to better reflect historical accounts.

Highest Paid Trans CEO In U.S. Speaks Out On Controversial New York Magazine Cover

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 19, 2014    1:11 PM ET

Martine Rothblatt, who graced the cover of New York Magazine last week as the highest paid female CEO and highest paid transgender CEO in America, responded to critics of the magazine’s cover, which stated she “used to be a man” and which photographed her wearing a suit. Some transgender activists took issue with the magazine’s portrayal. But Rothblatt, the founder and former chair of Sirius Satellite Radio, and author of a riveting, fascinating new book on her research on the not-too-distant future of robot clones and possibly even life after death, defended the portrayal, explaining that she believes transgender identity is often fluid and not so fixed, a way in which she defines her own gender identity.

In an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, Rothblatt discussed her book, "Virtually Human: The Promise -- and the Peril -- of Digital Immortality," and how “Mindclones” can be created and how she has created a robot version of her own wife, Bina, named Bina48. Rothblatt explained that she embarked on this journey via research on genetic engineering. She was desperate to develop a drug to save her daughter from an often fatal, rare lung disease, selling her stock in Sirius, and founding United Therapeutics, a genetic engineering research company. She did eventually develop the drug, saving her daughter and countless others, and when the pill form of the drug went public last year, the stock instantly doubled, with a market capitalization of $4.6 billion last June.

Rothblatt, in her bio and in all the publicity for the book, defines herself as having formerly been Martin Rothblatt, a man, contrary to the way many transgender people define themselves, specifically not revealing their former names and defining themselves as by the gender they believe they’ve always been, not as formerly the other gender.

"When I transitioned I was really just like asking myself the question that most all transgender people ask, which is like, ‘How can we continue to exist in a society where people have to be only male or female and if you cross the border you’re completely stigmatized or ostracized?'” she explained, noting that, “there’s a strong, strong reason to hide your past,” pointing to the violence and discrimination many transgender people experience.

“However, I owe a lot of this to my partner, Bina,” she said, explaining that her wife urged her not to live in a “closet” for the rest of her life. “I took a journey from male to female, so if I hide that, I’m, like, just replicating the closet of my past with another closet of the future,” Rothblatt said. “That made no sense, and that’s why I’m open.”

Still, being open about being transgender is different from saying one was formerly another gender. For Rothblatt, however, the categories don’t mean much, as she truly sees herself -- and many others -- as living on the boundary between male and female.

“I wrote a book in the 1990s called, "Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender,’” she explained. “And in this book I pointed out that forcing everybody to be either male or female is a kind of sexual apartheid. This is not scientifically accurate. There are great biologists before me, like Professor Anne Fausto-Sterling from Brown University. And she has pointed out that a significant percent of all births are, if you want to call it, intersexual or transgendered, in some way or another."

"What Anne Fausto-Sterling pointed out," Rothblatt continued, "was that what you are externally is just the tip of the iceberg. Internally, there’s a much greater degree of intersexuality or transgenderedness. And what I pointed out in my book is that whatever there is manifested in the body -- in terms of ovaries, testes, the whole reproductive tract -- there’s like 10 times more of that diversity in terms of the hormonal variation among people, and then there’s 10 times more of that in terms of our mental connectivity, with patterns of thinking that are associated with maleness or femaleness.”

Rothblatt also explained how she created the technology that ultimately led to her founding Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriusXM, after merging with XM Satellite Radio several years ago), realizing that the satellites already in space weren’t powerful enough to bring digital radio to cars and that she simply had to raise the money and get new satellites launched. Not an easy task, but she persevered, as she has in everything else in life.

“So, it took a lot of persuading to get those satellite communications companies to bid on making these satellites for me,” she said. “Then there was the issue of financing it because they weren’t going to do it for cheap. They wanted a 100 million bucks and another 100 million bucks to launch it. So then I had to go to Wall Street and persuade Wall Street that this was something they should invest in.”

Misogyny and Homophobia in the NFL: Is America's Crisis of Masculinity Playing Out in Its Favorite Sport?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 16, 2014    1:52 PM ET

The Ray Rice scandal has lifted the lid off the NFL like never before. And it raises a very important question: Is it a coincidence that the NFL is more popular than ever, with the Super Bowl as the ultimate national event, at the same time that many American men are in the midst of a masculinity crisis -- and that now we're seeing that crisis playing out literally within the NFL itself?

Women are asserting themselves, roles are changing for men and women, and the gay and transgender movements are challenging sexuality and gender as well as challenging the definition, and even the idea, of masculinity. Is it really any wonder that many more straight men -- as well as many women, judging by the statistics of who the newest fans are -- may be confused and threatened about these changing roles, flocking to an institution that is a citadel of well-defined, old-fashioned masculinity, where the men are real men and women stand behind them, cheering them on? If masculinity were a religion, after all, the NFL would be its Wahhabism or Christian Dominionism.

Two weeks ago I pointed to the virulent homophobia of the NFL, where Coach Mike Priefer of the Vikings was given a mere two-game suspension -- now back in the game -- for saying gays should be rounded up and put "on an island, and nuke it until it glows," while the first (and only) openly gay player was drafted much later than predicted in the rounds and then passed over for a roster, only picked up for a practice squad. And while Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely -- only after a video surfaced showing more graphically what we knew before about his pummeling of his then-fiancée in an elevator -- there are many other cases of domestic abuse of women and now child abuse, in which players see few if any ramifications from the NFL.

Let's be honest: Professional football, perhaps more than any other male team sport, is based on misogyny and homophobia, built on it from the ground up. Entire generations of American men have been raised on the idea that if they don't participate in male team sports, they're maybe a little faggy, and football, as surely the most aggressive of male team sports, is the holy grail if you want to prove you're not. Entire generations have grown up -- and, in many cases, still grow up -- with it being routine for high-school and college football coaches to demean the players during training by calling them "girls" or "ladies" if they don't perform well, or even going further with "pussies" and "pansies." And what are these terms really all about? The idea that women are less than men, and that being less than a real man, and being a like a woman, is being like a homo, which is the worst thing you can possibly be.

Women and LGBT people are challenging this demeaning behavior and have even successfully stopped it in many places. Masculine identity as defined for generations, however, is so culturally powerful that it cuts across class and race boundaries -- bonding men of all kinds together -- and seems to be only becoming stronger as the American crisis in masculinity escalates. I'll never forget when I went on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in the '90s for the first time -- back when their was a trading "floor," before most trading became electronic. Everything crystalized for me when I looked down at this largely straight male world: blue-blood WASPS running the show mixed with the traders on the floor, the working-class guys from Staten Island and Brooklyn scrambling back and forth, all bonding on winning and making money.

And isn't that what professional football is all about for many who run the game: winning and making money, no matter what racial or class background you come from? Is it any wonder, then, that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who earned $105 million in five years, connects with and tacitly if not not publicly defends the players who, even if they went a little too far (in his mind), are simply protecting those boundaries of masculinity for all men, punching back against the onslaught of women and homosexuals demanding equality?

Before you say, "Hey, wait, I love football, and I'm not a monster!" let me be clear that I'm not making a generalization regarding all the fans. It's a broad and interesting game that attracts a diverse audience, many for healthy and productive reasons. Indeed, many gay men and a great many lesbians are fans -- although Rachel Maddow acknowledged the other night that, though she's long been an NFL fan, she can no longer watch the game after the recent response to Rice's domestic assault. Like any national phenomenon, I think there are different ways that people participate and connect. It's sort of like the way I might watch the brilliant phenomenon of The Sopranos or Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and the way a would-be gangster from my old neighborhood might watch them.

But now something's become too real and raw, hence Maddow's response. The only way to change professional football is at its foundation, transforming the culture in our schools and what defines masculinity -- and what defines being a girl or a woman or gay or transgender -- and, most importantly, that needs to happen within sports programs, not separate from them. That's likely to take a long time and may be utopian, since it could actually forever change, or even end, the game of football as we know it.