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Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 3, 2015   12:18 PM ET

Professional freeskier and Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy has been navigating the often treacherous slopes of social media after coming out as gay in a tweet two weeks ago.

Kenworthy, who also explained his early struggles with his sexuality in an ESPN Magazine interview, has since dealt with his fair share of haters, including a Twitter troll and the backlash he received after he posted a photo of himself in an Indian headdress and warpaint as part of a would-be Halloween costume. Then, of course, there are his shirtless photos on Instagram, which -- surely to the dismay of many fans -- Kenworthy told me in an interview on SiriusXM Progress we likely will not be seeing anymore. 

But the 24-year-old Coloradan, readying for the Dew Tour in December and the X Games in January, is taking it all in stride, happier being open than remaining hidden to the public as a gay man. He’d been out to his family and friends, but as a public figure, he was closeted.

“After the [Winter] Olympics [in Sochi, Russia], with two other guys by my side, we were suddenly the heartthrobs of the Olympics and all they wanted to talk to us about was our celebrity crushes and the kind of girls that we liked and if we had a girlfriend,” Kenworthy said in our interview. “And it put me in this uncomfortable situation. I ended up lying and feeling horrible about myself… I hadn’t had a moment to reflect. It was like an overnight thing. There we were, all over TV and cereal boxes and radio shows. I wasn’t ready to be my full self but it was painful to be this other version of myself that I didn’t want to be.”

Another reason he wanted to come out, Kenworthy said, was to dispel stereotypes in action sports and combat the homophobia that exists in that world. A lot of the pro-snowboarders, he explained, refer to skiers as “the skier fags.” The word “gay,” he said, is bandied about pejoratively.

“If halfpipe sucks, it’s ‘gay,’” he explained. “If the rails are too small, they’re ‘gay.’ If the judges are throwing out low scores they’re ‘being gay.’ That’s what I kept hearing over and over again. And I’m kind of sitting there like, ’This isn’t gay. None of this is gay. You guys don’t even know what that means.’”

And that brings us to his shirtless photos. Fans following Kenworthy on Instagram know he’s been prone to flash his perfectly cut abs and biceps. Everyone has his or her own journey, and posting shirtless pics, according to Kenworthy, actually has been part of his coming out process. But you likely won’t be seeing any new ones.

"I need to cool it with that -- according to my publicist,” Kenworthy said with a devilish smile while gesturing to his rep, sitting nearby. “But I don’t know, I guess I just felt like for so long, kind of pretending to be straight and lying in interviews, and everything that I was doing to try and fit in, I felt like I was like -- I know it’s not actually clothes -- but I felt like I was covering myself, and covering myself, and covering myself, and really censoring myself. So when I got to the point where I was really telling people that I was gay and I knew that I was going to come out publicly and stuff, it was sort of nice, and I guess freeing, to do something like that that was kind of off-brand for me, and something fun and I guess kind of objectifying, but still something that was fun and different.”

He added: “And I think I was insecure at that time. I mean, I was excited to come out but I was scared for what everyone was going to say and I knew that it was something that was happening very soon. And maybe, on a lower level, I guess I needed a little bit of attention." 

Kenworthy said he's learned a lot from his ill-advised Halloween costume idea, too. He didn't wear the costume out that night, and instead dressed as a “vegan,” in crocks and hemp jewelry.

“It was probably offensive to vegans,” he said. “I feel like you can’t dress up without offending people.”

Of the headdress, he said he thought it “was beautiful and I thought it was kind of a really pretty photo. And I posted it and in ten minutes I had a bunch of mixed feedback and I decided it was better just to delete it.”

“I didn’t think for a second when I did it that I was being offensive,” he explained. “I would’ve never done anything that I thought was going to offend anybody."

After he deleted the photo, Kenworthy Googled around, where he said he learned a lesson.

“I went on my phone and I Googled -- like an idiot -- but like, ‘Is it racist to dress up like a Native American?’ And, I guess the answer is yes... It’s sort of a vague line, because if you’re a character, then it’s not really racist but if you’re just, like, an Indian, then it’s sort of racist. But at the same point, even a character, like Pocahontas or someone, for example, is still sort of based on a racial stereotype and sort of a misinterpretation of a culture. I felt guilty that I had done it. I also feel that sometimes people do really overreact. It’s Halloween. It’s a night to dress-up. But I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or feel like I was being rude or insensitive. So I took it down... I feel like, lesson learned and I won’t do it again.”

It's good to see Kenworthy learn an important lesson while making strides toward sensitivity as he adjusts to the new spotlight on his personal life. 

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Dear Ben Carson: Actually, You Are a 'Homophobe' If You're Opposed to Marriage Equality Now

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 29, 2015   10:46 AM ET

It really says it all about the Republican Party that the candidate who is the current frontrunner in several polls made the most bigoted, anti-gay comment of last night's GOP debate in Boulder, Colorado. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson spoke for all those who are swept up by irrational fear and now see themselves as the victims of supposed "enemies" who won't allow those fears to bolster discrimination against people when he said:

[The gay community] shouldn't automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe. And this is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society, and this is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. You know, that's what the PC culture is all about, and it's destroying this nation. The fact of the matter is we the American people are not each other's enemies, it's those people who are trying to divide us who are the enemies. And we need to make that very clear to everybody.

But actually, while there had been a debate in this country about marriage equality for, oh, 25 years or so, it is now the law of the land, after a Supreme Court ruling that decided the freedom to marry exists in the Constitution for every gay and lesbian American. And gay and lesbian people are -- and, for years, have been -- getting married by the thousands all across the country. None of the dire predictions of the anti-gay religious zealots -- of the destruction of society or the downfall of marriage as an institution -- have transpired.

So, if you're opposed to something that is now a right of every American and has been proven in court -- in the federal trial over California's Proposition 8 -- to harm no one, including children, then you do have an irrational fear of homosexuality. And certainly if you're a medical doctor yourself and you're opposed to something that the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association deem normal, natural and healthy and not harmful at all to anyone, then you have an irrational fear of homosexuality. And that is the essence of homophobia - a fear of homosexuality.

Just imagine if, after the Supreme Court ruled in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, which ended state bans on interracial marriage, that a presidential frontrunner said, "It doesn't make me a racist if I don't support mixed marriages." Imagine if that candidate said such a thing right now. Would we not call that person a racist?

So, Ben Carson, you are not only a homophobe; you're a bigot, having spewed anti-gay remarks again and again, bizarrely claiming prison turns people gay and standing firm on reckless, hateful comments in which you said homosexuality leads to bestiality and pedophilia. Again, this is an irrational fear -- like any other phobia -- of something that cannot hurt you, has been proven so and isn't hurting anyone else. And the fear is what then drives you to bigotry and to say ugly things about other people, claiming that it is they who are "destroying this nation" because they won't acquiesce to your fear and allow your fear to drive discrimination against others. The fact that you couch the fears in religious beliefs -- or even that those beliefs may have nurtured or even created those fears -- doesn't change anything. Your religion cannot be used to excuse fears that embolden you to discriminate.

The problem is yours, not ours, Dr. Carson. Phobias, you certainly should know as a neurosurgeon, require hard work and psychiatric or psychological counseling to overcome. So, I'd say, "doctor, heal thyself," but, actually, you need to get yourself some help.

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How Hillary Clinton's and Bernie Sanders' DOMA Revisionism Harms LGBT Rights

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 26, 2015    9:46 AM ET

Over the weekend Bernie Sanders hit Hillary Clinton hard in a speech at the influential Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa, in what some are saying is an example of his going negative when he said he wouldn't. Whatever your take is on that (his campaign says he's getting "more pointed," not negative), what Sanders exposed is a simple truth: Clinton, in an interview on Rachel Maddow last week, revised the history of her husband and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Hillary claimed that Bill signed DOMA as a "defensive action" to keep back a possible constitutional amendment:

On Defense of Marriage, I think what my husband believed -- and there was certainly evidence to support it -- is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that...And so, in -- in a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further.

It's a version of a story her campaign put forth in 2008 -- and which didn't really erupt at the time, as it did over the weekend, perhaps because no other candidate challenged it -- and it's similar to how Bill Clinton has revised his own history over a period beginning in 2009 until his 2013 call to overturn DOMA. But as I explained at the time, it's just not true. There was no talk, among activists, antigay forces or politicians, of a constitutional amendment in 1996 when Clinton signed DOMA and then touted his signing of DOMA in radio ads in the South during the presidendial race against Republican Bob Dole, positioning himself as a defender of "religious freedom."

''That's complete nonsense," Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry told Chris Geidner in Metro Weekly in 2011. "There was no conversation about something 'worse' until eight years later. There was no talk of a constitutional amendment, and no one even thought it was possible -- and, of course, it turned out it wasn't really possible to happen... That was never an argument made in the '90s.''

And over the weekend, this was backed up by none other than long-time Clinton friend, Democratic strategist and lesbian activist Hilary Rosen, tweeting that Hillary Clinton should just "stop."

The former president of the Human Rights Campaign, Elizabeth Birch, who worked for the group at the time DOMA was passed and signed -- and who is also a supporter of Hillary Clinton -- took Bill Clinton to task in 2013, clearly refuting this "defensive action" claim, and pointed to the radio ads. Now really, if DOMA was a
"defensive action" taken for our own good, why was Clinton using it for his own good in radio ads in the South? At the time he signed DOMA, Clinton did call the bill "gay-baiting" and didn't believe it was necessary. But he said he agreed with the substance of it: "I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages, and this legislation is consistent with that position."

I believe Bill Clinton could have refused to sign DOMA if he truly thought it was wrong. Dole was way down in the polls, and was not going to beat him by any stretch; Clinton, in my opinion, simply wanted a blowout win.

But, whatever. We can agree to disagree on that. It's now a different time, and everyone's evolved and understands what the cultural and political reality was then, right? So why is it so difficult for Hillary Clinton to simply say this: "Yes, after the fact, years later, some Democrats used DOMA to forestall a constitutional amendment when it came up -- saying that we don't need an amendment because we have DOMA -- but no, a possible amendment was not something that was a rationale for signing DOMA in 1996. My husband did think DOMA was the result of GOP gay-baiting and unnecessary. But he agreed on the substance of it, as did the majority of Americans and the vast majority of Democrats. And we were all wrong. We evolved, as has our current president and the American public. And I'm glad to see DOMA gone."

Though she was slow to embrace marriage equality and got criticism for not speaking about the continued discrimination affecting LGBT Americans earlier in this campaign -- including from me in recent months -- Clinton has spoken out more strongly on the issues of LGBT inclusion more recently, promised to push for an all-ecompansing anti-discrimination bill, and even talked of LGBT discrimination in her opening statements at the Democratic debate in Las Vegas. She's grown and responded to critics, and it just wasn't necessary to revise history to somehow make herself -- and her husband -- seem more consistently pro-LGBT. (I suspect it's more so an issue of Bill's pride -- and guilt -- but that's another piece entirely.)

By doing so now she opened herself up to the attack by Sanders and now to criticism by even some of her staunchest supporters who are having to correct the historical record. Other supporters, however, have been defending her on social media, saying the issue isn't relevant, that the DOMA era was a terrible time and that political realities forced Bill Clinton to sign DOMA. Again, whatever you may think about it, that is not the point. The point is he didn't sign it to push back a possible amendment. Whether or not it's relevant to the presidential race now, it is definitely relevant to history. And it cannot go unchallenged.

But while we're at it, Bernie Sanders is engaging in own window dressing too. Yes, he voted against DOMA -- one of only 67 brave House members to do so -- and for that he gets a gold star, and it's certainly something he should be touting (and I've urged him to do so). But as Mark Joseph Stern pointed out recently, Sanders actually didn't support marriage equality at the time -- though he's glossing over that fact now, implying he did support it -- and said he voted against DOMA because he thought the states should not be intruded upon by the federal government. His chief of staff insisted he wasn't "legislating values." In 2006, two years after Massachusetts became the first state with marriage equality, Sanders identified himself as "a supporter of civil unions," and was still saying "marriage is a state issue."

Sanders' sins of omission are perhaps not as egregious as Clinton's revisionism, but they still need to be corrected. I understand the passions of those who support each of these or other candidates -- or none of them -- and the impulse to paper over difficult issues from the past. But if we don't get LGBT history right, including how our own friends dealt with the issue as well -- and learn from it-- we risk failing to get full equality moving forward.

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Sorry Joe Biden, But the Republicans ARE Our Enemies

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 22, 2015   11:11 AM ET

Yesterday Joe Biden finally did the inevitable and announced he is not running for president. It was fine for him to consider running, and it would have been fine for him to decide to run.

But his announcement speech yesterday gave a glimpse of the campaign he would run -- and the petty score-settling he was involved in with Hillary Clinton -- and after hearing it we should be glad he is not running.

In particular, it was Biden's claim that Republicans "are not our enemies" that opened up a window into the toothless, clueless, hopelessly-reaching-out-across-the-aisle strategy he would pursue. It's a strategy that is not only unsuccessful with this extreme GOP -- and he has only to look at the first years of Obama's presidency for that, and the time wasted on so-called "compromise" that never happened -- but it's an insult to those of us who have been viciously targeted by the GOP, whether we be women, LGBT, people of color or working people trying to make a decent wage.

The rivalry between Clinton and Biden has been long-noted, and in of itself it's not remarkable. But it was remarkable, and, frankly, beneath Joe Biden to take it to the White House Rose Garden with the president by his side in an event covered as breaking news by all the major television networks.

Without naming her, Biden aired his differences with Clinton on foreign policy, and chastised her and other candidates for supposedly not running on President Obama's accomplishments. (The truth is, they are actually doing so for the most part, knowing the president is popular among the base. But no, they can't and shouldn't agree with Obama on everything, and that certainly includes the Trans Pacific Partnership, if they want to win the Democratic primary race. And Biden knows this only too well, having run for president himself twice.) And most notably he took a swipe at Clinton when he said, "I don't think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition, they are not our enemies." This was a veiled reference to Clinton's half-joking answer at the Democratic debate in Las Vegas when each of the candidates was asked which enemy he or she is most proud of:

Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians. Probably the Republicans.

It should be noted that Clinton added "the Republicans" at the end, after a pause and with a chuckle, and it should also be noted that she answered a question about which of your enemies you're most proud of, not which of our enemies you're most proud to have. It may seem like a minor point but Hillary Clinton has been a target of the GOP on the most deeply personal levels for over 25 years, and once again today she's before yet another GOP committee orchestrating yet another witch-hunt against her. She's earned the right to call them her enemy in a joke at a debate in a way that Joe Biden -- who voted for the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act -- has not, especially having had Dick Cheney urging him to run in recent months.

Was it an unwise off-the-cuff remark during an otherwise seamless debate performance and one that will be used against Clinton in an attack ad? Probably. Will it, on balance, really hurt her, and was it bad enough to rise to the level of a Rose Garden breaking news slap down? Absolutely not.

But more than that, Joe Biden insulted so many of us and gave the GOP legitimacy and credibility when it claims Democrats unfairly criticize Republicans. The GOP is a party that has stripped the rights of voters across the country through voter ID laws that target minorities. It's a party that has been on a brutal campaign to shut down Planned Parenthood -- a campaign pushed by state governors and legislators as well as by every one of the GOP presidential candidates. It is a party that has been using the distorted idea of "religious liberty" to halt LGBT rights, and, again, whose candidates for the presidency, from Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson to Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, have given legitimacy to this religious liberty distortion at best, and engaged in blatant homophobic attacks at worst. And it is a party whose GOP frontrunner in the presidential race wants to deport 11 million brown people.

You might say that Joe Biden, as a straight white guy, doesn't feel the brunt of that, even though he speaks of LGBT rights and attacks on immigrants -- and did so in his speech yesterday -- and isn't sensitive to these issues. But Biden also considers himself Joe Middle Class and a champion of workers, and yet this GOP is a party that has declared all-out war on organized labor, has refused to help working people on a broad range of issues -- from raising the minimum wage to offering paid sick leave --and is still trying to dismantle Obamacare.

So yes, the Republicans are our enemies simply because they'd decided we are their enemies, targeting our rights, our livelihoods and our families. And for 2016, we need a candidate -- whether it's Clinton or Bernie Sanders or whomever -- who will not pull any punches on that. And we certainly need a president who clearly understands that. Let's thank Joe Biden for his service, and also thank him for deciding not to run.

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Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 16, 2015   11:16 AM ET

Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett has a message for the GOP presidential candidates -- namely, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz -- who’ve been running on an anti-gay agenda.

“It might be interesting in the 24-hour news cycle,” she told me in a recent interview on SiriusXM Progress. “But ultimately... the American people don’t embrace that kind of opinion.”

Jarrett, who spoke with me about a groundbreaking federal report that calls for ending “conversion therapy” programs for minors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, responded to Rand Paul’s assertion in Iowa several days earlier that LGBT people don’t need to be protected by law against discrimination in employment. Paul, in backing up his claim, said, “If you are gay, there are plenty of places that will hire you," explaining that “the things you do in your house, just leave those in your house and they wouldn't have to be a part of the workplace.”

“Well, this is what I would say to you on that subject,” Jarrett said. "President Obama was elected not once, but twice based on his vision of America, which is one that unifies us, one that is inclusive, that says we should embrace all of our citizens, that we are a nation of immigrants, and that diversity is a strength. And that’s what the majority of the American people voted for, not once, but twice.”

Jarrett also discussed a report that was released this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which looked at statements from across the spectrum of child adolescent and development experts regarding both gender identity and sexual orientation. The White House had previously called for banning “conversion therapy” for minors, something three states (California, Oregon and New Jersey) have already done.

"The report concluded firmly that conversion therapy -- and the goal of conversion therapy is to change someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression -- and it concludes that it’s not appropriate for mental health providers to engage in, and so this is a really important report,” Jarrett said. “What we should be doing is celebrating our young people, allowing them to be who they are, loving them for who they are, and not trying to change their identity.”

Jarrett talked about the immense progress the Obama administration has made on LGBT equality, sharing a story about the successful push to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which illustrates the great strides.

"I went to the Defense Department on the first anniversary of [the repeal],” she recounted. “And I sat there in the Pentagon with people in uniform who had to [previously] sneak into my office at the White House to talk about how important it would be to repeal it and who were saying, ‘You know, here we are in the military. We’re making this pledge and this oath and we’re having to lie about who we are.’ And so, for me to see them, sitting there in their uniforms, embraced by the Secretary of Defense -- it just shows you how much progress we have made.”

In a lighter moment, Jarrett also weighed in on the plot line of "The Good Wife," the CBS drama on which she made an appearance as herself last season, urging Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) to run for state’s attorney in Illinois. She said she decided do the show because she believes more women need to enter politics and it was an opportunity to put that message forth. 

Asked if she believes Florrick’s husband, Gov. Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), should be chosen by Hillary Clinton as a vice presidential running mate should she win the Democratic nomination -- something for which the character is positioning himself, as the 2016 presidential race is part of the storyline this season  -- Jarrett answered with a definitive no.

“I think she should think about Alicia,” she advised. “I would go back to the candidate that I brought to the party, and I’d say hands down I’d pick Alicia over Peter, any day. But if not, then maybe next year Alicia will actually run for president."

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The Democratic Debate Proved That on LGBT Equality -- and All Issues -- Pressure and Protest Works

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 14, 2015   10:28 AM ET

The first Democratic debate last night was, refreshingly, a spirited exchange of important ideas and policies, unlike the egomaniacal, mean-spirited, rhetoric-spewing GOP slugfests that have so far transpired. This, even despite CNN's silly showcasing of the last night's event as if it was a Vegas prizefight.

The debate also highlighted just how important it is to pressure candidates, including via loud protest, to focus on the issues progressives care about. That was evident literally a few minutes into the debate when Hillary Clinton, in her opening remarks, was the only candidate to focus on the battles ahead over full equality for LGBT people:

..[T]his is about bringing our country together again. And I will do everything I can to heal the divides -- the divides economically, because there's too much inequality; the racial divides; the continuing discrimination against the LGBT community...

Those few words were impressive because Clinton has been criticized for being slow to embrace marriage equality in the past, and, more importantly, has been pressured in recent months to speak out more forcefully on LGBT discrimination. Responding to the pressure, Clinton recently discussed the importance of adding protections for LGBT people in housing, employment and public accommodations to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, something even President Obama appears to be reticent about doing at this point.

The issue didn't come up for discussion in the debate last night, but that's because it wasn't raised by the moderator: For Hillary Clinton's part, she laid it out as an agenda item in her opening remarks, the only one to do so. And she had to do that, considering those on the stage with whom she was debating. Sen. Bernie Sanders was one of only a handful of legislators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act as a House member in 1996, a bill that President Clinton signed into law. Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley pushed and signed a marriage equality bill in his state, as did former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, and both of them touted these successes during the debate last night -- another example of how pressure from LGBT activists has shown candidates that embracing equality, rather than ducking from the issue, can be a win for them.

From Black Lives Matter to the DREAMers, the debate underscored how vigorous protest is vital in making Democratic candidates talk about the issues, just as protest pushed President Obama to act on LGBT issues, as Kerry Eleveld lays out in her new book, Don't Tell Me to Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama's Presidency. There was criticism from some progressives of the Black Lives Matter protest at the progressive gathering Netroots Nation last July in Phoenix, when activists interrupted the appearances of both Sanders and O'Malley. But last night both candidates, rather than offering the bungled and embarrassing responses they had at Netroots -- when O'Malley actually said "all lives matter" -- spoke in detail on the issue of police brutality against African-Americans, having done their homework. And Hillary Clinton, having been hounded by the DREAMers, the young immigration reform activists who challenged her even before she announced she was running for president and who are rightly continuing to do so, spoke to the issues and championed the DREAMers and their cause.

Surely some of this was pandering as well as campaign strategizing to make sure the candidates didn't step on any land mines. And there were less than adequate responses at times on issues affecting all of these groups, or just vague responses. But the fact that the candidates are responding at all validates how important protest is -- including protest against those considered our "friends" -- and how only those who speak up, loudly, will be able to make change.

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 13, 2015    9:17 AM ET

Here’s a twist for those fire-and-brimstone preachers who rail that same-sex marriage will incur the wrath of the Almighty and bring about the end of civilization: History-making attorney Roberta Kaplan believes she and the iconic Edie Windsor were destined to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) together, perhaps even with the help of God.

“I remember thinking --- you don’t have to be religious, I’m a religious person, but you don’t have to be – but I remember thinking that this connection, there was some higher force," she told me in an interview on SiriusXM Progress to discuss her page-turning, powerful new book, Then Comes Marriage: The United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA. "The coincidence was so incredible. And I remember thinking that God was giving me a way to pay [Edie’s late wife] Thea back for helping me.”

As Kaplan explains it, she spoke with Edie Windsor on the phone in 2009, after Windsor had sought an attorney following the death of her wife, Thea Spyer, and after the federal government slapped Windsor with an estate tax bill -- something heterosexual married couples were exempt from paying after the death of a spouse -- of over $350,000.

But Kaplan knew before she walked into Windsor's apartment to discuss the case shortly after that phone call that she’d actually been in Windsor’s living room many years earlier. That was back in the 1990s, during Kaplan's third year of law school, when she was filled with fear and a sense of isolation as she was coming to terms with being a lesbian.

“I was kind of depressed and so I went around and I asked a bunch of people -- I needed a psychologist who understood ‘gay issues' -- that's the way you talked about it back then -- and the name I kept getting as a referral from people was Thea Spyer,” she said, recalling the time when, shortly after Kaplan came out to her mother, her mother “banged her head against the wall.” Spyer, who was by then in a wheelchair and suffering from multiple sclerosis, the disease took her life in 2009, talked during those sessions with Kaplan about her partner Edie Windsor, whom she married in Canada in 2007.

“It was not more than two times,” Kaplan recalled of the sessions. “I saw Thea in their apartment, in the same living room I then met Edie in all those years later. And here’s the craziest thing about it: During those two sessions -- this is a strange thing for a psychologist to do -- Thea talked to me about Edie. Typically psychologists don’t talk about their own lives. But I think Thea was persuaded that the only way she would persuade me that there was hope, that having a loving relationship, a committed relationship, the kind of family life I wanted, was to describe for me her own relationship. She she kept telling me about this woman Edie Windsor.”

That kind of compelling storytelling is one reason Then Comes Marriage stands out from other recent books about the movement for marriage equality. Kaplan recounts not only her own often difficult personal journey as a lesbian, coming out in the ‘90s to less than accepting parents (who today, she emphasizes, are fully supportive of Kaplan and proud of their immensely accomplished daughter) and pursuing a career in law; she writes about Windsor’s fascinating journey decades earlier in the 1950s, when she was a brilliant mathematician at IBM, navigating a world dominated by men and courting Spyer over a period of many years.

And Kaplan describes in detail the course of the groundbreaking DOMA case and her eventually coming to argue before the Supreme Court.  She could never have imagined, she said, that she’d be there before the high court and that her and Windsor's case would be the one that would lead to federal judges throwing out marriage bans in states across the country and eventually, to the Supreme Court ruling such bans unconstitutional.

"I didn’t think I’d ever be married to a woman," she said. “I didn’t think I’d ever have a lasting love. I thought I was destined for a life of loneliness and isolation. No way did I think any of that [taking a case to the Supreme Court] was possible, let alone that it would be me.”

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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:

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 29, 2015   11:00 PM ET

At the Values Voter Summit last weekend, former U.S. senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic, seemed to struggle with Pope Francis’ downplaying of social issues important to conservatives, something that had many commentators on the right irked. When asked during an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress about what he thought about the lack of emphasis on abortion or same-sex marriage during the pope’s speech to Congress, Santorum replied, “Well, as a matter of fact, he mentioned both. “

In fact, the pope didn’t use the word abortion (though he did urge legislators to “protect and defend human life at every stage of its development” before pivoting into an explicit condemnation of the death penalty) and made no reference to same-sex marriage during his discussion of the problems plaguing marriage and the family. 

“You have to understand that the pope is here to give a series of speeches, and as you may know, he’s giving a speech over the weekend in Philadelphia to the World Meeting of Families,” Santorum explained, predicting the pope would focus on the issue more in Philadelphia in a way he didn’t in his address to Congress -- though the pope, once again, didn’t raise the issue in any overt way in Philadelphia either. “And I suspect that’s where he’s going to talk a lot about this subject.”

“I have no doubt he’s going to talk about it, as he has in different forums talked about different issues,” Santorum continued, before launching into an obscure analysis of Pope Francis’ message. “Here’s an interesting point: You’ll notice he talks about all of the issues at all of the forums. He emphasizes different ones depending on where he is… He weaves them all together into a whole. They’re a fabric that’s woven together…And he’s trying to at least open the door of understanding of how your concern for this fits into a larger mosaic. Well, actually, not a mosaic -- they’re interconnected. He uses the term integral a lot... I think it’s important. I’m glad he’s done it. I’m glad he’s reached out. And I’m glad he’s tying it all together. I would just hope that the people who are focused on one piece of the message understand his greater and larger point: That this is not a message onto itself. That’s it’s integrated into a larger whole. And that one without the other is not sufficient.”

Listen to the interview below.

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 27, 2015    9:46 PM ET

Melissa and Aaron Klein, co-owners of the Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are currently appealing a $135,000 fine imposed on them in July by the state of Oregon for turning away a lesbian couple who ordered a wedding cake in 2013. The Kleins had said that they refused to sell the cake based on their evangelical Christian faith and their opposition to same-sex marriage.

In an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress over the weekend at the Values Voter Summit, the annual conference of social conservatives, the Kleins were clear that they believe their situation differs from the one involving Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses because of her opposition to marriage equality. Davis was honored at the conference, given the “Cost of Discipleship Award” by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, who compared her to Rosa Parks.

“It’s kind of removed regarding the specifics of it,” Aaron Klein responded. “We were a totally privately owned business. Everything had to do with just Melissa and I living our daily lives. The Kim Davis situation, a public official, it plays out a little bit differently. So it doesn’t really affect us, detract or add to.” 

Under Oregon law, gays and lesbians are protected from discrimination in public accommodations. But Aaron Klein explained his view that baking a cake is “artistic expression” and thus his cause is one of free speech.

“When it comes to baking a wedding cake there is so much more involved than just baking a cake and sending it out the door,” he said. “You have to look at it from a very artistic standpoint.”

In the interview, Aaron Klein also suggested that he -- and all bakers and business owners -- should have the right to turn away a Muslim couple that might be seeking a wedding cake as well, even though religion is a protected class not only in the state of Oregon but federally, under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“I think that we should probably really look hard and long at what we can and cannot do in this country as business owners,” he said, again describing it as a free speech issue. “Do you surrender your rights at the door? When you walk through the door and you start operating your business, do you surrender your constitutional freedoms? I don’t believe you do. Now, if a Muslim came to me, and say I did take issue with a Muslim marriage, okay? Should I have that right? You have to ask yourself that… It’s about freedom period... I think that I should be able to say what I want, when I want, just like you.”

Also on HuffPost: 

Michelangelo Signorile   |   September 25, 2015   12:20 PM ET

In an interview with me at the Values Voter Summit, the annual conference of social conservatives, business tycoon and 2016 GOP candidate Donald Trump appeared to change his position on Kentucky clerk Kim Davis and her defiant stand to refuse marriage licenses with her name on them in opposition to same-sex marriage.

“I haven’t been opposed to her stand and I think it’s fine,” Trump told me in an interview on SiriusXM Progress when asked about the clerk’s cause and the fact that she is being honored with the “Cost of Discipleship Award" at the conservative conference, where he spoke on Thursday. “I’ve never been opposed to her stand.”

When asked if he thinks she should be allowed to deny marriage licenses, he replied,   “We’re going to see what happens right now." 

That appeared to be a flip-flop from his previous statements. On Sept. 9, appearing on "The O’Reilly Factor" on Fox News shortly after Davis was released from jail, Trump was unequivocal in his position against Davis’ stand.

“Well, you know, she was released and that was good, and it was too bad that she had to be put in jail, and I’m a very, very strong believer in Christianity and religion, but I will say that this was not the right job for her,” he said. “Because we had a ruling from the Supreme Court and we are a country of laws and you have to do what the Supreme Court ultimately, whether you like the decision or not, and it was a 5-4 decision, whether you like the decision or not, you have to go along with the Supreme Court. That’s the way it is.”

Those comments reiterated previous comments Trump made earlier in September.

"You have to go with it. The decision's been made, and that is the law of the land," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," adding, "I would say the simple answer is let her clerks do it. Now from what I understand she's not letting the clerks do it either.”

Davis wasn't allowing clerks to issue licenses prior to a federal judge ordering her jailed. She has allowed the licenses to be issued since her release, but only with her name and title removed, and a statement on each license saying it is issued "pursuant to a court order." The ACLU has filed a motion in federal court claiming Davis is interfering with the licenses in defiance of a federal order, making them possibly invalid. 

In his speech before the Values Voters Summit on Thursday, Trump didn't discuss Davis or her cause at all.

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.