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Biden Off to Running Start

Plus John Waters on “Finding Your Roots,” Dr. Martens x Keith Haring footwear, David Hockney’s drawings, James Baldwin’s play list on Spotify, and lots of gay photography...

Joe Biden was inaugurated as 46th president of the United States last Wednesday in a peaceful ceremony watched over by some 25,000 National Guard troops. The contrast with the Trump Administration could not be starker. One day after outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ranted that “multiculturalism” isn’t “who America is,” the 22-year-old Black poet Amanda Gorman read from the steps of the Capitol, “[E]very corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.” Incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that U.S. embassies would again be permitted to fly the rainbow flag, and the White House contact form was reborn with a popdown menu labeled “Pronouns.”

Mr. Biden lost no time in getting down to work, signing seventeen executive orders that day. Among other things, he ordered federal agencies to begin enforcing last year’s Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is illegal under federal law; the Trump Administration had ignored the ruling. Several days later, he issued a second order revoking Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender military service.

Gay Books, Arts, and Culture

John Waters starred in the season 7 premier of Henry Louis Gates’ genealogical show Finding Your Roots, which aired last Tuesday on PBS. In the show, Waters learned of a slave-owning great great grandfather, a Revolutionary War surgeon, and a prospector in the Klondike gold rush. “This is like a Dickens novel,” Mr. Gates commented. “Your family tree drips with drama.” Mr. Waters’ latest essay collection, Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, touches on Divine and tells us “how to build a home so ugly and trendy that no one but you would dare live in it.” [ Buy @ Bookshop ]

Dr. Martens has released a line of footwear featuring designs by Keith Haring; unfortunately as of this writing, the signature item, a black-and-white leader Oxford printed with Haring’s trademark human figures, is out of stock in all sizes. David Hockney: Drawing from Life opened at the Morgan Library in New York in October and will continue through the end of May; a brief video tour is available on the Morgan’s web site, and there is of course a catalog. [ Buy @ Bookshop ] In Creative Boom, Emily Gosling reviews the gorgeous volume New Queer Photography, by Benjamin Wolbergs and Jan Klos [ Buy @ Bookshop ]; a generous gallery of images is available online from the publisher, Verlag Kettler.

A moving exhibiton of German photographer Karsten Thormaehlen’s images of LGBT+ elders opened in Brooklyn last week, entitled Not Another Second. The participants tell their stories in a beautifully shot film that accompanies the show; among them is Ray, 82, who describes entering the navy at age 19 only to find that his first job was to issue dishonorable discharges to gay men deemed unfit for service. The show runs in Brooklyn through March before traveling to Los Angeles. Across the Atlantic, Latvian artist Konstantin Zhukov document’s “Riga’s queer history” in a series of (literally) steamy photographs, taken as the country seesaws between some attempts to protect gay rights and others to roll them back.

James Baldwin comes to Spotify? In the department of “this is what the internet is for,” a Spotify user has created a playlist “Chez Baldwin” based on the “vinyl records left behind” in Baldwin’s house in St. Paul-de-Vence, France, after his death in 1987. Perfect to read while listening: Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin’s seminal novel about a gay man in 1950s Paris. [ Buy @ Bookshop ] And if Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross aren’t your style, Country Daily shares its list of “gay country singers you need to be listening to,” including Lil Nas X, Cody Alan, and Shane McAnally.

The coming-out memoir Djinn, by Moroccan-Dutch parliamentarian Tofik Dibi, is now available in English. [ Buy @ Bookshop ] “From a young age, Tofik Dibi feels ‘it’—a spirit, or djinn, that follows him everywhere,” reads the publisher’s description. “Where ‘it’ goes, ‘they’ go—his classmates, his colleagues, all the people who fear and hate ‘it,’ his homosexuality.” And on Literary Hub, Will Self, author of the wonderful pair of gender-bending novellas Cock & Bull [ Buy @ Bookshop ], asks, “How should we read?” You’ll have to read it to find out.

Gay News

Openly gay Representative David Cicillene of Rhode Island cosponsored the successful House resolution impeaching Donald Trump for the second time; he will be one of nine House impeachment managers when the Senate convenes Mr. Trump’s second trial on February 8th. While the trial will be the official postmortem on Mr. Trump’s presidency, Randy Rainbow offered his own take on the 2,102,400 minutes of the 45th president’s tenure in the Rent parody “Seasons of Trump.” And in a parting salvo, Joe Exotic tweeted from prison that he “was too innocent and too GAY to deserve a Pardon from Trump”; somehow I doubt that was the problem.

An openly gay Florida lawmaker is seeking to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. While the law was rendered moot by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, a change to state law would ensure that same-sex couples continue to be able to marry should the Supreme Court reverse course. And eight Catholic bishops in the United States have signed a “statement of support for LGBT youth, telling them, ‘God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.’” Eight bishops down, some 422 to go—and that’s just in the U.S.

“A hate crime charge has been added to attempted murder in the case of a gay Louisiana teenager who was attacked by another teen he met on [Grindr] last year,” reports the Associated Press. Meanwhile, Norway fined Grindr €9.6 million (some $11.7 million) for “failing to get consent from users before sharing their personal information with advertising companies”; who’d have thought?

Siegfried Fischbacher has died in Las Vegas at 81 of pancreatic cancer; Fischbacher outlived Roy Horn, his partner in the magical duo Siegfried & Roy, who died last May at 75 of complications of COVID-19. If Roy’s tragic fate isn’t enough incentive to get vaccinated, an Israeli rabbi and conspiracy theorist has warned that the COVID-19 vaccine could make people gay, according to Israel Hayom. For better or worse, that is not the case, but the internet went wild anyway: “I could really use a booster,” tweeted interior designer Bobby Berk. “Being gay is exhausting!”

In Hungary, the government has ordered “disclaimers for books with gay themes,” warning readers that the books contain “behavior inconsistent with traditional gender roles.” The Malaysian deputy minister of religious affairs has proposed stiffening criminal penalties for LGBTQ conduct; according to Human Rights Watch, Ahmad Marzuk Shaary proposed allowing “courts to establish harsher sentences for same-sex conduct than the current maximum Sharia sentence” and “codifying as Sharia criminal offenses changing one’s gender and producing or sharing social media content deemed obscene and indecent, including images of non-normative gender expression.” And in a horrific but little-reported incident, machete-wielding vigilantes organized an operation to “hunt for homosexuals” in Accra, Ghana; a spokesman was quoted in Modern Ghana as saying, “Though we didn’t get any of our targets, we sent a signal to the people that gay practice has no place in Ghana and that we are ever ready to crash the abominable act any time and on any day.”

Art Note

The White House is lit with rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Credit: Chuck Kennedy, official White House photo.

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