No one forced Mathew Shurka to do it, but he was too afraid to say no. In front of him was an opportunity to change his sexuality forever. At least, that’s what he was told. Just a month before, Shurka, who was 16 at the time and living in Great Neck, N.Y., had revealed to his father, through tears filled with dread, that he was gay.
When Shurka’s father embraced him and said he’d love him no matter what, a weight was lifted. However, in the weeks that followed, Shurka’s father began to worry that his gay son would not flourish in a world that often oppresses people who are different.
So he did some research and found someone who offered therapy that would change his son’s sexual orientation. Shurka, now 25, tells Newsweek that at the time he was afraid of coming out to his conservative Jewish community and losing his friends.
“It was a horrifying nightmare to think that anyone knew I was gay,” he recalls. So when his father offered the prospect of conversion therapy, Shurka decided “if I can really change this, let’s do it.” He thought suppressing his feelings would make his life easier. But it didn’t work that way. Instead, the path he was led down resulted in years of confusion about his identity, emotional scarring and more mental health problems than he knew what to do with.
The culture warriors have decided: Disney’s Frozen is queer. Elsa hiding her ice-powers could be read as a metaphor for the closet, the Oscar-winning “Let it Go” plays like a coming-out anthem, and a character in the film evokes the question of whether homosexuality is a choice by inquiring of Elsa’s powers, “born with it or cursed?” Some liberals have praised the film for its subtext; some conservatives have denounced it.
But the most remarkable thing about queer readings of the film may be how unremarkable they really are. Through both its corporate practices and the content of its films, Disney for decades has implemented the so-called “gay agenda”—which is to say, helping make the world a more accepting place.
To start in the most obvious place: As a business, Disney has long held a progressive attitude toward LGBT people. Gay pride events have been hosted at Disney World since 1991, and the company started offered its gay employees health insurance benefits for their partners since 1995, a decision that wasn’t entirely popular back then.
One of the most poignant examples of the company’s tolerant atmosphere is the case of lyricist Howard Ashman, who was openly gay and died of AIDS in 1991. Not only did Ashman write songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, he was also closely involved in those films’ productions, casting actors and holding story meetings with animators. At the end of Beauty and the Beast, Disney acknowledged his contributions with this tribute: “To our friend Howard Ashman who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”
But Ashman’s story also offers an example of how the substance of Disney’s films reflect an interest in LGBT peoples’ struggles.
Read more. [Image: Disney]
Years before starting her own church with her wife, Lanna Holder tried to quit being gay for God. She represents an unusual side of the Protestantism that’s sweeping the world’s largest Catholic country.
Read more. [Image: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters]
The Oscar-winning movie Dallas Buyers Club brought a vivid reminder of the harsh realities of what it was like to be a gay in the culturally conservative South of the mid-1980s. As someone born, churched, and educated in the South during that era, I remember that the idea of being gay or lesbian was simply dismissed, and the term “homosexuality” was reserved for hushed conversations about those sinful urban areas far north and west of the Mason-Dixon Line. While the film has been in theaters, however, the news has also been filled with contemporary coverage of a remarkable bevy of judicial decisions overturning bans on same-sex marriage in southern states such as Virginia, Kentucky, and Texas. While serving as the lead author of a recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute about attitudes about same-sex marriage, I was astounded at the shifts we found in southern attitudes over the past decade.
These changes are, of course, happening amid shifts in the country as a whole. Between 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and December 2013, support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry rose 21 percentage points nationwide, from 32 percent to 53 percent. As of the end of 2013, the number of states recognizing same-sex marriages increased to 17 plus the District of Columbia. And there has been enough judicial ferment at the state level that most court observers believe the issue will end up, in the not too distant future, before the U.S. Supreme Court. Our recent study confirms that these changes cannot be explained away as merely another example of federal judicial activism circumventing the will of the people in southern states. Rather, we are witnessing dramatic cultural transformations, which include changing minds even among culturally and religiously conservative Americans in the South.
Read more. [Image: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
A confident grown woman gets an unexpected email from her childhood bully.
Read more. [Image: Nicole Dicou/Reuters]
The Winter Games are serving as a barometer for the international politics of LGBT rights.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter]
While television has, in recent years, offered a growing cast of gay characters on shows from Modern Family to Orange is the New Black to The New Normal, (cancelled last May), few series focus solely on the nuances and complexity of contemporary gay relationships. This is about to change, however, with the premiere of HBO’s Looking, (Sunday at 10:30pm), a half-hour drama exploring the lives of three gay men in San Francisco.
The three friends—Patrick, a 29-year-old video-game developer (Jonathan Groff); Agustin, a 31-year-old artist (Frankie J. Alvarez); and Dom, a 39-year-old waiter (Murray Bartlett)—are based on the characters in Michael Lannan’s short film Larimer. Lannan, the creator of the show, also serves as its co-executive producer along with Andrew Haigh, who directed the 2011 indie film Weekend. I spoke with Lannan and Haigh from their office in L.A.
Read more. [Image: HBO]
Former Houston Oilers players says the 1993 roster was okay with two suspected gay teammates, but their comments aren’t as supportive as they’ve been made to seem.
Read more. [Image: AP/Lynn Sladky]
One Irish maid lived as a man in 19th-century Melbourne for decades. The horrifying story of his discovery and “treatment” speaks to attitudes about transgender people that circulate to this day.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
Some of the biggest stories and debates in the media in 2013 had to do with gender relations—LGBT rights, women in the workplace, parenting styles, and more. Same-sex marriage gained more approval and legitimacy than ever this year, both in public opinion polling and as a matter of federal law. Sheryl Sandberg told women to “lean in” at the office, while the military told women they were now permitted to “lean in” on the battlefield. Bradley Manning became Chelsea Manning. And researchers offered up interesting new studies for individuals seeking a happy home life.
Here are our picks for the most interesting narratives about sex and gender in 2013.
Read more. [Image: ABC]