Monday, July 03, 2017

Celebrating Milwaukee as America's Frozen Custard Capital

July is National Ice Cream month, the result of a congressional resolution passed in 1984 and first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan on July 9 of that year.  (For what it's worth, July 15 is National Ice Cream Day, per the same resolution and proclamation.)

Just in time for 31 days of gooey goodness, author Amy Ettinger has published Sweet Spot:  An Ice Cream Binge Across America.  She discussed her book last week on the public radio show, Marketplace, with host Kai Ryssdal, and talked specifically about frozen custard, a delicacy almost unique to Milwaukee.

Ryssdal: New York's a tough city, we all know that. A detour now though to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and custard. So first of all, is custard ice cream? And if not, what's it doing in an ice cream book?

Gilles frozen custard Milwaukee
Ettinger: I always think of it as sort of a delicious cousin to ice cream. It's very, very similar, obviously. It's a little eggier. And you're not going to find good custard in the supermarket grocery aisle. We live in this age where almost anything can be delivered to you at any moment of the day, and frozen custard cannot.

Ryssdal: Why did you have to go to Milwaukee to get what you deem genuine custard?

Ettinger: It is considered the custard capital of the world, and there is very good frozen custard in other parts of the country.

Ryssdal: Yeah, because we're going to get letters here about custard. The custard fans out there, I'm going to hear from them.

Ettinger: Absolutely! But there is a very large concentration of custard stands that are owned by different families in Milwaukee, so I felt like that would be a way for me to test the different custards and really see what all the fuss is about.

Echoing Ettinger inn the introduction to their book Milwaukee Frozen Custard, (or perhaps she echoes them), Kathleen McCann and Robert Tanzilo write:
Milwaukee is known as Brew City thanks to its once-prominent beer-brewing tradition, but the city has another claim to fame: frozen custard capital of the world.

Here, names like Leon, Gilles, Kopp and Culver are as well known as Miller, Best, Blatz, Pabst and Schlitz. And often they conjure deeper memories and stronger opinions than their beer-brewing counterparts. And while beer-drinking culture is reserved for adults, Milwaukeeans of all ages indulge in the passion for custard.

McCann and Tanzilo ask why Milwaukee became custard central.
Numerous ideas have been floated over the years as contributors to the "perfect storm" for frozen custard's adoption here, among them Wisconsin's dairy tradition, access to fresh cream and the proximity of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Dairy School, believed to be the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere when it began offering dairy foods courses in 1890.
As a libertarian, I was rather taken by this explanation from some of the descendants of the early custard purveyors in and around Milwaukee, which attributes the success to the competition to cooperate and the cooperation to compete:
Leon Schneider, of the eponymous Leon's Frozen Custard, also worked as a custard machine salesman and, later, manufacturer and repairman.

Schneider's son Ron, who now runs Leon's, attributes the city's passion for custard to something else, something that can never be replicated: the synergistic results of numerous stand owners who had strong work ethics, a laser-pointed attention to quality that raised the bar to an incredibly high standard and the generosity to share their passion. He explains:

Leon's Frozen Custard Drive-in Milwaukee
Between Joe Clark [who opened the first custard stand in Milwaukee], who wanted to do a good job; Paul Gilles [Gilles founder], who also wanted to do a good job. My father, Leon Schneider, taught many people about the custard business: Elsa Kopp, [founder of Kopp's], for one, Al Lach [who started Al's Drive-In], the Town Pride stores, the owner of Trudy's.

He would welcome the competition. He felt that the more people who did a good job with the product, the more the product would become known. This would help us. A bad store down the block does us no good, because if at the first place the customer stops to try frozen custard, he eats lousy product, when he's driving by here, he's not going to stop. They say, "What's the big deal? It wasn't any good." We had more frozen custard stands in this area, geographically, than anywhere else. [But] why I firmly believe this area became the custard capital, if you will, is because there was good product; there was more of it than anywhere else.

Karl Kopp, who owns two of the most popular stands in the area, thinks Schneider might be correct. "Maybe it's the fact that we have a lot of good ones," he muses. "They didn't dilute it. They kept it. I think that's what kept it going here. Guys were pure and didn't bastardize it."
(Tanzilo takes that explanation a few steps forward in an interview on WUWM-FM's Bubbler Talk.)

Frozen custard, like frozen yogurt, can be found on the East Coast, of course. Take Kohr Brothers, a popular frozen custard stand in Rehoboth Beach and other oceanside resorts, for instance. But it's hard to find authentic, Wisconsin-style frozen custard that evokes the childhood memories of Gilles or Leon's or Milky Way (inspiration for Arnold's drive-in on the 1970s TV hit, Happy Days).

One exception -- perhaps the only exception -- is the Dairy Godmother in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.  The store was founded by Wisconsin native Liz Davis, daughter of former Ninth District Congressman Glenn Davis (R-Wisconsin), from the days when Wisconsin had nine congressional districts.  In its decade and a half-plus in business, the Dairy Godmother has been visited by VIPs like former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and former U.S. President Barack Obama and his family.

In an interview with The Washington Post's John Kelly, Davis, in announcing her retirement, explained how the Dairy Godmother came to be:

“If you ask anybody that you meet, they’re able to tell you what ice cream or frozen custard place they went to as a kid and exactly what the scenario was,” Liz said. “They’ll say, ‘My teacher took me’ or ‘My grandparents took me.’ Or, ‘We got to go when we got good grades’ or ‘I went there as a first date.’ It’s the most nostalgic of businesses.”

* * *

“For me, I lived here long enough that there wasn’t any going back to Wisconsin,” she said. “Instead of just wishing I lived in Wisconsin, but knowing that wasn’t going to happen, I decided to bring Wisconsin to me.”

And to her customers. Liz invested in a $70,000 frozen custard machine from Kiel, Wis., perfected her art and watched Del Ray gentrify around her.

“One of the things about Del Ray isn’t just that it has independent businesses, but that the owner is on site,” Liz said. “If you went in there you would see the owner, which is another level of independent business, in my opinion. My customers are used to seeing me. After a while, to be honest, I did start thinking I was the Dairy Godmother.”
Despite Davis's decision to sell the Dairy Godmother, it is not closing.  Local restaurateur and chef Russell Gravatt has bought the place and plans to continue operating it under the same standards.

One of those standards has to be favoring the eating of the frozen custard on premises.  It loses its flavor if it travels too far from the source.  Bill Klein, manager of the Babcock Dairy Plant at UW-Madison, told Mitch Teich of public radio station WUWM, "says that when it comes to eating custard or ice cream, the fresh stuff is always better. But why?"

The short answer: ice crystals. "So when you think of soft serve coming out of the machine, it's got X amount of ice crystals in it and those ice crystals are a certain length in size. The quality of that ice cream at that point - whether it's soft serve or not - the quality of that ice cream is at its best. It only goes downhill from there," Klein explains.

The longer ice cream or custard sits around, the longer the ice crystals get, which alters the way it tastes. "The key is to keep those things as small as possible and that's what makes it really smooth and creamy feeling," says Klein.
As tempting as it might be to buy a pint (or a quart) to take home, Klein explained, leaving it in the freezer for too long "will cause the quality to degrade."

Lesson learned: fresh but frozen, not frozen and refrozen.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Guest Post: What happened to the openly gay athlete?

John Affleck, Pennsylvania State University

From late April 2013 to early May 2014, gay and lesbian athletes welcomed breakthrough after breakthrough in the historically closeted world of sports.

Journeyman basketball center Jason Collins came out as gay and later signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets, making him the first openly gay player to get into a regular-season game in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB.

A few weeks after Collins’ announcement, Robbie Rogers debuted for the Los Angeles Galaxy, breaking a similar barrier in Major League Soccer. That October, U.S. women’s soccer superstar Abby Wambach married her longtime girlfriend.

Michael Sam St Louis Rams gay athlete coming out football professional sports

St. Louis Rams draft pick Michael Sam speaks during a news conference at the team’s practice facility in May 2014.
Jeff Roberson/AP

Finally, in football, SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam became the first out player to be drafted when he was selected by the St. Louis Rams in May 2014.

But if some were hoping the events of 2013 and 2014 would spark a wave of professional athletes coming out, little headway has been made. Since Sam was drafted, no active players have done so from any of the four major sports leagues. The closest have been players like David Denson, a minor league prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers who quit baseball this past spring, and retired NFL lineman Ryan O'Callaghan, who came out on June 20.

What gives? Are professional athletes worried about discrimination? Do the perceived barriers to coming out as an athlete – not being signed by skittish general managers, not being accepted by teammates, being labeled a “distraction” by coaches or the media – still exert undue influence?

The answer is a nuanced one. But evidence suggests that, while momentum has slowed at the top levels of pro sports, an increasing number of players at the college and high school levels in America are coming out – and are finding themselves supported when they do so.

More gay athletes telling their stories

Since it was founded in 1999 by journalists Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler, the website Outsports has been an outlet for gay sports fans and athletes to share their personal stories or simply chat about their favorite teams.

When the site was first launched, it was mostly the latter, Buzinski told me over the phone.

“It was just basically just two guys who liked sports who happened to be gay,” he said. “We’d write as much about general NFL stuff as we would about anything else.”

Things have changed dramatically over the past few years. A player coming out, either on Outsports or through other media outlets, has become almost routine – at least, outside of the big four professional leagues.

Each high school or college athlete who tells his or her story makes it easier for the next person, Buzinski said.

Scouring all media, Outsports keeps the best count that it can of athletes, coaches, sports administrators and sports media members who come out publicly each year. In 2013, that number was 77; in 2014, it was 109; 2015, 105; and 2016, 171.

“There’s been a real acceleration in the last four years,” Buzinski said.

The site has a policy of featuring only one athlete’s coming-out story per day. That used to be simple; few LGBT athletes wanted to be identified at all. Now the editors have to figure out which story will run on what day.

They include a high school football player from Texas who played for his team during the game and performed with the drill squad at halftime, and a sprinter who attempted suicide twice before coming to terms with himself as an out, gay man.

While acknowledging the dearth of names from top pro male teams, Buzinski likened the situation to legislation that fails to win approval in Congress, but is passed in similar forms at the local and statehouse level. Eventually, the measure becomes so ingrained that it becomes the law of the land.

Where’s the media coverage?

And yet, as the number of openly gay players grows at the high school and college levels (not to mention the WNBA, where stars such as Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi and Ellena Delle Donne all have come out), some questions remain: Why aren’t male athletes at the professional level coming out? And why does it seem like the media are less interested in the subject?

I ran several searches of the NewsBank database to try to gauge whether coming-out stories about gay and lesbian athletes were becoming more or less frequent. Each search used the terms “gay or lesbian” and “athlete or player” and “coming out” on U.S. newswires, which includes – among a range of mainstream outlets – all the state and national lines of The Associated Press. The number of results reached a peak at 35,047 in 2013 but dropped to 26,430 by last year, with early results indicating another likely decline in 2017.

Erik Hall, a freelance sports journalist, worked on the Sam story while a student at Missouri. His master’s thesis analyzed coverage of the lineman’s coming out saga, and he believes that this downward trend in news coverage can be explained quite simply: All those big stories raised the bar. For major mainstream publications, the story of a high school athlete coming out isn’t really that significant any more. To make it a national news story, it has to be a big name – a starter on an NBA, MLB, NHL or NFL team.

Meanwhile, Sam – who never played a regular-season down in the NFL and was released by the Rams and Dallas Cowboys – later admitted that coming out probably hurt his chances.

Hall told me that he thinks Sam’s inability to land with a pro team was more about talent than his sexual orientation. But he did add that he knows some people “who think [Sam] didn’t make it because of his sexuality. I think that narrative has been strong. I feel that had a chilling effect on [athletes] that are on that level.”

Luke McAvoy was a closeted backup lineman at the University of Minnesota when Sam came out a few months before the 2014 NFL draft. He says he’s grateful to Sam; shortly after Sam’s announcement, McAvoy came out to his team and was largely accepted by the other Gopher players. He had no ambition or chance to play at the next level – he’s now a middle school educator in Milwaukee – but he can relate to the fear of coming out for those in Sam’s position.

“For a college athlete chasing that dream, you don’t want to do anything to damage that,” he said in a phone interview. “There’s team pressure, money pressure, media pressure to stay quiet.”

A turning tide?

At the pro level, will the tide ever turn to more openness about athletes’ sexuality? If so, McAvoy said, it will have to “trickle up” to the pros.

That day may not be so far away.

Hall, who writes a roundup of out LGBT athletes in U.S. colleges for Outsports, said that by his count, there were 23 such players active in Division I – the top level of college sports – at the start of the 2016-17 academic year. By the end of the year, there were 46.

This fall, there will be at least one more. My-King Johnson is a standout defensive lineman headed to Arizona after turning down UCLA. He’s 17 years old and came out to friends and family at 12.

While Sam came out after his playing career at Missouri was over, Johnson will be out before his starts. That means much of the media coverage of Johnson-as-novelty could well be done by the time his Wildcats and Northern Arizona kick off their season opener on Sept. 2.

The ConversationIn that case, Johnson will be just one of the guys.

John Affleck, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From the Archives: Gay and libertarian GOP groups critique SCOTUS Obamacare ruling

Gay and libertarian GOP groups critique SCOTUS Obamacare ruling
June 28, 2012 1:59 PM MST

While politicians around the country have offered their views on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today regarding the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as “Obamacare”), some discrete interest groups within the Republican party have added their voices to the mix.

Two groups with similar initials – LCR and RLC – have weighed in on the debate about the meaning and impact of the Court’s ruling.

Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), which calls itself the largest organization of gay and lesbian activists within the GOP, raised attention to the discriminatory provisions of the health-care laws.

Not ‘carved in stone’
Christian Berle, LCR’s deputy executive director, said in a press statement that Log Cabin Republicans "have not forgotten that Democrats in Congress stripped provisions protecting LGBT families out of healthcare reform when it was passed. We remain committed to ending the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory treatment of employer-provided healthcare for domestic partners. While the Court may have found Obamacare to be constitutional, that does not mean it has been carved in stone. Now is the time to go back to the drawing board and institute reforms that work for all Americans.”

Berle also criticized the individual mandate, which was upheld as constitutional based upon its status as a tax.

“By upholding even the most intrusive provision of Obamacare, the individual mandate, the court has enabled Washington’s addiction to big government and coercive taxes,” Berle said, explaining that “the individual mandate forced through Congress was an unprecedented expansion of federal power in blatant disregard of the will of the American people.”

The Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC), an organization of libertarian and classical liberal activists within the GOP, touted its endorsed candidates as the remedy for Obamacare.

‘Unreasonable taxation’

Gay libertarian Supreme Court health care Justin Amash RLC Obamacare
A statement emailed to members and the news media by RLC chair Dave Nalle argued that “while Obamacare may technically be Constitutional, because the 16th Amendment opens the door to all sorts of unreasonable taxation, that does not mean that it is good policy. Raising taxes enormously on every citizen, either directly in the form of penalties or indirectly in the form of mandated health insurance and inflated prices, is outrageous in a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty.”

The RLC statement explained:

“As fewer and fewer people pay taxes at all, placing an even greater burden on the productive segment of the population is unconscionable. Even worse, this is just the first step. As insurance prices rise the call will come for more interference by government and we will slide into the complete control of the healthcare system by unaccountable bureaucrats, an end to individual choice and a rapid decline in quality of service.”

Saying that today’s ruling provides Republicans with “a winning issue” and “a rallying cry,” the RLC pointed to its candidates as supporters of repeal of the unpopular health-care law.

“Candidates like Ted Cruz in Texas and Barry Hinckley in Rhode Island are poised to join our prior endorsees like Rand Paul and Mike Lee in creating a powerful voting block in the Senate which will never compromise when liberty is threatened,” said the RLC statement.

“In the House those same values which are being championed today by Ron Paul and Justin Amash will be carried forward with reinforcements like Thomas Massie in Kentucky, Lauren Stephens in Wisconsin, Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan, Jessica Puente Bradshaw in Texas and scores of others,” the RLC continued. “With their guidance Congress will reassert its authority over the federal bureaucracy and demand accountability from the executive branch.”

Earlier in the day, an independent gay conservative group, GOProud, also issued a statement severely critical of the Supreme Court’s health-care decision.

Publisher's note: This article is part of a series to mark June as Gay Pride Month. It was originally published on on June 28, 2012. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Guest Post: From gay Nazis to 'we're here, we're queer': A century of arguing about gay pride

Laurie Marhoefer, University of Washington

This month, hundreds of thousands of people around the world will join gay pride marches in cities big and small. In many cities, pride marches are controversial. In some – like Moscow – they are even banned. But for many people in North America, parts of Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, attending the local pride march has become an unremarkable ritual of summer.

gay pride parade washington dc 1988 Georgetown University alumni
Gay pride parade, Washington, DC, 1988
There are still good reasons to march. Few countries around the world have robust protections for gay and transgender rights. And pride marches, the LGBTQ political rallies that take the form of exuberant, outrageous parades, often meet hostile counterdemonstrators.

But such expressions of pride have faced another sort of opposition: from within the queer and trans communities themselves. One reason is that gay and trans rights doesn’t describe a single, unitary political movement.

I am a historian of queer and trans politics. My research, together with that of James Steakley, Katie Sutton, Robert Beachy and many others, shows that there are several traditions of gay and trans activism. These traditions have not always gotten along. And some of them hate what pride is all about.

A history of multiple movements

Gay and trans rights movements are quite old. For more than 100 years, political groups have been fighting on behalf of same-sex desires, gender nonconformity and transition from one gender to the other – although the terms “gay rights” and “trans rights” are relatively recent inventions.

By the late 1800s, a movement that called itself “homosexual emancipation” formed in Germany. It boomed after World War I and flourished in the 1920s under the democracy that existed before the Nazis took over. The movement included people who called themselves “transvestites.” Were they alive today, many would probably use the term transgender.

From the beginning, gay and transgender activists split into a dizzying array of factions. All were in favor of greater legal and social tolerance for same-sex relationships. But beyond that narrow common ground, they were a political hodgepodge.

Some were leftists. One prominent leader of a gay rights group was also an important player in Berlin’s communist party. Others were middle-of-the road, calling for the end of Germany’s law against sodomy but otherwise content with the status quo. There were even right-wing, explicitly racist gay rights activists.

The Nazi Party itself was zealously anti-gay. Once in power, the Nazis murdered thousands of men for the “crime” of male-male sex. Yet, the historical record shows that a small number of men quietly belonged to both the homosexual emancipation movement and the Nazi Party, though they were not open about their sexuality within the party. Historians are still debating the significance of homosexuality in the Nazi Party. The small faction of gay fascists lauded erotic relationships between manly, “Aryan” soldier types while loathing feminists, Jews and leftists.

As you might imagine, these different camps within the homosexual emancipation movement did not agree on lots of things.

A debate about discretion

One of their big disagreements was about discretion: Was it acceptable for same-sex couples and gender nonconformists to cavort in view of the straight public?

The 1972 film ‘Cabaret’ is set in Berlin prior to the Nazi seizure of power. The story deals with homosexuality and the rise of Nazism.

Fifty years before pride marches began, 1920s Berlin had a jumping nightlife of gay male, lesbian and transvestite establishments featuring clubs like the Eldorado – known for its cross-dressing wait staff – and dance palaces like the Magic Flute. There was even a yearly all-women moonlight cruise. The pre-Nazi government’s approach was live and let live.

Not all advocates of gay rights, however, liked this public culture.

One man, a self-professed gay Nazi, wrote that Berlin’s clubs were “insalubrious” places where people surrendered to their animal lusts, and that “the general public inevitably gets the impression that it” – that is, the gay rights movement – “is all about sex.” This man wanted to celebrate homoerotic comradeship, a spiritual love, as he described it, as well as a physical one. However, he wanted to celebrate this manly love with maximum discretion, and certainly not in public. He wrote: “What two men do in the barracks,” by which he meant the barracks of the Nazi Party militia, “is no one’s business.”

Such complaints were not limited to the far right. Moderate activists had their own doubts about the bars and dance halls. One leader of transvestites warned, “When we demand that the public acknowledge us, then we have the duty to dress and conduct ourselves publicly in an inconspicuous manner.” Transvestites were told to avoid gaudy accessories like costume rings or oversized earrings.

To admit that one was homosexual or a transvestite in public in the 1920s was to court serious social and legal consequences. Activists of that era probably could not have imagined that one day people would march in large groups down public streets celebrating their homosexual and transgender selves.

‘We’re here, we’re queer’

In 1970, activists organized the first pride marches to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Those riots occurred the summer before when people fought back against a police raid of a queer bar called the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Pride exploded the old worries about discretion when it arrived in cities around the world in the 1970s.

Pride reveled in gaudy accessories. It had lots of scanty dress, too, from drag queens in slinky gowns to shirtless dykes with political slogans scrawled in marker across their chests. By bringing the party – along with the politics – into the streets in broad daylight, pride fought against homophobia. At the same time, it flatly rejected the old fears about overt public displays.

“We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” a favorite chant at pride, was not only directed at mainstream, straight society. It was also, in my opinion, an answer-back to the debate about discretion that had marked the long history of gay and trans activism.

More debates about pride

By the 1990s, pride marches had run into more controversy within activist circles. They were criticized as too commercial, too male-dominated, too devoid of a broader left-of-center political agenda and insufficiently inclusive of people of color – or indeed downright racist and Islamophobic. Alternative demonstrations cropped up, like Berlin’s Alternative Pride and New York City’s Dyke March. Debates about pride continue to this day.

Pride is in part what people make of it. A pride march can have a social justice agenda. Or it can have a pro-Trump agenda.

Yet pride’s history is a story of a radical break with right-wing and even middle-of-the-road gay and trans politics. Pride rejected respectability and discretion.

The ConversationTraces of that history probably survive in your local pride march. Look for the people who are not worried about alarming the straights.

Laurie Marhoefer, Assistant Professor of History, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

From the Archives: Libertarians praise Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling in DOMA case

Libertarians praise Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling in DOMA case
June 27, 2013 4:01 PM MST

In separate news releases distributed on June 26, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Windsor v. United States, which overturned Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the national Libertarian Party and the Libertarian Party of Virginia both praised the Court's ruling.

Libertarian Party gay marriage DOMA Supreme Court
Geoffrey J. Neale, chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, called the DOMA decision "a landmark victory for personal freedom."

The Democratic and Republican politicians who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, he said, and who "let stand government intrusion into the private contracts and choices of consenting adults will be remembered for their inhumanity on this issue."

The national party's press release quoted the Libertarian Party platform, which says that "sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government's treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws."

Two candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates were quoted in the LPVA's news release, which was distributed by email. Both said they will work to repeal Virginia's constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Arlington-based tax attorney Lindsey Bolton, who is running for the 47th House district seat now held by Democrat Patrick Hope, said that when she is elected she will “introduce a resolution that the Commonwealth's role regarding marriage is merely to respect and uphold a contract."

Liberty University alumnus Jonathan Parrish, who is seeking to unseat Republican Delegate T. Scott Garrett in the 23rd House district, said “it is nice to finally see a decision being made that ensure same sex couples will have access to the same benefits that straight couples do. As they pay the same taxes, this decision is long overdue.”

Earlier this week, Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian nominee for governor, released a campaign video stating his intention to "fight for marriage equality" in the Old Dominion.

“By protecting personal and economic freedom," Sarvis said on June 26 while announcing he had qualified for the November general election ballot, "we can make Virginia the envy of the world, with a growing economy that adds jobs and raises incomes, and a system of laws providing equality and justice for all. So let's buck the two-party system, bring people together, and build a Virginia that's open-minded and open for business.”

Publisher's note: This article is part of a series to mark June as Gay Pride Month. It was originally published on on June 27, 2013. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Guest Post: There's something queer about Tumblr

Paul Byron, Macquarie University and Brady Robards, Monash University

Tumblr is a site that can leave many adults confused. But for more than 330 million users worldwide it is a visual medium for self-expression where anything from politics to fan groups goes.

What makes Tumblr special is the mix of content you will find there. Think of it as the long-form, image-centric version of Twitter – but more personal. A blog can feature sentences that describe a user’s day, and this could be scattered among photo sets of refugees being rescued at sea, cat gifs, pornography, or complex paragraphs that analyse Donald Trump’s presidency. Above all, Tumblr characterises itself as a space of creative freedom.

Tumblr gay queer non-binary cisgender transgender keyboard fingers

More young people are turning online for peer support networks.

Like most other social media platforms, it is also ripe with peer networking, community building, and opportunities to explore gender and sexual identities. And despite the panic that often surrounds the perceived effects of social media on young people – such as fears about Facebook and privacy, Snapchat and sexting, and Instagram and narcissism – Tumblr is often left out of the debate.

Perhaps that’s because it mostly appeals to a niche audience, and can be seen as the “weird” cousin of these major platforms. This makes it a perfect venue for queer and questioning youth to hang out.

It’s a queer world

In 2016, we organised a research project called Scrolling Beyond Binaries to explore the ways young people of diverse genders and sexualities use social media. We looked particularly at how young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and asexual (LGBTIQA+) people use the network. To do so, we surveyed over 1,300 people aged 16-35 who identified in these ways.

Compared to broader surveys of young people’s social media use, we found young LGBTIQA+ people are using Tumblr much more frequently.

Tumblr Internet usage statistics survey Australia LGBTIQ Pew Sensis

Queer and gender diverse youth in Australia are using Tumblr more than their straight and cisgender peers.

There are some issues in comparing these studies – the number of people surveyed, where they lived, and their ages – but that 64% of our respondents used Tumblr is noteworthy.

So why are this many young queer and gender diverse Australians using Tumblr? For many, it offers an intricate network that supports safe explorations of identity and a sense of self.

For instance, writer and Tumblr user Jonno Revanche said it provides social connections that are otherwise unavailable due to geographic isolation and social anxiety. Others have used Tumblr to foster mental health support, such as Mea Pearson, who took to the platform to chronicle her experience with borderline personality disorder.

While care must be taken when associating mental health with queer identity, these matters often intersect. Evidently, many young people’s everyday dealings with key social institutions like family, work and school can be uncomfortable or even traumatic.

The view from Tumblr

Many of our respondents said that Tumblr was crucial to nurturing their individual identity. One person said it helped them identify as agender (loosely defined as without gender).

I actually learnt about agender and all the other genders from Tumblr. (20, agender, bisexual, rural)

One participant described how Tumblr assisted them in coming to terms with their pansexuality (attraction to all genders), and finding a space where this was more accepted and not reduced to bisexuality:

I came out as Pan on Tumblr a few years ago, when being Pan was seen as just a fancy way of saying Bi. I felt very alone for a long time, but found other Pan people to talk to. (22, non-binary, pansexual, urban)

Other participants attributed Tumblr to broadening their overall understanding of identity:

I had no idea that lgbt+ people existed (my parents are quite homophobic and very strict, so you could say I was very sheltered), and by using Tumblr I was able to fully immerse myself within its very lgbt+ culture. It also brought up words … I had never heard before, and through this I was able to “find myself” within a safe environment. (17, female, lesbian, urban)

I would’ve never realised my real gender or sexual orientation without tumblr. (25, trans masculine, asexual, regional)

For many Tumblr users, the platform is a supportive place. Engaging with online peer networks can be easier, and less risky, than talking to close friends. Young people reported making friends on Tumblr too, and most of them felt safe in doing so, citing the ability to block and unfollow others if needed.

I’ve made a lot of friends through there, and Tumblr helped me working out my own sexuality when I was younger. Because when I was younger I didn’t know anything, I thought there was just gay and lesbian and when I didn’t fit into any of those categories I was like “what the hell do I do now.” It was honestly, like going on Tumblr and [finding] there’s this thing where you can like more then one, I was like “woah, that’s amazing.” (19, trans male, queer, urban)

Disconnecting from Tumblr

At the same time, these digital spaces come with their own challenges. Although Tumblr is often used daily, it also seems to have a limited lifespan – which is unsurprising, given the intensity of interaction and content that many users report. Some respondents discussed their need to disconnect from the site to avoid drama, to free up time, or to spend more time in other social media spaces.

I stopped [using Tumblr] because I often used it to talk about my problems and it got to be really upsetting to have such a negative space. I feel like it just fed my mental health issues. (18, non-binary, bisexual, rural)

In this sense, Tumblr can be productive for a time but it can also become overwhelming. Users manage this by moving between platforms and taking breaks.

Safe spaces

Brady Robards Youth culture AustraliaAt a time when young queer and gender diverse people are in the spotlight, with support programs coming under fire and human rights being trampled upon in political crossfires, they continue to find and build their own safe spaces.

LGBTIQA+ young people should feel safe and empowered in everyday physical spaces, and many do – often with support from a wider community of peers who share similar experiences.

The ConversationBut until the world becomes more friendly for queer and gender diverse people, we expect they’ll continue to find safety, community, identity, and friendship on Tumblr.

Paul Byron, Associate Lecturer, Macquarie University and Brady Robards, Lecturer in Sociology, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.