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Remembering The UpStairs Lounge Fire That Killed 32 LGBTQ People






Saturday marks the 44th anniversary of the UpStairs Lounge arson, a flash fire that killed 32 people in the New Orleans gay bar on June 24, 1973.


Until the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, it was the deadliest attack on a queer venue in U.S. history. But the event is still relatively unknown, even within the LGBTQ community.


A second-floor bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the UpStairs Lounge featured a pianist and drag shows, and was enjoyed by a diverse crowd.



Ronnie Rosenthal was 21 years old when he survived the fire.


“Everybody knew everybody,” Rosenthal told HuffPost via Skype. “The crowd that was at the UpStairs Lounge, they were all friends. Everyone was there to have a beer, some dancing, a good time.”


But the UpStairs wasn’t just a space for the New Orleans gay community to come together and socialize. It was also a place of worship. The Metropolitan Community Church was the first church in the U.S. to cater to LGBTQ congregations. Earlier that day, an MCC pastor, the Rev. Bill Larson, led a Sunday service at the lounge, followed by the weekly beer bust.


As the evening was drawing to a close, survivors later reported smelling gasoline, though they didn’t think much of it at the time. Just before 8 p.m., the doorbell rang, usually a sign a taxi had arrived on the street below. The bell kept ringing, though no one had called for a cab. When the door was opened to investigate, a fireball burst into the room and the inferno quickly spread.



“The ceiling tiles caught fire, the wallpaper caught fire, it just took over,” remembers Rosenthal, who was seated by the bar at the time. Bartender Buddy Rasmussen was able to lead Rosenthal and about 15 others to safety, through a back door that led to the roof, then down to the street.


It’s still not clear how, but the door through which the group escaped became locked, trapping the rest of the patrons. A few managed to squeeze through the burglar bars that blocked the windows. Larson became stuck in one window, burning to death in full view of the people below who were powerless to help.



Now safely at street level, Rosenthal watched the tragedy unfold.


“Several people were right there at the bottom of the stairway, at the entrance to the lounge, laying down bleeding and burned. It was rough,” he said. “It was very difficult to see. I had blood on my shirt from helping somebody. It was terrible. It was the worst thing I ever experienced in my life.”



It was very difficult to see. I had blood on my shirt from helping somebody. It was terrible. It was the worst thing I ever experienced in my life.
Ronnie Rosenthal, UpStairs Lounge fire survivor


Later that night, Rosenthal and his friends were taken to the city morgue to identify some of the bodies. Some of those who were identified went unclaimed by families who were too ashamed to collect the remains of their gay sons and brothers.


“They just let their kids go,” Rosenthal said. “It was the most horrific thing. To me, that was the worst part of it all. The parents would just not show up. They wouldn’t do their part.”


Three victims were never identified, and were laid to rest in paupers’ graves.



What happened in the aftermath of the fire makes clear the pervading homophobia at the time. In a TV news report the following day, survivors refused to show their faces on camera. Some were sacked when their employers found out they’d been injured in the fire. One victim, who later died of his injuries, learned on his deathbed that he’d lost his teaching job. A local radio show joked about victims’ ashes being kept in a fruit jar.


Previously, New Orleans had declared days of mourning following similar tragedies, but this time City Hall didn’t acknowledge the fire. A local church was inundated with complaints after holding a small memorial service. The fire made national headlines, but disappeared from the news within a few days.



The most likely suspect in the arson was Roger “Dale” Nunez, who was thrown out of the bar earlier in the evening and was seen purchasing lighter fluid at a nearby drugstore just before the fire. He was questioned by police but never charged. A hustler with a history of mental health problems, Nunez allegedly confessed to a friend that he started the blaze, before killing himself a year later. 



It was a challenge for Rosenthal, now 64, to move on from what he’d experienced. “It took a good five or six years before I would finally walk into a gay bar,” he said. “Before I’d walk into restaurants, I always knew where the fire exits were. I don’t live like that anymore.”


“What happened at Pulse, it did bring back some feelings, some anxiety,” Rosenthal added. “But you have to move on. I want people to understand, I don’t live in fear and I’m not gonna let anyone make me live in fear.” 


Click below to see more pictures of the UpStairs Lounge before the fire.


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Diva Devotee Seth Sikes Honors Pride With A Celebratory New Show




Few performers are as perfectly suited for Pride weekend as Seth Sikes.


The 33-year-old cabaret star has been thrilling audiences with his tribute concerts to Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli for nearly three years. On June 24, however, he’ll go all out with a no-holds-barred show at New York’s Feinstein’s/54 Below featuring songs made famous by the aforementioned divas, as well as Bernadette Peters and Barbra Streisand. (Catch a sneak peek of Sikes performing a tune from the musical “Gypsy” above.) 


“Usually my goal is to keep the songbook alive and celebrate the ladies,” Sikes told HuffPost. “But this time, the goal is to get people in a happy, happy mood to go out dancing afterward... what celebrates Pride more than a bunch of diva songs?” 


What began as a “one-night-only stunt” in 2014 has taken Sikes across the country, and even internationally, since then. Most recently, he celebrated what would have been Garland’s 95th birthday with a performance in London ― a particularly fitting tribute, as the “Wizard of Oz” star capped off her unparalleled career with a string of shows in England’s capital. 



Of course, Sikes is aware that his Pride weekend show comes at a time when many LGBTQ people are still reeling from the election of President Donald Trump, who ran on an explicitly anti-queer platform. The performer, who has not shied away from politics on social media, won’t mention Trump during his performance, but rather “have some fun” while reminding people that the LGBTQ community is “mighty and not going away.” 


“I talked a little bit about Trump in my last show,” he said. “But frankly, at this point, I’m so sick of hearing about him and talking about him, I probably won’t bring it up at all this time. Let’s forget the asshole for a moment!” 


For now, Sikes couldn’t be happier to be honoring Pride with a brand-new show. “I think Pride is about family and community and a celebration of our unique culture. We have a lot of that to celebrate right now ― including our lady icons ― and we have a lot to be grateful for, including marriage equality,” he said. “But we can’t take any of it for granted.” 


Seth Sikes performs at New York’s Feinstein’s/54 Below June 24. Next up, he’ll visit the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, Massachusetts on July 8 and Aug. 7. 


Find ways to celebrate Pride by subscribing to the Queer Voices newsletter. 

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Make Some History Like My Mother-in-law


The news came through on my iPhone between loads of laundry on my day off. “Nevada Senator Won’t Back Senate Health Care Bill.


It was big national news because Senator Dean Heller is a key moderate vote the GOP leadership needs in order to move forward with its ill-conceived and hatched-behind-closed-doors effort to demolish health care for millions of women, children, persons with disabilities, to defund Planned Parenthood and to gut the Medicaid safety net.


It was also big family news because my wife is a Nevada native and her 83-year-old mother still lives in her home town of Henderson. For months now, Jody’s regular daily routine has been to do her breathing treatment, check Facebook to see if we’ve posted any picture of the grandpuppies, and then call Senator Heller’s office. She has been so persistent in her lobbying efforts that she now knows some of the interns by name and they greet her with “What can we do for you today, Mrs. Hall?”


The months since November have been tough on Jody. The specter of the unraveling of the progress she and members of her generation have worked for decades to secure on women’s rights, human rights and civil rights ― not to mention the decline of civil discourse and the evaporation facts as a thing ― has haunted her. I know there were days she has felt like giving up. I know there were times when she wondered if there was anything anybody could do to make a difference. And she kept calling.


And then there was today. Today her senator ― who she has been doggedly calling every single day ― made national news by putting his constituents and his country ahead of his party. Today was the pay off for every one of those calls she made ... wondering whether they would make a difference and praying that they would and making them anyway.


My mother-in-law helped make history happen today. And if she can do it, so can we. Every single one of us. Today. Tomorrow. And for as long as it takes. Nobody is too busy. Nobody is too old. Nobody is too young and ― after today ― nobody better be too cynical to pick up the phone and call. Make your voice heard. Tell your story.


Go. Be like Jody. Pick up the phone. Call now. Because this is not a health care reform bill — it is a health care attack bill that is cruel, morally unjust and inhumane — and incompatible the core moral value of respecting the dignity of every human being.


Need a script? Here you go:



I’m calling to ask my Senator to vote NO on the Senate Health Bill. I’m counting on him/her to do the right thing and stand up for children and women and others in desperate need of health services. Do not shred the safety net for millions of Americans. Nearly half of all those on Medicaid are children, including nearly five million children in California alone. Medicaid ensures coverage for 40 percent of all children with special health care needs and more than 40 percent of all births. Low-income adults, adults with disabilities, and seniors are in great jeopardy too. Millions of people will be left without access to birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, and other basic care. Many of them will have nowhere to go for the health care they need. I expect my Senator to vote against any attacks on these vital health services. Thank you for your time.



We can do this. Go. Call. Now. 202-224-3121. Operators are standing by. Make Jody proud.

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The 20 Funniest Tweets From Women This Week

The ladies of Twitter never fail to brighten our days with their brilliant ― but succinct ― wisdom. Each week, HuffPost Women rounds up hilarious 140-character musings. For this week’s great tweets from women, scroll through the list below. Then visit our Funniest Tweets From Women page for our past collections.




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Reconciling Being Gay and Muslim With Author Hasan Namir






The eternal struggle between faith and sexuality is often told through the lens of white North American Christians. And while the reconciliation of sexuality and spirituality can often be a long road where many don’t find an exit, there is hope. Even in deeply conservative cultures like that of Iraq.


So today, we take a deep dive into what it means to be both Gay and Muslim with author Hasan Namir. Growing up in Iraq, Namir struggled with hushed statements about his sexuality and allusions to what he was up to the “neighbor’s boy.” Despite undergoing persecution for his sexual orientation and numerous failed attempts to come out to his family, Namir never wavered from his religious beliefs.


Straddling that strange line eventually became the premise for Namir’s first novel “God in Pink.” A fictional story about a young gay Iraqi man, Ammar, who struggles with faith, sexuality, and fatherhood against the backdrop of political strife in war-torn Iraq.



Namir was kind enough to take an afternoon and sit with the Outspeak team to explain why writing heals wounds. His story is particularly inspiring in a time where the world exists in contradiction. Hasan is not exclusively a Muslim nor is he exclusively gay. He exists at a crossroads between both identities and in doing so will perhaps allow us to have a greater understanding of both marginalized groups.


With anti-Muslim hysteria at an all time high under President Trump, Hasan’s story is more important than ever. Please take some time to watch the video above and celebrate his story along with Pride Month. Hasan’s bold embrace of both identities is something we can all learn from.

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‘I Love Dick’ And The Radical Power Of A Writer’s Room Without Cis Men


Jill Soloway knows how to make great television. That much has been established. But for Soloway, making TV isn’t just about creating something that receives critical praise ― it’s about changing the world. 


“For me, the belief that my TV show is going to change the world is a lot of what makes me wanna do it,” Soloway, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns they/them, said. 


Enter “I Love Dick.”


The Amazon series, created by Soloway and Sarah Gubbins, is based on the feminist, semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Chris Kraus. The show centers around Chris, played by the incredible Kathryn Hahn. After she and her Holocaust scholar husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) arrive in Marfa, Texas, Chris becomes obsessed with the eponymous Dick (Kevin Bacon). Dick becomes the object of her overwhelming sexual desire, and, ultimately, her artistic muse. It is a shifting of roles ― the man as object and muse, the woman as subject and creator ― that seems simple, but feels wonderfully radical. 


Much of what makes “I Love Dick” so special is the specificity of the dialogue and the stories, something that’s hard to separate from the show’s writers.


The writer’s room for “I Love Dick” was made up entirely of female and gender non-conforming people. In 2017, despite some progress, Hollywood remains overwhelmingly white, straight and male. And often, the lack of diversity that we see on screen can be traced to the people behind what’s on screen: the writers, producers, and directors. 


“I Love Dick” centers its women characters. (Though the show’s cisgender, straight, male characters, are also some of the most complex and fascinating I’ve seen on TV.) As HuffPost’s Priscilla Frank put it: ”‘I Love Dick’ is a triumphant scrambling of art and life, a ‘matriarchal revolution,’ a battle cry for any woman who has yearned to make something of herself, while only ever knowing how to criticize herself.”



In a political moment where it can feel as though everything is at stake, it’s easy to write off pop culture as frivolous ― something we consume to distract ourselves from the outside world, rather than impact it. But what if television isn’t just an escape? At its best, pop culture allows us, even forces us, to rework and expand our notion of what normal is. It lets us practice radical empathy without even realizing it.


HuffPost spoke with Soloway and “I Love Dick” co-creator, Sarah Gubbins, about the making of the show, and subtle revolution that comes from letting women and gender non-conforming people shape their own on-screen narratives. 


HuffPost: Did you go into the creation of “I Love Dick” knowing that you wanted to put together an all-woman and gender non-conforming writer’s room?


Jill Soloway: I’d learned, when we were looking for trans writers on “Transparent” that I couldn’t actually ever say, “I would like to hire a trans writer.” I had to say things like, “I would like to hire somebody who’s very familiar with the trans experience.” So, I guess I would say in this case, we wanted to hire people who we felt were familiar with the experiences that Chris [Kraus] had. And it turned out, of the people we spoke to, the people who were the most likely to write about this in the most fearless, bombastic, vulnerable human way ended up being all women and gender non-conforming people.



Cis men grow up assuming the world is meant for them and that they are the subjects. So as you start to move that and pull this subjectivity into femaleness, I think it makes men uncomfortable.
Jill Soloway


Sarah Gubbins: It wasn’t something where we said, “OK, when they pick us up and we put together a writer’s room, we’re going to make sure that it’s all women.” When Jill and I were talking about the kind of writers that we were interested in, whose work we are attracted to, and we thought would make great additions to the show, the list was a lot of women. At a certain point, we kind of looked at that and thought, “You know, I think we should just, uh, have an all female and gender non-conforming kind of room.”


I think what later emerged was as we were talking about the kind of show that we were making, and our hopes for the season, we knew that we were going to be bringing in the ways that Chris Kraus the author brought her own biography so intensely to the character of Chris Kraus. We knew that were going to be doing that in terms of when we were bringing our stories, and our experiences, and our point of views as it pertained to our genders. I think it just made sense. It actually was more nuanced than us just kicking it going, “Let’s only have chicks.”


What do you say to people who say it’s “unfair” or “discriminatory” to have a writers room without cisgender men in it?


Soloway: There’s a false equivalency that is a lot of people’s first response to these things. They say, “Well, isn’t that discrimination?” And I think, you have to really kind of knock that argument off ― or not knock off the argument, but take it in. You have to ask, “What are we doing when we create spaces that are all one anything?” And I think a lot of women feel like it’s about [creating a] safe space. And by safe space I don’t mean, “Oh, nobody’s going to offend my sensibilities,” because it was a really, really dirty room. And it’s not safe from being triggered, ’cause I’m sure, you know, there were all kinds of things that got said that were totally painful to hear and to say.  


So this when I want to talk about false equivalencies. Like if somebody was to say to Donald Glover [who put together an all-black writer’s room on ‘Atlanta’], “Oh, would it right for me to have an all white men writer’s room?” You’d have to be like, “Well, no,” because there has been all-white, male writer’s rooms since forever. And so again, I’m gonna do one last comparison. If somebody said to Donald Glover, “Hey, you just need at least one white guy in [the ‘Atlanta’ writer’s room]. You must have at least one guy in there to make sure that your content is dot dot dot, question mark.” To make sure that your content is what? Approved by white people? Makes sense to white people? That would be a totally insane thing to say. It would be an insane thing to demand. And so, for women, it’s the same thing.


Were there conversations that you think wouldn’t have happened had there been cis men in the writers room?


Soloway: I think a lot of women have grown up being told unconsciously, “Just be a little bit careful. Shape what you’re saying. Shade what you’re doing. Massage who you are just a little bit to make sure that men feel comfortable.” So when you don’t have that male perspective in the room, what happens is that women start to really relax and really let their guard down, and really take off that discernment that says, “Well, hold on a second. Don’t do that, ’cause that’s ugly.” Or, “Don’t do that because it’s too slutty.” Or, “Don’t do that because it’s too sad.” 


I think it felt like a relief for the women in the writers room to not feel like they were being kept in check by a guy, or multiple guys, who would be representing something that would so-called “normal.” I think we were trying to upend what normal meant. And a lot of the women in the writer’s room had been the only woman in another writer’s room.


Again, cis men grow up assuming the world is meant for them and that they are the subjects. So as you start to move that and pull this subjectivity into femaleness, I think it makes men uncomfortable.


Gubbins: I think there’s a line in the book: “What women say to each other is the most interesting thing right now.” I think there are very aware, dare I say “woke,” cis dudes that probably could participate in those conversations, and weave space, and be observers to what those conversations would be and not active authors. But I think it was easier that we weren’t negotiating that.



A lot has been written about how “I Love Dick” embraces the “female gaze.” Can you talk about what leaning into the female gaze meant to you in terms of the way the show came together? 


Soloway: I think my understanding of the binary is shifting and it feels a little bit reductive to just say the female gaze is the opposite of the male gaze. We know that “male gaze” means more than just a picture of a woman in a bikini. And we know that the “female gaze” means more than just Kevin Bacon’s butt as he goes into the water. I think of [the female gaze] as a filmmaking tool that I use.


Here’s a perfect example of what the female gaze is. You know that scene where Toby [an academic and artist studying in Marfa] was sitting in the middle of all those men? [Editor’s note: The episode shows Toby live-streaming herself laying nude in the middle of an oil camp.] Jim Frohna, who’s a man, he shot it and he did a great job. But when I watched it, there [was] something missing. And we went back and shot some more, and this tim he took his pants off and sat in his boxers in the middle of the circle as he filmed. He sort of became Toby. He wanted to record how it felt to be her, instead of look at her. It was amazing.


Gubbins: Every step of the way of making the show was an investigation into what it meant to try to enact the female gaze. I think it meant the way in which we actually made the show, the way we actually shot the show. The kind of set that Soloway has put together is an incredibly inclusive one where they really don’t rush. They don’t worry about time. They really just try to stay as emotionally honest and present as possible. It’s leading with those kinds of intentions and principles as a guide post.


I just don’t think there’s one easy definition for this is what the female gaze means, like “this is how you make a television show shot in the female gaze.” I think it’s intention, it’s process, it’s deliberation, and it, for me, always was about giving Chris Kraus agency and a voice. That also meant she wasn’t going to be contained in one rendition, and that she was going to be complicated, and sometimes frustratingly abject. She didn’t have to be an ideal for us. That’s part of broadening the idea of the protagonist.


Episode 5, “A Short History of Weird Girls,” which shows four female characters ― Chris, Toby, Devon and Paula ― speaking about their sexualities and sexual histories straight to camera, was a revelation for me. I really felt like I had never seen anything like it before. Can you talk a little bit about that episode?


Soloway: We were trying to get really granular, naming our moments of witnessing our younger selves and how we came into contact with the idea of sexual shame. And I think that in a room with all women, we felt compelled to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because we weren’t just trying to do that extra bit of shading that you start to do when there’s a cis man around.


Gubbins: We really started with the book, and we started with our responses to the book. In investigating the book, you really do spend time thinking about Chris’s history of desire and shame, and the shame that she felt in her sexuality, and her heterosexualness ― being a feminist, but also being so abject in her obsession. That led us down a path of talking about what our own personal histories were, and it led us back to childhood and when we first understood that we were sexual beings, and being sexualized, and our relationship to that.


Then Annie Baker and Heidi Schreck, [who wrote the episode], I remember they spent a weekend watching experimental films from feminist filmmakers. You really thought of giving voice to all the women, or major women characters in the show, in the ways that we were sharing those conversations about ourselves, our mothers, our sisters, our friends. So, that really is how the episode was born. 


Why do you think that in 2017, there’s still something jarring about seeing women’s desires laid bare?


Gubbins: Because we don’t see it. You think about the ways in which we’re accustomed to seeing violence, or we’re accustomed to seeing a hyper-sexualized female bodies, or desexualized intelligent female bodies. We have a tradition and a long history of bifurcating our female protagonist. It’s part of what our culture does to women. 


Even in the 40 years since Roe V. Wade, it’s like we still have yet to give women complete control of their bodies. I’m not [taking] a political position here, I’m just saying this is our culture. We have a vice president who won’t go to dinner with a woman, for fear that it might be somehow inappropriate to his marriage. This is someone who is leading our government. So, there is still space for that kind of bifurcation. So, I don’t think that when popular culture is reflecting what’s happening in our political climate that we’ve ever kind of come out the other side.



[Women are] hungry to be seen. It’s a basic human want.
Sarah Gubbins


Soloway: [“I Love Dick”] exists as a corrective for the way that so many young women see female bodies and sex, which is like, “My body has to be perfect. I have to hold my stomach in. I need to make the right kinds of noises. I need to make the right kinds of faces.” These things that kind of get in us when we’re teenagers about what sex is, and it really is about experiencing ourselves as the object while we’re having sex. 


These things don’t go away easily. They stay with us into our 20s, and they stay with us into our 30s. And you’re kind of always having to experiencing yourself through the eyes of others if you’re a woman in America. This is how we all grew up: This is sexy. This girl in Playboy. Then there’s some other kind of sex that other people might be having, and I don’t know what that is, but it’s gross. It’s not sexy, it’s gross. Everything that’s not a beautiful girl looking beautiful is disgusting. 


And so, sometimes it’s those little things. I think about what would it have been like for me if I were 19 or 20 and I was in college, and I had seen [the kind of sexuality that’s portrayed on “Dick”], not only on TV, but on TV with that stamp that says, “Yeah, this is a regular television show. This is just people. This isn’t anything weird.”



So, what power do TV shows have in expanding ― or limiting ― our ideas of what is possible and acceptable? 


Gubbins:  Pop culture allows a viewer to come in and exercise their imagination and to have an empathetic experience, be it through humor, through drama. That’s what we do when we consume pop culture. We have an empathetic exchange. By allowing people to experience the fullness of a very controlled gender dynamic, I think it allows them to alter their perceptions. There’s an engagement that they have with characters.


I think [TV can] demystify things that seem scary or are misunderstood. I’m thinking about the way in which gay culture has evolved, and the ways in which our representation of queer culture on TV has allowed for some sort of acceptance and normality at an accelerated rate that legislation alone couldn’t tackle. That’s a very positive belief, but I think it is the power of storytelling, and I think we have this great ability to entertain people, make them laugh, and make them feel things that they didn’t expect to. We get to do that, and we get to do it on a show where we get to represent ourselves. I think people, women especially, are hungry for that. They’re hungry to be seen. It’s a basic human want.


Soloway: There are so many shows that are hypnotic suggestions about how girls act and how women act. And those are things that make me crazy. I think about growing up on “The Love Boat,” watching “The Love Boat” and just watching the way an attractive man would be fought over by two really hot women. And sometimes, I can just get so enraged when I think about that as the writer of that show, writing his own propaganda of how he wishes the world were for him.


That writing really is propaganda for the self. I know it more than ever with “Transparent” and “Dick,” is that I’m a writing a reality. I’m writing a reality that I want to live in. And men have been doing that to us since forever, and then you start to kind of wake up to it, you know? And you realize even something that might be an earnest, creative submission to the canon by another white, heterosexual cis male really is also propaganda.


Is the answer just to have a wider variety of people making that “propaganda”?


Soloway: I just think get the tools in other people’s hands ― in the hands of women, in the hands of people of color, in the hands of queer people ― and start to share the wealth a little bit. That storytelling really does create empathy. It really, really does. I mean, I’ve been the beneficiary of that. I look at the very moment where my parent came out to me on the telephone, and in the very first moments and days my first feelings were fear. And I remember thinking, how am I going to tell my friends? How am I going to tell my in-laws? How am I going to tell my kids?                                 


And then to look here four years later, now, and see what “Transparent” was able to do out of just that one feeling of trying to create a safe place for myself to live in. For my dad to live in. For my family to live in. To make it OK. And it actually made it OK. That’s the crazy part. Is that it actually worked.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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41 Photos Of Boys With Dolls That Prove Gender Doesn’t Belong In The Toy Aisle

At HuffPost Parents, we believe all toys are for any child who wants to play with them.


While some may still see dolls as a “girl toy,” there are plenty of boys out there who adore their baby dolls, Barbies and stuffed friends. And it’s not only OK ― it’s downright adorable. 


So we asked the HuffPost Parents community to share their cutest photos of their sons with their dolls, and we’re sharing our favorites with you below. 



The HuffPost Parents newsletter, So You Want To Raise A Feminist, offers the latest stories and news in progressive parenting. 

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‘Dykes On Bikes’ Supported Asian-American Band’s Fight To Reclaim Racial Slur


Another group with a controversial name is ecstatic over the Supreme Court’s recent decision on an Asian-American rock band’s case. 


Dykes On Bikes, a nonprofit lesbian motorcycle organization that has had trademark troubles of its own, is celebrating after band The Slants won its case on Monday. The Patent and Trademark Office had previously struck down the band’s request to trademark its name, citing a policy that had prohibited the trademarking of “disparaging” names.


But the Asian-American group explained that its name was actually meant to be empowering for Asians. 



“Kids would pull their eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture to make fun of us,” frontman Simon Tam told NPR in January. “I wanted to change it to something that was powerful, something that was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead.”


In Matal v. Tam, the court overturned the anti-disparagement clause, saying the measure violated the First Amendment. And Dykes On Bikes, whose trademark obstacles mirror The Slants’, couldn’t be happier. 


“As with any transformative news you receive in life, it felt like a growing tide of emotion,” Kate Brown, president of the organization’s San Francisco chapter, told HuffPost. “There were a thousand thoughts going through my mind, but mostly ‘This really happened! It’s finally over! We’ve finally, finally, reached the end of this and it went in our favor!’”



Brown told HuffPost that the organization’s name was intended to turn an epithet into a source of pride.  But, similar to The Slants’ case, the PTO initially refused to approve the name and claimed it was “derogatory” to lesbians, Dykes on Bikes’ lead attorney Brooke Oliver told HuffPost. Though the office rejected its application, the group appealed through the courts and eventually won in the federal circuit courts. Its name was officially registered in 2007.


The trademark battle wasn’t over, however. The group faced more challenges years later when it attempted to register its logo. The PTO rejected its request, arguing once again that it was derogatory to lesbians. The office suspended the application until The Slants’ fate was decided. So, the motorcycle club filed an amicus brief to support the Asian-American band in its fight.


Now, the group can finally rest easy.


“It was crazy to put us through that twice. It shows how arbitrary the standard was,” Oliver said, reflecting on the cases. “It left this decision about what’s derogatory up to individual government officials and that’s the essence of viewpoint discrimination.” 


While Dykes on Bikes has a lot to celebrate, Brown admits that the Supreme Court decision is a double-edged sword. The Washington Redskins will ultimately benefit from the case since the anti-disparagement policy, which was used by activists to argue against the football team’s name, was struck down.


But Brown says that the Redskins’ situation is different from theirs and in its amicus brief, the motorcycle group made it clear that it does not endorse the football team’s use of the Native American slur. Brown added that though the Redskins, who are not a Native American group, may have the legal right to use the name, it doesn’t mean it should. 


“Both the Dykes on Bikes and The Slants have reclaimed self-referential terms in efforts to trademark our names on behalf of the groups to which we respectively belong. The Washington Redskins is not a group reclaiming generally understood insulting language on its own terms,” Brown said. “We agree that while the First Amendment protects people from abuse of power by government, we as a society have a responsibility to make good decisions under that protection.”


Moreover, Oliver said that the decision actually has the power to help marginalized groups and nonprofits, since these organizations will be able to trademark traditionally offensive names and “take the sting out of them,” while also keeping others from commercially exploiting the monikers.  


The motorcycle club says it now sees an end to its own trademark battle. Following The Slants’ case, the group filed a request with the PTO to expedite its logo registration. Though it hasn’t received a response yet, Oliver said she’s feeling optimistic this time around. They no longer have a legal impediment to keep them from moving the logo forward. 


“Nobody can take the strength and courage of claiming, for ourselves, our own name away from us,” Brown said. “We chose the name Dykes on Bikes because it truly is who we are.”

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

‘Dykes On Bikes’ Supported Asian-American Band’s Fight To Reclaim Racial Slur


Another group with a controversial name is ecstatic over the Supreme Court’s recent decision on an Asian-American rock band’s case. 


Dykes On Bikes, a nonprofit lesbian motorcycle organization that has had trademark troubles of its own, is celebrating after band The Slants won its case on Monday. The Patent and Trademark Office had previously struck down the band’s request to trademark its name, citing a policy that had prohibited the trademarking of “disparaging” names.


But the Asian-American group explained that its name was actually meant to be empowering for Asians. 



“Kids would pull their eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture to make fun of us,” frontman Simon Tam told NPR in January. “I wanted to change it to something that was powerful, something that was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead.”


In Matal v. Tam, the court overturned the anti-disparagement clause, saying the measure violated the First Amendment. And Dykes On Bikes, whose trademark obstacles mirror The Slants’, couldn’t be happier. 


“As with any transformative news you receive in life, it felt like a growing tide of emotion,” Kate Brown, president of the organization’s San Francisco chapter, told HuffPost. “There were a thousand thoughts going through my mind, but mostly ‘This really happened! It’s finally over! We’ve finally, finally, reached the end of this and it went in our favor!’”



Brown told HuffPost that the organization’s name was intended to turn an epithet into a source of pride.  But, similar to The Slants’ case, the PTO initially refused to approve the name and claimed it was “derogatory” to lesbians, Dykes on Bikes’ lead attorney Brooke Oliver told HuffPost. Though the office rejected its application, the group appealed through the courts and eventually won in the federal circuit courts. Its name was officially registered in 2007.


The trademark battle wasn’t over, however. The group faced more challenges years later when it attempted to register its logo. The PTO rejected its request, arguing once again that it was derogatory to lesbians. The office suspended the application until The Slants’ fate was decided. So, the motorcycle club filed an amicus brief to support the Asian-American band in its fight.


Now, the group can finally rest easy.


“It was crazy to put us through that twice. It shows how arbitrary the standard was,” Oliver said, reflecting on the cases. “It left this decision about what’s derogatory up to individual government officials and that’s the essence of viewpoint discrimination.” 


While Dykes on Bikes has a lot to celebrate, Brown admits that the Supreme Court decision is a double-edged sword. The Washington Redskins will ultimately benefit from the case since the anti-disparagement policy, which was used by activists to argue against the football team’s name, was struck down.


But Brown says that the Redskins’ situation is different from theirs and in its amicus brief, the motorcycle group made it clear that it does not endorse the football team’s use of the Native American slur. Brown added that though the Redskins, who are not a Native American group, may have the legal right to use the name, it doesn’t mean it should. 


“Both the Dykes on Bikes and The Slants have reclaimed self-referential terms in efforts to trademark our names on behalf of the groups to which we respectively belong. The Washington Redskins is not a group reclaiming generally understood insulting language on its own terms,” Brown said. “We agree that while the First Amendment protects people from abuse of power by government, we as a society have a responsibility to make good decisions under that protection.”


Moreover, Oliver said that the decision actually has the power to help marginalized groups and nonprofits, since these organizations will be able to trademark traditionally offensive names and “take the sting out of them,” while also keeping others from commercially exploiting the monikers.  


The motorcycle club says it now sees an end to its own trademark battle. Following The Slants’ case, the group filed a request with the PTO to expedite its logo registration. Though it hasn’t received a response yet, Oliver said she’s feeling optimistic this time around. They no longer have a legal impediment to keep them from moving the logo forward. 


“Nobody can take the strength and courage of claiming, for ourselves, our own name away from us,” Brown said. “We chose the name Dykes on Bikes because it truly is who we are.”

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

What Not To Say To Someone With Cancer, In One Comic

As if having cancer isn’t awful enough, many of the things people say ― however well-meaning ― can really sting.


Most friends and family are likely coming from a good place when they offer their sympathy or advice to someone with the disease. But as artist Matthew Mewhorter, who dealt with cancer himself, points out, these platitudes often don’t have their intended effect.


“I don’t want them to feel pity or guilt, but just be better informed,” he told HuffPost. “There’s so much misinformation about the cancer experience in the media and Hollywood, which has a negative effect on the way cancer [patients] are treated in real life.”


Mewhorter summed up the emotionally taxing experience of dealing with people trying to cheer up cancer patients in the comic below:



Mewhorter, who has been in remission for two years following a stage II rectal cancer diagnosis, channeled his experiences with the illness into his artwork. He created a series of comics like the one above called Cancer Owl, which details the everyday realities of living with and fighting the condition. He draws both his own stories and the stories of others who reach out to him.


“My therapist originally proposed that I art journal my experience and share it with others as a form of self care,” Mewhorter said. “I started drawing an owl with cancer in my hospital bed after my first surgery, and it just felt right. Drawing cute animals with bright colors made talking about cancer easier somehow.”


It’s estimated that more than 1.5 million people were affected by cancer in 2016. Mewhorter hopes his artwork helps people dealing with the condition to find some relief and community through humor about their illness.


“I hope it helps cancer patients and survivors not feel so alone,” he said. “I hope they feel permission to laugh in the middle of their situation, and consider a perspective that has given me vitality and hope in the midst of suffering.”


Head over to Cancer Owl to see more of Mewhorter’s comics.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.