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From ‘Fire Island’ to ‘Bros’, is 2022 the new era for authentic LGBTQ+ storytelling?

Every year, there are new firsts for LGBTQ+ stories being told in film and on television, from Firebird to Heartstopper. Of course, this is a good thing—that we’re finally seeing authentic and diverse representation throughout popular culture. But it’s also tinged with sadness—because should we still be waiting for such basic cultural representation? This summer sees the release of two major LGBTQ+ films (with an emphasis on the G), Fire Island and Bros.

Fire Island is a romantic comedy set on the eponymous resort, an infamous gay escape destination off the southern shore of Long Island, about a ninety-minute drive from Manhattan. It’s the first major movie to centre queer Asian American friendship—with a predominantly queer cast and crew. 

Written by and starring stand-up comedian and actor Joel Kim Booster, the cast includes SNL’s Bowen Yang and legendary comedian Margaret Cho. The story is inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which Booster had read one summer while visiting Long Island; he plays Noah, the Elizabeth Bennett of the group. “I really wanted to show people that there is joy in the experience of being gay,” he told GAY TIMES. The plot centres on a group of friends who head to Fire Island Pines for an annual summer getaway, “but when a sudden change of events jeopardises their summer in gay paradise, their bonds as a chosen family are pushed to the limit,” states the studio synopsis.

The movie is a love letter not just to the gay community but to the queer Asian American experience specifically. Booster wanted to reject the stereotypes of the Asian LGBTQ+ experience. “There’s usually only one of us in a movie, right?” he said. “So, we’re only seeing one specific story. I just wanted to feel like you’re getting so many different versions of a queer experience. I want people to realise that we’re more than just the token Asian friend. We are the story. I want people to understand that and feel empowered by that.”

Andrew Ahn directs, whose previous feature credits include Spa Night and Driveways. “For this film, I wanted to have fun,” he explained, “I wanted to laugh, I wanted to give the audience something to feel good about themselves. I think it’s really valuable to have dramatic queer films that are darker and tackle subjects that are difficult. I think that there’s a time and place for that.”

Coincidentally, a creative history of Fire Island is also published this month: Fire Island: Love, Loss and Liberation in an American Paradise by Jack Parlett, for anyone unfamiliar with the history and significance of the island within queer history. “A beautiful, beguiling journey to the ultimate queer utopia,” noted celebrated cultural critic and writer Olivia Laing.

Later this year, a second big gay romcom is due: Bros, starring Billy Eichner, from a screenplay by Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller. It’s set to be the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio featuring an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast: Luke Macfarlane, Bowen Yang (again), Ts Madison, and Guillermo Díaz, with minor roles for Harvey Fierstein and champion of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13, Symone

Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a podcaster who is invited to write a gay Hollywood romantic comedy—while dealing with dating apps, specifically Grindr, and his chosen family. Produced by Judd Apatow for Universal Pictures, Eichner becomes the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own major studio film.

Speaking to GAY TIMES, he explained, “I realised that we are just so hungry as LGBTQ+ people, as gay men, to see accurate, multi-dimensional and genuinely funny and genuinely smart depictions of ourselves that we don’t get.” Too many mainstream gay stories focus on either coming out or doomed romances—surely there’s space for comedy as well as tragedy?

Like Fire Island, Bros hopes to reject stereotypes and embrace authentic, lived experience—using comedy to do so. Eichner has described his characters as “funny, sad, lonely, extremely confident, messy, brave horny and hypocritical adult human beings.” Many of the jokes, even in the trailer, will no doubt be lost on a straight audience. And that’s okay.

Will this be a watershed moment for queer representation onscreen? Or do such hopes rely on the financial and critical success of these movies? Only time will tell. Let’s hope this is the start of a new era for authentic LGBTQ+ storytelling.

Fire Island is set to be released on Hulu in the US and Disney+ via Star on 3 June 2022. Bros is scheduled to be released in the US on 30 September 2022; international distribution has not yet been confirmed.

Get your chicken sandwiches elsewhere, Chick-fil-A is still anti-LGBTQ+

In an explosive article published by The Daily Beast on 1 June, White House reporter Scott Bixby exposed Chick-fil-A’s current donations to anti-LGBTQ+ groups only a year after it promised to stop. It seems that Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s billionaire owner, back-tracked on these promises and is now taking his anti-LGBTQ+ agenda even further. The Daily Beast revealed that “accidental public disclosures” uncovered a “sophisticated dark money operation” that tied Chick-fil-A to a multitude of Christian fundamentalist groups—most notably the National Christian Charitable Foundation (NFC). 

What is the National Christian Charitable Foundation?

The NCF is one of the largest donor-advised funds (DAF) and the sixth-largest charity in the US overall. It is, at its core, a right-wing fundamentalist group—one infamous for its anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Muslim contributions. In an article by Inside Philanthropy, aptly titled Big Money, Quiet Power, they write that the NCF “is probably the singlest biggest source of money fueling the ‘pro-life’ and anti-LGBT movement over the past 15 years.”

Being a DAF theoretically means that the NCF makes its ‘charitable’ contributions based on the recommendations of its donors. An anonymous analyst had this to say to The Daily Beast, “The whole point of the donor-advised fund structure is that the donor can’t make the decision—they can only suggest. But they certainly sell it to donors as, ‘We do what you want with this money.’” To put it simply, there’s strong evidence that Chick-fil-A ispotentially’ telling the NCF what to do with the money it donates to it, where to distribute it and what to fund with it. So what exactly are they funding and who is funding it?

Usually, these donations are withheld from public disclosure but thanks to The Daily Beast, we have a few names. Chick-fil-A’s CEO is just one of the many homophobic Christian millionaires behind this terrifying “dark money operation” that aims to kill the Equality Act and pass anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. This includes numerous efforts to promote anti-trans legislation. Other NCF donors include former US education secretary Betsy Devos, the owners of Hobby Lobby (a US retail company) and the Anschutz oil and gas dynasty.

What is the Equality Act?

The Equality Act is a bill that aims to amend the Civil Rights Act (1964) to add the prohibition of discrimination based on “sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.” The Trump administration had previously attempted to redefine these parameters to erase transgender people from these polices.

If passed, the Equality Act would be a landmark moment for LGBTQ+ peoples in all areas of life such as education, medical care, housing and more. President Biden had initially promised to pass the bill within his first hundred days in office; in spite of the House of Representatives passing the bill, with a bi-partisan majority, it stalled in the Senate—meaning Biden has now missed his deadline goal.

Why has the Equality Act not been passed?

It’s terrible that in 2021, it has yet to pass. In fact, most people are under the impression that it is already under federal law—unfortunately, that is not the case. Its stalling is largely to do with groups like the NCF and the funding of Christian billionaires like Cathy. Don’t forget that the NCF is a “donor-advised fund” so when it donates money to groups such as the ADF, that’s probably where the individual wants their money to go. It has been uncovered that in 2018, the NCF donated over $6 million to the ADF. The ADF is a conservative group that lobbied and authored many anti-trans legislation and policies for years.

In fact, one of the most widely discussed anti-trans bills (‘the bathroom bills’) were influenced by the ADF. That’s how powerful they are. In an article from 2016, Mother Jones disclosed striking similarities between an ADF letter (sent to schools in 2014) which opposed bathroom access to transgender students and the actual anti-trans bathroom bills that were proposed in North Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada and Kansas. The ADF has even argued in the Supreme Court for the criminalisation of homosexuality in the US and the sterilisation of trans-people—wow. 

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This is where Dan Cathy is spending his money. This is where those chicken sandwich dollars are going. It’s not just supporting a few homophobes here and there, it’s changing policy. It’s endangering the lives of LGBTQ+ people, specifically trans people, every day. Yeah. A chicken sandwich can change the fabric of US society. The NCF and the ADF are just two groups mentioned—there are many more. So if you are able to, just eat somewhere else. If not, there are other ways to be an ally. I promise there are other chicken sandwiches that don’t come with a side of homophobia.