Photo by Alfonso Scarpa on Unsplash

Before the Internet and social media, LGBTQ people who wanted to find their tribe and share ideas went to gatherings: Not just bars and protests but conferences and symposiums such as OutWrite, which spanned watershed years in which our community struggled to rise from the ashes of the AIDS pandemic.

OutWrite: The Speeches That Shaped LGBTQ Literary Culture edited by Julie R. Enszer and Elena Gross (Rutgers University Press) now gives readers who weren't there a front-row seat to a pivotal moment in LGBTQ literary history with 27 of the most memorable speeches from the OutWrite conferences, including talks from such luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Essex Hemphill, Patrick Califia, Dorothy Allison, and Edmund White that cover diverse and hot button issues pertinent to our community.

Running from 1990 to 1999, the annual OutWrite conference played a pivotal role in shaping LGBTQ literary culture in the United States. OutWrite provided a space where established trailblazers such as Edward Albee, for example, rubbed shoulders with a new generation of queer writers like Tony Kushner.

This collection gathers some of the most memorable speeches from the OutWrite conference, including both keynote addresses and panel presentations. These talks are drawn from a diverse array of contributors, including Judy Grahn, Allan Gurganus, Chrystos, John Preston, Linda Villarosa, and many more.

We caught up with one of the editors, Julie R. Enszer, publisher and editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and the author of four poetry collections, including Avowed, and the editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker and Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989. Enszer worked on OutWrite with Elena Gross, an independent writer, curator, and culture critic living in Oakland, California.

How and why did this project with Elena come about and what did it involve for you?

Julie Enszer: When I was doing research for my dissertation, someone gifted me a few cassette tapes from the original conferences. The speeches and panels were all recorded by a commercial recording company for a number of the conferences, and participants could purchase cassette tapes and bring them home for plenaries or panels they might have missed—or ones that were particularly enjoyable.

I always had in mind that these speeches would make a great book. I met Elena at the Queer History Conference in San Francisco. She was a part of a wonderful project that E. G. Crichton organized that celebrated OUT/LOOK and contemporary writers & artists responded to the magazine.... Elena and I talked a bit after her presentation and batted around the idea of a book about the OutWrite speeches. She was game and so we began working on it.

We researched the conference through the archives at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco and Northeastern University in Boston. Conference programs provided a basis for who spoke and from there we worked to track down the speeches. Some of them are transcribed from audio tapes, others from printed sources. We worked on it throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was thrilling to imagine people gathering at large conferences while we were sheltering in our homes.

Are there any favorite speeches you would like to highlight - particularly any by women - that you think resonate with Women's History Month?

Enszer: The book includes a diversity of voices, just like the conference. From the outset, the conference was imagined as a bi-gender endeavor and the keynote speeches, conversations, and panels reflect that commitment to gender parity. (Of course, today with our changing ideas about gender and contemporary challenges to the gender binary a different configuration of parity would certain emerge.)

There are many wonderful speeches from well-known writers and from some writers who are lesser known. Mariana Romo-Carmon’s speech is incredible occurring during the 500th anniversary of Columbus and she challenges the audience to grapple with colonialism and its effects. Janice Gould’s panel presentation reminds the audience of the power of words and representation, particularly for lesbians of color. Cheryl Clarke delivered a gorgeous speech celebrating the work of Audre Lorde and claiming a lineage of Black queer writers. There are many great speeches for women and men to read in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Out of the massive struggle of our daily lives, we emerge with a unique and specific intelligence. Because we are bound together as sexual beings, because we have had to struggle through oppression just to touch another’s hand, just to hesitantly voice one word or two about our sexual desire, we have developed, as a people, a brilliant self-consciousness about sexuality, about how people live out their variations of sex and gender. We know these secrets; we are these secrets. we know all the queer details of everyone’s life. And our gift to everyone is that we tell. This is the gift of revolutionary queer imagination.

From “Imagination and the Mockingbird” by Minnie Bruce Pratt in OutWrite: The Speeches that Shaped LGBTQ Literary Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2022), p. 223.

Speaking as a poet, I can say that if you breath out bitterness, your audience will breathe bitterness back to you; if you breathe out sarcasm, your audience will breathe sarcasm; if you breathe out humor, humor; if anger, anger; and if you breathe out love, your audience will breathe back to you love. . . .As a feminist, I am not so much interested in taking back the night as I am in taking back the world. And this world keeps coming back to us itself as we recover our history.

From “Your First Audience Is Your People” by Judy Grahn in OutWrite: The Speeches that Shaped LGBTQ Literary Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2022), p. 25-6.

You can order OutWrite: The Speeches That Shaped LGBTQ Literary Culture here and for more info go to outwritespeeches.com.

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Mjolnir

Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.


Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.