Words Without Borders June: LGBTQ Translation in the Court of the Times

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Released just as a new high court opinion offers job protection for LGBTQ Americans, Words Without Borders’ 11th ‘Queer Issue’ coincides with ‘health, economic, and racial justice’ crises.

A detail from the western-facing frieze at the US Supreme Court in Washington. Image – iStockphoto: Amy Sparwasser

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Adam Liptak: ‘A Vastly Consequential Decision’
Just as this month’s edition of Words Without Borders magazine was being posted this week, the Supreme Court of the United States was making an unexpected ruling that, in the words of the majority opinion. “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

The moment has given Words Without Borders‘ 11th annual “queer issue” extra traction in a newly energized political arena in the States.

As Adam Liptak put it in his New York Times coverage, “Until Monday’s [June 15] decision, it was legal in more than half of the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender. The vastly consequential decision thus extended workplace protections to millions of people across the nation, continuing a series of Supreme Court victories for gay rights even after President Trump transformed the court with his two appointments.

“The decision achieved a decades-long goal of gay rights proponents, one they had initially considered much easier to achieve than a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But even as the Supreme Court established that right in 2015, workplace discrimination remained lawful in most of the country. An employee who married a same-sex partner in the morning could be fired that afternoon for being gay.”

Of particular interest was the fact that a Donald Trump appointee to the court, the conservative Neil Gorsuch, joined the also-conservative chief justice, John Roberts, and the four liberal justices.

And analysts suggest that the Gorsuch and Roberts votes were less about oddly liberal adventures on the conservative justices’ parts than what The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin and others recognize as a “textualist” and timely reading of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s Title VII. That element of the act prevents job discrimination on the basis of sex. The new ruling, as many are understanding it, represents not a new blossoming of liberal grace on the court but a simple reading of 1964’s “sex” as not only referring to gender but also to sexual orientation.

And this, many observers are saying, reflects a cultural evolution: It’s time to recognize, this view of the high court’s opinion says, that in 2020, discriminating against people on the basis of their sexuality simply is no longer tolerable in the United States—outside of Trumpian dogma and other pockets of retrograde tradition. And this is why, then, such writers as Eli Stokols at the Los Angeles Times are evaluating the moment in the context of Donald Trump’s leadership of “a shrinking minority of people digging in their heels for the status quo.

“The rulings hit an already reeling White House with a thud,” writes Stokols, “further isolating the solipsistic president from a public that is embracing efforts to broaden America’s promise—especially for the LGBTQ community and for Black people.”

Susan Harris: ‘A Time of Grief and Rage’

In her introduction to Words Without Borders‘ 2020 June edition, “The Right to Identity: The Queer Issue,” the program’s editorial director Susan Harris takes much the same tack, couching this year’s LGBTQ edition in a threefold collision of an extraordinarily politically charged summer in America.

Susan Harris

“Pride Month and our annual Queer issue arrive at a time of grief and rage.

“Already ravaged by the pandemic and the resulting financial devastation, the United States erupted in fury over the brutal murder of George Floyd by police, protests which were soon duplicated around the world.

“As these three crises—health, economic, and racial justice—spur communities to take to the streets and demand action, we are reminded that Pride celebrations themselves grew out of the protests spearheaded by transgender people of color who fought back against New York police brutality.

“The fight for acknowledgment of the Queer experience intersects with race, class, culture, and more; and the characters in the works presented here demand recognition of the full spectrum of Queer experience in often hostile environments.”

Harris’ curation of this edition responds to that demand with translations that include an excerpt from a novel, a nonfiction excerpt, three short stories, and an excerpt from a graphic memoir. Turkey, the Philippines, Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Russia are represented in works originally written in Turkish, Cebuano, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian.

And while one market’s step forward may signal even conservatives’ understanding that times—and discrimination—are changing, other places and peoples are at stages in wrestling with oppressive realities.

“In this month of uprising and protest,” she writes, “the obstacles facing queer writers around the world are a stark reminder that equality is often earned through dogged resistance and defiance of injustice. Exposing injustices and celebrating the beauty in the demonized, writers across the world help us to better understand just what is at stake.”

In the June ‘Words Without Borders’ Edition

Writers represented in the June 2020 edition of ‘Words Without Borders,’ clockwise from upper left: Gabriel Ebensperger, Natalia Rubanova, Joseph Dazo, Chico Felitti, Nazli Karabıyıkoğlu, and Juan Carlos Cortázar

  • Elfiye” is a novel excerpt by Nazli Karabıyıkoğlu (Turkey), translated from Turkish by Ralph Hubbell. Karabıyıkoğlu left Turkey to escape political, cultural, and gender oppression and lives in the nation of Georgia.
  • The Man with a Thousand Names” is a short story by Joseph Dazo (Philippines), translated from Cebuano by John Bengan. Dazo has won the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for his short fiction and is the founding editor of Katitikan: Literary Journal of the Philippine South .
  • Ricardo and Vânia” is nonfiction by journalist Chico Felitti (Brazil), translated from Portuguese by Flora Thomson-DeVeaux. Felitti holds a master’s degree in creative writing from New York’s Columbia University.
  • Eight Meters” is fiction by Juan Carlos Cortázar (Peru), translated from Spanish by Jennifer Shyue. Cortázar is the author of the novels Tantos angelitosand Cuando los hijos duermen, as well as the short story collections Animales peligrososLa embriaguez de Noé, and El inmenso desvío.
  • Gay Giant” is from a graphic memoir of the same title by Gabriel Ebensperger (Chile), translated from Spanish by Kelley Salas. Ebensperger’s graphic memoir, Gay Gigante, won the Colibrí Medal Award for Best Graphic Novel of 2016. He published his first children’s book, El libro de la tristeza (The Book of Sadness), in 2018, and is now working on a sequel to Gay Gigante.
  •  “Six Musical Moments by Schubert” is a short story by Natalia Rubanova (Russia), translated from Russian by Rachael Daum. Rubanova studied piano at the Ryazan Musical College. She has published four books, and her short stories have been published in more than 60 anthologies in Russia, Finland, Germany, Greece, and the United States.

Image: From ‘Gay Giant’ by Gabriel Ebensperger

More from Publishing Perspectives on ‘Words Without Borders’ is here, and more from us on translation is here. More from us on LGBTQ issues is here, and more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.