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    Ann Rostow: Absurd Aussie Shenanigans, Part XXI

    By Ann Rostow–

    Absurd Aussie Shenanigans, Part XXI

    I know I promised not to waste your time by discussing Australia’s continuing joyride on the marriage equality merry-go-round, but I simply must give you the latest. A week or so ago, after the parliament once again failed to do anything useful, the Turnbull administration authorized the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to conduct a national survey of registered voters via the postal service to gauge the public’s view of same-sex marriage. The $122 million survey will, of course, be optional, and will be conducted later this fall to produce results on November 15. Oh, and the whole idea is being challenged in court in two lawsuits to be heard in early September.

    Did I mention that the survey is not binding on Parliament, and indeed serves no real purpose whatsoever? 

    And how about the fact that far right groups and neo-Nazis have already begun to distribute nasty antigay fliers, etc., including a poster that shows a little boy cowering under rainbow whips held in the hands of his presumed gay dads. We only see the two arms of the men, but you get the picture. One of the reasons that activists have long opposed votes or surveys on marriage equality has been the assumption that such campaigns would needlessly open the floodgates of homophobic enmity. 

    Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who claims to be pro-equality, insists that he promised the nation that the public would be allowed to weigh in on marriage rights. Perhaps, but although polls consistently show that Australians back equality by a significant majority (in the high fifties), it’s not at all clear that this postal survey will reflect these views. Older people with more conservative views are more likely a) to be correctly registered to vote at their current address, and b) more likely to turn in the survey. 

    So, we’ll see. Turnbull promises that equality will roll through Parliament with ease if the public votes in favor, but what if it doesn’t? What if the vote is 51–49? Or what if Turnbull is wrong and Parliament doesn’t feel like holding a free vote on marriage? Stay tuned by all means.

    No News Is Good News When It Comes to Texas

    So, did you notice that Texans survived a legislative session, and then a special session, without dragging their knuckles through the scrub oak and passing a bathroom bill? In addition to the concerted and vocal opposition of Texan corporations, Joe Straus, the moderate GOP speaker of the house, came to the rescue yet again by shelving a number of hard right proposals. The San Antonio lawmaker also announced plans to run again for the speakership two years from now. (Texas might be one of the largest states in the union, but its legislature still only meets for a few months every other year.)

    I’m still in Scotland, by the way, and we still have wet gray skies with temperatures in the low sixties. Beats 105 in the shade back in the Lone Star State. I feel removed from the real world out here, appalled by the news, but somehow indifferent—in a dream state, if you will. I’m out of touch. Instead of acing the Slate weekly news quiz as usual, I’ve been getting very poor scores. Sad.

    I did see that the American Civil Liberties Union has decided it will no longer defend the First Amendment rights of armed protesters. Good for them. I have always loved my country’s dedication to free speech, exemplified by the ACLU’s defense of Nazi parades and even their support for Fred Phelps’ antigay demonstrations back in the day. While other countries ban hate speech by law, Americans combat hate in the marketplace of ideas! (Chant with me! “USA! USA!”)

    But the First Amendment has limits, and one exception is speech that incites imminent violence. Yelling crazy racist blather to a crowd is one thing. Doing so to a crowd armed to the teeth and face-to-face with counter-protesters is another. I still don’t quite understand how we got to the point where average citizens are allowed to waltz around with firearms locked and loaded.

    Speaking of violence, I was sorry to see that plans for a new, openly gay version of Xena: Warrior Princess have been cancelled by NBC. I think I mentioned that Mel and I recently discovered a new cable channel called “Heroes and Icons,” which airs an episode of Xena every day. To be honest, we tired of the nostalgic novelty after two or maybe three shows. I was also required to hit pause for thirty seconds or so at a crucial moment in the opening credits so Mel could linger over the scene where the warrior princess laces up her bodice. Anyway, it seems the man in charge of the Xena revival quit the project over “creative differences.” 

    Freaky Fresnan

    And what else is going on, you ask? I’m sure you all read about Fresno school board president Brooke Ashjian, who complained about California’s requirements for positive education about sexual orientation in public schools. 

    “My biggest fear in teaching this—which we’re going to do it because it’s the law—but you have kids who are extremely moldable at this stage, and if you start telling them that LGBT is OK and that it’s a way of life, well maybe you just swayed the kid to go that way.” Speaking to the Fresno Bee earlier this month, Ashjian added: “It’s so important for parents to teach these Judeo-Christian philosophies.”

    According to the Bee, Ashjian has a history of antigay activities, including some oddball antics. Not only did he give cash to the Prop 8 campaign, but he also apparently attacked the group Gay Fresno after Gay Fresno put his business on a boycott list in view of his support for the anti-marriage proposition. Three comments on a complaint board called Ripoffreport.com tracked back to Ashjian’s computer. The “complaints” said Gay Fresno was run by “pimps in disguise,” [who] “stole my money, my dignity and my virginity.” Ashjian’s fictitious character also told the Ripoffreport audience that: “these people are evil.” Once exposed, Ashjian admitted that he used the website, but claimed that he couldn’t remember what he posted. Hmmm.

    Gay Pets Murdered

    There’s also a horrible story out of Jackson, Michigan, where Jackson Pride Center director Nikki Joly and her partner Chris Moore saw their home destroyed by arson earlier this month. Lost in the fire were the couple’s two dogs and three cats. According to towleroad.com the town council recently received a hateful email from a local businessman promising “a violent response” in retaliation for a recent pride festival. Sure enough, investigators confirmed that accelerant was found at the scene of the blaze, although it’s not clear whether or not the email guy was involved. Still. 

    It’s always particularly tragic when animals or pets are killed. I am still haunted by the deliberate barn fire that killed eight horses owned by a gay man in Zanesville, Ohio. (There were antigay slogans at that scene.) We recently lost both our dogs, one in May and one in July, but they were both 15 years old and their time had come. I can’t imagine how we’d feel if they had been slain by an antigay psychopath. 

    Jackson, Michigan, by the way, is a small city of just over 30,000 people about a half hour south of Lansing. According to Wikipedia, it claims to be the birthplace of the Republican party and the Coney Island hotdog. 

    Potpourris for Five Hundred, Alex

    I know, I know. This column feels jarringly disconnected. An item here, an unrelated item there. Xena, Texas, dead pets. And where’s the lengthy piece about our latest sex discrimination lawsuits? 

    It’s a vacation phenomenon. I’ve been doing zero reading (I told you about my Slate quiz scores, right?) and I’ve only spent a short amount of time looking for gay stuff to tell you about. So, I’m missing that je ne sais quoi, that easy fluency in GLBT news, the ability to take a topic and run with it, spin it around like a cone in cotton candy until it’s dense and fun. 

    Instead, we’re stuck with this staccato game of news pepper. Still on my list I find the two men who were told not to share a sundae at a D.C. restaurant because it wouldn’t look good. I’ve got the lesbian bourbon heiress who was banned from the business, and the high school seniors who were censored by the yearbook people. Then there’s a gay marriage art project of sorts that I personally found odd, the appearance of the Canadian defense minister on a Vancouver pride float, and a freedom of information lawsuit by the Mattachine Society. Where do we start? 

    Okay then!

    I know you’re wondering what the Mattachine Society is up to in the 21st Century. You should know that there is a new version of this, the original gay rights organization, and that the Mattachine Society of D.C. was reanimated in 2011 with a mission to preserve gay history. Towards that aim, the group filed a freedom of information act request in 2013 asking the Department of Justice for all records pertaining to the antigay purges that began with Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 executive order banning homosexuals from government service. 

    To date, although the Department has provided a couple of thousand pages in response, the Mattachine lawyers argue that the search terms used by the Department of Justice have been inadequate to the task, and further, that the Department is withholding some materials based on overly broad censorship criteria. Recently, a federal judge ruled mostly in favor of the Mattachine Society, while siding with the Defense Department on some censorship issues. 

    Why do we care? Because we don’t want this critical era of gay history to be whitewashed and forgotten, that’s why. 

    Prime Suspect

    So, that D.C. restaurant is called Prime Rib, and claims to be one of the most romantic restaurants in the country. Fifty-somethings Ron Gage and Henry McKinnon were dressed nicely and enjoying their dinner up until dessert. After ordering a sundae and two spoons, Gage informed the Washington Post that the server told them he would bring two dishes. “He said, ‘It wouldn’t look right with two gentlemen eating out of the same sundae. It doesn’t go with the ambiance of the restaurant.’”

    Gage said he and his partner were “speechless,” and paid the bill without comment. Later they told the tale on social media, prompting a call from the Post. Contacted by the newspaper, Prime Rib general manager said he would be investigating and reaching out to the two men. “I cannot believe that a waiter would have ever said anything like that,” MacLeod said. “There’s no way we would condone anything remotely like this.”

    Gage and McKinnon said they don’t plan to return to the eatery, but I’m guessing they might have a few free meals coming their way. 

    Meanwhile, Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz, two openly gay seniors at Kearney High in Missouri, were stunned to find blank spaces under their yearbook pictures. Their classmates all had quotations, and indeed Joey and Thomas had written quotes as well. 

    “Of course, I dress well, I didn’t spend all that time in the closet for nothing,” wrote Joey. As for Thomas, he had written: “If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one deserves to live in the closet.” 

    Apparently, someone somewhere decided that the comments might alarm someone somewhere. In a statement signed by district Superintendent Bill Nicely, the school said its practice is to err on the side of caution. 

    “Doing so in this case had the unintentional consequence of offending the very students the practice was designed to protect. We sincerely apologize to those students … . We acknowledge our mistake and will use it as a learning opportunity to improve in the future.”

    Finally, google “lesbian bourbon,” and I believe you’ll learn all you need to know about Hollis Bulleit, the First Lady of Bourbon, who has been shunned by her own distillery. Due to space constraints, I will not rehash an unfortunate bourbon incident from my teen years that put me off all whiskey for an entire lifetime.

    arostow@aol.com