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    Ann Rostow: All Hail Melania

    By Ann Rostow–

    All Hail Melania

    I’m not sure how I missed the Log Cabin Republicans’ tribute to Melania Trump, who was given an award at some gay Republican gala at Mar-a-Lago earlier in November. I could not finish watching the three-minute video that celebrated the former First Lady’s commitment to GLBT Americans, a stance that eluded most of us over a dismal four years of gay and trans bashing by the Trump administration. The transgender military ban, the lack of recognition for Pride, the ban on rainbow flags at American embassies, the anti-GLBT policy statements throughout the cabinet departments that aimed to undo much of the progress of the Obama years, the opposition to court cases and any gay rights legislation—all of it simply ignored in favor of pure fantasy.  

    During the Spirit of Lincoln Gala, Ronna McDaniel, the head of the Republican National Committee, announced a GOP outreach to the gay community called the RNC Pride Coalition, formed in cooperation with the Log Cabin gang. This unfortunate initiative, in turn, drew a backlash from conservatives, leading McDaniel to host a conference call to explain herself. She went on to apologize in an email and make clear that the Republicans are not really supporting the gay community, but just looking for votes in odd places. 

    “We are actively committed to fighting the radical left on culture issues and standing up for religious liberty, family values, and Republicans of faith,” McDaniel wrote. “We would never, ever organize or communicate with organizations that undermine our values. You have my word on that. The goal of this new outreach is simply to get more voters to vote Republican in 2022. That’s it.” 

    The disturbing aspect to all of this is that a full 27 percent of the GLBT vote went to Trump in 2020, about the same level as support for George W Bush in 2000, but a rise from the 14 percent he won in 2016, according to exit polls. We are not a monolith, but I’m still surprised at that number, reported by The Washington Post. I can accept conservatives within our community; indeed, I’m very fond of some of them. But Trump supporters? Really?

    Clean Up Time

    Speaking of the Trump administration, I should have already mentioned that the Biden gang recently rescinded a “waiver” that allowed three states to avoid anti-discrimination rules about the use of federal money. Texas, South Carolina, and Tennessee have been allowed to lean on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in order to relay taxpayer dollars to faith-based organizations, including one South Carolina foster agency that will not welcome Jewish foster parents. There are bits and pieces of nasty Trump policy hiding throughout the government, and like dust in your house, you can’t get rid of them without a deep cleaning.

    It’s worth remembering that all these religious freedom claims not only target groups that seek to discriminate against GLBTs, but also technically would open the door to discrimination on the basis of race or creed. In the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Alito wrote that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would not allow a company to avoid race-related civil rights law, but why not? What’s special about racial discrimination? How can you be allowed to fire or refuse service to same-sex or Jewish parents but not allowed to refuse to interview mixed-race foster parents? 

    It’s a dismal prospect that these and many other questions remain to be decided by our current High Court. As I write, the Court is poised to hear oral arguments in the Mississippi abortion case, which does not bear directly on our civil rights. But doesn’t it? The battle over abortion is essentially a religious debate. Allowing state legislatures to impose a religious viewpoint on an entire citizenry is exactly what our side has been fighting against for half a century. So, buckle up.

    Let The Games Begin

    Moving on, I don’t know what to think of the new Olympic Committee framework on transgender athletes, a ten-point series of non-binding recommendations that sound good and no longer specify hormone treatments. The previous guidelines, set in 2015, required some transgender women athletes to reduce their testosterone levels before they could qualify for Olympic competition, and prior to that, trans players had to have had surgery in order to participate. 

    I guess I’m just not sure what “non-binding” means in this context, although a number of gay and trans activist groups praised the framework, so it must be a step forward. The announcement comes after ten U.S. states passed laws that prohibit trans women and girls from competing on female teams in public schools and colleges; several of those laws also inexplicably ban trans men and boys from playing for the male teams.

    Every year, conservative state legislatures fixate on some GLBT issue: marriage, bathrooms, books, school curricula, or whatever. This year it was transgender athletes, and this year, conservatives were far more successful than usual. Over half the states tried to pass this type of legislation, and as mentioned, ten succeeded. 

    One of the earliest such laws was passed in Idaho in 2020, and was quickly put on hold by a federal court. That court case might be dismissed now that the plaintiffs are no longer playing sports, but one transgender plaintiff is considering playing club soccer at Boise State next year, which could keep it alive. Watch this space.

    Prepare to Be Charmed

    What else is new? Have any of you seen the Norwegian post office ad that celebrates fifty years since the end of the country’s sodomy law? Well, you have to google it. Just search for “Posten,” and enjoy the three-minute video When Harry met Santa.

    The vignette tells the story of a middle-aged gay man who encounters Santa one night and is dumbstruck. Over the years, he and Santa meet every Christmas night and get to know each other, falling in love. Finally, one Christmas, Santa delegates all his deliveries to the Norwegian post office and the two of them spend the whole evening together. 

    Naturally, the ad has drawn some backlash, accused of sexualizing Santa. Yet no one objects to Santa kissing Mrs. Claus, and indeed the whole concept of a Mrs. Claus is “sexualizing Santa” just as much as this fairly innocuous scenario (the two share a kiss). After that was pointed out, some said the ad implied that Santa was breaking his marriage vows, to which others noted it could be argued that Santa was not necessarily married to begin with. You get the picture. 

    Don’t you love Norway? 

    Putting the Ban in Orban

    While we’re in Europe, the Hungarian parliament has unanimously approved a public referendum on a proposal that would ban the “depiction or promotion” of homosexuality to children, code for a crackdown on gay rights that would include book censorship and anti-gay school policies. The referendum seeks to put a stamp of approval on an antigay law passed earlier this year, and will likely pass given the hostility towards our community in much of central Europe. 

    Hungary is part of the EU, where I had thought generalized gay-friendly rules and policies apply to all countries. But I confess I obviously have a limited understanding of how such policies are enforced. Every now I then I read about court cases or threats to hold back certain (negligible) funding to various EU miscreants, but it doesn’t seem as if any of these remedies have teeth. 

    As you know, Poland has declared a number of “LGBT-free zones,” areas of announced antigay sentiment and has banned gay couples from adopting kids. At one point, the country faced a fine or some kind of rap on the knuckles from the EU, but again, I’m not sure this had much of an effect. 

    “The anti-gay campaign in Hungary came out of almost nowhere this summer; it’s as if they cut and pasted the issue from the Polish government,” Peter Kreko, director of Political Capital Institute, a Budapest-based think tank, told Anthony Faiola in a recent piece in The Washington Post. “In Hungary, you really didn’t have a political tradition of anti-gay politics before. But now you do.”

    Start Your Engines

    One man taking a stand against homophobia whom you may not have noticed is Formula 1 race driver Lewis Hamilton, the seven-year champion out of England. “To all in this beautiful country Hungary,” Hamilton wrote last summer, “ahead of the grand prix this weekend, I want to share my support for those affected by the government’s anti-LGBTQ+ law. It is unacceptable, cowardly, and misguiding for those in power to suggest such a law.”

    He continued: “Everyone deserves to have the freedom to be themselves, no matter whom they love or how they identify. I urge the people of Hungary to vote in the upcoming referendum to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community; they need our support now more than ever. Please show love for those around you because love will always win. Sending you positivity.”

    In November, Hamilton wore a rainbow helmet for the Qatar grand prix, and he is planning to do the same for the Saudi Arabia race in early December. “I hope that it highlights and sparks conversation, I hope that kids here and whoever is watching are asking what the flag is if they don’t know and why I am wearing it,” he told Sky News.

    Mel and I have become Formula 1 racing fans by virtue of watching three seasons of Drive to Survive on Netflix. This season, I was tempted to root for Hamilton’s challenger, Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, simply because Hamilton wins every year. But we have changed our minds in view of Hamilton’s advocacy. The two men are neck and neck going into the last two races of the season. 

    Hamilton drew criticism from our community several years ago when he made fun of his nephew in an Instagram post for wearing a princess dress. After the backlash, he removed the post and apologized: “I realized that my words were inappropriate so I removed the post. I meant no harm and did not mean to offend anyone at all. I love that my nephew feels free to express himself as we all should.” Since then, the driver says he has educated himself and become a staunch supporter of our community. 

    Jingle Bells

    Have you noticed it’s Christmas again? Doesn’t it seem as if “the holidays” arrive before you know it and stretch endlessly into the future? I have a love/hate relationship with the season, the hate side fueled by unpleasant memories including those spent in shopping malls with not enough money and no idea what to buy. The crowds, the stores filled with candles and holiday-packaged bath and beauty sets that scream: “I bought this at the last minute with little or no thought as to what you really want, who you are, or what you like—even though you are a member of my immediate family.” 

    Do any of you remember that?

    Then there were the travel plans, the snow and cold, and traffic and ice, and the question of what to wear to this or that party or dinner. Because jeans and t-shirts and old sweaters were not appropriate. 

    One year, I flew back to San Francisco through Phoenix, and my connecting flight was cancelled for two days. That year, Phoenix was the only warm spot in the nation, in the seventies. I took a bus from the airport motel into town and spent the morning at the art museum, where they had an exhibit on Bruegel’s use of copper (fascinating), and had lunch outdoors with a glass or two of wine. It was a strange day out of time. Very un-Christmassy and unexpected. 

    That said, a big part of me loves the holidays despite my Grinchy side. I’ve even come to appreciate the darkness at six o’clock, the excuse to batten down the hatches and light a fire or make a cocktail. Did I say six o’clock? I meant four o’clock.

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on December 2, 2021