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    Ann Rostow: Bad Samaritans

    By Ann Rostow–

    Bad Samaritans

    Last issue, I neglected to write about the antigay right-wing group, Samaritan’s Purse, which has voluntarily set up a 60-bed field hospital in Central Park. You know what, I thought? If these bozos can save a few lives, they can go ahead and give it a try. The group, run under the auspices of the hideous Franklin Graham, only employs unfriendly Christian doctors and nurses. But they insist they will treat everyone without sin-based litmus tests, and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is keeping an eye on them. 

    Recently, a gay man attempted to sign up as a volunteer doctor and was told to fill out a statement of “faith,” which, of course, he declined to do. The activist, James Finn, who is not a doctor or any kind of medical professional, proved the obvious. We already knew that these characters required this strict religious statement, so Mr. Finn did not uncover some earth-shaking new example of discrimination, and the purpose of his charade seems elusive. 

    Personally, if I lived in New York and needed medical help, I would steer clear of the Samaritan’s Purse facility. That said, I assume the extra beds relieve some pressure on other Big Apple hospitals, which can’t hurt. It’s as if some antigay group was collecting and distributing face masks and gowns to doctors and nurses. We don’t have to approve of their mindset in order to step aside and let them proceed. We don’t even have to give them a round of applause. But to try to put a stop to their activities on principle would be a counterproductive waste of our energy.

    Can’t We All Get Along? Um, No

    I find myself indifferent to GLBT civil rights for the moment, although I believe my decades of service to the Cause gives me permission to take a little breather. That said, I have to fight my ingrained hostility to Trumpy governors of red states and find myself feeling a grim satisfaction when I read about some outbreak somewhere that can be traced back to their laissez faire policies. 

    However, I am not as bad as my wife and many of my friends, who actively root for the president and members of his administration to find themselves hooked up to a ventilator with a high fever. Given the conversations I’ve heard on speakerphone around here, I am surprised that the Secret Service hasn’t sent agents to half the lesbians in the country who are happy to banter on open lines about the prospect of President Pelosi stepping into the void left by both Trump and Pence should they simultaneously succumb to the pandemic.  

    I don’t want Trump to die or even become ill. I want this egomaniac to suffer a worse fate, that of losing reelection by double digits and subsequently having to avoid article after article on his failed one-term presidency. I want him prowling around Mar-a-Lago trying to reassert himself on the national stage without success. I want him ridiculed and laughed at, until only a handful of veteran aides are left to pump him up. I want Jared Kushner relegated to obscurity, trying to place calls to MBS and getting nowhere, frozen out of the halls of power, no longer welcome in the big leagues.

    I am the only one in my two-person household who wants Boris Johnson to recover. The man’s a clownish jerk who is working to turn a great country into a mediocre remnant of its former status, but I don’t wish him dead. Hell, I even want the nastygrams over at the Samaritan’s Purse to survive, far right doctors, antigay nurses, prayerful patients and all. In the long run, we are all human. We are all flawed. Some more than others perhaps (nods at the mirror with a small smile), but in the grand scheme of things the differences are minor. 

    That’s why it’s easier to operate in the smallness of normal life, when the gap between compassionate progressive Democrats and hateful greedy conservatives once again becomes a gaping maw worthy of analysis and self-righteous condemnation. Bring back normal life, please.

    A Virtual Life

    So, I guess we’re not having Pride festivals this year. The arc of COVID-19 may be bending, but it’s bending towards August or September, not June. I read something about a virtual global Pride, but you can’t buy rainbow beer hats, skinny dip in a city fountain, or hook up with your ex-partner’s cousin during “Virtual Pride” now, can you? 

    I’m more upset about the major tennis and golf tournaments, and now I’m hearing that my beloved college football season might be in jeopardy. All this after we lost March Madness, a tragedy that still leaves a hollow in our souls here. The Jayhawks would have won it all, as I may have mentioned in my last column. I had no idea that I was so addicted to televised sports. But I suppose I must have known this, deep down. 

    And what else have we lost? How about the 2020 election? The rest of the primaries, the wall-to-wall coverage, the speeches, the rallies, the conventions? The pomp and pageantry? The sturm und drang of drifting polls and contradictory commentary? What will October bring? How will we vote? Who will win the Senate? 

    I’m watching MSNBC with the sound off and just saw a commercial for “Leaf Filter,” which seems to be a kind of netting you put over your gutters so that leaves don’t collect there and block your drainage. Hello? What’s to stop the leaves from collecting on top of the netting and letting all the water wash straight over the roof rather than through the gutters? The leaves will still be there, and if they previously got stuck in the gutters, they will now get stuck on top of the gutters, right? What am I missing?

    Oh, and why is this company that locates senior living residences called “A Place for Mom?” I know women live longer than men, but still. Where’s Dad going? Plus, there’s something smarmy and condescending about the whole tenor of these commercials. Just because “Mom” has forgotten your name and lit the kitchen on fire last week doesn’t mean you can treat her like a small child. Okay, I suppose it does. But wait until that point.

    The Lucky Ones

    Yesterday, Mel and I went out to close on a refinancing (got the mortgage down to the low threes!) and stopped at the liquor store on the way home for essential supplies. After the ninety-minute trip for these two errands, I felt as if I had just finished a major article or finally completed a difficult project. 

    Our lives are now measured in minor accomplishments. A load of laundry one day. A drawer reorganized or a bill paid on the next. Writing this column means that today will rank as the most productive of the week. Once I’m done, I will deserve hours of “relaxation” in the form of more drinking and binge watching. Even now, my mind roams towards cocktail ingredients, now plentiful after yesterday’s excursion to Twin Liquors. 

    Meanwhile, as we take it easy, we are learning that the virus is hitting minority Americans at far higher rates than whites, due to a number of interlocking factors. 

    This is becoming a lower income disease, one that hits those who are not working from home with Zoom connections or getting unemployment from losing salaried jobs. It is hitting drivers, cashiers, messengers, delivery people, cleaning staff, and odd jobbers. It is devastating those with no savings and those without a well-situated extended family. And it is killing those with underlying conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. Poor health can be a class-based phenomenon, and while some of us lounge around for days before zipping out to the grocery store every now and then with masks and gloves, others risk their lives stocking shelves or cashing out dozens of customers with no protection whatsoever. 

    These are the people who are more likely to die in those red states, and they are the reason I can’t really hope that the Trumpy governors see their virus statistics rise on sharp angles. 

    Life Goes On

    Believe it or not, the Idaho legislature somehow found the time to outlaw transgender women from competing on female sports teams, and also managed to prohibit citizens from revising their gender on Idaho birth certificates. Anti-transgender bills of all sorts are this year’s anti-GLBT specialty around the states, but as far as I know, the spud state is the only one that has enacted anti-trans laws and sent them to the governor’s desk. 

    At the same time, we have a couple of good rulings on transgender cases. In Ohio, a professor who refused to address his MTF student with female pronouns, calling her “he” and “Mr.,” was charged with violating the anti-discrimination rules at Shawnee State University. The professor challenged the school to no avail, and subsequently sued in federal court, in a case that was dismissed in February. He is appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, aka the Alliance Defending the Freedom to be a Despicable Jerk. 

    In Anchorage, a federal court ruled in March that the State of Alaska violated Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 when it failed to extend insurance coverage to a transwoman seeking gender reassignment surgery. Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Jennifer Fletcher, a librarian working for the state, who ended up having surgery in Thailand after the AlaskaCare plan refused her vaginoplasty. Judge Russel Holland, a Reagan appointee, reasoned that the surgery would be paid for had Fletcher been born female, and therefore its denial was a case of impermissible sex discrimination. Note that these are the kinds of cases we win now, but may start to lose if the High Court rules against us on our two pending Title VII sex discrimination cases.

    And finally, in a complicated case out of North Carolina, another federal judge has refused to dismiss a suit against the state university and the state health plan, again concerning the refusal to cover gender reassignment surgery. Lambda Legal brought the case under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Affordable Care Act. 

    Notably, the judge refused to set the case aside in anticipation of the High Court’s Title VII rulings. A ruling against covering gay or trans discrimination under Title VII’s ban on sex bias in the workplace would almost automatically apply to Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination in public education.

    Win Win 

    So, at this point, I’ve lost count of the anti-gay and anti-trans rules, regulations, and policies that have crawled out of the sludge of the Trump administration and slimed their way into the way we do business in this country. I’ve lost count of the anti-GLBT federal judges who now sit on the bench, poised to rule against our civil rights regardless of statutory language or judicial precedent. I’ve lost count of the religious freedom loopholes that now riddle our government standards and our legal assumptions. 

    There is only one way back to normal in this regard, and that is to defeat Trump and slowly rebuild the country and the courts. With this imperative in mind, how hard is it to hope for the best and pray for a quick end to the pandemic? After all, the worse it gets, the likelier we are to prevail in November. 

    And yet, we have no choice. We must hope and pray and indeed, I think we do. We must trust that two things can happen at the same time. We can dodge the worst bullets and keep our death rates below expectations and still beat Trump. We can lower the curve, survive the virus, emerge from isolation, and still send this horrible man packing. Yes, we can, as someone once said.

    Published on April 9, 2020