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    Ann Rostow: To Every Thing There Is a Season

    By Ann Rostow–

    To Every Thing There Is a Season

    Before we start this week’s rundown of GLBT news and views, allow me to vent about a TV commercial for a GMC truck that has become ubiquitous on ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. Open. 

    The scene features several men, just short of middle age but no longer young, per se. A demanding narrator asks, “How do you want to live your life? … As a decent person? Good husband? Is that it? Good?” 

    “Of course not,” the voice continues, listing the sorts of ambitions that the rightful buyer of this truck would favor: being a “pro,” a high roller, living in a penthouse, being the boss, and so forth. 

    All I can say is that the writers of this advertisement can’t be much out of their thirties, otherwise they would realize that it’s about ten times harder to wind up as a decent person than it is to make it in the business world. It’s also about ten times more satisfying. 

    It’s as if small children wrote a TV spot that asked: “What do you want for dinner? Rack of lamb? Poached trout? A fine wine? Of course not! You want sour balls, chocolate kisses, ice cream, sodas and gum drops!” So, buy this truck!

    I don’t think so, kids. Meanwhile, the last major tournament of the tennis/golf season comes to a close this week, along with the summer of 2017. I know that Labor Day feels like the end of summer, and I also know that the end doesn’t really arrive until September 22, but I’ve always ended summer in my mind on the weekend after Labor Day. Labor Day seems to appear out of the blue. One day it’s the middle of August. The next day it’s September 5 or 6. Say what? It catches you by surprise, so you need an extra week to make sense of it. It’s September. Really? Yes. 

    The weekend after Labor Day is when you can give summer a proper goodbye. Summer’s not coming back for nine months. Wait another week and you’ll start to see pumpkins in the grocery stores and ghosts in the Walmart aisles. Then it’s a slow roll through turkeys, reindeer, Valentines and, at long last, Easter bunnies—time for the Masters, and time for the earth to start to turn again. 

    The only solution to seasonal depression, I’ve discovered, is to force yourself to enjoy fall and winter. College football, March Madness. A chill in the air. A fire in the hearth. Hygge nights. 

    There’s also the return of anticipation. In February, you have the pleasurable knowledge that spring is just around the corner. Months of comfortable weather lie ahead. The days are lengthening. Birds will soon chirp. Trees will soon blossom. Whereas in July, you’re carrying a small nugget of dread inside your heart. Summer is a goin’ out. Winter is coming. If you take this phenomenon a little further, you can start to anticipate February itself, because February is when you’ll be able to anticipate spring. Obviously, anticipating February is something that happens around December. So—stay with me here—December won’t be so bad! 

    (Do any longtime readers remember my secret alter ego, the inane Bay Times “columnist” Nan Parks from back in the day? Nan particularly liked the fall and winter because her favorite season, summer, always lay ahead. Summer, on the other hand, made her sad, because by the time it arrived, it was soon to be over.)

    Another Petition in The Offing

    I’m not sure how or why I devoted such a lengthy section to off-topic meandering. It makes me wonder if it would be possible to write an entire 2000-word GLBT news column without once mentioning GLBT news. Would my editors accept it? (Let me know in an editor’s note.)

    I’m not flirting with the notion. Indeed, there’s interesting news out there, including a major transgender rights victory out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in late May that I managed to gloss over in these pages during the distractions of my Scottish vacation. I believe I gave this significant development no more than a single sentence in July before announcing that I had to run off for afternoon cocktails on the High Street. 

    The Seventh Circuit case was an echo of the famed Gavin Grimm case at the Fourth Circuit, which, as you may recall, we have spent many, many months discussing. Gavin, a Virginia trans-teen, won the right to use the boys’ facilities at his school in a blockbuster appellate court ruling a year ago last spring. In an opinion announced just after North Carolina surprised everyone with their bizarre bathroom bill, the Fourth Circuit ruled that it was obliged to follow the Obama administration’s trans-friendly interpretation of federal law in this case. Subsequently, the Justice Department and the Education Department released a statement clarifying their admirable legal stance and all the conservatives went ballistic. 

    Many suits were filed. I forget exactly how many, by whom and what happened to all of them, so let’s move along, shall we?

    The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, and we were all set for a dramatic showdown over transgender rights in the High Court; for all intents and purposes, the first major transgender legal battle of the modern era. 

    And then came Trump.

    When the Trump administration retracted the trans-friendly legal views of the Obama camp, the High Court changed its mind and sent Grimm’s case back to the Fourth Circuit for another review, this time leaving aside the views of government agencies and just focusing on the merits. But, by the time the case returned to the appellate court, Gavin had graduated and his lawsuit was theoretically moot. Recently, in view of this snag, the American Civil Liberties Union revised the suit from the perspective of a student to that of an alumnus who might be obliged to use the bathroom during a reunion, I’m guessing. 

    Meanwhile, as the Grimm case tossed and turned, the Seventh Circuit leapfrogged the Fourth Circuit by taking on a case of its own, which pit trans-student Ash Whitaker against his Kenosha, Wisconsin, school district. Three months ago, the panel ruled in favor of Whitaker, and the Kenosha district promptly asked the justices to review the case. 

    Considering that the justices were ready to consider Gavin Grimm’s appeal, you’d think the same crew might be happy to take on Ash Whitaker. On the other hand, remember that Gavin Grimm’s case contained a separate legal issue, one that is not present in the Seventh Circuit. That separate issue is the question of whether or not courts must defer to the legal interpretation of a government agency when the scope of a federal law is ambiguous.  

    Scared Straights

    We’re not done with transgender school litigation, but this next story takes us through the Twilight Zone into an alternate universe. Here, it’s not the transgender student filing suit, it’s the straight kids who are suffering by being forced to (possibly) encounter one of the half dozen trans kids in their 1000-plus population high school! Faced with bigoted crybabies—strike that: change to: concerned parents—the school district in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, constructed several single-use bathrooms and other private facilities over the last year in order to reassure the emotionally fragile com-plaintiffs. Taking this into account, and applying common sense, a federal judge denied the litigants request for an injunction a couple of weeks ago, recently issuing a 75-page opinion that I have yet to read. 

    According to New York Law School Professor Art Leonard, the opinion’s a doozy. Written by an Obama-appointee, Edward G. Smith, the opinion cites, among other sources, the aforementioned Seventh Circuit ruling in favor of Ash Whitaker. In the course of his account of this lawsuit, Professor Leonard expressed surprise that showers after gym class are apparently no longer mandatory as they were in his day. I remember being forced to shower as well, even after a lackadaisical 45 minutes of “physical” education spent gossiping or eating candy under the bleachers. It seems schools also have private shower and changing chambers that would have been a godsend to me in sixth or seventh grade. 

    Leonard and his classmates in swim class were required to swim naked, which sounds very strange indeed. Was that a Catholic school, per chance? The two takeaways here are that a) for all its difficulties, life in the school locker room has improved over the last three decades, and b) it was nice when a Democratic president was appointing federal judges.

    Dream On

    Mel has retired from public school teaching, which is terrific. It also means that she is around when I’m trying to write. First, I was shanghaied into (the extremely time consuming and tedious task of) pulling strands of her hair through little holes in a cap so that she can give herself highlights. And it had to be done during a deadline because? 

    Now she’s taken her iPad into the next room (so as not to disturb me) where she’s playing a White House press conference. Could there be anything more annoying than the sound of Sarah Huckabee Sanders droning unintelligibly in the distance? I’ll just tell you. No. Oh, from time to time she’s also cursing. Mel, not Sarah. And to top it off, we’ve reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open and I’m stuck watching Carreno Busta beat Schwartzman in straight sets. I’m a big tennis fan, but I’ve barely heard of these players, and Carreno Busta is cruising through a yawner of a match. I don’t know. I need something cold, wet and frisky. A French 75. Or maybe a puppy.

    Listen, I should be writing about the transgender military ban, and I would if I understood what was going on. Like the plans to put an end to legal status for Dreamers, the ban on transgender soldiers, articulated in a late August directive, comes with a six-month delay. In both cases, Trump has put the ball in another court, where stunned officials are required to react to cruel power plays without warning or clarity. 

    All of our GLBT lawyers have filed suits as thousands of transgender troops are suddenly faced with an uncertain future. As we watch this unfold, we have to assume that you cannot discharge active duty soldiers and sailors for no reason, right? Can you refuse to recruit new transgender volunteers? Can you refuse routine medical care? Can you claim that transgender service members drain the military budgets when that claim is patently untrue? 

    While we’re at it, can you really take a person who is American in all but name and dump them into some foreign land where they don’t speak the language and have no friends or ties of any sort? After they’ve finished high school, maybe college, gone to work and started paying taxes? A man who came here as a three-year-old? A woman who came here as an infant? 

    Surely not. 

    Happiness for Sale

    Finally, I was all set to make a joke about two lesbians who won $10,000 in emotional damages after a clerk in Gilmer County West Virginia called them an “abomination.” For that kind of money, I was about to announce, Mel and I would spend half an hour being yelled at by a lunatic so-called Christian at the clerk’s office.

    But having read the article, I’d have to think twice about it. Amanda Abramovich and Samantha Brookover had been together for five or six years when they applied for a marriage license at the clerk’s desk. They expected a dirty look or two, maybe, but instead they were subjected to a “tirade of harassment and disparagement,” according to their complaint, from not one but two deputy clerks who reluctantly provided the marriage paperwork. When the women complained, the head clerk said they got what was coming to them, and later, when talking to the press, the most abusive clerk claimed to have been very polite and denied using the “a” word.

    The couple sued for emotional distress and won an apology from the county, in addition to the cash. All in all, it sounds harrowing. I think I’d still take the ten grand, but it would be a close call. (Just checked: Mel would take the money in a heartbeat. She says she’d raise a glass to the clerk from her lounge chair on the beach.) Okay then. I’m sold.