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    Ann Rostow: From Bad to Worse

    By Ann Rostow–

    From Bad to Worse

    I think we all expected by now that Corona Life will be with us for months, a year, maybe more. But in my case, I also expected that this meant we’d have to get used to a new normal. No more crowded bars. No more massive sports events or parades, and so forth. Perhaps we will all stop shaking hands and I supposed we would habitually wash up in hot soapy water while singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” But otherwise, we might return to traveling, shopping, restaurants, and whatever else we can still afford to do. 

    Now, this idea of the future feels like a complacent dream. First, while I’ve been watching TV and perusing new recipes, the virus has aimed its most lethal assault on people of color, seniors in nursing homes, prisoners, and low-wage workers. What kind of a country allows this to happen without profound self-analysis? Yes, part of the problem is inherent in institutionalized settings, which are more contagious. Some is attributable to the link between income and health care. But then there’s the feeling that policymakers are simply drawing a line and allowing whole classes of people to become disposable.  

    Second, the economy is not going to roar back in July, no matter what Jared Kushner thinks. Some sectors seem damaged beyond recovery. I was going to write a whole section about how gay and lesbian bars, already an endangered species for numerous reasons, are about to become a thing of the past. But so are many other bars and restaurants. Department stores? Bye bye. Airlines? Operating at a fraction of capacity for a year, two years, three? Manufacturing, meat processing, industrial plants? There’s no way these mega-employers can ignore the risk of death and disease and go back to business as usual. As for the oil and gas industry, I’m no expert but I can’t see how future fuel use will drain the massive glut anytime soon. The list goes on, but it represents a massive loss of wages and consumption, a poorer nation, a more desperate society.

    Finally, it now looks as if even an attempt at recovery will have to wait months more than we thought. There are horrible projections coming out of the CDC, which suggests in an unverified draft report that we could see 3,000 deaths a day by June 1. I say unverified because, of course, the agency now disavows the draft document that bears its logo. 

    I’m an optimist by nature, so I can also imagine that other unforeseen events intervene to brighten the picture. Perhaps in the near term we refashion our lives and our economy in a positive way. Maybe a vaccine comes sooner rather than later. Maybe we seriously address global warming, universal health care, inequality, immigration. Maybe in a decade or two we look back in awe at what changes this disease has wrought. Or not.

    In the Loophole

    Moving on, we are continuing to watch for the High Court opinions on Title VII, the federal law that bans discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex and other factors. Does Title VII protect gays and lesbians? Does it protect transgender workers? Many courts have been saying yes to both questions over recent years, but the nine justices could reverse those precedents in one fell swoop. Actually, that would be two fell swoops.

    Meanwhile, as we go to press, the Court will hear oral arguments on a related question, to wit: when can religious employers use the “ministerial exception” to avoid having to abide by civil rights laws? Under the exception, churches have the right to hire and fire ministers for any reason, regardless of state or federal anti-discrimination laws. Okay, we’ll allow it, right? If you’re a crazy homophobic church, you can hire your favorite crazy homophobic “pastor.” 

    But what about the church receptionist? And how about the teachers at a religious school? Surely, they are not “ministers” or “ministerial” employees. In the two teacher cases that the Court will hear on May 11, religious schools fired one teacher who was diagnosed with cancer in seeming violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and another who believes she was targeted for her age. In both cases, the schools claimed the ministerial exception because the lesson plans included limited religious instructions. 

    I don’t have to remind you how many gay and lesbian teachers have been told to take a hike by parochial schools and other religious employers, although unlike the two women on appeal at the High Court, most gay teachers are accused of violating contractual rules about moral behavior. For example, the Archbishop of Cincinnati just fired Jim Zimmerman, a gay English teacher who had worked at Alter High in Kettering, Ohio, for 23 years, after Zimmerman got married. Same-sex marriage seems to be a final straw for Catholic employers, who graciously tolerate single gay men and women, but slam the hammer down on those of us who make public commitments to life partners that then serve as proof of sexual deviancy. 

    Religious employers may not always have to resort to proclaiming a ministerial exception when they get rid of a gay worker, but let’s just agree that church groups have enough loopholes at their disposal. Let’s not enlarge any of them any further. Oh, and if you have nothing better to do, you know you can listen to live oral arguments. Check out Scotusblog for the link.

    A Flag for All Seasons

    I was just reading an absurd story about how the BiNet bisexual rights group was claiming that they owned the legal rights to the Bisexual Pride Flag, which apparently is a thing. This flag, which consists of three meaningful stripes, was designed by a guy named Michael Page over twenty years ago, and even though Page was affiliated with BiNet at the time, the flag he created doesn’t “belong” to anyone. Don’t tell that to the fussbudgets over at BiNet who twisted themselves into knots when activist Jayne Shea used the flag in a virtual event.

    “Hi Jayne B Shea,” they wrote. “We at BiNet USA are asking you to get in touch so we can discuss your use of the bisexual pride flag without any money going to our organization. Thank you for removing the flag from your site, socials or work. We know this is a lot so we hope we can work a new deal.”

    Say what? Does BiNet really think individual activists have cash to burn on faux flag fees? And shouldn’t they be welcoming Shea’s efforts in solidarity? According to Gay City News, the attempted shakedown didn’t stop there: “If you’re using the bi pride colors, or any @BiNetUSA work,” they warned in a subsequent tweet, “please remove them from your website before we send a legal letter advising same.” 

    In the course of researching these litigious bi-bozos, I found a website that offered “a complete guide to queer pride flags,” which indeed are myriad. There’s even a “pony flag” with little horseshoes. “Pony play,” we learn, “is a distinct fetish where people are treated like horses by wearing hooves, ears, and saddles and pulling carts. Carrie P created this flag in 2007; it uses black in solidarity with the leather community at large.”

    Sorry, guys, but I draw the line at including pony play in my personal rainbow spectrum. I’m fine with gay men, gay women, bisexuals, transgenders, and a hint of, well, chacun a son gout. But that’s it. Leave the rest behind the stable door, please. 

    Lost in Space

    I was just checking my old column idea list and, as usual, discovered a number of promising entries. One is “lesbian astronaut,” which if I remember correctly involves two lesbians who broke up, one of whom was on the space station trying to access the other woman’s bank account. That sounded like a fun topic to revisit, but I also noticed another reference, weeks earlier, titled “astronaut dog.” What? Total mystery.

    The lesbian astronaut story was from last August, but I am sure I read an update of some sort last month. I can’t tell who’s in the wrong, but I do know that the astronaut had been in charge of the couple’s finances and said she was checking activity on the bank account. Indeed, no transactions took place, but the earthbound one insisted that the astronaut had “stolen her identity” for nefarious purposes. I can’t find the update, but I choose to align myself with the astronaut. Meanwhile, the dog story is a sweet video about a different female astronaut who returned to Earth after nearly a year and was greeted by her hysterically happy dog. 

    All in all, I’m not sure that our communal wisdom was advanced by either of those items, although it’s worth your time to watch the dog video, which I found by googling: “astronaut dog.” 

    Court-side

    Of course, I have a number of actual GLBT news bits, including Lambda Legal’s challenge to Idaho’s two new anti-trans laws, both mentioned in previous dispatches. But I’d rather tell you about the Broward County, Florida, judge, Dennis Bailey, who felt compelled to send a letter to the Weston Bar Association, complaining about the declining dress standards on digital hearings.

    “We’ve seen many lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background, etc.,” wrote Judge Bailey. “One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers.”

    I admit, that last one was my favorite. I love this female attorney, a woman after my own heart. I picture her, pen and pad in hand, legal papers in organized piles on the duvet, a mug of coffee on the bedside table and maybe a cat dozing near her feet. Maybe she put one of her silk blouses over the white tee she wore to bed in an effort to upgrade her image for the court. Or maybe not. Maybe she was still wearing an old rock concert shirt from college days. Perhaps she had a margarita just off camera instead of the coffee. I’m guessing the pillow behind her head gave her away, or maybe the edge of the bedsheet. 

    “Putting on a beach cover-up won’t cover up you’re poolside in a bathing suit,” Bailey added. “So, please, if you don’t mind, let’s treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not.”

    Yes, I loved that one, too. I envision a woman at the pool, because men don’t wear “beach coverups.” I’d also like to think that she was arguing against the woman in bed, the two of them engaged in complex legal jousting.

    “Your Honor, my opponent’s reliance on the Cavendish case is inapposite given the constitutional amendments of 1997 that subsequently informed Bishop … (pauses to sip from a coconut umbrella drink) … excuse me, Your Honor, which I would argue makes Cavendish irrelevant to our current situation. In fact … ”

    “Ms Jenkins, what say you to that?”

    “Your Honor? (Sits up and adjusts pillows, reaches for papers.) The citation in Cavendish has nothing to do with the subsequent amendments, nor does Bishop have the slightest impact on our argument, which … (cat wanders in front of the camera, stretches and moves languidly away) … which, if I may summarize again in the main … “

    “Ms Wallerson, if I may interrupt here and ask that you please refasten your beach coverup!” 

    End Notes

    Let’s see. You all know that Anderson Cooper had a baby. That’s nice. A state appellate court in Florida struck the GLBT rights ordinance in Jacksonville on technical grounds. I assume it will be revived. And speaking of babies, a transgender U.K. man who gave birth has lost his fight to be listed as the child’s father, rather than the mother, even though he was legally male at the time of birth. 

    Chief court mucky muck Sir Andrew McFarlane concluded that anyone who gives birth is legally a “mother,” observing nonsensically that there is a “material difference between a person’s gender and their status as a parent.”

    Yes, Sir Andrew, it’s a brave new world. But it’s not hard to state that a male parent is a father and a female parent is a mother. And exactly what purpose does it serve to hurt this man and make his family’s life difficult?

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on May 7, 2020