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    Ann Rostow: I’m Blue, No Matter Who

    By Ann Rostow–

    I’m Blue, No Matter Who

    As soon as I mentioned to you that I decided to pin my hopes for defeating Trump on megabucks Bloomberg, I was inundated with horrible videos and quotes from years gone by—some of them old enough to dismiss and some of them relatively recent. The worst was his flip and dehumanizing remarks about transgender women. 

    Bloomberg was trying to make the point (I guess) that Democrats should be less vocal about politically correct controversies such as the bathroom wars, and more focused on health care and issues of mass popular concern. You know what? Of course, we don’t want our general election nominee setting himself or herself up as an easy target by ignoring health care, climate change, inequality, and other core aspects of the Democratic platform. But that emphasis can be maintained without abandoning GLBT issues. 

    Let’s face it. Our concerns are never going to be written into the first paragraph of anyone’s presidential stump speech to begin with. But in the process of relegating us to the back burner, Bloomberg demeaned transgender women as “men in dresses” and ridiculed the insidious attack on transgender lives that the bathroom paradigm represents. It was shocking to see and hear, and he did it with a mocking sneer. Was there a larger context to these remarks? Maybe, but not that I’ve read about. 

    We Must Win

    For the record, the Human Rights Campaign has posted a lengthy questionnaire, addressed in full by all the candidates. Mike Bloomberg is certainly a friend to our community, despite a discouraging refusal to require equal benefits from New York City contractors back in the day (based on a legal conflict with federal pension laws that the then-mayor didn’t want to litigate). Like the other Democratic challengers, he will immediately reinstate transgender troops, fight for the Equality Act, start putting good judges back on the bench, and all the other good things you can think of. By all means check out the HRC website for these GLBT position papers, although your eyes will glaze over after just a few pages of boilerplate gay rights political speak.

    At any rate, I am left again with the dilemma of who to support. Not only is Bernie a weak general election candidate with short coattails for our embattled Senate challengers, but he also now seems to have thrown Florida to Trump by singing the praises of Fidel Castro on 60 Minutes for God’s sake. Oh yes, Castro might have turned Cuba into a Soviet style exemplar of political repression, complete with assassinations, secret prisons, state-controlled media, civilian spies, and dictatorship. But check out those literacy rates! And everyone has health care! Florida, I remind you, is a swing state with 29 electoral votes. Only Texas (38) and California (55) have more, while New York is tied at 29. By the way, Texas will not turn blue this year, so Florida—with its heavy concentration of Cuban refugees and their extended families—is the only major electoral jackpot in play.

    In the end, I’ve decided to vote for Warren, after my wife spent hours walking neighborhoods to canvas for her while I lounged at home drinking wine and binge-watching Bancroft on BritBox. It’s the least I could do, although Mel kindly put no pressure on me. I gave a few more bucks to Pete the other day, but again, I don’t think he can win. I’m also counting on Mike to follow through with his pledge to pour resources into the general election regardless of whether or not he represents the party. 

    I Miss Scalia

    So, here’s the big news of the week. On Monday, February 24, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear another highly significant GLBT case, one that pits the City of Philadelphia against Catholic Social Services (CSS) over the question of placing foster kids with gay couples. The city contracts with about 30 agencies for fostering, many of them religious in nature, yet CSS is the only organization that has refused to consider married same-sex couples as foster parents. Philadelphia, in turn, has a rule forbidding the city to do business with groups that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, ergo CSS was struck from Philly’s go-to list. 

    The ensuing litigation went up through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which ruled unanimously in favor of the City of Brotherly Love. Now, that victory is hanging from a thread, given that four conservative justices have already signaled their hostility to a hugely important precedent at stake in the legal underpinnings of the case. 

    That 5–4 precedent, ironically authored by our quixotic foe, Antonin Scalia, in 1990, says that you can’t use your religion as an excuse to ignore generally applicable laws. Sounds reasonable. I mean, I can’t tell the traffic cop that The Flying Spaghetti Monster mandates a 100-mph speed limit and successfully avoid a ticket on First Amendment grounds even though I am an ordained minister of His church. (Which I am.) So, when two Oregon men were fired for using peyote, Scalia ruled that they were not allowed to claim a religious exemption to the state’s unemployment benefits rules even if their drug use was tied to a religious rite. The case is called Smith v. Unemployment Division, and conservatives have hated it for lo these many years (as has the ACLU at times).

    Justices Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, and Kavanaugh are looking to overrule this decision, and Chief Justice Roberts is very likely in agreement. Without it, religious loopholes under the First Amendment, already fraying at the edges, could widen beyond repair. Civil rights laws and city ordinances alike will be toothless, leaving our community vulnerable to unchecked discrimination from Christian bakers, from homophobic schools and organizations, and, well, from anyone who can raise even the most tepid faith-based qualm. Worse, our efforts to legislate protections under federal law will be to no avail if, say, a statute like the Equality Act, once passed, could be easily challenged under the Constitution.

    There are several anti-Smith lawsuits heading for the High Court. I just read a New Republic article about George Ricks, an Idaho contractor who refuses to provide the state with his social security number, which he believes is the mark of the devil. Not surprisingly, George has been denied a contractor’s license, lost all his lawsuits, and his petition is now under review by the justices. I have no idea whether or not the Court would accept review of this one, but if I were a conservative justice, I’d rather get rid of the Smith precedent with a case like Devout Catholics v Slightly Perverted Gay Couple than I would with a case like Satanist v Idaho Bureaucrat

    Circuit Breakers

    I have a few other pieces of legal news, and I can’t find any updates on the transgender military case out of Marsha Pechman’s courtroom in Washington State. Pechman recently issued a deadline of February 14 for the government to cough up documents that detail the thought process that led to General Jim Mattis’ anti-transgender policy. Presumably there was little to show, but I don’t know what happened … yet. 

    Meanwhile, I see that Trump has now managed to install 10 judges on the 29-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, so something like one in three of our (active) appellate deciders are Trumpers now. Check out the Los Angeles Times for a scary description of Daniel Collins, a 50-something bulldozer who has upended decorum on the court and called for a review of no less than five panel rulings in his nine months on the appellate bench. 

    We were fortunate to get a non-Trump three-judge panel on a transgender high school case out of Oregon recently, where the panel ruled unanimously that parents could not contest a transgender friendly school policy on Constitutional grounds.

    We also dodged a bullet when the full Ninth Circuit declined to review a three-judge panel victory in a prison case out of Idaho. This case involved a transgender inmate who was denied reassignment surgery despite her doctor’s conclusion that the surgery was vital to her mental and physical health. A lower court ruled in favor of inmate Adree Edmo, and in August, the appellate court agreed that the denial of this procedure amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. According to New York Law School professor Art Leonard, the state of Idaho is likely to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Naturally.

    For the record, we are waiting, I should say dreading, the release of the Court’s opinions on whether or not sexual orientation and/or gender identity bias are subsets of “sex discrimination” for the purposes of federal workplace law, and by extension, other civil rights statutes.

    As for the Catholic Social Services case we just talked about, that case will be argued next fall.  

    Mean Boys

    Mel just alerted me to the release of a toxic twitter feed by a gay Sanders campaign regional field director named Ben Mora, who has now been fired. The sick, childish, obscene, sheer nastiness of this man’s attacks on the other candidates and their families is simply unbelievable. I guess Mora tried to hide his poisonous one-liners, but someone unearthed the trove.

    You will probably discover this Daily Beast story for yourselves before you read it here. But let me just give you one paragraph from the article, in case you’ve missed it:

    “‘Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN),’ Mora has tweeted, ‘looks like her name: pained, chunky, [and] confused origin/purpose.’ Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg ‘is what happens when the therapist botches the conversion,’ and his husband, Chasten, Mora predicts, will be ‘busted for running a meth racket’ in 10 years. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a frequent subject of Mora’s private account, is called a ‘dumb Okie,’ ‘an adult diaper fetishist’ who ‘looks like s–t’ and who lied about having Native American ancestry ‘to get into Harvard.'”

    The subject of nasty, misogynistic gay male tweets reminds me of Ric Grenell, our new acting intelligence chief, who was obliged to delete a raft of comments when he started working for Mitt Romney back whenever that was. Grenell said Rachel Maddow looked like Justin Bieber and advised her to “take a breath and put on a necklace.” He said Callista Gingrich’s “hair snaps on,” said Hillary was “starting to look like Madeline Albright,” and speculated about Michelle Obama sweating on the carpet in the East Room. His critics have called him a bully, unbearable, arrogant, rude, dishonest and deceptive. According to Reuters reporter Irwin Arieff, speaking to Huffpost in 2012: 

    “He often lied, even more frequently offered half answers or withheld information that would weaken his case or reflect poorly on his ideological point of view … . He was always argumentative with the press, castigating reporters for asking questions he did not like, and calling them to criticize them for writing articles he did not like.”

    Guys, you know this type. Insecure, mean, catty, scared of women for whatever reason. Whether on the left or the right, it’s not a pretty sight. And Grenell, who somehow managed to get himself appointed frigging Ambassador to Germany and promptly pissed off most of the European diplomatic core, is now overseeing all our intelligence agencies despite zero expertise. It’s more than frightening. I see that this bozo has also gotten mixed up with Julian Assange and done some work for the unpalatable government of Hungary, but I don’t have the heart to pursue these subjects further.

    End Piece

    I’m almost out of space and have nothing pithy to write about. Obviously, I can’t launch into a new legal section, even though I missed giving you an update on that Seventh Circuit birth certificate case (which we finally won). I think we’re done with politics for this column. And I’m not going back in time to discuss a murderous gay cannibal. Plus, we’ve already denigrated two of our gay brothers, deservedly so, but still. 

    I’m also skipping foreign news, although I see people are scratching Croatia off their bucket lists after the town fathers of Imotski burned a carnival float doll thing that was supposed to represent two gay men and a child. In their defense, it was hideous.

    See you after Super Tuesday.

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on February 27, 2020