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    Ann Rostow: It’s A Holly Jolly Christmas!

    By Ann Rostow–

    It’s A Holly Jolly Christmas!

    I was about to start this column with a victory in the Gavin Grimm case, which was sent back to square one by the Supreme Court at the start of the Trump administration. But that exciting news was displaced just now when I read that Kristen Stewart is starring in a lesbian Christmas rom-com due out in November. 

    I love Kristen Stewart, the subtlety of her acting, her range, her complicated good looks, the eclectic movies she chooses. And I love her even more for doing a Christmas movie, a predictable blur of trite seasonal shenanigans wrapped up with a heart-warming bow of happy holiday spirit. There’s even an image from the movie that features Stewart and her co-star at the ice-skating rink, one of the obligatory tropes of the genre. 

    The movie is called Happiest Season, and is set in the small town where Abby and Harper grew up. The women go home for the holidays and Stewart’s character Abby plans to propose over Christmas. The drama involves Harper’s parents, conservatives who don’t know their daughter is gay. I’m guessing that they come around in the end. What do you think? 

    I don’t know why I like these absurd movies. I’m not a fan of wasting screen time on pure trash, but I make a big exception for Christmas flicks, the more ridiculous the better. They’ve become a December ritual for me. Oh, and have any of you seen the old Saturday Night Live skit where Kristen Stewart seduces a housewife in the kitchen while the guys watch football? It’s one of SNL’s commercials for Totino’s pizza rolls, a product that I always thought was invented by SNL but apparently exists in real life. I recommend it. The skit, not the pizza rolls.

    He Persisted

    So, Gavin Grimm! I can hear some of you from where I sit right now. “Ann … it’s bad enough that you spend half this space laboriously recounting GLBT legal news, but do you have to burden us with updates from ancient history? Gavin Grimm must have high school children of his own by now.”

    “Ha, ha, very funny,” I reply, slightly wounded. You’re right that the case is an old one. But that’s why it deserves our attention. It’s been through years of ups and downs. It’s become more than a court case. It’s now an epic litigation saga of almost Homeric proportions. 

    Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps. Back in 2015, Grimm was a transgender high school student in Virginia, when some parents realized he was using the boys’ facilities at Gloucester County High and complained. After some tense meetings, the school district came up with an anti-trans restroom policy, barring Grimm from the boys’ bathrooms. Grimm sued under Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination in public education (and the Equal Protection Clause), lost at district court, but won an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

    Meanwhile, the Obama administration had weighed in on behalf of Grimm and other transgender students, formally agreeing that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination protects transgender students from exactly the kind of bias Grimm endured. When considering the case, the Fourth Circuit relied exclusively on the official Obama policy as outlined by the Department of Education’s office of civil rights. The appellate panel noted that courts are expected to defer to an agency’s interpretation of law in cases like these.

    The school board appealed to the Supreme Court, and arguments were scheduled for March 2017. Hmmm. Can you guess what happened to the trans friendly government policy in early 2017? Surprise! The Trump administration dropped, and subsequently reversed, the Obama policy, and the Grimm case never did make it to the High Court. Instead, the Court nullified his Fourth Circuit victory and sent the case back to the district court since Trump and company had now negated the rationale for the Fourth Circuit’s ruling. 

    Adding to the setback was the fact that Grimm soon graduated from high school and had to convince the courts that he was still eligible to carry on the fight. (He was seeking punitive damages for one thing, and he also argued that he might wish to use the boys’ room as an alumnus on future visits to the school.)

    In the last three years or so, Grimm rehashed his case before the district court, won, and was then obliged to defend his lower court victory after the school board appealed to the Fourth Circuit. In addition to his original claim, Grimm was now asking the school authorities to put his correct name on his transcript, which the board had stubbornly issued in his old female name and refused to change. Then on August 26, as our last issue went to press, a 2–1 appellate panel ruled in his favor, relying in part on the High Court’s June ruling that gay and trans bias was inherently protected under rules against sex discrimination. 

    As New York School of Law professor Art Leonard notes, the Fourth Circuit still features a majority of Democratic appointments, so the school board would not likely ask for a review by the entire Fourth Circuit bench. Their only hope now lies with the Supreme Court.

    After the Bostock decision in June, you’d think that they’d want to avoid the High Court as well and just fold their cards at this point, but Justice Gorsuch made clear that Bostock was a matter of job discrimination under Title VII and did not involve bathroom issues and the like. And this is why this case remains so interesting. Will the High Court take the case if asked? And, if so, will they attempt to draw an artificial divide between sex discrimination in education and bias in the workplace? Watch this space! 

    Hello? Is anyone still there?

    Waiting for President Biden

    I can’t keep up with the various tell-all Trump books. I find it’s easier just to wait until they’re published and listen to the cable news commentators recount the juicy parts. But I’ve made an exception for Bob Woodward’s book Rage, which I’ve ordered for delivery September 15. I guess Trump and his circle gave Woodward full access, which is kind of bizarre after the veteran journalist published his previous Trump take-down, Fear. Indeed, according to CNN, Woodward interviewed Trump 17 times for this latest book, while Trump has lately called him a “social pretender” who “never has anything good to say.” 

    Really? What would lead Trump to spend that much time talking to Woodward and what exactly did he expect? I’m guessing that he is so delusional, he believed he could make a positive impression on Woodward through sheer force of personality. 

    Oh, and I loved his recent tweet, issued alongside the Woodward insult, where he said his niece “was never even liked by her kind and caring grandfather!” Call me crazy, but unless she’s a psychopath, part of the definition of being a “kind and caring grandfather” is liking your granddaughter. 

    Meanwhile, I know I’ve written about this before, but I’m annoyed by the dozens of people speculating on whether or not “Trump will leave office” if he loses the election. Come on, guys. Yes, Trump will leave office. It doesn’t matter what he says or tweets. The process will go on, starting with the official vote by the Electoral College in December. 

    Biden and Harris will prepare for the transition, no doubt without any help from Trump, but then again, they don’t need his help. The inauguration will be funded and planned. The scaffolding will rise, and whether or not he attends the ceremony, at the stroke of noon on January 20, Trump will no longer be president. There’s nothing he can do about it. And no, he can’t just hang out in the White House after that. The Secret Service will be working for President Biden, not former president Trump. 

    Before the inauguration, Trump can sue various states and demand recounts. But any or all of these cases will be fast-tracked to the High Court, where—conservative as they may be—the majority of justices are not inclined to overturn the legitimate results of state-run votes based on random complaints by Trumpian yes-men. 

    Could Trump incite riots? Yes, I think to some extent he could. He could claim the election was stolen and call for his supporters to take to the streets. I think some of them might and it wouldn’t be pretty. But in the end, he will still be gone. And I, for one, do not believe Don Junior could engineer his own political future. There won’t be a Trump dynasty. It will be over.

    By the way, I could not believe my ears when Wolf Blitzer pointed out to Bill Barr that voting twice was against the law during a discussion of Trump’s bizarre suggestion that people give that a try. Barr assumed his puffy, jowly, serious face and intoned that he wasn’t up to date on the laws of every state, as if what? As if some states might have some peculiar laws that allow residents to vote twice? This is the Attorney General of the United States speaking! 

    He Can’t Be Sworn in Soon Enough

    I see that I have a number of important news items yet to discuss, but I’m not in the mood for many of them. A federal judge struck down a Health and Human Services policy that allows health care providers to discriminate against transgender patients based on religion. Hey, it’s great news but I’m focused on January 21, when the whole house of cards can be swept aside in one glorious gesture. 

    Take the next item that I plan to avoid. Do you remember that several binational gay and lesbian couples have had trouble acquiring citizenship for their kids? They’ve had to sue the government for what would be routine paperwork for any straight couple in the same situation. Last June, a federal court ordered the State Department to issue a passport to a little girl, born in Canada to two dads. Her parents are both Americans and married, but their daughter was considered born out of wedlock through a surrogate and ineligible for automatic citizenship.

    Now, in a similar case, a federal judge in Georgia has also ruled against the government, ordering citizenship for a girl born in England through a British woman surrogate. The judge ruled that, since her two dads were married, the girl was not born “out of wedlock,” surrogate or no surrogate. She was thus entitled to natural born citizenship. 

    Astonishingly, Trump and the noxious Mike Pompeo are appealing the ruling in that first case, and I guess they’ll appeal this latest ruling as well. For God’s sake why? What is wrong with these people? With any luck, these appeals will be dropped January 21.

    Every Dog’s Death Diminishes Us

    Finally, Ruth Marcus, high on my list of favorite columnists, wrote recently about the sudden death of her 12-year-old family dog Tank. Marcus, who like all anti-Trump commentators has been on the receiving end of nasty commentary, was touched and surprised by the overwhelming sympathy she received on her normally toxic Twitter feed. She was reminded, she wrote, of a story about homeless people and their dogs living under a bridge on Christmas. Most of the reactions, she remembered, expressed concern for the dogs.

    I have noted with chagrin that I can breeze through articles about people, actual human beings, dying in a ferry disaster somewhere, but will be hit with pangs of anguish by distressing news of an injured pet. Of all the stories I’ve covered, I’m still haunted by the arsonist who set fire to the stables of two gay men and killed all their horses. And lately, I’ve been avoiding the details of the boat sinking that drowned thousands of cows because it’s too sad. 

    Dead cows, I ask myself? Hello? How about the refugees dying in the Mediterranean? How about Americans going hungry, sick seniors, lost Black lives? What’s wrong with me? I have no problem watching the fundraising ad for starving Russian holocaust victims, but I have to mute the one with the scraggly stray dogs. 

    Part of what Marcus had to say was that the corrosive divide in American politics seemed to vanish with Tank’s death. Domestic pets, with their unconditional love and trust, rely on the protection of human beings, so 95 percent of us internalize their suffering. Our fellow humans, by contrast, must earn our love as individuals. It’s instructive that serial killers torture animals as children and that Donald Trump has no pets. 

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on September 10, 2020