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    Ann Rostow: New Year, New Dilemmas

    By Ann Rostow–

    New Year, New Dilemmas

    Here’s some bad news to start the year. For the first time since Trump spontaneously banned transgender men and women from the military, a federal appellate court has ruled against us. The litigation has grown complicated, in part because we have no less than four federal lawsuits challenging Trump’s decision. Lower courts in all cases issued injunctions against the ban, which Trump has challenged. Here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a lower court, although the other three injunctions will remain intact for the moment and we’ve got to assume that they will survive their appellate court showdowns.

    Meanwhile, while these cases remain at an early stage, Trump has already asked the Supreme Court to jump in and consider the merits of the transgender ban, an unusual request for a legal issue that has yet to be resolved by the appellate courts. The justices will consider the administration’s petition at their January 11 conference, although there’s no reason to think that they will take immediate action.

    Trump has refined his anti-trans policy since his initial tweet. The military has determined that it will no longer accept recruits with gender dysphoria, which the administration claims is an official disability that justifies rejection. As for transgender recruits who don’t have a formal diagnosis, they are allowed to serve if they don’t transition. In other words, transmen may serve as women and transwomen may serve as men. The D.C. circuit did not publish an opinion, but it seems as if these “compromises” are enough to cover the government’s rear end in their view.

    I don’t know what to tell you. Other Supreme Court petitions with LGBT implications lurk on the schedule, and our only hope is that John Roberts looks to his place in history or that Brett Kavanaugh has a soft spot for gay civil rights that has remained hidden for decades. We celebrated too soon in June of 2015, and we watched with complacent confidence as the 2016 election drew near, dreaming about whom Hillary Clinton would pick to replace Scalia. And then came the nightmare.

    On a Happier Note

    That said, this is no time to give up. I was just reading a fairly long Washington Post article about the evolution of Colorado, from the hate state that passed Amendment 2 in 1992, to the 2018 electorate that just gave America its first openly gay governor, Jared Polis. Back in the early 1990s, conservative Christians who were just coming into their own saw Amendment 2 as a national blueprint. The amendment, later struck by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, preemptively barred state or local administrations from instituting gay rights policies. As the High Court ruled in Rome v Evans in 1996, the amendment made “a class of persons a stranger to its law” for no good reason. 

    “We must conclude that Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end,” wrote Justice Kennedy, “but to make them unequal to everyone else. This Colorado cannot do.”

    Prior to that decision, the backlash against Colorado’s overreach led to boycotts by organizations, corporations and other cities, costing the state money and tourism. Six or seven other states started to put their own version into effect without success, and wealthy gay Coloradans like Tim Gill started pushing for change. This was one of the early examples of corporations recognizing that diversity and respect for civil rights was an asset in business, and that the reverse could be costly. Years later, we watched businesses around the country react to North Carolina’s 2016 bathroom bill, forcing out a governor and, more importantly, dampening the enthusiasm for similar antics in other states.

    GLBT equality is now the default policy of corporate America and the majority sentiment in our society, manifested in part by the increasing number of gay couples on TV commercials. Have you noticed? How about the gay dads and the clueless babysitter? I just saw two brides in another one, and I didn’t even make a note of what it was. And whatever you think of comedian Kevin Hart, it’s significant that his antigay comments back in the day rendered him unfit to host the Oscars. 

    These are measures of progress that can’t easily be overturned by court order or antigay politicians and they give me hope.

    Real or Not, It’s Election Season Again

    Meanwhile, since when is Joe Biden the best candidate to carry the Democratic torch into 2020? For God’s sake! He’s 76 years old. With all due respect, it’s time to retire the Medicare-eligible generation, or at least the 70-somethings. Elizabeth Warren will be 70 next June. Sanders is 77 and has a crotchety reputation. Mike Bloomberg is also in his mid-seventies, and like Sanders, hasn’t historically been a member of the Democratic Party. Sorry to repeat myself.

    I find the cable news discussions of the 2020 campaign ludicrous in general, with panels that wind up musing on who can win the South Carolina primary, or who can beat Trump in rural Ohio. And yet, Mel and I are junkies, so we can’t look away from the absurd spectacle of people pontificating about an election taking place nearly two years from now, featuring mystery candidates in the context of unknowable political and economic conditions. Bring it on. And by the way, I kind of like Elizabeth Warren again.

    Those Were the Days, My Friend

    Moving on, I was about to tell you about the effort to preserve LGBT history in West Australia, specifically the decision to restore and display an old toilet stall door with a glory hole, which is headed for a museum. This dubious artifact was rescued from oblivion by Neil Buckley, a Perth man who had happy recollections of the bad old days at the men’s room in the Gosnells train station.  

    “I am sure this exhibit will bring back a lot of fond memories for many of the men who used beat culture as a way to meet other gay men to form a friendship, partnerships and a quickie,” Buckley told the press.

    “Sadly, this culture has now disappeared with the installation of automated toilet cubes and gay pick up apps like Grindr [and] Scruff. [But] Beats were an important part of gay social life and culture: they were a great place to meet, make friends, and have a great anonymous sexual experience.”

    Ah yes. Those were the glamorous times, partying with faceless closeted men in filthy public facilities, sticking your junk through a hole and hoping for a great anonymous reception on the other side. Too bad those high-tech cubes and smart phone apps had to come along and spoil the sexcapades. I can just see the senior citizens wandering through the LGBT exhibits and pausing at the display. A wry smile plays on an older man’s face as he recalls the fun he had running from police and almost getting beaten up by those homophobic thugs. If those walls could talk! 

    More importantly, I also learned about the happiest animal on earth, a small kangaroo-like creature that lives on an island about half an hour’s ferry ride from Perth. It’s called a quokka, and it earned its reputation with a smiling expression and lack of fear. Quokkas are so comfortable around humans that you can pet them and take selfies with them, a phenomenon that has led to a resurgence in tourism after great white shark attacks threatened to dampen enthusiasm for the West Australian coast.

    They look adorable!

    Unfamiliarity Breeds Contempt

    In science news, a new study claims consuming alcohol and coffee can lead to a longer lifespan, a welcome conclusion for some of us who seamlessly move through the day from the latter to the former. I also read that there’s no particular benefit to getting up from the couch or working at a standing desk, more evidence that, like Trump, I instinctively know more about healthy living than the “experts” who have been trumpeting the unfounded theory that excess and indolence is bad for you. 

    Trump goes even further, insisting that the human body has a limited energy supply, and that exercise diminishes the total amount over time. I’m not sure I can agree with this premise, but we do know that Trump had a smart uncle who taught at MIT, which provides him with a genetic predisposition to understand science and economics on a gut level. 

    I saw another (2015) report in the Times, a graphic spread on the op-ed page about empathetic rats. Apparently, rats will forgo a chocolate treat to save another rat from drowning. The researchers then raised some rats in an all-white group, and bred other rats in a mixed group of blacks and whites, only to find that the all-white group rats would not save a black rat, but the mixed rats would save rats of both colors. A white rat raised with all black rats would also save a black rat. I forget whether that rat would save a white one, but I don’t think that scenario came up.

    That was a simplification, but it explains why diverse parts of the country are sympathetic to welcoming immigration policies, while bastions of white communities far from any border are the ones who curl up into a little ball at the word “caravan.” It also explains why, as we came out of the closets by the hundreds of thousands at the end of the last century, American attitudes towards GLBTs evolved at a similar pace. 

    While You Were Eating, Drinking and Making Merry

    What else is new, you might ask? Well, there was a nice story out of Barrington, Illinois, where a lesbian-headed family had its rainbow flag stolen off a pole in their backyard and replaced by the stars and stripes. The women posted about the incident on Nextdoor, and within a few days someone circulated dozens of little rainbow flags and passed them around the Chicago suburb. Soon, there were rainbows sticking out of mailboxes and windows in a sweet display of solidarity. 

    I think I’ve written about Nextdoor before, in general a useful portal for exchanging neighborhood news, but also a forum for alarmist individuals warning the rest of us about pet-eating coyotes, “suspicious” people walking down the street, cars that go slowly and therefore may be driven by criminals planning their next home invasions, or maybe even notifying our communities that freezing temperatures are expected overnight and we should all wrap up our pipes or keep our cats inside. Thank you, Miss Weatherman! One of my neighbors was recently terrorized by a stranger knocking at her door at 7 pm, describing the guy in detail and assuring us that she had called the police on the would-be intruder. Others who encountered the same man informed us he was selling cable TV subscriptions. But still! It was after dark!

    Don’t get me started on the people who announce that they’ve “found” a cat, presumably someone’s indoor/outdoor pet. Leave the cats alone, ladies! (It’s always a woman.)

    Then, we had an assistant principal at Liberty High in Clarksville, West Virginia, who followed a transgender student into the boys room, challenged him for not using a urinal, asked him if he noticed other boys checking him out, blocked him from the exit and told him, “You freak me out.” 

    Woah, Nelly! The administrator was suspended with pay for a few days, but the student still has to deal with officials who use his female name, and who technically won’t allow him in the boys room, even though it seems he uses it anyway. For all of the school stories that we read for good or ill, I suspect that most schools operate in a haphazard way, trying to avoid confrontation with formal rules that are trotted out for certain parents, but honored in the breach.

    Finally, a U.S. district court judge in Houston has tossed a religious freedom case against the organizers of “Drag Queen Story Time,” noting that the krazy kristians who brought the lawsuit have not been harmed by the nonprofit program, which features drag queens reading stories to kids at libraries and community centers. The judge also dismissed the notion that the Drag Queen group represented the “religion” of secular humanism, and that since Christians weren’t allow to use free public facilities at the Houston library, the drag queens should also be barred. The nutcase who tried to file this lawsuit says he’ll appeal to the Fifth Circuit, so stay tuned.