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    Ann Rostow: Once Again …

    By Ann Rostow–

    Once Again …

    A quick review of my previous column reminds me that I spent scads of space on the sad saga of the High Court and the slow death of our hopes and dreams for powerful legal victories. Instead of a few more years of litigation to dot our i’s and cross our t’s; instead of a few more cases to help us travel the final steps of our long journey into the sunlight of permanent constitutional protections; instead of the post-gay era, we are falling backwards into the unknown. (Cue: Cries of “Heeeeelp!” fading into faint screams as Gay Law is lost to the abyss.)

    At any rate, there’s no reason to review our SCOTUS situation again in this issue, as it will only depress us all and cause loyal readers to wonder why I feel compelled repeatedly to return to tedious and simplistic reviews of Title VII or Price Waterhouse v Hopkins

    And speaking of rehashing the same subject ad infinitum, I also have another story about gay penguins, even though it has only been two weeks since we shared the adorable tale of the gay male penguins in Odense, Denmark, who chick-napped a baby from a careless heterosexual penguin couple. Consistency would suggest that I skip the recent gay penguin item, much as I now hesitate to bore you with another round of legal recaps. But these are gay penguins! Surely, these days, there are never enough gay penguin stories in our sad lives. 

    The latest penguin headlines come to us from Sydney, Australia, where zookeepers realized Magic and Sphen had eyes for each other early on. The two males collected little ice pellets, a nesting technique, and bowed to each other like mates. When one of the straight couples had two eggs, the penguin masters gave one of them to Magic and Sphen, who by that time had built a proper nest with pebbles. Normally, penguins only raise one chick, so second eggs are ignored and die. Indeed, the actual parents did not even notice that their extra egg was gone.

    And that’s it for the news. The penguins are busy caring for the egg, so I’m guessing we’ll have more details if or when it hatches. Meanwhile, what is it with gay male penguins? We don’t see such variations on the Kinsey scale from the rest of the animal kingdom, and I also don’t recall any lesbian penguins. 

    Strike that. I just googled “lesbian penguins” and discovered an April 2017 article about a pair of 24-year-old females, “Thelma” and “Louise,” from New Zealand, who were raising an egg together. Penguins only live to 20 years old as a rule, so this couple defied not one, but two parenting barriers. I just wasted half an hour trying to find out if these New Zealand penguins were still alive, without success, but I did trip over a 2013 piece about lesbian penguins in Israel. I must move on, but I suppose were I not human, penguin life would be my second choice. In a zoo, that is. Not huddled in the cold on a windy ice floe in Antarctica. 

    It’s All About Me

    As you may have read, Matthew Shepard will be interred at the National Cathedral on October 26, almost exactly 20 years after his death. Shepard’s parents were afraid that his grave would be vandalized, so they held onto his remains. Now, in a service that will include our gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, Shepard will join a select group of luminaries buried within the cathedral’s marble depths. 

    Fun fact! I was a National Cathedral girl until I was expelled from the D.C. private school for smoking marijuana in the cathedral basement ladies’ room. My friends and I often roamed the hidden corners and climbed the narrow winding staircases of this magnificent edifice, touching the rose window or peering through the metal bars of the cave-like reliquaries. 

    I was oddly proud to read in one recent Kavanaugh article that Holton Arms and Georgetown Prep were not considered quite as posh as National Cathedral and St. Albans. I retain a strange affection for the place, much as I disdained the rules and regulations at the time—pompously refusing to join in the Nicene Creed, smoking cigarettes behind buildings, stealing change from the fountains in the Bishops’ Garden, shoplifting Callard and Bowser licorice from the Herb Cottage and, in Fourth Grade, becoming the youngest girl to be suspended in the history of the school. The final straw that year was hiding a walkie talkie in the trash can and taking the other one into the closet where I amused everyone by saying: “Hi, Miss Clifford. This is your trash can speaking.”

    Harmless fun met by punitive overreactions from adults. The story of my youth.

    Whither Lambda?

    Let’s see. There’s a long Huffington Post story about Lambda Legal’s recent turmoil, which sounds pretty dramatic. In the two years since Rachel Tiven replaced Kevin Cathcart in the top spot, the legal eagles have lost half their staff and half their caseload amidst a cacophony of complaints about management that led Tiven to resign last August. The article includes a few Tiven defenders of sorts, who pointed out that Lambda needed a shakeup and change is hard, but really, there’s no excuse for taking a wrecking ball to the morale and dynamism of an important GLBT community institution like Lambda. Maybe I’m missing something, given that I’ve spent all of 20 minutes reading about this affair? Nah.

    Veteran New York activist Richard Burns, a former Lambda board member and head of the New York City LGBT Community Center, will take over as interim CEO. Meanwhile, the work goes on. This week, Lambda took aim at the state of Kansas, one of three states, along with Ohio and Tennessee, that still refuses to let transgender citizens revise their birth certificates. Transgendered men and women can change their driver’s licenses in the Sunflower State, but without an accurate birth certificate they lack access to a foundational form of identification that is used for proof of citizenship, passports and also as the basis for other types of ID. 

    In other Lambda news, the lawyers have filed suit on behalf of Helen Thornton, a 63-year-old Washington State resident who lost her partner of 27 years back in 2006. Lambda and Thornton are suing the Social Security Administration for spousal benefits that she would have received had the women been able to marry before Marge Brown died of ovarian cancer. 

    The case will be significant for the many other survivors, who lived as married prior to the High Court’s marriage equality ruling in June of 2015 and lost their partners before they could legalize their union. I was about to say that when a spouse dies, you can either receive your own social security or your spouse’s benefit, whichever is higher. It then occurred to me that I’m no expert on social security benefits. So, take that with a big grain of salt. Whatever. There’s obviously some kind of advantage if we’re suing the government for it, right?

    Safety in Numbers for Some

    Speaking of transgender discrimination, here’s a situation for you. The other day, a middle school in Stafford County, Virginia, held a lockdown drill. According to the local GLBT advocacy group, a transgender girl was in a class that was near the PE locker rooms when the drill began. Instead of sending her into one of the locker rooms for shelter with the rest of the class, the teachers sent her alone into the gym, and later let her stay in the hall outside the locker room doors. Keep in mind, this was (I’m assuming) a drill for what to do in case of a school shooter. I don’t know about you, but sitting alone in the gym or the hallway is not my idea of an emergency plan. 

    “Let me be clear,” wrote Equality Stafford on Facebook about the girl. “During an event that prepares children to survive an attack by actual assailants, she was treated as if she was so much of a danger to peers that she was left exposed and vulnerable.”

    On October 9, the incident was discussed at a school board meeting, where a family friend read a letter from the girl: “If there was someone armed in my school, I would have been the first one gone,” she wrote. “I felt like an afterthought. If the whole thing wasn’t bad enough, the embarrassment caused me to have a panic attack in front of everyone.”

    School Superintendent Scott Kizner apologized to the student and her family, vowing to review guidelines and improve. Keep in mind that in May of 2015, this same school board voted to bar a transgender fourth grader from the restrooms of his or her preference. Not sure what happened to that situation, but it just reminds us that for every case that turns into a story or a lawsuit, there are dozens or more under the radar.

    And before we move on, you should know that the ACLU won a jury trial on behalf of two transgender women at the University of Wisconsin, cancer researcher Shannon Andres and graduate student Alina Borden, who were denied transition care under the state’s health insurance policy. Andres won roughly $480,000, while Boyden was awarded $301,000. Nice going, civil libertarians.

    Paging the Kitsch Patrol

    I’ve got to ask you. Have you seen the bizarre fantasy painting of Republican presidents sitting around in casual attire at a bar or a club? The Andy Thomas original lacks only a cigar puffing pug with a poker hand in his paw, and I’m not sure it’s painted on velvet, but it should be. Trump, who is pictured in this atrocity along with Lincoln, Reagan, TR and others, has hung it up in the West Wing. Maybe in the oval office, nearby. He loves it!

    I know. Why should we be surprised? Speaking for myself, I reached some kind of limit and can no longer feel shock, awe or outrage. I recognize that these sensations are still operating within me, but I suppose it’s something like the way pain must work if you’ve broken a leg and are lying helpless in a ravine for several days. It goes away or goes in and out. The other day he said that climate change might happen, but then it “might go back.” He also pointed out that there were some powerful hurricanes many decades ago. He went on to tell us that he talked to King Whatsit from Saudi Arabia, who was “very strong” in his denial that his government had Jamal Khashoggi murdered. Then he called Stormy Daniels “horse face,” and said James Mattis was “sort of a Democrat” and that he, Trump, knew more about NATO than did Mattis. Just let us survive this. Let the country and the world survive it.

    I have to mention the lawsuit in Great Britain, where an Irish bakery was vindicated for refusing to make a cake that read: “Support Gay Marriage.” The case went up to the U.K. Supreme Court, where after four years of litigation, the judges overturned a lower court that had ruled against the bakers. What annoyed me was the notion, repeated in various press accounts, that Ashers Bakery was the Irish version of Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

    But that’s not true! Ashers was asked to deliver a specific message that it did not support. Masterpiece was asked to sell a product to gay men, the same product routinely sold to straight customers in a state that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. If you and I had a bakery and someone asked us to make a swastika cake, we have the right to refuse. If a Muslim woman asks for a half dozen cupcakes to break Ramadan, we do not. 

    And folks, the difference is not complicated or nuanced. It does not involve some obscure legal technicality. It’s not rocket science! No one can force you to support equality for gays or anyone else, but if you operate in the public square, you may not refuse to serve people who are protected under civil rights laws. 

    arostow@aol.com