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    Ann Rostow: The Puffins!

    By Ann Rostow–

    The Puffins!

    I’m seeing headlines like the following all of the time: “Same-sex marriage is a challenging and delicate issue for Fiji, some political parties say.” The fact is, marriage equality is under debate, for better or ill, in parts of the world that once would balk at the subject, and yet unfortunately for my readers, I don’t care that much. 

    How can I care whether or not Fiji wins marriage equality, when there are parts of the world where gays and lesbians can be killed or imprisoned for who they are? If I’m going to stray beyond our borders, I have to have multi-dimensional stories. Maybe it’s someone who fights for marriage equality and can freestyle a two-hundred-foot sheer rock wall at the same time. Perhaps it’s an affianced couple who are also committed to saving Iceland’s endangered puffins. Or how about two married transwomen who were once married to each other before their transitions? 

    So, I hear you reply, I understand why you avoid the regular marriage items, but why don’t you at least cover the really horrible developments in really horrible countries? All I can say is that those stories leave me helpless and depressed. Oddly, I always feel involved in the GLBT news of America. I always feel as if we can do something to make things better in our own country, even when we probably can’t. 

    But what can we do about events in places like Malaysia, where two lesbians were just publicly caned before about a hundred onlookers for violating Sharia law? According to the Associated Press, the women sat on stools and absorbed six strokes each from a “light rattan cane.” Really? It doesn’t sound that painful, unless you consider dehumanizing abasement at the hands of a moralistic religious authority to be “painful.” 

    Every week I have a handful of these unbelievable stories that make Trump’s America look like a utopian paradise from sea to shining sea. Rather than being forced into that kind of implicit comparison, I’d rather stick to the United States beat from the start. 

    But before we return to the homeland, I have to add that Apple’s pride watch face, a rainbow effect that you can download to your Apple Watch, reportedly fades away once you switch to the Russian version of the Apple Watch. I know that there’s a law against rainbow flags and other pro-gay images in Russia, but does Apple really have to follow that law? Does the Apple Watch really need the Russian market, or does the Russian market need Apple?

    Who’s That Lady?

    I guess by now you may have heard about the smug woman with the RBF who sat directly behind Brett Kavanaugh on Day One of his Senate hearings. Thirty-something Zina Bash is a Harvard Law graduate from south Texas who also appeared to be covertly flashing a white power hand sign at the very large cable TV audience tuned in to the hooplah last Tuesday. (Editor’s Note: For another RBF example, see the third or so image at this site:

    (Fine, fine, fine. The concept of RBF is sexist and beneath all of us. But it really fits in this case! Inexplicably, Republicans consider Zina Bash, a Trump employee, to be one of the most beautiful women in Washington. I’m not sure I could find anyone on our side in agreement.)

    But back to the hand signal—the “okay” sign, with the last three fingers sticking straight out. Does it really send a conspiratorial message to one’s fellow racists? The answer is yes and no. It seems to have started as an in-joke among the white supremacist crowd, who thought it would be amusing if liberals and others “thought” that the okay sign meant “white power.” Ha ha! Stupid idiots! Of course it’s meaningless, but every time we pose with it, liberals go into a rage. That was the joke, except over time it seems to have transcended its antic origins and become a truly offensive gesture. Four police officers were recently suspended in Jasper, Alabama, for using the signal in a photo, and last January, a New Jersey cop lost his job for the same transgression.

    In short, the okay sign now has many meanings, including white power. And since it’s not a natural configuration for the hand of a woman seated in a Senate hearing, we have to assume that Zina was making a statement. I don’t like jumping to the worst conclusions, but how many times does this administration have to brush up against white supremacists before we become truly alarmed? This is like the sixth or seventh racist thing in the last month. Alarmed isn’t the word. What’s the word for sickened and frightened at the same time?

    Hopeless in Washington, D.C.

    So, speaking of the Kavanaugh hearings, anyone who’s ever given a dime to a Democratic or GLBT organization is now inundated with emails about how Brett Kavanaugh is the worst thing since unsliced bread, which may well be true. The only problem is that the next person on the list may well be even worse. Indeed, since we don’t have a whole lot of information about Kavanaugh’s attitudes towards our community, I would guess the next person on the list would very likely be worse. As such, the appeals to donate money in order to stop Kavanaugh are disingenuous at best. Barring a Deus Ex Machina, we cannot stop a conservative justice from replacing the tragic hero that is Anthony Kennedy. Gone are the days when a Democrat might hand us a Whizzer White or a Republican might accidentally nominate a David Souter. These days, our fate is sealed. 

    Now I’m reading, accurately I would think, that John Roberts is to be our new swing justice. How far our swing has shifted rightward from the time when Sandra Day O’Connor held the position. That said, I was interested to see that the High Court recently declined to intervene in an ongoing dispute between the City of Philadelphia, which protects gays and lesbians, and Catholic Social Services, which refuses to place foster kids with gay parents. Philadelphia stopped sending children to the Catholics on account of this discrimination, and the group sued. 

    In the course of their suit, Catholic Social Services has tried and failed to force the city to continue to place foster kids through its organization while the litigation continues. Both the lower court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit have refused to reinstate the foster program. And now, when asked, the High Court also declined to step in. Dissenting from that decision without comment were Justices Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch. Roberts said nothing, although there’s no reason to think he would not have provided a clinching fifth vote for the injunction if only his new buddy were sworn in.

    That said, his discretion in the Philadelphia case is mildly heartening.

    More Nonsense with Catholics 

    We have a lot of news emanating from Roncalli High in Indianapolis, where the Catholic school authorities are poised to dump Shelly Fitzgerald, a lesbian school counselor who got married, but did not reveal her contract-violating wedding to the Roncalli mandarins. 

    Fitzgerald (who will be on the Ellen show September 7) married her partner of 20 years in a ceremony she kept secret from her employers. After working at the school for 15 years, Fitzgerald was found out by someone who dug up her marriage license in the public record. The school then told her to dissolve her marriage or leave her job. Lest you think this can’t be true, I am reading the Indianapolis Star.

    Students and parents have jumped to Fitzgerald’s side, with rainbow bracelets and other gestures of solidarity appearing on campus. According to the Star, the administration has recently banned posters advertising a pride event. Some students said the principal, Chuck Weisenbach, had banned all rainbow paraphernalia, but Weisenbach insisted that the pride announcements were the only targets of his prohibition. 

    Then in a non sequitor, Weisenbach was accused of using the N-word during an assembly speech about bad words you shouldn’t use and apologized. I’m not sure if or how this incident was linked to the Fitzgerald fiasco. Fitzgerald is technically on administrative leave, but it sounds like her days at Roncalli are numbered.

    Say What?

    By the way, speaking of the N-word, the Human Rights Campaign has basically fired a key executive, Mary Beth Maxwell, after a colleague reported that the N-word dropped from her lips. Normally, I’d be nodding my head in approval, until I read that Maxwell, head of the HRC Foundation, used the word twice while she was telling a disturbing personal story in which someone else used the N-word and other slurs. Maxwell, who resigned in disgrace, did not use it herself, but quoted someone else.

    This is crazy. Context matters. I agree it was ill advised to use the whole word, rather than the euphemism, but it is not at all the same as actually using the word oneself. 

    “Not having bad intent in using the word does not make it acceptable,” said HRC chief Chad Griffin. “I want to be clear, intent does not matter. It is the impact of the word that matters. It is simply never acceptable for that word to be said by an employee in the workplace ever.”

    I have to assume this Orwellian explanation is a cover for bad blood between Ms. Maxwell and the powers that be at HRC. What’s really going on here? 

    In other HRC news, the D.C.-based gay rights lobbyists are under a bit of community fire for supporting New York governor Andrew Cuomo in his primary fight against Cynthia Nixon, who is gay. Here I reluctantly favor HRC. Cuomo has been a staunch gay rights advocate. To withdraw support for allies just because a gay person enters the arena would render HRC ineffectual, because why should anyone bother to win HRC’s backing if they could be cavalierly tossed aside for an attractive newcomer?

    And there’s my one nice thing to say about HRC for the year. (Cue: drum roll/cymbal clap.)

    Sad Things

    There’s a heartbreaking story about a nine-year-old boy in Colorado, Jamel Myles, who came out to his mother over the summer. Her loving response gave him the confidence to come out to his classmates when school started. After four days of bullying, including calls to kill himself from his pre-pubescent peers, he did just that. It’s just horrific and I can’t help but feel that the meanness and cruelty pouring out of Washington is seeping into every crevice or American society—even the nine-year-old cohort in Denver.

    You may also have read about Maddie, a 12-year-old transgirl just entering middle school (God help her) in Achille, Oklahoma. After using a staff bathroom in her previous school, Maddie used the girls’ bathroom on her first day of seventh grade.

    Parent Jamie Crenshaw jumped on her Facebook page to bemoan the situation: “The transgender is already using the girls’ bathroom,” she wrote. “We have been told how the school has gone above and beyond to make sure he has his own restroom yet he is still using the girls. REALLY … . Looks like it’s gonna be a long year.”

    The vitriol that followed from parents and others included calls to “beat it up” and bring a “very sharp knife” to school to finish off Maddie’s transition. One man, a 58-year-old Frontier Airlines pilot named Kevin Bickerstaff, was suspended by the airline after calling for kids to beat up Maddie and drive her off campus. Meanwhile, the local sheriff closed the school for two days in order to investigate the threats.

    In the end, Maddie’s family decided to move to Houston, their third attempt in two years to find a safe space for their daughter to live. 

    I can see that I won’t have the space to continue the theme of “increasingly nasty.” But let’s just touch on the case of Marsha Wetzel, an Illinois senior who moved to a retirement home after her partner of thirty years died. Kicked out of the house by the partner’s family, Wetzel found herself at Glen St. Andrew Living Community in Niles. It was fine for a time, but then other retirees began bullying her for being gay, calling her names and even attacking her physically. 

    In a lawsuit, Wetzel said the Glen St. Andrew authorities did nothing to help, and indeed cut back on her services. That lawsuit was dismissed. But in late August, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reinstated the case, ruling that federal housing laws cover sexual orientation discrimination. 

    Are we all depressed now? Where’s that bartender?