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    Ann Rostow: Sad Home, Alabama


    By Ann Rostow

    Sad Home, Alabama

    Here’s some big news out of the Supreme Court, where justices have slapped down the antigay Alabama Supreme Court and restored visitation rights to “VL,” the adopted mother of three kids. The mother’s ex-partner, “EL,” gave birth to the kids during the women’s 17-year relationship, and in 2007, the pair moved temporarily from Alabama to Georgia in order for VL to adopt the children in the Peach State’s more favorable legal environment.

    Fast forward to recent times when the couple broke up and launched the inevitable battle for custody and visitation. Unlike some of our messier intra-lesbian familial bust ups, VL’s status as a legal parent would normally have made this a straightforward matter for the family law court. But thanks to repeated appeals by EL, the case rose to the Alabama supremes, where astonishingly the justices ruled that VL’s Georgia adoption was void. We say “astonishingly,” because a state court simply has zero authority under the U.S. Constitution to substitute its own opinion for a settled judgment from a sister state.

    In addition to reversing VL’s adoption, the Bama justices denied her visitation, at which point the National Center for Lesbian Rights petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The NCLR also filed an emergency motion asking the High Court to put a hold on the Alabama decision and restore VL’s visitation rights while the appeal continues. It was that motion that the Court granted (without comment) on December 14.

    Keep in mind that these sorts of motions are granted when it is likely that the High Court will accept review, it’s likely the Court will reverse the decision, and it’s clear that the status quo is causing irreparable harm. We should know if the first assumption is correct by early next year.

    Heather Has One Mommy

    I think I mentioned before that these sorts of cases, lesbian mothers behaving badly, once thrived at a time when lesbians were increasingly settling down and starting families, but were doing so in a legal grey area. No one could marry. Some women had civil unions or domestic partnerships, but many did not. Some held elaborate commitment ceremonies and signed stacks of legal documents, but while some courts took these efforts into consideration, other judges found them irrelevant. Some of these women broke up as people do, among them a subset of vengeful, angry, lunatic lesbians bent on making sure that the woman they once proclaimed to love was never again to set eyes on the children she helped to raise.

    The beautiful ceremony by the river? Just a gathering of friends. The flowing white dress? The crown of wild flowers? Um. That was the solstice festival. The ornate list of vows, in calligraphy no less, pledging to be her “hearth mate for all eternity?” Your honor, I don’t remember signing that. She was really more of a nanny.

    The convoluted examples proliferated for a decade, each one creating new law as the hostilities snaked their way up and down the appellate courts. But now, one hopes, they are coming to an end. Five or ten years from now we will still have toxic lesbian mothers and their desperate ex-partners, but most of them will have married and divorced, just like everyone else. The vicious protagonists will no longer be able to sever their links to their former wives. And the former wives will no longer be dragged through years of precedent-setting litigation in order to see their children. They will both be obliged to work things out, under court order, in yet another example of the many advantages of marriage equality.

    Meanwhile, couples who started families before we won the option to marry will continue to find themselves in a legal netherworld. In Kentucky, for example, the state supreme court is considering the case of a woman who helped raise a child with her partner from 2006 to 2011. The biological mother broke things off and married a man who now wants to adopt the child over the objections of the former partner. Again, had these women married and divorced, the former wife would remain a part of her child’s life, the new guy would become a stepfather and the Kentucky supreme court would have nothing to do with it. How hard is that?

    Plus, She Was a Gold Key Client!

    There’s nothing like a piece of video, or in this case a piece of audio, to deliver the punch in the gut that a plain old news brief struggles to deliver. Back in July, a woman named Meagan Taylor was traveling through Iowa on her way to a funeral in Kansas City when she and her friend, another transgender woman, stopped at a Drury Inn in West Des Moines. Meagan and her friend, who are both African American, signed in at the desk using their male-specific driver’s licenses. The funeral was for the friend’s brother.

    As soon as the women finished an overly complicated and lengthy check- in procedure the manager, “Kim,” dialed 911 to report “unusual” clients wearing women’s clothes with male licenses. First she asked if someone could run their names through a police database. When told that such a search would be illegal, she settled for dispatching an officer to the scene. When pressed for more alarming specifics by the operator, Kim noted that they might be “hookers.”

    The following morning, police arrived to interrogate Taylor and eventually arrested her for possessing hormone meds without a prescription. (Obviously she had a prescription, but wasn’t carrying it around.) The charges were dropped, but not until Taylor spent eight days in jail. Eight. Days. In. Jail. For no reason.

    In November, the ACLU lodged a complaint against the hotel with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, but the reason Meagan’s ordeal is news this week is that the local police just released the audiotape of Kim’s 911 call.

    Taylor’s story should have grabbed my attention back in July when it happened. Failing that, I should have noticed last month when the ACLU filed its complaint. But I’m too complacent, sitting here indulging my frivolous musings rather than digging for details on our continual struggle for civil rights and equality. Today, however, I clicked the link to the 911 call, which you too can easily locate if you Google this story.

    Listen to the self-satisfied tone in Kim’s voice as she reports her suspicions to the sympathetic sounding operator. The preening goody two shoes just thinks someone ought to be aware that these oddballs are even now doing God Knows What upstairs in their room. Not simply transgendered, their outfits were “over the top,” Good Citizen Kim informed the police. And for all Kim knows, they might be hookers.

    At one point, the operator did seem perplexed, asking if the clients’ dress was the only anomaly in the situation. That’s when Kim tossed in the speculation about prostitution. I’ll send a car, the operator promises. Oh, thank you, Kim says, relieved.

    Listen for yourself to this sickening illustration of raw bigotry mixed with pompous sanctimony and think about where you were and what you were doing eight days ago. Now think about spending that period of time behind bars because someone like Kim thought you looked weird.

    To the Johns, Citizens!

    Our opponents in the fight for marriage learned quickly that the most effective 30-second sound bite focused on the notion that same-sex marriage will be taught in schools. Surely you haven’t forgotten the famous Prop 8 ad where the little girl tells Mommy that the new book Teacher read in story corner says that a prince can marry another prince!

    Now, in our continuing effort to pass trans-inclusive civil rights laws around the country, the latest down and dirty attack ads feature bathroom policies, the warning that passage of this or that bill will open the restroom doors to anyone and everyone regardless of gender. Even pedophiles will be allowed to roam the facilities at will! This comment from an article on a proposed civil rights bill in Indiana is typical:

    “Imagine your minor daughter in a public restroom with a man dressed as a woman. Imagine your minor son reading all about gender ‘choice’ in his social studies class. Welcome to the LGBT universe. Nothing about the privacy of one’s bedroom but about hoisting upon society behavior- al choices that have absolutely ZERO basis in scientific study and forced upon the rest of us.”

    Will no one ask this individual whether he or she wants her minor daughter to negotiate the toilettes with a couple of transmen in the house, who will perhaps be obliged by law to join her there? There are indeed some proposals to outlaw using the “wrong” bathroom, which would force transgendered men and women respectively to use the ladies’ and men’s rooms. I’ve written this before, but particularly in the light of recent research on how hard it is for men to pee in a crowd, do the guys really want to take a whiz next to a hot trans chick?

    It’s beneath us to even engage in the debate, which obviously has no more salience in this context than it did back in the day when people used bathroom phobia to argue against the Equal Rights Amendment. But it’s out there and it’s working. Arguably, the bathroom scare helped to defeat the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance last November. And you can be sure we’ll see it in Anchorage (where a rights referendum is a likely possibility), Indiana and elsewhere.

    Nein Nein Nein

    The bathroom issue is also at the heart of the alarming rise in the request for Title IX waivers from religious schools around the country. The landmark ban on sex discrimination in federally funded education, famous for improving girls’ and women’s opportunities, can be avoided if it conflicts with religious practices, but such waivers had rarely been requested.

    In 2014, however, the Obama administration determined that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination extended to gender identity bias, much as courts and others have determined that Title VII’s ban on discrimination based on sex in the workplace also covers discrimination based on sexual stereotypes and gender identity bias.

    We could discuss the legal niceties of these conclusions at length, but we won’t. Don’t worry! Just know that about three dozen Christian-affiliated schools have since asked to be excused from Title IX!

    The new interpretation of Title IX recently led the federal government to force a Chicago area high school to let a transgender girl use the girl’s locker room (behind a special curtain) in a lengthy case that we will also discuss only in passing. The point is that “Christian” schools don’t want to make any such compromises. Nor do they want to have to hire, let’s say, married lesbian teachers.

    Will the waivers be granted? For most of them, the answer is probably yes. But it’s still possible that a school might have to explain in court why some egregious act of discrimination was required by religious principles.

    When AIDS Was Funny

    Finally, if you would like powerful evidence of how far we have come as a community in the last thirty odd years, look up the short video “When AIDS Was Funny,” which features three clips from the White House briefing room in the early 1980s.

    In each segment, a conservative journalist, whose name I forget, pesters White House spokesman Larry Speakes about Reagan’s AIDS policies, or lack of them. Each time, the other journalists laugh uproariously as Speakes makes sophomoric insinuations at the expense of the questioner. The whole subject of gay men dying by the hundreds, and then thousands, provokes giggles and titters from a crowd that should look back in profound shame.