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    Ann Rostow: Thanks for Next to Nothing

    By Ann Rostow–

    Thanks for Next to Nothing

    It appears that I made a mistake in my last column, reporting that Trump “declines to issue Pride proclamations.” Apparently, my top-of-the-head assertion was wrong, because in covering the embassy pride flag hoopla, I now read that late last month, Trump did indeed recognize Pride for the first time, tweeting:

    “As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great Nation, let us also stand in solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

    Since the man failed to recognize our June jamborees in 2017 and 2018, and since he’s been busy undermining our civil rights at every turn, I may perhaps be excused for jumping to the conclusion that this year there would be no exception to the indifferent, if not hostile, rules he has applied to our community. In fact, as alluded to above, this is the first year that American embassies have been denied permission to fly rainbow flags on the same pole used for the stars and stripes. In the past, said permission has been routinely granted to celebrate pride month.

    To be fair, embassies may use other posts or standards to display solidarity; they just can’t use the main flagpole, where according to Mike Pence, only the American flag should be raised. I’m not versed in flag policy, but it seems clear that the rainbow flag was commonly raised below the U.S. flag in the Junes of times past, and I assume that other flags were flown when appropriate, also below the stars and stripes. No one is suggesting that we lower our national flag at the American embassy, for God’s sake, so the primacy of the star-spangled banner is not at issue. This is clearly a gratuitous dig at the gay community, courtesy of Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence and the conservative Christian minions now embedded in various infested crevices throughout the administration.

    I might add that if you only read the headlines, you could think that the Trump administration has forbidden embassies from showing their rainbow colors in any context, which is simply not the case. In this same vein, photos of various rainbow displays from this or that diplomatic outpost are not exactly protests or rebellions; they are not banned in the first place. The only question under State Department review was whether or not the rainbow banner could fly on the official flagpole under the American flag. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still ridiculous and wrong to deny approval. I am only annoyed by the sloppy news media, including the headline writers, that has allowed the story to be exaggerated. 

    Apology Accepted?

    Speaking of headlines, when I saw the one about New York’s police commissioner apologizing for the Stonewall raid, I figured it was a well-planned feature of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 riot. It seems, however, that Commissioner James O’Neill had been prepared to limit himself and the department to meaningless bland statements until a voice inside his head told him that more was required.

    According to a piece in The New York Times, O’Neill spent a day or so composing an apology on index cards in his spare moments. Then, on his own initiative, he made the statement during a safety briefing on June 6. 

    “I think it would be irresponsible to go through World Pride month, not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” O’Neill said. “I do know what happened should not have happened. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.

    “I vow to the LGBTQ community that this would never happen in the NYPD in 2019,” the Commissioner continued. “We have, and we do, embrace all New Yorkers.”

    In a related note, I was trying to find the exact wording of O’Neill’s remarks, so I googled “O’Neill apology text,” and wound up immersed in a story from late 2017, when Bill O’Neill (not James O’Neill) was running for governor of Ohio. O’Neill, a married justice of the state supreme court at the time, released this tone-deaf comment just as “me too” was gathering steam:

    “As a candidate for Governor let me save my opponents some research time. In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous blonde who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents’ barn and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head from Cleveland. Now can we get back to discussing legalizing marijuana and opening the state hospital network to combat the opioid crisis.”

    This insufferable man proceeded to pooh-pooh the predictable reactions: “As an aside for all you sanctimonious judges who are demanding my resignation,” he huffed, “hear this. I was a civil right lawyer actively prosecuting sexual harassment cases on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office before Anita Hill and before you were born. Lighten up folks. This is how Democrats remain in the minority.”

    When that didn’t work, O’Neill took a baby step back: “If I offended anyone, particularly the wonderful women in my life, I apologize. But if I have helped elevate the discussion on the serious issues of sexual assault, as opposed to personal indiscretions, to a new level … I make no apologies.” Our Romeo, who at one point came out against abortion rights, eventually cratered in the Democratic primary with about 3.3 percent of the vote.

    You Go, Girl!

    Before we continue, Kirsten Gillibrand has won a lot of points with me for tending bar at the Blazing Saddle, a gay club somewhere in Iowa, where one man said he’d have what she was drinking and was handed a glass of straight whiskey. Further, she also went shopping for rainbow gear at Raygun in Des Moines with Chasten Buttigieg. 

    I love her! I’m not for her, but I appreciate her free-wheeling style. She did something else that caught my attention a few months back, but I’ve forgotten what it was. Got it. She exchanged fashion suggestions with the drag queens at Blazing Saddle in April. Guess she’s something of a regular over there. I also just saw her arm-wrestle an extremely strong looking female opponent in some other community context.

    Finally, she has also announced a wide-ranging GLBT rights platform, proving that she’s not just sprinkles and glitter. She’s got a plan for us. As I may have mentioned, getting rid of Trump is my single issue for 2020, and Kirsten doesn’t seem to be the most promising champion at this moment. Other than that, she’s great. 

    Now I’m wondering if a cocktail might not be in order. It’s June, so I’m well into my seasonal favorite, Campari, glistening with a slice of orange and some club soda, maybe with just a dash of gin to give the drink a decent kick. Throw in a handful of raw almonds and who needs lunch? I blame Kirsten Gillibrand for these tempting thoughts. I feel as if we’re both bad girls at heart. Perhaps we’d do well in a movie with Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy.

    Foiled Again! Hah!

    Do you remember the florist from Washington state, Barronelle Stutzman, who refused to do business with two gay men planning their wedding? I don’t blame you if some of these small-minded business people have begun to merge with each other, but you should probably keep Stutzman in mind since her case was petitioned to the Supreme Court at the same time the nine justices were butchering the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

    After delivering a murky and unsettling ruling in Masterpiece, the justices sent Stutzman’s case back to the Washington Supreme Court from whence it came, for a redo in the context of the Masterpiece decision. Considering that the Masterpiece decision was basically impenetrable, it was hard to imagine how the Washington court would reconsider the matter of Arlene’s Flowers, where Stutzman had flatly refused to comply with the state’s ban on GLBT discrimination in public accommodations. 

    While the Masterpiece baker, Jack Philips, had ostensibly been treated disrespectfully by a Colorado commissioner at one point in the litigation surrounding his situation, Stutzman had no such encounters with the powers-that-be in Washington. Instead, she had gone through a straightforward series of complaints and unpaid fines and what have you. And, since the U.S. Supreme Court had come to no conclusions about the merits of these type of religious freedom cases in Masterpiece, there was no reason for the Washington court to change their unanimous decision against Stutzman. As such, on June 6, the Washington supremes once again handed down a unanimous ruling against the sanctimonious florist, who it seems will try to appeal her defeat back up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    It was a relief to get a clear-cut favorable decision in one of these infuriating religious freedom cases, and it was particularly satisfying for a major state supreme court to put Masterpiece Cakeshop in its proper place, framing it as a nothing burger of an opinion with no logical impact beyond the facts of the Denver bakery. Now, however, we still have to worry about another one of these bakers, Melissa Klein, who has a petition pending at the High Court. And of course, we must also keep our eye on Barronelle Stutzman, who will likely try to creep back onto the High Court’s agenda.

    It’s hard to worry about these dangerous matters when we are already facing two potential nightmares in the next session, namely the gay and trans Title VII workplace discrimination cases now scheduled to be argued before the justices this fall. I recently had the pleasure of watching Godzilla on IMAX (don’t ask) where the scenes in which five or six gargantuan monsters converge on hapless metropolitan centers remind me of our present legal status. But hey, all’s well that ends well.

    I Need a Drink. Where’s Kirsten?

    I should mention, while we’re talking about the Supreme Court, that as the last San Francisco Bay Times went to press, word came that the High Court will not review a transgender rights victory out of the Third Circuit. That’s good news. We don’t want the justices messing with GLBT-friendly rulings out of the appellate courts. At the same time, I’m not sure how significant it is. The case was a bit of an anomaly, where antigay complainants were trying to argue that the Boyertown, Pennsylvania, school district had violated the rights of non-transgender students by operating under a trans-friendly policy. The complainants failed, and the fact that the justices chose not to keep the battle alive does not indicate that the Court is suddenly amenable to transgender rights. But it’s better than a kick in the pants.

    Oh, and there are other stories to tell. In Alabama, a small-town mayor sort of suggested on Facebook that killing gay people would improve life. Look, I can’t even remember exactly what he said, but his name is Mark Chambers and he lives in Carbon Hill. There was a time when I would single out such an item for detailed review, but that time has gone. 

    Carbon Hill sounds like the town in Star Trek Enterprise, where T’Pol’s grandmother was accidentally stranded in the early 20th Century and had to wait tables in a pool hall. Eventually, she takes some Velcro from her shuttlecraft to the local bank and trades it for thousands in cash, which she gives to the son of the pool hall owner so he can go to college. But that’s neither here nor there.

    And finally, did you hear that murderous Indonesian president Rodrigo Duterte claims that he was once gay, but “cured himself” by sleeping with beautiful women? Speaking to a group of Filipinos in Tokyo in early June, the madman head of state proceeded to kiss several women from his audience in order to illustrate the dynamics of his rehabilitation. I can’t even laugh at this stuff anymore!