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    Ann Rostow: Unconscious in Seattle

    By Ann Rostow–

    Unconscious in Seattle

    Before we start our bimonthly examination of GLBT news and views, I wonder what you readers think of the guy that knocked the crazy Nazi to the sidewalk in Seattle the other day. You must have seen the report of how “antifa” twitter users tracked the man, who was wearing a swastika armband and harassing people on the bus. Eventually, a big strong guy ran into Mr. Nazi on the street, Mr. Nazi said something and the guy threw one punch to the jaw, decked him and walked away.

    Later, the police said the Nazi took off his armband, declined to pursue the matter and presumably slunk away.

    My problem is that a large part of me enjoyed the spectacle, which naturally was captured on video and posted online. It was like a reverse hate crime. Hate crimes, by the way, are insidious because they attack—not just the immediate victim—but all those similarly situated. When a gay man is bashed walking down the street, other gay men are frightened. So, hello neo-Nazis of Seattle! You might consider taking off your armbands and keeping your mouth shut around your fellow citizens. Or else you might be next.

    Of course, that reaction would not have been a problem if I did not have an even stronger impulse to condemn violence and politically targeted violence, in particular.

    But that sounds in my own head suspiciously like Donald Trump’s “bad people on both sides” crazy racist nonsense, doesn’t it? 

    I think the key here is that our guy, the puncher, and our side, the twitter stalkers, identified this racist, tracked him and knocked him unconscious. Yes, we were reacting in a way, just as the Charlottesville protesters were reacting to white supremacists on parade. But, to be honest about it, we weren’t just reacting. We identified an enemy and went after him. He may have been spouting bigoted ranting, but he was a single individual and we knocked him unconscious.

    What’s the difference between what we (and I include myself, because I was deeply pleased by the entire episode) did in the Seattle case, and let’s say, getting together and burning down a Klan meeting place, or actually killing a Klansman? And for those who say that’s fine, who decides which white supremacists deserve our wrath? Law enforcement and courts? Or the mob? 

    Let’s admit it. The rule of law was abandoned in Seattle, and the fact that many of us applauded right along with that is chilling. 

    Oh, and is it a thing now that anyone who stands up against racism is part of some formal “antifa” organization? 

    Back to the Grindstone for SCOTUS

    Moving right along, over the last year or so, I’ve almost felt guilty for my relentless coverage of Masterpiece Cakeshop’s petition for Supreme Court review. Loyal readers recall that the High Court sat on the case for months, neither rejecting nor accepting the debate between the wedding cake baker and Colorado’s gay rights bill. It wasn’t news yet, but it was lurking under the surface, ready to rear its ugly head. Now, like a pessimistic weatherman in a category four hurricane, I have been vindicated. (Exclamation mark deleted.)

    Changing the subject briefly, it bothers me when people say “Cat Four” or “Cat Five” as if they themselves were meteorologists chatting with co-workers down at the storm center. How hard is it to say “category”? I feel the same way about most professional verbal shortcuts, and I also hate it when commentators use arcane acronyms. Speak clearly, everyone. We’re not all too cool for school. 

    Where was I? Oh, yes. Masterpiece Cakeshop! I have been vindicated because Masterpiece is now the darling of constitutional journalists, popping up on everyone’s radar now that the High Court has accepted review. And, as I feared (this section seems to be all about me), the facts of the litigation set themselves up perfectly for armchair lawyers to hem and haw about thorny constitutional issues that a) misrepresent the situation, and b) are not even that thorny.

    How can the government “force” the poor Christian baker, Jack Phillips, to put his talent and art in the service of a union that defies his faith? How can the state oblige Jack to add his voice to the choir now singing to celebrate the sinful wedding? (Quite easily, actually. Faith doesn’t trump civil rights law, and making cakes does not qualify as speech.) 

    But but, um um um, what about the Jewish baker who doesn’t want to make a swastika cake! What about him, huh? 

    At the risk of repeating myself, no one asked Jack Phillips to make a penis cake or produce anything inappropriate. In fact, no one asked Phillips for anything. As soon as Phillips realized his clients were two engaged men looking to celebrate their wedding, he refused to do business with them, period. 

    Please indulge me yet again, dear readers. We have to keep repeating these observations until people stop whining about them. No baker is ever required to create a hateful or obscene product simply because a customer requests such a thing. Years ago, I covered a New Jersey baker who refused to write “Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler” on a cake (that was meant for a three-year-old who had been named Adolf Hitler). And in Colorado not that long ago, some joker tried to order a cake with an antigay message to illustrate this non-point. The baker declined to fill the order, and the customer’s “discrimination” complaint was dismissed. 

    Because it’s not discriminatory to decline a specific order. It’s discriminatory to decline to do business with a protected category of clients. 

    As for the baker’s “artistic” freedom of expression, virtually all service providers can make the claim that they too are “artists,” injecting every transaction with a seed of personal creativity. 

    Why should the chef at the restaurant create a chef d’oeuvre for a gay table for two if he is not so inclined? 

    Didn’t the landlord at the picturesque inn design the garden and oversee construction of the gazebo? Why should her landscaping talents now contribute to the success of a gay wedding? Why should she have to watch it? Why should she have to pour Champagne (which takes a certain stylistic je ne sais quoi, by the way). Why should she have to see those simpering guests get AIDS all over her stemware? Plus, it all goes against her faith

    Again, leaving aside religious qualms, can the state require a wedding singer, or a photographer, to put his or her artistic talents in service to a message he or she does not support? Part of the problem with Jack and his wedding cake is that no one at a wedding would associate a cake with its baker’s personal message. I’m torn, however, about the photographer, because although the wedding album is certainly not the artistic vision of the photographer, the composition of a photograph and the creative energy of capturing the event does seem to reflect something of the person who wields the camera. 

    As for the wedding singer, I don’t think he or she can be required to sing at a wedding that he or she doesn’t support. 

    And herein lies a problem with the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Like all Supreme Court cases it’s not 100 percent clear cut. But that does not mean that the outcome should be muddled or partial or compromised. Far from it, because any compromise in this case will eviscerate anti-discrimination laws protecting the GLBT community, and perhaps do even more damage. Why should a baker have to serve an interracial couple if she opposes such unions? Why should a chauvinist mechanic help a woman driver? You get the picture.

    The High Court’s new session starts right about now, with the first conference meeting to decide on pending petitions September 25. Note that another reluctant wedding purveyor, florist Baronnelle Stutzman from the state of Washington, has asked for Supreme Court review. We are also looking for the Court to take the case of a Georgia lesbian, fired from her job in what our side believes is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Troubled Activist Dead for No Reason

    I’m sure you read about what sounds like suicide by cop by the head of the Pride Alliance at Georgia Tech, Scout Schultz. Schultz, who did not identify as either male or female, reportedly called 911 and reported that a white male with long blond hair was wandering around intoxicated and carrying a gun and a knife. In fact, Schultz did not have a gun, but was carrying what looked like a Leatherman tool, kind of a Swiss army knife gadget, not something that could do anyone harm. Schultz, who yelled, “Shoot me! Shoot me!” at the compliant officers, also left several suicide notes in the dorm room.

    The story is tragic, but begs the question again. Why is it that armed police seem incapable of defusing common situations? Yes, a bullet to the heart will settle the matter. And all these cops apparently have to tell a jury or a judge in order to justify deadly force is that they were scared or threatened. 

    But shouldn’t they be trained to handle trouble without ending the life of a 14-year-old with a toy gun, a shopper checking out a rifle in a store, or a graduate student suffering from depression? Can they not reason? Can they not tase? Can they not shoot darts or aim for a leg? Nearly two decades into the 21st century, can we not provide some technology that disables a citizen without sending him or her to the morgue as punishment for unnerving an inept police officer? Laser gun? Anything?

    Houston: We Have a Problem

    So, speaking of the Supreme Court, the city of Houston has asked the justices to review the bizarre ruling by the Texas Supreme Court last June, in which the Lone Star justices said that the Court’s marriage equality ruling might not necessarily mean that gay couples must be given the same marriage benefits as straight couples.

    Prior to the 2015 marriage equality decision, a couple of antigay taxpayers had sued Houston, insisting that the city should not be offering benefits to married gay staff. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, however, most people assumed the debate of marriage rights was over. Done. Settled. Bam. 

    But the plaintiffs in the case against Houston insisted that marriage equality just mandated that gay couples be allowed to marry. The Supreme Court, they claimed, did not rule that gay couples were owed the same marriage benefits as heterosexuals.

    In fact, the Supreme Court ruled very clearly that gay couples deserved equal marriage benefits; all of the dozens of marriage cases involved benefits, and not some theoretical right to a marriage license. But, despite this, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the issue of benefits remained an open question, and remanded the case back to the lower court for continued litigation. 

    Readers, this was simple insanity.

    The Supreme Court has been asked about several aspects of its 2015 marriage ruling. By asked, I mean that the Court has been petitioned to review this or that topsy-turvy decision by this or that infuriating state court. The Alabama Supreme Court refused to recognize an adoption contracted by two married lesbians in Georgia. The Arkansas Supreme Court refused to list the names of two married female parents on their child’s birth certificate. In both of those cases, the High Court dispensed with any arguments or briefs, simply ruling virtually instantaneously that the state courts had it wrong.

    We hope that the Supremes do the same to Texas. It was noteworthy that three, not four, justices dissented on the Arkansas birth certificate reversal. Chief Justice Roberts did not join the insufferable Neil Gorsuch in his high-hatted defense of the Hog State, while Justices Thomas and Alito happily signed their names to his pompous musings. Did this mean that Roberts believes the marriage case was rightly decided after all? Does Roberts believe that our legal tradition requires he uphold recently decided matters of law? Is he keeping his powder dry? Did he disagree with Gorsuch’s reasoning? 

    Only the shadow knows. But at least we should be able to count on our gay rights majority holding for the Texas case. Let’s hope, however, that rather than delaying, the justices instead make quick work of Houston’s petition and shut the door on the insidious notion that marriage benefits can be parsed on the basis of sexual orientation.

    arostow@aol.com