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    Ann Rostow: Yes, Puppet

    annboxBy Ann Rostow

    Yes, Puppet

    There was something about the way he said it.

    “Nooo PUPPet! Nooo PUPPet!”

    It was mindlessly delightful to me, and I could not get it out of my head for days. Even thinking about it makes me laugh as I type this, right this instant. I haven’t felt this giddy about a random expression since I heard the little chick on Wonder Pets say: “This. Is. Sewious.”

    A week later, I am still using the exchange from the third debate as a non-sequitur around the house.

    Mel (making dinner): Where is the

    Greek seasoning?

    Ann: No Puppet! No Puppet!

    Mel: It was on this shelf…

    Ann: You’re the puppet!

    Mel: Wrong!

    Ann: You’re the puppet!

    Mel: Wrong!

    Ann: It’s right in front of you.

    We have these charmingly inane conversations several times an evening. I also got a little obsessed with the Hillary shimmy song, which I assume you have all heard. Google it and listen right now in case you missed it. I have played that one half a dozen times.

    So this is how the election has devolved in our household. We’re just hanging on here, checking the glacial FiveThirtyEight polling every two hours as if one of these times it might give Hillary a 99 percent chance of victory instead of the scary 84 percent. Watching MSNBC as if Steve Kornacki might suddenly declare North Carolina for Clinton based on early voting. We cannot stand the suspense, and even though the polls look good, we will not believe them until November 9. Yes, it’s nice to have a four in five chance of winning, but it’s like having an 85 percent chance to survive an operation. Not pleasant.

    Speaking of Steve Kornacki, he has an irksome habit of idly speculating on the ways in which Trump might win by flipping various toss up states from blue to red. What if Hillary loses Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia and Ohio? And your point, Steve? What if Hillary loses New York and California? That would also help the Republican ticket.

    Oh, and the other thing that annoys me is people pointing out that Hillary’s chance of losing is the same as, let’s say, an NFL kicker missing a 30 yard field goal. In my long years of watching football I’ve seen that happen many times! So don’t tell me that. Paralyzing fear has left me humming the shimmy song and mumbling about puppets under my breath like a shipwrecked passenger barely clinging to her raft as it drifts towards shore. Shimmy, shimmy, shimmy HRC.

    Showdown on Title VII Ahead

    So, here’s some big gay news that seems to have slipped under the radar recently. As the last issue went to press, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed to hear a major case en banc, meaning that the full appellate court will reconsider a legal issue of prime importance to our community.

    Do you know the game where you build a tower of blocks or sticks and you take turns removing a piece without knocking down the tower? Well the (non-existent) status of federal workplace protection for gays and lesbians is arguably in a precarious position. We should be protected against bias on the job under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and there are many strong legal arguments to be made on our behalf. But because of inertia and precedent, the anti-gay tower remains standing. Now, the full Seventh Circuit has decided to take a turn, and it’s very likely that the tower will finally fall.

    What would it mean for us to be recognized as a protected class under Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination? It would mean everything. It would effectively elevate gay bias to gender bias throughout U.S. law. In many ways, it would knock down the last major institutional barrier to gay and lesbian equality. (Transgender equality is a different, albeit related, issue.)

    Let’s back up.

    In July, a three judge panel from the Seventh Circuit reluctantly ruled against Kimberly Hively, an Indiana lesbian who claimed under Title VII (the federal law that protects Americans against job bias on the basis of race, sex and other categories) that anti-gay discrimination prevented her advancement at the community college where she worked. I say “reluctantly” because the two-judge majority wrote that the current law surrounding gays in the workplace no longer makes sense, but that they were nonetheless bound by prior precedent to rule that Title VII does not technically cover sexual orientation.

    True, sexual orientation is not listed in the text of Title VII, but over the last decade or so, many federal courts have ruled that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual stereotypes. Under Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of impermissible stereotyping. Ironically, several transgender plaintiffs have won cases under this premise, because obviously, transgender bias is based on stereotypes of how men and women should look and act. Indeed, the Seventh Circuit panel noted (in my words) that it’s possible for a swishy man or a butchy woman to win a Title VII case of workplace discrimination, even if they are heterosexual. At the same time, a straight-acting gay man could lose his job because he married his partner.

    Prior rulings by the federal appellate courts are binding law for all lower courts in the jurisdiction, much like Supreme Court rulings are binding on all federal courts. But just as the Supreme Court can overturn its own judgments, so can an entire federal court overturn its earlier decisions.

    Now, the Seventh Circuit may become the first appellate court to rule in favor of a pro-gay interpretation of Title VII. Although six of the nine active judges are GOP-appointees, those six include Judge Ilana Rovner, the author of the July panel opinion, as well as the veteran Reagan-appointee Richard Posner. Judge Posner authored the Seventh Circuit’s powerful decision in favor of marriage equality in 2014.

    It goes without saying that a ruling of such significance would be reviewed by the Supreme Court. But returning to the tower metaphor, the Court would have to rebuild the fallible structure with all its contradictions and ironies in order to rule against us. A Clinton Court would surely rule in our favor, and I’m thinking even a Trump Court would do so as well.

    In Defense of an Anti-gay Baker

    In cake wars news this week comes one of those weird decisions from countries that don’t seem to approach the United States when it comes to defending free speech. Every now and then someone in Canada or the U.K. gets nailed for saying something anti-gay, an unfortunate opinion, of course, but surely not something that should violate the law. When this happens, many of us Constitution-lovers find ourselves supporting the bigots.

    This time, Northern Ireland’s top court has found that a baker violated equal rights law by refusing to create a cake that said “support gay marriage,” opining that a cake store that puts something in icing does not necessarily espouse that view.

    But, as Obama would say, “C’mon man!” You can’t oblige someone to say or write a particular message in our country, which is why no Jewish baker has to worry about the Nazi customer who wants a swastika cake. American non-discrimination laws at the state level oblige the baker to serve everyone, but they don’t oblige him or her to produce a customized written statement that trespasses on their beliefs.

    Maybe you remember some blustering fool who tried to get a baker to make a cake with some anti-gay Bible bull on it in Denver a few years ago and then tried to make a stink when she refused. But her refusal didn’t reflect discrimination against white male customers; it was a perfectly legal rejection of nasty nonsense on her cakes.

    I don’t know what’s legal in Northern Ireland, but I assume that you can’t force someone to write “gays suck” on a cake because they probably have a bunch of hate speech laws that forbid it. Here in the U.S. we prefer to deal with hate speech in the open market of ideas where its grubby customers can purchase in public and where we can denounce it without fear of being fined for our own opinions. You see, that’s the problem with restrictive speech laws. This time you might like them. Next time, you may be the censored one.

    Can’t Stand Pat

    I don’t know if it’s significant, but early voting started in Austin on October 24, and the lines were unprecedented. We get to vote in most grocery stores until November 4 and I can tell you, there are normally no lines to vote during this period. These are grocery stores, not polling places, and each store has five or six voting booths open all day for well over a week. In 15 years of voting here I’ve never waited more than a few minutes, and yet I’m reading and hearing about lines out the door and around the block in many stores.

    I assume it’s pent up demand from people who can’t wait to cast their ballots, and I’m also guessing the phenomenon was a one-day thing. But still, it’s encouraging given the fact that Austin is in a very Democratic county.

    Speaking of Democrats, I’m anxiously watching the tight North Carolina governor’s race, where antigay incumbent Pat McCrory is fighting off the challenge from Attorney General Roy Cooper. Cooper’s been ahead in the polls for weeks and weeks, but McCrory has caught up, perhaps in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. The Republican Senator Richard Burr is also leading his rival, Deborah Ross. And Hillary is only ahead by a shimmy in the Tarheel State.

    I don’t like it. Before the passage of the trans-bashing HB2, McCrory was thought to be something of a shoe-in for reelection, ergo his defeat would represent a powerful example of the price people may pay for promoting anti-gay policies. If he loses, I’m guessing HB2 is repealed, and I know far right politicians will think twice and three times before using us as their punching bag again. If he survives, however, the point is obscured.

    As of mid-October, McCrory was feeling a little sorry for himself, telling a group of Christian conservatives that his family has been shunned for his support of HB2. “My wife, for example,” he said. “She’s been disinvited to charity events, and basically, they call her up and they say, ‘You know, you better not come. You better not come.’”

    “You’re being purged because of your silence,” he continued incoherently. “The people who are speaking up are being purged and I’m seeing it every day … And so the purging is out there, the purging of norms, the purging of money, the purging of being embarrassed, the purging of being called a bigot. Which is an insult to me, because I’m the farthest thing from a bigot.”

    Whew! Okay!

    Meet Me at the Food Court

    I have just enough room to tell you about Jefferson Parish (Louisiana) President Mike Yenni, who has been nabbed for sexting a 17-year-old boy. Mike, who has a wife and a young daughter, is 40-something himself and admits making a “bad decision” to send “improper texts to a young man.” Among other things, Yenni met the kid in a mall bathroom, kissed him, gave him some special underwear and later asked him to model it over the phone.

    Now he’s asking for a second chance and is swearing never to do it again “because I’m smart enough never to repeat the past.” Who writes stuff like that? Look, we have nothing against sexting, and 17 was above the age of consent in the Bayou State. But if you’re a married politician? It’s stupid.

    These stories are hardly worth reporting these days with all the progress we’ve made. But it was either Yenni, or something really drab like the anti-gay amendment that GOP house members have shoved into the defense spending bill. Do you have a problem with my choice?

    arostow@aol.com