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    Ann Rostow: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

    By Ann Rostow–

    Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

    Before we begin, a quick update from police in North Wales around Broughton. Apparently, people have been noticing “Christmas gnomes” abandoned in their front yards. According to an “urgent warning” from detectives, this is a nefarious plot to determine whether or not homeowners are out of town. Those who ignore the gnomes might be giving criminals a signal that the coast is clear for breaking and entering and all the hanky-panky one can imagine would follow such an intrusion.

    Personally, I might leave the gnome in place, given that it’s a quirky decoration—much like a pink flamingo—that could add some cachet to my wife’s beautifully tended front garden. More interestingly, who thinks of a ploy like this? Does a gang leader buy up several dozen Christmas gnomes and instruct his underlings to plant them around town? How did he or she come up with such a strategy? Is this something we may have to worry about here in the U.S.? And wouldn’t it be more appropriate to dump some Halloween items in view of the fact that Americans are all supposed to wait until after Thanksgiving before we install Christmassy things? Indeed, given that it’s only September, why not use regular gnomes in the first place? 

    Much to think about here.

    And I have one more irrelevant news item, namely the death of a 74-year-old Italian cheesemaker, Giacomo Chiapparini, who died under the weight of heavy parmesan-style cheese wheels that fell when shelving collapsed at his warehouse in northern Lombardy. This is actually not funny at all, of course. The man was a father and grandfather who had been running his dairy and cheese factory as a family business. It took firefighters 12 hours to get to his body, laboriously removing 100-pound wheels of cheese one at a time. 

    It caught my eye, however, because Mel and I are fond of Midsomer Murders and often laugh at the absurd fatalities devised by the writing team. One woman was killed in exactly this manner, buried in giant wheels of cheddar, although in her case it wasn’t an accident (cue: Midsomer theme song and slo-mo blood soaking title image). 

    Wilted Celery

    I found the cheese story in a large news file I created on July 25, but apparently forgot about. Given that it’s early September 5, the contents of that file are stale but not completely useless, much like the remains in the bottom of your vegetable bin, some of which can still be chopped up for stir fry or broth or one of those dinners where you have to make do with random ingredients and leftovers because you haven’t been to the store in two weeks.

    I covered some of those items in recent columns, but did not tell you, for example, about a woman who died from drinking too much water. I gravitate towards counter-intuitive health stories about, say, someone who lived to 110 by drinking martinis and smoking two cigarettes a day, or someone who suffered from too much exercise. 

    I also skipped the fact that British rowing has banned transgender women altogether, even though they were already required to lower their testosterone to female levels. That was because I was covering many other transgender stories, but I have also not mentioned in this column that the International Chess Federation has banned transwomen from women’s competitions while they study the issue for two years. I didn’t realize that chess was played according to gender to begin with. Why? And why on earth would transgender women be singled out for a game that requires only intelligence and forethought? 

    I have been intending to look into this matter further, because it’s mystifying, and when I’m mystified it usually means I don’t know what the hell I’m writing about and should probably do some basic research. But surely the Chess People don’t think men are inherently smarter than women, right?  

    In other old vegetable news, I left out a nasty antigay demonstration by neo-Nazis at a pride parade in Wisconsin, along with a couple of lawsuits in Texas that are in the early stages. There’s also an interesting lawsuit out of Massachusetts, where a middle-school kid, Liam Morrison, has been banned from wearing an anti-trans T-shirt that says “There Are Two Genders.” The rightwing Alliance Defending Freedom is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to weigh in on the case after a lower court declined to issue an injunction against the school. 

    According to school authorities, the shirt violates the dress code, which reads that: “Clothing must not state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that targets groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.” Of course, as we all recall, students don’t leave their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. On the other hand, the free speech rights of public school students are limited by the overall constitutional rights of the student body, and the school itself, acting as substitute parents during the school day, has the right to protect the kids against violence, threats, or fear. A student can protest a war with a black armband. They can’t wear a swastika or gang colors.   

    What we face, again, is the question of whether anti-GLBT ideas and speech fall into the category of discriminatory threats, or whether such notions are simply one side of a perfectly reasonable debate over religion or morality. This infuriating way of seeing the issue diminishes our community more than any particular T-shirt or slogan.

    Trials and Tribulations

    I was just reading a piece in The Advocate about a California mother who settled a lawsuit against her child’s middle school for $100,000. The mother claimed that the school “forced” her daughter to identify as a bisexual transboy after the Equality Club used pressure tactics to intimidate her. Once COVID-19 shut down the school, the story goes, the daughter reverted to being female but remained confused and depressed—ergo the hundred K, I’m assuming. The school denied the gaslighting, but (again I assume) paid the mother some cash to get her lawsuit dropped. 

    I’m reporting this to give you a perfect example of my weekly news feeds. At the bottom of the story, The Advocate links to: “Pence Rails Against Trans Kids, Pronouns During Midwest Speaking Swing,” “Wisconsin School District Bans Preferred Pronouns & Pride Symbols,” “Transgender Students Could Be Outed by Florida School District’s Plan,” “California School District Will Make Staff Out Trans Students to Their Parents,” “Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin Declares War on Transgender Kids,” “Virginia House Advances Anti-Trans Sports, Outing Bills,” “Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills Allowing Outing, Pronoun Bans Advance Around Nation.”

    Any one of these links could generate a lengthy segment in our column, with several stories left to percolate until next issue. It’s unending, relentless, and dispiriting. Is it any wonder I’m drawn to manatee sexcapades or people killed by cheese? 

    Or how about the city bros caught in a bar fight in the London financial district the other night? According to what I can piece together from The Daily Mail, lawyer Barnaby Gush, 30, was dancing “flamboyantly” in a popular nightclub, when banker Jonathan Luke started deliberately running into him and his partner. Luke, 32, who had been drinking all evening and was reportedly going from group to group bothering people on the dance floor. After Gush told him to get lost, Luke replied “f off you little “p—,” which is some British gay slur—I’m guessing “poof.” Gush then turned around and belted Luke, fracturing his jaw in two places with one punch. 

    Why do I like this story? I’m not a big fan of violence, and I’m disgusted by the mostly male habit of hitting people and smashing things in a rage like a small child. But it’s nonetheless satisfying when the stereotypical gay victim bashes the basher. Please note that there’s no evidence that Gush was in fact gay, with the possible exception of the flamboyant dance.

    Don’t Write Gay

    By the way, am I the only person who finds it hard to sympathize with the Burning Man crowd who got stuck in the mud? We just watched thousands of people lose their homes and loved ones in Maui, followed by a pretty bad hurricane in western Florida. These Burning Man folks reportedly enjoy being self-sufficient and going with the flow, even when the flow is brown sludge. To give them credit, many of them did not complain to interviewers, calling the wet conditions just another Burning Man experience. So why did we have to hear about this seeming emergency for days? It rained, it got muddy, and people were stranded for several days. After that, it dried out and people were able to leave. It’s Burning Man, for God’s sake. 

    I feel like continuing the non-GLBT news topics. Which sculptor taught us that a masterpiece was made by starting with a piece of marble and chipping away everything that was not the beautiful figure hidden beneath? Perhaps I can write my way into a brilliant GLBT news column by talking about everything not gay and letting our community emerge from the emptiness that remains. 

    With that in mind, I read a fascinating op-ed in The New York Times about the increasing difficulty of maintaining our standard theory of the universe as anomalies and controversies continue to eat away at the underlying structures astrophysicists have long taken for granted. 

    “The Story of Our Universe May Be Starting to Unravel,” by Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser, is a fascinating piece. “We may be at a point,” they suggest, “where we need a radical departure from the standard model, one that may even require us to change how we think of the elemental components of the universe, possibly even the nature of space and time.” 

    We imagine what the denizens of the early 1900s would think of us with our cars, smart phones, helicopters, moon rovers and social media. Imagine what the world of 2150 will think of us too. We see ourselves as so advanced, yet we have no idea how the universe operates, how quantum particles interact, what dark matter and dark energy represent. We tremble at artificial intelligence without the slightest idea how it will evolve and how it will be used. As for global warming, it may destroy all our major cities or we might find a way to capture carbon out of the atmosphere. Who knows? Wouldn’t you like to time travel for a day?

    I can tell you one thing for sure. No one will think twice about having a gay or trans relative or neighbor. Okay, two things. We won’t be raising and killing animals for food, and I say this as a contented meat eater, although I have to compartmentalize in order to enjoy it. Compartment One notices pigs are quite intelligent and treated inhumanely. Compartment Two sees bacon crisping on a paper towel for breakfast. Yum! 

    Oh, Wait

    There’s actually an important legal development out of the Eleventh Circuit, where as you recall from our last column, a three-judge panel reinstated Alabama’s law against transgender health care for minors. The plaintiffs have now asked the full Eleventh Circuit to review the case, and last month’s anti-transgender ruling will be suspended while the court decides whether to accept review. That means Alabama’s law remains on hold for now and trans-kids will still be able to access care. 

    It also delays action on cases out of Florida and Georgia, where anti-trans groups are trying to get laws enforced against kids in their states as well. Those laws are on hold as well for the time being. 

    If the full appellate court agrees to review the matter of the injunction, that will take some time. And if they decline, our side can appeal to the Supreme Court, which will take more time. This is all just to say that we are in the midst of a delaying tactic that provides breathing room for a desperate population in these three southern states.    

    I should add that despite the to-hell-with-everything attitude of today’s column, there are a number of major cases and rulings ahead that will provide nonstop legal fodder for many columns to come. Plus, the Supreme Court returns to action at the end of this month, with a conference in advance of the start of the 2023/24 session. I promise not to leave you high and dry with nothing but dead sea cows and gay penguins.

    GLBT Fortnight in Review
    Published on September 7, 2023