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    Ann Rostow: Conference Call

    By Ann Rostow

    Conference Call

    Put September 29 on your calendar. That’s the first meeting of the Supreme Court’s 2014/2015 session.

    You know how those meetings go, right? The nine justices sit around a table discussing the various petitions for review. No one else is allowed inside the dark room. I picture it dark anyway, with walls of wood and a pleasant musty smell. The junior justice, Elena Kagan, takes notes and is also responsible for answering the door when an aide knocks with sandwiches or something. The Chief goes around the table in order of seniority, and finally a vote is taken.

    Will they accept the Utah marriage case? The Oklahoma case? The Virginia case? A combination of these three petitions? Or will they punt to their next meeting, which I think is in mid-October? The answer is, they will probably punt. But if they don’t, they will likely take Utah, or Utah plus Virginia. The Oklahoma case has various unnecessary complications, so most observers think that one is off the table.

    Put me in the camp of those rooting for Utah. It was the first appellate decision to hit the books. And unlike the Virginia case, the marriage amendment was defended by Utah state officials. Finally, Utah couples are represented by a host of our favorite GLBT lawyers, while Virginia’s are championed by the celebrity duo of Olson and Boies, relative newcomers to our legal fight for equality. (Lambda Legal is also involved, but Olson and Boies will certainly insist on center stage, their favorite spot.)

    Seventh Heaven

    Meanwhile, we have excellent news this week out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, an unfriendly venue where we lucked into three of the most friendly judges on the Republican dominated court.

    Led by veteran jurist Richard Posner (a Reagan appointee who, like many of his generation, has evolved to RINO status) the panel heard arguments on August 26 in three cases out of Indiana and Wisconsin. According to press reports, Posner and his two Democratic co-panelists Ann Williams (Clinton) and David Hamilton (Obama) didn’t simply lean towards the same-sex couples, they took turns eviscerating the lawyers on the other side. Although it’s standard operating procedure for the press to avoid speculating on the outcome of a case based on oral arguments, just about every reporter who covered the hearing had no trouble predicting a 3-0 victory for marriage equality.

    In short, one of the appellate courts that could easily have handed us a loss is likely to rule in our favor.

    Over in the Ninth Circuit, where oral arguments are scheduled for September 8, we were already confident of success. After all, this is the court that recently ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is presumptively unconstitutional. But if that weren’t enough, we recently learned that the panel assigned to the three marriage cases pending in the Ninth includes three openly pro-gay jurists, including Stephen Reinhardt who authored both the strategically narrow opinion in the Prop 8 case, as well as the aforementioned opinion on sexual orientation discrimination. Calling the outcome here a “slam dunk” is an understatement. The basket has been lowered to three feet, and we’re using a tennis ball.

    The Ninth is hearing marriage challenges from Nevada, Hawaii (arguably moot since Hawaii legalized gay unions) and Idaho.

    Before we leave this topic, the continuing trend makes you wonder whether or not the Sixth Circuit panel will come up with a face saving alternative to an antigay ruling. The panel, which heard arguments in early August on cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, seemed to be headed towards a 2-1 vote in favor of states’ rights to define marriage as they see fit. But do they really want to stand, to use the increasingly popular phrase, on the “wrong side of history?” Hell, they probably don’t care.

    Hook ‘Em

    All in all, I’m in a far better mood than I was the last time we met. Plus, college football season has started, although I’m sorry to say my Longhorn quarterback has been taken out of service again for his umpteenth concussion and his replacements look a little green.

    Speaking of college football, here’s a weird thing that I’m not sure how to interpret. Mel and I were watching Iowa State when the game cut to commercials that included the standard pitch for the university itself. You know these ads, or at least you do if you watch college sports. Shots of multiracial students hard at work in the science lab, hands shooting up at the seminar table, someone playing a violin, a long shot of the campus, the cheesy sound bite written by a committee in the marketing department. “We can go places!” “The future is here!” “Changing tomorrow today!”

    So anyway, the Iowa State commercial comes on. Here’s a gay guy (believe me, we know he’s gay) sitting at a table cutting fabric with sewing shears. He tells us he is taking Fashion 101 so he can learn to design his own clothing line. Here at Iowa State, he can do anything (or whatever).

    It wasn’t as if the gay guy was one of several students. He was the only one in this commercial. Quite frankly, I thought it was very odd. Yes, I know the gay fashion designer is a stereotype. But there was no attempt to butch up the star of the ad, so the stereotype was all we had to evaluate the context. Was Iowa State emphasizing its gay friendly atmosphere? Why would any college commercial feature an arcane subject like fashion rather than math or history? Was the use of a stereotype a nice gesture aimed at our community? Or was it a strange misfire? Why deliver this message to the broad audience of college football fans? Honestly, why? In some ways, it was as if they showed an African American jock announcing that he was majoring in physical education. Or perhaps a prim looking girl in a conservative dress telling us about her Home Economics course. And yet, I’m torn. Because it could also have reflected a policy of inclusion.

    Oh, who knows? And for the record, I guess you all saw that Michael Sam got cut by the Rams. There goes our first gay pro football player, but perhaps he’ll get picked up by some other team.

    Something Rotten In the Land of Cotton

    Here’s an ugly little incident from last spring in South Carolina, where gender police over at the Department of Motor Vehicles forced an effeminate teen to take off his makeup before getting his photo. Chase Culpepper wears makeup every day, and dresses in feminine or androgynous outfits. But this was not acceptable to the bureaucrats in Anderson, who ordered the 16-year-old to wash his face before getting his license. Culpepper had no choice in the matter, but he and his mother are now suing the DMV with the help of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.

    I know that sometimes authorities insist that your official ID must match your looks. But Culpepper wasn’t “dressing up” to mess with the DMV. He wears makeup all the time. If anything, his barefaced look probably made him unrecognizable in his photo ID. In their suit, the Culpeppers point out that the Mandarins in Columbia have no right to dictate the personal style or appearance of Palmetto State citizens.

    Meanwhile, in other news from below the Mason Dixon Line, a Georgia man who came out to his horrific extended family was physically attacked and berated with obscenity-laden rants by Dad, Grandma and Step Mom. Twenty-year-old Daniel Pierce had the presence of mind to video the family meeting, a video that has since been watched by millions of people. Those millions have donated over a hundred grand to Pierce, who was kicked out of the house by his charming relatives. Pierce says he will donate some of that cash to teens in similar predicaments.

    It’s chilling to listen to grandma, or whoever it is, screeching on about the Word of God while telling Daniel he’s no longer welcome in the house. At one point, in a nice irony, the father screams at Daniel for airing the family’s dirty laundry on Facebook, an accusation that Daniel denies while Dad continues to use him as a punching bag. Hello, Dad? Facebook was apparently the least of your worries.

    And here’s one more vignette before we leave the Deep South. Jeff White, who is now 32, is suing the Bethel Baptist School for sexual abuse that went on for years during his “education” at this Mississippi institution with the motto: “promoting academic excellence.”

    In addition to academic excellence, the school allegedly allowed a pedophile teacher to promote heterosexuality by raping White every Wednesday afternoon in an effort to turn the boy straight. White, who was 14 to 17 at the time, is now Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Rainbow Center. He is taking Bethel Baptist to court with the help of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

    Sometimes, you almost wish the South had won the Civil War, don’t you? They could have kept their little far right bastion of Godly intolerance, and we could have kept the rest of the country to ourselves. Oh, I’m just kidding. Sort of.

    We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Assimilating

    You can’t read as much GLBT news, analysis and commentary as I do without encountering an (often sophomoric) discussion of the pros and cons of assimilation. Interestingly, some of the loudest voices decrying the loss of gay culture and queerness come from a cohort that never even experienced the festive world that bridged the beginning of gay liberation and the beginning of AIDS.

    I remember the sound of thumping disco music as the Fire Island ferry pulled into Cherry Grove on a balmy Friday late afternoon, seeing the beautiful men lounging shirtless on the decks, drinks in hand, waving to the newcomers. Diving off those decks into the pool below. Washing off the sand in an outdoor shower at six before getting dressed for a Saturday evening of debauchery. I remember going out with the boys to the massive men’s bars of 1970s New York. Drinking giant colorful drinks and waking up in my friend Dan’s apartment with my cheek in an ashtray.

    I remember the pride parades back in the day when it was all about politics. I remember the mafia guys who ran the door at the Duchess and I remember the strange, exhilarating sense of relief when you walked into a bar where everyone was like you and no one thought of you as a shameful deviant.

    And what about that? Yes, it was exhilarating. But only because the rest of the world was a God damned minefield of unrelenting disgust and discrimination. Oh, did I mention? A few years later, half the people we knew were dead.

    So, to all those thirty-somethings out there who bemoan the end of a queer culture that relied on external hatred for its very existence, yes it was fun. But no one who went through it would want to go back. And it’s not there anymore, because the pervasive hatred is gone. Yes, we still have homophobia. We still have the South Carolina DMV and lunatic grandmothers in Georgia. But it’s isolated. The generalized hostility that held the GLBT community together back in the day is gone, and we are better off as a result.

    As for marriage and assimilation, people will do what they want. There’s no central authority forcing marriage down anyone’s throat. So those of us who want to get married, have children, work for an insurance company and live in the suburbs are free to do exactly that. But don’t worry. We will always be different. And if it makes anyone feel better, we will still face discrimination, poverty and violence for the foreseeable future, whether or not we win marriage rights or get to serve in the military.