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    Ann Rostow: You Go, Curl!

    By Ann Rostow

    You Go, Curl!

    I’m watching a little Olympics with the sound off as I write to you. It generally takes me a couple of weeks to figure out the difference between a toe loop and a salchow, or to remember how the scoring works in curling. And then, of course, it’s over for another four years, and all is forgotten. 

    This time around, I have noticed that the snowboarders and skiers who compete in the trick jumping events have a tendency to stick out their tongues for no reason. It looks as if they might do it out of self-consciousness. I don’t know, but I don’t like it. I’ve also found myself manifesting a little ageism by rooting against teenagers and/or first-time Olympians, while supporting veterans and anyone who is valiantly participating in their last winter games. I’m doing this on a gut level, and it’s not my normal habit. Where did this churlish little spite fest come from? They’re just kids!

    At the same time, when they’re not trying for Olympic medals, I have started to really like the members of the post-Millennium generation—the ones born in the 21st century. The students who survived the Florida attack are an inspiration, but there’s something optimistic about the whole cohort. 

    By the way, did you hear the guffaws about the Russian curler who was caught doping? Everyone was completely incredulous. How can performance-enhancing drugs help a curler, they sputtered? Guess they’ve never heard of a beta blocker. I have a lifetime prescription for propranolol thanks to a past history of an overactive thyroid, and I can attest that it helps your focus and steadies your hands. It’s also used by performers to combat stage fright. Bring on the stones! (For the record, the Bay Area curling club is the largest in California.)

    Oh. Before I move on to another subject, I just read a Washington Post article about a half -pipe skier named Elizabeth Swaney, an American who managed to ski for Hungary because of her maternal grandparents. Except, it turns out Swaney has no particular aptitude for freestyle skiing. 

    “Some who watched her compete Monday might have wondered what in the world Swaney was trying to achieve,” wrote the Post reporter. “…while the elite skiers around her were risking major injury with high-flying tricks, she was content to mostly ride up the side of the pipe and do a little hop while turning around. She added a teeny bit of flair to her first run by skiing backward out of the pipe.”

    I couldn’t help watching the video, along with Swaney’s hysterical “training video,” which looks like something produced by the Onion with Swaney jumping randomly on a trampoline, skating backward and flipping into a pool with Olympic-sounding music in the background. The WaPo article discussed whether Swaney represented a slap in the face to dedicated athletes, or a plucky inspiration to the average schmuck. And I guess the Hungarian ski authorities had some ‘splainin’ to do. 

    Executive Disorder

    There’s a depressingly good article in Politico headlined: “Trump administration dismantles LGBT-friendly policies.” And here’s the thing, we’ve covered many of the developments listed in the story. But what is harder to describe is the insidious impact of the people Trump has hired, and the people those people have hired—people who oppose same-sex marriage, people who believe transgender Americans are sick weirdos, people who believe in a literal Bible, all sorts of people whose common denominator is a fruitcake conservatism, which often encompasses hostility to our community. 

    For all the talk of the “deep state,” the entrenched bureaucrats who transcend this or that political ideology, we could be witnessing the seeds of another deep state—one that will live on to inflict harm, much like the awful federal judges Trump and company have signed up for lifetime terms. The main obstacle to such a development is social media, which will haunt antigay individuals and allow us to uproot them once the reins of power return to our hands. 

    Among the various unpleasant reminders delivered by Politico was the new office for religious freedom at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a bureau that apparently is designed to serve those whose faith dictates that they sidestep civil rights law. I honestly don’t quite understand it. Does the office stand up for the EMT who refused on religious grounds to treat a transgender car crash victim? Will its staff find a lawyer to defend the hospital that denied visitation to a patient’s gay spouse? 

    We assume that the federal courts are available as a backstop to confront that kind of gross discrimination, but what would happen if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Denver baker, Jack Phillips, in the gay wedding cake case? Phillips is claiming that he should be forgiven the denial of service to a gay couple based on his right, not to religious expression, but to free speech. Still, the whole case pits a strict Christian against a gay couple, so a ruling in favor of the strict Christian is bound to encourage other religious actors, including those at this horrible new HHS division.

    The opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop could appear any day now, and I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little edgy. Luckily, I have a bottle of propranolol somewhere. 

    Holier Than Thou, As Usual

    In other HHS discrimination news, Lambda Legal is suing the department for its role in denying two married lesbians the right to apply to become foster parents for refugee children. The health department uses taxpayer dollars to fund this particular service, a fostering program contracted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The women, both of whom are professors at Texas A&M, were told that they do not “mirror the Holy Family,” and would therefore not be eligible to participate in this federally funded program. 

    I can’t name you chapter and verse, but I can assure you that the Obama administration did not allow federal contractors to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender. The widespread protections instituted by Obama seem to have been swept away like so much dust, a dismal state of affairs improved only by the thought of doing the same with Trump’s executive orders in a few years. 

    Meanwhile, in other news of irritating Catholics, a Miami school fired its first-grade teacher a few days after her wedding to another woman. “This weekend, I married the love of my life,” wrote Jocelyn Morffi on Instagram, “and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result. In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.” Morffi had worked at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School for seven years, and was widely admired by parents, who were furious at her dismissal.

    In a sanctimonious letter to parents, Principal Carlota Morales called the firing “a difficult and necessary decision,” and asked for “your continued prayers.” 

    I was about to move on to the next story, but I was struck by something at the end of the Washington Post article about Morffi. After the story, in bold letters, the screen says: “Read more.” Then we have three other stories, one about a man getting 40 years in prison for throwing boiling water on a gay couple, and another about a man who murdered someone he found on a gay dating site. Really? That’s how we might follow up our interest in discrimination or religious freedom? The first story generated by the Post algorithm was a vaguely related piece about a bigoted county clerk. Still.

    Bermuda Square

    I was disgusted to see that Bermuda governor John Rankin went ahead and signed the bill that repeals court-ordered marriage equality on the island territory and replaces it with domestic partnerships. And there’s nothing the U.K. government can do about it without undermining its hands-off role in territorial affairs. 

    “The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” said Bermudian home affairs minister Walton Brown, unconvincingly.

    Brown added that Bermuda “will continue to live up to its well-earned reputation as a friendly and welcoming place, where all visitors, including LGBT visitors, will continue to enjoy our beauty, our warm hospitality and inclusive culture.” Um, cough-cough, I don’t think so, Mr. Minister. I wouldn’t take a trip to Bermuda if you paid me and sprung for the hotel. 

    Among other things, the despicable National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is apparently taking a lot of credit for helping pass the measure “behind the scenes.” I can’t bring myself to call up their website, but that is reportedly where they’ve been crowing about their influence. Go ahead and check for me, thanks. 

    I suppose there’s something heartening about the fact that NOM has been reduced to lobbying for domestic partnership bills in Bermuda. But I abhor them all the same.

    Mark Pettingill, the lawyer who successfully sued to win marriage equality in the first place, is now challenging the domestic partner law. In a motion filed February 16 against the island’s Attorney General, Pettingill says his client, a single Bermudian man who lives in the U.S., would like to marry in Bermuda sometime in the future. I’m not sure how the law works over there, but I doubt this petitioner would have standing in an American court. I wish him luck anyway.

    Immigration Goons Nab Legal Husband of U.S. Citizen

    In one of the most unbelievable deportation cases yet, the Mexican-born husband of an American citizen was taken away and tagged for deportation after he and his husband went to the immigration office to fill out the paperwork for spousal immigration. Jose “Ivan” Nunez came to this country illegally eight years ago and has worked under the radar. Although Nunez has no criminal record, he originally did get caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally, and was sent back. He then crossed into the country successfully. As far as I understand it, he is categorized as someone who has already been deported and he was thus targeted for immediate arrest, detention and removal from the U.S.

    Nunez married Paul Frame in April 2016, and later began the process of applying for a green card as the spouse of an American. The process requires a couple to come into an immigration office for an interview to make sure that the marriage is legitimate. At one point during this interview in West Philadelphia on January 31, Frame was asked to step out of the room, which he assumed meant the agents wanted to ask the men separate questions. Instead, Nunez was placed in handcuffs and tossed in a holding cell. 

    It seemed the immigration officials conducting the interview had seen that Nunez had been “deported,” and had called their brothers in arms at ICE. Oddly, they then proceeded to approve the spousal status, but Nunez remains in the tank as of February 19. I’m assuming that his lawyer and his husband will get him released, but in this America, who knows?


    Finally, I have to apologize for managing to completely overlook a major piece of news last month, to wit the decision by a Wisconsin school district to settle its transgender bathroom case to the tune of $800,000; $650,000 to the lawyers, and $150,000 to high school student Ash Whitaker. The case, which ended with a major trans rights victory from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, was originally appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. As such, I’ve been mentioning it every now and again as a potential blockbuster. I looked for it on the petitions docket the other day and couldn’t find it, but mindlessly went on to other things. At any rate, the case is closed.

    I have a feeling, however, that we are far from done with Title IX lawsuits, those that argue that forcing transgender students into (for them) opposite sex bathrooms is a form of sex discrimination, illegal in public schools under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Just a short time ago, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education told Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden that the Trump administration does not believe Title IX requires schools to accommodate transgender students as far as bathrooms and locker rooms are concerned. The Seventh Circuit might have something to say about that.