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    Ann Rostow: Help!

    By Ann Rostow–


    Before we start, I’ve basically given up reacting to Trump in every column, but I have to make one small exception. When will commentators, pundits and the press stop using euphemisms to describe Trump’s “speeches?” His emergency declaration presentation in the Rose Garden the other day was not “rambling.” It was incoherent. He doesn’t just stretch the truth. He garbles out half sentences and word salads. There’s plainly something wrong with him, mentally. Forget the Russian collusion investigation. He should be forced headfirst into an MRI machine and the results made public at once. 

    Moving right along, it looks as if the Supreme Court is continuing to kick the GLBT civil rights can down the road, declining to take action on our three main legal petitions during their February 15 meeting. I’m assuming these workplace discrimination cases will be re-listed for discussion at the February 22 conference. Hey, kicking the can down the road is fine by me. I’d be happy if they accidentally kicked it off a cliff and stared wistfully over the edge as it bounced and tumbled down the rocks on its way to being crushed by violent whitewater. Then in a few years, once a Democrat has replaced Thomas, we can produce a shiny new can with which to revisit the status of Title VII’s anti-discrimination language.

    Alternatively, once the Democrats have taken back the Senate, we can pass the Equality Act, which will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the categories protected against bias under federal law.  

    I should add that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit just ruled against a transgender woman who was arguing that she was wrongfully denied a job in violation of Title VII. That was a tricky case, however, since the woman may have misrepresented her previous job status during her interviews, but it did include a gratuitous anti-trans concurrent opinion. That inspired our nemeses at the Alliance Defending Freedom to dash off a letter to the Supreme Court calling their attention to the decision like an eager little boy raising his hand for Teacher. 

    The Alliance was attempting to add weight to their petition in favor of an Ohio funeral home that fired a transitioning employee. That’s one of the three High Court petitions we’re watching, along with the Second Circuit gay case (Zarda!) and another gay case out of the Eleventh Circuit.


    So, Jussie Smollett! WTF? The moral of this story seems to be that everyone should take a moment and find out the facts before they make critical comments about the news story du jour. And yet I have to point out that everyone is now assuming that the Empire star fabricated his highly publicized hate crime episode the other day. Shouldn’t we all wait to find out what exactly happened before we fall into another rush-to-judgment trap?

    Nah. I think he faked it. Alert readers will notice that I didn’t cover it in the first place, which was because there were two weird things. First, the idea that homophobic people were walking the streets of Chicago carrying bleach in subzero weather at three in the morning. Second, the fact that Jussie kept the rope on around his neck. That said, I did think he had been victimized in some way and now I really can’t imagine what’s actually going on.

    I have little sympathy for false claims of this sort because obviously, they diminish the impact of real hate crimes. But I feel badly for him anyway because whatever happened, the poor guy is troubled.

    Empire is one of those shows that we watched for a season or two and then dropped. Mel and I have also given up on Billions, Outlander and the one where there are two Berlins with the same people in both versions of the city, many of them compromised in some fashion. Talk about being hard to follow. Advanced age, plus a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, and the two of us were spending more time trying to explain things to each other than we were watching the show. 

    Mel: “Wait. I thought she was dead.”
    Me: “No. That’s in the other Berlin.”
    Mel: “Isn’t this the good Berlin?”
    Me: “No. This is the bad Berlin.”
    Mel: “Then she should be dead.”
    Me: “You’re right … . I’m confused.” 

    My Own Private India

    Because I am on a deadline, I have been deliberately wasting time all day, beginning with a ritual perusal of the print The New York Times. For example, this morning I convinced myself that I needed to read every word of the obituary pages, starting with paperback publisher Betty Ballantine, aged 99, which is how I discovered that her father was “an assistant opium dealer” based in Faizabad during the Raj. “He often traveled to remote farms to inspect crops and would take along his family, who would live in tents with full linen and silver service.” These details came compliments of Betty’s granddaughter. 

    Oh. My. God! I’m no fan of the British exploitation of India. But I wouldn’t mind just one evening as the guest of Betty’s parents, Norah and Hubert Jones, reclining on massive cushions with a glass of Champagne in hand and a silver tray of savories at the ready. “Ann, you must try Manesh’s latest blend,” says Norah, extending a small glass pipe in my direction. “Shanti! Another bottle of the Widow,” she calls to a small figure in the corner and claps her hands. The candles flicker as a shadow slips out to find another magnum of Champagne. It’s our third! Later, I wander out into an uncut field of poppies. The sky is black but thick with stars. In the distance near one of the sleeping tents, someone softly calls my name. Shanti? 

    And in unrelated news, Mike Pence’s youngest daughter is engaged, which is nice for her, of course. But what brings her to this column is that the nuptial news was announced via Instagram and close observers from our community noticed that Daniel popped the question to Audrey on the coast of Cape Cod … in Provincetown! The gayest place in the U.S.A.! Well, let’s hope the location gives the soon-to-be-weds some good luck as they start out together. Can’t hurt.

    Of All the Gin Joints

    Keeping it unrelated, we have another small item, the inexplicable decision by a part-owner of an El Paso gay bar to spend the other evening at the Trump rally rather than protesting with Beto. Say what? 

    Johnny Alcantar is one of five owners of the Old Plantation bar. (Paging the politically incorrect patrol.) He is also recognizable to his clientele, it seems, because a number of people objected when he Instagrammed himself posing with a few other guys, holding up a “Trump. Keep America Great 2020” banner with a big ole grin on his face. 

    “What have you done for the community?” asked one observer. “‘Cause right about now, your position is looking pretty questionable. WATCH WHO THE F*** YOU SUPPORT!”

    “I ain’t walking in that regurgitated s***pool of a club anymore,” the same now-ex-customer announced pleasantly to the rainbow world, “and neither should you.” 

    Hold your horses, the bar pleaded. “To all of our fellow patrons, and LGBT members. We apologize for any confusion going through your heads at this time,” said a Facebook post signed by Mark Adkins, CEO of The OP Nightclub. “We want to make one thing as clear as crystal: The Old Plantation Nightclub does NOT support Trump’s views or opinions ESPECIALLY towards our LGBT community. The OP was built by and built for the LGBT community and everyone should already know that.”

    The bar described Johnny as a well-meaning but clueless minority stakeholder, who has “expressed his regret for posting about the rally on social media and his fundamental lack of knowledge about the ways in which Trump’s administration is working to stifle the rights of the LGBTQ community.

    “It’s very easy to forget how to express and show love and respect when politicians, including our own president, are spreading division through their words and policies,” the statement went on. “We have faith, however, that love will always win.”

    True that, bar owners. 

    Birds Do It

    Did any of you catch the reports of a rare cardinal, half vibrant red male and half brownish female, sighted in Erie, Pennsylvania, and reported in the Times? The gender bending flyer is called a “gynandromorph,” an unusual mix of male and female that has been observed in birds, reptiles, butterflies and crustaceans. One piece of good news: If ever a human gynandromorph emerges from the research files, we can add him and her to our community acronym without tacking on a new letter, because the G is already in place. 

    I think I’ve already mentioned that four letters are my limit. If people are questioning, they can answer the question before joining the GLBT firmament. As for queer, that could describe too many people, don’t you think? And don’t get me started on adding a brown stripe to the rainbow flag in order to represent GLBT people of color. Guys! The rainbow is all colors! Gilbert Baker would turn over in his grave. 

    Speaking of gender and sex, Andrew Sullivan wrote a long essay on “The Nature of Sex” for New York Magazine earlier this month, conflating one of our core legal strategies with various straw men and straw women that he then proceeds to blow away. He notes that the proposed Equality Act defines “sex” to include “gender identity,” and then defines “gender identity” to encompass “gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or characteristics, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

    Hey, Guys and Dolls, Sullivan puffs: “If you abandon biology in the matter of sex and gender altogether, you may help trans people live fuller, less conflicted lives; but you also undermine the very meaning of homosexuality. If you follow the current ideology of gender as entirely fluid, you actually subvert and undermine core arguments in defense of gay rights.”

    But unless you’re a gynandromorph, no one is suggesting gender is fluid. What people are suggesting, in law and legislation, is that discrimination because of “sex” encompasses discrimination because of gender stereotyping. When Price Waterhouse famously refused to promote a qualified but masculine woman back in the 1980s, the High Court ruled that forcing a woman into a stereotypically feminine role was sex discrimination in one of its many disguises. Likewise, bias against a gay man or a gay woman is yet another aspect of this same kind of sex discrimination (our lawyers and lawmakers argue) because gay men and lesbians don’t fit stereotypical gender roles. Ditto transgender people.

    This expansive definition of “sex” in law already encompasses sexual harassment on the job and in education under Title VII and Title IX. We are simply trying to use the logic of existing jurisprudence to advance our gay and trans civil rights here, and a David Brooks-esque polemic on the intrinsic link between gender and sexual orientation is, in this context, a non-sequitur.

    You’re Bad

    I’ve reached the end of my column without saying a word about all of those gay priests, let alone the priests who have children stashed away. Come on, Fathers! I know the vast majority of you are fine, celibate men of God, but. Hmm. Actually, I’m not sure I know that. I’m sure most of you try your best.

    Without conflating gay priests with pedophile priests, it was hard not to notice the connection between said pedophile priests and reports of abuse by Southern Baptist ministers, who were accused of hundreds of assaults by two Texas newspapers last week. There’s something about the holier-than-thou postures of some of these deviant church leaders that makes you question the very nature of strict religious orders, Catholic, Protestant and others of this ilk. 

    It’s not healthy to impose a rigid ideology on your fellow human beings. We are a complicated and nuanced species, seeking mystery, not dogmatism. Insist on joyless rules and regulations at your own peril, gentlemen.