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    Ann Rostow: Hold On, Center!

    By Ann Rostow–

    Hold On, Center!

    It’s April. I find myself counting months the way I expect I would count them if I were in prison for a spell. We have about eight months until the midterm elections; ten months until a Democratic House takes office, if we are lucky. We’ve survived 14 months of Trump already, but I fear that those months were the good times. He was still a little afraid of being President, and he had a number of normal staff members nudging him away from the edge. 

    Those people are all gone now, and he’s alone with nutty and/or senile sycophants: Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, Wilber Ross. He’s completely untethered from reality, blabbing nonsensical warnings about trade and DACA and the Iran deal that illustrate both his ignorance of current events and his frightening mental limitations. We’ve made it this far, but we still have a long way to go, and it’s getting worse.

    Every time I start this column, I feel a little guilty for focusing on our GLBT community’s various social and legal challenges when we’re all in a sinking ship with the rest of the non-Trump American majority trying desperately to hang on together. As someone once said, it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of a few gay men and lesbians don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Except they do, of course.

    Plus, speaking of feeling guilty, sometimes these days I don’t even care about politics or life under Trump, because it’s spring! The final four, Dinah Shore, the start of baseball season, Masters week. It’s sports time, ladies and gentlemen. The seasons of fun and sun lie ahead, beckoning us with their hot days, timeless evenings, warm nights. I can feel it coming. I just asked Alexa to play “Happy.

    Whew! I’m back to my keyboard after dancing around the house and putting out the recycling with Alexa’s volume pumped high. I seem to have made a 180-degree move since I typed my first paragraph. How is that possible? Am I that flighty?

    If at First…

    Oh, don’t answer that question. You must have read by now that Trump and company are trying to resurrect the July 2017 ban on transgender service members, even as four federal courts and two federal appellate courts have given the notion a constitutional thumbs down. 

    While the judiciary usually defers to the executive branch on matters of national security or defense, this was an exception to that rule. Trump issued his transgender military ban by tweet, on the spur of the moment, without consultation or review. Apparently, he was asked about whether the military should pay for gender transitions, and he flipped out and decided that no transgender Americans could serve the country. Problem solved!

    Naturally, the President claimed to have based his decision on the advice of military leaders and a concern for the huge medical bills that trans troops would incur. In fact, he had consulted no one, and the health bills for some 5,000 transgender troops now serving are estimated to amount to less than .02 percent of the military health budget (according to a Forbes Magazine study). And let’s be honest: Do any of you think Trump knew that transgender men and women were already serving? Of course not.

    Faced with the smack downs from the federal courts, Trump and company are trying for a do-over. On March 23, the administration’s self-imposed deadline for action, Trump voided his policy and replaced it with new recommendations from Defense Secretary Mattis. Mattis had been assigned to come up with a report on the matter (which had just been extensively reviewed under the Obama administration). He did so in February, delivering an ill-conceived paper that reportedly was supervised by Vice President Pence’s office with the help of other social conservatives. His recommendations, in turn, called for transgender troops to be allowed to serve as long as they stick with their birth gender and don’t transition. Yes, I know.

    The administration will now try to convince those federal courts that the whole situation has changed, and that the injunctions now in force against the original anti-trans policy are now moot. They’ll face an uphill battle given the eye rolls they’ve received to date from the bench, and indeed, Trump lawyers have made little headway in the two hearings they’ve had since the new policy was announced. 

    Hear Them Roar

    I was just about to take note the death of the Ninth Circuit’s “liberal lion,” the iconic federal appellate judge, Stephen Reinhardt, author of our Prop 8 victory, as well as several other key gay rights opinions. (My first cousin clerked for him!) But, as is always the case when I drift into an area of research, procrastination led me instead to several pending Ninth Circuit cases, including a fight over whether or not the government is required to divert water in order to help salmon swim up the Columbia and Snake rivers (of course it is!) and intriguingly, whether or not the town of Everett, Washington, can regulate bikini baristas.

    Bikini baristas are women who serve coffee dressed in next to nothing, often just pasties and a thong. Really? The Everett town elders insist on their right to regulate attire based on public decency; the baristas, in turn, cite their First Amendment rights to express female empowerment. What’s with Everett, Washington? It sounds like downtown Pottersville after George Bailey was erased from history. I love it! 

    And do you know what? The Seattle-based federal judge who recently ruled in favor of the baristas is none other than Marsha Pechman, now presiding over one of Trump and company’s transgender military cases! A liberal lioness in her own right, on March 27, Pechman told one of the administration’s lawyers to take the Mattis report and stuff it, because it had not been submitted on time.

    Dumb and Dumber

    I have a number of legal and political news stories lined up: the Tennessee legislature is trying to mess with a lesbian divorce, lawmakers in Kansas and Georgia kill antigay adoption bills, Ohio bureaucrats are sued for refusing to change gender markers on birth certificates, and well, the list goes on. 

    But first, check the lead from a recent story in the Washington Post

    “Imagine uncoiling a condom and stuffing it up one side of your nose, then plugging the other nostril and inhaling until the long piece of latex slides into your throat. Then what? You reach back and pull it from your mouth. Why would someone do that?

    “Apparently for the same reason young people have dared each other to pour salt in their hands and hold ice until it burns, douse themselves in rubbing alcohol and set themselves on fire, or bite into colorful liquid laundry detergent packets.”

    According to the Post, teenagers have been practicing the “condom challenge” for years, as part of their ongoing Internet search for new stupid things to do. We expect this from toddlers and small children. (I remember that one of my friends was told by her mother, “Don’t put beans up your nose,” as her mother left the house. Surprise! When the babysitter wasn’t looking, my friend did just that and would up in the ER. I think she was five.) But teenagers? College students? I know the millennials are reportedly slow to grow up, but this is ridiculous. I expect the fabulous post-millennial generation will put an end to such shenanigans pronto. 

    Final Four

    As I was saying, both Georgia and Kansas saw antigay adoption bills pass their respective state senates, and lawmakers in both states managed to kill the bills in the house. In Georgia, the legislative session came to a close while the bill languished. In Topeka, house members voted it down, although there’s something about a conference committee that sounds ominous. 

    There was a time that I would dig down on such details in order to be able to say conclusively that this or that bill was absolutely dead. But I’ve done this for years, and bills have a habit of rising from the ashes, lingering here and there, being renamed, appearing as an amendment in something unrelated, replacing the text of some other piece of business. You get the picture. That’s what I like about the Georgia story. The legislative session is over, so we’re okay.

    Still, I’m married to a Kansan, so I really should make an effort. Or not. Sorry honey. We just lowered our Jayhawk flag from the front of the house, now that basketball season is over. The bad news is that we lost to Villanova. The good news is that Kansas is the preseason favorite for 2019. Rock Chalk!

    As for Ohio, the Department of Health and the Office of Vital Statistics seem to have no written policy against changing gender on a birth certificate, and indeed, the DMV allows you to change your driver’s license with no problem. At times, Ohio has even changed some birth certificates, but lately, bureaucrats have sent letters to transgender applicants informing them, quixotically, that their request for a gender change is against these unwritten regulations. 

    Into the fray come the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, which are likely to prevail. Note that Ohio is one of just three states that refuse to revise birth certificates, plus Puerto Rico. The other states are Tennessee and, um, Kansas. Come on, guys! 

    Can We Move to Costa Rica?

    I’m going to skip the details of the lesbian divorce in Tennessee. I’ll just tell you that lawmakers basically tried to insist that the women couldn’t divorce because state law referred to a “husband,” and a husband is a man! Sorry. Hey, have any of you tried the condom challenge?

    I’m also steering clear of that horrible lesbian murder suicide off Highway One. What the hell? I’m happy that the media has not been emphasizing the fact that the deranged woman or women were gay. But we all know that our community is not completely free of sociopaths or mental misfits.  

    Instead of those items, let’s focus on the April 1 presidential election in Costa Rica, where the good guy beat the antigay guy by an unexpectedly large 61–39 margin. And why do we care about Costa Rican politics? Because the election was to a large extent fought over the issue of gay marriage. In January, the Inter-American Court, a regional human rights authority, ruled in favor of marriage equality in a decision that a renegade Costa Rican bureaucrat declined to recognize. Since one of the presidential candidates was a hard line conservative, and the other was a center leftist, the marriage issue dominated the campaign.

    Since polls showed 70 percent of the public opposed same-sex marriage, and since the race seemed tight, GLBT activists had their fingers crossed, but were ready for any outcome. The 20-point victory by Carlos Alvarado Quesada seemed to justify Costa Rica’s reputation as a modern, tolerant, progressive state. He beat Alvarado Munoz, an evangelical TV personality known for religious dance songs (my source is France 24). Upon defeat, Munoz reportedly sank to his knees and raised his arms before his weeping supporters.

    Slouching Towards Mar-a-Lago

    You know, this sort of thing—the weeping supporters, the crazy candidate—it isn’t funny anymore. I was laughing when I wrote it, but then I glanced up to see Trump and the Easter bunny on TV. 

    I had the captions running, so I was able to read that we’re keeping the White House in “tip top shape,” and sometimes we’re calling it “tippy top shape,” and I just want to scream. This blithering idiot is inhabiting the White House—or whatever it’s called. How many more months did we calculate? How long will this nightmare go on? 

    How many times will I have to make depressing allusions to The Second Coming in my column headlines?