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    Ann Rostow: How Do We Fight This?

    By Ann Rostow–

    How Do We Fight This?

    Much has been made of the rapid rise of gay and lesbian rights over the last three decades, and rightly so. Back in the day, being a lesbian was seen as a quirky anomaly or perhaps a feminist affectation. Gay men, in turn, were promiscuous sexual misfits, loitering in parks and alleyways or maybe ogling little boys on the playground. Attitudes progressed a little bit, but only to expand the stereotypes with a few less problematic images; the fun gay best friend, the outrageous drag queen, the suffering AIDS patient, the harmless suburban lesbian family, the regular guys and gals just trying to get along. Many Americans replaced disgust with a benevolent indifference, and if you had frozen the social status quo at that point, you might have expected a slow but steady improvement, emphasis on slow.

    Instead, we saw a stunning advance in our favor. Why? It wasn’t some phenomenal strategy by gay and lesbian activists. It was the exodus from the closets that began in the 1980s and accelerated through the millennium. Our straight families were confronted by the gay and lesbian aunts, cousins, sons, and grandparents in their midst and the majority became our allies. New civil rights laws and court victories reflected our surge into all aspects of American life and society. The gay predator in the bathroom and the psychotic lesbian wallflower who couldn’t get a man dissolved seemingly overnight in a paradigm shift that gave way to loving couples in a fight for marriage, a home life, and freedom from baseless discrimination—goals shared by everyone of all sexual orientations.

    I bring up this simplified version of history because the fight for gay and lesbian rights was successful thanks to all of these phenomena happening at once and feeding off each other. The more people came out of the closet, the easier it was for others to do so; the more support we built, the more political and legal progress we made, and so forth. Right now, as we face a massive attack on our transgender brothers and sisters, can we take any lessons from the advances we’ve made on the gay and lesbian front?

    I honestly don’t know. But the reason I brought it up was my impression that the circumstances that governed the gay rights movement don’t necessarily apply to the trans rights movement. The gay community had a large hidden population ready to emerge. Is that the case with transgender Americans? To some extent, yes, but to what extent? The political atmosphere is profoundly hostile, far more so even than the negative attitudes that surrounded earlier debates on marriage. The courts have also turned far more conservative in the last decade. 

    And significantly, the goals of the transgender community are harder to defend, only because of their complexity. Should pre-teens have gender surgery? Not only should the answer be no, but no one is even advocating for such drastic policies. But laws that “protect” children from transgender therapies win thoughtless support from a society that is a) basically indifferent to the plight of transpeople and b) easily seduced by the idea that a ban on “therapy” prevents young kids from getting their dicks or breasts hacked off at will. Once you start to discuss hormone blockers or letting children explore their gender identities through different clothes and pronouns, some people stop listening and others imagine that we want to give everyone a green light to act out flights of fancy that will lead inexorably to harmful interventions. 

    Finally, the attack on the trans community is a mechanism for those that lost the war on gay rights to reposition themselves for another sustained assault on the GLBT community. Last time, we were represented by the sympathetic couple who had been together for 30 or 40 years but who lacked the basic rights of marriage; inheritance, taxes, joint parenthood, even family gym memberships. This time, we are surrogates for vulnerable kids but we are fighting other surrogates who insist our policies are dangerous. It doesn’t matter how many studies or medical research papers we can offer. They have their own junk science to offer in rebuttal, and most people just stick with their gut feelings—boys are boys and girls are girls.

    Why else would so many states have passed laws against transgender women playing team sports, given that transgender girls represent roughly one percent of school and college aged kids? I’m basing that on the latest Gallup poll, which shows 1.9 percent of Gen Z adults identify as transgender, and I’m assuming that number is about split between males and females. Whatever the number might be, the scope and intensity of legislative attacks on trans kids and young adults is massively out of proportion to the absurd threat that lawmakers insist this tiny minority presents to the country at large.   

    So where does it end? How do we confront this? What can we do? The days when logical argument could sway political thought are long gone. We now live in a world of make believe, deep fakes, alternative facts, and bizarre conspiracy theories. Politicians no longer compromise or put in the hard work of crafting complex legislation. With some exceptions, they’re all show, developing their public images and planning their next runs for office. The news media is compartmentalized into separate echo chambers, some on the left and some on the right, preaching to the choirs on either side. 

    The only solution I see is demographics. Gen Z has to grow up and take over as fast as possible.

    Cruel Intentions

    It’s one of those weeks where I have dozens of similar sounding stories about horror shows in red state legislatures around the country. Not only are they repetitive, but it’s depressing just to list them one after another. That’s why I wrote about the larger context in that first section. 

    Because, for example, Texas lawmakers have offered 82 anti-GLBT bills in this session alone, and the session started in January! I couldn’t even begin to account for these proposals, let alone assess the likelihood of passage. I think we can assume that not even Texas will enact 82 new anti-GLBT laws, but will there be five? Ten? To give you a sense of their thinking, one of the ideas coming out of Austin is to ban undocumented children from attending public school. I know it’s not a GLBT issue, but can you imagine a whole generation of immigrant kids stuck at home or on the streets instead of getting an education? Does anyone think that sounds like good policy? 

    How about Alaska, where the conservative Attorney General has quietly ordered the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights to revise the state’s anti-discrimination protections, which were formalized after the High Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v Clayton County

    I won’t go into detail for the umpteenth time, but Bostock said that gay and trans employees are covered by the ban on sex discrimination in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After that, many federal and state agencies went ahead and determined that gay and trans people were covered under all bans on sex discrimination, and the Alaska Commission was one of those agencies. Now, however, spurred by the intervention from a Christian advocacy group, Alaska will limit anti-discrimination coverage to workplace claims alone. Gone are protections for housing, finance, public accommodation, and whatever else Alaska had put under its wing.  

    Tennessee seems to be distinguishing itself as the anti-GLBT state of the week, but I grow weary of this subject. There’s stuff coming out of Kansas as well, my wife’s state, but we are saved here by the Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, who can be counted on to veto nasty bills. 

    Speaking of Kansas, we are on the verge of March Madness, and once again, Kansas is a one seed for the tournament. You may remember that I won our family bracket contest last year, an irony since I am one of the least educated family members, mainly because I did not spend decades watching every Kansas basketball game and calculating every Kansas basketball statistic since Wilt Chamberlain graced the Kansas court. Nonetheless, I triumphed. Make of that what you will.

    What? You didn’t remember my bracket victory last year? Please pay closer attention, dear Readers. You’re missing the best parts.

    Despicable Ron

    I’m really starting to hate Ron DeSantis, with his smug outrage and preening self-importance. One of his latest moves is to take control of a 25,000-acre tax district that includes Disney World and other Disney facilities. By “take control,” I mean that the legislature has given him the right to name the five board members who will dictate policy for what was called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but is now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. 

    Starting in 1967, Disney had named the board members and made decisions for the area. Now, the right-wing DeSantis-named board will control the goings on, although it’s not exactly clear to me what changes they can make. Originally, DeSantis and the legislature were planning just to dissolve the District, but they thought twice once they realized that the local taxpayers might be on the hook for huge District debts or maybe obliged to pay for maintaining Disney’s roads and infrastructure. Instead, they rejiggered the District and put their own people in charge, leaving some powers in Disney’s hands in order to save the aforementioned taxpayers.

    All the board members are conservative, but one of them, Ron Peri, is actively anti-gay and runs The Gathering USA, a Christian ministry for men. Another member, Bridget Ziegler, founded “Moms for Liberty” to fight “woke” school policies, while Michael Sasso is President of the Orlando Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, the right-wing legal group that advised Trump on all his judicial picks. It’s not just another one of DeSantis’s hard right maneuvers. It’s the small mindedness of his direct attack on Disney, payback for the company’s opposition to Don’t Say Gay. 

    If you’re really sick of the political situation in the United States, and if you have a few bucks in the bank, you can always buy a gay pub called the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London for about $3 million. The four-floor tavern has been running a Saturday night cabaret since 1995 that has become one of the longest running club nights in the city. I think that kind of investment would get you a long-term visa. Plus, think of the streaming subscription fees you’d save if you could cancel Britbox and Acorn.

    The Survey Says…

    I have yet to discuss a study that shows about 1 percent of teens and adults who transitioned expressed regret. That was a review of 27 other studies that combined results for 8,000 recipients of transgender surgery. According to the Associated Press, some of those who regretted their transitions were okay with everything eventually. A few others reversed their surgeries, but the bottom line is that a change of heart is extremely rare, which indicates that transition surgeries are not performed willy nilly (so to speak), but are scheduled after careful deliberation.

    I was also going to delve into that Gallup poll that I mentioned earlier in this column. As with previous surveys, Gen Z adults take the headlines for coming out as not straight, with 19.7 percent of that generation listing themselves in one category or another. Lesbians comprised 2.2 percent of Z-ers. Gays were 3.4 percent, bisexuals came in at 13.1 percent, 1.9 percent were transgendered adults, and 1.5 percent used other queer rubrics.

    The Z adults, born between 1997 and 2004, were much more likely to identify as not straight than their Millennial elders. Millennials were 11.2 percent non-straight, including 1.5 percent lesbians, 1.9 percent gay, 6.9 percent bisexual, 1 percent trans, and 0.2 percent other. The numbers went down with age as you would expect through Gen X, Boomers, and the Silent Generation.  

    Unlike previous years, the overall numbers seem to have stabilized a bit. For a time, they were increasing every year. The Gallup lede tells us that after showing “perceptible increases in 2020 and 2021,” U.S. identification as something other than heterosexual “held steady in 2022, at 7.2% … “double what it was when Gallup first measured LGBT identification a decade ago.”


    GLBT Fortnight in Review
    Published on March 9, 2023