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    Ann Rostow: Look At Me

    By Ann Rostow–

    Look At Me

    I see that I spent the entirety of “lesbian visibility week” (in late April) lounging around the house reading trashy novels, watching TV, and drinking wine without doing a damn thing to make myself visible. But how exactly are we supposed to be aware of these special days and weeks in the first place? I also missed “margarita day,” on February 24, to my vast regret, as well as several other important annual milestones. There ought to be a calendar app that allows us to itemize personal holidays. Oh, don’t tell me that one already exists.

    You know who did manage to make a statement during lesbian visibility week? Delaware County, Indiana Councilman Ryan Webb, who came out of the closet as a lesbian woman of color. “After much consideration I have decided to come out and finally feel comfortable announcing my true authentic self,” wrote the white Republican father of five who, as you might have figured out, was making a joke at the expense of our vibrant and diverse community. 

    “It is with great relief that I announce to everyone that I identify as a woman and not just any woman but as a woman of color as well. I guess this would make me gay/lesbian as well, since I am attracted to women,” he announced. Webb noted that he will continue to use masculine pronouns.

    According to the (Muncie, Indiana) Star Press, Webb has drawn backlash from both the left and the right; the left objecting to being ridiculed, and the right featuring humorless critics who actually think he is sincere. 

    At a recent council meeting, Webb seemed to suggest that he was making an important point. “I’m being dead serious,” he insisted. “This isn’t a joke. I said what I said. I don’t know what to tell you. You don’t get to question me. You do not get to require proof from me. You were part of the movement that helped establish these rules and set the bar, OK? You don’t get to come later when someone else joins the club that you don’t want in … . You don’t get to question how I identify.” 

    It reminds me a bit of those bozos who always wanted to “celebrate Straight Pride,” because they had a right to be just as proud of their sexual orientation as gays. Note to bozos: it’s called Pride because, unlike you, we had to overcome Shame. Note to Webb: you haven’t joined the club or changed how you identify. You’ve pulled a publicity stunt. Of course, people are allowed to question that.

    Dress for Success

    As usual, there’s a ton of transgender news this week, including a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to challenge Tennessee’s ban on healthcare for transgender youth, as well as a 219–203 vote by the House of Representatives to ban trans girls and women from participating in federally funded school sports. (That’s not going anywhere, but still.) 

    I was particularly struck by a couple of related stories about dress, including an agreement between the ACLU and Alaska Airlines to open up the uniform policy on behalf of a non-binary flight attendant, and a new rule from the Texas Department of Agriculture, where employees now “must dress in a manner consistent with their biological gender.”

    One of the nagging issues in the laws that surround sex discrimination is the idea that employers have the right to dictate how men and women dress, up to a certain point.

    Under Title VII, which bans sex discrimination in the workplace, the High Court has long said it is illegal to hold men and women to gender stereotypes. That case involved a woman who was denied partnership, not because she was female, but because she was too butch for the company image. 

    On the other hand, in 2006, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a casino had the right to hold men and women to dramatically different dress codes; expensive and time-consuming makeup and hair styles for the women, versus a neat, clean-shaven look for men. This policy, the court decided, was not based on stereotypes but reflected, I don’t know, commonly held standards of appearance? (Don’t get me started on this senseless ruling.)

    In today’s cases, Alaska Airlines agreed to cover the legal bills, compensate Justin Wetherell, and change the uniform rules to allow Justin to dress in a non-binary manner with makeup and long hair. The Texas bureaucrats, by contrast, are not simply imposing a simple dress code, they are forcing transgender staff to revert to a style that is totally antithetical to their identity. As such, they arguably violate a more recent Supreme Court opinion, the 2020 ruling that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of impermissible sex discrimination under Title VII. Can Texas argue that the new dress code is gender “neutral”? I don’t see how, particularly since one of the cases at issue in that three-year-old High Court decision involved a transgender woman who was accused of ignoring the male dress standards at the funeral home where she worked—and the Court ruled in her favor.

    Finally, there’s another dress code lawsuit swirling around the courts, namely the petition from North Carolina’s federally funded Charter Day School, which seeks to maintain a strict dress code forcing girls to wear skirts. The skirt policy was rejected by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but Charter Day has asked the Supreme Court to take the case. In January, the justices asked the Solicitor General for a brief as it decides whether or not to accept review. If it does accept, the Court will be focused on whether or not a charter school that takes public money is a state actor under the law. But the underlying issue, whether in the workplace or in a school, is to what extent can authorities force a specific gender role on staff or students. 


    Forty-Thousand for Brady

    I just took a break and looked around for some lighthearted topics. You know the sort of thing I’m looking for. The anti-gay lawmaker caught searching for boy toys online. The crazy British lesbian breaking into her ex-girlfriend’s flat and destroying her bedclothes with a steak knife. Or why stick with our GLBT rubric? There’s always an array of irritating television commercials, like the ones from Duluth Trading with risible scenes of tight underwear squeezing the family jewels of an animated middle-aged man with the irritating macho voiceover.  

    Actually, I fell in love with one TV ad the other day. It was another one of those ubiquitous “truck months” from Chevy or Dodge or Ford, whatever. Over the shots of trucks, I heard this compelling song, sort of country, sort of a ballad, called “Heart Like a Truck.” I looked it up, and it’s an actual song, which I listened to several times. I noticed in the YouTube comments that every other person said they had also heard this on the truck commercial and done the same thing. This woman must have just made a fortune. Either that or I’m the only person who had never heard of Lainey Wilson, whom I see plays a character on Yellowstone.

    As for my news list, it’s still full of anti-trans stories, polls, protests, and the like, grist for our mill, perhaps, but not exactly fun subjects. Meanwhile, as I was reviewing the Duluth Trading ad, I came upon an item from last year, when Tom Brady apparently posted a short, somewhat revealing, video of himself in the bathroom looking at himself in the mirror while wearing his own “Brady Brand” underwear. One guy, reacting to the show, asked Tom if he would deliver him a pair of worn, unwashed, briefs if his reply garnered 40,000 likes, and Tom seemed to agree. No, I did not pursue this further and I don’t know for sure if Brady hand delivered dirty underwear to his slightly creepy sounding fan, but what the hell? It’s a little bizarre anyway. And since when did Tom Brady create and market a personal collection of men’s underclothes? Where have I been?

    Florida Man

    I’m developing an increasingly intense dislike for Ron DeSantis, who just goes from bad to worse. Did you see that speech where he speculated that he might have to build a prison next door to Disney World? It wasn’t just the nasty suggestion that bothered me; it was the weird little giggling smirk, like a mean little boy showing off on the playground. Plus, is the man stupid? Does he not recognize that whatever the far right, unwoke, Trumpy voting bloc is hating on at the moment probably does not include Disney World—regardless of what Robert Iger thinks of GLBT rights?

    This week, in addition to the ten or so anti-GLBT bills already proposed and/or passed in Florida so far this year, the state Department of Education has adopted a rule that bans discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools through senior year, voting this through at a meeting in late April. Of course, we all remember the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed by the legislature and signed into law last year. That bill, which regulated discussion of sexuality and gender through third grade, caused a massive stink and has been roundly condemned for months and months. Now, Don’t Say Gay runs all the way through 12th grade based on a simple Board of Ed meeting. How did that happen? Why didn’t the Board of Education take this action to begin with instead of letting the earlier version maneuver its way through the legislature and take heat? 

    Under the new policy, teachers “shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity” unless it is “part of a reproductive health course,” The Washington Post reported. Florida Chancellor Paul Burns told the meeting audience that there would likely be no need to talk about any of this in a health course either, given that “abstinence is the required expectation of what we teach in our schools.” 

    All I can say is God help the young adults in Florida. And I’m starting to sort of enjoy Trump’s attacks on DeSantis, which makes me cringe when I think about it too hard because it’s kind of like rooting for Trump. Bartender!

    And the Survey Said

    I promised you polls and surveys and I won’t disappoint. First, the CDC surveyed over 17,000 U.S. high school students and found that the number of “LGBTQ” kids rose from 11 percent in 2015 to 26 percent in 2021. This is not new, because we’ve been noticing that a quarter of Gen Z adults are not heterosexual, and indeed, this upward trend is part of what the right finds alarming. Included in the non-straight cohort are 12.2 percent identifying as bisexual, 5.2 percent as questioning, 3.9 percent as other, 3.2 percent as gay or lesbian, and 1.8 percent who did not understand the question.  

    I include the survey first, because it was large, and second because we also learned that 57 percent of high school students have had no sexual contact in their lives, 34.6 percent had sexual contact with someone of the opposite sex, 6 percent had sexual contact with both sexes, and only 2.4 percent had sexual contact with only the same sex. So, despite the seeming rise in promiscuous GLBT youth, they’re really, let’s say, aspirational.  

    Finally, we will end with an NBC poll that reveals 61 percent of American adults say they want the country to “become more tolerant and accepting of the LGBTQ community.” Not too bad when you think about it. But then again, 50 percent believe society should be promoting greater respect for traditional social and moral values, while 42 percent think society should be encouraging greater tolerance of people with different lifestyles and backgrounds. I’m not sure how that 61 percent fits into these other numbers, which is partly why I don’t like polls. 

    Only 28 percent say they know someone who is transgender, and of this subset, 67 percent say society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting transgender people and 25 percent think society has gone too far. As for those who don’t know anyone trans, only 34 percent think society hasn’t gone far enough, while 57 percent thinks society has gone too far. 

    Again, I can’t wait for Gen Z to grow up.

    GLBT Fortnight in Review
    Published on May 4, 2023