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    Ann Rostow: Maybe This Time

    By Ann Rostow–

    Maybe This Time

    I have a pit of anxiety developing in my stomach this morning as the minutes tick by while I make zero progress on this column and search desperately for inspiration. So far, I have reread my recent efforts, googled “gay,” “lesbian,” “GLBT,” and “LGBT, checked out two appellate law blogs (and wasted some more time reading about unrelated cases), and reviewed my two saved news folders that usually contain recent bits and pieces of interest to us all. Nothing has triggered my mental energy. I then had breakfast on the porch with my wife and our friend who is visiting, where we discussed writer’s block and I complained bitterly about not getting anything done.

    Part of the problem is that this week, when I should have been gearing up for this deadline, we were all obsessed with the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago. Could something be happening at last? How many times have we thought Trump was finally facing a reckoning only to see him squirm away and emerge no worse for wear? 

    The tapes right before the 2016 election—I thought that was it for him. Then we had the Russia dossier, the Mueller investigation, the “perfect call” to Zelensky, impeachment number one, scandals over his “charity” and his “university” that went nowhere. We saw him use inauguration as a cash grab, with no repercussions. We read book after book revealing the extent of his derangement. We had “Stop the Steal” and January 6 and another impeachment. We heard the call to “find 11,000 votes.” I mean, come on! Isn’t that illegal? How long does it take to file charges in Georgia?

    By the time the House Committee on January 6 started public hearings, it seemed as if nothing would ever stick. Could he really shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it? It looked like the answer was yes. 

    Of all his many atrocities, the misuse of presidential records has not been high on my list of things that could possibly bring Trump to heel. After all, investigators have his taxes, they’ve talked to Deutsche Bank, we’ve heard from half a dozen wronged women … the list is endless. But if prosecutors have a slam dunk case of, I don’t know, eating a top-secret memo, and if they can make it stick, that would be enough to prevent him from holding elected office. And that would be enough for me, actually. That’s the only thing that matters because, without power, his influence slowly seeps away—but four more years of Trump could corrode our nation’s institutions beyond repair.

    Nice Ruling from the Mitten State

    There was a welcome decision from the Michigan Supreme Court, where justices ruled 5–2 on July 28 that Michigan’s civil rights law, which bans discrimination because of sex, automatically bans sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination as part of that category. This comes in the context of a complaint filed by a lesbian couple against a Christian wedding venue, as well as a similar complaint filed by a transgender woman who was denied electrolysis services at a salon. 

    Both plaintiffs sued under Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) and were given the green light by the state’s Office of Civil Rights. Our opponents then asked an intermediate court to determine whether or not the ELCRA extends to GLBT citizens, and although Marissa Wolfe was allowed to continue her lawsuit against the spa, the court ruled that state law did not cover sexual orientation. Don’t ask me how the appellate court could allow a gender identity claim but deny a same-sex couple, because I made a halfhearted effort to determine the answer and reached no conclusion. Let’s just say that the lesbian couple appealed that ruling, sent it to the Supreme Court, and the rest is history. 

    A couple of weeks before the decision, another wedding venue, The Broadway Avenue in Grand Rapids, announced that they too would reject any same-sex couple who wanted to use their services. “Our business is the result of a lot of hard work and dedication and is a reflection of who we are, and the values and beliefs we hold from our faith in Jesus Christ,” the owners Nick and Hannah Natale said piously in a post. “As a result, we would like our business to remain true to our Christian faith and this includes marriage.” The Natales clarified that transgender brides and grooms would also be rejected. We’ll see what happens if push comes to shove at the old Broadway Avenue, particularly now that the top court has ruled in our favor on the underlying law.

    More Tedious but Important News

    Meanwhile, do you remember the complicated situation regarding Biden’s attempt to put sexual orientation and gender protections back into Obamacare? The Department of Health and Human Services announced the policy last year, but only formalized it this July. Before they even dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, a Trumpy judge in Texas issued an injunction that blocked our side from putting the policy into effect, and naturally we appealed. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which governs Texas, is one of the most conservative in the land, and we drew a selection of three Republican-nominated judges for our panel. Oral arguments were held the other day, but I’m not holding my breath for a good result. And so goes the merry-go-round of executive action slammed by rightwing courts. I think there’s another big lawsuit against the healthcare civil rights standards as well, but this one is further along.

    Over in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, some 22 attorneys general have filed briefs in support of a transgender boy who is suing his Indiana high school for access to the bathrooms and locker rooms. That case arrives five years after the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Ash Whitaker, another transboy, in a similar case also based on the interpretation of Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination in public schools. Indeed, a lower court ruled in favor of AC, the boy in this case, based on that 2017 precedent. I’m not sure how many times we have to go through the same arguments on an issue that seems already settled, at least in the Seventh Circuit.

    And speaking of Indiana, a 10-year-old transgender girl who sued to remain on her school girls’ softball team has won a preliminary injunction from a federal judge allowing her to keep playing while her case continues. The ruling applies only to this particular girl, who sued after the state legislature overrode a veto to pass one of those anti-trans sports bans.

    “The law remains in effect across the state and we will continue our work to defend this law and to protect Indiana’s K12 students,” the annoying Indiana Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita tweeted Tuesday. “The court’s ruling allows only this particular plaintiff to play this particular sport at this particular elementary school.”

    Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson relied on our oft-discussed 2020 High Court ruling (Bostock) that placed transgender bias within the ambit of sex discrimination, as well as the aforementioned 2017 case, writing: “Courts within this district have followed Whitaker and Bostock, finding that it is a violation of Title IX for a public institution to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their transgender status in the context of prohibiting a transgender student from using the bathroom of the sex with which he or she identifies.” So there.

    Pubic Hair and Pugs

    One Million Moms, always good for a little diversion, is now incensed over ads by Gillette Venus for specialty razors. One of the ads, Moms tells us, is: “‘A Song for Pubes,’” which features a cartoon “pubic hair” character singing and dancing while discussing pubic hair.

    “These ads are so suggestive and disgraceful in their attempt to normalize the discussion of pubic hair on primetime television. Yet, Gillette still chose to air these commercials despite their obviously controversial nature,” the Moms went on. “Can you imagine what goes through the mind of a child when he or she sees these ads? And we all know children repeat what they hear. Gillette should be ashamed!”

    Hmmm. I could not resist googling “a song for pubes” and watching the curly cartoon public hair bemoaning a society where regular hair is loved and praised while pubic hair is relegated to a forbidden secret underworld. The moral is, take care of your pubic area and don’t be embarrassed. Pubic hair needs love too. I wasn’t convinced, frankly, but I think the kids will be alright.

    In the same press release, the Moms whined about a couple of streaming shows with “blatant LGBTQ content,” including one called Dead End; Paranormal Park, which involves “two teens and a talking pug [who] team up to battle demons at a haunted theme park—and maybe even save the world from a supernatural apocalypse.” Anything with a talking pug is worth watching in my view. Surely not even the Moms can object to the most adorable dog ever to waddle the Earth, right? Wrong.

    “In addition to its demonic storyline,” they huff, “an episode of the show includes two teen boys who have a crush on each other. They are encouraged by an older lesbian couple to move past the awkwardness and get to know each other. They are affectionate toward one another and eventually end up being honest about their feelings.” Say it ain’t so!

    Don’t Say Drag Queen

    Speaking of kids, Ron DeSantis has filed a complaint against a Miami restaurant that hosted a mildly lewd drag show brunch when kids were present. A video made the rounds, showing a scantily clad drag queen strutting her stuff, hand in hand with a small girl. The little girl looks puzzled and the rightwing Twitterverse was mad as bees. “The nature of the performances … particularly when conducted in the presence of young children, corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency,” the complaint says. As for the restaurant, managers there said the situation was “a misunderstanding,” which “will be resolved positively and promptly.” 

    In other news about kids from Florida, Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed a federal challenge to the Don’t Say Gay bill, otherwise known as the Parental Rights in Education Act. 

    “The purpose and effect of this breathtakingly broad law is to silence LGBTQ+ students and families, and the law’s imprecision intensifies its chilling effect. Because the law invites any parent dissatisfied with a school’s censorship of LGBTQ-related speech to sue the school district and collect attorney fees, it causes schools to aggressively control discussions that might trigger the type of moral objection that gave rise to this law,” said Kell Olson, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney. 

    “Already, schools have cut anti-bullying guidance for K–12 teachers and pulled books from shelves. LBGTQ+ parents are struggling to find gentle ways to explain to their children why they won’t be able to talk openly about their families when they go back to the classroom in a few weeks. This discriminatory law puts students at risk and sends a message of shame and stigma that has no place in schools.”

    Ladies First

    Finally, I was intrigued by a story of two men, Archibald Butt and Francis Davis Millet, who appeared to have lived as a couple in a Washington, D.C., mansion, throwing lavish parties and operating something of a bed and breakfast for other bachelors. Butt was a high-profile aide, first to Teddy Roosevelt and then to William Howard Taft, while Millet was an artist.

    During the 1912 election, Butt was reportedly quite distressed by the falling out between the current and former presidents. Millet convinced him to take a European vacation, and the men returned to New York on the Titanic. Or at least they made the attempt. In one of his last missives to a friend, Millet sent a letter describing the luxurious ship, but complaining about “a number of obnoxious, ostentatious American women.” 

    It is ironic that the obnoxious women presumably survived, while the men stoically went down with ship.

    Published on August 11, 2022