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    Ann Rostow: Okay, GenZ!

    By Ann Rostow–

    Okay, GenZ!

    I am having a hard time getting the ball rolling this morning, so I figured I would begin with that admission. Why is this, you wonder? It’s because I am still inundated with news about how Alito’s draft abortion opinion undercuts our major gay rights victories, speculation that I think is understandable but wrong. And I also have numerous depressing stories about transgender rights under attack in state legislatures around the country. It’s like stories about climate change, endangered animals, or massive suffering in remote parts of the world. It makes me want to look at photos of cats stuck in small boxes or read about Johnny Depp. 

    Surely, I tell myself, there’s a story out there about determined gay penguins trying to hatch a rock, or some crazed lesbian slashing her ex-girlfriend’s underwear with a razor. Then again, we’ve already been there and done that many times, have we not? We hunger for some new, but equally madcap, anecdotes involving our vibrant GLBTLMNOP community. 

    Oh, but here’s something, compliments of a December article in The New York Times. It seems that a group of innovative GenZ-types have started a satiric group called “Birds Aren’t Real,” which aims to showcase the absurdity of modern conspiracy theories. Maybe I’m the only person that has never heard of this effort, but I have to say that I love it. Initiated by Peter McIndoe, 23, in 2017, the “Bird Brigade” now has “hundreds of thousands” of amused adherents, the Times reports, all insisting that birds are actually drones sent to spy on us. 

    The Bird Brigade promotes its patently outrageous premise with billboards and a YouTube video featuring a faux ex-CIA agent (which has been viewed 20 million times) who explains the nefarious plot to replace all our feathered friends with insidious government-spawned surveillance technology. They have posted a complicated origin story online, and have attracted some seemingly serious press coverage from the more credulous members of the media.

    Brigade leaders are not too worried that some will actually believe the charade. As organizer Connor Gaydos observed: “If anyone believes birds aren’t real, we’re the last of their concerns, because then there’s probably no conspiracy they don’t believe.” Meanwhile, McIndoe is ready to propel the movement further. “I have a lot of excitement for what the future of this could be as an actual force for good,” he told the Times. “Yes, we have been intentionally spreading misinformation for the past four years, but it’s with a purpose. It’s about holding up a mirror to America in the internet age.” 

    For some reason, this effort gives me hope. I’m becoming very fond of GenZ in my advancing age.

    Pervasive and Virulent Anti-Trans Legislation

    I can’t pretend to grasp the full spectrum of the anti-trans legislation now pending in our various state capitals. We have bills to bar transwomen and girls from sports teams. We have bills to ban various levels of treatment for gender identity and transition. We have bans on books. We have bans on discussing gender and sexual orientation in schools. We have some bills that die in committee, some that are vetoed, some that breeze into law under the signature of a conservative governor. It’s pervasive and virulent. One Mississippi politician tweeted last March: “Some of y’all want to try and find political compromise with those who want to groom our school age children and pretend men are women etc. I think they need to be lined up against wall (sic) before a firing squad and sent to an early judgment.”

    After Twitter deleted that post, former state rep Robert Foster then explained: “Transgendered people are merely victims, it’s their pedo groomers that are consumed by evil.” When subsequently asked for an interview by the Mississippi Free Press, Foster declined, but wrote: “The law should be changed so that anyone trying to sexually groom children and/or advocating to put men pretending to be women in locker rooms and bathrooms with young women should receive the death penalty by firing squad.”

    This doesn’t even make sense from an anti-GLBT perspective. Is he saying that evil child molesters are victimizing adult transgender men and women? Or are they victimizing children in general? If so, what would that have to do with men in the ladies’ room? Check out the photo of this ridiculous man in the LA Blade if you want a laugh. Or a wry smirk. 

    Rock Chalk

    Moving along, since I had not intended to sidetrack our discussion with Mr. Foster, one positive development emerged from Kansas, where the Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, vetoed a transgender sports ban along with a “Parents Bill of Rights” last month. The hard right lawmakers tried to override her vetoes, but recently failed by three votes. Good job, Jayhawk democrats! 

    Before they managed that, however, one of the meaner GOP representatives, Cheryl Helmer, wrote a diatribe that targeted the state’s one and only transgender representative, Stephanie Byers of Wichita. 

    “Now, personally I do not appreciate the huge transgender female who is now in our restrooms in the Capitol,” Helmer wrote. “It is quite uncomforting (sic.) I have asked the men if they would like a woman in their restroom and they freaked out. Just to make my point—I went into their restroom one day. They were all standing in a circle talking but they all in unison started screaming like girls, ‘Cheryl—you’re in the men’s restroom!’ It was quite apparent by their bright red faces that they were extremely embarrassed that I had entered ‘their territory.'”

    “But now we have a very unfair situation. We as women have humans that are much larger, stronger, more adrenaline and testosterone and therefore possibly more dangerous and we have to share our restrooms. Not only that but our wee little girls in elementary and middle and high school are having to be exposed and many have been raped, sodomized and beaten in the restrooms by these supposedly transgenders who may or may not be for real.”

    What the … ? Many “wee little girls” have been “raped, sodomized and beaten” by transgender women? Why can’t we manage to confront these lunatics with their senseless violent blather? And what would Helmer do if a large, strong, testosterone-filled transman cruised into her precious women’s room as required by law? Why do none of these people understand that many “supposedly transgenders” were born female and are now bearded, muscular males who according to Helmer logic should be hanging in the ladies’ lounge? 

    I have to add that my Kansan stepson, who lives in Topeka, noted that he has been going into men’s bathrooms for over four decades and has never once encountered other men standing in a circle and talking. That’s not quite true for the ladies’ rooms, in my experience, where I’d often find my high school classmates or work colleagues smoking cigarettes and exchanging personal information about whomever wasn’t around at the moment. Vive la difference, as we cis and trans women like to say.

    United States Sues Alabama Over Nasty Trans Law

    For those who think Merrick Garland and company proceed too cautiously in their prosecutorial decisions, I was pleased to see that the Justice Department has sued the state of Alabama over a new law that criminalizes medical professionals and others who treat transgender minors. 

    Why did they sue Alabama, I wondered, when it seems as if every other red state has one or more of these horrible bills on the books? Well, it turns out that Alabama is unique in actually making it a felony to treat transgender teens, subject to up to ten years behind bars. A Trump-appointed judge, Liles Burke, ruled that the core elements of the law could not be enforced pending a legal challenge. He left in place a ban on transition surgery, which is not performed on minors in Alabama. He also retained a feature that requires public school staff to inform parents if their child thinks he or she is transgender.

    Those exceptions aside, in a well-reasoned 32-page opinion, Judge Burke ruled the state was usurping the fundamental rights of parents, and that the statute discriminated against transgender minors in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Interestingly, Judge Burke approvingly cited Bostock v Clayton County, the 2020 gay rights victory that defined gay and transgender discrimination as a form of illegal sex discrimination under federal law. “Here, the Act prohibits transgender minors—and only transgender minors—from taking transitioning medications due to their gender nonconformity,” wrote Burke. “The Act therefore constitutes a sex-based classification for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.” 

    Burke noted that Alabama’s main argument—that gender therapy was “experimental” and that the state was therefore within its rights to “protect children”—was not backed by the slightest evidence. Nor did the judge buy the state’s insistence that medical professionals were trying to strong-arm patients into having gender treatments. On the contrary, he noted that standard therapies were accepted around the world, and that the medical community had safeguards in place to make sure therapies were not used inappropriately. All in all, he did not sound much like a Trump judge, so that was, um, interesting. I have a tendency to think the worst of Trump’s nominees, so I was pleasantly surprised.

    Last year, the ACLU filed suit against a transgender medical ban out of Arkansas, in a case that is now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. A federal judge issued an injunction against the Arkansas law while that suit is pending, and the Justice Department weighed in on the side of the transgender plaintiffs in an amicus brief.

    I’m assuming that the Arkansas law did not involve felony criminal penalties for the doctors, which would explain why the Alabama case is considered unusual. Now, I can feel myself starting to grope through the vast “fog of anti-transgender state legislation coverage,” for further information. Are there other similar suits? Maybe, maybe not! What’s the specific difference between the Arkansas law and the Alabama law? What’s the status of other states in this area? I think I’m lost. Lassie? Go get help, girl. 

    The Final Frontier

    Apropos of nothing, I see that a House panel just heard testimony on the latest UFO reports, which are referred to as “UAPs” (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) by the powers that be in the Pentagon. Is there some reason we have to substitute pompous language for straightforward English words?

    The military has logged nearly 400 cases, up from 144 in a previous report released last year, but it’s thought that the increase reflects the fact that people are more comfortable discussing their unusual sightings. Of course, the experts all agree that just because these “UAPs” are unidentified doesn’t mean that they are from outer space. And, of course, I would agree. They could just as easily be time travelers from Earth’s future or ghost ships from a parallel universe. 

    I’m always sad when I read respected scientists and astronomers who assure us that it would be impossible for us to contact intelligent life from elsewhere. Advanced civilizations are unlikely to survive long enough to develop the technology to travel faster than the speed of light. They will probably destroy their planet or get hit by a meteor or something before that happens. And that makes perfect sense. Do we honestly expect human life to survive and evolve for another thousand years here? Two thousand? 

    Then there are the downers like this from the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who insisted that any aliens who manage to find us are going to either be predators or profiteers. Oh, and they’ll be so advanced they can eradicate us in two seconds in order to mine the Earth for rare metals or whatever. Maybe they’ll put a few of us into a little habitat and use us for research projects. Or pets, if we’re lucky.

    It’s a little depressing that most of us probably won’t live long enough to unravel the mystery of dark energy, or figure out a Standard Model of Everything, let alone meet friendly aliens driving spaceships shaped like tic tacs and carving giant runways in the desert. Instead, we’re stuck with aerial phenomena that turn out to be drones or weather balloons, and every now and then we discover a stupid boson or see a nova. Big whoop.

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on May 19, 2022