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    Ann Rostow: Out Out Damned Spot!

    1-Ann-RostowBy Ann Rostow

    Out Out Damned Spot!

    Have any of you seen the Tide same-sex marriage ad? Two men in tuxedos approach the church. “It’s too late to back out now,” one says, and I paraphrase because I forget the exact script. A Kim Davis-type matron greets them sternly at the door, announcing that she won’t let them “blemish the sacred rite of marriage.” Appalled, the men begin to protest until she produces one of those stain-erasing markers and removes a spot on one of the groom’s shirt. She straightens the tie on the other groom and welcomes them into the church.

    The ad is not a real Tide ad. It was produced on spec by an independent producer. But still, it uses Tide, and Proctor & Gamble is obviously okay with it. Indeed, the company is running a real Tide ad in Canada that features a gay man who has bought a bargain brand against his husband’s advice.

    The point is that not too long ago, an ad like this would make headlines, provoke a right wing boycott and force P&G into a public relations tailspin. These days, it’s an unnoticed piece of amusement that someone might stumble upon in cyberspace. It also reflects the fact that the vast majority not only approves of marriage equality, but also finds people like Kim Davis appropriate targets of ridicule. And that kind of encapsulates the fate of the embattled Kentucky clerk.

    As you know, Davis went to jail for five days after she refused to abide by a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to one and all in Rowan County. Our side had asked the judge to give her a fine, fearing that jail time would make a martyr out of her. But the judge thought a fine wouldn’t bring her to heel, and sent her to the lockup instead.

    In the interim, her deputies began complying with the court, and issuing licenses to both gay and straight couples. Davis was released under the proviso that she would not interfere with the duties of her assistant clerks.

    She agreed, to a point. But she now insists that the licenses are not valid without her stamp of approval, which she continues to withhold. Happily, she is the only one who holds this cramped view, as the state attorney general and the court think the licenses are perfectly legal, with or without Ms. Davis’s blessing.

    The litigation continues, although it’s not clear what Davis and her far right pro bono legal team hope to accomplish. Most of us think Davis should be forced to resign or be ousted for dereliction of duty, but on a practical level, her fifteen minutes of fame are over and the limelight is fading to black. When all is said and done, the Kim Davis episode has devolved in our favor. It released some of the hot air that built up after the High Court’s marriage ruling, but it did so to no effect, thanks to her sour personality, the hypocrisy of her many divorces, and her status as a public servant rather than a sympathetic small business owner. We could not have hand-picked a better adversary.

    Barring some unexpected new development, Davis has lost, and thanks to her useless grandstanding, the next champion of “religious freedom” will have less public energy and fewer news cycles.

    Size Matters

    You’ll be happy to know that Republican Caitlyn Jenner has decided that marriage equality is okay. I gather that Bruce used to be opposed to the idea, but that Caitlyn has come around, in part thanks to all her new gay and lesbian friends and allies. Well, better late than never, my dear. Reality star Jenner appeared on Ellen the other day, and confessed that back in the day, her views were traditional. Now, she gets it, although her understanding still sounded a little tenuous. Ellen felt obliged to explain why the word “marriage” was intrinsic to the concept of “marriage equality,” and why a separate designation for gay and straight couples would have undermined the goal of civil rights.

    But still, I’ll give Caitlyn a break. I’ll give her a break on marriage, not on being a Republican.

    Meanwhile, I read that a prisoner with a 19-inch penis has complained that guards and other prison staff harass him, trying to get a peek and feel him up on purpose out of curiosity. He has also been nicknamed “anaconda.” Do you believe this?

    I just tried to find the story again, and discovered several other accounts of another 19-inch guy in Mexico (not in prison) who wants some acknowledgement in the Guinness Book of World Records. Experts believe, however, that his length is mostly skin.

    Yuck!

    I tried to figure out which story was real and wound up watching a few unconvincing porn videos (after Googling “anaconda dick”). God knows what’s going to happen to my email inbox.

    Love Birds

    I’ll get back to GLBT news in a minute, but first, I was reading about the experiments on 160 zebra finch at an ornithology institute in Berlin. It seems zebra finch are monogamous, so the scientists released groups of birds and let them hang out for a while until they picked a mate. Half of the couples were allowed to continue their lives as usual, while the other half were cruelly separated and then mixed with other separated finch. In the end, the self-selected couples had more chicks and exhibited more affection than the others. Further, the male birds in the uncommitted group tended to stray.

    This was mean, don’t you think? Instructive, but mean. I often think that our understanding of other species puts us in the dark ages compared to what we will learn in the future, don’t you?

    Oh, that assumes that the future will come. I gather that a bunch of Mormons think the end is near and/or that a financial or physical calamity will befall us late this month. The doomsday warnings come from a flakey woman who nearly died and had some disturbing visions. Also, there’s some seven-year pattern that takes us from September 11 to the financial crisis to, um, the end of this month! Never mind that nothing happened in September of 1994, as far as I can recall, so the seven-year “pattern” consists of two events.

    At any rate, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune, people are reportedly stocking up on emergency supplies, and some of the Mormon hoo-haws are urging everyone to take the fanatical warnings with a grain of salt. Did I mention the “blood moon” scheduled for September 28? As far as I know, that is actually a regular old full moon, but I haven’t died or had any visions. Can you tell I’m not really in the mood to return to GLBT news?

    Plus Que Ҫa Change

    Part of my problem is that the progress of gay rights, culminating in the marriage ruling, has changed the context of GLBT news. When opposition to marriage equality becomes a joking matter for a laundry detergent ad, it’s hard to get up a head of steam over the sorts of things that used to be serious grist for our mill. Like t-shirt disputes in schools, to pick an example at random.

    Ten or so years ago, the annual Day of Silence, when high school kids showed solidarity for GLBT rights, used to be a news engine, generating dozens of stories of nasty administrators and campus bullies. And I can’t count the number of t-shirt stories, where students were forced to censor themselves by frightened school officials with little grasp of constitutional mandates. Keep in mind that the banned shirts included those with Bible verses as well as those with gay rights slogans. It seemed that school principals just wanted to mute the whole subject of sexual orientation.

    These days, it’s rare to encounter a t-shirt story. And when we do, like this week, for example, you can’t help but feel as if the scenario represents a throw back to an earlier time. To be “newsworthy” is not just to stir the pot, but to do so in a way that embraces a larger trend. A t-shirt dispute in this day and age is an anachronism.

    Still, the latest incident, out of Chesnee High in South Carolina, seems noteworthy for a particularly obtuse school official. The shirt in question, worn by Brianna Popour, read “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian,” hardly high on the list of offensive commentary. Popour, who has worn the shirt on several other occasions, ran into one administrator who we suppose had not seen the garment in the past, and was told to take it off or go home. Popour pointed out that there was nothing in the dress code to prohibit such a message, but the unnamed official replied that not all the rules were written down in black and white. Popour was eventually sent home for wearing the shirt, which someone at the school described to the press in an email as “offensive and distracting.”

    Say what? According to various web news sources that I’ve never heard of, Brianna returned to school the next day wearing a shirt that said “Keep Calm and Kiss Girls,” arguably a more “distracting” sentiment. It looks as if the administrator is now going to ignore the situation and just hope that the story goes away before it draws more negative attention. Indeed, my first encounter with the sad tale came from the highly respected Volokh Conspiracy legal blog via the Washington Post, in which law professor Eugene Volokh used it to discuss free speech rights on high school campuses, where, to use the familiar High Court quote, students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.

    Ten years ago, this could have been a court case. Now, that nameless administrator is hiding in the hallways, hoping to avoid Brianna Popour in her latest fashion statement. I suspect Brianna can wear whatever the hell she likes now that her nemesis has enjoyed a small taste of the backlash that would accompany further censorship. I hope she wears the “Nobody Knows” shirt for a month.

    Personally, I wasn’t allowed to wear t-shirts of any sort when I was in high school. And in eighth grade, I was actually sent home for wearing a button down instead of a Peter Pan collar. That said, the dress code was very specific, so I had no excuse.

    Equality on Top

    Here’s an interesting tidbit. Eleven years ago in 2004, the most common Google search relating to same-sex marriage was “against gay marriage.” This three-word phrase topped the search charts every year through 2007 until it changed to “California gay marriage” in 2008. From 2009 to 2012, the most popular search was for “gay marriage states.” The next year, it changed to “marriage equality,” reverting to “gay marriage states” in 2014 and back to “marriage equality” in 2015.

    I’d be curious to see specifically how the rankings for antigay searches dropped over the last decade. Wonder how Google rankings will be used a half century from now when we really get some big historical data under our belts.

    I was looking for extra items to conclude my column when I noticed that the new CEO of BMW fell over during his first big presentation at some auto show in Frankfurt. The man’s only 49!

    Check out the video. He starts to talk in a wavering voice, pauses and then falls backward for no reason. A bunch of guys rush up and help him to his feet and lead him off stage. They said he had a dizzy spell, but really. Who has a dizzy spell like that in the middle of a presentation? Maybe he was nervous and took something.

    I remember one time I was too nervous to finish my column because I was about to go to the airport for a romantic trip. Someone gave me a Xanax and I spent the next hour staring at the screen unable to come up with 200 words. Should have had a nice shot of Cognac.

    arostow@aol.com