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    Ann Rostow: Penguin Homewrecker

    1-Ann_RostowBy Ann Rostow

    Google: “Penguin Homewrecker”

     I am writing ahead of you on Election Day, still in that state of terrified anxiety, torn between gluing myself to a combination of MSNBC and online political analysis, or let’s say, watching penguin videos.

    You may be fine by the time you read this, assuming you’re part of the 90 percent of our community supporting Clinton and assuming we won. But I’m not fine by any means. Not only does the specter of President Trump still loom at 30 percent on Nate Silver’s web site, but also does the noxious possibility of Secretary of State Gingrich and Attorney General Giuliani. I just read that and nearly lost my lunch.

    Seeking a respite, I clicked on yet another link to a gay penguin story, this time news of some gay German penguins celebrating their tenth anniversary. But instead of pursuing those sentimental details, I was sidetracked into the disturbing on-camera spectacle of a heterosexual male penguin who returned to his mate, only to find that a rival had taken his place. He tried to fight the other penguin off, slapping frantically with his stubby little wings, but the female came out, sided with the homewrecker and the new couple went back to their nest.

    The jilted penguin was so sad and lonely. He sidled over to the nest and tried to peck at the other male penguin. Eventually, the mean penguins stuck their heads out, squealed at him in a nasty fashion and he slumped away, covered in blood, blindly stumbling over a twig with his head bowed down in defeat.

    Yes, I’m anthropomorphizing the entire species, but why not? If these penguins can be gay and remain devoted to each other for ten years, doesn’t that suggest they possess an emotional life? And if that’s true, can anyone watch this agonizing three minutes of penguin heartbreak without wanting to reach out and give the little fellow a hug? I wanted to transport him to my house, give him a cool bath and wash off the blood. Then I’d go to Whole Foods and buy him some raw mackerel and put him in the guest bedroom for the night. The next day I would give him a pep talk and send him back to the tundra to search for a new mate.

    Now I’m reading: “Will college students come out to vote?” They’d better have done so by the time you read this. And I’m not talking about a vote for third party prattlers. That said, I confess I did not vote in my first election because I was not mature enough to plan in advance and register, even though I vaguely knew that registration was a necessary first step. I’ve always felt guilty about that, but seriously, does anyone even care at this point whether Carter beat Ford or vice versa? Somehow I think people will care about the 2016 election for a long time.

    Giving Up on Australia

    I should tell you that the Australian parliament has voted down the prospect of a non-binding public vote on marriage equality, but I have a problem. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you that at least twice before.

    Without looking it up, just off the top of my head, I remember that I voiced some misgivings about the first time I covered this parliamentary rejection, because there was some reason to suspect that the vote was preliminary. But then there was another such vote, which I dutifully relayed to you. And now I’m reading that, yet again, the parliament has come out against the referendum, which is good for us. Marriage activists don’t want a referendum because it’s little more than a divisive and expensive delaying tactic. But this is beside the point. I’ve had enough.

    I don’t really care much for Australian politics anyway, but I have tried to be professional about it. Now, this is too much. I am sure I could spend a couple of hours trying to track down the ins and outs of the legislative process Down Under, and craft a nice explanation for why the parliament appears to hold multiple votes that are then reported multiple times. For all I know, the lawmakers plan to vote on this over and over again, for whatever reason. But here’s the bottom line: Unless or until the parliament holds an up or down vote on marriage equality itself, nothing good will happen. I therefore recommend that we all ignore the side developments and see whether or not these folks ever get serious.

    Back to SCOTUS

    I should have led this column with the major news that the Supreme Court has accepted review of the transgender rights case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Last March, a 2–1 panel ruled that the Gloucester County school district in Virginia was obligated to allow a transgender student, Gavin Grimm, to use the boys’ facilities at his high school. The panel based its ruling on the Obama administration’s view of the scope of Title IX, and, in fact, it’s possible that this deference to agency policy might be a key reason the Court chose to take this appeal.

    Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is the law that bans sex discrimination in public schools and colleges. But does that ban also encompass a ban on transgender bias? Various courts and legal experts differ, but the Obama Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights says yes, it does. Not only has the Office made this a formal policy, but it also sent a letter to the Fourth Circuit when it was deliberating over this issue. Now, the High Court has asked whether or not such a letter must be obeyed when a court is considering an ambiguous question of law.

    I’m not sure I have an opinion one way or another. The policy and the letter helped us out in Gavin’s case, but obviously I wouldn’t want a court to be forced to follow some wacko nonsense put forward by the leaders in President Trump’s cabinet. Putting this aside, I’m far more interested in how the Court analyses the scope of Title IX, and by extension, the scope of every federal law that refers to “discrimination because of sex.” Those laws, of course, include Title VII, the law that prohibits workplace bias. If the Court were to rule that transgender men and women, or maybe even gays and lesbians, deserve protection under the general word “sex,” the positive repercussions would be tremendous.

    But who knows? Maybe they’ll just deal with the non-trans stuff and leave Gavin and the rest of us all hanging. Remember, unless something unexpected happens with Merrick Garland, this case will almost certainly be heard by the 4–4 Court. Still, it’s a big deal.

    To the Liquor Store!

    Writing that line reminded me that the Supreme Court hangs in the balance today. I cannot stand waiting. Mel and I are going to an election party, but we plan to race home early, change into sweats and line up the Champagne bottles. We’ll need at least two regardless of the outcome. Or if the outcome is bad, I suppose we’ll head straight for the scotch.

    I know I’ve told you about the night Ronald Reagan was elected when a bunch of us were watching from our apartments in New York that were down the hall from one another. Amazingly we ran out of booze, and we finally drank the half bottle of Creme de Menthe that had been sitting under my sink for several years. I just read that some kids these days drink hand sanitizer for the alcohol component. I think I have some Purell in my purse, just in case.

    This Time, Let’s Agree to Agree

    Some leaders of the GLBT community are engaged in a philosophical debate over our strategy going forward in the state legislatures. In general, it’s a debate over incrementalism, the idea that we achieve progress step by step, and that we damage our cause when we make “all or nothing” demands. On the other side there are those who argue that asking for half a loaf wins you a few slices at best and undermines your ability to win the whole loaf in the future.

    Much of the back and forth was reported on Buzzfeed in a series of articles by Chris Geidner and Dominic Holden, and the catalyst for the controversy began perhaps back when Houston voters revoked the city’s GLBT rights ordinance after a campaign dominated by images of men in ladies bathrooms. Pragmatic activists came to the conclusion that it would be easier to advance gay rights in state legislatures if we simply left public accommodations out of the equation. In other words, lawmakers might agree to protect us from job bias or housing discrimination, as long as we don’t also ask to be protected in restaurants, in bakeries, or in the bathrooms.

    The idea is craven. And we should have learned by now that real progress demands courage, idealism and persistence. Many people thought we should just fight for civil unions. Many people thought we should just fight for gay rights in Congress. Even the abysmal Employment Nondiscrimination Act (thankfully now abandoned) was nothing more than an exercise in settling for less as a “first step.” It got us nowhere and indeed, arguably made us weaker rather than stronger. Going back further, there was a time when the Human Rights Campaign explained to Congress that we had no interest in marriage rights, which were being used as a red herring against us by our adversaries. For shame.

    Finally, have we already forgotten the defeatist campaigns we waged against the anti-marriage amendments of the early 2000s? We claimed, not that we deserved marriage equality, but that these amendments were “unfair” and “unnecessary.” Well, in fact, they were quite necessary for anyone who wanted to block marriage rights. And indeed we lost 31 out of 32 public votes in a row thanks to our poll-driven cowardice. Now is not the time to return to such tactics.

    Sure we’ll have to battle bathroom scare mongers. So what? It’s a battle we will win. Plus, it’s likely that our federal civil rights will be determined, like marriage, by court action. Lawmaking helps, but meanwhile our community must remain unified. Ironically, it may well be transgender rights that lead our way through the courts. As we’ve discussed before, current case law has carved out more room for transgender men and women than it has for gay men and woman. It may well be the GLB that follows the T into a more just America, not vice versa.

    One Last Thing

    Finally, I have a personal question for all the middle-aged male readers out there. There’s a commercial for one of the erectile dysfunction drugs that shows a man and woman wandering around outside in a park or somewhere. The narrator then says something about how frustrating it might be if you were in the mood for sex, and you didn’t want to have to “stop to take a pill or find a bathroom.” To avoid this dilemma, you can just use this drug—I think it’s Cialis—and it will give you a sustained ability to do our thing.

    You can take a pill anywhere. But why would you have to “find a bathroom?” What would you do in there? Further, if you’re going to have sex, won’t both participants be obliged to retreat to a private location? The narrator keeps telling us that the “moment is right” and there’s no reason to wait. But these couples are at ballgames and are having picnics surrounded by other people. So the moment is actually not right. It’s not just that you have to “stop to find a bathroom.” Unless you want to be arrested for public lewdness, you have to “stop” to go home or find a hotel, regardless of which drug you’ve selected.

    Forgive me if I’ve said this already, but these mystifying ads continue to bug me and I must speak out again.