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    Ann Rostow: Red States Explode with Bad Proposals

    By Ann Rostow–

    Red States Explode with Bad Proposals

    I’ve lost track of the varieties of anti-trans laws now popping up throughout our country’s red state legislatures, although I’m assuming that some of them are being proposed for show. In addition to the main ones—the anti-trans girls’ sports laws and the bans on puberty blockers for pre-teens—we now have Florida’s “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which not only bars trans girls and women from participating in school athletics, but also subjects them to the possibility of genital inspections. That one passed the state house the other day on party lines, although it looks as if it will die in the senate. Tennessee and Arkansas are working on bills to require parental consent for any GLBT content that might be discussed in schools. 

    Tennessee, which has already passed and signed a sports ban, is also considering a bill to force businesses to post signs if they allow transgender men and women to use the rest rooms, and another that lets medical personnel opt out of offering some forms of care to transitioning individuals. Another Tennessee bill would let public employees skip diversity training. (Note that Hyatt hotels billionaire Jennifer Pritzker, who is a transwoman, has pledged to move her foundation out of Nashville if the state keeps this up. So, I’m thinking by now she’s starting that paperwork.)

    Arkansas has also gone ballistic, passing a sports ban, and recently overriding the governor’s veto in order to pass a ban on puberty blockers. The Hog State is also considering rules that allow teachers to ignore the preferred gender pronouns and names of transgender students, and let me just quote the local press definition of yet another house bill, House Bill 1882, which “would allow government entities to be sued for permitting a person to use a restroom designated for a sex different from the sex a person was assigned at birth.” Sued by whom? For what? Are government agencies also required to patrol the bathrooms in order to protect themselves from civil litigation? I don’t have to tell you that this stuff is insane.

    As for the bans on women’s college sports, the NCAA has implied that some of these states might pay a price for their discrimination. “When determining where championships are held,” they said in a statement, “NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected … . We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

    I’m not exactly clear on what this means, but it sounds as if the Final Four won’t be staged in states like Arkansas and Tennessee in the future. The NCAA’s veiled threat seems to have helped depress senate enthusiasm for the aforementioned Florida genital inspection bill. And even the uber-Trumpy South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem hedged over signing her state’s anti-trans sports ban last month out of fear that the NCAA might penalize South Dakota down the road. Instead, she issued a couple of executive orders that are probably not even enforceable. 

    While trans bans roll out of the GOP-led states, the Biden administration has recently made clear that transgender Americans are protected against discrimination in public schools and colleges under Title IX. I think I mentioned this last issue, but it’s worth reminding everyone that federal law takes precedent over these state shenanigans and that at least the sports bans can expect to run smack into a federal lawsuit. 

    No Money for Gays

    Moving right along, here’s an odd story out of Alaska, where I gather citizens are all sent annual checks from some oil slush fund. The cash also goes to military personnel living out of state, and in theory should go to their wives or husbands as well. Yet up until recently, Alaska simply declined to issue checks to these same-sex military spouses, arguing that the state does not recognize gay and lesbian marriages. 

    Hello! The Supreme Court ruled for same-sex couples in 2015, making marriage equality the law of the land and nullifying any state prohibitions to the contrary. There were no ifs, ands, or buts attached to this decision, and no exceptions for, um, really cold northern states or states beginning with “A.” Prior to that, in 2014, a federal court overturned Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage, but even if some staffer remained confused about the rules after that opinion, surely the High Court’s blanket decision would have been common knowledge the following summer. 

    Somehow, however, the people in charge of Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend Division just ignored federal law for years, sending letters to at least 40 people explaining that state law barred same-sex spouses from receiving the money. 

    “Unfortunately, the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage yet,” one clerk explained in an email to a colleague in the summer of 2019. At least Marissa Reque ended her email with a frowny face emoji, but the idea that a state employee could pass along such obviously erroneous information is kind of astonishing. After years of living in their own surrealistic legal fantasy world, the state was finally sued by someone, and settled the case just recently. I’m assuming they paid back all the money they withheld to the other families, but I’m not sure about that.  

    The situation is instructive, don’t you agree? It reminds us that the interplay between law, politics, and policy can be complicated, and that just because a court, even the Supreme Court, rules on a core social issue, we also need the Justice Department and state governments to recognize that ruling and issue guidelines to enforce it. We need alert lawyers and informed citizens to fight for action when such decisions are left hanging in the wind by officials who disagree with these outcomes.  It’s daunting. I kind of assume that everything just falls into place after a court victory, but it’s not always so neat and tidy.

    Canceling Krasnik

    Let’s see what else is new. By the way, I’m writing to you from Kansas, where I am visiting my new grandson and where about four inches of frigging snow piled up during the night. Alaska, maybe. But Kansas? In mid-April? What the hell is going on here? Why is it happening to me personally, and why is my infant grandson being subjected to this anomalous weather? It’s not right.

    So, I was pleased to see that the mayor of Krasnik, Poland, (population 32,000) is regretting his town’s symbolic decision to declare themselves an “LGBT-free zone,” in a resolution two years ago. Since then, Norway has withdrawn a big contract, a French sister city has ended some sort of collaboration, and the EU has condemned Krasnik, along with several dozen other Polish towns that pulled the same stunt. 

    “We have become Europe’s laughingstock,” Mayor Wojciech Wilk said in The New York Times, “and it’s the citizens not the local politicians who’ve suffered most.” Wilk is trying to get the council to reverse itself. The resolution has absolutely no practical impact and was part of a conservative political campaign. Yet the damage is apparently real, which I find most gratifying. 

    Oh, speaking of cancel culture, apparently you can produce an emoji that shows a rainbow flag with a black circle and slash through it, indicating hostility to LGBTs, although I think you have to be somewhat fluent in hacking the Unicode system in order to make it work. Indeed, you can take any emoji and combine it with a black circle and slash if you like. This useless piece of information, which made its way around the internet two years ago, somehow appeared on my recent news list, although I have no idea how that happened. I have no recollection of ever mentioning it before now, so I assume I did not deem it worthy of inclusion in 2019, and I guess we have to conclude that my standards have dropped since then.

    But that happens with other pieces of news, I find. I’ll announce some interesting development to my wife, only to notice that the dateline on the story was months or years earlier and have to add, Gilda Radner-style, “never mind.”  

    Unpleasant Person in The News

    Here’s an attractive-sounding individual. His name is Donnie Lee Barrigar, and he is a twenty-something white guy from Watertown, New York, with one of those scraggly civil war beards. 

    In June of 2019, Donnie Lee posted on Facebook: “Watertown is having a LGBTQ celebration. For the love of God, please let someone go on a mass shooting.” The following year, he proceeded to take down a rainbow flag that was flying in front of City Hall, stuff it in a mail box, get himself arrested for third-degree criminal tampering, and insist that he was protected by the First Amendment because he was expressing his religious views. 

    Donnie Lee is back on our news radar because his trial has just been delayed until June 1. Barrigar insisted on a jury trial and previously tried to fire his court-appointed lawyer. The court, however, ruled that he was not competent to represent himself, so I guess he’s stuck with the public defender. He also tried to get a change of venue, but failed in that effort as well. This time, the trial was delayed a month because the jury pool witnessed some security mix-up in the lobby, or something like that. The wheels of justice roll slowly in Watertown.

    I did some routine research before raising the subject of Donnie Lee and his escapades, and discovered that he believes that the earth is flat and posted a video to that effect with the hashtags: “Healer,” “Teacher,” “Prophet.”

    “Okay everybody, I’m going to give my testimony and the gifts that God gave me,” he began. “So God’s given me some gifts. God’s called me to be a healer, he’s called me to be a teacher, he’s also called me to be a prophet, and who knows. There may be some other ones that I don’t know about yet … . And um for me, science did not convince me that the earth was flat. For me it was scripture. Real science is observable, repeatable, proves a flat motionless Earth. That is icing on the cake. But for me it was scripture.” 

    Oh, and this egomaniac is also running for city council. Of course. There are numerous candidates. The primaries are in June, and the election is in November. I’d give you more details, but I have now worn out my welcome at the upstate New York news website I was using and would have to become a subscriber in order to keep reading. Let’s hope that I’ll be awarded a new allocation of free stories next month when we might continue of exploration of the heroic legal and political campaigns of Donnie Lee Barrigar. 

    Finally…

    I was intending on merging that last story with another one about a rainbow flag at a coffee shop in Bethel, Connecticut, which was stolen and burned. This is one of those heartwarming situations where all the neighboring stores promptly put up their own rainbow flags in solidarity. 

    However, as you noticed, I got carried away with Donnie Lee, who is just one of those people you love to hate. Hate is not the right word. Let’s just say it’s enjoyable to watch him flail and I plan to follow his hapless news trajectory.

    I also had a vaguely related story about Kellogg’s, which is planning to introduce a gay cereal for this year’s Pride. It is called “Together,” and it consists of little colored heart-shaped Cheerios. Thank you for that, Kellogg’s. I am not personally an adult who eats cereal, but I appreciate the thought.

    Oh, and before I go, what’s with the car commercial that says things like: “Still your best friend, but now your dog,” or whatever nonsensical language they use? “Still a night out, but now a place for your purse.” It’s meaningless! I hate things like that.

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on April 22, 2021