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    Ann Rostow: Resting on Our Laurels

    annboxBy Ann Rostow

    Resting on Our Laurels?

    Leading community commentators are pointing out that the GLBT movement seems to have lost its focus in the months following our Supreme Court marriage victory. It seems true, don’t you think? True, but not unexpected.

    Our grassroots under-thirty types are dispersed, attached to a range of cohorts from Black Lives Matter to Sanders to pro-Palestinian groups to the aftermath of Occupy to the generalized college campus protests.

    Our lawyers are fighting rear guard actions on behalf of gay couples, mop-up suits against dead-end judges, pervasive individual bias cases, and above all, keeping their eye on the front lines of religious-based discrimination.

    And state-based organizations have their hands full with what the Human Rights Campaign counts as no less than 175 dangerous bills, including 44 directed at the transgender community. That’s a steep rise from the previous record, last year’s 125 bad bills that included 21 anti-trans proposals. At the same time, the vast majority of these proposals die on the vine, making it difficult to figure out which represent real threats and which comprise harmless, albeit vicious, promotional stunts by fringe lawmakers.

    No wonder we’ve lost focus. Marriage equality gave us a single, powerfully symbolic, legally essential goal—easily discussed with the American people, and theoretically to be achieved at one stroke with one court decision. And we won!

    Does anyone really believe now, as a national community, that we can maintain the same energy and marshal the same coordinated strategies in the fight against some bill in Mississippi that’s been pending in committee for who knows how long? And what if dozens of similar bills are simultaneously floating through dozens of other state legislatures? Civil rights movements don’t work that way.

    The solution is not to throw up our hands, claim victory on marriage and let the chips fall where they may. Yet it’s naive to imagine that a grassroots-based GLBT movement will reemerge like magic to stem the tide of these threats. We face a slog.

    That Mississippi religious freedom bill? It passed the house in mid-February and will now go to the state senate. The South Dakota anti-trans bill that would require kids to produce birth certificates in order to play sports? It died the other day, but an even worse trans bill is alive and well, has passed both houses and could be signed (or vetoed) by the governor as I write.

    A bill in Georgia that recently passed the house would let a judge or pastor opt out of performing a same-sex marriage. Irritating, but not as bad as some others. Oh, but wait a second. A few days ago, that same bill was amended in the state senate to allow anyone to discriminate in public accommodation based on faith! Then it was sent back to the house with its new fangs.

    And what about the other 170 bills? The Human Rights Campaign, state activists and other groups tweet and post a continual stream of information, often phrased in dramatic terms—performing a useful public service and/or disseminating a barrage of noise at the same time. Just as you start to worry about one measure, it vanishes and you realize that something else has won passage while you weren’t paying attention. Bills that are killed are resurrected unexpectedly. Bills that seem on the verge of law are suddenly dead for the session.

    The activists we are all counting on right now are those who fight for their states, often thanklessly. Backing them up are the attorneys who will be obliged to pick up the pieces if or when some of these travesties are signed into law.

    It’s not exciting. It’s not going to galvanize young protesters. It’s not going to capture the imagination of our fellow Americans in its current state. It is what it is. A hard sustained defensive struggle to be waged by dedicated professional community activists and anyone else who answers the tough call. Welcome to the post-Obergefell GLBT rights movement.


    Having said that, it’s not true that all the challenges we face are theme-less. Once again, our adversaries have caught hold of a winning image, much as they set us back for years with the concept of “special rights,” and undermined our fight for equality with the notion that same-sex marriage would be “taught in school.”

    This time, we are confronted by the idea that GLBT rights will end the social conventions that divide public bathrooms by gender. There was a time when, despite the T in our name, we often pursued gay rights independently of trans rights. Those days are thankfully gone. Now, however, as opposition to gay rights fades, our foes have turned their attention to trans rights instead, targeting an inseparable part of our community in order to bring us all down. Trans discrimination is also on the wane, but not when it comes to the public restroom—a bugaboo that led 60 percent of Houston voters to overturn their city’s GLBT rights ordinance a few months ago.

    The city council of Charlotte, North Carolina, recently passed a GLBT anti-bias law covering public accommodation, something that has not been considered controversial for a modern metropolis in several years. Now, post-Houston, where the bathroom tactic proved its efficacy, Tobacco State Governor Pat McCrory promptly announced that the implications for bathrooms presented by the Charlotte ordinance imposed a “threat to public safety” and would be addressed by the state legislature. Indeed, many of the 44 anti-trans bills now pending around the country involve efforts to force trans men and women into facilities that violate their gender, or perhaps oblige them to wander through endless halls in search of a unisex room.

    Left completely unresolved in all this is the irony of requiring men and women to share facilities with transwomen and transmen respectively, provoking the exact social discomfort that lawmakers claim to abhor. I’m not sure why this obvious repercussion has not been more widely discussed. The bathroom strategy is not exactly new, but personally, I never thought it would catch on for this reason. What will lawmakers do when people see a dozen transmen standing in line with the girls, and realize that the guys are legally obligated to join them by statute? (And for the record, there’s absolutely no doubt that a law requiring trans men and women to seek out unisex bathrooms in public would be unconstitutional.)

    Surely the bathroom gambit will collapse of its own weight, but for the time being it’s running wild. That said, HRC noted that none of last year’s anti-trans bills became law. We await the disposition of this year’s crop.

    What’s in a Name?

    By the way, I read that the heroic New England lawyers at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) have decided to change their name to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLBTQLAD.

    I’m sorry, my beloved GLAD, I see where you’re coming from, but I can’t support you. If memory serves, the National Center for Lesbian Rights encountered the same dilemma back in the day, recognizing that its work was in no way exclusive to lesbians, but reluctant at the same time to diminish its historic emphasis on gay women by reducing the L to one letter in a longer train. Do any of us think of the NCLR as a lesbian organization? (Hmmm. Maybe a little, now that I think of it.)

    It’s just so unwieldy. Why the redundant addition of “legal?” Do they really need the ambiguous “Q” in their formal name? Why can’t they be the Gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender Advocates and Defenders (GLAD)? I just think there should be some kind of law against acronyms in excess of five letters.

    I’ve been going back on forth on my assessment of the GLBTQLAD name change, but on balance, I’m sticking with my gut reaction as expressed above. That said, it is, of course, important for our community organizations to reflect all of us. As for Questioning youth and other doubters, I think we should definitely give them all the support in the world, but I don’t think they deserve a letter of their own. Either they are indeed GLBT, but have yet to sort out their identity, in which case they are subsumed somewhere in our four-letter group, or, they are actually straight and not trans, in which case they’re not one of us, although they will be warmly welcomed as an ally.

    Having written all that, it just occurred to me that GLAD’s new “Q” might stand for “queer” rather than “questioning.” I spent five minutes searching their website and could not find out what the “Q” represents, which seems to undermine the purpose of expanding the name. Also, GLAD seems to be calling itself “GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders” rather than GLBTQLAD, so they’ve effectively given up their acronym all together and replaced it with a giant mouthful of a designation.

    Antonin, We Knew You Pretty Well

    Scalia’s death hit me like a punch to the stomach. It came out of the blue, didn’t it? It was shocking. The sudden death of a Supreme Court justice, particularly one of the archenemies of gay equality. I mean, wow.

    I can’t be happy about it. I say that because I read some immediate commentary to that effect, written by people I suppose, who not only ask for whom the bell tolls, but who have not lived long enough or thought hard enough to feel the impact of Donne’s words within themselves. That said, I can’t agree with all the glowing postmortem tributes to his legacy, which as far as I’m concerned, leaves far less to legal history than meets the eye. Nor can I forgive his complete inability to see our community as anything more than a bunch of people with sexual deviance in common.

    Still, I’m diminished.

    Some are now calling for the President to nominate a gay man or woman to the Court, a strategy that I think is counterproductive. Conventional wisdom suggests that Obama should name a candidate that will be impossible for Republicans to criticize, painting the Senate and the GOP nominee into a corner of bad publicity. I hate to be conventional, but I have to agree. There will be opportunities ahead to name a gay justice, and it would be nice to do so when the Democrats control the Senate and when he or she might actually make it to the Court.

    Naming a gay or lesbian justice under these conditions would guarantee a failed confirmation, set a bad precedent for a gay pick, and give the Republicans an excuse for their obstructionism. Keep in mind that the Senate Judiciary Committee has already announced that no nominee will receive a hearing. Do we really want to throw one of our top jurists into this no win situation?

    Speaking of the Senate, we could get it back, you know. If Trump is the nominee, and if the economy stays relatively strong, the Democrats have a shot at regaining the majority. And speaking of using the word “we” when speaking to GLBT readers as if all of us are Democrats, there’s an interesting new nonpartisan poll on GLBT political preferences.

    According to Community Marketing & Insights, a San Francisco-based GLBT polling company, 48 percent of us support Clinton, 41 percent support Sanders, 2 percent support Trump, 1 percent go for Rubio, another 1 percent back Kasich, and 4 percent are undecided.

    I’m not sure what to make of this survey, since fully 25 percent of the GLBT community inexplicably voted for George W Bush in 2000, according to exit polls. But make of it what you will, as reported in The Washington Blade. I guess it’s possible that our gay Republican brothers and sisters have come to their senses over the last decade or so. But I’ll believe it when I see it. We should note, however, that gay Republicans “GOProud” disbanded after a few useless years on the hustings. And as for the Log Cabin Republicans, well I’m not sure what they’re up to, actually.

    Speaking of Republicans, you know that Marco Rubio loves Electronic Dance Music, don’t you? It’s his favorite genre. If he weren’t conservative and married with kids, that might beep my gaydar.