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    Ann Rostow: Sit Tight, Your Honors

    By Ann Rostow–

    Sit Tight, Your Honors

    I bet you’re wondering what the Supreme Court has been up to since we last investigated their various machinations. So, shall we start a quick review? Or shall we pause and do an online crossword puzzle? 

    Good plan. Now that the puzzle is done, let’s move on to the Court’s slightly interesting decision to dodge review of the Seventh Circuit’s transgender school victory. Last August, a three-judge Seventh Circuit panel ruled that an Indiana school district could not block a transgender male student from using the boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms. To do so, the panel said, was to violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of Equal Protection, as well as Title IX’s law against sex discrimination in public education. Note that this was not the first time we had a trans-friendly school ruling from the Seventh Circuit, although that earlier case was not appealed to the High Court.

    This time, the school district did indeed ask the justices to revisit the case, but the Court recently said no, which was a nice reprieve for transgender teens in the Seventh Circuit’s ballpark (Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin). This doesn’t mean, however, that the High Court is done with the question. Other appellate courts have taken a stand on transgender student access, including the Fourth Circuit (victory) and the Eleventh Circuit (defeat). So, it’s possible that the justices are lying in wait for a better case or more background litigation before they pounce.

    Justice Deferred

    And speaking of the Fourth Circuit’s position on transgender students, perhaps you remember the complicated story of Gavin Grimm, a trans student in the Gloucester County, Virginia, school district, who sued for the use of his school facilities back in late 2014 or early 2015. Don’t make me look that up, thank you. 

    Eventually, his case rose to the aforementioned Fourth Circuit where the three-judge panel decided to defer to the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX. Since this was the Obama era, the Department of Education had a very friendly interpretation, specifically they thought Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination automatically included a ban on transgender discrimination. Stay with me, everyone!

    Using something called Auer Deference, which requires federal courts to defer to agency interpretations of their own policies, the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Grimm and the school district petitioned for Supreme Court review. Fast forward to the Trump years, when surprise surprise, Betsy DeVos and company changed the Education Department’s policy and ordered transgender students to be tarred, feathered, and thrown into a lava pit. It was something like that; at any rate, it was a far cry from the Obama policy. When the Supreme Court got around to the petition for review, the justices pointed out that the administrative policy had changed and sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit.

    The good news is a) I’m almost done rehashing the Gavin Grimm case, and b) the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Grimm the second time in a final decision that the High Court declined to revisit. But part of my reason for going down this fascinating side street was to illustrate the pros and cons of Chevron Deference, which is similar to Auer Deference. Chevron Deference says courts must defer to agency interpretations of statutes, while Auer Deference involves existing agency policies. Or at least that’s my understanding. If you’ve been keeping up with legal news, you’ve noticed that the High Court spent a day last week considering whether or not the 40-year-old Chevron precedent should continue to operate. 

    Does this affect our GLBT community? Well, it could as the Fourth Circuit example indicates. Agencies and the civil servants who work them are experts in the regulations, language, statutes, and precedents that govern their niche areas. Giving them control over the legal interpretations of some of these ins and outs makes sense. Handing that control over to federal judges, who may have zero expertise in a particular subject, makes far less sense. True, we may run the risk that a generous agency policy gives way to a strict one, but the reverse is also true, and this is part of a Democratic process. Take a look at the range of federal laws that ban sex bias. I won’t get into why all those laws also outlaw gay and trans bias, but arguably they do. 

    That said, do we want those ambiguities to be sorted out by Biden’s political appointees? Or do we want Trump judges making those calls? Enough said.

    Right on Target

    I have more to say about the High Court, but I think we’ve said enough for now. Meanwhile, did you see that another one of the “Moms for Liberty” is in hot water? First we had the one who was married to the head of the Florida Republican Party, who had a threesome with another woman. You remember Brittany Ziegler, right? Her husband, Christian, was accused of raping that third woman a year after their tryst, and after he refused (inexplicably!) to step down from his position, his colleagues fired him and took away his responsibilities. Then we had one of the Moms who organized a little parade or protest with the Proud Boys, and another who quoted Hitler for some reason. I guess the fuehrer must have had something nice to say about children or book burning.

    So this time, Tennessee Mom for Liberty Keri Leigh Blair, 43, was arrested and tossed in the clink on January 5 after she ripped off Target for some $728.00 and change. I guess Keri went through the self-checkout but failed to, um, actually pay for quite a bit of stuff over the course of seven shopping trips. To be accurate, Blair was elected to the Collierville school board last year with a stamp of approval from Moms for Liberty, so that’s her connection. She resigned after the shoplifting bust, for “personal, family reasons.”

    Don’t you love these holier-than-thou “Moms” telling us what to do and what to read, while they screw people over, indulge white supremacists, quote fascists, and steal from their local Target. Oh, and I was just reading about yet another one who was nailed for serving alcohol to minors at a party. Not that a teenager should never have a little of this or that, but if you’re going to let the kids booze it up in your living room, spare us the moralistic lectures about our parenting choices.  

    Non-Star State

    I’m going to take the lazy approach and simply provide you with a direct quote from the Texas Tribune, which is the Lone Star State’s top progressive news source. It’s a description of this alleged pedophile, named Paul Pressler, who is given the courtesy of an “alleged” even though he has many accusers with detailed examples of a lifetime of predatory behavior. So, this is how the Tribune describes him:

    “Pressler, 93, is one of the most influential evangelical figures of the last half-century for his key role in the Southern Baptist Convention’s ‘conservative resurgence,’ during which he helped push the nation’s second-largest faith group to adopt literal interpretations of the Bible, align more closely with the Republican Party, ban women from preaching, and strongly condemn homosexuality. Before that, Pressler represented Houston in the Texas House and served for 14 years as an Appeals Court judge, and his endorsement has for years been sought by evangelical political candidates, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.”

    I’m not in the mood to rehash the whole list of sexual abuses against young boys on his résumé. It’s depressing, and it’s such a familiar story, isn’t it? What is it about these guys? Devout men of faith on the outside; despicable child molesters underneath, more often than not the type that assaults little boys. I guess Mr. Pressler is in the news because another one of his colleagues who (allegedly) used to send him cute young “interns” to work at his house is now running for a seat in the Texas House, blah blah blah.

    I find myself guilty of delivering full scandal details against all rightwing and/or anti-GLBT offenders, while ignoring many disturbing revelations concerning anyone in our community who may be accused of malfeasance of one sort or another. Sometimes this is just because the naughty gay person isn’t a hypocrite, ergo I don’t care what they do. Sometimes it’s because I feel I have to do a lot of research to make sure I’m not falling for a rightwing smear story, and I’m too lazy to do it. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to read about or slam a community member (my bad). 

    But, of course, if it’s a British lesbian behaving badly I’m going to report every little detail I can find because we all live for those stories and we don’t even care if they’re true or not. Plus, it’s like the difference between a show about an American undercover cop getting shot during a drug sting gone bad, and Mrs. Maplethorpe wondering why the Reverend Billingsly was found dead in the chapel, impaled on a crucifix. Both scenarios contain violence, but one seems horrifying and the other seems entertaining.

    Before we leave Texas, I just saw that a group of activists have asked several different U.N. agencies to call attention to seven nasty anti-GLBT laws passed by the Texas legislature and signed into law last year. Another exhausting-sounding story.

    Sister Act

    Did any of you know that Grover Cleveland’s sister Rose was a lesbian who was in love with a wealthy widow ten years her junior? The relationship is interesting, to some of us, because Rose Cleveland served as unofficial First Lady for the first year or so of Grover’s first term in office, which began in 1885. After that, Grover Cleveland got married, as was befitting a national politician, so Rose was relegated back to First Sister, or whatever. 

    Rose met her paramour, Evangeline Simpson Whipple, in 1889, when she was in her mid-forties and Whipple was in her mid-thirties. After meeting on some kind of vacation, they returned to their respective residences, but began a torrid correspondence:

    “My Eve!,” wrote Rose,  “Ah, how I love you! It paralyzes me … Oh Eve, Eve, surely you cannot realize what you are to me. What you must be. Yes, I dare it, now, I will not longer fear to claim you. You are mine by every sign in Earth & Heaven, by every sign in soul & spirit & body—and you cannot escape me. You must bear me all the way … .”

    Woah, Nellie! 

    As you know, Cleveland was the only president to win a second term after losing his first reelection campaign, and we fervently hope he will be the last to do so in the foreseeable future. But until the second week of November, we will have to live under the shadow of the Cleveland precedent. At least his sister gives us an amusing insight into his life, don’t you think? The two women called each other “Clevie” and “Wingie,” and traveled together through Europe and the Middle East. Then, as if scripted for a Lifetime movie, Evangeline married a bishop in 1896 and left Rose high and dry.

    Years later, the bishop died and the two women resumed their correspondence, albeit on a less passionate level. In 1909, Rose appealed to Evangeline to resume their relationship. “I need you and life is not long enough to always wait,” she wrote, now in her mid-sixties. The two women wound up living together in Tuscany, where Rose died of the Spanish Flu in 1918 at age 72. Evangeline lived another 12 years, dying in London in 1930. Although we do not have her letters to Rose, we have a letter she wrote to her stepdaughter after Rose’s death:  

    “The light has gone out for me … . The loss of this noble and great soul is a blow that I shall not recover from.”   

    I’m not sure why I went on to this extent, but I find it a touching and timeless tale—a nice note to end on in our turbulent times.

    GLBT Fortnight in Review
    Published on January 25, 2024