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    Ann Rostow: Taste Test

    1-Ann_RostowBy Ann Rostow

    There are many divides in America, and there are many things that divide me from Donald Trump. But there is yet another profound opposition between us. Trump reportedly likes his steak cooked until it’s like “a rock on a plate.” Really?

    I have several friends who like well-cooked meat including my beloved former partner, for whom I would reluctantly sauté pieces of lovely rare steak in a pan until horribly browned through. But this was one of the rare discrepancies in our otherwise copacetic entente. With few exceptions, I distrust people who like gray steak.

    Is this just me, reflexively exaggerating anything that sets me apart from this man? Or can I extrapolate something from what I consider to be a pathological culinary posture? It’s not just that he likes his steak “well done.” It’s the “rock on the plate.” It’s the fact that this guy appears to prefer fast food and mistrusts sophisticated cuisine. It’s the fact that Trump doesn’t read books. He doesn’t have a sense of humor. There’s no evidence that he prefers one genre of music to another. He doesn’t drink—not because he’s an alcoholic, but because he doesn’t like it. The man seems to be operating outside of culture, outside of history, outside of pleasure, outside of art. He seems to operate in a thoughtless and joyless human void.

    I actually have a bunch of real GLBT news this week, but let me digress once more. Rereading my condemnation of Trump, I was reminded of my contempt when I saw that George W. Bush had a thin experience with American novels, and was then reading some non-fiction book about a hurricane in Galveston. What a moron, I thought. He was incapable of delving into whatever (Jonathan Franzen “masterpiece”) I personally had just perused. The only thing he could handle was some little boy adventure book about a storm.

    I thought about my complacent snobbery last summer when I read that very same book by Erik Larson, an incredible writer who had transfixed me with three previous publications. The book that Bush had been reading, Isaac’s Storm, told the story of the worst hurricane to ever hit the United States to this day, a turn of the century maelstrom that changed the history of the Texas gulf coast, where Galveston had been on track to become what Houston is today. Larson is phenomenal and I had to laugh at myself as I recalled my pretentious reaction to our former president’s reading material. The man read. And he read one of my favorite writers. And I scoffed at him. And now look where we are.

    Hmm. Having said that, he did destroy the economy and upended the Middle East for decades to come for no reason. But still!

    Justice Delayed for Next Four Years

    So, as expected, the new Trump Justice Department has decided it will no longer contest the multi-state lawsuit that challenged the interpretation of Title IX. Obama’s Justice Department went to bat for the idea that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination in public schools and colleges also protected transgender Americans. Two dozen states challenged that interpretation in two major lawsuits, but now those suits are moot since Trump’s Justice Department has abandoned the field.

    Not a surprise, ladies and gentlemen. But I have to say it rankled me every time some GLBT group let loose a barrage of hostility towards the Obama administration for some minor issue, all the while ignoring the profound support our community had been receiving in terms of the administration’s legal positions on gay and trans rights.

    In early 2011, the Obama Justice Department announced that sexual orientation discrimination should be evaluated by courts with the heightened scrutiny that is due race bias or religious discrimination. That position, yet to be embraced by the Supreme Court, is the be all and end all of our GLBT legal groups, and while we enjoyed the embrace of the executive branch for six years, it’s all over now. It’s gone, done. While some GLBT activists complained about this or that failing from the Obama crew, Obama himself, constitutional lawyer that he was, grounded his administration in the most powerful pro-gay legal philosophy available. He did it under the radar. He avoided political brushback. No one noticed, save our own lawyers and legal analysts. But make no mistake. Barack Obama spared nothing in his support of GLBT equality. Now, we will start to see how much we’ve lost. Let’s hope that, thanks to Obama, we’ve had ten steps forward and now can survive five steps back.

    Flower Child

    Last week, the unanimous Washington Supreme Court ruled that a Christian florist was not allowed to flout state anti-discrimination laws by refusing to do the flowers for the wedding of two of her regular customers, both men. On February 16, the judges ruled that Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, did not suffer a serious religious burden by being obliged to follow state law and do business with a gay couple. Nor did her teeny tiny religious burden rise to the level where it would outweigh a neutral state law that did not target her faith. And, by the way, the court also ruled that Barronelle’s “artistic freedom” was not in play when it came to making center pieces or whatever creative chef d’oeuvre she claimed to be effecting.

    Her loss will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices are already trying to decide whether or not to review a similar case brought by a Colorado bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, that also refused service to a gay wedding party. Already, the Masterpiece case has been scheduled for discussion three times, and postponed three times. Interestingly, the justices have requested the full particulars of the lower court deliberations, which could indicate that they have at least some interest in the subject.

    Previously, the Court refused to review the case of an antigay photographer who declined a wedding job in New Mexico, leaving in place a ruling by the New Mexico Supremes in favor of the couple. Indeed, every one of the gay wedding cases we’ve been covering for these last few years has been decided in favor of the same-sex clients, but that is because all these cases arise in states where it’s against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Obviously, gay couples don’t contest rejections they might experience in red states, because it’s perfectly legal to turn down a gay wedding gig in Texas or Kansas.

    I’d say it violates the U.S. Constitution, but that’s a larger issue.

    Milo and CPAC

    I had to distance myself from Breitbart’s race-baiting Milo Whatshisface on behalf of our diverse GLBT community the other day. Yes, it’s sad but true. There are some messed up GLBT people in this world and Milo is high on the list (but not as high as 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta, in my view).

    Listen, I’m the first person to decry the special snowflake attitude that appears to pervade America’s college campuses these days, where the slightest threat to someone’s fragile sense of self is met like a sledgehammer coming down on a gnat. But life is complicated, and there’s certainly room for mass protests against a vile, nasty, hard right, hateful racist snot who thinks pedophilia is funny. We can chew gum and walk at the same time. We can defend free speech and tell someone like Milo to take a hike, all without being hypocritical (because demonstrations like the one at Berkeley the other day are examples of free speech as well).

    So I applauded Berkeley’s angry rally, which led to the cancellation of a speech by the gay contrarian. And I suppose I applaud the powers that be at the Conservative Political Action Conference who disinvited the man from their annual hoedown after he was caught on tape joking around about child sexual abuse. But you have to ask yourself why CPAC invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak in the first place. As Jonah Goldberg noted, “apparently, the racism and anti-Semitism wasn’t a deal breaker.”

    Simon & Schuster has cancelled publication of Milo’s book, even though it has advance sales of 50,000 copies (WTF people?), and I gather Breitbart itself may be on the verge of canning the commentator in a news conference set for February 21, although who knows, they might give him a pass. (Editor’s Note: Milo Yiannopoulos resigned from his editorial position at Breitbart News on February 21, per the story on page 3 of this issue.)

    But the whole hullabaloo reminds us that the far right political movement that used a puritanical view of Christianity to propel republicans into power has devolved into a freak show where Bible-belted stone throwers line up with skinheads and brown shirts to aim projectiles at the rest of us while the self-professed sinless wonders that started the whole circus cheer from the sidelines.

    Defending Marriage

    Tennessee lawmakers are pushing a bill to make same-sex marriage illegal in the Volunteer State, an unconstitutional waste of time that makes you wonder how stupid these people think their citizens are.

    And yet every time some court or legislature lashes back at the High Court’s 2015 marriage equality decision, guess who has to waste their time reminding everyone that marriage equality is a matter of settled law? Our lawyers, that’s who.

    In Arkansas, the state supreme court has ruled that it’s fine to omit the name of a same-sex parent from a child’s birth certificate, even when said parent is legally married to the person who just gave birth to said child. The state reportedly claimed that listing only biological parents on birth certificates was important for public health, although Arkansas has no problem putting a non-biological father on a certificate without question when he is married to a child’s mother.

    No, don’t go back and reread that cumbersome last sentence. Just recognize that our marriage rights are continually under attack by nasty little buzzing insects, trying to sting us here and bite us there and force us to keep scratching and spraying ourselves. In the Arkansas case, the National Center for Lesbian Rights has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, much as they asked the Justices to slam their collective gavel when Alabama tried to annul a legal adoption transacted in Georgia by two married women. The Justices promptly overruled the Alabama Supreme Court without even bothering with arguments, and we hope they do so again to the Hogtied Court, where three dissenting judges called the majority opinion hogwash—or words to that effect.

    Earlier this month, Lambda Legal won a similar messing-around-with-birth-certificate case out of South Carolina, where a federal judge ruled that the state violates the U.S. Constitution when it refuses to list a gay spouse on a birth certificate. South Carolina officials had been requiring gay parents to adopt their own kids or get a court order if they wanted to appear on their children’s birth certificates.

    So here’s a question: Are we going to have to litigate each instance of marriage rights back to the U.S. Supreme Court? For now, this is the game our lawyers are being forced to play.

    Trump, Actually

    Perhaps you noticed that I resisted a crazed essay this week on the subject of Trump’s surreal press conference, but keep in mind that this column isn’t over yet. Oh, I’m not going to go ballistic over the entire performance. I just want to point out one little moment that speaks volumes.

    You recall the back and forth between Trump and reporter Peter Alexander, who pointed out that no, Trump’s electoral college victory margin was not the largest since Ronald Reagan. In fact, it was the third smallest. Well, Trump finally admitted it; someone gave me that information.

    It seemed for a minute that the man had been boxed into a corner and forced to face up to an inaccurate boast, right? But then as the exchange trailed off, Trump added: “Actually, I’ve seen that information around.”

    What exactly did he mean by that? Well, it’s in plain English, so there is only one answer: He meant that his erroneous victory margin assertion might “actually” be true. He meant that others in the media had been talking about how his victory margin was “actually” the highest since Reagan. He meant that the fact-based, confirmed, published, universally accepted results of the last nine U.S. elections might “actually” be wrong. He meant that his grip on reality might be even more tenuous than we think.