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    Ann Rostow: Turning in the Widening Gyre

    By Ann Rostow–

    Turning in the Widening Gyre

    The Trump Labor Department has announced a proposal to gut the civil rights rules that govern federal contractors, widening the religious exemptions well beyond the standards that have protected faith-based organizations for half a century and change. The proposed expansion, from faith-based loophole to gigantic maw, is outlined in a 46-page legal brief that your faithful reporter could not bring herself to read in detail.

    And let’s be clear. This development was not announced as an anti-GLBT thing. It was all prettied up as a way to respect the sincere beliefs of religious contractors, who may be confused or uncertain about existing anti-discrimination guidelines, poor things. 

    But in fact, no one has a religious conflict centered on race or sex now do they? But ever since 2014, federal contractors are also required to respect GLBT workers and customers in order to qualify for government work. Trump made a fancy pledge to keep Obama’s gay-friendly language intact, but I guess he didn’t say anything about hollowing out these protections with new religious provisions.

    And from what we know about Trump, he is probably not even aware of this new policy and others of its ilk that his antigay minions continue to seed throughout the federal bureaucracy. He doesn’t really care one way or another as long as his administration continues to satisfy his evangelical allies and far right base voters.  

    Worse, while this and other antigay policies can be excised by a Democratic president, nothing can be done about the federal district court judges and the four dozen or so appellate court judges that he and Mitch McConnell have installed throughout the judiciary. They will be with us for decades and some of them are bat s–t crazy. 

    The Justice Department Hates Us

    As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear arguments on the tricky question of whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers gay and transgender workers under Title VII, the section that forbids workplace discrimination on the basis of sex and other factors. We have been inching forward towards the answer “yes, it does,” for the last 20 years, as court after court reasoned that GLBT bias is indeed a variety of sex discrimination. Without going into the nitty gritty, we now face the very real possibility that the High Court will flatly reverse this progress, sending us back into a dark world where public services and employers alike will have every right to close their doors to gay applicants. After all, Title VII law is used as a guide for sex-based civil rights law elsewhere in society, including fair housing and Title IX in education.

    Last week, Trump’s Justice Department wrote a brief to the Court, arguing that the 1964 Congress did not intend to include GLBT workers and that the word “sex” refers only to male or female biological categories. This is certainly true, but certainly irrelevant as Title VII has been continually expanded by the courts to cover things like sexual harassment on the job, gender stereotyping, and many other incidents of modern life. 

    Is it sex discrimination if a company won’t hire women with children? If a police department imposes height and weight standards? If a male boss flirts with female staff? If a group of men harass a male colleague? If a masculine woman is denied partnership on style points alone? These situations weren’t contemplated by the 1964 Congress either, but federal law has evolved by saying “yes” to these and other situations. 

    Our gay and transgender cases have been on the “yes” trajectory for years, but we may be about to hit a dead end thanks to Mitch and Trump. Oral arguments on two related cases, one gay and one transgender, are set for October. Three months later we will start waiting for the verdict.


    This is the context that just inspired the Log Cabin Republican Club to endorse Donald Trump for a second term, arguing that he has fulfilled his promise to the GLBT community (whatever that was) and deserves four more years. 

    I’ve been happy to ridicule and make light of these gay Republicans in the past, although I haven’t encountered them in the press for many years. But this transcends their previous absurdities. Who are these people? 

    Because this is a GLBT paper, and this is a GLBT news column, it’s not surprising that we focus on GLBT news. But the damage Trump has inflicted on us, including his ban on transgender military service, pales in comparison to the damage he is inflicting on our country and the world. In addition to fomenting white supremacy, caging asylum seekers like animals, destabilizing the global economy for no reason, reigniting the nuclear arms race and spending his time watching TV and ranting—in addition to that and all the rest, the man literally has some kind of dementia. 

    He must be removed from office, preferably through an electoral defeat, and most sane, well-adjusted Americans agree. If he had actually advanced gay rights somehow in his first three years, he would still be unfit for the presidency. I guess one woman, Jennifer Horn, resigned from the Log Cabin board after this endorsement, so good for her. Let’s see some more Cabiners step forward. 

    The Legal Beat Goes On

    Enough of Trump. I read a complicated account of a Second Circuit decision that sort of went against a lesbian basketball coach who was fired in 2010 from a job at Binghamton State University. The court ruled that the public employees who fired her enjoyed qualified immunity from her Equal Protection lawsuit, based on the fact that they could not automatically have known that their actions were unconstitutional at the time. That makes sense, given that gay civil rights law in 2010 was ambiguous. But the court went on to make a weird distinction between violations of the Equal Protection Clause and violations of Title VII. 

    Let’s not get into the details, but let’s just wonder why the same court that just ruled in favor of a gay plaintiff in the Title VII case that is now pending before the High Court decided to follow an arcane strand of unhelpful judicial reasoning just weeks before the justices hear oral arguments. Muddying the waters at this juncture is not exactly what we need.

    And before we exit the scintillating arena that is legal news, you should know that the infamous Gloucester County school district in Virginia will once again appeal the Gavin Grimm transgender high school case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Grimm won the last time he ascended through the appellate court, and his case was pending review by the Supreme Court when Trump was elected. Trump’s subsequent anti-trans change of policy at the Education Department led the High Court to send the case back to square one without hearing arguments, so we are now at square two or three or whatever square it might be.

    The district did agree to change Grimm’s sex to male on his school records, so there’s that. 

    Faye Dunaway, Penguins, Epstein, Whatever

    You know who sounds like she’s falling apart? Faye Dunaway, who has just been sued by a gay man who had been her assistant during rehearsals for Tea at Five, a play about Katharine Hepburn. Dunaway is accused of directing homophobic rants at Michael Rocha. “During Plaintiff’s time working for the Defendants,” the lawsuit says, Dunaway “regularly and relentlessly subjected [Rocha] to abusive demeaning tirades.” 

    According to the New York Post, the 78-year-old actress, who had not been on stage for years, was eventually fired from the play after failing to learn her lines, showing up late, raging at staff and throwing things around backstage. She also hates the color white and demanded that no one wear white clothes in her presence. Sounds like it’s time for someone to write a play about Faye Dunaway. Too bad Katharine Hepburn can’t have the lead. 

    We also have news of the gay penguins in Berlin, Skipper and Ping, who have finally been given an actual egg to hatch. As we reported earlier in these pages, where we never miss a story about gay penguins, Skipper and Ping were originally given a rock to care for. Subsequently, a female penguin provided an egg, but zookeepers do not know if the egg has been fertilized and won’t be able to tell until it either hatches or not. Meanwhile, the penguins are showing themselves to be excellent would-be parents and are apparently the toast of the town. 

    We will keep you appraised of developments.

    And Jeffrey Epstein had a full-length oil portrait of Bill Clinton wearing a blue dress and lounging on a chair. The painting was prominently displayed in his Manhattan apartment, which is just—I don’t know what, frankly. 

    I also read that Epstein created a will and had upwards of $570 million in cash and property. But I’m still not clear about where he got this money, aside from the $45 million he stole from the Victoria Secret guy.

    Is it really his? Can it be set aside for his victims? 

    My Bad

    I’ve skipped news this week about not one, but two youth ministers from different antigay church groups who molested young boys. Back in the day I used to love these stories. They’re horrible, of course, but you know what I mean. I relished excoriating the hypocritical Bible-spouting pedophiles, brought low by their own twisted psyches, crying out for forgiveness from their mean-spirited cohort.

    But over the years, it’s become clear that these are not anomalies. The more narrow minded, the more judgmental the preacher, the weirder he or she turns out to be in the end. They’re not all closeted gay men. Some embezzle, some beat their wives; but their dark sides eventually emerge. And like a dog bites man story, it’s no longer that interesting when they do.

    I was more drawn to the news that a serial killer of gay men is about to be executed in Florida, an event that reveals a conflict in my own soul. The death penalty is always wrong in my view, and the case of Gary Ray Bowles is no exception. He is the confessed killer of half a dozen men, whom he battered to a slow and painful death, stuffing rags in their mouths, and in one case, dropping a cement block on a man’s head. Even so, I still don’t believe the government has the right to take a life.

    That said, I find myself pleased about his execution. Some atavistic part of me is happy and hopes he suffers this Thursday, August 22 at 6 pm. I’m not sure I like this bloodthirsty sub-self, but there you go.

    Their Bad

    Finally, let’s talk about pink washing, the phenomenon of using some pro-gay thing to eclipse some other bad thing and by doing so, make it less bad. For example, India just brutally invaded Kashmir, arresting hundreds and cutting off communication to the outside world. I confess I have not followed this closely, but it sounds awful. Apparently, India has better gay rights laws than Kashmir’s non-existent ones, but so what? Even raising the issue is callous.

    In another case, the Palestinian Authority just cracked down on the local gay rights group in the West Bank, Al Qaws, calling their activities “a blow to, and violation of, the ideals and values of Palestinian society.” Not good, right? But does this mean that all true single-issue gay activists have to jump on the bandwagon of the far-right Netanyahu government and applaud their current policies due to the comparatively progressive Israeli stance on GLBT rights? Hardly. Just as a hypothetical pro-gay Trump administration would not dictate a case for his reelection, so the relative GLBT policies of this or that government can never be the single standard for political support. 

    People. There are some deeper fault lines that shake us up as human beings first, gay human beings second. There are gray areas, complexities, difficult situations. It’s nice that India and Israel have stepped up on gay rights. It’s not an automatic free pass to run roughshod over minority neighbors.