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    Ann Rostow: What’s in a Name?

    By Ann Rostow–

    What’s in a Name?

    To what extent may a school require faculty and staff to use preferred names and pronouns for transgender students? Some might attack such a regulation based on “free speech,” but schools may police speech in many contexts, including antigay speech, racism, Nazi propaganda, and hate speech in general. When transgender kids are being denied access to bathrooms and healthcare itself, this feels like a lesser violation of rights, particularly if a school allows the anti-trans teacher to use surnames instead of first names. But if allowed to persist and expand, it infects the entire school community.

    The practice of misnaming students veers into hate speech when it’s used to denigrate, insult, and single out trans kids for hostility from a person in power. That cannot be allowed in a healthy school system and that’s what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found earlier this year in the case of a “Christian” music teacher out of Indiana. The teacher, John Kluge, was fired in 2018 after his anti-trans behavior drew complaints and stigmatized the few transgender students in his classes. He sued on religious freedom grounds and lost both at the lower court and the appellate court levels. 

    Subsequently last June, the unanimous Supreme Court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer must demonstrate a “substantial” hardship if they must violate the religious freedom of a staff member. The case, a Christian postal worker who refused to work on Sundays, was more or less your typical religious freedom case, and the standard of substantial hardship was only one step up from the unmodified “undue hardship” that previously governed the courts. After this ruling (in Groff v. DeJoy), the Seventh Circuit vacated its ruling in favor of the Indiana school, and sent John Kluge’s case back to lower court for a review that takes the latest High Court decision into account. Kluge has just asked the lower court for a summary judgment.

    I hadn’t realized that Kluge was back in action until his latest court filing, but it’s disturbing to see the ripple effects of this High Court’s conservative jurisprudence, even in this instance where the Court ruled 9–0. I can’t help but feel that our side of the Court is picking its battles in the ongoing war over so-called “religious freedom,” deciding here perhaps that Mr. Groff’s desire to save Sunday for services was basically not a big deal and the post office should have accommodated his faith. Fine, okay. But will that mean that the federal court in Indiana and the Seventh Circuit will be obliged to give the green light to Kluge and his mean-spirited “religious” impulses? 

    We all understand that devout Christians might want to spend Sundays doing some religious things, just as Jews won’t want to work on Friday night or Saturday and what have you. But since when does someone’s faith mandate public animosity and disrespect towards a group of people that they don’t like or understand? Surely it would be a substantial hardship for a school to tolerate such a person in a position of authority. I hope so at least.  

    High Court Agenda Undetermined for Now

    In other legal news, the ACLU has taken the plunge and asked the Supreme Court to decide whether a state may ban medical care for transgender youth, appealing a Tennessee law that was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. At the same time, the Sixth Circuit upheld a similar ban out of Kentucky, where activists also reportedly plan to petition the High Court.

    We figured this issue would arrive at the Court’s doorstep sooner rather than later, as might the question of whether states can forbid transgender girls from playing on public school sports teams. It wasn’t necessarily clear that our side would be the first to petition the Court, but the Tennessee law may be one of the more vulnerable of the 21 such statutes enacted around the country. 

    According to the ACLU of Tennessee, the law limits its ban to kids diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a “targeted restriction” that “discriminates based on both sex and the fact that a person is transgender and violates the Equal Protection Clause.” Tennessee also tramples on the rights of the parents of transgender minors, who are stripped of their ability to make medical decisions for their children despite clear constitutional ground rules.

    I really should check but I think there are several GLBT-related petitions hanging around the Court at this point. For example, I know one of our foes filed an appeal on a state ban on conversion therapy, arguing that restricting a professional’s right to pursue this damaging practice was tantamount to a block on free speech. I think there are some others but, like Billie Eilish, I’m gay and tired so I’ll move on. (The singer posted a selfie with those words written on her cheek on X or Insta or somewhere the other day, much to everyone’s excitement. Whatever. She seems nice.) At any rate, the Court decides whether or not to take cases during the weekly or biweekly conferences, and they often make us wait around months for a thumbs up or thumbs down.

    Holiday Time

    I’m actually a little behind today, because a) our coffee pot died and I had to wait for my wife to come home with takeout coffee, and b) I was doing some research and discovered you can apply to earn $2,500 for watching 25 holiday movies in 25 days. I stopped everything to fill out the forms and will be eagerly waiting to see if I’m chosen. I always watch two or three every year. What’s another 22 or 23? 

    There’s usually a new one from Netflix about the prince and the princess in the tiny Alpine country with the disabled sister and the friendly king and queen. I think they’ve had a baby by now, and I’m not sure, but maybe the king died and the prince is king? Must check this! 

    There are also gay holiday pictures, and it feels as if there are more every season. Last year we had the one where the guy and his “best friend” go back to his home town, realize they were meant to be together and abandon LA to open a flower shop in the little town. Really, guys? That only happened at the end, because our guy was dating the cute hottie handyman or something during most of the movie. And when I say “dating,” I mean they went for coffee, bought a Christmas tree, and went to the kids’ Christmas pageant. No wonder that relationship went nowhere. 

    Anyway, I’ll let you know if I make the cut.

    Shameful Lusts

    Speaking of holiday things, One Million Moms is up in arms over the lineup for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the yawn fest that takes over the airwaves for interminable hours every Thanksgiving Day. We were always “allowed” to watch the tedious procession when I was a kid as if this was a big treat. Thanks for nothing, parents. 

    Anyway, this year’s parade includes some performers from two Broadway shows, Shucked and & Juliet, both of which feature non-binary actors (and neither of which I’ve ever heard of). Some 17,000 people signed a petition from the Moms condemning the “liberal nonsense” as the Moms put it. “Shame on Macy’s for promoting and sponsoring this type of entertainment,” they tsked. “It is clear that Macy’s does not have our children’s best interests in mind. Macy’s needs to know that trust must be earned, and once trust is lost, it is difficult to get back.” 

    In other Million Mom complaints, we hear that Vitaminwater is using Lil Nas X as a spokesperson, “pushing an agenda of sexual confusion instead of promoting its product.” The ads, Moms say, attempt “to blur the biological distinctions between males and females. Thanks, Vitaminwater. Now, parents have to explain these disturbing ads to their confused children!”

    Who are these children the Moms continually write about? Poor creatures; they are disturbed, perplexed, and shaken to the core by routine TV commercials and innocuous cartoon characters. Could that fragility possibly be the fault of, um, the Moms? Nah. It’s us and our insidious propaganda.

    “These gay-inclusive commercials are attempting to desensitize and brainwash viewers by convincing them that homosexuality is natural,” the Moms say. “In reality, it is an unnatural love that is forbidden by Scripture. Romans 1:26-27 makes this very clear.”

    I just looked that one up: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Spicy!

    And the Land We Belong to Is Grand!

    Let’s see what else. Have you heard that Kellyanne Conway’s rebellious daughter, Claudia, is gay? I didn’t know that. I vaguely remember this girl posting some family spats on Instagram, much to her mother’s chagrin. But lately, Kellyanne was given the “Spirit of Lincoln” award by the ridiculous Log Cabin (gay) Republicans based on her supposedly tolerant embrace of Claudia’s sexual orientation. “I don’t care if you’re with a girl or Mickey Mouse, as long as you get your ass up for school,” Kellyanne reportedly told her daughter. Get that woman a PFLAG membership card!

    In other mildly pro-GLBT news, our friend the Pope has fired a virulently anti-gay bishop, Texas-based Joseph Strickland, a man who refused to resign on his own. I guess he did this after an “apostolic visitation” last summer, whatever that is, when it seems Bishop Strickland did not impress. The dismissal was announced November 4.

    And while we’re in Texas, a school principal in Sherman along with some conservative administrators generated some negative national news headlines when they delayed the school production of Oklahoma! because a trans boy was cast in one of the male roles as were a few girls (since there were not enough boys in the drama group). According to their new policy, all actors would be required to play characters that matched their genders at birth, a theatrical dictate that would have come as a shock to Shakespeare companies and many other stage producers. 

    The group also decided that the musical would be replaced by a shorter kids’ version, designed for younger audiences, telling the press in a statement that the regular show “contained mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content.” That’s not the Oklahoma! that I remember, but who the hell knows what these people see when they look at the world around them. 

    The fiasco was rectified after a unanimous vote by the full school board, which restored the original cast and production at a public meeting November 13. Dozens of people showed up at the meeting to protest the censorship, and Board President Brad Morgan apologized to the school community for the entire brouhaha. 

    “We want to apologize to our students, parents and our community regarding the circumstances that they have had to go through,” Morgan wrote. “We do embrace all of our Board goals, to include addressing the diverse needs of our students and empowering them for success in a diverse and complex world.”

    The Bell Tolls

    Finally, there was a sad story out of Smiths Station, Alabama, where the small-town mayor killed himself after a local paper published photos of him dressed in women’s lingerie and quoted some erotic fiction he had written. F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, who had been mayor for seven years, apologized on a church website where he served as a pastor, and friends say he was profoundly upset by the exposure. 

    A couple of days after the news report, sheriff’s deputies conducting a wellness check followed his car down the road, but could not prevent Copeland from shooting himself. By all accounts, he was a hard-working mayor and a nice guy; a father of three in a happy marriage. 

    The news outlet, 1819 News, was a rightwing offshoot of Breitbart, but our own news outlets are often the ones to take hypocrites to account. This time, however, there was no evidence that Copeland was ever anti-GLBT, and his story gives me pause as I look back on the many times I gleefully reported on the secret lives of various hapless men with wives and families. I don’t promise never to do so again, but I may think twice.

    GLBT Fortnight in Review
    Published on November 16, 2023