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    Ann Rostow: Why Do We Hate Ada Shelby?

    By Ann Rostow–

    Why Do We Hate Ada Shelby?

    I decided to lead this column with the interesting victory out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which ruled that gender dysphoria is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A big decision! I started out by asking Mr. Google more about the case, but after I typed “transgender,” Google filled in the most common searches that start with that word, beginning with: “transgender people should be shot.” I typed it again to confirm and then clicked on “transgender people should be shot” to see what the hell Google was talking about. Happily, I didn’t find a whole lot. Most of the stories involved the fact that a lot of transgender people, specifically women, were shot, not that they should be shot. But still. I was under the impression that the automatic fill-in-the-blank on a Google search reflected the most common queries of ordinary users. 

    Isn’t that what you thought? I ran a little test and typed “I hate,” which turned up “I hate ada shelby,” (a character on Peaky Blinders), “I hate U,” (a song) and some generics like “I hate my life,” and “I hate myself.” Who would google “I hate myself?” I just checked and it sends you to articles about insecurity and low self-esteem, so I guess it serves a purpose. At this point I had to stop my Google research and continue on with our main subject, starting with … the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit! One of our favorite appellate courts.

    (Now Google thinks I hate myself, I want to shoot transgender men and women, and I watch Peaky Blinders. Can’t wait for the embedded ads.)

    The panel, two Obama judges and a Trumpy one, split in favor of a transwoman prisoner in Virginia, who was thrown in the men’s population and sued under several legal arguments, all of which were dismissed by the lower court. The Fourth Circuit reinstated the lot, and even the Trumpy judge agreed that a claim of gross negligence against the sheriff and another prison honcho could proceed. 

    But the main advance was in the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990 under the auspices of Bush One. The ADA excludes a range of aberrations, including: “transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, [and] other sexual behavior disorders” as well as “compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, or psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.” 

    According to New York law professor Art Leonard, the court noted that the term “gender dysphoria” post-dated the 1990 law, and was not synonymous with the vague language of those original ADA gender exclusions. Indeed, the court said, the term “gender dysphoria” represented a better understanding of what could be categorized as a physical or mental impairment of the sort covered by law. Further, a 2008 amendment to the ADA itself asks courts to construe its terms as widely as possible.

    The interpretation does not mean that being transgender is a disability; only that having a diagnosis of gender dysphoria could possibly be litigated under the ADA. This is the first appellate court decision on the subject and could be appealed to the full Fourth Circuit (which leans to our side) or to the High Court (which doesn’t).

    You Win Some, You Lose Some

    In other trans news, I read that some parents in I-Forget-Where, Utah, got bent out of shape when their little girls lost a sports contest of some sort, and launched an investigation into the sex of the girl who won. The winner, by the way, was not transgender, but the crazed reaction of the parents cries out for a B-movie script. Really? Your child lost the hundred-meter dash so the faster girl must have male hormones? Okay, okay. Let me check the details.

    Well, to give myself some credit, the location and sport in question have not been made public, so I’m not as oblivious as I first thought. A spokesman for the Utah State High School Activities Association told the state legislature about the incident, in which one girl “outclassed” the field in an unidentified state-wide sports contest. The parents of the second and third place finishers asked for an investigation, which took place without informing the parents of the winner. The spokesman, testifying during a review of the recently passed ban on female trans athletes, said that similar complaints have been sent in to his association, including some complaining that certain young sportswomen don’t seem very feminine.

    Meanwhile, that same bill, which passed after the legislature overrode a veto from Governor Spencer Cox last March, was put on hold by a state court on August 19. The law will be unenforceable while the parents of three trans-girls fight it out in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

    Paging Steve Kornacki

    I have more trans news, but let’s pause for a look at the Danish elections of 2023, where one of the many obscure party leaders is a gay conservative, who advocates (I read in PinkNews) for cutting taxes on the top earners and “injecting money into welfare, hospitals, and care for the elderly.” That’s considered “conservative” in Denmark? To be fair, Soren Pope Poulsen is head of the “Conservative People’s Party” that is described in Wikipedia as “green conservatism and liberal conservatism,” so perhaps it’s not the far right, so to speak. I don’t know, because I know nothing about Danish politics and, again according to Wikipedia, there seem to be a dozen parties with at least one seat in the 179-member parliament. 

    Soren Pope Poulsen sounds to me like one of those sociopaths from Star Trek who wants to destroy the galaxy so he can travel through a fissure to a sub-space dimension and be reunited with his childhood girlfriend.

    And speaking of sub-space, I’m writing to you during the week of the New York and Florida primaries, but it is also the week of the Oklahoma primary runoffs. Who knew? Probably everyone in the Sooner State, or at least those of us who still approve of democracy, would hope so. I gather some really unpleasant Republicans are battling for the Senate nominations, and since this is Oklahoma, a win will give someone a de facto Senate seat in November. (There are two Senate seats in play, one to replace the retiring Inhofe’s final four years in office, and another for Langford’s reelection bid.)

    But I’m bringing up Oklahoma because there’s one guy running for state representative who, not so long ago, advocated for homosexuals to be stoned to death. 

    In a Facebook post from 2013, Scott Esk wrote that “we would totally be in the right” to execute gay men and lesbians, just as scripture recommends. “That goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize,” he admitted, “and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.”

    More recently, Esk reassured the media that he had no plans to call for the instatement of capital punishment for homosexuality. “I had an opinion against homosexuality,” he said in July. “Well, does that make me a homophobe? Maybe some people think it does, but as far as I and many of the voters of House District 87 are concerned, it simply makes me a Christian.” 

    Amazingly, Esk tied his rival in the house race, Gloria Banister, with roughly 36 percent of the vote each during the primary. This despite the fact that he was fired from a job at the state department of public safety in 2011 after harassing and threatening leaders at his church. That behavior, in turn, was triggered after his wife and three sons left him, accusing him of “physical and emotional abuse.” He is now “self-employed” as a “courier,” and is listed elsewhere as owning a window washing business. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and has never held elective office, although he tried and failed to win a house seat in 2014. It’s unclear why he threw his hat into this particular race, which involves a district in Oklahoma City.

    Bottom line, he sounds horrific and I will be checking out the results of the elections.

    We Are All Pro-Life

    Here’s an email from one of my favorite civil liberties group, headlined: “Tell your community: Abortion is a blessing!” The email flogs a flower power type sticker that you can put on your car with the four-word slogan. 

    “It’s been almost two months since the fall of Roe, but no court can ever make us stop fighting for all people to know they are trusted and supported as they build their own futures and make their own pregnancy decisions,” they say. “We cannot stop speaking out against cruel policies that take away our right to abortion and the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare … . Start the conversation in your community with your FREE ‘Abortion is a Blessing’ sticker!” 

    Hey, don’t get me wrong. The right to abortion and women’s health care is paramount. But abortion is not a “blessing.” It’s not a positive thing, a nice thing, or a fun thing or a good thing. It’s a difficult necessity. One reason we’ve lost the right to abortion is because the debate has been controlled by the religious right, which has turned it into a contest between “life” and “babies” versus (by implication) “death,” “murder,” and basically “infanticide.” 

    We have had to fight the uphill battle against people who are “pro-life” as if we ourselves by contrast are not. But everyone is pro-life. Everyone likes babies in principle. No one looks forward to an abortion or wants to be in the position where they have to have one. And the way forward in the debate is not to frame abortion as a “blessing,” even though I know what they’re trying to do. But to frame it as a profound civil liberty, and sometimes a matter of life or death for an adult. Now’s the time to stop letting the other side present themselves as sweetness and light and start hammering home the darkness of letting a bunch of overwhelmingly male state legislators dictate profound aspects of women’s lives.

    Part of why we won the right to marry was that our side told stories of devoted partnerships, decades spent together with no legal rights, families looking for acknowledgment. Their side had a few Bible verses and some nasty and mean things to say about gay men and lesbians. Meanwhile, we were coming out of the closet in increasing numbers, which meant our families and friends became our allies. 

    The fight to restore abortion rights will also be won by stories—not exactly the heartwarming sorts, but still, the stories we’re starting to hear of the dangers and difficulties of pregnancy, the horrors of rape and incest, and even the sadness of a teenage mistake that leaves a young girl’s dreams in pieces while a teenaged boy often cruises ahead.

    I read (in The Philadelphia Inquirer) that women are now registering to vote in significantly larger numbers in Pennsylvania, and that 62 percent of them are signing up as Democrats versus 15 percent as Republicans, and 54 percent are under 25. The information comes from a Democratic voter data firm, so it may be biased. But still. If these trends hold for other states, there’s hope for us yet.

    First Call

    I didn’t mean to expound on abortion for five-hundred words, but there you go. I was going to mention the Wales, Wisconsin, school district that banned pride flags, and other gay rights paraphernalia under the guise of inappropriate political speech on campus. 

    I also planned to tell you about the affidavit that parents have to sign in Oklahoma if they want their children to play sports; a sworn account of their sex at birth.  

    And I liked the story out of Maine, where no Christian schools have yet been able to get public funding even after the Supreme Court gave them the green light, because the state has tied taxpayer subsidies to anti-bias regulations. Yes, religious schools can now qualify for the state’s tuition program. But in order to qualify, they can’t discriminate against gays or trans students or parents. 

    Oh, I’m sure there was some other stuff out there in the GLBT news universe, but the moving finger has writ and now looks to see if the cocktail bar is open. Good news! I hear the ice cubes tinkling even as I type these final words.

    Published on August 25, 2022