The Rostow Report by Ann Rostow

I’m not optimistic about Senate support for the Equality Act, even as the arc of history seems to be bending our way

NO LONGER THE SOCIAL OUTCASTS

A massive annual poll of 10,000 Americans run by the Public Religion Research Institute has just released its latest findings on attitudes towards GLBT rights, revealing a continual rise in support across all ages, religions, races and political parties. If it weren’t so extraordinary, I wouldn’t be leading my column with this news, since there are few things more tedious than extensive reporting on poll results.

And it’s not as if the approval levels jumped. They have been rising steadily. Now, however, some 76 percent of all Americans favor GLBT civil rights in general, including 85 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans. Ten years ago, for example, only 32 percent of Republicans supported marriage equality; now it’s 51 percent, a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless. Of Republicans!

The softest area of support remains those who believe it’s wrong to let religious businesses deny services to GLBT customers. Here, 58 percent of Republicans think this kind of discrimination is fine, as do 49 percent of white evangelicals, our least gay-friendly religious group.

I could go on, but you get the general idea. We are no longer the social outcasts we once were, even as a sturdy minority remains hostile to our civil rights and a large faction thinks religion should outweigh gay rights under the law. That said, big majorities favor immigration reform and limits on gun ownership, and yet Republican officeholders won’t go near these areas with a ten-foot pole. I’m not optimistic about Senate support for the Equality Act, even as the arc of history seems to be bending our way.

ANTI-TRANS LAWS GAINING GROUND

Considering the poll results just discussed, it’s not surprising that GOP lawmakers in the Red States have dropped their antigay crusades and shifted their attacks towards transgender Americans, first through bathroom bills and now with bills that ban trans girls and boys from competing in sports in their non-birth gender. I know we talked about this last time, but at this point some 20 states are pushing this type of legislation, along with other bills that ban doctors from prescribing meds to temporarily delay puberty for trans tweens. 

The sports bills, heralded as a way to protect cis-gender athletes from imagined defeat by muscular young men intent on bullying their way to victory on the girls tennis team, are now starting to reach the desks of governors around the country. In March, the governor of Mississippi signed one, while super-spreader Kristi Noem said she would not sign the South Dakota version unless college kids were dropped from the ban. Noem reportedly feared backlash from the NCAA, which has its own rules on the subject that allow trans women to play sports after a year of hormone therapy. 

The governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, refused to sign his state’s bill, telling a news conference: “I just think there’s a better way. And I hope there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution. I don’t understand all of this. I don’t. But I’m trying to understand more. I’m trying to listen and learn and, again, trying to help kids figure out who they are and keep them alive.” Meanwhile, bills have just reached the governors of Tennessee and Arkansas (and an earlier iteration of this law in Idaho has been put on a court hold). 

You may remember the boycotts in Indiana after passage of an antigay bill, and in North Carolina after lawmakers banned transgender bathroom use. These reckonings, fueled by strong support for our side from corporate America and the NCAA, have been enough to keep many bad proposals from passing over recent years. It remains to be seen, however, whether our allies will once again unite to punish this latest example of GLBT-bashing. 

MUST WE ALWAYS FIND A GAY ANGLE?

Any college basketball fans out there? In my years of filling out March Madness brackets, I have rarely produced such a disastrous slate of mis-picks, nor have my favorite teams (Texas and Kansas) disappointed me to such an extent. I think the final straw was yet another cut away to insipid remarks by “Lily” from ATT, the stereotypical clueless female who deploys her complete ignorance on all things sports for what purports to be comic relief. Sorry guys, but only a man or a group of men would decide that these inane interludes deserved airtime.

What else is on my mind? I receive a ton of messages from GLBT groups, mostly helpful ones alerting me to this or that important development in our colorful communal lives. But must we always find a gay angle to even the most generic news events? I just read one about how a number of GLBT Americans are having a hard time signing up for Covid vaccines. Hello? You don’t have to be gay or trans to have a hard time signing up for Covid vaccines! What’s next? Gay people under 21 aren’t allowed to drink alcohol? Hardly any GLBT basketball fans picked Oral Roberts to beat OSU in the First Round?

Finally, I must be in a bitchy mood, because I just read a piece about community activists urging the city of Chicago to drop new felony charges against Jusse Smollett, the actor who reportedly staged his own hate crime two years ago. Some 15,000 people signed a petition saying the six charges against Smollett are too harsh compared to other cases involving white miscreants, and therefore reflect anti-black and anti-gay bias. I usually agree with petitions like this without even thinking about it. But Smollett not only cried wolf over a fake hate crime, he staged it himself, paying two men to attack him in the street and put a rope around his neck. The evidence includes the men’s immediate testimony, text messages between Smollett and the perpetrators, and Smollett’s own behavior at the time. 

There are few things worse than feeding distrust against GLBTs through a false hate crime accusation. But conspiring to create a seeming hate crime in order to gain sympathy is the worst. The damage it does to real victims is unforgivable. Let the wheels of justice keep spinning here. n


arostow@aol.com