The Rostow Report by Ann Rostow

In happier news, lesbian Jane Castor was elected Mayor of Tampa, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand hung out with the drag queens at a gay bar in Des Moines, exchanging fashion tips and trading outfits. Okay. I like it, Kirsten! But I still don’t forgive you for rousting Al Franken.

Brace For A Devastating Answer

There’s a decent chance that by this time next year, our fight for LGBT civil rights will have been dealt a massive setback by the Supreme Court, one so powerful that it could take years or maybe a generation to recover from it. Thank you Jim Comey, Vladimir Putin and all the cable news shows that furrowed their brows over Hillary Clinton’s email server while chuckling along with the hijinks of Donald Trump.

Maybe your eyes glaze over when you see headlines about “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” or read about workplace discrimination in general. But hear this: the Supreme Court has not simply agreed to decide whether or not you can be fired for being gay. It has essentially agreed to decide whether discrimination against gays and transpeople is okay, or not okay. If they decide it’s okay, the repercussions will extend to federal protections in housing and education. Even in towns or states with specific language on the books that cover LGBT residents, an antigay decision by the High Court will effectively give religious actors the green light to seek a “faith based” exception to local laws.

We have been somewhat fortunate to have enjoyed a string of four major gay rights victories since 1996: Romer, Lawrence, Windsor and Obergefell. All four of these opinions were written by Anthony Kennedy, a man who agreed that gays should not be harassed or harmed, but could not quite reach the conclusion that gays deserved equal treatment. Now, in large part thanks to Kennedy’s hesitancy, the core question of our right to equality will be presented to a conservative Court majority. Kennedy, the “champion of gay rights,” had plenty of chances to state plainly that antigay discrimination has no place in 21st Century American society. Instead, he left the question wide open and now we must brace for a devastating answer.

Roberts Rules

I assume you were already aware that the High Court decided to consolidate and accept two gay workplace discrimination cases; one, a Second Circuit ruling in favor of a (now dead) gay sky diving instructor, and two, an Eleventh Circuit ruling against a gay social worker in Georgia. Since both appellate courts reached different conclusions on whether gays are covered by Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination in the workplace, it will be up to the justices to sort it out.

Further, the Court also accepted a Title VII case involving a transgender woman, who was fired by a funeral home after transitioning. There, the Sixth Circuit ruled in her favor. Ironically, transgender workplace bias cases have a stronger legal argument under Title VII than gay bias cases thanks to a 1989 Supreme Court opinion that said employers may not force workers to conform to sexual stereotypes. Ominously, this thirty-year-old decision will also be under review, raising the possibility that the High Court might undermine a key precedent that our legal allies have increasingly used to our advantage for many years.

It’s not good! 

LGBT advocates and commentators are left wishing and hoping that somehow Chief Justice John Roberts will not want to go down in history as the man who presided over the LGBT version of Dred Scott or Plessy v Ferguson. Roberts is no fan of the gay community, as witnessed by his over-the-top dissent in Obergefell, the 2015 marriage equality case. Yet a critical five years will have passed by the time this next opinion is formulated. Can Roberts really not imagine what a negative ruling will do to our lives? He has been known to walk a fine line when the long range political landscape requires it. Maybe he will save us from absolute disaster. Maybe not.

Schock Value

Well, we can’t linger on this distressing subject for our entire column. We’ll get back to it next month, and the month after that, and the month after that. Meanwhile, do any of you recall the Illinois political prodigy, Republican Aaron Schock? This was the guy who was elected to Congress in his twenties, only to resign in disgrace, accused of diverting campaign funds and other monies to his personal use. He also decorated his office, “Downton Abbey style” as the press described it, again using ill-gotten gains. 

Schock voted against allowing gays to serve in the military. He voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (remember ENDA?) and he opposed adding sexual orientation to federal hate crime laws. He also fought off gay rumors, some of which were based on clues that were very very difficult to explain away. I’m thinking of the outfit he wore to a White House picnic in 2010; white pants, a pink checkered shirt, and a canvas turquoise belt. C’mon now! 

Flash forward nine years and our bad boy was recently observed running around shirtless at Coachella, kissing and dancing with other men and perhaps (in a fuzzy photograph) sticking his hand down the front of some guy’s pants. Draw your own conclusions.

Travel Tips

As you may have already read by now, the Kingdom of Brunei has instituted draconian laws against sodomy, adultery and theft, calling for death by stoning for gays, amputations for thievery and whipping for things like wearing the clothes of another gender. Needless to say, these “reforms” were not greeted well by the rest of the world, and calls arose to boycott the Brunei king’s snazzy hotels in LA and major European cities. 

Now, the Kingdom has written a four-page letter to the European Parliament, insisting that the penalties for homosexuality will rarely be enforced. “The penal sentences of hadd—stoning to death and amputation—imposed for offenses of theft, robbery, adultery and sodomy, have extremely high evidentiary threshold, requiring no less than two or four men of high moral standing and piety as witnesses, to the exclusion of every form of circumstantial evidence,” Brunei spinmeisters explained reassuringly. The standard of proof, they went on, will be exacting, requiring even more than beyond reasonable doubt.

In other words, no straight men will be inadvertently caught up in any criminal pursuit. Only proven homosexuals, condemned by at least two respectable witnesses, might be killed by the state. Well, that’s a relief! The Europeans don’t seem particularly impressed and are considering freezing Brunei assets and blacklisting the king’s hotel portfolio.

As for readers of THE FIGHT, you should be avoiding the Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel. When in Paris, steer clear of the Meurice and the Plaza Athenee. Don’t book at the Dorchester in London, or 45 Park Lane. Go ahead and cross the Hotel Eden off your Rome itineraries, and forget about Coworth Park in Ascot or Milan’s Hotel Principe di Savoia. Bon voyages! 

A Little Moment Of Sweetness

In happier news, lesbian Jane Castor was elected Mayor of Tampa, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand hung out with the drag queens at a gay bar in Des Moines, exchanging fashion tips and trading outfits. Okay. I like it, Kirsten! But I still don’t forgive you for rousting Al Franken.

 Finally, in unrelated non-gay news, a five-year-old Michigan boy called 911 and asked the police to deliver some McDonald’s, which they did! A little moment of sweetness in this bitter world of ours.