Before we dive into the refreshing waters of this weekâ€™s GLBT news pond, with its little waterfall and the rocky ledge where we can dangle our feet, can I ask a simple question? Why are we still discussing austerity and the long-term debt in this country when Spain and now Britain have both fallen back into a recession? They tried cost cutting, and, um, it put the brakes on economic growth just like most nonpartisan observers predicted. Naylor was a military wife with three kids when she was outed by a San Antonio newspaper in the 1970s. You donâ€™t have to remember the 1970s to know instinctively what it was like back then. And in Texas it was worse. But instead of creeping around on the sidelines, Naylor became an activist and a lobbyist at a time when promoting gay civil rights was absolutely thankless.
So donâ€™t do it, and stop talking about it as if we have no choice in the matter. Economic growth is the solution to the debt problem, period, and growth should be the only focus of government policies. While Iâ€™m at it, does anyone recall that Herbert Hoover was a laissez faire businessman with private sector experience? How did that work out for ya, America?
Moving on, I regret to inform my more superficial readers that my top headline this week is a story only lawyers could love, involving an interpretation of Title VII by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Making matters worse, for some of you at least, the topic will also lead me to rehash my opposition to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) in detail.
But listen! Itâ€™s important, and itâ€™s actually fascinating. This is how civil rights progress is often made. Not just in the streets, but in the slow dance between case law and social evolution.
In other news, thereâ€™s a priest who says Jesus was gay, and conservatives are up in arms about candy bar partners â€śMike and Ike,â€ť who are getting a gay divorce as part of an ad campaign. So you see, thereâ€™s something for everyone in todayâ€™s column.
Take My ENDA, Please
Title VII is the section of the Civil Rights Law of 1964 that protects everyone, except us, from discrimination in the workplace. Over the years, however, federal courts have sometimes allowed us to slip under its protections. Why? To simplify the story, itâ€™s because in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that the lawâ€™s ban on discrimination â€śbecause of sexâ€ť also outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender stereotyping.
That case involved a woman who was denied a partnership because she was too butch, but the Courtâ€™s reasoning extends to any kind of gender stereotyping, including trans bias. In essence, the Supreme Court banned trans discrimination over 20 years ago.
Of course, the justices did so inadvertently. And lower courts basically ignored the implication of this 1989 opinion (Price Waterhouse) for years. But gradually, Price Waterhouse has come into its own, leaving us in the strange position of watching some federal courts strike down employers who discriminate against trans workers or effeminate men, while turning a blind eye to your run-of-the-mill antigay bias.
The EEOC is the agency that interprets Title VII for the purposes of federal law, and the big news this week is that the Commission has formally ruled that trans bias is illegal. Itâ€™s amazing news.
Some gay pundits are now wondering whether or not we should rewrite the ill-fated Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) to cover only sexual orientation. Conventional wisdom believes it would be easier to pass without gender identity, and if gender identity is now officially covered under the far more powerful ambit of Title VII, why anchor it to ENDA?
The real question, however, is why we are still bothering with ENDA to begin with. Back in the day, GLBT strategists thought it would be impossible to add â€śsexual orientationâ€ť to the language of Title VII. Ergo, they came up with a special GLBT workplace law, filled with enough loopholes to mollify the hostile Congresses of the 1990s.
Two decades later, ENDA is no closer to passage, and it would arguably do more harm than good. For the moment, at least some cases of gay bias are litigated under Title VII. But if ENDA becomes law, courts would be obligated to look first to the most recent act of Congress and our limited access to Title VII would vanish.
And why would that matter? Because Title VII carries over half a century of court interpretation and offers very broad protections. ENDA, by contrast, would come with a blank slate, a zillion religious and other exemptions, and (when last I checked) no right to money damages. More importantly, why in 2012 are we fighting for a weak, gay-specific bill rather than trying to add â€śsexual orientationâ€ť to the nationâ€™s most effective workplace law?
Thereâ€™s only one reason. Itâ€™s because weâ€™ve fought for ENDA for so many years, and we think we might actually pass it one of these days. We canâ€™t give up. We donâ€™t want to start over on a revision of Title VII, because weâ€™ve put so much effort into ENDA.
By the way, I just heard on TV that kids are drinking hand sanitizer because it contains tons of alcohol. Kids, kids, kids! For Godâ€™s sake, thatâ€™s what your parentsâ€™ liquor cabinets are for. I suppose that hand sanitizer isnâ€™t that much worse than Boones Farm Strawberry Hill, but itâ€™s close. And I can still taste that stuff in the back of my throat.
So here are my final comments on the subject. Sexual orientation bias will eventually be covered under Title VII. The EEOC opinion effectively gives us the right to sue when we are harassed or fired for being too masculine or too feminine, a common thread to gay bias.
Beyond that, some courts may interpret â€śgender stereotypingâ€ť to encompass homophobia, even in cases that donâ€™t feature classic gay characteristics. After all, some homophobia is simply based on the idea that â€śreal menâ€ť arenâ€™t attracted to other men and â€śreal womenâ€ť arenâ€™t attracted to other women.
Lastly, at present we have almost as good a chance of amending Title VII in Congress as we have of passing ENDA. But if we pass ENDA, we can no longer amend Title VII. Practical politics will stand in our way for another two decades. Let sanity rule and put ENDA to rest.
What Did Jesus Do?
Iâ€™m not particularly religious, but like most of us, I was raised breathing the air of our nationâ€™s Judeo Christian atmosphere. For some reason, the idea that Jesus was gay doesnâ€™t attract me. Nor would I appreciate the notion that, say, Jesus liked his meat well done or had a closet full of custom-tailored tunics.
Heâ€™s supposed to transcend quirks of personality, donâ€™t you think? I should probably explain that an Anglican priest wrote an op-ed in the Guardian claiming that Jesus had a relationship with John because John was hanging out with Mary at the cross. Oh, and Jesus was a bachelor.
I guess that those of us who think Jesus represents a quasi-mythical set of ideas have little patience for biological factoids. That said, He was reportedly fond of pedicures and stag dinner parties. Who knows?
I think Iâ€™ll skip over the â€śMike and Ikeâ€ť candy bar controversy. Iâ€™ve never even heard of this product and I care little about their faux marital problems.
Straight Eye for the Queer Guy
So, Mitt Romney hired a gay guy, former UN Ambassador spokesman Richard Grenell, to advise him on foreign policy. Good for Mittens. I think itâ€™s another sign that the Mittster does not intend to play the gay card in his bid for the conservative base. Or, if he does, heâ€™ll play the deuce or the trey rather than the Ace or the King.
Now, according to the Washington Post, Mr. Grenell needs to tone down his snarky tweets about women, calling for Rachel Maddow to â€śtake a breath and put on a necklace,â€ť or suggesting that Hillary Clinton â€śis starting to look like Madeline Albright,â€ť or (my personal favorite) wondering if Callista Gingrich snaps her hair on every morning.
Hey, Richard. Itâ€™s a presidential campaign, not open mike night at the Log Cabin Comedy Club.
Hereâ€™s Bucks in Your Eye!
Now Iâ€™m having a problem matching my lighthearted mood to the disturbing reports of the gay teen who committed suicide (in Iowa), the activist who was murdered (in Halifax), and the college student who was beaten (in Illinois).
Letâ€™s just acknowledge that bullying and hatred do not take a week off just because I donâ€™t feel like dealing with violent subjects. Unfortunately, there will no doubt be another set of tragedies to cover in another seven days.
Meanwhile, I learned that the man who wants to put a marriage equality measure on the Ohio ballot runs a company that specializes in (wait for it!) organizing petition drives. Ah, the plot thickens!
Equality Ohio, HRC and the national group Freedom to Marry are among the major gay rights groups that have distanced themselves from this untimely effort, which is likely to end in an expensive and needless defeat at the polls.
Earlier this month, cautious activists tried to arrange a meeting with Ian James, the driving force behind the deceptively named group, â€śFreedom to Marry Ohio,â€ť that recently got the green light from state officials to start collecting names for a ballot petition. James cancelled the meeting due to â€śharsh wordsâ€ť that he read in the press. At the same time, his co-chair, local politician Tim Hagan, stepped down from his post due to the lack of broader community support.
Other Ohio leaders who initially backed the idea of campaigning for marriage equality are also reportedly having second thoughts. Freedom to Marry Ohio is not connected to Freedom To Marry, and is based at the offices of Ian Jamesâ€™s consulting firm, Strategy Network and Professional Petitions Management.
A marriage campaign in the Buckeye State would cost upwards of $10 million and would require the collection of some 500,000 names in order to qualify for the 2013 ballot. Considering that polls are not in our favor, one wonders why a single individual is angling for an uphill fight at this particular moment. Hmmm.
The Greatest Gay Generation
Letâ€™s see now. There are some sexcapades afoot in Australia and North Carolina, but theyâ€™re too complicated to bother with. I prefer the regular old scandals where pandering politicians get caught with their pants down in the park.
Pat Robertson came out against gay bashing bullies, which surprised me. First medical marijuana, now this. Did somebody slip him a sanity pill? I doubt it.
But the story Iâ€™ve been avoiding this week is one that has made me extremely sad. A heroine of gay rights in Texas, Bettie Naylor, has died at 84, leaving her partner Libby Sykora, and the entire gay community of Austin, bereft.
Gays and lesbians were reviled. Even our so-called allies were noncommittal, and we were actually grateful for their indifference. The courage it took for Naylor to advocate for gays and lesbians was tremendous.
In time, she was rewarded with iconic status in Texas, and also as a national figure who was a founding member of HRC and the National Womenâ€™s Political Caucus. She was also adored throughout my city, Austin, where she could paint the town red with the best of us. Up until a relatively short time ago, Bettie Naylor was the star of every protest, every fundraiser, every gala dinner, every pride dance. I last saw her a month or so ago, in classic lesbian fashion, at a Lady Longhorn game.
We are saying goodbye to the generation that brought us from the far margins of society into the mainstream of American life, and they will be missed.
A new column by Ann is available every week at sfbaytimes.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.