It’s been a long week, and I’ve got a headache, but regardless, it’s time for The Dive, our weekly column digging through the dirt to find all the LGBTQ news we didn’t get a chance to cover this week. I’ll try to be quick, so as not to give you whatever horrible germs I’m currently carrying.
Trump’s Religious Freedom Day Proclamation was a barely-veiled attack on LGBTQ people. But he still loves Log Cabin Republicans. President Trump declared this past Tuesday, January 16, Religious Freedom Day, as US Presidents have been doing for years and years. This holiday recognizes the January 16, 1786 passage of the Thomas Jefferson-authored Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom in the Virginia General Assembly. (Hey, look at us making history!) However, Trump chose to include some choice words that, without mentioning LGBTQ people directly, let us all know exactly what his agenda is, and remains, where we’re concerned.
“Our Constitution and laws guarantee Americans the right not just to believe as they see fit, but to freely exercise their religion. Unfortunately, not all have recognized the importance of religious freedom, whether by threatening tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech, or forcing people to comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs without sufficient justification,” the proclamation reads in part. It then goes on to say, “No American — whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner — should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.”
And of course, the “baker” and the “business owner” in question, are pretty clearly the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop and Altitude Express, on both of whose behalf the Department Of Justice has filed briefs in court cases supporting said businesses’ “right” to fire and refuse service to LGBTQ people.
Perhaps most frustrating of all was Trump’s letter to the Republican LGBTQ organization, Log Cabin Republicans, released to the public the day after the Religious Freedom Day proclamation. “What a way to start the year!” said Log Cabin President Gregory T. Angelo in response to the President’s letter, which read in part, “We are a Nation founded on the undeniable truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are all equal under our Constitution. No matter the color of our skin or our sexual orientation, we all live under the same laws, salute the same great American flag, and are made in the image of the same Almighty God.”
The words of the letter as it continued were viciously ironic in light of the DOJ and HHS actions that have assailed the rights of our community since Trump took office. “As we write the next great chapter of our Nation,” it read, “We reaffirm our commitment to these fundamental truths and will work to ensure that all Americans live in a country where they feel safe and where their opportunities are limitless.” This as the way is being paved for businesses to fire and refuse service to LGBTQ people, for health care providers to refuse to help those whose existence they disapprove of due to their religion. I suppose if you’re the sort of well-off Republican type to belong to LCR, this kind of thing isn’t as immediate a concern for you. But to the disenfranchised trans, queer, and POC members of the LGBTQ community, this all has to feel more than a touch ironic. Gahh.
A resolution has arrived in the Ash Whitaker case, but… it’s complicated. We told you last year about Ash Whitaker, who was in the process of suing his school district for refusing to recognize his gender and allow him to use the correct bathroom. In an echo of the Gavin Grimm case, it looked as if Whitaker would have his case heard by the Supreme Court sometime this year, after an injunction granted to stop the school board policy requiring him to use the bathroom of the gender he was assigned at birth was upheld by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Kenosha Unified School District had filed a petition to have their case overturned by the Supreme Court. As with Gavin Grimm’s case before it, this was a case that could set national precedent on whether trans kids would be allowed to use the correct bathrooms in public schools. Whitaker had won at every previous level on which the case was heard, so the situation was looking good.
And now, Whitaker’s case is over. Did he win? Sorta. The school district has come to a settlement with the Transgender Law Center, who represented Whitaker and his family, and agreed to withdraw their petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. This does, of course, mean that Ash Whitaker gets to use the correct bathroom at his high school, should he ever return as an alumni (he graduated in 2017). What it does not mean is that any sort of Federal precedent that could help future trans kids in similar situations has been set. Instead, as we were after the whole Gavin Grimm case played out, we’re left waiting for another case to come along that could push this issue forward on a larger level than just the individual.
Still, for Ash Whitaker, this feels like winning, and we’ll surely congratulate him on that. “Winning this case was so empowering and made me feel like I can actually do something to help other trans youth live authentically,” Whitaker told the Washington Blade. “My message to other trans kids is to respect themselves and accept themselves and love themselves. If someone’s telling you that you don’t deserve that, prove them wrong.”
And we at least do know that precedent has been set as high as the Circuit Court level, as Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi points out. “The precedent in the Seventh Circuit is definitive. Schools cannot single students out because they are trans. Period.” I guess now we’ll see if that carries any weight anywhere else.
Gay US Olympian Adam Rippon doesn’t think much of Mike Pence. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was picked to lead the US delegation at the Winter Olympics being held this year in South Korea. And upon hearing the news, US figure skater Adam Rippon, the first openly gay US Winter Olympian, let the world know his displeasure. “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon said to USA Today. “I’m not buying it.”
Rippon went on to tell USA Today that he was not interested in meeting Vice President Pence before he competes. “If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” Rippon said.
“If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I’m finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation,” Rippon said, “But I don’t think the current administration represents the values that I was taught growing up. Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I really believe in.” Rippon went on to confirm that he would not go to a post-Olympic celebration hosted by President Trump at the White House. Skier Lindsey Vonn has also said she would not attend the ceremony.
For the record, Mike Pence did not waste time in responding to Rippon’s comments. His press secretary, Alyssa Farah, sent a statement to USA Today that read in part, “This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact. Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.”
However, Pence’s true feelings on conversion therapy have long been the subject of speculation, and there is evidence to believe that he at least at one time supported it. In 2000, his Congressional campaign website spoke of LGBTQ people this way: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Sounds like pretty clear-cut support, right? But since coming into the national limelight after being chosen as Trump’s running mate in 2016, he’s insisted that this statement was misunderstood. What he says when the spotlight’s on him and what he might believe but consider too impolitic to publicly admit may very well be two different things, though.
LGBTQ people will be left out of New Zealand’s 2018 census. Apparently it’s because of “silly answers.” If you’ve ever been annoyed by people on facebook who trivialize transgender people’s struggles by making those dumb “I identify as the rear bumper of a 68 Camaro” comments or whatever (OK, yes, I read car forums sometimes… don’t ask me why, they’re generally a cesspool), then you can understand the pain of New Zealand’s census department, which, after trying out sexual orientation and gender identity-related questions on surveys from 2016 and 2017, have “ruled … out on statistical grounds” the process of continuing to collect such information, at least for now.
Statistics Minister James Shaw told New Zealand’s AM Show that “people put down different answers and they use different language to describe the same thing,” which apparently makes a more thorough going-over of the information just a bit too difficult for the people who work in the census department. Or something. Shaw mentioned similar inaccuracies with previous questions about religion and ethnicity, and gave the tone-deaf and insensitive comparison to significant amounts of people saying they follow the Jedi religion from Star Wars.
But one can’t help but feel that any information, no matter how inaccurate, would be better than the nothing they’re going to learn with the current census. Indeed, NZ gay rights activist Steven Oates said much the same on The AM Show. “In terms of health providers, social providers, organisations like Rainbow Youth, policy decisions, you’ve got to start somewhere – currently there is no information,” he said. “There have been lots of organisations that have pitched to the government that this is a good thing to do, especially around gender – there is nothing about how people identify their gender in the census.”
Weak sauce, New Zealand. Weak sauce.
OK, that’s enough for one (or two) weeks, right? Maybe next week I’ll feel a little less sick and dig up a bit more. Til then…
Top image via Wikimedia