Friday, May 13, 2016

247.1 - Some items on LGBTQ rights

Some items on LGBTQ rights

We start the week with some recent news on the LGBTQ rights front. I know I talk about this a lot. One reason is that it's out there, people are thinking/talking/arguing about it; another is that it's been a long-standing concern of mine and it's good to see it reaching that critical mass of public awareness; and most of all because despite the losses, setbacks, and bigotries involved, it still is pleasant to be able to give some attention to something where it feels that we as a society and as a culture actually are making progress. Grudging progress, perhaps, but progress nonetheless.

So let me start by noting that as I do this, Italy is about to pass a law creating civil unions for same-sex couples. [Update: The bill passed on May 11 by a vote of 372-51.]

Italy was the last major Western European country not to recognize some form of legal partnership for same-sex couples, either marriage or civil unions, and even this bill is a heavily-watered down version of one earlier this year after fierce criticism from the Catholic right of a clause that would allow one partner in a same-sex union to adopt the natural child of their partner.

(In one of those "ya gotta just laugh" occurrences, references to "faithfulness" were also stricken because that would make the union "too much like marriage." Apparently, if you're in a civil union, unfaithfulness is to be encouraged.)

Be that as it may, this is still a clear step forward. Heavily-Catholic Italy was a place where this was "never" supposed to happen. So never say never. And in a few years when this has become pretty routine and civilization has not collapsed, there is hope of going further.

By the way, I should emphasize that I referred to Western Europe. Eastern Europe is still a tough place to be anything other than straight.

Here at home, the epicenter du jour is North Carolina, which took its place in the spotlight after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance expanding protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the state legislature responded by banning cities and towns in the state from passing laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their localities. The state included what has become known as a "bathroom bill," one that requires transgender people to use public facilities that accord with the gender on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, that is, how they think of themselves, how they view themselves, how they live.

North Carolina AttGen Roy Cooper
The bill, numbered HB2, lead to a shower of condemnation, withdrawals by businesses, cancelled concerts, threats of boycotts, and even a statement by state Attorney General Roy Cooper that he would not defend the law in court, which together had Gov. Pat McCrory quickly scrambling to "clarify" the state law.

It has also lead to the Department of Justice suing North Carolina, with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling its bathroom bill "state-sponsored discrimination" aimed at "a problem that doesn't exist" and likening it to Jim Crow laws.

The "problem" in this case is what has become the go-to argument for the right-wingers, the vision of men putting on dresses and wigs in order to go into women's bathrooms and locker rooms to harass and assault the women and Omigosh! little girls there.

And yes, it is a problem that doesn't exist. Politifact recently reported "search[ing] far and wide" for an example someone convicted of committing a sex crime in the opposite gender's bathroom or locker room in a place that lets transgender people use the bathroom they feel most comfortable with. They couldn't find a single example anywhere in the US. Neither have any conservative groups been able to point to a single case. It's a problem That. Does. Not. Exist.

What's more, not only is this bathroom bill, as even FOX news host Chris Wallace was moved to call it, "a solution in search of a problem," according to new poll by Public Policy Polling, most folks in North Carolina don't like it much.

According to their results, just 36% of voters in the state support HB2, compared to 45% who oppose it. 54% think it's had a negative impact on North Carolina's economy and 53% think it had a negative effect on North Carolina's national reputation. Perhaps most important, only 37% think its passage has made the state safer while 44% think it has not. And while a lot of the rhetoric around the bill been about protecting women, women both oppose the bill and think it's failing to make the state safer by even wider margins than the population as a whole.

That sort of, if you will, split decision between on the one hand bigots making wild claims to justify their bigotry and on the other people trying to simply face the reality of the existence and therefore of the rights of transgender people, also occurred in another place recently: Texas.

Kent Scribner
On April 26, the Fort Worth Independent School District announced guidelines for school district personnel in acknowledging and supporting the gender identity and expression "that each student consistently and uniformly asserts." It includes instructing personnel to address access to restroom and locker room facilities.

Now, the phrase about gender identity that a student "consistently and uniformly asserts" would seem to do away the screeching about boys putting on skirts to get a peek in the girls' locker room, but of course, that doesn't matter. So Texas' lieutenant governor Dan Patrick is calling for the resignation of school superintendent Kent Scribner, claiming Scribner "has lost his focus and thereby his ability to lead the Fort Worth ISD [Independent School District]" and just to be sure he had covered all his bases, he also said "I call upon the parents within the Fort Worth ISD to take immediate steps to repeal this stealthy scheme and remove Dr. Scribner from his post."

Hilariously, Patrick accused Scribner of having "placed his own personal political agenda ahead of" the students. This despite the fact that just last week, Patrick made clear he would support Texas passing a law prohibiting transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Scribner, for his part, says he is proud of the rules and will not resign.

Finally on this topic for this week, remember Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of those shrieking about how same-sex marriage was the doom of all that is good in the world?

Well, Bobby Jindal isn't the governor of Louisiana any more and on April 13, the current governor, John Bel Edwards, issued an executive order that protects state workers and state contractors from being fired, discriminated against, or harassed based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

It has limitations in that it exempts religious organizations such as the Catholic church that contract with the state to provide services, and since it's an executive order, not a law, it doesn't effect those outside state government. And in fact, outside of a government setting Louisiana law does not provide protections against employment nondiscrimination for LGBTQ workers. Even so, this is still a clear - and considering the location, rather bold - step forward.

I still say: On this issue, it may take time, it may take a generation, but justice will come.

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