Judge: Doctors Have “Religious Freedom” to Refuse to Treat Trans Patients, Women Who’ve Had Abortions
In the waning hours of 2016, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor unleashed a bizarre ruling that fundamentally alters the balance between medical treatment and religious freedom in the United States. O’Connor’s decision blocked a critical regulation enacted pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, which forbade doctors from discriminating against transgender patients or women who’ve previously had abortions. Most disturbingly, O’Connor found that such a nondiscrimination rule violated the “religious freedom” of doctors and insurance companies that consider gender transition and abortion to be “evil.” The ruling marks an extreme extension of the dubious logic behind the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision—and indicates that conservative courts believe the purported right of health care professionals to discriminate against patients trumps patients’ right to sound medical treatment.
Some background: The ACA bars discrimination in health care on the basis of sex, which the Department of Health and Human Services has interpreted to include “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy.” As many federal courts and agencies have concluded, “sex discrimination” is a somewhat ambiguous concept that can be read to include sex stereotyping and sex-based considerations. Anti-trans discrimination is clearly sex stereotyping, while discrimination against women who terminated a pregnancy is rooted in stereotypes about maternity and female sexuality. HHS’s rule thus filled a standard statutory gap and should have received judicial deference.
But O’Connor recognizes only one kind of sex discrimination—hostility against a man or woman for being a man or a woman. This belief directly contradicts Supreme Court authority; it also doesn’t make much sense, since it only raises the key question of who decides whether an individual is a man or a woman. (Is discrimination against an intersex person not sex discrimination? What about a person with ambiguous genitalia who identifies as male?) Still, O’Connor got away with this blinkered understanding of sex in blocking federal guidelines on bathroom access for transgender students. And naturally he pulled the same trick here, holding that the HHS rule does not build upon “sex discrimination” and is therefore unlawful.
2016 Wasn’t Totally Awful—17 Sources of Queer Joy in a Terrible Year
We asked Outward contributors to name one queer thing (queer and thing defined broadly) that brought them joy in 2016, a trying year for the LGBTQ community and for America as a whole. Our hope is that, taken together, these flashes of deviant brilliance might strengthen us all for the year to come.
The Anti-PC Backlash Is Hurting the Struggle for Trans Rights
Mainstream America, we hear you loud and clear: You’re sick to death of identity politics, particularly transgender identity politics.
Identity politics is a vague catch-all term encompassing every political issue that doesn’t primarily affect white, straight, cisgender men. It’s often paired with political correctness to invoke the oppressive expectation that white, straight, cisgender men should make an effort to consider other people’s feelings or take seriously issues that aren’t of immediate concern to them. Urging Democrats to refocus on the issues that straight, white, cisgender men care about has become something of a cottage industry among the people who make their living opining. The go-to example of out-of-touch liberalism and the obsession with identity is those “damn bathrooms,” as Mark Lilla put it in the New York Times. (See also CNN’s characterization of political leaders “fussing over gay marriage and transgender bathrooms” or Rich Lowry decrying the “political hothouse” in which concern over trans bathroom access can bloom.)
Bathroom access became the most visible transgender rights issue through some alchemy of public interest, media attention, and the existence of concrete legal measures in various locales. In light of this, it may surprise readers to learn that for most transgender people establishing the right to quietly and safely use public restrooms isn’t their top priority. It’s important, it’s a concern, and members of the trans community do share bathroom-access stories on social media and advocate for bathroom-access rights—but even more often we share stories about homicides, suicides, family and romantic partner violence, homelessness, trouble accessing health care, and difficulty finding work. We reach out to one another to find workplaces that might be willing to hire us, or roommates who might not recoil from living with one of us.
This Holiday, Let’s Be Honest About Gifts
Somewhere in southeast Michigan, a family gathers each Christmas for a perverse ritual. Every year, a man’s sons, daughters, and many grandchildren arrive with carefully selected offerings, and they await judgement. One by one, the man receives the gifts, and he offers a quick, merciless assessment: thumbs up or thumbs down. No one leaves wondering what grandpa thought of his presents, for he has spoken.
Learning about this tradition (second-hand, from a friend) filled me with simultaneous horror and envy. For the anxious holiday gift-giver, there are endless guides this time of year that suggest gift options for every conceivable scenario. But what about the anxious gift-getter? It’s at least as hard to give a good gift as to receive a bad one. This is especially true when it comes to extended family, the crafty aunts and Groupon-addled brothers-in-law who refuse to give merely cash or a bottle of wine. Every December, convinced my benefactors can detect my forced smile when I open their gifts, I find myself flipping through an unwanted book or trying on XXL pajama pants for all to see. I’m a terminal overactor. See—I love it!
Will I Set a Bad Example for My Kids if I Argue With Trump-Supporting Relatives?
It’s a paradox, really: When the results of elections mattered less, it wasn’t so hard to avoid talking politics at family holiday gatherings. Now, though, this kind of self-imposed muzzling seems like an act of civic irresponsibility. On the other hand, any conversation that contains the proper noun Trump can quickly descend into post-apocalyptic terrain, to no one’s benefit.
It’s hard to know what to do—but I’m not sure keeping my kids safe in the helicopter surveying the scorched earth below is the best policy.
How a New Crop of Filmmakers and Festival Organizers Are Breathing New Life Into “Lesbian Cinema”
If you asked a relatively knowledgeable movie-goer what notable lesbian-themed films have come out in the last three years, she’d probably tell you Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013), Carol (2015) and this year’s The Handmaiden. These are certainly noteworthy films, but they only account for a small portion of new monthly offerings in queer women’s entertainment. Yet queer women, not to mention mainstream viewers, are not accessing these movies at the rates they could be, nor are they flocking to the LGBTQ film festivals that help make them possible. Where does that lack of engagement leave lesbian cinema? And just how are queer film festivals and filmmakers working within the current paradigm? I spoke to a handful of players in the field, and what they’re seeing is very telling of the genre’s future.
“We do have lesbian cinema that is drawing audiences,” says Des Buford, director of exhibition and programming at Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco. “In terms of consumption, the desire’s still there. It’s always going to be there.”
But what may be true for Frameline isn’t always the case across the country, including in other large markets.
In 2016, Being a Lesbian Mother Is Boring. Under Trump, It Could Be Dangerous.
This time last year, I published an essay about rereading Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt and watching Todd Haynes’s then-new film adaptation, Carol, as a 44-year-old lesbian mother of a preschool-age son. I’d first read the novel in the early 1990s, the height of my dyke-bar years, tormented by closeted lesbians and straight women eager to sexually experiment. In particular, I was involved with an older woman ready to start a family—not with me, because back then it meant finding a husband. Gay marriage was hardly a twinkle in the queer eye, and the idea of building a family with a same-sex partner was considered radical.
When I pored over the novel’s pages, I was not much older than The Price of Salt’s 19-year-old protagonist, Therese, and I very much shared her tortured state of mind and heart, completely rapt by her intensifying friendship with an older, married woman, Carol. Would they ever consummate their suppressed desire for each other? I wondered. Would they end up together? What I was less interested in, what I barely remembered at all, was Carol’s brutal custody battle over her daughter, and the fact that her jilted soon-to-be-ex-husband was using her sexuality as his H-bomb in making the case for his having sole custody. That sort of injustice, I thought, well, it was one of the occupational hazards of being queer.
Dyke Culture and the Disappearing L
My generation of lesbian activists, who honed our identity politics and confronted racism and classism in the spaces of women’s music events and women’s bookstores, are approaching a cultural expiration date. Having achieved many of the radical goals we pursued through the late 20th century—same-sex marriage, antidiscrimination laws, openly lesbian celebrities and politicians—we are indeed celebrating new opportunities to be out and proud. Yet having been permitted to be “out,” many of us are now spending the energy of our menopausal years pushing back against encroaching disappearance; our own invisibility. Dyke identity, that specific nomenclature of the fierce woman-identified woman, has been replaced by the more inclusive queer, as a new era of thoughtful LGBT activists proclaim their disidentification with the categories woman and lesbian.
The recent, ongoing interrogation of those categories in academic theory and cyberactivism clashes with concurrent efforts to preserve, as historically meaningful and valuable, the past 40 years of lesbian cultural spaces. Yet making peace with the radical separatist past is an important historical step for those charting the progression of LGBT visibility, rights, and power. The present impasse, in the LGBT movement, is over how to frame lesbians’ successful construction of an autonomous subculture that was not G, that was not T, but L.
HB2 Repeal Fails After North Carolina Republicans Add Last-Minute Poison Pill
A legislative effort to repeal HB2, North Carolina’s malicious and deeply unpopular anti-LGBTQ law, failed on Wednesday after Republicans added a poison pill that violated the terms of a bargain struck earlier in the week. The debacle ensures that HB2 will remain a flashpoint in state and national politics well into the new year and keeps alive a legal challenge to the law. There are few lessons to be gleaned from Wednesday’s futile stab at a compromise, but there is one enduring moral to this story: The North Carolina GOP is never to be trusted under any circumstances.
This latest attempt to repeal HB2—which has now cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars through an economic boycott—should’ve been simple. Republicans have long insisted that the law was passed solely because the city of Charlotte enacted an LGBTQ nondiscrimination law. Although the Charlotte measure was just a generic nondiscrimination measure, nearly identical to those already in effect in 20 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia, Republicans threw a fit. They falsely alleged that the Charlotte ordinance endangered women and children by allowing sexual predators to assault them in bathrooms. HB2 nullified the Charlotte ordinance—and, Republicans declared, would remain on the books until Charlotte repealed its law.
On Monday, Charlotte did just that, repealing every provision to which Republicans had objected on the condition that the legislature repeal HB2 by the end of the year. In response, outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory called a special legislative session to repeal HB2 on Wednesday. But on Tuesday night, Dallas Woodhouse, the deeply deranged executive director of the North Carolina GOP, wrote that Charlotte had “lied directly to the people” and broken its promise. Charlotte, Woodhouse discovered, had retained provisions of its code that prohibited the city from hiring contractors who have discriminated against subcontractors on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Although Republican legislators had never objected to this minor protection, Woodhouse asserted that it was part of the deal. “The HB2 blood is now stain soaked on [Charlotte’s] hands and theirs alone,” he wrote.
Minnesota Rep. Susan Allen Is Two-Spirit, a Lesbian, and She Won’t Be Assimilated
When Susan Allen was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2012, she became the first openly lesbian Native American woman to win office in any state legislature. But framing that achievement as one for the lesbian community alone obscures another aspect of Allen’s identity, and one that is directly connected to her Native American ancestry: Allen also identifies as “two-spirit.” While Americans are increasingly familiar with the elements that make-up our modern LGBTQ abbreviation, other, often older queer identities like two-spirit remain unappreciated to the point of erasure. But if Allen and other two-spirit folks have their way, that’s going to change.
For Rep. Allen, coming out as lesbian wasn’t a huge struggle; her mother called her to ask if she was gay. “She said thank you for telling me, and that was the end of the phone conversation,” Allen recalled in an email. “I was relieved that she asked. I didn't ask why. I don't remember any follow-up conversation. Coming out made me feel closer to my family.” From then on, there was no real divisiveness in her family or her tribe. She even ran for office advocating for marriage equality—there’s no question that being an out and proud lesbian is important to her. But that word only describes her sexuality, and is thus only part of the story. To grasp a more complete picture of Allen’s queerness, you have to consider gender—and that’s where two-spirit comes in.