Monday, March 30, 2009

Florida Flush

These days when I think of Florida I don't think of Walt Disney World or spring training or the Everglades. I think of bathrooms.

That's because some Floridians seem to think of nothing else. They're not potty mouths, they're potty heads.

Consider events in the city of Gainesville, home to the University of Florida. Last year the city commission added gender identity to Gainesville's anti-discrimination ordinance, which already included sexual orientation. The city's transgender citizens were protected from discrimination in housing and employment, plus they could use the public restroom of their choice.

And so began the War of the Loo.

Irate bathroom defenders got a charter amendment on the ballot to sweep away the city's protection for trans folk AND gays and lesbians. A new broom sweeps mean.

A group called Citizens for Good Public Policy led the forces of bathroom segregation. The name Citizens for Good Public Plumbing would've been more to the point.

The group took its campaign to the airwaves. In one ad, a young girl leaves a playground and heads into a women's restroom. Lurking outside, a grungy-looking man follows her in. Words on the screen read, "Your City Commission Made This Legal."

How easily, in a political campaign, truth swirls right down the drain.

A spokesman for Citizens for Good Pubic Policy noted his side's message stayed consistent during the campaign: "Keep men out of women's restrooms!" He declared, "That's our motive, plain and simple."

In the end, this all-bathroom, all-the-time approach didn't work; on March 24 Gainesville voters rejected repealing LGBT civil rights. Three cheers and a 21-toilet-brush salute to the people of Gainesville!

A week before the Gainesville vote, the city of Fort Lauderdale enthroned a new mayor, ending the 18-year reign of Jim Naugle, a man known in and beyond Florida for his fixation with facilities.

Term limits prevented Naugle, a conservative Democrat, from running again. Thank the porcelain god, for presumably this means he won't touch off another firestorm like he did in the summer of 2007 when he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that public restrooms in the beach town were plagued by "homosexual activity."

He wanted to install a robotic toilet near the gay beach as a deterrent. Robo-john as robo-cop.

Naugle also said he doesn't use the word "gay," since most homosexuals "aren't gay. They're unhappy."

I don't have to tell you that a certain substance hit the fan. The local gay community launched a "Flush Naugle" campaign. At the height of the flap, Naugle invited the media to come hear an apology. He proceeded to offer one—to families, for not being aware how bad the problem of gay sex in public restrooms actually was.

Fort Lauderdale police called bathroom sex "a non-existent problem." But Naugle's mind was bogged down in the bog.

Naugle had supporters. A man in Fort Worth, Texas, e-mailed the mayor to say, "It's time us straight people started taking our country back from these sick people and make them either get help for their disease or go to jail."

Ideas suitable for flushing.

Probably the people taking the most comfort from Naugle's loss of station are local tourism officials. They had toiled to make Fort Lauderdale gay-friendly, and the city collected lots of money from gay visitors. After Naugle roiled the waters with his comments, he was removed from the Tourism Development Council. Yes, he was no longer privy to what went on.

Tourism officials said the mayor's remarks kept gays away and also kept away families who feared the city was a sewer. As far as the officials are concerned, Naugle's mouth worked but his mind was indisposed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prom Fashion Fray

At this time of year, the thoughts of high school seniors all across America turn toward the prom. How do I rent a tux? Can Mom afford that dress I want? Is the guy I like going to be a total jerk and ask a freshman instead? Will I win my lawsuit?

Okay, that one isn't so common. But it's very much a concern for a 17-year-old lesbian student at Lebanon High School in central Indiana. The senior is suing the school district for the right to wear a tuxedo to her prom.

Wow. The closest I came to a prom-related legal struggle was considering charging my date, his Triumph convertible, and the wind with a wrongful pre-prom assault on my coif.

This youngster in Indiana, whose name hasn't been revealed, knows herself a lot better than I did at her age. Her school principal told her she couldn't wear a tux to the prom, and she must wear a dress. She responded by calling in the American Civil Liberties Union. By God and Calvin Klein, she's fighting for what she wants!

Indystar.com reported that court papers say the blossoming lesbian doesn't wear dresses because she feels they express a sexual identity that she doesn't embrace.

I wonder if such sentiments caused a collective Hoosier heart attack. After all, the school district's longstanding policy on prom attire—only boys may wear tuxedos, and girls must wear dresses—had never been challenged.

Now the ACLU of Indiana is arguing that the policy violates the federal Title lX law prohibiting gender-based discrimination in schools. The group also claims the policy violates her constitutional right of free speech. "From a First Amendment standpoint, wearing a tuxedo makes an affirmative statement about her own sexuality," said her lawyer.

It can look pretty hot, too, but I doubt anybody mentioned that in the court filings.

The head of the American Family Association of Indiana said he supports the principal's decision because it reflects the community's standards.

No doubt. In those rigid standards lies the problem. As unfortunate as a stinkweed corsage.

"I don't think we should allow kids to act out certain impulses," said the AFA guy. "A girl in a tuxedo doing this as a sexual statement, that's something the school should draw the line at."

Maybe if she said she was doing this as a fashion statement, he'd approve. She could claim bow ties are slimming.

This isn't Indiana's first rumpus over prom garb. In 1999 a male high school senior in Indianapolis successfully sued to wear a dress to the event. In 2006 a transgender student in Gary was denied entry to the prom for wearing an evening gown; Kevin "K.K." Logan's lawsuit is pending.

None of the accounts I read of the Lebanon High School senior's battle mentioned whether she has a date for the prom. Does she have a girlfriend? Is she planning to ask someone to accompany her? Is she expecting to go alone or with friends?

If she has a date, the federal court better get moving. The prom is April 25. The girls will have precious little time to coordinate colors!

The lesbian has a sensible classmate by the name of DeAmber Jaggers who told Indystar.com that she suspects the school made its decision due to the girl's orientation.

"What bothers me is that you won't let someone wear something conservative, but you'll let girls go with see-through parts of their outfits or something short," said Jaggers. "A tuxedo's not hurting anybody. Why should it matter?"

Personally, I've come to agree with the school district that not just anybody can wear a tux. I say an individual who wants to wear one must first be able to spell "cummerbund."

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Rocky Time in the Rockies

State senators in Utah and Colorado delivered hugely homophobic rants lately. It seems this country is suffering an outbreak of Rocky Mountain spotted fervor.

In the Utah case, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, sat down with a documentary filmmaker to discuss the involvement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in California's Proposition 8 battle.

Buttars said gay activists are "probably the greatest threat to America going down."

Not the frightening economy, not the two wars America's fighting, not the health care mess. The greatest threat to America is Americans demanding equality. The truth is out. Time for me to admit this gay activist is doing her part to bring America down: I've signed up to bring a town in Idaho, a subdivision in Michigan and a mall in Florida to their knees.

Buttars also said, "What is the morals of a gay person? You can't answer that, because anything goes."

Yes indeed. Today I managed to lie, embezzle, assault and commit arson. All before lunch.

The state senator compared gay activists to Islamic radicals. "Muslims are good people and their religion is anti-war. But it's been taken over by the radical side. And the gays are totally taken over by the radical side."

While I've never known a gay activist who wanted to blow up planes, I could suggest the idea at the next meeting. Maybe we could talk some eager young twink into it. Promise him that in the next life--to which we are rushing him--he'll be rewarded with an entire troop of Chippendales dancers.

After a Salt Lake City TV station aired Buttars' comments, people inside and outside the state called for him to resign. Fat chance. He has refused even to issue an apology.

The Utah Senate president, a fellow Republican, removed Buttars as chair of a judicial committee—to keep him from being a distraction, not to punish him. Buttars' colleagues agree with much of what he said. One senator noted Buttars' language was "immoderate," adding, "I don't believe that all gays have no morals whatsoever."

Oh. Goody.

Over in Denver, Colorado state Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, morphed into a preacher during debate on a bill extending health benefits to partners of gay state employees.

In a six-minute speech, Renfroe called homosexuality an "abomination" and an "offense to God." He quoted several Bible verses, including that pip from Leviticus that says men who sleep together shall be killed.

He pinched a page from the playbook of Sen. Buttars in the neighboring state, comparing gays not to terrorists but to something similar.

"I'm not saying this (homosexuality) is the only sin that's out there," he explained. "We have murder. We have all sorts of sin. We have adultery. And we don't make laws making those legal. And we would never think to make murder legal."

So homosexuality and murder are on a par. With apologies to John Denver, I'm experiencing a Colorado Rocky Mountain low.

After the appropriate uproar, Renfroe told the press he didn't mean to suggest that homosexuality and murder were the same. He also said he doesn't advocate punishing gay people.

However, he still holds that all sin, including homosexuality, offends God, and the state shouldn't enact laws condoning any of them. Amen and harumph.

Just when these two state senators have cast a pall over the region, an antidote arrives. Roger Carrier, a straight retired teacher from Salt Lake, was disgusted by the comments of Sen. Buttars. To combat what he feels is growing homophobia among Utah politicians, he's proposed placing a statue of Harvey Milk at the Utah Capitol.

It'll never happen. But Carrier showed a happier attitude in the high altitude.