Wisconsin Justice Brian Hagedorn Correct: “The Business Of Courts Is Public Business”

The ruling Friday from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court was direct and to the point. The request from those bringing suit against the Madison School District to remain anonymous was denied in a case dealing with a gender identity policy. They must disclose their identities to attorneys arguing the case. The court did allow them to proceed using pseudonyms publicly.

There are many perspectives that can be had about the policy and its implications on both transgender youth, and parents or guardians of those children. I will not wade into that fight, but rather wish to write about the process of open and transparent government that must be adhered to if all are to be treated and viewed fairly.

If our system of government is to be open and transparent there can be no justification for keeping the names of those seeking redress through the court system secret.  As Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in the majority opinion, “While we protect certain vulnerable legal participants, such as children and crime victims, the business of courts is public business, and as such is presumed to remain open and available to the public.”

If one can not stand in the light of day to their convictions when seeking a remedy in the court system then perhaps there is a problem with the position that they are privately taking. 

It should be remembered John Hancock used a large bold script when signing the Declaration of Independence, so large in fact that ”…fat George can read it without his spectacles.”  That should be the model of our convictions today.  If people can not publically stand by their views as expressed in court proceedings and are ashamed of having their names made known in the press or seen in the public square, we need to ask why they seek cover?

When one lobbies in any fashion for the government to take any action it should be public knowledge.  The consequences of using a conservative law practice to attempt, through the court process, to hide and harbor those who bring a suit when perhaps they are not even living in the school district or have students in our Madison schools run counter to the openness that our government should always strive to maintain.  (The same holds true for the individual who signs a petition concerning a heated issue.)

This issue of anonymity should not be a conservative vs. liberal issue but instead viewed as one of strict adherence to higher ideals. A good government issue. A process concern about how to proceed when our judicial system operates.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a favorite of conservatives, spoke to this issue in oral arguments regarding individuals seeking anonymity for signing a petition to get policy matters on the ballot. The oral argument was in John Doe # 1, et al., v. Reed, et al. (09-559)

Declaring that the rough-and-tumble of democracy is not for the faint-hearted, what Scalia referred to as the “touchy, feely” sensitivity of some political activists, the Justice said “you can’t run a democracy” with political activity behind a First Amendment shroud.  “You are asking us to enter into a whole new field,” Scalia told James Bopp Jr., the lawyer for Washington State signers of an anti-gay rights petition.  Politics, the Justice went on, “takes a certain amount of civic courage.  The First Amendment does not protect you from civic discourse — or even from nasty phone calls.” 

Scalia was most correct with that point.

Let me be most direct. The higher ideals of our state and the judicial process can not be made hostage to the fears of retaliation.  If that had been the case at the beginning of our national story Thomas Jefferson would never have set quill to parchment.

Would it not be great if, in the face of this needless court case concerning Madison schools, brought by people who may not even have any direct connection to the district, we could fully recognize the need for openness and transparency about how our court system must continually operate?

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Trans Children, Their Parents, Face Prosecution In Texas, Governor Abbot Unleashes Hate

Just when you thought you had heard the worst possible ideas imaginable from a Republican officeholder, comes this disgusting news story from Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott officially directed Family Protective Services to investigate all trans children in Texas and prosecute their parents as child abusers. He instructed all teachers, doctors, and caregivers to begin reporting any trans students.

While the state’s child welfare agency has said that it will investigate such claims, some county and district attorneys have stated that they will not enforce the opinion. Be that as it may, the entire nation needs to send a message of pulling conventions and sporting events from a state that has so little regard for human decency or any degree of concern or empathy for trans children.

The loathsome depths that Abott will travel to play to a segment of his ignorant and repugnant base must be addressed by the rest of society who simply can no longer abide by such behavior.

And so it goes.

For Youth’s Sake Madison School Board Candidate Mary Jo Walters Needs To Withdraw From Race

Since 2015 I have often stated that nothing shocks me anymore. Nothing could leave me looking slack-jawed. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

After a cold and blustery Monday James and I sat down for dinner while watching the 6 PM news on the DVR. It was reported Madison School Board candidate Mary Jo Walters stated over the weekend that “I’m trans-a-phobic” when describing her platform for the spring election.

Walters, a former candidate for lieutenant governor in Wisconsin, is a full-time caregiver who has three students in the district, as well as some teaching experience from the early 1990s. She wants to reverse the district’s decision to implement gender-neutral bathrooms, open a discussion about school safety, and–most prominently–has been clear in her anti-transgender position. She cited anti-transgender comments from Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, in a prepared statement she read before an interview.

I had to wipe my hands on a napkin before reaching for the remote to play back and again hear what I surely had registered wrong due to the frost built up in my head from the day’s biting cold.

Sadly, what was reported was all too accurate.

No student in the Madison School District who is questioning transgender issues should be needlessly used as a campaign pawn by someone who has an ax to grind. Adding insult to injury, by a candidate who ran for U.S. Senate (because Tammy Baldwin ‘needed’ a Democratic primary opponent) and has no chance come next spring for anything other inflicting harm on our youth.

Our transgender youth already has enough to handle with hormones and a wide array of expectations placed by their peers. They do not need additional discourse from the callous element in our city, so to be used as a verbal punching bag in an election.

It is that point that left me stunned at the dinner table. In all places, a candidate in Madison is going to challenge transgender youth as they pursue their path in life?

I know a bit about the harm that comes with negative connotations–in my case when it came to sexual identity. As a rural kid in school I was severely bullied for the perception of being gay. I had not yet come out but by the time my high school years were ending the national discourse on AIDS had taken on a very harsh and mean-spirited direction. The weight of words and scorn that were tossed about concerning ‘gays and AIDS’ landed on my shoulders. Like it did for other gay kids.

So I can find much empathy for the transgender youth who are coming to terms with their own truths and finding ways to navigate among family and friends. I also know the truth of what can happen when youth are not able to find the path they need, the support networks required to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

My best friend, also gay and bullied, committed suicide at age 18. As an adult, I have never stemmed my words when it lands on the issue at hand. We must do everything we can to support our youth, never allowing them to think they are too far over the margins. We must never allow them to be nothing more than a catchphrase for a candidate who can only inflict hurt for the most minimum of votes.

And we must be pro-active.

Therefore, I ask that Mary Jo Walters, for the sake of unity in our community which is required as we stand alongside our transgender youth, to pull back her decision to run for Madison School Board. Nothing is more important as we consider our students than their safety, both physically and emotionally. Her words are damaging and must cease.

There is no room in this city for rhetoric that is aimed at marginalizing and calling out a segment of youth who simply are wanting to live their life. They ask for nothing more than some basic understanding from the rest of us.

Mary Jo Walters can do a tremendous good for the entire community by stepping back from her proposed candidacy.

And so it goes.

Wisconsin’s Pride Month Needs Focus On Transgender Rights

Last week a press release from Democratic Governor Tony Evers stated that the LGBT Pride flag will again fly over the State Capitol. This decision matters for many citizens in our state. Let us make no mistake about the visual importance of the flag bending with the breeze over this wonderful and symbolic building.

At moments like this, I think of gay teenagers in this state who live in rural areas.  I know they need support and assurance that living authentically is truly an option as they prepare for adulthood. The flag and the message it imparts is meant as much to recognize past achievements, as providing continued assurance and hope for the future.

But this year, in light of the national conversation about transgender rights, along with legislation being debated under our Capitol dome about girls’ and women’s sports, makes the flag being hoisted high even more important.

The reason is due to discriminatory legislation aimed at creating sports participation bans for transgender people. We apparently have not had enough culture wars in the state. Outside of the political arena, I have not noticed a groundswell of examples in female sports that required a partisan resolution. Once again, however, a solution is in search of a problem and it is taking up far too much bandwidth with some legislators.

Therefore, if anyone wonders why the pride flag needs to fly over the statehouse should simply follow the news about bills that would allow students to join teams only that correspond to their biological sex as assigned by a doctor at birth. In time, that type of discourse will be as ancient as defining being gay as a mental illness. Until that time we must stay vigilant and fight on.

From a national perspective, this month should also focus our attention on states that are attempting to prohibit gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. We all should be most concerned that partisan legislators are working feverishly in some states to get in between a doctor, who is guided by science and ethics, and a teenager who is in search of medical advice and therapy.

We know that forgoing gender-affirming medical procedures can have tragic consequences with mental health problems which can also lead to drug use and increased rates of suicide. We absolutely must do better for the young people who look to us for guidance and a helping hand.

I can not speak about transgender rights from more than a humane perspective. But as a gay man, I know full well the way it felt when politicians were writing and signing laws to deny my rights over the decades. They had no idea how I felt, or the stresses it placed on my life. As such, I can understand how others now facing discriminatory actions must feel.

It is why I press the case that we must not do harm to those who are dealing with being uncomfortable in their bodies. When it comes to these children I feel a deeper sense of responsibility to speak up and stand alongside those who need our support.

For too long gay Americans were the ones who were vilified by Republicans and used as nothing more than partisan tactics and a means to raise money in letters to the base. Now it is transgender people, including children who are so treated to this abuse.

THAT is the reason the Pride flag needs to fly above the Wisconsin State Capitol.

And so it goes.

Republicans Pick On Powerless Groups, Trans Children Latest Target

I know how it felt when the Republican Party, both in Wisconsin and from the power of the Oval Office, worked feverishly to place anti-gay marriage referendums on state ballots. As a gay man, I had a personal stake in the attempts to undermine my rights. From that experience and taking note of their attitudes and policy moves on several issues it is clear nothing makes the GOP seem more powerful than when they can place bigotry into law.

But as a student of history and one involved with government and current issues the tactics from the GOP rip at a central understanding. That being this nation always is at its best when we strive to include more people under the large social umbrella. Not limit and restrict such liberties.

It would seem obvious that transgender rights, which is the latest attempt by conservatives to fight the culture wars, will be the toughest fight in the gender wars. But what is gut-wrenching is that they now use children as their partisan club. The battle though is being engaged by the majority in the nation in the same way we gained civil rights for gay Americans. Simply put, success will be attained over time due to more people realizing that others in their lives–perhaps the ones they know best and love–are actually transgender.

Putting a face to the issue is the best way to break down walls.

For now, the reason this issue resonates with me is due to the impact this has on children who are well-aware of the person they are and the need to have acceptance and understanding from the adults in the nation. The political class must recognize their responsibility for preventing the effects of causing trans children to have depression and even commit suicide. Add to the list the bullying and torment of their peers as they play off of the political rhetoric, and it underscores why we need to care.

I come from a background where anti-gay bullying was terrible in my school years, and which was a cause for the suicide of my best friend. I know the toll such boorish behavior causes and the long-lasting impact it creates. So when I say we must help trans children, even if it is not totally understood, I know the reason why we must be caring adults.

I read a powerful article in The Atlantic that cuts to the core of what the Republican Party is doing as it uses trans children as the latest weapon for their partisan ends.

The time for blaming the nation’s problems on gay people was over; now was the time to come together as a country and blame our problems on Muslims. For the past 30 years, the GOP has pursued a consistent strategy: Find a misunderstood or marginalized group, convince voters that the members of that group pose an existential threat to society, and then ride to victory on the promise of using state power to crush them.

Again and again, Republicans have targeted groups they believe too small or too powerless to spark a costly political backlash. By attacking them, the GOP seeks to place Democrats in a political bind. If they decline to bow to demagoguery, Democrats risk looking either too culturally avant-garde for the comfort of more conservative voters—whose support they need to remain viable—or too preoccupied with defending the rights of a beleaguered minority to pay attention to bread-and-butter issues that matter to the majority. This strategy has worked in the past—President Bill Clinton, who signed the federal statute outlawing same-sex marriage in 1996, was no Republican. Many people across the political spectrum accept the premise that defending a marginalized group’s civil rights is “identity politics,” while choosing to strip away those rights is not.

We simply must overcome the bigotry.

We accomplish that by first denying oxygen to the political party that attempts to use trans children for their conservative ends.

And so it goes.

Most Americans Do Not Personally Know Active Member Of The Military

I have often wondered how military policy would look if more valedictorians served in the armed forces. What would their families demand of policy-makers when constructing international policy or engaging in military maneuvers? Over the years thoughts of this kind percolated when issues of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, and more recently transgenders openly serving were making headlines  During the national dialogue with both topics the end result furthered an image of the military as being small-minded and backward.

For many in our country who are not involved in the military, but listened and watched those debates, concluded that living a double life was quite pre-Stonewall.  Most Americans know gay people, more and more know a transgender person, and poll after poll shows a strong level of support for a variety of ever-more rights to ensure equality is provided regardless of sexual orientation or biology.  When those topics were making headlines nationally about the military it needs to be noted gay dates for high school proms were no longer uncommon.  In other words, society is moving forward.   

So must the military.

So, it has long been perplexing to me the disconnect between what is happening in neighborhoods across the nation and then what comes from the aging politicians and military planners in Washington.  All this underscores how the mindset of the military as a whole needs to be shaken up.  After all, gay men and women and transexuals just want to serve their country with their heads held high. Does not the nation want a military made up of members serving with pride?

As I think about this matter one question keeps popping forward. Why would any intelligent and self-confident young man or woman coming out of high school want to join the military?  Why would any well-reasoned and educated person want to enter an organization that is so disjointed and illogical when it comes to human sexuality? Or join an organization that is simply backward with their scope of thinking when it comes to people in another land, or the faith they follow?

This should be concerning to us all.

Most people do not personally know any active enlisted members of the military. I do not. But during my life, I have known a number of valedictorians.  Three are in my family.  My husband James, along with my niece Katrina, along with her father Darvin. They all had the honor of representing their class on graduation day. 

But I have known only two people (neither were family, and both were casual acquaintances) who served in Iraq, and in each case, they were stationed there for less than a year.  In one case it was only for a few months, and the young man spent most of it on a base.   When he returned, he told of the type of stunted social development some of his fellow soldiers had, and how uncomfortable it made him hear the way they talked about the people and country where they were stationed.  The words they used were not the ones he heard at home or uttered on his own.

While my dad served in World War II, and a few uncles were in this or that branch of the armed forces, none of their children made the military a destination when they reached adult age.  No one in my high school made the military a career, and the vast majority never even made the military a pit-stop on the road to the future.  I think most people have the same experience as I have had.  Most people simply do not know someone personally in the armed forces.

Why is that? 

Does it not warp the way we feel about war and the policies of the nation if we do not at least know one person involved in a conflict?  It is different to have a young man from the larger community shredded by a roadside bomb than to have a son or cousin meet the same fate.  Does that fact make a difference when we condone this or that military adventure?  I think it does.

I bring this all up today because there is still a strong perception of the military as a place that stigmatizes certain people or groups of people who wish to serve the nation. Such ‘jar-necked’ notions, create an atmosphere where a whole segment of the country says “I want my kid to go to college and not get messed up in the army.”  

That may sound elitist, but it is an honest statement that is played out over and over coast-to-coast in living rooms and kitchens every day.  The military is seen as red-neck and most parents want their kids to have a different direction in life.  That is proved by the fact so many Americans do not know someone serving in the military.

And it will continue to be that way as long as in the military “sand-monkey” is thought to be a funny term, and those who can quote Thoreau are ‘fags’.

It is essential for the long-term military interest of the nation that a strong and determined signal is sent that the modern defense establishment understands that society has changed, and they need to change too.  Until that happens folks across the nation with a good job (because this is also very much an economic issue) are saying “our kids are going to college, they are not getting into the military.”   It has everything to do with what image they want their family to have, and a deeper sense of what parents want their kids to connect with as adults.

Who can blame any parent for wanting the best for their children?

Front-Pages Show Arc Of History Bending Towards Justice, Gay Rights Move Forward

I always enjoy showcasing a smattering of the front pages of newspapers following a major news event.  Being a newspaper reader since a teenager, and sensitive to the first draft of history by reporters in papers coast-to-coast, means these posts are not only fun but reflective of where we are as a nation.

Today we are in a much better place from the Supreme Court ruling that disallows gay and transgender people being faced with workplace discrimination.  There is still work to do, but a major and powerful ruling has made for a tremendous moment when we all can be proud that the process of our national government can still work for the nation.

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Supreme Court Starts Week With Massive Win For LGBT Community

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As of just a few minutes ago, (as of this posting) it was possible to get married on Sunday and legally fired on Monday, but no more.  In a sweeping 6-3 Supreme Court decision it ruled that federal employment discrimination laws protect LGBT employees. This is a huge decision and a progressive one.  With the victory coming from a conservative court during Pride Month is nothing short of the cake and frosting, too, all being delivered to the nation first thing this Monday morning!

Let cut to the core as to why this matters, and is such a stunning legal victory. Theere is an estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers across the country because most states don’t protect them from workplace discrimination.  This is why is matters to always place the Supreme Court as a topic for election year conversations.  The lives of every-day Americans are always at stake with court actions.

The vote was 6 to 3, with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch writing the majority opinion. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The case concerned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex. The question for the justices was whether that last prohibition — discrimination “because of sex”— applies to many millions of gay and transgender workers.

The court considered two sets of cases. The first concerned a pair of lawsuits from gay men who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation. The second was about a suit from a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who said her employer fired her when she announced that she would embrace her gender identity at work.

The first case was filed by Gerald Bostock, a gay man who was fired from a government program that helped neglected and abused children in Clayton County, Ga., just south of Atlanta, after he joined a gay softball league.

The second was brought by a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who also said he was fired because he was gay. His dismissal followed a complaint from a female customer who had expressed concerns about being strapped to Mr. Zarda during a tandem dive. Mr. Zarda, hoping to reassure the customer, told her that he was “100 percent gay.”

The cases concerning gay rights are Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., No. 17-1618, and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623.

Most federal appeals courts have interpreted Title VII to exclude sexual orientation discrimination. But two of them, in New York and Chicago, have ruled that discrimination against gay men and lesbians is a form of sex discrimination.