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WSJ op-ed on gender-inclusive language insensitive, out of touch

Peggy Noonan gets it all wrong comparing zie and sie to the guillotine era

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After President Trump was elected, I became a regular Wall Street Journal reader. I’d never previously been, but I was curious how the serious right-leaning media (i.e. not Fox News) was covering the administration. One of the delights has been its reliably strong weekend opinion pages anchored by Peggy Noonan and Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

Noonan (a former Reagan speechwriter) is usually a joy — whether I agree with her or not (which is half the fun of the op-ed page in any paper), she weaves lengthy, yet tight essays backed up with historical context, sensible perspective and a friendly, conversational tone. But she took things way too far in her July 27 piece “What were Robespierre’s pronouns?” likening today’s push for more inclusive language from trans and non-binary people to the bloody French revolution of the late 1700s.

She doesn’t imply guillotine enforcement is just around the corner for pronoun enforcement or anything that extreme (she concurs it was a “revolution largely run by sociopaths”), but she likens that era’s proposed overhaul of language and time — Robespierre and company wanted to give up the Gregorian calendar, the concept of seasons and weeks, the B.C./A.D. tracking of centuries and more — to the sometimes admittedly clunky shift toward more inclusive LGBT language.

Gender-specific singular pronouns are tough. I’m an editor so, of course, I’m fussy and easily flummoxed by grammatical undulations. As Noonan points out, we haven’t yet settled (and perhaps we never will) on a singular, non-binary pronoun that doesn’t sound like Lucy and Ethel chirping in alien talk atop the Empire State Building: zie, sie, ey, ve, tey and e are new proposals to replace he/she according to a business manual she cites; it develops into zieself, hirself, eirself, verself, terself and emself to sub for himself/herself. It suggests offering your own pronoun preferences (another tricky word — is gender a preference?) during an introduction lest asking someone’s own implies you think zie’s trans or non-binary zieself. They, despite being plural, took root because it’s gender neutral but not a new word. In everyday parlance, that’s huge and its impact can’t be overstated.

“We are being asked to memorize all this, to change hundreds of years of grammar and usage to accommodate the needs or demands of a group that perceives itself as beleaguered,” Noonan writes. “It’s insane. All of it. … You wonder how the people who push all this got so much power. But then, how did Robespierre?”
I’m not sure how it’s gonna play out exactly — perhaps zie, sie and ey never will take root in the language — but revisit Noonan’s column in 20-30 years and she’s gonna sound like a female Archie Bunker for 2019, holding onto outdated, bigoted views.

I get the awkwardness. Ridding common English of sexist or archaic language is downright painful at times. I cringe when “forced” to sing new, gender-inclusive lyrics to hymns and carols in the New Century Hymnal my church uses — “As With Gladness Men of Old” is now “As With Gladness Those of Old,” “Faith of Our Fathers” is now “Faith of the Martyrs” and so on. I realize this is easy to say as a white Gen X (gay) guy who grew up middle class in the U.S., but you can’t rewrite history. It’s a slippery slope once you start tampering with things like this. Can’t we just start afresh with gender-inclusive language among our modern-day hymnwriters?

But in everyday language, what’s so tough about trying to not be an ass when talking to and about trans and non-binary people? It’s painfully obvious from Noonan’s column she’s spent very little time around trans and non-binary people herself. I have and have yet to encounter anyone who flew into Mommie Dearest mode over an innocently misstated pronoun. Some say nothing. Others will kindly correct you.

What Noonan doesn’t grasp is that while it all may sound a little kooky and foreign at first — “they says” still makes my Word autocorrect see red — things will eventually settle into something that in time will work just fine. She’s old enough to remember an era when “colored,” “oriental,” “retarded” and other offensive, cringe-inducing words of yore were commonplace. The clunkiness of zie, sie and ey (not to mention LGBTQQIA+) will eventually settle into something practical and inclusive the way it always does. Language evolves. It always has.

When you, Peggy Noonan, have been murdered or barred from gainful employment for daring to express your gender identity or having a sex life, then you get to have an opinion on this. Until then, go back to your ivory gender tower and shut the fuck up.

 

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Washington Blade’s features editor. Reach him at [email protected].

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BYU reignites war on LGBTQ+ students as Feds investigate

Taxpayer-supported Utah private university attacks LGBTQ people. Mormon university BYU bans dating, protesting

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Images of Mormon Temple and rainbow heart licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | DETROIT – In a move straight out of Bob Jones University’s racist playbook, from an era when Christian schools and universities routinely barred white students from dating Black students, Brigham Young University (BYU) has strengthened a ban on students dating members of the same sex. BYU, which is privately owned by the LDS (Mormon) Church, accepts federal funds and benefits from Department of Education (DOE) programs.

In response to student complaints, the DOE has opened a civil rights investigation, seeking to determine if the university is violating Title IX, which prohibits schools that accept federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” BYU claims the right to be exempt from Title IX based its religious status.

LGBTQ dating ban at Brigham Young University probed in federal investigationSALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. Department of Education has opened a civil-rights investigation into how LGBTQ students are…www.usatoday.com

In a further escalation, BYU just announced a policy that will prohibit LGBTQ students from protesting on campus.

Before considering the protest ban, let’s back up and examine how a cease fire has reignited into a hot war. Up until a year ago, LDS homophobic bigotry seemed to be thawing. In 2019, the Church withdrew its odious 2015 “November Policy” that branded married LGBTQ people as “apostates” and had the practical effect of encouraging families to break apart.

Some BYU students began taking cautious steps out of the closet, saying they could be Mormon, love the LDS Church, and be gay or transgender at the same time. Administration reaction was mixed, but the general position seemed to be cautious acceptance, a sort of quiet campus détente in which people agreed to disagree.

Many LGBTQ Mormons say the centrality of BYU in their lives and social spheres made this thaw critically important. They believed they were finally allowed to be more fully part of the communities they were born into.

Then just a few months ago, everything blew up.

A full-scale war against LGBTQ students reignited, probably in response to an August campus speech in which senior LDS leader Jeffrey R. Holland blasted BYU student Matt Easton in intensely personal terms, characterizing him as selfish, immoral, and immature for coming out as gay in his valedictory speech … even though he had the full approval of faculty advisors.A Shocking New Speech Has Plunged Mormons Into Another Furious Battle Over Gay RightsOn Aug. 23, Jeffrey R. Holland, Brigham Young University’s former president and a senior apostle in the Church of Jesus…slate.com

Many Mormons, noting Holland’s frequent gun metaphors, have characterized his speech as a “call to war” against LGBTQ people. Writing for Slate, Haley Swenson agrees, calling the speech “shocking” and “crushingly cruel.”

His words were unmistakably a call to arms: Holland used the word “fire” 10 times, “musket” eight times, and made multiple references to “friendly fire,” “wounds,” and “scarring.” In particular, he called for “more musket fire” from BYU’s faculty to defend Mormonism’s official position on the inferiority and social dangers of same-sex relationships and marriages.

LGBTQ students at BYU say they feel tricked and even lied to

The federal civil rights investigation that came to light just over a week ago centers around the dating ban, and may be a response to what students say was a bait and switch in 2020, when the university amended its “honor code” to eliminate language banning same-sex dating. Many LGBTQ students came out publicly after that language was removed, only to be shocked short weeks later when administrators announced LGBTQ students in relationships would still face harsh discipline, under a different set of rules.

Students protested the reversal, saying they felt tricked into coming out. The federal investigation from the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights began late last year, reportedly in response to student complaints, though it might also be a response to a lawsuit by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP).

March 2021 photo of BYU’s Y Mountain lit with rainbow lights as part of a student protest
Photo: Isaac Hale, via Twitter.

BYU students have sued, demanding the university comply with Title IX

Last March, former BYU students joined REAP and 33 other LGBTQ plaintiffs from 25 religious colleges and universities suing the DOE for not enforcing Title IX, seeking “to put an end to the U. S. Department of Education’s complicity in the abuses and unsafe conditions thousands of LGBTQ+ students endure at hundreds of taxpayer-funded, religious colleges and universities.”

Also last March, on the evening of the 4th, dozens of LGBTQ BYU students and allies gathered in silence under BYU’s iconic “Y” after lighting it in rainbow colors with LED flashlights to express solidarity with queer students on campus and across the country.

Many students quietly prayed while others wept openly. The demonstration was part of Rainbow Day, an annual event organized by Color the Campus, a BYU student-led organization for LGBTQ people and allies. BYU did not discipline any students involved but did announce the rainbow display had not been “authorized.”

Days after the federal investigation came to light, BYU lowered the hammer again

Administrators just announced rules prohibiting student demonstrations on the hillside where the “Y” sign is located, as well as locations within university buildings, near places where minors or “vulnerable populations” are present, and locations where “safety is at risk.” BYU has defined a demonstration as “an event that occurs on university property that is not sponsored by the university in which two or more people gather to raise awareness about, or express a viewpoint on, an issue or cause.”

LGBTQ students say Rainbow Day has been effectively canceled, unless students wish to participate under threat of academic discipline up to and including expulsion. Leaders say they are angry administrators are trying to frame the demonstration ban around safety concerns. They such a framing is disingenuous and dishonest, a violation of the “honor code” students are expected to live by. They say concerns about risks to minors is insulting, sending a stereotypically false message that LGBTQ people are dangerous to children.

BYU accepts hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars

BYU is claiming a “religious exemption” from Title IX, and they badly need an exemption if they don’t intend to comply with the law. The university’s private status is a fiction. BYU accepts hundreds of millions of federal dollars every year, irrespective of their claims to be largely independent of federal money.

In 2018 alone, BYU accepted a 6.8 million dollar DOE grant to facilitate language-learning and study-abroad programs. This was just one of several similar grants that year alone. BYU cooperates with federal agencies to facilitate federal grants and loans BYU students use to pay tuition and other fees. According to Forbeshalf of all BYU students pay tuition with federal Pell grants or other federal grants. This figure does not include federally guaranteed student loans, which almost all BYU students take advantage of.

The reality is, if the federal government cut off taxpayer dollars, BYU would find itself on the edge of bankruptcy if not in immediate collapse. Without taxpayer dollars, they would have to go out of business or downsize dramatically while charging far higher tuition to students.

Punishing LGBTQ students for who they love is unacceptable in a free democratic society

My tax dollars and yours keep BYU running. They claim to be exempt from laws that prohibit discrimination against transgender and gay people, but so did Bob Jones University back in the 1960s and 70s when they expelled and otherwise punished students for dating outside their race.

BYU’s treatment of LGBTQ students is not morally morally distinguishable from Bob Jones’. The IRS pulled Bob Jones’ tax exempt status in 1976, telling the university in effect that if they wished to engage in racist practices they justified with “sincere religious belief,” they would have to do as a truly private institution, with no taxpayer dollars, not even tax-exempt status.

Bob Jones sued but lost at the Supreme Court. They eventually changed their racist practices, largely as a result of the extreme financial pressure the federal government brought to bear.

Can the same tactic work with BYU? Probably not. Not unless the federal LGBTQ Equality Act, which would do away with most religious exemptions, passes Congress. Since that’s not to going to happen anytime soon, BYU is probably going to have a free hand for the time being to be horrible to LGBTQ students.

The hot war they reignited this year is probably going to get hotter. DOE’s investigation is encouraging. Maybe they can find some way around the religious exemption BYU is wielding as a musket, in the words of the thoroughly horrible Jeffrey Holland. REAP’s lawsuit is also encouraging, but the odds are not good.

The real fight, the one we can win, is a struggle for hearts and minds, a struggle to encourage people of good will to accept LGBTQ people as good, decent, loving, and deserving of equality.

What does BYU stand for, bigotry and oppression, or love? Do they really want to be seen as the moral equivalent of Bob Jones University with its appalling racist practices?

Dear reader, that’s a question I ask you to pose to LDS leaders every time you get the chance. You can make a difference. You really can.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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A second Trump term would be disastrous for LGBTQ+ people

This is not a partisan political fight. It’s an American imperative. LGBTQ and our allies must not be complacent in 2022

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Former President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By Sarah Kate Ellis | NEW YORK – The morning after the 2016 presidential election, GLAAD’s leadership team gathered in my office to assess the results of the night before and begin to process the reality that Donald J. Trump would be America’s next president.

Though emotions were running high, we quickly agreed that the LGBTQ community would be in grave danger for the next four years, and that GLAAD must pivot its priorities and its resources to react and respond to the new administration.

Trump had spent the better part of his campaign having it both ways. He professed to be a friend of our community to the point of literally wrapping himself in the Pride flag at an event, while surrounding himself with some of the most virulent anti-LGBTQ activists and politicians of our era — led by the incoming Vice President Mike Pence. The message was clear — LGBTQ people and our hard won progress would be in the Trump administration crosshairs at every level and in every way possible.

Our charge was not an easy one. The cable news cycle was well into its around-the-clock, obsessive, and incessant 24-hour coverage of Trump and his followers, so we couldn’t depend on them to research, dig up and bring to light the nefarious actions that were inevitable. On top of that, we would need to ensure that the LGBTQ community was on high alert and that we were ready to fight back with every weapon in our movement’s arsenal.

So on that morning of Nov. 9, 2016, GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project was conceived and launched. For the next four years, we tracked more than 200 attacks in policy and rhetoric coming from the Trump administration.

Some of the most egregious include the complete removal of all LGBTQ references from the White House web site on the day of his inauguration; the shameful ban of qualified transgender Americans from military service; the support for businesses to legally discriminate sanctioned by the Justice Department and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court; removal of LGBTQ identifiers from the 2020 U.S. Census; the stripping of protections for transgender people in schools and in healthcare; and a slew of extreme judicial nominees to the federal bench whose anti-LGBTQ views will have a decades-long impact. The list is extensive, and it is sobering now, even in retrospect.

I invite you to fast forward five years and juxtapose that record against that of President Joe Biden as he crosses the one-year mark of his presidency. Just as we did with Donald Trump, it was important for GLAAD to track the actions of President Biden in order to hold him and his administration accountable for delivering on the campaign promises he made to the LGBTQ community.

The results are undeniable and unparalleled by any president in the history of this country. In his first 365 days in office, GLAAD’s Biden Accountability Tracker has just documented its 100th item in a quickly growing list of appointments, policies, and statements that advance equality.

These include:

  • Nominating the first out lesbians to the federal bench — Alison Nathan, Beth Robinson and Charlotte Sweeney — among a record 40 first-year judicial confirmations.
  • Nominating the first out Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; first out transgender person confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Health and first female four-star admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Dr. Rachel Levine.
  • Issuing the first U.S. passport with a gender-neutral ‘X’ marker, an option offered to all routine passport applicants in early 2022.
  • Reinstating of transgender military personnel, as well as expanding coverage for transgender vets’ healthcare.
  • Reversing rollbacks and expanding protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in healthcare, adoption services, and employment.

In a single year, with so many competing priorities, President Biden and his administration have opened doors for LGBTQ Americans and demonstrated unprecedented commitment to ending discrimination and pushing toward full equality in every area of society. Indeed, it’s a 180 degree turnaround from the previous administration’s attacks on LGBTQ Americans.

There’s a good deal of speculation that Donald Trump may once again run for president, and one thing could not be clearer — a second Trump Administration would be disastrous for LGBTQ people. We cannot afford to go backward. Democracy is on the line. Our equality is on the line. And it’s not hyperbole to say — our lives are on the line.

This is not a partisan political fight. It’s an American imperative. LGBTQ and our allies must not be complacent in 2022. Our work to ensure pro-equality leaders are elected to office — and remain in office — begins now. We cannot skip the midterm elections. We cannot stop paying attention and holding our elected leaders and candidates accountable.

We learned in 2016 and for four years afterward that the train of progress can be reversed, and there are anti-LGBTQ extremists working day and night to do it again. The power is in our hands to not let that happen again.

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Sarah Kate Ellis is the president and CEO of GLAAD.

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News Flash: LGBTQ teens don’t use litter boxes at school

Michigan Republican Party leader pushes outrage for political gain in ridiculous anti-LGBTQ+ claim against a school system

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Photos of LGBTQ teens and litter box licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | BAY CITY, Mi. – “Let me be clear in this communication,” wrote Michigan school superintendent Michael Sharrow. “There is no truth whatsoever to this false statement/accusation! There have never been litter boxes within MPS schools.”

Sharrow, who runs Midland Public Schools near Bay City, Michigan, told reporters he felt embarrassed and astonished he had to email parents, some of whom were outraged about false reports that LGBTQ students who “identify as cats” were being provided litter boxes to relieve themselves on school premises.

When I saw this story in MLive the other day, I laughed, but when I dug down, I lost my sense of humor pretty darn quick, especially when I realized the co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party is validating this crass falsehood.

The false reports began when Lisa Hansen showed up, “furious,” at a January 18 school board meeting saying some students were using a litter box in at least one of the unisex restrooms made available for transgender kids: “I am really disturbed by that! I know it’s going on nationwide. I know it is. It’s part of the agenda that’s being pushed. I don’t even want to understand it.”

You can listen to her ravings at the 32:49 mark of this video:

Go to 32:49 to hear Lisa Hansen say she “knows” schools nationwide are providing litter boxes for cat-identifying students

Going by Hansen’s comments, she’s conflating stories about “furries,” people who roleplay being animals, with LGBTQ identities. While it’s true LGBTQ teens are somewhat more likely than cis/straight teens to be involved in “furry” subculture on the Internet, “furry” is not an identity, it’s a game.

People identifying as cats and demanding rights is not a thing anywhere outside the fevered imaginations of folks who can’t wrap their minds around the fact that trans people and experiences have been part of the common human experience for millenia. Conservatives often object to transgender equality by claiming people might eventually identify as animals and demand to be treated as animals.

When we LGBTQ people hear that, our jaws drop.

Newsbreak: The world is not ending because trans people are finally winning a little dignity and equity. To misquote Bill Murray’s laugh line in Ghostbusters, dogs and cats are not about to start living together in sin. That ought to be the end of this discussion. I shouldn’t be writing about this at all, but the Republican Party blew it up on purpose to enrage parents.

Why is the Michigan Republican Party amplifying Hansen’s falsehood?

Somehow, Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock heard Hansen’s wild accusation, and without contacting Superintendent Sharrow or doing any investigation, posted it on January 20 to her Facebook page as a fact:

Kids who identify as ‘furries’ get a litter box in the school bathroom. Parent heroes will TAKE BACK our schools.

A few people on Facebook laughed at her for being gullible, but she quickly disabled comments. Her post received wide distribution, and some conservative parents are even more outraged over LGBTQ equity in public schools than they were before.

What did Maddock do after Sharrow sent out the (obvious) news that no MPS schools offer litter boxes to kids?Apologize? Retract? Take the false post down? Nope, it’s still up, still getting distribution, still pissing off “hero parents” responding to her call to arms.

That has to be what she wants.

She’s a powerful, educated, sophisticated woman with a long history as a state Republican official. She knows her post is enraging people; she doesn’t care that it’s false, only that it furthers her agenda: demonizing LGBTQ people for political gain.

Parents all over Michigan, like in most of the rest of the country, have been storming school boards demanding the banning of books that address race, LGBTQ people, or other marginalized communities. Just this morning, The Guardian revealed that the trend is accelerating, that is centrally funded by deep pocket donors, and that the Republican Party sees anti-LGBTQ sentiment as a principal political haymaker this year.

US conservatives linked to rich donors wage campaign to ban books from schools

Conservative groups across the US, often linked to deep-pocketed rightwing donors, are carrying out a campaign to ban…www.theguardian.com

LGBTQ books are disappearing from schools and libraries

For now, conservative forces that want to erase LGBTQ people in public schools are winning. Parents are circulating lists of books they say are objectionable or “pornographic,” and those books are vanishing. School boards are ordering them removed from shelves “for evaluation,” and promising parents to consult them before putting them back.

Sadie Seroxcat has just published a comprehensive summary of the situation in Counter Artswhere she lists specific books being banned and discusses successful efforts in Texas to remove them from schools.

Most objectionable to me and other LGBTQ advocates is that books being branded as pornographic or inappropriate are nothing of the sort. Conservative parents seem to find any mention of gay or trans truths unacceptable, no matter how tasteful, positive, or uplifting.

One book topping the list of bans is Lawn Boy, which I bought and read after parents all over the country condemned it as “pornography” that promotes pedophilia. I found nothing of the sort. Jonathan Evison’s novel isn’t even, properly speaking, gay themed.

I wrote this about Lawn Boy in a review for The Book Cafe:

This novel is neither liberal nor conservative, neither Red State friendly nor Blue State friendly. Whatever you might think about race and class, good ole Mike Muñoz probably shatters a few stereotypes. Capitalism might not come off looking beautiful in this novel about a young man on the fringes, but that ending … if it’s not a celebration of the “by-your-bootstraps individualism” Ronald Reagan praised, nothing is.

So what’s the controversy?

Somebody. In. The. Book. Is. Gay.

School Boards Want to Burn This Sweet, Uplifting NovelCharges of “pedophilia” and immorality are bizarremedium.com

Parents all over the country are storming school boards, furious over a sweet, positive, uplifting book they obviously didn’t bother to read. The charges of “pornography” are as silly and sensationalized as kids using litter boxes in school restrooms. But people just keep on pushing the outrage.

Why?

Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock could tell you. Pushing outrage engages voters. Demonizing scapegoats energizes the base. The midterms are coming up, and truth gets in the way of Party strategy, especially when you’re the Party of Trump still pushing the Big Lie about a stolen election.

LGBTQ people are among the scapegoats du jure this election season, so queer teens who deserve respect, representation, and a little common human decency are watching senior political leaders push lies about them instead.

No wonder the crisis-prevention folks at Trevor Project say their help lines are swamped this year and demand is rising.

No, LGBTQ teens don’t use litterboxes, and schools aren’t being asked to provide them. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Enough demonizing for political gain.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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