Maudlin Monday Reads: SCOTUS takes aim at LGBTQ Rights

La chute de l’angle, The Falling Angel, Marc Chagall, 1947

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Today could be the day the Supreme Court lets “artists” exercise free speech by refusing public service to GLBTQ clients seeking services like cake baking. You may ask yourself, didn’t they decide this already? Why is ‘Masterpiece Cake’ returning to the Supreme Court with the same argument? The answer is basically the Court is clearly in the heads of theocratic monsters, and they’ll get the decision they want instead of the one they got last time. Then, we can wonder where it will take us. Tailors, that refuse to make pantsuits for women? Portrait artists, that refuse disabled or disfigured subjects? Photographers that don’t want to take photos of religious ceremonies that may offend them?

Well, the answer is don’t hang a shingle on a door and offer public services. You can make that list of anti-social behaviors as long as you look for jobs in spaces where you feel safe. Seems simple, right? But this revisit of established precedent will likely go down the rabbit hole of autocracy and bigotry.

Ashes, Edvard Munch, 1894-1895

I don’t play piano at weddings, and I don’t go near churches anymore. It creeps me out and brings out a lot of bad memories. But then, I don’t have a shingle on my front door or place an ad on the internet offering my services for hire to the public. I basically go look for the gigs I want. My last big one on Bourbon Street was as the pianist and music director of a Drag Cabaret show. I suppose if I did this now, my life and the life of my compatriots would be in danger, and that’s a problem. I’ve had to protect the same folks as they read stories to children in the small library around the corner.

This is what the law has said for a long time. You can not offer separate accommodations or refuse to serve some part of the public because of your fee-fees, no matter what they’re based in. However, the christofascists on the court believe they have a right to dictate their religious bigotry and intolerance to us all because it’s all about them. It’s not about the Constitution. It’s not about precedent. It’s about them and what they want to do and not do. That’s a whole lot of toddler behavior right there. And it still boils down to privacy. The one established precedent that’s seriously endangered. They did it to women with the Roe decision, and now we’re going down the dark path again. They went to keep it all about them and their pet fetishes and identities.

This is an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times by ACLU National Legal Director David Cole. “The Supreme Court Is About to Ask the Wrong Question About the First Amendment.”

Can an artist be compelled to create a website for an event she does not condone? That’s the question the Supreme Court has said it will take up on Monday, when it hears oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis. The answer would seem to be obviously “no.”

But that’s the wrong question. The right question is whether someone who chooses to open a business to the public should have the right to turn away gay customers simply because the service she would provide them is “expressive” or “artistic.” Should an architecture firm that believes Black families don’t deserve fancy homes be permitted to turn away Black clients because its work is “expressive”? Can a florist shop whose owner objects to Christianity refuse to serve Christians? The answer to these questions would seem to be, just as obviously, “no.”

So why is the first question the wrong one in this dispute? The case before the court was brought by 303 Creative, a business that says it wants to offer wedding website design services to the public, but doesn’t want to serve gay couples. Under Colorado’s “public accommodations law,” businesses that choose to serve the public at large cannot turn people away because of their race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or other protected characteristics. 303 Creative claims that because its service is expressive and its owner objects to same-sex marriage, it can’t be required to obey Colorado’s law. Not to afford it an exemption, the company argues, compels it to speak against its will and violates its free speech rights.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because five years ago the Supreme Court considered a similar case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery asserted a free-expression right to turn away a gay couple that asked it to make a cake to celebrate their wedding. The court resolved that dispute on other grounds, so did not answer the question. Masterpiece Cakeshop’s lawyers are back before the court, making the same argument with a new client. (303 Creative has actually never made a wedding website for anyone, but it claims that it can’t even get started without a legal ruling that it can turn away gay couples.)

The Fallen Angel (L’Ange déchu) French artist Alexandre Cabanel,1847

I think that the last sentence is important. They’ve never actually offered their service. They are headed to the Supreme Court before proving their ability to provide the service to anyone. Why not go after couples in their local worship facility or similar churches if that’s how they feel? Why run to the Supreme Court?

Two features of the law make clear that Colorado’s law does not coerce artists to express a message with which they disagree.

First, no artist has to open a business to the public in the first place. Most writers, painters and other artists never do; they pick their subjects and leave it at that. The photographer Annie Leibovitz, for example, does not offer to take photographs of anyone who offers to pay her fee, but chooses her subjects. She is perfectly free to photograph only white people or only Buddhists.

But if Ms. Leibovitz were to open a portrait photography business that offered to take portraits on a first-come, first-served basis to the public at large, as many corporate photography studios do, she could not turn away subjects just because they were Black or Christian. Her photographic work would be just as expressive. But the choice to benefit from the public marketplace comes with the legal obligation to equally serve members of the public. And requiring businesses that offer expressive services in the public marketplace to follow the same rules as all other businesses does not violate the First Amendment.

Second, even businesses open to the public are free to define the content of what they sell. A Christmas store can sell only Christmas items without running afoul of public accommodations laws. It need not stock Hanukkah candles or Kwanzaa cards. But it cannot put a sign on its doors saying, “We don’t serve Jews” or “No Blacks allowed.”

303 Creative argues that it is not turning away same-sex couples because they are gay, but because it objects to the message that making a wedding website for them would convey. The company has, however, asked the court to declare its right to refuse to make any website for a same-sex couple’s wedding, even if its content is identical to one it would design for a straight couple. According to this line of argument, the company could refuse a gay couple even a site that merely announced the time and location of the wedding and recommended places to stay.

Richard Pousette-Dart, Yellow Amorphous, 1950

Will the Supreme Court sanctify the reinstatement of Jim Crow Laws?

Meanwhile, there is clear and present danger from those targeting GLBT communities. We’ve seen this in recent mass shootings at GLBTQ gathering places. This attack on a power grid in North Caroline Saturday night is almost beyond belief. Who would shoot out several power stations just to shut down a Drag Queen Story Time event? Why leave an entire county without power? The FBI, among other criminal investigation agencies, is on it. This is from NBC news. “‘Targeted’ N.C. power outages could leave thousands in the dark for days. A curfew was declared and schools were closed as the FBI and state authorities joined the investigation into the gun attacks on two energy substations in Moore County.”

In a statement, the FBI’s Charlotte, N.C., field office confirmed its involvement in the investigation and called the attacks on the substations “willful damage.”

The sheriff said the motive in the case was still unknown. Asked if there was any connection to a 7 p.m. LGBTQ+ drag show in the city of Southern Pines on Saturday, Fields said, “It is possible, yes.”

“Anything is possible,” he said. “But we haven’t been able to tie anything back to the drag show.”

The headliner and host at the Sunrise Theater event, Naomi Dix, said in an interview that the show went on in candlelight Saturday after power ceased at about 8:15 p.m.

She said she was unaware the outage might have had anything to do with the event until hearing news Saturday night that mentioned unconfirmed reports the outages may have been the result of an attempt to put the drag show in the dark.

“The show got a lot of heat from right-wing conservatives who did not want us there,” Dix said.

The Fayetteville Observer reported Friday that the event, titled “Downtown Divas,” was the subject of threats, criticism and unfounded allegations about the LGBTQ+ community and certain types of crime.

“This is nothing new to our community,” Dix said.

Organizers and the venue carried on with planning but changed the age limit from all ages to 18 and older to keep children away from any possible protests, the publication said.

This wasn’t the only attack for the weekend. The usual Right Wing Militias showed up with guns and cosplay costumes in Ohio to intimidate the performers and their audience.

Earlier Saturday, hosts of a “Drag Queen Story Hour”-style event for children in Columbus, Ohio, pulled the plug because of what they described as the intimidating presence of right-wing demonstrators, some of whom carried long guns.

The Soul of the City

So, hate crimes from these groups are on the rise. The increase in the first half of 2022 is startling. This is from VOA. “U.S. Hate Crimes Rise During First Half of 2022”. I researched this a lot yesterday and found the FBI statistics interesting. Yes, they follow hate crimes based on sex/gender too. There is a sad number of stats on people being violated for simply being a religion, an ethnic group, or a race, etc. It’s a sad and growing list.

Hate crimes in major U.S. cities rose moderately during the first half of 2022 after posting double-digit percentage increases over the past two years, according to police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

The data collected from 15 major city police departments show an average increase of about 5 percent in bias-motivated incidents so far this year, according to a new report by the extremism research center at California State University at San Bernardino. The 15 cities have a combined population of 25.5 million people.

By comparison, a larger sample of data from 52 major cities compiled by the center showed hate crimes in the United States surged by nearly 30 percent in 2021, according to the report.

A hate crime is defined by the FBI as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

U.S. hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years, driven by factors ranging from a surge in anti-Asian sentiments during the COVID-19 pandemic to anti-Black animus in reaction to racial justice protests that broke out across America in 2020 after the killing of African American George Floyd while in police custody.

If the increases seen so far this year hold, it would mark the fourth consecutive year in which hate crimes have risen in the United States.

I’m pretty sure that the trend of the last four years has some correlation with the rise of Trump. You may find the 2020 hate crimes statistics reported by the DOJ here. 

In August 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released Hate Crime Statistics 2020, an annual compilation of bias-motivated incidents in the United States. Though the number of reporting agencies decreased by 452 since 2019, the overall number of reported incidents increased by 949, contributing to a total of 8,263 hate crime incidents against 11,126 victims in 2020. While annual law enforcement agency participation may fluctuate, the statistics indicate that hate crimes remain a concern for communities across the country.

According to this year’s data, 62% of victims were targeted because of the offenders’ bias toward race/ethnicity/ancestry, which continues to be the largest bias motivation category. Participating agencies reported 5,227 race/ethnicity/ancestry-based incidents in 2020, a 32% increase from 2019. Anti-Black or African American hate crimes continue to be the largest bias incident victim category, with 2,871 incidents in 2020, a 49% increase since 2019. Additionally, there were 279 anti-Asian incidents reported in 2020, a 77% increase since 2019. The other largest categories of hate crimes include anti-Hispanic or Latino incidents, with 517, and anti-White incidents, with 869 in total.

And, I’d just like to add the news from New Orleans that Thanksgiving included a trip to the Jefferson Parish Prison and Courts for a niece of Chris Christie.

One thing I truly believe is that if we allow any public transgression that’s an action against a disenfranchised sector of humanity be it women, people of color, or the LGBTQ or a religious community, it should be considered a transgression against all of us. There is a first amendment right to free speech. The right-wing and the theocrats among us do not understand what that means. We recently learned that Supreme Court justices can hold allegiance to their philosophical and religious views and get that First Amendment terrifically wrong. The big difference is they do it on purpose, and it empowers others.

Let me leave with this article about Steve Scalise and his newly anointed majority leader position in the house. The headline jumped at me. “Stephanie Grace: Let’s hope Steve Scalise brings his better angels to the majority leader’s office.”  This means it’s not all about him and what his clique wants to see in public and prevent in private. Remember, this is the man who went on T.V. saying Pelosi did nothing to bring the Guard in to deal with the Jan 6 insurrection, and then the film later showed him standing right there beside her as she did that. We cannot trust him or blindly hope he’ll be different. That’s what the press told us about Trump and many of his droogies.

During his time in the House, his less combative side has shown itself on occasion. Back in 2014, he worked with Maxine Waters, another California Democrat whom Republicans love to hate, to keep federal flood insurance more affordable for homeowners. In 2020, he criticized the toxic politics of Marjorie Taylor Greene and supported a Republican primary opponent, to no avail.

Chalk at least some of this up to Scalise’s formational years in the Louisiana Legislature, where coalitions surrounding individual issues are historically more fluid than they are in Washington and where bipartisan legislation is common (although disturbingly, becoming less so in recent years).

Certainly Scalise understands his role as a party leader in the current environment and embraces it. But he has retained the invaluable, and unfortunately rare, ability to not make things personal, to not treat political disputes as showdowns with mortal enemies.

That in no way excuses the many times Scalise has leaned into the era’s ugliness instead of away from it.

He absolutely encouraged the baseless conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen, and amazingly questioned Pelosi’s actions leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, even as he scrupulously avoided pinning any responsibility for stoking the violent insurrection on Trump. He has also voted against — and in his current role as Republican whip, lined up votes in opposition to — legislation to meet some of Louisiana’s vast infrastructure needs.

Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils, William Blake, c. 1826

I no longer believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Certainly, not in this environment. We’re fortunate to keep the Senate, but the Supreme Court will be a hot mess for a long time. I do not expect the next two years of the Republican-led House and its committees to be a cakewalk or even a walk on a stormy day. It will be more like a trek through hell. I also believe that we’ve gone too far down that path to hell to not be vigilant about the rise of hate crimes and the plans that the christofascists have for keeping the rest of us scared and in line. Their plot to keep women barefoot and in the kitchen seems well ahead of schedule. Their focus now is driving their agendas through their packed courts.

We need to stick together. I’ve used a lot of artists’ expressions of hell and fallen angels here. The metaphors and stories of various religious traditions are much more interesting when viewed as precautionary tales instead of ways to act out your zealotry. Let’s hope Scalise and a few others find their better angels.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

18 Comments on “Maudlin Monday Reads: SCOTUS takes aim at LGBTQ Rights”

  1. dakinikat says:

  2. dakinikat says:

  3. dakinikat says:

    This is depressing. And I’m getting mad as hell about it.

  4. dakinikat says:

  5. dakinikat says:

    • bostonboomer says:

      Maybe the right wing justices would like to suspend the Constitution like Trump. Separation of church and state is pretty bedrock if you’re really an “originalist.”

  6. dakinikat says:

  7. dakinikat says:

  8. dakinikat says:

  9. quixote says:

    Scalise has better angels? Wow. Who knew?