National and World briefs

Raids on gay bars mimic mid-20th-century action

The 1950s called the Seattle Police Department and demanded its “Gay Bar Enforcement” practices back. Recently, two gay bars were raided by a task force looking for “lewd conduct” by patrons and staff. What did they find? A bartender’s exposed nipple at one bar and patrons wearing jock straps at another. Seattle’s Joint Enforcement Team, a coalition of police and fire departments, and the state Liquor and Cannabis Board organized the raid to target “nuisance violations.” None of the bars — Neighbours, the Cuff Complex, the Seattle Eagle, or Lumber Yard Bar — have ever had nuisance complaints. The Cuff’s owner said these raids started during Pride celebrations in 2022 when the Liquor and Cannabis Board cited the bar for a customer wearing a jockstrap. Protests in the city have come from the community, business owners, radio personalities, and the union representing strippers, Strippers Are Workers (Who knew? We thought they did it for attention). Within days, the LCB sent a letter to state officials saying the organization would pause the raids and wouldn’t enforce the most recent “violations.”

States are widely different on LGBT regs and laws

The annual assessment in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2023 State Equality Index divides U.S. states into four categories. Twenty “best-in-class” states are tagged “Working Toward Innovative Equality.” Five states are in the second-place designation, “Solidifying Equality.” Two states populate the third designation, “Building Equality,” and 23 states land in last place, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” The report notes that “Although 2023 was the worst year on record for anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation, a few states saw notable progress. Michigan moved from lowest in 2022 to highest category in 2023. The states that moved “downward” on the scale were those enacting regulations on transgender transition therapies, sports participation, school curriculum, and library materials. Utah moved down a notch from “Solidfying Equality” to “Building Equality” for those reasons). The report forecasts more changes on the list in 2024, citing transgender regulation picking up the pace in state legislatures like Ohio and Oklahoma. The bright spot is that there has been no activity on marriage equality, and nondiscrimination efforts have actively improved in places like Arizona, with executive action supporting nondiscrimination in state employment and purchasing. 

Pride celebrations not OK.

One reason Oklahoma portends poorly for LGBT issues is a bill in the Oklahoma Legislature that would ban state agencies from acknowledging, much less celebrating, Pride Month. The “Patriotism Not Pride Act” prohibits state agencies from using state funds to organize any event, official communication, or educational program that promotes anything but national U.S. and Oklahoma State holidays. Oklahoma joins Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, introducing bills last year to restrict Pride or other nonofficial flag displays at various state properties. This is one of 54 bills regulating or prohibiting LGBT activities using state budget money introduced in Oklahoma in the last five years.

Virginia legislators defeat anti-trans laws

Democrats won control of the Virginia Legislature in 2013 with a healthy majority in the House of Delegates and a small majority in the state Senate. The Dems stayed unified enough for five consecutive days in the current session to defeat 11 bills that would have targeted transgender Virginians. Defeated were regulations of medical care, therapy, choice of bath and changing rooms, sports participation, and one which would require schools to inform parents of a transgender student’s decisions on gender presentation.

Sex at the U.S. Capitol is not a crime

The U.S. Senate staffer at the bottom of a sex video shot on Minnesota Senator Klobuchar’s desk in a Senate hearing room will not be charged with a crime. The U.S. Capitol Police announced they were closing the case since the staffer had standing permission to be in the hearing room, there were no Senate members involved, and nothing was damaged in the room. So, no crime. It was a violation of Congressional policy to literally screw a person in a room where the U.S. voter often takes figurative screwing. The staffer was fired for the infraction, which was enough for all involved.

Butt play, not insurrection

Far-right media personality Charlie Kirk told his audience that instead of doing what MAGA supporters did during the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, they should have had gay sex there. “They should have stripped naked and filmed themselves having gay sex,” he said, implying that such actions could have mitigated the consequences they faced.

Gov Ex to Supreme Court

The Massachusetts governor has nominated her former partner to the State Supreme Court. The two women met as employees at the same Boston law firm long before the governor was elected. Republicans said it was “highly inappropriate for the governor to nominate to Massachusetts’ highest court an individual with whom she had a long-term romantic relationship.” “This nomination clearly demonstrates a lack of accountability inherent in one-party rule.” The nominee has been an Appeals Court Judge for 15 years and was the unanimous choice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Nominating Commission.

Greece skids to marriage equality

Marriage equality will finally come to the place that put the Greek in Greek love. In an odd twist of politics, the current prime minister of Greece, who was put into office by his conservative parliamentary majority, counted on liberal votes in the parliament to carry the motion. The leader of the liberals is a gay male activist who is married to a man. The biggest opposition came from the Greek Orthodox Church clergy, who claim homosexuality is a mental illness and the bill is “Satanic.” The liberals see the bill as imperfect with prohibitions on surrogacy and regulations on adoptions but voted for the legislation, calling marriage equality a good first step. 

RIP Steve Ostrow, bathhouse trailblazer

In 1968, Steve Ostrow founded the Continental Baths in the basement of New York City’s Ansonia Hotel. Ostrow created a luxurious bathhouse as a sex club and performance space. He died in an Australian retirement home at age 91. The Baths were of Roman-themed decor with cascading waterfalls, saunas, public spaces with bunk beds, private rooms, and a disco dance floor. As the Continental Baths prospered, Ostrow added a cabaret stage, restaurant, gym, bar, boutique, travel desk, medical clinic, and a rooftop deck with sand from a nearby beach. The Continental’s introduction of a live entertainment space helped launch the careers of pop superstars like Bette Midler and Barry Manilow. Others to appear during the bath’s 1968 to 1974 run were Melissa Manchester, Labelle, The Manhattan Transfer, Jane Olivor, Melba Moore, Liz Torres, Wayland Flowers, Nell Carter, and Peter Allen. The influx of “spicy straights” and other non-gay patrons eventually led to the loss of the Continental’s gay-male clientele and closure in 1974. The space was converted to a mixed-sex sex club called “Plato’s Retreat.” The advent of the AIDS/HIV epidemic gave moralistic blue noses the excuse they needed in the late 1980s to close most bathhouses in the U.S. after the death of the groundbreaking Continental.

Officiants can decline to officiate in Tennessee

The Tennessee legislature passed a bill to allow government officials to refuse to officiate marriages based on their personal beliefs, including objections to LGBTQ+ weddings. Clerks and other officials will not be able to deny a marriage license to anyone, just refuse to perform the ceremony if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on conscience or religious beliefs. Why the new law, since Tennessee already permits individuals to decline to officiate at marriages if they choose? The new language specifically gives government officials, elected or appointed, a legal out to officiating. The governor is expected to sign the bill.

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