October 07, 2007

More on ENDA

I've gathered a few interesting stories regarding the status of ENDA (Employer Non-Discrimination Act) and what it will or will not include in its final version>

The Advocate posted a commentary by Riki Wilchins, the director of GenderPAC where she points out that trandgender people like her are not the only ones affected by the watered down version of ENDA now most likely to make it to the House floor.

So, now that the time comes to strike gender identity and expression from ENDA, it is difficult for us to explain why not only transgender people are affected. That effeminate gay men (like Medina Rene of Rene v. MGM Grand) and aggressive lesbian women (like Ann Hopkins of Hopkins v. Price Waterhouse) and even straight men who are not quite as manly as coworkers expect (like Joseph Oncale of Oncale v. Sundowner) all face harassment and discrimination because of their gender as well.

So I would like to speak to you who support this stripped-down, non-inclusive bill that protects only sexual orientation. If you think this bill is about identity, about you getting your rights as one of those fortunate “straight-looking and -acting” gay people, then you have made a fine decision.

But if you think it is about a community, about the love, struggles, and experiences we have all shared, then I think you have made a terrible choice. I hope you will one day decide to speak out, as I am doing, about the need for a bill that includes all of us.

In the final analysis, the moral center of a movement is not defined by how well and how long we fight for our own rights. Important as that is, the moral center of a movement is defined by how well and how long we fight for those who are not us, for those more easily left behind.

This essay from Americablog is not surprised that GLBT leaders are willing to defer the protections for transgender people since the T in GLBT is a late addition and something of a stepchild to the fight for equal rights:

As little as 14 years ago, the phrase "lesbian and gay community" was used by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force back in 1993 (while NGLTF is now leading the charge for transgender inclusion in the "LGBT" community). And as little as two years ago, GLAAD (which has also been at the forefront of trans inclusion in the gay community) still used the phrase "LGB community" on their Web site to differentiate the gay community from the transgendered community ("By dismissing these issues as merely a by-product of comedy, the LGB community gives a free pass to the mockery of the trans community"). Then, sometime in the late 90s, groups like GLAAD and NGLTF started adding the T to the LGB, and I remember at the time scratching my head as to why. And I wasn't alone.

The moral of the story: Anyone who says that transgendered people have always been accepted as part of the gay community is simply wrong. A little over ten years ago, NGLTF, the group that was quite possibly at the forefront of pushing the inclusion of T in LGB (and who is leading the effort to include trans in ENDA) didn't even use the T themselves. So the question remains, if NGLTF has only accepted transgendered people as part of the community for a little over ten years, when did the rest of the gay community do the same, and has it yet?

I would argue that the gay community never collectively and overwhelmingly decided to include the T in LGB (or GLB). It happened because a few groups like NGLTF and GLAAD starting using it, and they and a handful of vocal activists and transgender leaders pretty much shamed everyone else into doing it. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn't necessarily mean that the T shouldn't have been added. I'm just saying that I don't think the T was added because there was a groundswell of demand in the gay community that we add T to LGB. I think it happened through pressure, organizational fiat, shame, and osmosis.

And that is how we got into the mess we're in today.

This article from MSNBC points out the difference between acceptance of rights for gays and lesbians vs. transgender people:

Many Americans know and work with a gay or lesbian person, but how many have a nodding acquaintance with a transgender person?

That distinction may explain why the House of Representatives is likely to vote within the next few weeks for job protections for gays and lesbians, but not for people who are transsexuals or adopt the appearance and mannerisms of the other sex.

One Democratic freshman in a Republican-leaning district, Rep. Zack Space of Ohio, said he supports the idea of banning workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But legal protections for transgender people, he said, is a “more foreign” idea, and he is “not comfortable making a commitment on that.”

The HRC has been right in the middle of this controversy and, as a result, lost their only transgender board member, Donna Rose. She discussed her resignation in an interview with The Advocate:

Though Donna Rose resigned as the first and only transgender member of the Human Rights Campaign’s board of directors on Wednesday, she has no hard feelings toward the organization.

“I really believe that the board feels as though they have the best interest of the LGBT community in mind even though the end result doesn’t appear that way,” she told The Advocate, adding that work she has done with HRC has provided some of her “proudest” moments.

The HRC board’s statement posted Monday read, “HRC will not support the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill.” But the real controversy erupted around what wasn’t said -- HRC’s statement never indicated that it would oppose passing the “sexual orientation” only bill.

“I could not fulfill my obligations as a board member to support that tepid stance,” said Rose.

Most insiders believe the creation of two bills will lead to passing the non-inclusive ENDA through both chambers of Congress perhaps this year (though President Bush may very well veto it), while leaving the “gender identity” bill to languish for an untold number of years. A noninclusive ENDA was passed in New York, for instance, in 2002, while five years later, its gender counterpart (GENDA) still has an uncertain future.

The HRC posted an entry on their blog "HRC Back Story" detailing their involvement in the ongoing process of finalizing ENDA. It included this statement from HRC president Joe Solmonese:

“Some may say we should have joined the growing chorus of public dissenters earlier. We believed, and still do, that the correct course of action was to continue dialogue with our allies on the Hill and work to the last minute to effect change,” said Solmonese. “That decision, in addition to yesterday’s letter signed by GLBT and civil rights organizations, paid off when we were able to engage in direct conversations that resulted in a guarantee from House leadership to postpone the mark-up until later this month.”

Solmonese shared a personal message in a later post on HRC Back Story:

The last two weeks have been the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching of my life—and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Ever since we received word last week that the original, complete version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was in trouble, many in our community have spent more than one sleepless night tossing and turning, trying to figure out the best strategy for moving forward. And although there were different views on which road to take, I personally received strength in knowing that our goal—enacting one bill that protects the entire GLBT community—would be the ultimate destination.

Three rock-solid principles have guided my decision-making throughout this ordeal: a) In the context of decisions that lawmakers had made, HRC must craft a strategy that would achieve an inclusive ENDA most expeditiously; b) an “incremental” strategy that said we’d “come back and pick up gender identity in a few years” was not acceptable; and c) we couldn’t affect change if we weren’t part of the legislative process. Those principles have dictated all of my actions and will continue to do so.

That final principle—staying in the game in order to influence the outcome—has, thus far, been almost unique to HRC, and the actions we’ve taken based upon it have come under intense scrutiny by others. No matter how difficult it is to come under fire, however, we know that turning our backs on our relationships with Congress is not an acceptable strategy for HRC. It would completely incapacitate us in the fight for a complete bill. Everything that has transpired in the past week, and everything that we will do going forward, reflects this basic understanding: if we remain outside of the legislative process, we have no hope of influencing it.

The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) isn't buying it and planned to picket the HRCs annual National Dinner Saturday night.

While Solmonese's statement about "the last two weeks have been the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching of my life" reaks of, dare I say, a drama queen moment (I bet most of wish a setback in a piece of legislation was the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching thing that ever happened to us), I think the point he made in the last paragraph is right on. I believe leaders of the GLBT community need to stay engaged as active participants in the legislative process, not pull away and cry foul when they believe, rightly so, that they have been blindsided.

Kevin Naff, the editor of the Washington Blade, doesn't totally agree with my point but still offers one of the more reasoned opinions I've seen over the last few days:

Meanwhile, others are gunning for the Human Rights Campaign, accusing its leaders of abandoning the “T” in GLBT. The snarky press releases have been flying all week, online message boards are filled with anti-HRC invective and at least one trans group even plans to picket the HRC National Dinner Saturday night in D.C.

We all love a protest!

The problem with this overheated reaction is it’s self-destructive, counterproductive, oversimplified and, in some cases, strikingly hypocritical. Some of the most vocal opponents of Frank’s amended ENDA bill supported state non-discrimination measures that also omitted trans people not so long ago.

To be sure, no one is blameless in this mess. HRC must accept its share of responsibility for failing to adequately educate and lobby new conservative Democrats on trans issues. That responsibility isn’t HRC’s alone, though, and all those energized by this debate should stay active, visible and aggressive in meeting with and educating House members in their districts.

No one is arguing that the law should leave trans people behind. In fact, transgender people are most in need of protection from employment discrimination. But achieving these goals requires strategy and patience, not emotion and personal attacks. Instead of petitions and angry blogs, gay rights advocates should be focused on using the repreieve granted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to educate members and strategize for the best outcome. The answer may be to pull the bills altogether and come back in 2009. If that happens, gay activists need to be more careful about the Democrats they choose to support. As we’ve seen in this debate and elsewhere in recent weeks, it’s not a given that Democrats will stand with us. They have taken gay support for granted for too long and gays have let them get away with it.

I hope that this process leads to protection for ALL people in the workplace, but still feel that the priority is to ensure at least protection for some in the GLBT community rather than a complete defeat that benefits no one.

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