October 30, 2006
Barney backs trans-jacked ENDA
Posted by: Chris
When the new, perhaps Democratic-controlled U.S. House convenes next year, it will be considering a new version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which in past incarnations would have prohibited workplace bias on the basis of sexual orientation. This time around, gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will be introducing a new ENDA that adds protections based on "gender identity," the Washington Blade's Lou Chibbaro reported this week.
Before this, Barney has been among the voices of reason who cautioned against adding transgender rights to ENDA's gay protections, which despite widespread public support hasn't managed to win passage, no matter which party controlled Congress or the White House. With George W. Bush still president for two more years, adding trans protections makes ENDA an almost sure loser.
The move to add trans protections to ENDA comes two years after the Human Rights Campaign, during the disastrous one-year tenure of Cheryl Jacques as director, announced the remarkable strategy of opposing ENDA if trans protections aren't included or are removed by amendment.
There are so many reasons that the "trans-jacking" of ENDA is a bad idea, and even immoral:
1. Some federal courts have ruled that existing federal civil rights laws covering gender already protect transgender workers. The rulings aren't universal, but they offer more protections than lesbian and gay Americans have. And if a gay-only version of ENDA passed, transgender workers would win even more protection, since in many cases the discrimination they face is based on their perceived sexual orientation ("faggot," "dyke") not the bigoted boss' sophisticated notions of gender identity and expression.
2. ENDA itself represents a compromise strategy adopted by the gay movement after failed efforts to add "sexual orientation" to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which covers the workplace, housing and public accommodations. Having put off everything but employment protection in the name of getting legislation passed, it makes no sense to encumber ENDA with trans protections.
3. Gay and transgender issues are different, and throwing them together will muddy the debate. Even the core gay rights claim that homosexuality is not a mental disease will come up against the claim by most transgender activists that gender dysphoria ought to remain a recognized psychological disorder covered by workplace health insurance, including gender transitioning. Throw in the dress code and bathroom debates that gay rights activists have put behind them, and you can see what direction conservatives will take things.
4. Even moreso than with court rulings, civil rights legislation isn't about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Progress is made incrementally, and it isn't immoral to win passage for gay workplace protections, for which the groundwork has been laid, before pushing for transgender rights — just like it wasn't immoral for women's rights advocates to win gender protections without also enacting gay rights as well.
5. Conversely, it is immoral to hold gay workplace protections hostage until trans rights can be enacted. Every bit of data I've seen estimates the "T" as less than 1 percent of the "GLBT community." The issue isn't whether transgender Americans deserve workplace protections; of course they do. But it's horribly unfair to the 99 percent to make them wait until there's enough support for the remaining 1 percent.
And please don't raise the old canard about drag queens rioting at Stonewall. Whatever debt gay Americans owe transgender people based on the role a few drag queens played at a riot almost four decades ago has been paid (and is being paid) by the ongoing transgender advocacy by gay rights groups, almost all of which have added the "T" to their mission statement.
Over the years, I have been disappointed and depressed with the outrageous and mean-spirited way with which many transgender activists have reacted when I've taken issue with their piggyback strategy. The attacks are almost always personal — about how I'm ignorant, bigoted, trans-phobic, hate-filled, etc. — for daring to disagree. If this is how most (if not all) trans activists represent their movement to those of us who actually agree with most of their goals, just not their strategy, I certainly don't want them out front representing mine.
The Blade story didn't report whether Barney backs HRC's "trans or bust" strategy, so there's hope yet that "the new ENDA" can be salvaged during the legislative process. Fellow Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, ENDA's chief cosponsor on the Senate side, also isn't talking. In the past, he hasn't supported adding trans protections for the same reason.
"Our goal is to get the legislation passed," a Kennedy aide told the Blade two years ago. Shouldn't that be HRC and Barney's goal as well?
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