October 02, 2007
ENDA, gay rights get trans-jacked
Posted by: Chris
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank have agreed to delay until later this month consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act after some 90 GLBT groups joined in a letter of opposition to Barney's decision to strip trans protections from the bill. Frank, the leading gay Democrat, made the move after a private headcount showed there was not enough support in the House to pass a trans-inclusive version of ENDA.
At this point, the Pelosi-Frank decision is a delay, not a reversal, but if the delay sticks and the trans-inclusive version fails, it would be a remarkable betrayal of gays across the U.S., who have been waiting for more than 30 years to pass a basic civil rights bill through Congress.
ENDA enjoys its best chance ever of passage today, since gay-friendly Democrats control the House for the first time since 1994, and the Senate for the first time since 2002. The bipartisan support has been there even during periods of GOP control, but the Republican leadership blocked ENDA from full passage. Now, finally, when the political stars are aligned, and even President Bush hasn't outright threatened a veto, gay movement "leaders" have saddled ENDA with transgender protections that don't yet have sufficient political support.
The demand for "additional time" to lobby for a trans-inclusive ENDA, led by Matt Foreman at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, is incredibly disingenuous. For one thing, the Task Force and the 89 other groups demanding a trans-or-bust ENDA have had years to lobby for this bill. Even if trans rights supporters are able to salvage enough votes for House passage, which is very doubtful, they have zero chance of getting their version of the bill through the closely divided Senate, much less by the super-majority required to overcome a Republican filibuster.
The few extra weeks pleaded for by Foreman are unlikely to accomplish anything but to kill momentum for a gay-specific ENDA. And that, my friends, is the real goal of the Task Force here. The rest of us will suffer through with no workplace protection because Foreman is still working through his liberal guilt for having successfully pushed through civil rights protections for New York gays while heading up the Empire State Pride Agenda, even though it took jettisoning transgender protections to get the job done.
His overwrought press release prose -- "In this defining and morally transformative moment, our community has come together in an unprecedented way" -- signal his true position, which is to oppose protections based on sexual orientation not just for a few additional weeks, but forever, until there's enough political support in Congress and the White House to pass transgender protections as well. Let there be no doubt on this point; the letter signed by Foreman and leaders of 89 other GLBT groups is headlined, "United opposition to sexual-orientation-only employment nondiscrimination legislation."
The Human Rights Campaign, on the other hand, has kept its head down, ceding leadership to Foreman and the Task Force, until HRC could see which way the wind was blowing. Despite all the action last week on ENDA, HRC waited until late Friday to issue a statement that accepted the Frank-Pelosi decision, even while trying to claim opposition to it. Then on Oct. 1, when HRC saw itself even more isolated among GLBT groups, the nation's largest GLBT groups signed its own letter, joined by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, that expressed opposition to "the strategy and process" followed by Pelosi and Frank. Funny, that's not what HRC said three days earlier.
The position advocated by all of these groups makes as little logical sense as it does political. The 90 groups claim in their letter, in bold print no less, that, "We oppose legislation that leaves part of our community without protections and basic security that the rest of us are provided."
What a disappointing break with reason, politics and history. ENDA was never meant as a comprehensive civil rights bill. It doesn't protect those gays or transgender people who are fine with their jobs but face discrimination in other areas, whether being kicked out of their homes or the military, or denied public accommodations, or refused legal recognition of their relationships.
Since 1994, the whole point of ENDA was to zero in on the most narrowly achievable, incremental progress. Protection based on sexual orientation in the workplace was correctly viewed as having the greatest political support. Now those who run our GLBT rights organizations -- perhaps to perpetuate the need for their own organizations -- have abandoned that strategy for one that makes absolutely no sense: Let's pass the most politically palatable form of protection (in the workplace) but saddle it with the least politically palatable category (gender identity).
Make no mistake about the political effect of the "trans-jacking" of not just ENDA, but the whole movement. ENDA and hate crimes have always been at the top of the long and growing list of gay rights bills in Congress. So long as energy is spent on a trans-inclusive ENDA, then Congress has all the cover it needs to perpetually postpone more politically sensitive votes on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or federal recognition of same-sex couples.
Since the vast majority of us enter into relationships that would benefit from legal recognition, progress on that front would affect almost every single gay or bisexual person. But for now we must wait even longer because our "leaders" have decided that protecting transsexuals from workplace discrimination is more important than winning basic legal recognition for our relationships.
So now the streamlined bill that was given the top spot of the gay rights agenda is holding everything else back. At least movement veterans like Foreman have succeeded in securing their own workplace protection, since they've managed to postpone indefinitely the success of the gay rights movement.
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