October 08, 2007
Gay papers weigh in on ENDA
Posted by: Chris
Gay newspaper editorials this past week reflect the divide among GLBs generally on whether to adopt a "trans or bust" strategy for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The vigorous debate on LGBT editorial pages further puts the lie to Matt Foreman's claims of "unity" on the subject, and also offers a convenient way to drill down to the core issues here.
The Bay Area Reporter published a harshly worded editorial taking to task "two stalwarts of our community" -- Barney Frank and the Human Rights campaign -- for their ENDA positions. The editorial chastised HRC for its "inexplicable and inexcusable" silence during much of the debate over ENDA, which HRC has defended as necessary to "staying in the game" with Barney Frank and other Congressional leaders. (As if Barney Frank would refuse HRC's phone calls if they publicly opposed him.)
HRC has managed to alienate many on both sides of the ENDA issue, while no doubt remaining popular with those who want to ride the fence on ENDA until they can see how it all comes out in the end. After "heartbreaking" and "wrenching" internal debate -- one can imagine the hand-wringing -- Joe Solmonese has described HRC's position as "unequivocally" in support of trans-inclusive ENDA and opposed to gay-specific ENDA.
That said, Solmonese does equivocate on what HRC do if Barney and Nancy Pelosi go forward with a gay-specific version. When push comes to shove, HRC will apparently abandon its "unequivocal" position and will not actively oppose a gay-specific version.
The BAR editorial closes by noting:
What's amazing to us is that Frank and HRC are blind to the fact that the gutted ENDA bill weakens workplace protections for all members of the LGBT community, not just those who are transgender. By removing gender expression, the bill leaves out a key element to protect any employee, including lesbians and gay men, who may not conform to their employer's idea of how a man or a woman should look and act, according to a preliminary analysis by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
I hope the good journalists at BAR will not accept without scrutiny Lambda Legal's analysis on this point, simply because it fits the publication's editorial position. Dale Carpenter and I both have challenged, and in my view overcome, Lambda Legal's ENDA argument (which Lambda Legal failed to make for more than a decade while the gay-specific ENDA was pending in Congress and dozens of states and local government were passing gay-specific civil rights bills).
Tracy Baim, the publisher and editor of the Windy City Times, also weighed in strongly against Barney's ENDA strategy:
The activists should look to Illinois for an example of a “no compromise” plan that succeeded. Our state bill included sexual orientation and gender identity, and it is now the law of the Land of Lincoln.
Rep. Frank’s rationale for these maneuvers sounds good on paper, but does not represent the reality for our community. We cannot ever justify exclusion as a course of action. To sever a significant part of our community would be wrong. If it takes losing “T” to get our rights, none of us should want those rights.
I don't think it's fair to compare passing something through Congress to getting it through the Illinois state legislature, given that Illinois is decidedly more
red blue than the rest of the country.
The second point Tracy makes is a head-scratcher to me. Not because I don't understand it, but because I don't see why she doesn't understand the converse: The real immorality is to make the gay Americans who work in the 31 states that unlike hers don't have workplace protections wait until Congress and the president are ready to protect a vastly smaller number of transgender workers as well. Such a strategy is virtually unprecedented in the history of civil rights law.
On that point, my respected former colleague Laura Douglas Brown at Southern Voice in Atlanta makes a humdinger of a point. In an editorial that stopped just short of outright supporting Barney's strategy, Laura responds to the bigger civil rights picture:
In a telephone news conference held Tuesday by the coalition, H. Alexander Robinson, director of the National Black Justice Coalition, cited the example of the fight for full equality for African Americans. He said that those rights often came incrementally, but argued that, "the rights that were extended … were extended to everyone."
"We waited for voting rights. We waited for housing rights," he said.
In reality, however, voting rights weren't extended to "everyone." The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave voting rights to black men — a move that outraged suffragettes, including Susan B. Anthony, who had also been ardent abolitionists and refused to support the male-only amendment. The resulting controversy split the movement for women's suffrage and perhaps contributed to the years of delay before women — white and black — finally gained the right to vote in 1920.
Should black men have had to wait another 50 years to get their right to vote, until the country was ready to pass suffrage for women, too? Or would women's suffrage have come sooner if it remained linked to votes for black men?
Is it more selfish for gay people to abandon trans people, or for trans people to demand that gay, lesbian and bisexual people wait for job protections — maybe for decades — until they can be included too?
Exactly. No one celebrates the fact that progress has to be incremental, but it is an inevitability accepted by almost everyone, including those of us waiting in foreign countries for Congress to address our issue: immigration rights for binational gay couples.
Finally, Susan Ryan-Vollmar at Bay Windows (in Boston) has some finger-wagging for those like her counterpart at the Bay Area Reporter who insist on ideological purity at the expense of practicality:
Claiming that Frank has betrayed the trans community, as some are now doing (Los Angeles Times sportswriter Christine Daniels wrote this week that he was engaged in a strategy to “throw the transfolk overboard”) is breathtakingly ignorant of the facts.
The targeting of the Human Rights Campaign for its failure to align itself with the LGBT organizations that have promised to work to defeat a non-inclusive ENDA is equally ignorant of reality. Who can seriously expect the nation’s largest organization working to pass legislation on our behalf to refuse to work with Pelosi and Frank?
This petulant insistence on purity, principle and perfection is a hallmark not just of the LGBT community, but of American politics in general. Just look at James Dobson’s and the Christian right’s demands that the Republican Congress take up an overly broad Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when a much narrower provision that would have allowed for civil unions stood a much better chance of passage.
Not that I’m comparing progressive LGBT activists with the Christian right. After all, the Christian right is capable of delivering votes, huge sums of money to candidates and hundreds of thousands of phone calls to lawmakers when an issue is deemed important enough to warrant it. Progressive activists? Not so much.
It's noteworthy that all four of these editorialists are lesbians -- assuming the BAR's Cynthia Laird wrote that paper's unsigned editorial. It goes to show that no part of our community is free from the division wrought by this wrongheaded and short-sighted strategy. Someone should remind Matt Foreman.
For a complete news summary on ENDA, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/enda
For a complete news summary on transgender rights, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/transgender
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