December 01, 2007
Once more into the ENDA breach
Posted by: Chris
That Washington Blade story quoting a polling expert criticizing the wording of the Human Rights Campaign poll on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has drawn the expected chorus of howls from the "trans or bust" crowd. As a reminder the survey asked GLBT respondents to pick which of three opinions about ENDA most closely reflected their own:
- 68 percent said national GLBT groups should support ENDA even though it does not include a provision for transgender workers "because it helps gay, lesbian and bisexual workers and is a step toward transgender employment rights";
- 16 percent said national GLBT groups should oppose ENDA "because it excludes transgender people";
- 13 percent wanted groups to take a neutral stance "because while it helps gay, lesbian and bisexual workers, it also excludes transgender people";
- 3 percent didn't answer the question.
John Statura, who directs the Purdue University Social Research Institute, told the Blade that the survey is "playing games" by asking respondents to evaluate the "because" rather than ENDA itself.
In response, my old friend transgender activist Pauline Park over at Logo's Visible Voice leapt on the criticism to question the legitimacy of the survey. Park also took issue with the portion of the majority answer that says the gay-only ENDA is "a step toward transgender employment rights."
Mike Signorile, another vocal "trans or bust" supporter, claimed the Blade story proved HRC had been "skewing polls to back up [its] bad decisions and dishonest dealings."
That particular claims defies logic, not an usual feature of a Signorile argument, considering HRC was itself pushing the "trans or bust" strategy back in early October, the time frame of the survey in question. If anything, HRC buried the results of a survey it didn't like until the release suited the organization's reversal in viewpoint. Still slimy, to be sure, but it doesn't undermine as much the findings of the survey itself.
As to Statura's criticism, in one sense he seems to misunderstand the purpose of the poll, which was not to choose between bills so much as choose between strategies, which means the "because" statements are exactly what needed to be analyzed. Even more striking, however, was this criticism:
“I don’t know why they didn’t go with a straightforward, ‘Here’s the act. Should we support it, should we oppose it, or should we take a neutral stance’” he said.
But the HRC survey did do exactly that. The survey's other question, which has gotten much less attention, asks:
This proposal would make it illegal to fire gay, lesbian, or bisexual workers because of their sexual orientation. This proposal does NOT include people who are transgender. Would you favor or oppose this proposal?
Favor: 75% (strongly favor: 59%)
Oppose: 23% (strongly oppose: 15%)
So worded the way Statura wanted, the results were even more strongly in favor of Barney Frank's compromise, gay-only ENDA -- even though the question reminded respondents that transgender workers would not be protected. Funny how the Blade story, Park and Signorile all neglected any mention of that particular result.
The other survey "expert" quoted in the Blade story is Christopher Barron, a Washington political consultant and former Log Cabin Republicans political director. I'm not sure why Blade reporter Josh Lynsen would have selected Barron, given the long-time animus between HRC and Log Cabin, and since the story doesn't even indicate whether Barron's consulting work might ally him with any of the GOP business interests who oppose ENDA.
Regardless, Barron and Statura both raised nonspecific concerns about the methodology behind the survey as well, but without details it's difficult to know what these additional concerns were. A two-page memo from Knowledge Networks, which conducted the survey, was provided to Barron and Statura but doesn't provide much demographic data beyond gender (51-49 female) and that 1% was male-to-female transgender.
The memo did not break down the sexual orientation of the respondents, which could be a key point that does question the credibility of the survey. As we know, Knowledge Networks also provided the pool of GLB respondents for the Hunter College poll this week that purported to show Hillary Clinton enjoying almost two-thirds support.
The two big problems with that survey was its gender breakdown -- like the ENDA survey, 51-49 female -- and sexual orientation breakdown -- 49 percent bisexual. A number of us who've seen demographic breakdowns on "the GLBT community" for years questioned any survey that is split 51-49 female and 49-51 bisexual. Most demographic indicators show that those self-identifying as part of the GLBT community are overwhelmingly male -- 65 to 70 percent -- and very few are bisexual.
The Blade story doesn't indicate whether Statura is gay or has any familiarity with the gay community, so it's unclear whether he would even think to raise questions about the demographic breakdown of the poll.
Unfortunately, all of these questions, raised by whichever camp, bring to mind how treacherous it is for anyone to say they know what "the GLBT community" thinks about any particular issue, especially one as divisive as the ENDA debate. But just so we're clear, it was the United ENDA crowd -- led by Matt Foreman and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force -- that made the false and misleading claim to "represent" GLBT Americans on this issue. Not the other way around.
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