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    April 15, 2008

    Foreman's farewell thoughts

    Posted by: Chris

    Foremanmatt700224 I'm just off of a media conference call with Matt Foreman and other leaders of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, marking his final day as executive director. He'll be succeeded in interim fashion by Rea Carey, his deputy E.D., with no firm date set for a successor to be named. (Carey said she has not applied for the job but will stay on as deputy E.D.)

    Regular readers of this blog know that Foreman led the Orwellian-named "United ENDA" effort, which aimed to oppose the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act after Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi determined that only a version limited to "sexual orientation" had enough votes. Rather than rehash the "trans-or-bust" strategy urged by Foreman et al., I chose to ask him a forward-looking question.

    As noted in a previous post, ENDA took the top spot on the "gay agenda" because HRC's Elizabeth Birch and other movement leaders in the early 1990s agreed with Barney and others that it made most sense to trim down the broader gay civil rights bill pushed by Bella Abzug and others since the early '70s in favor of a more limited bill with the best chance of passage.

    Whatever your view about the "trans-or-bust" debate last fall, it's clear that ENDA is no longer the golden child most likely to succeed: whether as a trans-inclusive bill that lacks support even among Democrats in the House, or as a gay-only bill that generates public bickering within the movement that leaves politicians with no-win options.

    My question was whether as a result the movement ought to step back and reconsider its federal legislative agenda and press forward on other issues, like "Don't Ask Don't Tell" or relationship recognition. Foreman agreed in principle, complaining that ENDA ("a very small bill") had made the movement "a one trick pony" for far too long.

    "We as a movement probably made a mistake a long time ago about what our priorities would be," allowed Foreman, because as it turned out ENDA as a gay-only bill failed to pass even when Democrats controlled one or both houses of Congress and the White House.

    At the same time, he nodded to the political reality that "the bills debated the longest are at the head of the queue," meaning ENDA isn't going anywhere from its perch at the top of the agenda. He said his "biggest fear" is that even if a Democrat takes the White House and the party broadens its control of Congress, they will enact ENDA and declare that's enough for the gays for the new president's first term.

    He was also surprisingly frank about the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which would add gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal hate crimes law. "I don't even consider that 'a gay bill," said Foreman. "I really don't see that on the list for our community."

    His thinking was that the bill includes many non-LGBT categories and is backed by a much broader civil rights coalition than ENDA. He also pointed out: "The real-world importance of the hate crimes bill pales in significance to other issues like 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' and relationship recognition."

    As much as I disagree fundamentally with the divisive tactics of Foreman, United ENDA and transgender activists, I largely agree with his observations about ENDA, movement priorities and the Shepard Act. I also share his "biggest fear" about what we're likely to get from a new Democratic president, though not as much under a President Obama than a second President Clinton. (See Etheridge vs. Clinton, HRC-Logo Forum (Aug. 9, 2007)).

    The ripple effect of that "mistake" in agenda-setting more than a decade ago is now rolling in at a very high tide. The Task Force leadership talked at length on the call about how they are working now to do what critics said they should have been doing all last year, lobbying Congress for a trans-inclusive ENDA. That's a boon for transgender Americans, the vast majority of whom don't even identify with "the gay or LGBT community," but it's a diversion of precious resources on several levels.

    Lobbying for an inclusive ENDA means they're pushing already gay-friendly members to also support trans protections, rather than working for a veto-proof majority that might get ENDA done this year, clearing the decks for legislation that Foreman acknowledges would be far more meaningful. Because of the "first come, first served" reality Foreman described, the long slog for a fully-inclusive ENDA further defers the day that the real heart of the gay rights movement -- relationship recongition -- finally gets its day in Congress.

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    Comments

    1. Andoni on Apr 15, 2008 4:57:25 PM:

      ENDA is our Iraq. It was supposed to small, quick and easy. Here we are 14 years later stuck and going nowhere. It's taking all our resources and we can't do anything else.

      Yes, I too fear that any new administration will use its capital on ENDA and Hate Crimes and call it a day for gay issues.

      In 2000 and 2004, I advocated asking for more than ENDA. I figured it was like a mother feeding baby birds when she comes back with food. If Gore or Kerry had won, we would get ours, ONLY ONE TIME AROUND, until all the other birds got their something too. And even back in 2000, getting only ENDA would have been disappointing.

      In 2008 getting only ENDA would still leave us at the back of the pack compared to other Western democracies. Our national organizations should be ashamed, really ashamed that we find ourselves in this position, without new thinking, new stategy. Again, like Iraq.

      I say we should scrap ENDA, right now. We should move repealing DADT or DOMA to #1. I would argue that repealing DADT is about to have the critical mass needed for passage on its own without much using much, so we should make repealing DOMA our #1 national priorty --using lobbying, people power, and political capital.

      Repealing DOMA in the long run will open up more opportunity for equality to many more people compared to ENDA. I would bet that in the next 2 years or so there will be another 3 to 5 states that allow gays to marry.

      DADT will also much suffering of gay folks, but I think this is about to happen on its own, especially with all the problems we are having keeping the numbers up in the military. All we need a a Chairman of the Joints Chiefs to go to Congress and ask for it as a military necessity, not as a favor to the gays. Why waste capital on things are that are about to happen on their own.

      I say we need to rethink our strategy right now.

    1. Tim C on Apr 16, 2008 8:58:53 AM:

      Is NGLTF able to admit they are making a mistake in continuing to demand a trans-inclusive ENDA or are they going to continue down that road even if it means gays are unprotected from discrimination in employment and housing for another decade? Of course, a passed ENDA is no good for fundraising.

      I believe, in the realm of the attainable, I would prioritize DADT followed by federal recognition of relationships. I think that guy at ACLU has an attainable plan, though I'm not sure which is the better way -- overturning part 3 of DOMA or separate legislation that essentially does the same thing. I think in the current climate, elimination of DADT is very attainable. I don't think we need to expend any political capital on hate crimes and ENDA is on its way to being mooted by state regulations. If you can get an orientation-only ENDA passed in the near future, great, but it's not worth the political capital over the next X years to get a trans-inclusive one while all else suffers.

      The key thing that NGLTF and its ilk have forgotten, or perhaps never realized, is that politics is about getting what you can when you can get it. A great example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

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