April 15, 2008
Foreman's farewell thoughts
Posted by: Chris
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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