May 23, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Some Republicans are trying to brush it off as the kind of debate you have in you freshman dorm at 2 a.m. Not so for us gays.
The objection raised by Rand Paul, the GOP Senate nominee from Kentucky, to the role of government in the enforcement of civil rights laws in the private sector is very real, and has been raised repeatedly by conservative Democrats and Republicans alike to explain away their opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other gay civil rights measures.
Paul has suggested that the marketplace would take care of itself when it comes to mistreatment of minorities by private business owners. Consider this timely example from ABC News, taken from a diner in the New York City -- hardly a bastion of anti-gay hysteria -- where almost no one comes to the defense of two gay couples with children being ejected from a restaurant by a waiter because of no other reason but their sexual orientation...
The libertarian argument against the public accommodations provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, much like the "small government," "pro-business" opposition to ENDA today, is not in and of itself racist or homophobic, but it undoubtedly lends creedence and cover to those who are. And since it's still being trotted out during the civil rights battles of this era, Republican leaders should be called to task for not consigning it to where it belongs -- those late-night dormitory arguments of theory and abstract.
February 19, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Lost in the debate over President Obama's revived push to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell is the ugly stepchild of gay rights legislation: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Once the darling of the movement, ENDA was to be the vehicle through which gay civil rights won its first victory into federal law.
As the name suggests, ENDA covers only the workplace and that limited scope is intentional; its leading advocates during the Elizabeth Birch years at the Human Rights Campaign argued that a more limited gay rights measure on an issue unrelated to marriage had the best chance of passage, thereby creating momentum for the rest of the gay agenda.
It almost worked. ENDA came within a single vote of passing the U.S. Senate in 1995, two years after Don't Ask Don't Tell and one year before the Defense of Marriage Act. It has resurfaced from time to time in subsequent years, only to be slapped down by Republicans when they were in the majority of one house of Congress or the other.
Then in 2007, Barney Frank reintroduced ENDA to a Democratic-controlled Congress, and for the first time -- the first time! -- gender identity was included along with sexual orientation as a protected category. After all those years of gay-only ENDA waiting its turn, the inclusion of trans protections effectively killed ENDA's chances of passage now that the Dems finally controlled Congress again.
When it became clear that the votes weren't there for trans-ENDA, Frank and Tammy Baldwin and HRC agreed to a compromise that once again limited ENDA to its original form protecting sexual orientation-based discrimination. Trans activists and the progressive blogosphere furiously erupted in response, labeling anyone who disagreed with this tactic as a cold-blooded traitor to the movement.
The compromise ENDA overwhelmingly passed the House, but the maelstrom manufactured in activists circles effectively killed its chances in the Senate, where many of those who would have otherwise backed workplace protections for tens of millions of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers balking at voting for a bill that would only earn the ire of many of the loudest LGBT voices.
Fast forward two years, the election of a Democratic president who supports a trans-inclusive ENDA and a Congress with historic Democratic majorities. ENDA has once again gone nowhere, and now we know why:
Frank said the transgender protections were among the sticking points in negotiations [among House lawmakers] on how to proceed [on ENDA].
“There has always been a problem with the question of people who are transgender in situations where people are totally or partially unclothed,” he said.
While expecting movement in the House, Frank was less certain about ENDA’s prospects in the Senate.
“I’m less sure about that,” he said. “I think people have often underestimated some of the difficulties.”
This time around, Barney and HRC have been saying that they're unwilling to compromise on transgender inclusion in ENDA, but it's too soon to tell if they'll stick to those guns. In the hopes that Congress will move forward on protections for gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender Americans, I'll hold off recounting the long and compelling list of reasons why our leaders should be prepared to repeat the compromise of 2008 if it's the only way to secure passage before the looming midterm elections.
January 28, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Richard Socarides, who was apologist-in-chief for the disastrous two terms of Bill Clinton for gay civil rights, attempts to rewrite that history even as he takes a swipe at the current Democrat in the White House:
"In 1999, Bill Clinton became the first president ever to talk about gay rights in a State of the Union address. Eleven years later, not much has changed. [Talking again about ending the policy] without a moratorium on the witch hunts and expulsions and without even a plan for future action, just won't cut it. Look, we are not second-class citizens and our rights are not second-term problems."
Not much has changed? Let's see. Bill Clinton abandoned his gays in the military pledge like a hot potato in the first months of his first year of his first term, and by 1995 had signed both Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act into law.
If Socarides really wants to talk about empty rhetoric, let's look at Bill Clinton's coded support for gay rights in his 1999 SOTU address:
Discrimination or violence because of race or religion, ancestry or gender, disability or sexual orientation is wrong and it ought to be illegal. Therefore, I ask Congress to make the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land.
No mention of the dreaded "G word" and a tepid request of Congress to back two inoccuous pieces of legislation that -- nudge nudge, wink wink -- only the gays knew were for our benefit. Clinton's throwaway reference contained no time commitment and one of those two bills still languishes in Congress, despite a supermajority in both chambers.
I'm all for keeping the Democrats feet to the fire on gay issues, but rather than whine about a president who actually did something meaningful, let's hear from Socarides and other FOB/H's about the MIA congressional leadership.
(Pictured with then-President Bill Clinton: "awkward old maid" Janet Reno (far left) and gay liaison Richard Socarides (holding red notebook)).
January 27, 2010
Posted by: Chris
5. Even in the throes of a grave economic crisis, Democrats in Congress could not resist converting the stimulus into an orgy of pork barrel spending that targeted neither job growth nor speedy infusion into the economy. How can you make the case for the capability of government to solve intractable problems when your own leaders are incapable of any fiscal self-restraint?
4. President Obama and the Democrats run so scared of GOP charges of being "weak on defense" that they double down on nation-building in Afghanistan masquerading as war, even though neither project ranks high enough in our national interest to justify the additional lives to be lost, much less the outrageous sums to be spent.
3. Conservative Democrats in the U.S. Senate (and a Connecticut independent bought and paid for by the insurance industry) may well have killed historic health care reform by their willingness to join with Republicans in the rank abuse of the filibuster so as to grease their own parochial pockets.
2. The party's congressional leadership appears prepared to throw universal health coverage under the bus to satisfy labor unions and abortion rights absolutists.
1. Despite controlling the White House and commanding supermajorities in the House and Senate, Democrats have almost completely failed to deliver tangible progress toward basic equality for gay and lesbian Americans. This government, firmly in control of the gay-friendly party, still refuses even to correct the horrors of the last Democratic high tide -- "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.
January 20, 2010
Posted by: Kevin
The Democratic Party promise since the 1990s: Give us all your money, all your votes, and we'll "fight 'til hell freezes over, then we'll fight on the ice" to deliver for the gay and lesbian community at the national level.
Well, that was a lie. Pure and simple. They had the power, and they didn't use it.
And as the much vaunted Democratic supermajority comes to a bitter and self-destructive end, it's become fairly obvious to everyone now what a lie it was. (I won't say I told you so.)
Tens of millions of dollars in wasted donations and almost two decades of furiously slavish political loyalty to the national Democratic establishment yielded passage of a mostly symbolic hate crimes law that had gone moldy on the dais for more than a decade, and nothing else. Indeed, we got more admonitions than action on all fronts, being told to wait even longer and not 'endanger' the prospects for totally unrelated legislation that ended up bombing anyway. I mean - what are they going to tell us next, that they need 75 seats and a 100-seat majority in the House to pass ENDA? Don't even think about repealing the military ban or the Defense of Marriage Act. (Oh, and send a check, please. 'Your life depends on it,' etc. and so forth....)
Indeed, allowing the Democratic leadership to shove aside reforms that go to the heart of being gay in America today, in favor of their disastrous legislative fiascos of the past three years, didn't get us anywhere. Their bumbling cost them the Senate supermajority that our community invested so much in building as part of this deal they offered us almost a generation ago. And now we get nothing. Again.
And even the way they lost the supermajority is like an anvil to the head. It was Ted Kennedy's seat. It was in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage. And it was at the hands of a Republican so conservative, so 'out-of-step' on paper with that state, that even I can't believe he won, or better, that the Dems lost. Could this be any more violent a wake-up call for all for all of us, finally yielding to a shift in gay national strategy? Will it be the moment we finally decide to end our toxic dependency on partisanship? Or is this just going to be like Lindsay Lohan crashing her car and saying it was an innocent mistake and not the pound of cocaine up her nose?
First, we need gay leaders with balls once and for all. Or just gay leaders, period. Joe Solomonese is chief among the fulsome, useless enablers of this failed bargain we've made, and frankly you should stop giving the Human Rights Campaign money until he resigns. What in hell has he accomplished in Washington worthy of the salary he receives? Getting Lady Gaga? How can you even bear to look at his insipid email missives now after all this? I certainly can't.
And while I agree that activism and commitment at the local and state level is probably more important, we cannot completely ignore the national imperatives. Don't just turn your head in disgust at what a joke HRC has become, or what a disaster the Democrats have been as a governing party. Do something about it. Register your opinion with them. Stop giving money to gay groups that fail to lead, and to party organizations that fail to deliver. Remove yourself from HRC's useless email lists (do you get anything other than requests for more money anymore?) Demand new leadership. Post comments on blogs, on Facebook, and in the few remaining gay newspapers around the country. Talk to like-minded gay and lesbian friends (especially longtime donors). Share ideas with each other and make a plan - any plan. But for God's sake, don't just turn your heads. Don't just sit there.
Wake up, people. The period between now and the 2010 elections will be the greatest test of whether we get action, or we wait another decade or two for a bus that is not going to stop here again. If we don't get anything back after all that we've invested, and all this community has done to deliver for them, explain to me why the Democratic Party should ever feel obliged to deliver for us in the future. We'll have proven ourselves the cheapest date in the history of party politics.
We are spinning our wheels until we push out the old and demand something new. Something real. Something courageous and honest at the front of this movement, who will live and die on results in the next 10 months.
It's time for someone to start fighting on the quickly hardening ice, and it had better be you.
June 04, 2009
Posted by: Chris
I've been writing for years and years about the tragic willingness of those in "leadership" roles of the gay rights movement to cut deals that betray their supposed constituents. Joe Solmonese and David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign are archetypes of this pathetic trend -- grossly overpaid lobbyists who spend far more political capital lowering the expectations of gays on behalf of the Democratic Party than they do pressuring for equality in Washington.
Thanks to a report for the Daily Beast by Jason Bellini -- formerly with Logo -- we have yet another pathetic example of HRC's betrayal of the movement, agreeing not to press for repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell until next year:
Don't say I didn't warn you. HRC and the Democrats have been promising (with no plan to deliver) passage of a hate crime law and Employment Non-Discrimination Act for more than a decade, including before the 2006 election, and yet we are still expected to be satisfied by these same civil rights crumbs for the entire first year that Democrats are firmly in control of Washington.
In some ways, delay is somewhat more justifiable on DADT than other gay rights measures, given the implementation steps to be taken in the midst of two foreign wars. But make no mistake: if DADT waits until 2010, then relationship recognition -- whether repeal of DOMA or a federal civil unions law -- won't get touched until after the midterm elections, if then.
I hope that grassroots activists and gay folks nationwide play Bellini's report again and again, paying special attention to Smith's dissembling and Solmonese's smarmy status-whoring, along with the ridiculous excuse-making by Tammy Baldwin. Come on, Congresswoman -- there hasn't been enough "education" on gay rights issues? Polls show overwhelming public support for not just ENDA and hate crime laws, but repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and for marriage or civil unions. Enough with the lame, self-serving excuses!
As for "the nation's largest gay rights group," we are definitely not getting what we pay for. Despite an astronomical budget, we get backroom deals and snail's pace progress. Then again, what do we expect from a civil rights group that recently bought a building with a 30-year mortgage? The Beltway tuxedo crowd is in no hurry, especially if actual activism might risk their coveted access and cocktail invites.
All this nonsense reminds me, unfortunately, of why I burned out on gay politics earlier this year. We can only hope that independent voices bypass the Solmonese/Smith crowd and demand change directly from the Democrats in power -- in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
Count me in for another March on Washington -- let's just make sure the HRC building is included on the protest route.
June 02, 2009
Posted by: Chris
... the more they actually do change sometimes. I posted last week about how my hometown county commission was debating an ordinance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to non-discrimination ordinances. Well, yesterday the measure passed 9-4, albeit in (further) watered-down form:
Gay rights activists whooped and applauded when the Shelby County Commission voted 9-4 Monday in favor of an ordinance that could protect gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people from employment discrimination, but the resolution that passed was weaker than they wanted -- its three paragraphs make no mention of sexual orientation. …
The resolution that passed says "discrimination against any Shelby County Government employee on the basis of non-merit factors shall be prohibited," and doesn't mention any protected groups.
It was introduced by Commissioner Sidney Chism, who along with James Harvey represented swing votes on the issue -- both abstained from voting when commissioners split on the matter 5-5 in a committee meeting last week.
The importance of the measure is largely symbolic anyway, showing that a measure that's called "gay rights" can actually be enacted here in the Deep South. Just as symbolic was the opposition, from local conservative religious leaders, of course -- proudly on the wrong side of yet one more civil rights movement that is inevitably moving toward victory.
How can someone vote against a measure that prohibits discrimination on the basis of "non-merit factors"? Only if they firmly believe even the government ought to hire and fire based on their personal religious beliefs, all while screaming that their cause is actually in defense of "religious freedom."
(Photo via Memphis Commercial Appeal/Brad Luttrell)
May 28, 2009
Posted by: Chris
Coming home to visit family in Memphis always offers a fresh reminder of how all those headlines about the forward march of marriage equality in some parts of the country bear little resemblance to the sad reality facing gay folk who live where I grew up. This trip home, I learned that the local county commission is embroiled in a debate about whether to adopt an ordinance banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
I listened (as long as I could force myself) to discussion of the proposal on the local AM conservative talk radio station, and opposition lined up mostly along the relatively new complaint we hear from anti-gay advocates that such laws discriminate against religious people. The ordinance carves out from its reach churches and other employers whose mission is faith-based, but the host and caller after caller complained that Christians who own their own businesses would nonetheless be forced to hire and not fire GLBT employees.
The sponsor of the ordinance, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, was the guest on the program and did an excellent job of answering the criticisms. (In fact, rarely have I heard a politician offer such an effective defense of gay rights.) He pointed out that religion was offered in the past and rejected as a defense for discriminating in the workplace based on race, gender, and -- actually -- religion.
Yesterday the ordinance failed the first test of its support on the commission, and these defenders of "religious freedom" failed the test of seriousness along the way. That's because an amendment was adopted to limit the ordinance to Shelby County government employees, not those in the private sector. If objections to the ordinance were really about these "Christian businesses," then the amendment should have answered them.
But, of course, this debate isn't about religious freedom at all. Because even when the proposal was limited to the government itself, it was rejected. The reason is as obvious as the coalition of conservative clergy organized to fight the ordinance and the biblical references of almost all those who spoke out against it at the commission meeting.
This wasn't about protecting the rights of conservative Christian-owned business to fire gay workers, it was about protecting the ability of conservative Christians in positions of authority in the government to hire and fire based upon their personal biblical views. That, my friends, is a far more insidious form of religious discrimination.
(Photo of anti-gay Commissioner Wyatt Bunker -- any relation to Archie? -- and coalition of conservative pastors via Commercial Appeal.)
March 21, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Finally, someone has put together an Omnibus Gay Rights Bill.
Tired of the piecemeal approach for equal rights taken by our leadership over the past 15 (or more) years, eQualityGiving decided to put it all on the table. If the goal is LGBT equality, let's spell out exactly what that means at the federal level -- in one bill. This is a very comprehensive, very well thought out proposal that has been months in the making. It is more than just the sum of the parts of our current proposals before Congress.
There are the major pros and cons of this approach. Critics will say that this bill is DOA. There is no way Congress will do all this. We aren't equal, we aren't close to being equal and they simply won't do it. Besides, a bill that encompasses so many issues will be split up and sent to a dozen different Congressional committees based on legislative jurisdiction, where it will turn into mincemeat when finished .....if it ever survives any of the committees.
The pro side says that we need to show Congress what true equality really looks like for the LGBT community. When you spell out what true equality is, it is glaringly obvious that we are second class citizens at best and in many cases -- non citizens. At the least this proposal can be used as the gold standard, the measuring stick, against which all piecemeal legislation will be measured.
So after ENDA (the Employment Non Discrimination Act) is passed and everyone says, wow how great, we can point to the Equality Bill and say, OK, that's a little bit of what is necessary, but look at how much is still missing. I think that alone makes this bill worthwhile to have around.
A lot of work by a lot of smart and enthusiastic people went into crafting this proposed legislation. I think you should take a look at it to see how good it is. It addresses everything but marriage at the state level, which is not a federal issue.
Feel free to tell us what you think.
Full disclosure: I am a member of eQualityGiving.
January 27, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Remember the battle last year when the trans members of our community were excluded from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) --- resulting in activists and most LGBT organizations exploding in protest? They argued that it was not right to move forward with federal rights and benefits for some in the community while others are left out. We have resolved this bitter policy argument by committing that this year when we move forward with employment protections, we will do so only if all members of our community can receive these benefits.
We face a parallel situation again today -- leaving many in our community behind-- in our quest for federal marriage rights. If we pursue marriage as the sole vehicle to achieve the 1100+ federal rights and benefits for our relationships (the ones that come with opposite sex marriage), we will effectively be throwing gay couples who live in the 30 states with constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex marriage overboard. When everyone else gets marriage benefits, gay people who live in these 30 states will be left behind and get absolutely nothing. They will also have no hope of getting these benefits or protections for their relationships for a very, very long time.
Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will bring the 1100+ federal rights and benefits only to couples who live in states that perform same sex marriage (MA, CT) or recognize same sex marriage (NY, RI). Repealing DOMA also gives hope for gay couples in the 16 states that have the possibility of same sex marriage sometime in the future. However, gays in the 30 other states will be completely shut out and left behind.
This poses a huge problem. If we choose to go forward with a marriage only strategy at the federal level, we are actively choosing to pursue a strategy that excludes a segment of our community-- just as we did to the trans community when we left them behind over ENDA.
There is a simple and fair solution to this dilemma and that is to pursue a strategy of moving forward with both MARRIAGE and CIVIL UNIONS simultaneously. Pursuing this path is not only fairer, but would result in achieving couples' rights and benefits in all 50 states, not just 20. We would be taking care of our entire community and leave no one behind.
This solution permits us to pursue the strategy that Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry wants as well as the strategy that President Obama outlines for LGBT civil rights on the White House webpage -- at the same time. If we were investing in securities this strategy would be called diversification; it has the benefit of maximizing our protections and minimizing our risks.
If we pursue marriage and marriage only, here's what it would take to get federal couples rights and benefits to gays in all 50 states:
1. DOMA must be repealed (or declared unconstitutional) which would result in gay couples in four states getting the federal rights and benefits of marriage, with another 16 possible after some long and hard work in each state. For gays in those 30 states that have inoculated themselves against same sex marriage with constitutional amendments, nothing happens and much, much more would have to happen before they have a chance to see couples' rights.
2. Next, using the "full faith and credit" clause of the US Constitution, some gay couples will have to get married in (let's say) MA and then go back to (let's say) GA and sue to try to have their marriages recognized there. After many years this would end up in the US Supreme Court and then if we win (a very big if), those 30 states will have to recognize our marriages. This may take 10 years or more. But even after that victory, those 30 states still will not have to perform same sex marriages.
3. Finally, another lawsuit will have to be filed challenging those state constitutional amendments on the federal "equal protection" clause, to compel those states to perform same sex marriages. This may also take 10 or more years.
Add this all up and it becomes a generational wait for the unfortunate gay people in those 30 states.
By SIMULTANEOUSLY going full steam ahead with marriage-- trying to repeal DOMA and get marriage rights state by state in the18 states where it's possible, AND pursuing a federal level civil union strategy as President Obama wants, we can end up with couples rights in all 50 states much quicker; 20 can have marriage and the other 30 who have no hope for marriage, can have civil unions while waiting for the courts or Congress to do the right thing. Another reason we can't forget gays in these 30 states (such as SC, GA, AL, MS, , TX, NV, etc.) is they are the ones who really need some gay rights, arguably more than the people in MA and CT -- although I know that no one group deserves rights more than another. The point is that EVERYONE deserves rights and we shouldn't neglect any subset of our community as we move forward.
At this point some clever person might say, but Don, being trans is not a choice, while living in GA is. If the person living in GA wants couples' rights and benefits, they should move to MA. Well that same argument was made about trans people and ENDA last year. Cynics suggested that any trans person who wanted employment protection should move to a state such as NJ or OR where they could have these protections. However, most commentators shouted this argument down saying a person should not be forced to make a geographical move in order to obtain basic rights. So for this discussion I'm going to stipulate that moving is not a valid solution for couples' rights either.
Finally, I would like to remind you of a really smart move right out of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign playbook. Obama pursued a "50 state strategy" to win. If we go forward only with marriage, we are pursuing a "20 state strategy" because there are only 20 states currently "in play" for marriage. However, if we pursue both marriage and civil unions, we are using a "50 state strategy," putting all 50 states "in play."
For gay rights, a "50 state" strategy is far superior to a "20 state strategy.
I firmly believe that true equality comes only after we have same sex marriage coast to coast. That is our ultimate goal, and I am a supporter of marriage equality both politically and financially.
However the question today is how to get to that ultimate goal fastest while also being fair to ALL members of our community, not just some.The answer is that pursuing both marriage and civil unions simultaneously is the smartest strategy moving forward.
December 14, 2008
Posted by: Chris
With regard to "ENDA (trans or not)," it's important to remember that the "gender identity" piece of an inclusive ENDA does not just protect trans people. In fact, trans people are only a small segment of the GLBT (and straight) population that would benefit from "gender identity" protections. The inclusion of "gender identity" in ENDA would protect gay, lesbian, and straight people who express their gender in non-traditional or non-standard ways.
Many gay and lesbian people (and some straight people) are discriminated against not because of their sexual orientation (in many cases, it's not known in their workplace or in their job interview), but because of their gender presentation or gender expression. They are "presumed" to be gay or lesbian because of the way they are presenting their gender (in a way that does not reflect a "standard" male or female presentation). Straight people are also discriminated against because of this. They are also "presumed" to be gay or lesbian when they are not reflecting a standard masculine or feminine gender presentation.
Even trans people will mistakenly say that HRC dropped its support of the "trans" portion of a national ENDA. It's not the "trans" portion. Discrimination based on gender presentation (how you present yourself as a man or as a woman), which translates to "gender identity," affects many people, only some of whom are trans.
Great blog, by the way.
Thanks for the kind words but I'm afraid we disagree on the legal impact of including "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This is a subject much debated on this blog during the ENDA debacle earlier this year.
In my view, you've got it backwards, actually. Even if "gender identity" is omitted as a compromise to pass ENDA, including "actual or perceived sexual orientation" will nonetheless extend coverage to the gay and straight gender nonconformists you describe. This is because, as you point out, the workplace bigots think of them as "fags" or "dykes." It's irrelevant as a legal matter whether the victim is actually gay because the law prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.
I would add that many courts have concluded that transgender men and women, as a group, are already protected under Title VII, as the trans plaintiff's recent victory against the Library of Congress demonstrates.
November 14, 2008
Posted by: Chris
In an interview with Metro Weekly, Joe "Extremist For Love" Solmonese made clear -- as if there were ever any doubt -- that he and HRC are just fine with our relationships remaining the love that dare not speak its name inside the Beltway:
The new Congress and administration represent the best opportunity we've ever had to finally protect all Americans from hate crimes and to ensure workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We strongly believe that it is important to have a plan in place for each piece of legislation we are working to pass. In the months ahead, we'll work to keep transparency with the community and to set appropriate expectations.
Are your expectations "appropriate," you Prop 8 protesters? Don't expect the Human Rights Campaign to do anything on the issue that has brought you into the streets because our ENDA/hate crimes bread crumbs are already a done deal.
Just in case you assume HRC was smart enough to have worked through the nasty, divisive issue of transgender inclusion before deciding to leave ENDA at the top of its very narrow agenda -- well -- your expections aren't appropriate, either:
It has been our goal and will remain our goal to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We will continue to do the hard work of educating Members of Congress on the need for crucial workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In other words, he has no idea.
A few related nuggets:
- Asked his reaction to the Nov. 4 vote, Solmonese did a verbal victory dance, making absolutely no reference to Prop 8 or the other anti-gay ballot measures.
- HRC had the gall, despite its abysmal failure on Prop 8, to claim it is among "the top five winning member groups" in the election. Again, no mention of the ballot measures.
- At 3:40 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the supposed grassroots group the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force issued their first press release congratulating the real activists for their "amazing" protests. What's really amazing is that a small group of tech-savvy 20-somethings have managed to accomplish in one week what our national groups haven't managed to do in almost a decade now -- mobilizing us to protest.
- Unsurprisingly, the Task Force "take action" link leads to a pledge form that, like HRC's, will be sent absolutely nowhere, except the group's own membership department. And what's the pledge? A promise to be nice, even though we're angry.
November 11, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Well, that didn't take long. It's only been a week since the Democrats retook the White House and greatly enhanced their congressional majorities, and already we hear key party players telling the gays to simmer down.
First there was President-Elect Barack Obama's official website, Change.gov. Under the header "Agenda," the only gay rights items included were the Matthew Shepard hate crimes act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. No mention of repealing those two mainstays of the Clinton administration: the Defense of Marraige Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Within days, no doubt due to flak from all quarters about what domestic and foreign policy goals were included and what weren't, the entire section was removed from the site, replaced by general language that promises "a comprehensive and detailed agenda" without saying what it is.
Then there was the Wall Street Journal interview with Rahm Emanuel, newly named as Obama's chief of staff, who promised a "pragmatic" White House that will "do what they got elected to do." Emanuel, who was a senior Clinton adviser through both DADT and DOMA, clearly carries the scars of those experiences:
Mr. Emanuel defended President Clinton's decision to push through a tax increase in 1993 -- "a tough call" -- after having campaigned on a middle-class tax cut. He also denied that it had much impact in the midterm elections a year later. Instead, he cited issues like "gays in the military" as more damaging politically. "It's not what we campaigned on," said Mr. Emanuel.
And as an example of Republicans losing their way, he cited the Terri Schiavo episode in 2005, where President Bush and the Republican-controlled congress intervened in a case involving a brain-damaged woman's feeding tube.
In both instances, "the lesson is to do what you got elected to do," said Mr. Emanuel. "Do what you talked about on the campaign. If you got elected, that's what people expect. Don't go off on tangents where part of your party is demanding an ideological litmus test. Neither of those things was part of the campaign."
The reality, of course, was the Bill Clinton had promised to remove the ban on gays in the military during the campaign, and Barack Obama has as well, repeatedly. What's more, the two main arguments Obama made to gay and gay-friendly voters during the Democratic primary season was that he would push for full repeal of the DOMA, while Hillary Clinton favored only half-repeal, and he would not "throw gays under the bus" -- the way Melissa Etheridge described our treatment during Clinton's two terms.
- Almost immediate passage of a gay and trans-inclusive Matthew Shepard hate crimes law.
- Passage within two years of a gay and trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
- DADT repeal once the Iraq War stabilizes and the Defense Department is on board.
- DOMA repeal … well … someday … it's complicated.
Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin sang from the same score during an interview this week with the Advocate:
I’m not putting a timetable on this -- I’m talking more about the order or things. In this respect, we will start with hate crimes, and we will at the same time -- especially through the LGBT equality caucus that I founded with [out Massachusetts U.S. representative] Barney Frank -- be educating our new colleagues and our returning colleagues on a wide range of issues.
I wouldn’t limit it to hate crimes and ENDA; as I discussed earlier, domestic-partnership benefits for federal employees [should be discussed]. We’re also working with an Administration that will be able to make plenty of progress that won’t require legislative authorization.
Note how repeal of DOMA and DADT have been disappeared, and relationship recognition is reduced to a employment benefits package for federal employees. Why exactly are they more deserving than the rest of us?
And if this is all we're to expect then why, oh why, did we debate full vs. half-repeal of DOMA, and why did Joe Biden pledge in the veep debate that, "in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple"?
Why? Because the Democratic leadership in Washington will always do the absolute minimum they can get away with on gay issues, and their stooges in our gay rights organization are too busy jockeying for jobs to call them on it.
Am I too cynical too soon, Kevin? ;)
August 21, 2008
Posted by: Chris
. . . Well there aren't three yet actually, but gay Colorado businessman Jared Polis was the surprise winner last week in a highly competitive Democratic primary and is the heavy favorite in November in his bid to be the third out gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even better, he would be the first gay man to win a congressional election as a non-incumbent. Lesbian Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was the first to do it, way back in 1998.
Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and former reps Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) all came out after they were already in office.
Polis is due belated congratulations for pulling off the victory in a three-way contest with no incumbent for the congressional seat representing Boulder and some of the top ski resorts in Colorado. Polis, a former chair of the state board of education who made a fortune from the e-card site bluemountain.com, spent more than $5 million of his own money to beat former state Senate president Joan Fitz-Gerald and conservationist Will Shafroth.
Fitz-Gerald had been as the favorite and her lengthy record of strong gay rights support earned her support against Polis from many local gays, notably Tim Gill, another wealthy entrepreneur whose Gill Foundation has done ground-breaking political work in Colorado and elsewhere.
Normally I would have jumped all over HRC for that decision, because it was very likely driven by fear of offending locals (i.e. donors) who backed Fitz-Gerald. It's not surprising that Polis had to beat a gay-friendly opponent; that's likely to be the case in almost all the liberal congressional districts where out gay candidates are going to have the best shot.
That's the primary reason -- along with homophobia, of course -- for the 10 very long years since Baldwin's landmark victory. Kudos to the Victory Fund for jumping into the Polis race when lots of pundits and analysts were saying it was a loser.
Still, I'm cutting HRC a break on this one -- close that gaping jaw, please -- because for one thing they often stay out of primaries with no incumbents. Much more importantly, I've had my own misgivings about Polis ever since he made clear he would have voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Barney Frank and passed by Congress, on the grounds that it included sexual orientation but not gender identity as protected categories.
Without being drawn back into that bitter debate, it reinforeced why ideological purity has no place in a legislative body that inevitably horse trades, compromises and moves along incrementally. Like most activists and GLBT groups in the "trans or bust" crowd, Polis was maddeningly naive in his analysis, explaining it this way this way to a transgender writer for PageOneQ:
Q: So, among your endorsements is Congresswoman and ENDA co-sponsor Tammy Baldwin...
A: She was on the right side of [ENDA], you know. I was disappointed, along with many progressive members of our community, that we seemed to be cutting political deals and leaving part of our community behind.
Q: I felt it on a personal level, too, one of my best friends being a transwoman. We were being very pointedly pitted against each other politically, especially in the blogosphere.
A: I do think there was a good grassroots response from gays and lesbians nationally, to push back against our political leadership in Washington. I know that HRC and others got a lot of negative letters from gays and lesbians. I have a lot of transgender friends as well, and I think the best thing I saw was some protesters at one of the HRC dinners saying, "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'."
An inclusive ENDA is all we should really be talking about. I don't think that we should talk about a piecemeal version that pits part of our community against one another.
Not only is Polis flat-wrong about Baldwin, who voted for the gay-only version of ENDA, he's also frighteningly simplistic. "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'"? Seriously? Since you can spell "Equality" without a G, L or B, should we assume he'd be all for a trans-only version?
Fitz-Gerald said she would have voted for Barney's ENDA, and that was enough for me for the primary. But Polis' victory is still a very important one, so let's hope he gets a reality check, whether from his general election race against someone to the right of kum-ba-yah or from good-ole Beltway politics.
(Above: Photo of Jared Polis celebrating victory via the New York Times)
June 18, 2008
Posted by: Andoni
President George W. Bush’s presidency has been marred by its rigid thinking with little ability to change when new circumstances on the ground dictate that new ideas, policies, or plans should be tried.
I would argue that the Human Rights Campaign has been using the same modus operandi for the past 14 years. Their two prime priorities have been Hate Crimes legislation and the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). Neither has successfully become law despite year s of trying and literally millions of dollars spent.
One would think that after 14 years of failure, some leaders of the gay movement would try to assess the situation on the ground and change priorities or strategy.
I was on the Board of Governors of HRC when they came up with the ENDA idea in 1993. Prior to that time gays were pushing for a more comprehensive civil rights bill. In 1993 polling showed that a workplace only bill with a little education could garner the votes to pass. The philosophy was easy. Try something small and do-able, then build on that.
The only problem with this approach was that Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and we never achieved the goal of passing that small carefully focused bill that was supposed to be easy. Here we are 14 years later pushing the very narrow rights bill, using the same strategy, unable to reassess things by looking at the bigger picture in our movement. Just like the Bush administration, we cannot admit failure and we cannot adjust and try something new.
If ENDA had passed in 1994, it would have been noteworthy and a great step forward. In 2008, it would be laughable it that’s all we can get after all our hard work and how far the public has moved in our direction. ENDA and Hate Crimes are way too little, way too late. Yet you don’t hear anyone from our national leadership speaking about what is important today and changing direction.
At some level I guess they realize how important it is to save and hold the marriage victory in California, but I don’t really hear the bugles sounding loudly on this to indicate what a crucial battle it is we face.
On the federal legislative level, I would argue that we should temporarily shelve Hate Crimes and ENDA and concentrate on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) first. DADT and DOMA are two pieces of legislation written into the federal laws of the land that say that not only can the federal government discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens, but they must discriminate. What kind of logic says that we should pass legislation (ENDA) that tells private companies that they cannot discriminate against gays (ENDA), when the government itself continues to discriminate against gays in some very big ways – the military, marriage, and 1200 federal benefits? This is like telling your child they can’t bloody people up in fist fights, when you the parent, set the wrong example by doing it all the time. Doesn’t make sense, right?
Similarly, this is as crazy as it would have been for black people ask for their Civil Rights Law of 1964 and Voting Rights Law of 1965 if it was still federal law that they could be slaves, were only 3/5 of a person, couldn’t serve into the military, and had to endure separate but equal schools. You have to get rid of the institutionalized discrimination in the federal government before you can pass federal legislation telling the public that it can not discriminate.
You can’t force the private sector operating in the public area to give equal rights to gays (or blacks), when the government itself has laws to discriminate against gays (or blacks) and actively does so. This is so upside down, it's crazy, illogical and hypocritical.
It’s time for Barney Barney and Tammy Baldwin and the leaders of HRC, NGLTF, Lambda Legal and the ACLU to sit down together to discuss a new strategy and new priorities. Things really need to be shuffled because we have not had any major re evaluation of our agenda and priorities since 1993 -94.
Things have changed so much that it's a totally new battleground out there and our leaders don't realize it. Public opinion has changed dramatically, marriage is our most important issue, and we have a presidential candidate in Barack Obama who would like to give us more than what our organizations are asking for. One such example of the new situation on the ground is that Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to give gay couples those 1200 federal benefits of marriage. This is huge, but I have not heard any of our organization pick up on how they will be ready to do this legislatively. They are still thinking about ENDA and Hate Crimes.
Wake up, leaders, it’s 2008, not 1994. Don’t be like Bush having set a plan in motion without ever re-evaluating it.
It’s time to reassess and make some new goals and plan new strategies.
May 16, 2008
Posted by: Chris
The Atlanta Pride Committee did. The result? Only one:
The Atlanta Pride Committee decided last week to decline a [$5,000] sponsorship from the Human Rights Campaign over the national gay political group’s support for a version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that did not include “gender identity” as a protected category.
“We knew that it was almost a no-win situation,” said Atlanta Pride Executive Director Donna Narducci. “Do you take the money, or do you not take the money? Do we need the money? Yes, we need the money. … But do we need to take the money from an organization that is not inclusive."
Apparently inclusiveness is measured only by adherence to the political views of Narducci, the Pride Board and Atlanta's very vocal trans activists. The disagreement here wasn't even on substance -- all involved support protection for trans workers -- but legislative strategy.
How does Atlanta Pride now demonstrate its own inclusiveness toward the thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual Atlantans -- and even some transgender folk -- who supported going forward with the only version of ENDA that stood a chance of passage? Are they still a part of the community? Is Barney Frank also unwelcome at Atlanta Pride, then? What about Tammy Baldwin -- she voted for Barney's GLB-only version of ENDA, after all.
Somebody, please, make the political correctness stop!
April 19, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Remember when Matt Foreman, the newly departed director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, took a shot at Barney Frank over the whole ENDA debacle -- claiming he had a history of being "squeamish" on transgender issues? The legendary, short-tempered congressman from Massachusetts was quick to respond, dismissing Foreman for "covering his ass" for falling short on votes for trans-inclusion in the workplace act.
Well now Foreman has upped the ante considerably on his way out the door at the Task Force. In an interview with Gay City News, Foreman was at times complimentary of Frank but then wound up and threw down with this one:
[Foreman] is particularly critical of the way in which the advice of Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, an openly lesbian Madison Democrat, was ignored; she felt that the votes could be rounded up for the trans-inclusive version, and Foreman has noted several times that she was the legislator who successfully lined up the support for the hate crimes measure.
"I thought the way she was treated in the ENDA struggle was shameful, with lots of overtones of misogyny," he said, in a comment that might spur a new riposte from Frank.
It's classic leftist trype, of course, to accuse anyone who disagrees of being an "ist" or "phobe" of some sort. Foreman and his allies regularly engaged it such ridiculousness regularly during the ENDA debate, accusing anyone who agreed with Barney on tactics of being a transphobe. Ironic given that Foreman himself used Barney's tactics to get New York's state gay rights law passed.
Still, it's beyond galling in this case, and Foreman should apologize. It's funny how Foreman never acknowledges that Tammy Baldwin voted for the pared-down ENDA backed by Barney -- despite pleas from Foreman et al not to. It's also funny how Foreman and his "trans or bust" allies claim to want to "unify" the community -- another theme of his GCN interview -- even while gratuitously insulting anyone who doesn't think like he does.
(Photo of Matt Foreman via Gay City News)
April 18, 2008
Posted by: Chris
I missed this tidbit from a couple of weeks ago on Blog Cabin, the gay GOP group's blog, about whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has sandbagged the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. It's actually taken from a Washington Blade story:
One congressional source familiar with the hate crimes bill said a number of GOP lawmakers believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not want to bring the hate crimes bill to a vote because doing so would help the re-election chances of moderate Republican senators who support the bill. Among them are Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who face strong election challenges by Democrats in November.
That's pretty damning, given that Democratic Party leaders promised activists they would do anything possible to push the hate crimes bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through in the current session, and perhaps even the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Of course the Blog Cabin post leaves off the paragraphs that follow in Lou Chibarro's Blade story:
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Reid, disputed that assertion, saying Reid’s deliberations over the bill had “nothing at all” to do with the election.
Manley also disputed a claim by another congressional source that Reid and other Senate Democrats were reluctant to bring up gay rights bills at a time when Democrats are focusing most of their attention on the economy and a mortgage crisis that is causing Americans to lose their homes through foreclosure.
Senate Democrats can deny all the rumored explanations they want, but they can't escape the fact that both bills have been passed by the House and are awaiting action in the Senate.
ENDA is no doubt hobbled by the fact that dozens of LGBT groups actually hope for its failure since it lacks transgender rights protections in its current form. In reality, Democrats would be better off passing a gay-only ENDA now and blaming Republicans for leaving out "gender identity." Otherwise the pressure will be overwhelming for a trans-inclusive ENDA to pass early next term, after being deferred yet again one more time.
April 15, 2008
Posted by: Andoni
If you remember, I was delighted to learn that both Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, advocate extending the 1,200 federal benefits of marriage to gay couples who are in civil unions -- even though neither supports gay marriage per se.
But I wondered why we haven’t heard any follow-up on this or seen any action from our national organizations, especially since the two candidates themselves gave us an opening. I also wondered what the best way to implement those 1,200 federal benefits would be.
After e-mailing my questions to all our national organizations, I heard back from my friend Matt Coles, Director of the Lesbian & Gay Rights Project of the ACLU. He told me to stop fretting; they are prepared.
He said the best way to start the ball rolling is for
Congress to repeal "part 3" of DOMA, which prohibits the federal
government from recognizing state sanctioned same-sex marriages. That would
immediately make the gays married in Massachusetts (and those New Yorkers who
married in Canada) eligible for those federal benefits --- everything from filing
joint tax returns, to
inheriting property better treatment under the estate tax, to obtaining surviving spouse social security benefits,
to immigration rights, etc. -- all 1,200 of them.
Matt also feels that soon there will be two to four more states that will recognize gay marriage, so we're talking about a significant number of people here who would benefit.
Repealing DOMA "part 3" will not help those gays in states that have civil unions, however. For these people to gain federal benefits, a relatively simple (but not as easily passed) federal law would say: the term “marriage” in all federal laws includes civil unions and domestic partnerships created by states that have substantially the same definition, obligations and rights as a marriage in that state does. That would do it for states with civil unions and their equivalent domestic partnerships, as their called in California, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
So there you have it.
Unfortunately, all those (including your's truly) who live in states that don't have civil unions or even enacted constitutional amendments that prohibit same sex marriage, are basically out of luck . It would take a massive overhaul of federal law to cover us. The federal government would have to get into the civil union business; heretofore marriage and civil unions have been a state issue. Making a federal civil union law and having it mesh into all the state laws would be a nightmare.
For me, the best answer would be to simply move to another state rather than wait for this to happen.
The problem with this entire strategy, from repealing DOMA onward, is that Matt believes it would take a very active president, making these issues a very high priority and pushing hard to get them through. He believes none of it will happen before universal health care reform, which is a top priority of both Democrats, or ENDA, which remains the top priority of the Human Rights Campaign and congressional Democrats.
As Chris noted today, ENDA unfortunately is hobbling all our other efforts. My own view is that ENDA has become our community's Iraq. It was supposed to be small, limited in scope, quick and easy and here we are 14 years later stuck and going nowhere -- or even backwards.
It's using up movement resources and in spite of the obvious failure, no one at our national organizations will admit it and come up with a new federal strategy. At this point, I would even welcome a "surge" to get this done this year, so we can move on to better and more important things in the next Congress.
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.
April 03, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Just weeks after the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was declared dead for the year by the Human Rights Campaign, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy appears to be sticking by his promise for a Senate vote on the bill, albeit later than the original January-February timetable.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Kennedy defended his decision to move forward with the version of ENDA that passed the House, which includes sexual orientation as a protected category but not gender identity:
"The fact is that the House of Representatives has taken action," Kennedy said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "The best opportunity for progress is ... to follow along on the action of the House of Representatives, and then look down the road to a new day after we have a good Democratic Congress and a Democratic president."
Kennedy expects an "uphill fight" in the narrowly divided Senate, where 60 votes rather than a simple majority would be needed to overcome expected GOP stalling tactics.
That "uphill fight" will also pit Kennedy against the intransigent left of the GLBT movement, which hasn't moved a muscle since the debacle of last fall's fight over ENDA in the House:
"We will strongly oppose it," said Roberta Sklar of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Leaving transgender people out makes that a flawed movement." …
"It was made very clear in the fall that most LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) organizations, the vast majority of LGBT organizations, do not want Congress to shove a civil rights bill down our throat that we don't want," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Sklar is right, of course, that a gay-only ENDA is "flawed," but so would be a trans-inclusive ENDA, since it would protect the workplace but not in housing and public accommodations; it also carves an exception for the U.S. military -- where the government itself is the discriminatory employer. But flawed incremental progress is inevitable to any civil rights movement.
Sklar, Keisling and their "United ENDA" allies know this, but they are willing to sacrifice an advance that would benefit almost everyone for the few who would not be helped; even though it's politically impossible to help those few nor or anytime in the near future.
And there there is HRC, whose Joe Solmonese started the unfounded rumor of ENDA's death in Los Angeles several weeks ago, sitting on the sideline being ineffectual:
"We will continue this work until all members of our community no longer fear being fired for who they are," said Brad Luna, Human Rights Campaign communications director.
OK, but what in the heck does that mean? Is HRC supporting Kennedy's gay-only ENDA or reverting to its disastrous flirtation with the United ENDA crowd? If the organization cannot even communicate its position -- the HRC website and blog are devoid of any reaction to Kennedy's ENDA announcement -- then how could it possibly lobby effectively?
(Photo of Ted Kennedy via Associated Press)
March 26, 2008
Posted by: Chris
We all remember the days after Democrats took control of Congress in the November 2006 election, promising among other things that they would get right to passing long-delayed gay rights legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. Some of us grumbled that the vaunted "gay agenda" ought to go further, considering those bills have already passed in one form or another for a decade.
More than a year after Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were sworn in as speaker and Senate majority leader, it now appears even our most limited expectations have been dashed. Consider this nugget from a speech by Joe Solmonese at the Human Rights Campaign's Los Angeles gala:
A number of hurdles, as you know, made it impossible to move those bills any further this session.
Say what? Last we heard, Ted Kennedy was introducing ENDA in January or February and would be searching for other legislative vehicles to attach the Shepard Act, after House Dems rejected it as an amendment to a big Defense Department. No excuses this time, we were assured, about how our civil rights being too "hot button" in an election year.
But instead of lobbying from HRC to push these bills forward, we get a lecture from Solmonese about being impatient:
When did we all say to ourselves -- OK, that civil rights thing -- I'll give it a year, maybe two - then everything should be done.
A year? Who is he kidding? Solmonese may be late to the gay rights party, joining the movement only after he got a quarter-million-dollar job running HRC, but for most of us this ain't the first time at the rodeo. ENDA came with a vote of passing in 1996 -- more than a decade ago -- and both bills have been backed by a large majorities of the public and their reps in Congress for years.
Hell yes we're impatient. Rather than motivating us into action and pressing Congress to do better, Solmonese is wagging his finger at us -- at us! -- and tamping down expectations. Call it the fierce urgency of next year.
There's plenty of blame in Congress as well, of course. Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin and Pelosi deserve credit for getting both bills passed the House -- the trans-inclusive Shepard Act sailed through and ENDA hobbled through in gay-only form. But Reid has seemingly done nothing in the ENDA. (Maybe Hillary will do better as Senate majority leader next year?)
Yes, the primary culprits here are congressional Republicans, who rejected a trans-inclusive ENDA and balked at backing the Shepard Act add-on to the DOD bill, as well as President Bush, who threatened to veto both. But the GOP doesn't rake in gay money, votes and loyalty based on promises to get things done. Democrats do. And it's HRC that hoovers up gay dollars nationwide, promising to bring change, while never delivering.
They all have some 'splainin to do.
(Photo of Joe Solmonese at HRC's L.A. dinner via Bilerico/Karen Ocamb)
March 12, 2008
Posted by: Chris
It appears that part of the Human Rights Campaign's rehabilitation campaign with transgender activists and their allies may be to "disappear" the Employment Non-Discrimination Act almost altogether.
A visit to the HRC website shows that if you click on "Issues" and "Workplace," there is absolutely no mention of ENDA, which was hobbled last fall by the insistence of some within the movement that either it include "gender identity" or be opposed by HRC and gay-friendly members of Congress. Even clicking within "Workplace" under "Legislation" shows only a list of bills in play in state legislatures across the country.
The ENDA omission is particularly dramatic because the "gay only" version backed by gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), actually passed the House and is pending in the Senate.
The only way to find ENDA that I could find was to click under "Laws & Elections" -- even though ENDA is neither -- and then on "Federal Legislation." There you'll find links to ENDA and Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill.
The treatment of ENDA is in marked contrast to how the HRC site treats the (trans-inclusive) Shepard Act, which is also pending -- some would say languishing -- in the Senate. If under "Issues" you click on "Hate Crimes" -- the equivalent to clicking on "Workplace" above -- there is a very prominent link to the section of the site dealing with the Shepard Act.
Am I reading too much into website structure? Perhaps, but it's striking that the "Workplace" section includes all sorts of links to transgender protections but absolutely nothing for ENDA. It is symptomatic of the way HRC marshaled all its resources to push the trans provision of ENDA and now seems satisfied with doing nothing even though ENDA has finally passed the House and is a Senate vote away from making history.
Even the posts on HRC's blog about the org's Spring Lobby Day on Capitol Hill last week only mention lobbying House members on a "fully inclusive ENDA" and nothing about pushing senators to pass the version of ENDA (even amended to add trans back in) that is so close to becoming the law of the land.
February 29, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Picking up on my post yesterday about the continuing grief the Human Rights Campaign is getting from transgender activists, I want to highlight something those protesting outside the New York black-tie dinner. The motley crue of trans activists, Radical Homosexual Agenda and such were holding signs shaped like giant hands -- except rather than signalling "we're No. 1!" they were giving HRC "the finger." Mature.
The chant was likewise a meaningful: "What do we want? Liberation! Fuck that assimilation!" Almost self-fulfilling, that one; and so retro as well. I guess every fashion trend does come round for another go.
Among the more sober-minded of the 50 or so protesters were some members of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. According to a report in Gay City News, Allen Roskoff, a member of the group, raised a more thoughtful objection to Barney Frank's gay-only Employment Non-Discrimination Act:
"Jim Owles is asking members of Congress not to support ENDA in any form," he said. "We should revert to the effort originated by Bella Abzug and Ed Koch to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression."
Abzug and Koch, as Manhattan representatives in Congress in the early 1970s, introduced the 1964 Act amendment as a way to give gays and lesbians nondiscrimination protection in housing, credit, and public accommodations, in addition to employment. Years later, HRC and Frank originated the more limited ENDA approach to getting anti-bias legislation through Congress.
Roskoff pointed out that Bill Bradley, in his 2000 challenge to Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination, suggested amending the Civil Rights Act, rather than adopting ENDA, "but was shot down by Barney Frank and HRC."
I wouldn't agree with that change in "gay agenda" priorities, but I do agree that the divisive scrap over ENDA highlights the need for the movement to rethink it's federal legislative plan. It’s critically important that we –- gay and lesbian Americans –- set that agenda, rather than having it dictated to us by the Democratic Party, no matter who is in the White House.
Politics is by nature self-serving, and politicians from both parties will always reach for the low-hanging fruit unless pressured to actually risk some political capital. That’s actually been the strategy of the movement’s leaders as well, at least since 1996.
That’s when they scrapped Bella Abzug's broad gay rights legislation and replaced it with ENDA.
The idea was that polls showed the public most sympathetic to someone being fired for being lesbian or gay, and it was important to get some –- any –- federal gay rights law on the books. And it almost worked. The Senate came within a vote of passing ENDA, and Bill Clinton was certainly ready to sign it.
More than a decade later, it’s past time to reexamine whether ENDA should still be at the top of the gay agenda for Congress. For one thing, states and local governments have gone a long way to bridge the gap. Today, more than half the U.S. population lives in areas where non-discrimination laws include “sexual orientation,” and the dramatic changes in the culture in the last 10 years have made discrimination far less common in the other half of the country as well.
In addition, the difficult and divisive debate last fall about what to do if the votes aren’t there for including “gender identity” in ENDA means that legislation is no longer the most likely to break the barrier on federal gay rights legislation. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which includes gay and transgender protections and has already passed both houses of Congress in different forms, and in terms of popularity is really “the new ENDA.” With a gay friendlier Congress and White House, the hate crimes bill should become law fairly quickly and without much controversy. But a divisive and risky ENDA shouldn’t be next on the list.
The highest legislative priorities of the movement ought to be redressing where the government itself is discriminating against lesbian and gay Americans – especially when that unequal treatment is widespread, affecting almost all of us and in a significant way.
Measured that way, the next priority ought to be repealing the Defense of Marriage Act –- at least the portion that blocks federal recognition of valid marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by the states. Repealing DOMA should be accompanied by a bill that treats state-issued civil unions and domestic partnerships like marriages under federal law as well. Two-thirds of the public already supports gay marriage or civil unions, so the support is already there.
Marriage is certainly more universal than job discrimination. More than 90 percent of Americans get married at some point in their lives, and given the hefty number of gays in that remaining 10 percent, it’s safe to say almost all of us will enter into a committed, long-term relationship at some point in our lives.
Workplace regulation, however justifiable, faces non-bigoted objections about the government intruding into the private sector. Even libertarians who are broadly supportive of gay rights object to ENDA on this ground.
It’s also true that many more gay and lesbian Americans would marry, if they could, than are fired from their jobs due to their sexual orientation. And while it’s relatively easy to get another job in the diverse U.S. economy – or move to a state that has gay workplace protections -– the hundreds of legal rights that come from federal recognition of our relationships are irreplaceable.
(Photo of HRC protest via Gay City News)
February 28, 2008
Posted by: Chris
The Human Rights Campiagn is taking hits on both coasts for its decision to support Barney Frank's gay-only version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In both cases, the extremism of the critics only reinforces how removed these intolerant ideological purists are from the real lives of lesbian and gay Americans.
In New York, local politicians stayed away in droves from the annual HRC black-tie dinner, honoring a protest by transgender activists and others outside the banquet hall. In response, HRC Prez Joe Solmonese took to the podium and did what he's best at doing, lowering expectations:
I have to ask myself: When did we all become so impatient? When did we say to ourselves, okay that civil rights thing, I'll give it a year, maybe two, then I'm done," he said. "Let me be very clear: No, we are not done. We are in the grueling, blinding middle of this fight and the middle of this fight is the hardest part.
A year or two? ENDA came within a vote of passing the Senate in 1996. It's now more than a decade later, and it's still mired in limbo despite overwhelming public support and Democrats in control of both houses of Congress.
In San Francisco, the local Pride group has nominated HRC for its "Pink Brink Award," an ignominious honor that according to the Bay Area Reporter is "meant to recognize groups and individuals who've run afoul of the community or pushed for antigay measures." This year's other nominees, to given you some sense of this silliness, are Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Keep in mind that not only does HRC support transgender workplace rights (and inclusion in the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act), but also pressed with unusual vigor for House Democrats to keep "gender identity" as a part of ENDA. HRC backed Frank's gay-only version after the legendary Massachusetts Democrat concluded the votes were nowhere close to passing the trans-inclusive version. Even Tammy Baldwin, the trans activists' idol in the House, voted for Barney's gay-only version.
Also keep in mind that after the House vote, HRC's Joe Solmonese reiterated that HRC will continue to oppose sending to the president any version of ENDA that doesn't include transgender protections. Now maybe that (ill-conceived) promise rings hollow since Solmonese had walked away from an earlier (ill-conceived) promise never to support any version of ENDA that wasn't trans-inclusive, but it hardly puts him in Ahmadinejad territory.
But such is the arrogance of ideological purists -- whether of the Ahmadinejad variety or his San Francisco foil -- that any slight divergence from orthodoxy is heresy and equally condemnatory.
(Joe Solmonese photo via Bay Area Reporter/Rick Gerharter)
February 19, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Remember when Matt Foreman, the outgoing director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, suggested that Barney Frank backed a gay-only version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because the openly gay Massachusetts congressman has always been "sqeamish" about transgender rights?
Well Barney has fired back, asking to appear on Mike Signorile's Sirius radio show, the same forum as Foreman's, and the pugnacious pol pulled no punches, saying Foreman "made up the whole thing."
I know he said he didn't know that that happened [with ENDA], that he'd bet his life –- or that he would bet his life -- on it. Frankly, I think it's a good thing he didn't bet his life or he might have lost that in addition to his job. He just made that up. That is not remotely how it happened. …
He also has no basis for talking about my attitude on transgender people because I've had one set of conversations with Matt Foreman about transgender people.
Instead, Barney said, Foreman was "protecting his own ass," deflecting attention from how, when he was director of Empire State Pride Agenda, Foreman endorsed Republican Gov. George Pataki's reelection in a deal to pass a gay-only civil rights law, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act:
"Well," responds Rep. Frank, "you like people to talk bluntly, let me talk bluntly: He's just trying to cover his ass." … Frank continued by reiterating his disappointment in Foreman's group and its endorsement of Pataki, saying "he endorsed the Republican over the African American Democrat, a very significant mistake in my judgment from the standpoint of in our coalition building."
"The notion that I was squeamish is based on the fact that he was squeamish," Frank continued. "I don't know what he went through and it's not of any great interest to me."
I love it when Barney gets fiesty like this, although it always reminds me of those occasions when I was the direct recipient -- usually one-on-one. I also think Barney is mostly dead-on here. Matt Foreman has talked about the SONDA story and how he regrets the strategy employed there, even though it resulted in the passage of historic gay rights legislation.
But in doing so Foreman has sounded very much like the born again Christian or former smoker who careens from one end of the spectrum to another, from black to white (or vice-versa), never acknowledging either before or after the gray that makes reasonable people differ. In the case of ENDA, Foreman and trans activists insultingly charge that failure to adhere to their trans-or-bust view is the result of bigotry in the form of transphobia.
It's a lazy, offensive and patronizing argument, and apparently Foreman will keep on making on the way out the door.
February 14, 2008
Posted by: Chris
There he goes again. Matt Foreman, on the way out after five years at the helm of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, just couldn't help himself. The topic on Mike Signorile's Sirius radio show was the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which Foreman tried in vain to kill because Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi stripped transgender protections because a vote count showed it nowhere close.
Rather than acknowledge the reasonable judgment call made by Barney and Pelosi, both strong supporters of gay and trans rights, Foreman pushed the bigot button. Page One Q has the blow by blow:
"I think what really happened," says Foreman of Congress' handling of employment discrimination protections for LGBT people, "is [Speaker Nancy Pelosi's] people said 'Look, Congress has a terrible reputation right now, they're not delivering for any progressive causes... What do we have to do to deliver to our progressive allies?' That means labor and health and environment and gays. And, so, I mean, I don't know this for a fact, but I would bet my life that this is what happened: They went to Barney Frank and said 'What do we need to pass ENDA?'"
"Representative Frank," continues Foreman, "who has always been pretty squeamish on the trans issue, and I guess I can say these things because I am leaving my job..."
"That's what we hoped you'd do," Signorile says to Foreman.
Foreman goes on: "...You know, said 'Look the best way to pass ENDA, and the easiest way is to -- let's take out gender identity,' and I don't think the Speaker's people thought this through--didn't think it through--and then they said 'OK, let's do it'."
Ahh yes. Barney chose differently than Foreman because transgender issues give him the willies -- in other words, he's a transphobe.
In my book there's only one thing more irritating that ideological purists on the right, and that's their counterparts on the left. Of course we're all familiar with conservative ideologues and their never-satisfied purity tests.
John McCain is the most recent victim, taking hits from Anne Coulter (on national security), James Dobson (on abortion and gay marriage) and Rush Limbaugh (on both). When venom spews from these arch-conservatives, the insults tend to be comical rather than stinging, whether being labeled a faggot (Coulter), a heathen (Dobson), or the worst of all, a liberal (Limbaugh).
From the left, the purity tests are just as predictable, but the insults carry more sting. Almost inevitably there is usually a strong suggestion, often explicit, that those not in lock-step with self-styled "progressives" are bigots -- "-ists" or "-phobes" of one sort or another.
That's been the case of course, with the fight over the strategy to pass ENDA. Even those who favor protection for "gender identity" and wanted it included in the version introduced last year were still called "transphobes" if they weren't willing to insist on transgender-inclusion even when the votes weren't there.
The big irony, of course, is that "progressives" like Foreman will talk a blue streak about "diversity" and "valuing difference," but if the difference is in ideas then they want none of it. Matt Foreman is a very smart and talented leader. But his ideological blindspot has done real damage to the movement, and that's a real shame.
January 23, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Matt Foreman announced today that he'll be leaving as executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force in April, a position he has held since 2003. His half-decade tenure at "the Task Force" -- which he successfully rebranded from its NGLTF days -- will probably be looked back upon as something akin to Elizabeth Birch's decade at the helm of the Human Rights Campaign.
Both leaders put their organizations on stronger financial footing. As with Birch's HRC years, the result has been a blossoming -- some woudl say bloating -- of budgets and full-time staff, to the tune of $10 million annually and 54 employees in Foreman's case.
And, unfortunately, as with Birch, Foreman has precious little beyond institutional strength to show for the work. A press release trumpeting his departure credits him with raising the Task Force's visibility, but that was largely this year in the bruising, divisive fight over transgender protections in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
It was largely Foreman who organized the "United ENDA" coalition of GLBT groups that announced their opposition to historic gay rights legislation because it did not also include "gender identity" protections; the fact that the votes weren't there was beside the political point.
The Task Force has always been the more grassroots-focused of the national GBLT rights groups and always more left-wing and "social justice"-minded -- meaning it is a part of the organization's mission to align with other progressive groups on non-GLBT causes. Ther'es nothing wrong -- and much that is right -- with that strategy, except that it's almost invariably accompanied by some admonition that a narrow focus on gay rights is somehow unjust and retrogressive. Foreman did more than his fair share to reinforce, rather than to dispel, that unfortunate and wrong-headed attitude.
Whether Foreman really smoked his own United ENDA dope, is still trying to purge his guilt for having successfully lobbied for New York's trans-excluded Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), or whether he just saw a clever wedge strategy to use against HRC, the whole trans-or-bust ENDA push will go down as one of the most counterproductive and divisive tactics ever waged in a movement that has a long history of them.
Foreman was a talented and charismatic leader for an organization that has long been in need of one. It's too bad that he deployed his considerable skills to the detriment of the movement as a whole and the interests of 90-plus percent of his own constituents -- but that often is the price of uncompromising identity politics.
January 11, 2008
Posted by: Chris
A couple of weeks after my partner and I arrived in Buenos Aires, I woke up in our temporary flat with a stiff crick in the neck. For days and even weeks after, I could move my head to the left, but to the right past 2 on the clock dial it was no-go.
I've come to believe that Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese suffers from the same malady, albeit figuratively and politically. He's easily swept up "feeling the pain" of anyone in the sliver that exists to his political left, all while ignoring the legitimate beef of the greater numbers wallowing in the vast terrain of territory to his right.
The latest evidence of Joe's pain in the neck problem is a story in the Bay Area Reporter about a meeting Solmonese had last week with a number of San Francisco transgender activists. The headline from the encounter was the decision by local activist Theresa Sparks to return the HRC Equality Award she received three years earlier because she says she can no longer stand to look at it due to the recent hostilities over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Sparks is the male-to-female transsexual owner of a sex shop called Good Vibrations and heads up the city's Police Commission. Yes… only in San Francisco…)
Besides Ms. Sparks' flare for drama, the meeting was notable for the extreme lengths Solmonese went to hearing out the concerns of these angry transgender activists -- who have said more personal and vicious things about him and HRC in a short three-month span than Michael Petrelis, Andrew Sullivan and I together have churned out in the last five years. Yet over all those months of criticism about HRC's lack of transparency and overt partisanship, not just from us but throughout the blogosphere and the gay press, Solmonese never once picked up the phone; never suggested a meeting.
Still, there he was in San Francisco, liberal-guilt-ridden for the apparent crime of supporting the
country's most well-known gay politician and the movement's most basic
gay rights legislation -- defending himself to transgender activists
angry that he hadn't held ENDA hostage indefinitely over a gender identity provision that was nowhere close to passage.
Trying to reassure them, Solmonese insisted, "We are very much at the beginning of the ENDA process."
At the beginning? This may be your first time at the rodeo, Joe,
but this legislation was first introduced three decades ago and came
one vote short of passing the Senate (in much the same form it is
today) waaay back in 1996! The Democrats took control of both houses of
Congress (exactly) one year ago now, and have yet to pass a single piece of
gay rights legislation to even test the president's veto threat.
Solmonese knows this, of course, but his role as the Democratic Party's de facto gay outreach chair is to deflect heat from this Congress -- call it the hard partisanship of reduced expectations -- and get out the vote for Democrats this November. Whether he has actually been bought off or simply drank the Kool Aid and really believes the interests of movement and party are lock-step intertwined is beside the point.
It's clearly time for a change and not just in the White House. It's time for the nation's largest gay rights group to be led by someone who puts the movement first and party affiliation second and who will not abandon 99 percent of his constituents in favor of a very loud 1 percent. And it's long past time for the D.C.-Massachusetts mafia that has long pulled the strings at HRC to relinquish control and let someone else have a try. They've had decades now and have absolutely positively nothing to show for it.
(Photo via Bay Area Reporter/Rick Gerharter, and kudos to him for telling a story of more than 1,000 words with one well-constructed photograph.)
January 05, 2008
Posted by: Chris
It turns out that Ted Kennedy's decision to introduce into the Senate the House-passed version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which includes sexual orientation but not gender identity, is "an unintentional plan to sabotage the chances of the Democratic nominee for president."
Don't worry, Autumn honey, this is one idea I won't be stealing from you.
January 04, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Ted Kennedy says he will be introducing a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate that includes "sexual orientation" and not "gender identity" and plans for a vote soon. A report by Lou Chibbaro in today's Washington Blade explains why:
Until this week, Kennedy’s office had not stated publicly where Kennedy stood on the demands by many gay and transgender organizations that Congress should withhold any action on ENDA unless it includes protection for transgender persons.
“Although Sen. Kennedy strongly supports protections against job discrimination for transgender workers, inaction won’t advance justice for anyone, and will just make it harder to pass any version of ENDA in 2009,” said Kennedy spokesperson Melissa Wagoner.
“We will most likely work to move the House-passed bill, rather than introducing a separate Senate bill,” Wagoner told the Blade by e-mail. “Because the same legislation must pass both the House and Senate, now that the House has acted, the only realistic way to get a bill to the president’s desk this Congress is to have the Senate pass the House bill.”
There's no joy to be had in the decision to leave out "gender identity" from the bill, but it is the right decision to bypass the incredibly divisive battle over ENDA in the House. Fellow Bay Stater Barney Frank originally introduced ENDA in the House with gender identity included and was excoriated by transgender activists when he reintroduced it as a gay-only measure because the votes weren't there for trans protections, Who can blame Kennedy for avoiding that kind of backdraft? Trans activists and their "United ENDA" allies have only themselves to blame.
Expect similar recriminations of Kennedy despite the fact that he, like Barney, successfully pushed through the first-ever transgender rights bill -- the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act -- though the strategy of attaching it to a controversial Defense Department bill proved flawed.
Not surprisingly, Chibbaro reports that United ENDA's coalition leader, Matt Foreman of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, is actually opposed to any action on ENDA until 2009, when he imagines the Congress will be ready to enact protections for transsexual and cross-dressing workers. An internal Human Rights Campaign memo leaked last month by trans activists similarly anticipated nothing until '09.
Fortunately (in this case), gay and trans rights are largely ineffective on Capitol Hil -- even with our allies -- and Kennedy's spokesman told the Blade that passage in 2008, even in an election year, is doable:
Asked if Kennedy thought ENDA could pass the Senate in an election year, Wagoner said, “Yes, if enough Republicans support the bill to give us a realistic chance of breaking a filibuster.” …
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said this week that Reid strongly supports ENDA and favors holding a Senate vote on the measure in 2008. Manley said Reid would defer to Kennedy on the “strategy and timing” of such a vote.
Democrats took back the Congress in 2006 promising to enact basic gay rights legislation. To date, they haven't succeeded in doing so, despite bipartisan support on both ENDA and hate crimes. Today's news lends hope that they might just succeed after all.
(Photo via Washington Blade by Lauren Victoria Burke/ABC News/AP)
December 12, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Now we know what the Human Rights Campaign was doing when it wasn't marshaling its considerable resources to save the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act from being stripped from the Defense Department bill. It was busy strategizing how to make nice with transgender activists still fuming that HRC backed out on its promise to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when trans protections were removed.
My old friend Marti Abernarthy blogging at Trans Advocate, somehow got hold of an internal memo by HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse that summarizes a conference call HRC recently had with trans leaders. In the memo, Rouse also strategizes how to mend fences and "redouble" efforts to pass federal trans rights legislation.
The Rouse memo, the authenticity of which is not yet confirmed, is remarkably humble and proposes a laundry list of concrete actions HRC should take on behalf of its trans constituents. First, the crow eating:
- We recognize that HRC’s decision to follow a different strategy to secure a fully-inclusive bill was hurtful to some members of our community and we regret that.
- The first step in rebuilding our trust in HRC must be for HRC to own up to the fact that we were promised one thing and the promise, for whatever reason, was broken. Members of the transgender community I’ve spoken to want an apology and an explanation, and the explanation must be sincere and convincing. They want to see a stop to public announcements that contradict private activity which many believe is still going on. Until that is done, it will be near impossible to get increased participation from the transgender community.
But beyond that, Rouse suggests a long list of concrete actions HRC is prepared to take not just to "win back" trans support but move forward with the case for passing a trans-inclusive ENDA:
- immediately launch a new public education campaign designed to continue the mainstreaming of transgender issues;
- conduct the state of the art professional survey to teach us just what the American people understand about trans and what they don’t;
- research the 110+ jurisdictions with protections and characterize what was done right and what was done wrong;
- work with NCTE to find trans persons to target those 50 or so Congresspersons, and give them the data to help them lobby;
- work with GLAAD to develop video and PSAs for the targeted states and Congresspersons;
- redouble the corporate work — they’ve been doing a great job;
- complete a health insurance survey to increase coverage for medical and surgical transition;
- offer to assist NCTE for psychiatric members and those who would have contacts that could help us remove GID from the DSM;
- engage with an organization-wide effort to redouble our educational efforts around gender identity and expression;
- reposition all of HRC’s messaging to be more inclusive of transgender people, and more humble/apologetic about HRC’s past exclusion of the transgender community;
- recognize that transgender people are not “new” – that they were present at Stonewall and other early uprisings;
- encourage transgender people to come out and tell their stories, perhaps providing forums where they can do so safely;
- require each HRC Regional Steering Committee to undergo transgender awareness training, and to actively work to increase transgender participation on the Committee;
- hold “lunch and learn” sessions at HRC headquarters, where staffers can hear from transgender people directly on topics such as trans law, history, insurance, healthcare issues etc.;
- urge HRC staffers to consider transgender people for job openings.
You would think that however trans activists feel about the ENDA debacle, they would be pleased to see HRC doing what it can to say it's sorry and move forward. But then you would be underestimating the level of acrimony and bitterness that pervades transgender rights activism generally. Those of us who have dared to disagree with them in the past know firsthand just how mean-spirited they can be.
Still, it's a bit breathtaking to read Marti Abernathy's point by point dismissal of everything Rouse wrote, no matter how supportive of trans views; not to mention the "hang 'em high" amen chorus of comments to Abernathy's post. I have a great deal of respect for Rouse, ever since his productive work on gay health issues during the Clinton administration. Considering how far he bends over backward to mollify trans concerns, it's distressing to see him get stepped on so.
Abernathy and I can at least agree on one thing, however. She writes:
I’ve been told by multiple sources that David Smith has said that HRC will NEVER oppose a gay rights bill (even if it’s not transinclusive). This seems to be the place where the rubber meets the road.
I don't know if the citation to Smith, HRC's vice president of policy, is accurate, but I certainly agree that "the rubber meets the road" on this question. It ought to be a no-brainer that HRC (or any group that claims to work on behalf of gay and lesbian Americans, will never oppose a gay rights bill, whether or not it's trans-inclusive.
Hands down the most depressing thing about HRC's "Project Win Back," if such exists, is the last line from Rouse's memo:
HRC has the political and financial clout to do all this. We have two years to prepare for the next volley in Congress. I think this would be a good start.
That sounds very much like HRC has (once again) drank the Democrat kool-aid and will make no effort to push ENDA through the Senate early next year. If this was all HRC expected or demanded this entire time, then its long past time for heads to roll -- starting at the top.
We need a gay rights lobby that spends its resources on forcing the hand of feckless politicians on the Hill; not a coterie of lobbyists so immersed in Beltway minutiae that they accept whatever table scraps -- like late-coming symbolic votes -- offered by our so-called political friends.
December 01, 2007
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.
November 29, 2007
Posted by: Chris
UPDATE: At the end of the post.
Here are the Top Five most popular stories over the last 24 hours on Gay News Watch, along with an Editor's Pick from me at the end:
- Churches boycott schools over new Calif. gay bias law: QUICK LOOK: At least two churches are encouraging parents to keep their children home from school today and tomorrow in objection to new California antidiscrimination laws that protesters... (MORE)
- Silence on HIV linked to infection rise in gay, bi men: QUICK LOOK: An HIV/AIDS epidemic is re-emerging in the United States among homosexual and bisexual men who are no longer frightened about the deadly disease and are returning to... (MORE)
- Go Daddy parody of Larry Craig axed for Super Bowl: QUICK LOOK: Three months after Go Daddy Group Inc. said it might pass on advertising in the 2008 Super Bowl, the Scottsdale domain-name registrar notorious for its racy ads said... (MORE)
- French drag queen arrested in string of 18 deaths: QUICK LOOK: A 68-year-old man has been arrested by French police on suspicion of murdering 18 people, most of them homosexuals, between 1980 and 2002, officials say. The suspect,... (MORE)
- Bride arrested after Moroccan gay wedding protests: QUICK LOOK: A wedding for a well-known gay man in Morocco ended with the colorful 'bride' behind bars, along with five other wedding guests, and sparked riots and calls for authorities... (MORE)
- Last two transgender members quit HRC council: QUICK LOOK: Two transgender members of the Human Rights Campaign quit yesterday, saying the group's support of an employment nondiscrimination bill that excluded transgender workers... (MORE)
It's difficult to decide which form of activism is more self-defeating, the religious extremists who are keeping their children away from school to protect them from a gay rights law that hasn't even gone into effect yet. Or, on the other hand, transgender activists like Donna Rose resigning from the Human Rights Campaign because the organization was willing to go only 99 yards and not the full 100 in support of trans inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
It appears the anticipated showdown between Rose and HRC Prez Joe Solmonese at the recent Dallas Black-Tie Dinner never materialized. A report about the event in the Dallas Voice only mentions that Solmonese received a "thunderous" ovation when passage of ENDA and hate crimes came up. Rose claims in her resignation letter from the HRC Business Council that she failed to receive any response for a meeting with Solmonese after the whole trans-ENDA debacle.
I'm not surprised. I know personally how prickly Solmonese can be toward his critics; he's refused to meet with me or even acknowledge my "hello" at the gym or at restaurants since I first criticized him on the editorial page of the Washington Blade.
Still, except for its dramatic flair, Rose's resignation does her own cause no service, disengaging from the very group she wishes to lobby.
Paul Schindler is is reporting today in Gay City News that Solmonese's refusal to meet with Rose was the "last straw" in her decision to quit the HRC Business Council. Reading the blow by blow, it's difficult to decide who's the bigger drama queen:
Brad Luna, an HRC spokesman, took exception to Rose and Green's characterization of Solmonese's silence, noting that the group was in frequent back and forth communication with them about the possibility of a meeting. Rose acknowledged that she had been in email touch with HRC staff, but insisted that Solmonese made clear by not responding personally that he was not interested in a meeting.
Luna noted that Rose did not seek to talk to Solmonese when both were in Dallas this month for an HRC dinner, to which Rose responded, "I don't think Joe wants to talk to me. I've heard Joe has taken exception to some of my comments, which I can understand. But as leader of a group like HRC, you have to be able to talk to people."
Just when it seems HRC and Solmonese could not mismanage the HRC-transgender issue any worse, they somehow manage. Luna, the HRC spokesperson, only barely escaped his own meltdown with the LGBT press, after ignoring for weeks requests from a number of journalists for more information on that HRC ENDA poll.
You have to ask whether the folks at HRC's fancy national headquarters are so bunkered down that they don't care about all those they're alienating, or whether simple arrogance is at work. Either way, it's way past time for some major league fence-mending.
November 14, 2007
Posted by: Chris
No real surprise here. As Hillary Clinton consolidates her position as the choice of the party establishment, support from Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin and other Democrats in Congress is to be expected. Barney's support came along with a campaign role as a chief economic adviser. Commerce Secretary Frank, anyone?
Also not surprisingly, Barney and Hillary both praise each other's commitment to civil rights. Barney said he is "convinced that Hillary Clinton is the candidate best equipped to pass laws that will treat all Americans with dignity, fairness and equality no matter who they are or who they love." He doesn't elaborate,so we're left to imagine why. Perhaps because she's most likely to win the nomination.
Barney's sister, Ann Lewis, is a senior adviser on the Clinton campaign, and Barney is a longtime Clinton friend. Remember he stuck by them even when Bill signed on to support "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
The lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, Frank released a statement saying that Clinton was “the candidate best qualified to serve as president.” Significantly, Hillary Clinton has never publicly expressed support — even in principle — for the idea of using federal law to protect transgendered people from discrimination.
On this, as on so many other issues, Pauline is in desperate need of a fact-checker. Hillary Clinton's response to the candidates questionnaire from the evil trans traitors at the Human Rights Campaign confirmed that she supports inclusion of "gender identity" in both hate crimes and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
But never let the facts get in the way of a good rant…
For a complete news summary, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/demprimary
November 12, 2007
Posted by: Chris
(UPDATE: At the end of the post):
At some point, the claim by the "United ENDA" crowd to represent the interests of gay Americans becomes laughable. In addition to the Human Rights Campaign poll showing 70% of actual gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people support the compromise ENDA -- a result backed up by our own online poll -- there are the growing number of gay newspapers and gay bloggers and, of course, HRC, the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights abandoning the "trans or bust" strategy.
The House vote was overwhelming in favor of the compromise ENDA, with only seven members dissenting on transgender grounds. Even Tammy Baldwin, the trans activists' principal ally, voted for the gay-only ENDA. In a statement she released after the vote, she hailed the compromise that trans activists are calling a betrayal: ""This is an historic moment in the on-going movement for equality in this country. As in all movements, achieving success is a process, and today’s legislative accomplishment marks a milestone, but certainly not the end, of our quest."
Now the country's two most influential mainstream newspapers have weighed in, both in favor of Barney Frank's compromise measure. First the New York Times ("Gay Rights, the Transgendered, and Accepting Partial Progress"):
Not everyone, however, is happy with the [ENDA] vote — and that includes many people who strongly favor gay rights. The “nay” votes included 35 Republicans — despite the efforts of Chris Shays of Connecticut and Deborah Pryce of Ohio to persuade their G.O.P. colleagues to vote in favor — but also some of the House’s most pro-gay-rights members, like Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York. The objection of Mr. Nadler and the others: transgendered men and women were stripped from the bill, and would not be protected. If they had been included, the bill likely would not have gotten the necessary votes.
Many gay rights supporters believed it was important to take the victory that was achievable, and vowed to come back another day to fight for the transgendered. “History teaches us that progress on civil rights is never easy,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, expressing regret about the exclusion but nevertheless urging an “aye” vote. “It is often marked by small and difficult steps.” Ms. Pelosi is right. It’s frustrating to take equality one step at a time. But that is how equal justice has been won in this country.
Then the Washington Post ("A Civil Rights Watershed"):
Many gay rights activists opposed the bill because the final version didn't include protection for transgender people, including those who have changed their sex, who are living their lives as the other sex or who do not conform to traditional gender roles. The omission was a painful but wise choice that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) made to increase the bill's chance of passage. Transgender people must channel the activism this action sparked into a long-term effort to educate the public and lawmakers about the discrimination they face.
Both editorials are welcome voices of reason, although the WaPo news desk inexcusably failed to report on House passage of ENDA, instead relying on wire service copy.
With the tide having turned, trans activists are left to bellow, and do so loudly. My old friend Pauline Park over at Logo's Visible Voice was practically apoplectic, but after wading through paragraph and paragraph of unsupported insults aimed at the Times editorial board, it finally comes down to her claim that President Bush will veto ENDA, so the whole thing is academic only.
The White House did issue a veto threat, though from the president's advisers, not from him. And after the House amended ENDA to broaden the religious exemption and reassure gay marriage foes, the president's peeps told the Times they would now reevaluate the bill to decide their position.
Park also ignores that Bush also threatened to veto the trans-inclusive hate crimes bill, and yet she and other trans activists never call that bill "dead." That's because it's been attached to Defense Department funding, making a veto a much more difficult proposition. The same could be done with ENDA, though Park and her allies won't tell you that since it doesn't support their claim that ENDA is "dead."
The rumors of ENDA's death are greatly exaggerated, and its trans opponents know it. But they'll leave no sneaky trick untried to undermine passage of historic GLB rights legislation.
UPDATE: Add the Washington Blade to the list of respected newspapers endorsing the compromise ENDA. In an editorial this week, my former colleage Kevin Naff gives voice to the rift I noted yesterday among gays who do not identify as part of an "LGBT community" and backs incremental progress as a political necessity:
Passage of ENDA in any form would make history and no one in the “community” should be rooting for its demise. Politics has never been about “all or nothing” — it’s about the art of the compromise. Gay-only ENDA may not be the perfect bill, but it would bring immediate relief to millions of gays and lesbians hiding in the closet at work, fearful of losing their livelihood if their sexual orientation were exposed.
As someone who has experienced overt workplace discrimination because of my sexual orientation, I find it unconscionable that a few would advocate for the defeat of a bill that stands to benefit so many.
November 11, 2007
Posted by: Chris
I've known Rex Wockner for a decade and for more than twice that length of time he's been one of the most respected journalists within the gay press. Our politics are quite different and we've disagreed plenty over the years, but always respectfully. I offer that background to make the point that he's anything but "conservative," a label I reject for myself as well, but look at what he's written in response to the "trans or bust" ENDA fiasco:
I maintain my position that gay people and transgender people are two different things. Most of the transgender people I personally know have had a sex-change operation and paired off with someone of the opposite sex. That is a very different reality from the gay bear circles I travel in -- in those uncommon instances in which I engage with the gay scene. It's a very different reality from the reality of most gay people. It's even significantly different from the venerable gay tradition of drag-queenery (which I've never done and don't "get," but that's beside the point). …
I've been sitting here sort of picking my own brain and asking myself if gay and trans people do in fact have some crucial thing in common. … What do I have in common with a guy who wants to remove his willy, grow breasts, become a woman and get married to a man? From where did this relatively new concept of "the LGBT community" come?
Andrew Sullivan echoed the same sentiments in a post headlined "The LGBTQRSTZ 'Community'":
The Croatian-sounding acronym only makes sense from the perspective of the pomo-left, whose control of the major gay groups allows them to dictate what is and what is not kosher for gay people. I support enthusiastically the right of transgender people to live their lives as they wish and to be free from government discrimination. But that question is logically separate from gay rights, and always has been. Many transgender people are heterosexual; most gay people have no internal conflict with their own gender. It remains important to insist that, just because so many in the gay world have been browbeaten into repeating the concept of an "LGBT community", that doesn't mean it exists.
John Aravosis, a blue-dog Democrat partisan, has written similarly in Salon, "How Did the T Get in LGBT?":
I have a sense that over the past decade the trans revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least above, and thus it never stuck with a large number of gays who weren't running national organizations, weren't activists, or weren't living in liberal gay enclaves like San Francisco and New York. Sure, many of the rest of us accepted de facto that transgendered people were members of the community, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so. A lot of gays have been scratching their heads for 10 years trying to figure out what they have in common with transsexuals, or at the very least why transgendered people qualify as our siblings rather than our cousins.
I've been asking similar questions for years, ever since trans activists browbeat LGB organizations to add transgender to their mission statements. I didn't object to that idea, in and of itself, but I was deeply troubled by the idea that it was somehow "exclusionary" for gay people to have some organizations just for us. Trans folks do, so why shouldn't we?
I also worried, unfortunately prophetically, that including "T" in the mission statement would become a huge distraction for resource-strapped gay groups, as if our own battles weren't consuming enough. The deepest disappointment has been Lambda Legal, an organization for which I have a great deal of respect, which has so confused including T in its mission that now it feels obliged to argue that GLBs shouldn't receive any legislative protection until the political will is there for Ts to receive the same.
Then transgender activists and their allies pressed their "trans or bust" strategy for hate crimes and workplace rights. It was the crowning achievement of their leveraging of the gay rights movement, and so brazen that I labeled it "the transjacking" of the movement. Provocative yes, but accurate nonetheless.
Now all that has blown up in their face, and by overreaching their attempt at forced "unity" has brought to the surface deep divisions within our "community." The form the debate has taken hasn't helped. While some have been respectful, most trans activists I've seen have been incredibly aggressive and personal and mean-spirited, always questioning motives and rarely addressing points of view actually expressed.
The question now is whether trans activists and their allies will realize their misstep and correct it going forward. The Nation is reporting that Ted Kennedy will introduce ENDA as a gay-only measure. I think they're reading a bit too much into his statement over House passage, but regardless the issue will present itself again.
There's no reason why we can't all lobby for a trans-inclusive ENDA and yet support a compromise measure if the votes aren't there for "gender identity." It's the right thing to do for millions of GLB Americans.
November 09, 2007
Posted by: Chris
The Human Rights Campaign, rather than answer questions from a variety of media outlets and bloggers about its poll showing 70% GLBT support for the compromise gay-only ENDA, has used its chosen media outlet -- the Advocate -- to release some additional information.
The Advocate posted a non-bylined story today, though curiously it never explains its reason for being. Regardless, the story indicates that the poll was "a random survey of 514 LGBT Americans conducted by Knowledge Networks, Inc., of Menlo Park, Ca., asked participants two questions concerning [the compromise] ENDA.":
The first asked which of the following three statements was closest to reflecting their views:
A. National gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organizations should oppose this proposal because it excludes transgender people.
B. National gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organizations should support this proposal because it helps gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers and is a step toward transgender employment rights.
C. National gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organizations should adopt a neutral stance for this proposal because while it helps gay, lesbians, and bisexual workers, it also excludes transgender people.
The numbers were 67.7% for backing the compromise bill, 15.8% for opposing it, and 12.8% for staying neutral. As poll questions go, this one looks pretty straightforward with no attempt to bias the result. So far, so good.
The second question asked people the following: "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?"
The numbers were about the same: 59.1% favored the compromise and felt strongly about it, 15.4% favored it but did not feel strongly, 15.1% opposed it and felt strongly about it, and 8.8% opposed it but not strongly.
That's an even stronger indication that three-quarters of LGBT Americans back Barney Frank's compromise ENDA, which is a remarkable contrast to the almost unanimous 350 GLBT groups who joined United ENDA's "trans-or-bust" strategy. (Only HRC, Log Cabin, GLAAD, and a few other groups didn't sign on.) Will Matt Foreman be issuing an apology for lying to Congress about how "the community" really feels? Don't hold your breath.
The Advocate story included standard margin of error info and broke down the demographics: roughly 50-50 male and female with 1% transgender. If anything, that's weighted female-heavy. Every demographic study I've seen of LGBT America shows we're 60-70% male, and trans numbers run about 1%, though you wouldn't know that from the commitment of resources from so many lgbT groups.
Still, a few big questions are left unanswered by the Advocate story, and should be dealt with directly by HRC. First of all, the new Advocate story says the poll was conducted Oct. 2-5. The Advocate originally reported just two days ago that the poll was conducted Oct. 26. That's a big difference, and means HRC has known for weeks before it re-revised its position on ENDA how strongly GLBT Americans felt about the question.
Also, one of the questions pressed by the Bay Area Reporter and others is how exactly these 500 LGBT Americans were identified and whether they were a representative sample. HRC has said the 500 were not culled from its membership list or from the Advocate's subscription list, but the new Advocate story still doesn't clarify where they did come from.
Finally, there is the curious way in which HRC released the information. HRC prez Joe Solmonese has done a good job on at least one aspect of the ENDA controversy -- he's been accessible to the gay press for interviews. So why play favorites with the release of this polling data and string out over several days the details behind its demographics? Just answer the questions already.
Does HRC really need more questions raised about its transparency and credibility?
Posted by: Chris
- Overall the vote was 235-184, which represents 56% of those voting and 54% of the House as a whole. The total fell well short of the 292 needed to override a threatened veto by President Bush.
- Democrats favored ENDA 200-25 (8 not voting); Republicans opposed 35-159 (6 not voting)
- Of those 25 Dems who crossed party lines to vote 'no,' (only) seven did so because the bill did not include "gender identity." Six of the seven were from New York or New Jersey. Even Dennis Kucinich, who voted against ENDA in committee, voted in favor when push came to shove. All seven, Dale Carpenter points out, come from states that already have state gay rights laws.
- All but one of the 37 members of the Congressional Black Caucus who voted on ENDA backed the measure; Keith Boykin fingered the lone holdout: Alabama Democrat Artur Davis.
- If those 35 Republicans, or those 37 black Democrats, had voted the other way, ENDA would have failed.
- Geographically, support was strongest in the Northeast (65-17-1, or really 72-10-1 if you flip the "trans-or-bust'ers") and the West (63-33-2), though even the Midwest tipped in ENDA's favor (54-40-5). Only in the South did ENDA fail (53-94-6). The persistent hostility to civil rights in my native region was an emotional backdrop for me as I listened to the House debate. So many of the voices against ENDA had a distinctive Southern drawl.
- The gender of the member was less a factor, though congresswomen favored ENDA by greater margins (51-16-3) than congressmen (184-168-11).
- Age was also less of a factor than you'd imagine. The baby boomers run things in Washington and they split by about the same percentage (53% in favor) as did the House as a whole (56% in favor). Suprisingly, the 30 "post-boomers" in the House were less supportive (56% in favor) than the "pre-boomers" (63%).
- I have no idea why, but the Washington Post actually breaks down congressional votes by astrological sign. For those curious, the three anti-gay signs were Gemini, Capricorn and Virgo. I'm proud to say that my own peeps, the Aries reps, were the most supportive, along with Taurus and Pisces.
A lot of those data points mirror the encouraging results of a new ABC News-Washington Post poll that shows a clear majority of Americans (55%) supporting civil unions for the first time. The previous record was 51% in 2004, which put majority support within the margin of error; last year only 45% backed civil unions. Interestingly, the exact same percentage (55%) back legal abortion, although the report didn't clarify the degree of overlap.
It's a bit apples and oranges to compare workplace rights with civil unions, except in a general sense to see where support for gay equality is strongest demographically. Predictably, there was gaps by gender (women 59% in favor; men 51%); age (18-29 year olds favor 66%; those over 65 only 44%) and by party (Dems 66% in favor; Independents 58%; Republicans only 39%).
Less predictably, self-described moderates were as supportive, with 64% in favor, as liberals 69%; only 35% of conservatives back civil unions. There was a discouraging racial gap as well: only 45% of blacks support civil unions while 56% of whites do. Black political leaders are clearly out ahead of black America on gay issues, and thankfully so.
Finally, the ABC-WaPo poll found that about 60% of Democrats who favor civil unions are backing Hillary Clinton for president. There's unlikely a causal link there, however, since Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all favor civil unions, although Obama has been more vocal in his support.
November 08, 2007
Posted by: Chris
(UPDATE: At the end of the post.)
Just one day before Barney Frank and our GLB allies in Congress debated opponents of ENDA in Congress, Human Rights Campaign prez Joe Solmonese had a debate of his own, with Mike Signorile on Sirius Out Q. You can listen to the exchange here on Pam's House Blend, but here are the highlights:
- HRC's strategy was actually to prevent the compromise ENDA from ever coming up for a vote on the House floor. Once it passed out of Rules Committee, HRC reversed itself. It's unclear why HRC would publicly commit itself to a strategy that depended on ENDA never making it to the House floor, something that was inevitable after Nancy Pelosi gave a green light.
- HRC will score the ENDA vote on its congressional report card, which is pretty remarkable considering the many public pronouncements by Solmonese that HRC opposed (and then was neutral) on the compromise bill. At the same time, HRC will indicate somehow those members (it turned out to be seven Dems) who voted against ENDA on trans-inclusion grounds.
- Amusingly, Signorile complains the internal ENDA debate "got really ugly," including "nasty comments about transgender people" online. No doubt that happened and shouldn't have, but thus far I've only seen nasty comments by transgender people (and their allies), not about them.
- Signorile took Solmonese to task for acting like a Beltway lobbyist and not a civil rights leader. All I can say is, "Welcome to the party, Mike." I've said many times that Joe is no doubt a talented tactician, although his ENDA flip-flops raise some doubts there as well. But he never should have been named to lead the nation's largest gay rights group. He would have been much better suited to be political director, working for a someone who gets "the vision thing" and can inspire unity and progress in the movement.
- Solmonese now claims he "misspoke" at a Sept. 14 meeting with transgender activists in Atlanta for the Southern Comfort conference. "We do not support and in fact absolutely oppose any legislation that is not absolutely inclusive," Solmonese said then. Believe it or not, Solmonese now claims HRC's position is still to oppose ENDA if it is not trans-inclusive, but only if it passes Congress in that form and is up for the president's signature.
- Solmonese's take-away from the whole ENDA debacle is that HRC should be entrusted with more, not less, leeway to decide what's best for us. "In retrospect," he said, "perhaps the policy of HRC should be that we're going to evaluate each circumstance as it presents itself and do what we think is in the best interest of the community." Yes, he really said that.
It will be very interesting indeed to see how HRC reacts to the chorus of criticism that seems to be coming from all directions. From the left, the Bay Area Reporter is asking for the background info on the HRC poll that purportedly shows 70% of LGBT Americans backing a gay-only ENDA.
Few seem to doubt that percentage is about right, and it squares what the online survey conducted on this blog and Gay News Watch, but it is more than passing curious that HRC is thus far refusing to say who conducted the poll or its methodology and margin of error.
November 07, 2007
Posted by: Chris
(UPDATE: Yeah so I changed the headline for the post; the first one was too cheesy. Also, I've posted Barney's emotional floor speech. Give it a quick listen. The best part comes in the last three minutes.)
Throughout the House debate this afternoon on ENDA, Congressman Barney Frank has been an absolute lion, calling out Republican opponents of the measure for nit-picking at the margins when their true objection is to the protection of gays from discrimination itself. Then, when Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia tried to send the measure back to committee, ostensibly to ensure that it does not impact federal marriage laws, Barney had had enough.
In an impassioned and emotional speech, Barney talked about his own felt obligation to adopt ENDA to protect gays in 30 states who can be fired from their jobs based on nothing but their sexual orientation. He dismissed any suggestion that such a measure could have any impact on marriage laws, and pointed out the House had already adopted a friendly amendment that clarified ENDA would have no impact on the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, that prohibits federal recognition of state-issued marriage licenses to gay couples.
The end result was the defeat of the Republican amendment, 222-198. I am also thrilled to say ENDA itself was passed by the House by an impressive margin of 235-184. Thirty-five Republicans joined 200 Democrats in passing the historic measure, which was first introduced more than 30 years ago.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the podium and with a giant smile announced the result.
Posted by: Chris
The House is (finally) debating the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (view it by webcast on CSPAN here), and Republicans have already tried to press for a vote to include transgender protections, a clear sign that they know it would kill the measure.
As the House takes up ENDA and Tammy Baldwin's transgender amendment, it's worth testing the "third rail" of the internal LGBT debate here. It's an article of faith almost, for the professional activists who are pressing a "trans or bust" ENDA strategy, that T Americans are "most needy" when it comes to federal civil rights protections.
The whole game of comparing neediness is rarely beneficial, but since the claim is made so regularly, I wonder whether it's really the case. Consider the following, taken straight from the Human Rights Campaign's transgender FAQ:
- Can Transgender People Adopt Children? Transgender people are not prohibited from adopting under law
- Can Transgender People Get Legally Married? Although marriage is not yet a legal option for gay or lesbian people in any state, it is already an option – and a reality – for many who are transgender.
Just last week, the United Methodist Church decided that a pastor who transitioned from female to male could remain in the pulpit; this same mainline Protestant denomination recently defrocked a minister after she publicly acknolwedged she is gay. That's because many religious faiths don't have the same specific objections to gender identity as they do to homosexuality. Even as backward society as Iran executes homosexuals while subsidizing gender reassignment surgery.
A document called "Transgender Tools," produced by HRC for use by employers, notes "a growing consensus that transgender people are covered under state and federal sex discrimination statutes":
In the past few years, an increasing number of federal courts have interpreted federal sex discrimination laws to cover gender identity and expression, particularly in the area of impermissible sex stereotyping. In practical terms, this could mean that employers could be held accountable for anti-transgender discrimination in their workplaces.
Almost every story of transgender workplace discrimination I've seen involves the complicated issues surrounding the limited time period when an employee actually transitions from one gender to another, raising legitimate questions about use of restrooms and locker rooms, photo credentials, dress codes, health insurance and the like. These issues are complicated and serious, and they are also once-in-a-lifetime, at least at their most severe.
The website for the National Center for Transgender Equality, the leading trans rights group, does not include a single detailed story of workplace discrimination, at least that I could locate. It did, however, include some false and offensive "talking points" to be used to defeat workplace rights for GLB Americans:
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is one community and the community ONLY wants to move forward together with one unified bill. CALL TODAY!
This is, of course, a lie. The HRC poll released this week confirmed what was absolutely evident anecdotally: the vast majority of LGBT Americans favor passing the compromise ENDA if the votes aren't there for transgender protections.
None of this is to suggest that transgender Americans don't need workplace protection; of course they do. But T Americans already enjoy all sorts of basic civil rights denied to GLB Americans, including marriage, joint adoption and some workplace protection. To call them the neediest among us is a claim without support.
November 06, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Outmaneuvered by rival HRC and marginalized by the new poll showing 70% of the actual LGBT people disagree with his "United ENDA" farce, Matt Foreman of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force is not going down without a bit more demagoguing.
So Foreman took issue with the combined wisdom of the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, among others, all of which argued for incremental progress where achievable. GCN takes it from here:
NGLTF's Foreman was uncompromising in rejecting what he termed "an inaccurate analogy" between incrementalism in the Civil Rights era and accepting a non-inclusive ENDA today.
"At no time during the African-American Civil Rights movement were light-skinned African Americans or dark-skinned African Americans left behind," Foreman told Gay City News. "What is being lost is that we need to be working for the best law, not a bill that can be passed today."
There's nothing new in Foreman's effort to divide rather than unite, suggesting that the compromise ENDA will "leave behind" gender non-conforming gays, who are the "dark-skinned blacks" in his analogy. I acknowledged the divide in a blog post weeks ago, and engaged Lambda Legal in a respectful debate on the legal limits of the compromise ENDA as well.
What's new is Foreman's attempt to play wedge politics with the divide, now that it's clear what a small sliver of the community he represents. Only time will tell whether the Task Force and its "trans or bust" abandon the strategy that is responsible for so much damage and divisiveness.
Posted by: Chris
With the House poised to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act despite, rather than because of, the nation's largest glbT group, the Human Rights Campaign has belatedly remembered that the vast majority of its constituents would greatly benefit from passage of historic civil rights legislation. As a result, HRC has reversed itself -- I've lost track of how may times -- and once again actively supports passage of ENDA even if it does not include "gender identity" as a protected category.
The policy reversal, which will probably have about as much (or as little) impact as HRC's fence-sitting has up till now, came complete with all sorts of ass-covering. First, there as a joint letter from the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights that included HRC, the NAACP and a number of other top civil rights organizations, that backed the compromise ENDA that could come up for a vote as early as tomorrow.
The letter's take-away quote:
It is “beyond dispute that transgender employees are particularly in need of those protections,” the letter says. “They face far more pervasive and severe bias in the workplace and society as a whole,” the letter says.
“As civil rights organizations, however, we are no strangers to painful compromise in the quest for equal protection of the law for all Americans,” it says. “From the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through the almost-passed District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007, legislative progress in the area of civil and human rights has almost always been incremental in nature.
Hmm. Sound vaguely familiar to anyone else?
HRC also pushed the release of a poll it conducted almost two weeks ago, which shows an overwhelming majority of "LGBT Americans" favors passing ENDA even if transgender protections are removed. And the knee-slapper from the Advocate's coverage of the poll:
HRC president Joe Solmonese said the poll numbers weren’t immediately obvious to him or the organization before they conducted the polling.
“There were so many people out there speaking so emphatically about where the entire community was that I thought maybe we should get a sense of it, and that’s why we did the poll,” he said. “So it was surprising to me, but I think it really speaks to the fact that there’s a big diverse community of GLBT Americans all across the country.”
No, Joe. It speaks to the huge disconnect between the left-leaning professional activists who run HRC and the 300-odd organization in the "United ENDA" coalition and the consituents that they supposedly represent. It is a gap that has long been a subject of this blog, and it will be interesting to watch whether Matt Foreman, who led those trying to cover-up the community's real views on the subject, will own up to their mendacity.
Note the similarity between HRC's poll results and the unscientific results of the poll from this blog and Gay News Watch (below). In HRC's poll, 70% backed a gay-only ENDA, while in our little survey, 73% did. Similarly, the HRC poll showed 20% only supported ENDA if trans protections were included; 28% of our survey respondents felt similarly.
It speaks volumes that HRC sat on their poll, knowing what the community really wants, until the House Rules Committee set ENDA up for a vote and then, at the 11th hour and 59th minute, literally one day before, HRC jumps on the bandwagon.
That's not leading; that's called following.
For a complete news summary on gay rights, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/legalcivilrights
November 05, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Just when it looked like the divisively named United ENDA crowd had killed historic workplace protections for GLB Americans, the compromise version pressed by Barney Frank appears back from the dead and scheduled for a House vote this week. Gay City News is reporting that a headcount apparently shows enough votes for ENDA to pass the House in a form that only protects "actual or perceived sexual orientation" and not "gender identity" as well.
Given the expected defections of purist liberals like Dennis Kucinich, it will ironically take Republican votes to pass a gay civil rights bill for the first time through the U.S. House of Representatives. (The actual number of defectors is said to range between 8 and 60, GCN reports.) The irony doesn't end there — the United ENDA groups, led by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, have actively worked to defeat ENDA stripped of its transgender protections.
The Human Rights Campaign has dutifully straddled the fence, not lobbying for or against the very same bill it pressed for a decade as its signature legislation, and has apparently promised not to count a vote for the compromise ENDA as a mark against House members on the group's annual congressional report card. Smell the irony.
Another bit of parliamentary weirdness reported by GCN relates to Tammy Baldwin's amendment to add "gender identity" back in to ENDA. At first, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised a floor vote on the Baldwin amendment, but then apparently recanted when House freshmen objected to the vote as no-win, since defying conservatives on trans rights will only anger the left if the amendment fails and they vote in favor of the gay-only bill.
So the solution is being worked out in the Rules Committee but will involve Baldwin introducing her amendment, which will then be debated on the House floor, but then withdrawn before there's a vote. The idea is to prevent a lopsided tally that wounds trans rights down the road, whether in a solo "transg-ENDA" or in a reunited ENDA next Congress if it fails to become law this year.
Assuming ENDA does pass the House, it's anyone's guess whether the Senate will dare touch this hot potato. Thank goodness another pragmatist, Ted Kennedy, is in control of the bill's fate there. Kennedy resisted for years introducing ENDA with "gender identity" included and unless I've missed it, he hasn't even promised it will start off trans-inclusive as it did (for the first time) this year in the House.
If ENDA passes the House in compromise form, there will be pressure on Kennedy to introduce it trans-intact (pun intented) in the Senate so that "gender identity" has a chance to make it through, perhaps if ENDA is attached to some noncontroversial legislation. (The same wayward fate that thus far has stilted the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act.)
Meanwhile, leading trans activist Mara Keisling is working overtime to reinforce the ridiculous idea that ENDA is dead anyway, so she and her "trans or bust" allies won't take the fall for klling it. "There is no chance of this becoming law now," she told GCN. "We will have to get together and decide how to proceed in '09."
Get together? Now there's a novel idea.
For a complete news summary on gay rights, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/legalcivilrights
October 30, 2007
Posted by: Chris
One thing the "trans-or-bust" crowd doesn't seem to get is that whatever arguments they make about leaving trans workers behind also works in the opposite direction only with far more force. Let's weigh the two sides:
Pass the compromise ENDA:
- Millions of GLB Americans get historic workplace protections.
- Trans workers, who are much smaller in number, will remain partially protected by the long-standing Price Waterhouse precedent.
- Full "gender identity" protection will wait until XX date, unknown, when Congress is ready to protect transgender workers.
Or we follow the trans-or-bust route:
- Millions of GLB Americans are completely unprotected from workplace bias in 31 states.
- Trans workers, who are much smaller in number, will remain partially protected by the long-standing Price Waterhouse precedent.
- Full "gender identity" protection will wait until YY date, also unknown, when Congress is ready to protect transgender workers.
No one even knows if there is much of a difference between XX date and YY date, although apparently everyone assumes that both Congress and LGBT groups will work harder to pass T rights sooner if GLB rights come along with them. It's ridiculous to think that LGBT groups will show no interest in passing T protections after achieving LGB protections, considering more than 300 of these groups are already willing to forego GLB protections to win T protections.
As for Congress, if there is widespread resistance to transgender rights, how will tacking them on to GLB rights advance the ball? No one has made that case, instead focused on guilting GLB Americans into acting against their interest.
October 28, 2007
Posted by: Chris
The personal attacks over ENDA just don't stop. As regular readers of this blog know, I have been called every name in the book for agreeing with Barney Frank's compromise ENDA strategy. I don't bring it up in a bid for sympathy. I'm a big boy and have a decade of experience under my belt of this sort of thing. (Actually, I should add in another seven years when I edited student publications in college and law school.)
I bring it up because someone needs to call out trans activists for the gratuitously personal way they attack anyone who dares to disagree with the "trans or bust" strategy for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It's especially ballsy of them (pun intended, since they are all male-to-female) considering that they are asking GLB Americans to forego employment protection for their sake.
The only voices I have heard in opposition of a fully-inclusive ENDA have come from white gay men who suffer from what I call “Chris Crain Disease,” or “CCD.” Crain, a former editor, former newspaper owner, former American resident, lead the charge early on with his infamous “Trans-jacking” articles, spawning a new industry in gay journalism called, “Blame the trannies for everything.”
Crain is “Patient Zero,” and the disease is spreading rapidly. It is important that those who suffer with CCD need to study history to remind them that back in the late 1980s, when most of them were in grade school or high school.
Actually, I was in law school in the late '80s, and it's particular ironic, considering Helms is calling a gay man "diseased," that the history lesson she promises in her column concerns excluding HIV from the Americans with Disability Act when it was under debate in Congress.
One difference, of course, between ADA and ENDA is that there was no whip count at the time showing that inclusion of HIV would kill the bill. Also, HIV is a disability, so it would have required excluding something within the protected category. "Sexual orientation" and "gender identity" are different categories.
It's also ironic that in the "pitch" to editors that accompanies her column, the three publishing credits Helms mentions (Washington Blade, Southern Voice and Houston Voice) were all columns I published as exec. editor of those publications.
For a movement that spends so much energy talking about "respectful dialogue," "education," "teaching moments," "tolerance" and the like, it's long past time that someone called out our trans sisters for the immature and disrespectful way they personally attack anyone who dares to disagree.
October 27, 2007
Posted by: Chris
It looks like congratulations may be in order, to both the "United" ENDA coalition led by Matt Foreman and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and Peter LaBarbera of the anti-gay Americans for Truth. They say politics make strange bedfellows, but who would have believed these two would hop in the sack for a quick lay?
D.C. newspaper The Hill is reporting that last week's "postponement" of a House vote on Barney Frank's compromise Employment Non-Discrimation Act may well be indefinite -- as in killing the bill for this Congress. The Blade reported at the time that the delay was to give transgender supporters more time to round up votes for Tammy Baldwin's amendment that would add "gender identity" back into the bill. Others suggested it was a short delay because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had put a higher priority on other bills.
According to The Hill, freshman House Democrats approached Pelosi at a breakfast meeting and asked that she not allow the Baldwin amendment to come up for a vote. Their concern was that the vote was a no-win situation for them, between conservatives like LaBarbera and corporate interests opposing the bill because they are anti-gay or anti-regulations and liberals like Foreman and United ENDA who opposed any ENDA that did not include "gender identity."
That political squeeze play was enough for the first-term Dems, and apparently Pelosi as well. And while some claim the compromise ENDA will still get a House vote, I seriously doubt it -- given Pelosi's public commitment that trans rights supporters will get a vote on their amendment.
Thanks be to Foreman, LaBarbera and their allies, workplace rights for thousands upon thousands of GLB Americans may now be stalled indefinitely, and historic gay civil rights legislation will not receive its first-ever House floor vote. All because transgender activists and their P.C. allies couldn't accept anything other than the same for them, despite their much shorter lobbying history.
If ENDA is dead, the blood is on all their hands, and I hope history doesn't allow those on either end of the spectrum to clean it off easily.
For a complete news summary on gay rights, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/legalcivilrights
October 23, 2007
Posted by: Chris
This week's ENDA news began with a warning from fringe anti-gay leader Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth that White House staffers not only were advising President Bush to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, they were actually bragging about their involvement in crafting the bill's religious exemption.
The idea that White House staffers worked surreptitiously with openly gay Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank to improve the language of historic gay (and possibly transgender) rights legislation was, well, about as credible as everything else that comes out of Peter LaBarbera's mouth. But that didn't stop gay Democrat blogger John Aravosis from falling for it, in a post that begins "Time for some crow," and brags that he predicted Bush would not veto ENDA.
The method to LaBarbera's madness, rather than speaking the "Truth" about anything, was to rally the conservative chorus to call on the White House to take a position on ENDA, since it was expected to come up for a House vote on Wednesday. The White House responded today with a watered-down veto threat (of the same type it issued over the hate crime bill), that says, "The bill raises concerns on constitutional and policy grounds, and if H.R. 3685 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."
First and foremost, it is politically very telling that the White House never mentions any opposition to the bill's primary purpose, protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The president's advisers read the polls and know that the core justification for ENDA is embraced by wide majorities, including among Republicans.
(The veto threat also makes no mention of the transgender issue, which I've already heard some claim as proof it's not such political deadweight, but H.R. 3685 (Barney's compromise ENDA bill) doesn't include any mention of "gender identity," so there was no basis to raise the issue in the veto threat.)
Ironically, given LaBarbera's wild claim about White House collaboration on ENDA's religious exemption, the veto "threat" cites that very exemption as the bill's primary problem:
H.R. 3685 is inconsistent with the right to the free exercise of religion as codified by Congress in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Act prohibits the Federal Government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion except for compelling reasons, and then only in the least restrictive manner possible. H.R. 3685 does not meet this standard. For instance, schools that are owned by or directed toward a particular religion are exempted by the bill; but those that emphasize religious principles broadly will find their religious liberties burdened by H.R. 3685.
The claim is overwrought, given that Barney's revised compromise ENDA actually broadened the religious exemption to include those schools "owned by or directed toward a particular religion." To also include schools that "emphasize religious principles broadly" would lead to litigation over the importance of religion in a school's operation. That's exactly the sort of judicial "entanglement" in religion that courts have made clear for decades that the First Amendment does not allow.
The veto threat lists three other justifications:
- "H.R. 3685’s authorization of Federal civil damage actions against State entities, which may violate States’ immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."
Since when has this White House been concerned about whether a statute "may violate" the Constitution? Regardless, this provision even if unconstitutional is not central to the bill and would be struck down by the courts, leaving the rest operational.
- "The bill turns on imprecise and subjective terms that would make interpretation, compliance, and enforcement extremely difficult. For instance, the bill establishes liability for acting on 'perceived' sexual orientation, or 'association' with individuals of a particular sexual orientation."
State gay rights bills have long include "perceived" sexual orientation, which simply closes a loophole that would allow employers to force fired workers from proving they are, in fact, gay, lesbian or bisexual (or straight in cases of anti-hetero bias). I'm aware of no bruising litigation over the meaning of that term, much less "association," which is included in dozens of statutes.
- "Provisions of this bill purport to give Federal statutory significance to same-sex marriage rights under State law. These provisions conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. The Administration strongly opposes any attempt to weaken this law, which is vital to defending the sanctity of marriage."
Silliness. The bill's only mention of marriage prevents employers in states where gays cannot marry from using "eligibility to marry" as a pretext for anti-gay discrimination. To be honest, I have never understood the need for this particular provision, since even gays are "eligible to marry" so long as their spouse is of the opposite sex. If I were Barney, I would ditch it.
Hours after the veto threat, House Democratic leaders said they were postponing an ENDA vote, not because of the White House but either because they were still counting up support for Tammy Baldwin's transgender amendment or because Speaker Nancy Pelosi puts a higher priority on voting for a health insurance bill the president has actually already vetoed.
Either way, the delay is a reminder that Democratic Party leaders have a limited attention span on our issues, and now that Pelosi has taken home her HRC profiles in courage award, she's on to the next constituency group.
I continue to believe there is a strong likelihood the president will not veto either the (trans-inclusive) hate crimes bill or ENDA (so long as it's not trans-inclusive), should either reach his desk -- whether solo or attached to some larger piece of legislation. The veto threat was an easy political move to satisfy conservative rabble rousers, and in ENDA's case seemed a direct response to the LaBarbera rally cry.
Of course, the United ENDA trans-first'ers still have a chance to beat President Bush's advisers to the punch, and derail historic gay rights legislation because it doesn't also expressly protect transsexuals, cross-dressers and transvestites as well. If they succeed, whether in the House or by scaring the Senate away from the legislation, the president will owe them a debt of gratitude.
UPDATE: Dale Carpenter, who has weighed in before with insightful legal analysis of the transg-ENDA flap, offers a more thorough legal analysis of the excuses used by the White House to threaten a veto of the the compromise ENDA.
For a complete news summary on gay rights, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/legalcivilrights
October 20, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Once again, Barney Frank hits all the right notes on the compromise ENDA controversy. Even though he championed the strategy of introducing a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that does not include "gender identity" as a protected category, Barney has come out strongly in support of Tammy Baldwin's ENDA "solution" -- an amendment on the floor that adds gender identity back in.
Here's what Barney said in a press release that went out yesterday:
The decision to offer such an amendment came out of a Caucus which Chairman George Miller held of the Democratic Members of the Education and Labor Committee. After some discussion, it became clear that offering such an amendment would offer us the best chance to achieve Speaker Pelosi's goal of adopting in the House the most inclusive ENDA bill for which majority support existed.
I argued in favor of transgender inclusion when I testified on the original legislation on September 5, but many of us believed that sending the full inclusive bill to the floor would open the door to a series of demagogic procedural moves that would have endangered our chances of a passing any bill at all. The discussion held by the Democratic Members of the Education and Labor Committee, Congresswoman Baldwin and myself resulted in this approach and I believe it meets the goal of giving people the opportunity to support a fully inclusive bill while avoiding the potential parliamentary death traps that would otherwise have resulted.
I will on the floor of the House be repeating essentially the arguments in favor of transgender inclusion which I made in the September 5 hearing, because we will now be able to do that in a procedural setting that allows us to maximize support for an inclusive bill without endangering our chances of getting any bill at all.
So trans-or-bust ENDA supporters get their floor vote on "gender identity" as a protected category, though I shudder to think the turn the debate will take when it comes to discussing cross-dressing teachers. Maybe that's what we need to air out the bigotry on the anti-trans side.
Of course I doubt it will satisfy the trans-or-bust'ers, even though they're getting their floor vote only six months after being included in the ENDA, when it took gay rights supporters thirty years to reach this point.