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    January 05, 2008

    Trans rights the New Jersey way

    Posted by: Chris

    Hollandtunnelnj A central article of faith among transgender activists and their "United ENDA" allies has been that passage of gay-only federal civil rights laws would somehow be the death knell for additional legislation down the road to extend those same protections to cover "gender identity." 

    Matt Foreman of the Task Force, who recruited the trans-or-bust ENDA coalition, is fond of using himself as a "what not to do" example. When Foreman headed up the Empire State Pride Agenda, he agreed to go along with cutting trans protections from a landmark statewide bias law, and it passed as a gay-only measure.  Since then, the New York Assembly has not moved on to add "gender identity," and trans activists grumble that politically active gays seem more interested in pressing marriage than righting their transgender wrong.

    So how do Foreman & Co. explain what's happening across the river in New Jersey? Trans activists like to point out that the New Jersey legislature passed workplace protections for gay and trans folks both, somehow convincing themselves that what worked in that fairly blue state would also work on Capitol Hill.

    That nifty narrative has now been derailed by legislative action on the state's hate crime law, which covers sexual orientation and not gender identity -- until now. This week, lo and behold, the New Jersey Senate unanimously backed a new bill that would add in "gender identity," and the House is expected to do likewise. Didn't they get the memo that incremental progress just isn't kosher anymore?

    In fact, New York, New Jersey and Capitol Hill are all examples of why it makes sense to pass the broadest possible legislation when the votes are there and accept incremental progress when they're not. It took years for New York to adopt SONDA -- yes, the S.O. stand for "Sexual Orientation" -- so it's no surprise that trans rights didn't miraculously work their way through the political labyrinth that is Albany.

    There is every reason to believe that with SONDA and a gay-only ENDA on the books, transgender protections would be enacted when the votes are there. The difference, of course, is that gay, lesbian and bisexual folks -- who exponentially outnumber our trans brothers and sisters -- would at least be protected in the interim.

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    1. Rebecca Juro on Jan 5, 2008 8:37:05 AM:

      Uh no, sorry Chris, but you really picked a bad example this time.

      First, know that I've lived in New Jersey almost all of my adult life, and all of the time I've been living as a transwoman. I've witnessed, written about it, and participated as a journalist and an activist through all of it.

      It was 18 years after an anti-discrimination law was passed here protecting gays and lesbians before a law passed here for transpeople, but it wasn't just the time involved.

      Even with 70% of residents polled in favor of trans rights, the bill to get it done sat in committee for two years, until the Executive Director of the NJ State Democratic Committee spewed a transphobic diatribe at the '06 Dem State Convention, right in front of NJ Stonewall Dems President Babs Casbar, a transwoman, and several Dem activists. People were so enraged that several of the orgs present voted to protest the NJDSC on the spot.

      Faced with open and public rebellion from several major Democratic activist orgs, State Committee leaders reached a deal with Democratic activists to head it off, part of which was bringing up the trans rights bill for a vote. When they did, it passed by a wide margin, and many believe that was because Democratic legislators were embarrassed by the incident and wanted to make very certain that no one would later turn around and make it an issue down the road.

      As for hate crimes, gender ID and expression are being added now mainly because of the momentum generated by the passage of the first trans-protective law. Once they got the first one done, it became far easier to pass the second. The fact that it was hate crimes, an easier thing to vote for generally in any case, didn't hurt either.

      And that's all in one of the bluest states in the country.

      So much for incrementalism.

    1. Chris on Jan 5, 2008 10:06:02 AM:

      Congratulations, Rebecca, that's about half the time that gay activists have been working to pass ENDA. And the type of momentum you enjoyed from passing the first non-bias law is the same type you would enjoy if Congress passed any type of GLBT gay rights law, whether gay-only ENDA or trans-inclusive hate crimes.

    1. Rebecca Juro on Jan 5, 2008 2:44:45 PM:

      Well, I'm sorry Chris, but I don't think a generation after gay and lesbian rights are won is an acceptable waiting period for basic civil rights. I think you'll find many who agree with me there. And NJ proves you wrong. A non-inclusive law did pass, 18 years previously...where was that momentum?

      Where was it in Wisconsin..22 years and counting? New York...5 years and counting...Massachusetts, 26 years and counting...and on and on.

      Incrementalism just doesn't work, and anyone who looks honestly at the available evidence knows it.

    1. Monster Beats Sale on Nov 26, 2011 4:09:51 AM:

      Incrementalism just doesn't work, and anyone who looks honestly at the available evidence knows it.

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