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[personal profile] terracinque
I don't know how much most of you know about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), but it's recently been the subject of a shitstorm in Congress's Democratic caucus and the world of GLBT activism.

As originally written, the bill would have made it "illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee simply based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity." More details are here.

It's a tremendous piece of legislation, and when it passes (as it will someday; the only question is when), homosexuals and transsexuals will be protected at the federal level, just as minorities and the disabled are already.

It was being shepherded through Congress by Barney Frank, who, a few weeks ago (and with the approval of Speaker Pelosi), dropped the "gender identity" provisions of the bill, saying ENDA didn't have the votes to pass if that were included.

Dozens of activist groups, mostly GLB and only a handful T, reacted with strong disapproval of a version of ENDA that did not protect gender identity as well as sexual orientation. The backlash to the change in language was so strong that Pelosi and Frank agreed to delay introduction of the bill for two weeks.

This asswipe at Salon.com, an activist and blogger in Washington (John Aravosis is his name), was among a small minority of homosexuals who wanted to know why there's a "T" in "LGBT" in the first place. Here's the essence of his column:

"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. It's a fair question, but one we know we dare not ask. It is simply not p.c. in the gay community to question how and why the T got added on to the LGB, let alone ask what I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman. I'm not passing judgment, I respect transgendered people and sympathize with their cause, but I simply don't get how I am just as closely related to a transsexual (who is often not gay) as I am to a lesbian (who is). Is it wrong for me to simply ask why?"

He goes on to suggest that the transgendered have no more to do with homosexuals, politically, than do illegal immigrants, and so if we're going to complain about leaving transsexuals out of ENDA, why not insist on including illegals as well?

This morning Salon.com published a response to that column, and it begins with a really funny three paragraphs.

But in the comments section of that first column, a lesbian respondent summed up quite succinctly why the transgendered deserve a place at the LGBT table: because we get beaten up by the same people, and for the same reasons. It really is just that simple.

Besides which, while the gender identity language was only recently added to ENDA, transsexuals have been part of the fight for over 40 years. There were transgendered people at Stonewall; HRC and other activist groups have benefited from money, time, and effort expended by transsexuals for decades.

Aravosis seems to be ignorant of all that, as well as of the crucial point that the "gender identity" part of the bill isn't specifically about transsexuals; it "Prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity" (emphasis mine). Which means what they're calling the "trans-inclusive" language would protect, not just transsexuals, but also "sissy" gay men and "butch" lesbians.

Frank and Pelosi (and until recently, HRC) were ready to throw those groups from the train along with transsexuals, for the sake of a bill that is certain to be vetoed by the President even if it passes Congress.

"Don't worry," we were told, "We'll pass the trans-inclusive version of the bill sometime in the future." That's the line used to pass New York state's version of ENDA several years ago, and the Empire State's transgendered constituency is still waiting.

I say (and I'm not alone), it's better to have a principled bill which fails than to pass an anti-discrimination bill that is itself discriminatory. In the meantime the lobbying and the educating of the legislators can continue, so that when it reaches a Democratic President's desk in the next term, it will have a broad mandate behind it.

The bill doesn't currently have enough votes to pass with the trans language because big business has been lobbying hard against it. By and large business is okay with gay people; they don't look or act much different from straight people, if at all, and their presence doesn't complicate the workplace.

Transsexuals, on the other hand, are perceived as disruptive. Restroom policies need to be clarified for them. Name changes have to be documented and email accounts have to be updated. There may be additional burdens on the company's health insurance, or it may have to be modified. Prejudiced coworkers have to be mollified or terminated.

Of course, the companies that do have a broad diversity policy, like IBM, have had great success with it and few problems.

It's good to see most of the LGBT world up in arms about the change in the bill. I hope they succeed in getting the trans protections put back in. Half a loaf is not better than none in this case.

Date: 2007-10-11 03:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stochasticgirl.livejournal.com
That was a really great commentary. I hope you also posted it as a comment in response to the Salon article, and send it as a letter to the editor to as many outlets as you can.

You make an excellent point about going to the table with a true antidiscrimination bill, even if it may not pass. Until Pelosi and the likes of her have the balls to do so, they can't legitimately stand under the flag of equal rights to everybody.

Date: 2007-10-11 04:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terracinque.livejournal.com
Nah, I'm not reposting it anywhere; it was itself cobbled together from responses to Aravosis's column and several other things I've read.

Date: 2007-10-11 03:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blanx73.livejournal.com
Firstly, I'm completely supportive of passing the unedited ENDA. My comments have little to do with the rightness of that legislation.

But, one part of Aravosis' article that did make some sense to me was the argument about incremental change vs. total change- i.e. politics as the art of the possible. Republicans have done a hell of a job with incremental change over the past 20+ years, whereas progressives tend to go for the big sweeping home runs, with more failures.

Of course, that's all pretty easy for me to say when it's not my ox that's being gored.

Date: 2007-10-11 04:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terracinque.livejournal.com
That's a cow, not an ox, Jason.

Date: 2007-10-11 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stochasticgirl.livejournal.com
I just finished reading Aravosis' Salon.com article, and I agree, he does make a lot of sense on this argument about taking baby steps. As a matter of practicality, it is easier to pass incremental reforms than wholesale reforms. On the other hand, since when was standing up for principles ever "easy"?

(There was no conclusion there; I'm just mulling out loud over the most effective approach to the situation...)

Date: 2007-10-11 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blanx73.livejournal.com
Plus, it's not just practicality, it's also a question of effectively changing attitudes. Incremental change is easier for the populace to take. Then again, wrong is still wrong, no matter how many people say otherwise.

Date: 2007-10-11 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terracinque.livejournal.com
If it were just a matter of getting it through Congress to land on a friendly President's desk, I would grudgingly accept the watered-down version. But why weaken the bill when it's going to be vetoed anyway? Better not to introduce it at all, and continue educating the legislature on why the complete bill is important.

Date: 2007-10-11 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blanx73.livejournal.com
Now this is an excellent point, that I hadn't considered. Any idea what the numbers look like in the watered down version with the current Congress?

Date: 2007-10-11 05:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terracinque.livejournal.com
No, and I don't think anyone other than Frank knows. He "took the temperature" of colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and it was based on that (informal and unscientific) poll that he decided to strip out the trans protections.

Date: 2007-10-11 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blanx73.livejournal.com
Hm. Unlikely that there would be enough votes to overturn a veto by the idiot, I expect, regardless of version.

Date: 2007-10-11 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gingy.livejournal.com
Reading things like this really drives home for me just how difficult life is for someone who is not a straight person born in the right body.

Date: 2007-10-11 06:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terracinque.livejournal.com
Everything's relative. I often think how lucky I am not to be a citizen of Darfur.

Date: 2007-10-11 06:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beanmom.livejournal.com
I say (and I'm not alone), it's better to have a principled bill which fails than to pass an anti-discrimination bill that is itself discriminatory.

Agreed. I have been involved with efforts to get a different kind of anti-discrimination-type law passed, and am very much of the opinion that "no law" is better than "crappy law that we passed just so we could have something on the books, and then maybe someday later we'll come back and fix it somehow".

Date: 2007-10-11 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dtpattillo.livejournal.com
i often think of the LGBT community merely as the group defined as, and i use the term loosely, "deviants" by the conservative ones. i dont refer to myself or anyone else in that community as deviant because i dont believe it to be true. i do however qustion the Q part of LGBTQ because it really just seems redundant...... which would prolly piss some people off... there is a gay male feminist that i know who would prolly be pissed about the lack of a Q in my LGBT.... but he's a pretty strange fellow anyway

Date: 2007-10-12 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terracinque.livejournal.com
I don't see any value in that Q either.

Date: 2007-10-12 03:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] esprix.livejournal.com
Did you ever get the skinny on HRC's position? I heard at G'con they changed their minds, but I haven't done any research.

Date: 2007-10-12 01:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] terracinque.livejournal.com
HRC posted this yesterday. It includes this gem:

"Since the announcement that ENDA could be stripped of gender identity language, HRC has worked around the clock to advance the inclusive version of the bill."

Or, phrased truthfully, it's more like:

"Since HRC was so roundly derided for its support of a non-trans-inclusive ENDA by just about everyone else, we've decided to pretend we never stopped supporting the inclusive version of the bill."

Incremental Change

Date: 2007-10-12 05:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3dollarwm.livejournal.com
I disagree with Aravosis's suggestion that incremental change makes for the best politics. He rightly asserts that "conservatives understand that cultural change is a long, gradual process," but that's what makes them conservative: It doesn't make them right, and I cannot see advocating using them as a model if we are seeking a society where compassion for others is more salient than conservation of self.

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