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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.
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