CommunityPam's House Blend

Slipping off of the ENDA tightrope

One of the upsides of being a part-time political blogger is that if you have a day job unrelated to politics it forces you to get outside the bubble of insider baseball. The downside, of course, is that in blogworld, political time moves at lightning speed, and I spent most of yesterday offline and out of the loop, so I am sitting here padding out my thoughts at 4:30AM on Wednesday.

While I’m tossing in my two cents now, other Blenders (Autumn, drjillygirl) have already diaried or commented their reactions to yesterday’s statement by the Human Rights Campaign that indicates it will not support the sexual orientation-only ENDA, but it will also not oppose the gender identity-stripped legislation (among other critical things — more on that later) should the Dems move forward with it.

In an interview Tuesday with The Washington Blade, HRC’s Joe Solmonese conveyed that he knows full well that the organization’s statement on its stance on the split ENDA bill has placed HRC in a difficult position.

Solmonese told the Blade he expects other gay and transgender groups to criticize HRC for not going along with their position of demanding that Congress put ENDA on hold, possibly until after the November 2008 congressional and presidential elections, if a trans-inclusive ENDA cannot be passed this year.

While continuing to oppose a non-trans inclusive ENDA, Solmonese said HRC believes there is merit to Frank and Pelosi’s view that passing a sexual orientation only version of ENDA would open the way for passing a job protection bill covering transgender persons at an earlier date than if Congress were to hold off on passing any version of ENDA.

“This was a gut-wrenching and difficult decision to come to,” Solmonese said. “But I would rather at the end of the day be able to sleep … by being able to say I’m doing the thing that’s going to get trans people there in the most expeditious way than the easy thing,” he said.

[NOTE: yesterday I asked Joe several questions to give him an opportunity to give HRC’s perspective and address some of the questions many of you have about this matter. I’ll have his answers up for you once they land in the queue.]

The statement’s murky language (“we are not able to support, nor will we encourage Members of Congress to vote against, the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill.”) suggests a neutral position on the modified legislation, still a 180 from a full commitment to oppose any legislation that removed trans protections.  That’s clearly a point of contention among LGBT activists, and even those within HRC. 

The one big question on my mind when I think about how this ENDA mess blew up, is how on earth could the folks at HRC, Pelosi and Frank — all seasoned  politically savvy people — be shocked at the community’s response to what what looks like a bait and switch for a trans-free, stripped-down ENDA.

When the Dems took over the Hill, the leadership said they were ready to pursue ENDA — with the Ts included. Now they are saying they don’t think sufficient votes are there because: 1) more education of elected officials and the public is necessary; 2) blue dog Dems worried about re-election didn’t want to be seen on the floor taking on the right-wing disinformation about bathrooms and “she-males.” This isn’t news. The hand-wringing by conservative but supportive Dems was predictable. Someone please tell me why did these political savants proceed to walk out on the legislative tightrope without a net or a plan?

It’s also as if they donned blindfolds as well, since they were surprised at the ferocity of response at the grassroots level to their decisions, which I’m sure they did not arrive at easily.

Those who would throw our T brothers and sisters out like yesterday’s trash to get any kind of weakened ENDA passed, even if it faced a presidential veto, fail to realize the serious flaws in other modifications in the bill. For instance, in order to craft something that would garner enough votes, LGBs in that camp are willing to give up, according to Lambda Legal, any protection for non-gender-conforming appearance.

This is a huge loophole through which employers sued for sexual orientation discrimination can claim that their conduct was actually based on gender expression, a type of discrimination that the new bill does not prohibit.

That’s a lump-of-coal-in-the-stocking kind of progress, folks. If you support the stripped-down ENDA (because, of course, you’ve already made peace with dumping Ts for expediency), explain the justification for supporting an ENDA with loopholes created that will make it easy to continue discrimination if you’re an effeminate man or butch woman. Is it OK to pass a “straight-acting only” ENDA? I can guarantee you that any employer willing to fire someone for being LGB before this ENDA would find some excuse to pull the gender-conformity card if it were signed into law.

More after the jump.Transgender HRC Board member Donna Rose was on the inside, participating in the conference call where the decision to remain neutral on the modified ENDA was made, and she came away exhausted, with mixed feelings, to say the least. Hers is a heartfelt post that you should read in its entirety.

I was granted the privilege of being the first speaker and, as I always did, I spoke from my heart.  Over the next 3+ hours there was passionate discussion to the point that a couple of times I came close to tears at the weight and impact of this decision.  Say what you will about HRC as an organization but as a board there is more passion than most will ever know.  Unfortunately, that seems to get lost in the mix.  If people could see, as I have, the back workings and the discussion on things I’m sure there would be more appreciation for just how gut-wrenchingly difficult it can be to accept that role.  Still, that doesn’t forgive or absolve anyone from anything – including me.  I’m all about accountability and I expect that will be a word used quite a bit over these next few days.

I never imagined that I’d say that the best thing to happen right now is for ENDA to die.  It’s just not time.  This entire firestorm is over a piece of legislation that’s meant to unite the community, not to divide it.

***

Jay Lassiter of Blue Jersey interviewed Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommitteeman Chair Rob Andrews to discuss the difficulties of dealing with the schism and Sophie’s Choice. Andrews crunches the numbers that are not running in favor of preserving trans-inclusion (Andrews, btw, supports a trans-inclusive ENDA), as Republicans would likely strip gender identity from the bill leaving proponents of full inclusion 70-80 votes short.

Nadine Smith’s excellent post at The Bilerico Project, A Moment of Truth,  highlights what the pragmatists in this case have had to cast aside in their minds to make peace with these hard choices.

Some say laws don’t change hearts and minds but we know they do. Every law and local ordinance we pass has both a legal and symbolic value. Even when enforcement mechanisms are toothless and underfunded, they send a message about how our communities believe everyone ought to be treated. We pursue them not because we think they will punish every bigot who discriminates but because we know they will set a community standard in which discrimination is not a given, no longer legally or socially acceptable.

It is also true that stripping “gender identity/expression” from the bill sends a symbolic message as well. And it is a dangerous one for a community already marginalized and vulnerable. The language is intrinsic to the viability of the bill and the integrity of our community. To jettison the language from the bill is to succumb to our most fearful impulses and embolden those who oppose equality for all of us.

Honestly, I think the view of those who believe the passage of the “new, improved” ENDA is the right incremental move to make reflects an insular urban gay perspective of a sort. The people I know, gay and straight, here in NC and in Alabama (where Kate is from), want a trans-inclusive ENDA — and we’re sitting in states where there are no protections unless you happen to be fortunate enough to work for a company with an inclusive non-discrimination policy.

Thinking broadly about this, our worldview of what community is (and isn’t) can be seen in the documentary small town gay bar, where you see what gay life is like in red state America. In more oppressive communities, LGBTs mingle in the same bars and social arenas because there simply aren’t enough out LGBTs to have completely separate social safe spaces. They are bonded more by their commonalities (oppression by the sexual majority) than their differences, and feel their fate is in the same boat. LGBTs in populous blue enclaves often have their own social networks that aren’t diverse. It’s highly likely that these urban groups rarely mingle unless they are activists. It’s human nature to congregate with others like yourself; the downside, of course, is that if you don’t purposely seek diversity in your personal life (or are forced to because of circumstance), your view of the world tends to be myopic.

Again, those of us who are gay and lesbian and live without such protections — we’re the ones with the most to lose — can see the value in supporting an inclusive bill. But the reality is that it is not what we’re facing. I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of those walking that tightrope right now.

Also:
* Gay rights bill snags on blurred perceptions of identity, orientation (S.F. Chronicle)

Previous post

Morning sickness

Next post

Our Media's Failure to Report the Real Blackwater Story

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

31 Comments