Gay Americans will go without workplace rights or other legal protections because of the trans-or-bust strategy on ENDA.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank announced this week that they would delay until later this month consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act after some 90 GLBT groups expressed opposition to Frankâ€™s decision to separate gay and trans protections into separate bills.
Frank, the leading gay Democrat in the House, made the move after a head count showed there were not enough votes to pass ENDA if it included transgender protections.
At this point, Pelosi and Frank have agreed to a delay, not a reversal. But if the delay doesnâ€™t work and the trans-inclusive version fails, it will be a remarkable betrayal of gays across the U.S., who have been waiting for more than 30 years to pass a basic civil rights bill through Congress.
ENDA enjoys its best chance ever of passage today, since gay-friendly Democrats control the House for the first time since 1994 and the Senate for the first time since 2002. The bipartisan support was there even during periods of GOP control, but the Republican leadership blocked ENDA from full passage.
Now, finally, when the political stars are aligned, and even President Bush hasnâ€™t outright threatened a veto, gay movement â€śleadersâ€ť have saddled ENDA with transgender protections that donâ€™t yet have sufficient political support.
The demand for â€śadditional timeâ€ť to lobby for a trans-inclusive ENDA, led by Matt Foreman at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, is incredibly disingenuous. For one thing, the Task Force and the 89 other groups demanding a trans-or-bust ENDA have had years to lobby for their bill. Even if trans rights supporters can salvage enough votes for House passage, which is doubtful, they have zero chance of getting their version through the closely divided Senate, much less by the super-majority required to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Instead, the few extra weeks pleaded for by Foreman are unlikely to accomplish anything but to kill momentum for a gay-specific ENDA. And that, my friends, is the unfathomable real goal here. As far as the Task Force is concerned, gay Americans can suffer on with no workplace protection because Matt Foreman is still working through his own guilt for having successfully pushed through protections for New York gays while head of the Empire State Pride Agenda, even though it took jettisoning transgender protections to do so.
Now Foreman and his allies are actually opposing protections based on sexual orientation â€“ not just for a few weeks, but forever, until Congress and the White House are ready to pass transgender protections as well. Let there be no doubt on this point; the letter signed by Foreman and leaders of 89 other GLBT groups is headlined, â€śUnited opposition to sexual-orientation-only employment nondiscrimination legislation.â€ť
These 90 groups claim, in bold print no less, that, â€śWe oppose legislation that leaves part of our community without protections and basic security that the rest of us are provided.â€ť What a breathtaking break with reason, politics and history.
ENDA was never meant to be a comprehensive civil rights bill. It doesnâ€™t protect those gays or transgender people who face other types of discrimination, whether being kicked out of their homes or the military, or denied public accommodations, or refused legal recognition of their relationships.
Since its introduction in 1994, the whole point of ENDA was to zero in on the most narrowly achievable, incremental progress so that finally gay rights would be part of federal law. Protection based on sexual orientation in the workplace was correctly viewed as having the greatest political support.
Now those who run our GLBT rights organizations have abandoned that strategy for one that makes absolutely no sense: try to pass the most politically palatable form of protection (in the workplace) but saddle it with the least politically palatable category (gender identity).
Make no mistake about the long-term effect of the â€śtrans-jackingâ€ť of not just ENDA, but the whole movement. ENDA and hate crimes have always been at the top of the long and growing list of gay rights bills in Congress. So long as energy is spent on a trans-inclusive ENDA, then Congress has all the cover it needs to do nothing about more politically sensitive votes on â€śDonâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tellâ€ť or federal recognition of same-sex couples.
Since the vast majority of us enter into relationships that would benefit from legal recognition, progress on that front would affect almost every single gay or bisexual person. But for now we must wait indefinitely because our â€śleadersâ€ť have decided that protecting transsexuals from workplace discrimination is more important than winning basic legal recognition for our relationships.
So now the streamlined bill that was given the top spot of the gay rights agenda is holding everything else back. At least movement veterans like Foreman have succeeded in securing their own workplace protection, since their latest strategy will postpone indefinitely the success of the gay rights movement.
Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and gay publications in three other cities. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com