Ted Kennedy Revives ENDA Fight

Gear up, readers, because it’s time for the Senatorial ENDA fight.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act very nearly caused a queer civil war last year, when the House of Representatives passed an act covering sexual orientation only. Many activists and politicos argued that such trans inclusion unacceptable. And those calls will definitely be renewed as Senator Ted Kennedy prepares to push a vote among his political peers. Trans activist Mara Keisling already made her voice known, telling the Associated Press:

We’ve expressed to Senator Kennedy’s office our disappointment and opposition to his idea to move forward. We’re always working and talking with his office and we’ll see what happens.

Kennedy sides with other incrementalists, those who believe it’s best to take small, possibly more realistic steps to pass full inclusion down the road. Said the Senator:

The fact is that the House of Representatives has taken action. The best opportunity for progress is…to follow along on the action of the House of Representatives, and then look down the road to a new day after we have a good Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.

Of course Kennedy took the opportunity to highlight his party’s progressive nature, but last year’s ordeal showed that we need Republican support.

Human Rights Campaign will no doubt be working the Hill to gather support – and to quell criticism: the non-profit came under heavy fire last year after flip-flopping on trans inclusion. Said spokesman Brad Luna, “We will continue this work until all members of our community no longer fear being fired for who they are.”

No matter how many politicians get involved, there will always be haters, like social conservatives who call non-discrimination laws “special rights.” We’re looking forward to all the short-sighted editorials! And, we hope, statements from the presidential nominees. Both Democratic hopefuls – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – have come out to support a fully inclusive ENDA.

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  • abracadaver

    Sens. Clinton and Obama may verbally support a fully inclusive ENDA, but I seriously doubt their ability to get such a piece of legislation passed. The unpleasant truth is that, while most people in our society are “ready” to work with gays and lesbians, they aren’t anywhere near “ready” to have men coming to work in dresses or women coming to work in leather. That is exactly what will happen if an inclusive ENDA is passed, and they know it. We know it, too, we’re just politely not mentioning it so that we don’t anger or alienate trans folk.

    To all LGBT persons: If you seriously want to see the rights of LGBT people advanced, and full inclusion become a reality, then you do our community a great disservice by insisting on full inclusion for trans people in any version of ENDA. Right or wrong, good or ill, our society just isn’t ready for it…and some progress is better than no progress.

    On what many will consider to be a “trans baiting” note, why are all of the activists for LGBT inclusion and equality all gay or lesbian? If trans people want equality so badly, why not get up on the soapbox with your L & G brothers and sisters and do a little politicking? I’ve always personally felt that trans people have “attached” themselves to the gay & lesbian agenda because they either aren’t interested in pursuing their own or they know that they have much less chance of success without us. Just about every trans person I know claims to be a heterosexual, not a homosexual, albeit in the “wrong” body. If you’re not gay or lesbian, why choose our community to forward your equality? Simply because we’re all technically a “sexual” minority?

  • kevin57

    I agree. Isn’t there a French expression, “Let not the good be an enemy to the perfect”?

  • CitizenGeek

    I totally agree with Abracadaver; I’ve been thinking about how trans people have attached themselves to the gay and lesbian movement, even though none of them claim to be homosexual. In all, I think they are holding the gay movement back. Of course, I think trans people deserve to be treated with respect (and all the legal stuff that goes with that) but I think it’s unfair of them to hijack the gay movement’s work and progress, slow it down, and taint good organizations like the HRC for trying to do what’s best for gay and lesbians.

  • jlina

    trans baiting is old. but let’s break it down one more time:

    Trans people do not live up to the “man in a dress/woman in leather” stereotype you are promoting any more than all gay men are flamingly effeminate nellies who wear makeup or all lesbians are butch dykes in flannel. Plenty of trans people are transitioning at younger and younger ages, and guess what! Most of us look smashing. All the same, the near mandatory background and credit checks for decent employment out us as trans in a way my sexuality is not similarly disclosed, and this means that while people like me may pass 100%, we’re far more vulnerable to discrimination.

    In addition, there’s always some straight-laced gay or lesbian who decries the trans movement co-opting their political struggle. I mean, let’s be honest here. It’s a two way street. We all know that the Stonewall Riots involved the gender variant. Trans women have been a part of the lesbian womyn’s movement for as long as the movement existed, before the WBW majority instituted purges. Trans men have had their histories co-opted whole sale, as any woman-assigned individual to put on a suit and live as a man is pointed to as being a lesbian. Before homosexuality was created in the psychiatric community in Britain there were people living as the opposite genders, and the gay movement took our history to justify theirs.

    And finally, as for the statement that “no trans people claim to be queer,” that’s patently false. I am a queer trans woman. I am not alone. And it’s people like me, the future of the trans community and the future of the queer community, who have faced the taunts of a more aware citizenry as we fought our way through the educational system with our heads high and our identities out and proud, finally entering a workforce dominated by men and women who lacked the ability or the strength to do the same; well, we’re the future.

    The secular right has played us all against one another for decades now, and it’s always disheartening to see queers give in to the forces of division. Coalition building is the only way to succeed, and a community always looking for new ways to divide itself… gay men against lesbians, gender normatives against the trans, white queers against queers of color… will be destined to fall.

  • abracadaver

    Yes, lets do break it down one at a time, shall we?

    1) If being trans isn’t at least somewhat about wearing opposite-gender dress and I am promoting a stereotype, then what do you wear? You fail to mention what “fabulous” clothing you and your pals wear that make you so different from a man in a dress or a women in a biker jacket. Provide an example, then we’ll discuss me being “stereotypical.”

    2) If LGBT equality was “your” issue to begin with, then please feel free to carry on the banner of trans equality separate from the gay and lesbian community. Since you’ve done such a great job of paving the way for “us gays,” you should have no problem making it without us.

    3) Nowhere do I say “no trans people claim to be queer.” My exact words were “[J]ust about every trans person I know claims to be heterosexual…” If you need to hear me placing prejorative labels on an entire group of people to justify your disagreement with me, so be it. To quote Madonna, “I’m not your b*tch; don’t hang your sh*t on me.”

    4) You still haven’t told me why every LGBT activist I’ve ever met is either gay or lesbian. Want equality? Want to further the LGBT cause. Put on something “fabulous” and make yourself visible politically. Do something besides whine when people call you out. Otherwise, do not presume to speak for me as a gay man.

  • CitizenGeek

    Sorry, JLina, I don’t buy it. Transsexualism and homosexuality are, as far as I’m concerned, two different things.

  • jlina

    indeed, citizengeek. They are different things. It’s possible to be both, one or neither. That having been said, that doesn’t change the fact we have a shared history. It doesn’t eliminate the tremendous overlap between trans people and queers. And most pertinently, when the same epithets are being hurled at queers and trans folk alike by a world that largely doesn’t see the difference between us in the abstract, it doesn’t make us enemies. It makes us allies in a fight against a brand of hate that is fundamentally opposed to any deviation from a traditional conception of gender in which men and women marry and subscribe to cleaver-esque roles.

    As for you, Abra, for starters some of my responses were geared towards one of the other members of this discussion. I apologize if you find such complexity confusing; citizengeek made the point to which I was referring in your number 3. As for your, well, more ad hominem attacks (and really, if challenging a person to expound on what they wear isn’t to the person, I don’t know what is), I’d be more than happy to explain what I wear. I’m a lawyer. I wear tailored business suits like any woman in my profession.

    And really, that’s the key. The implication in the stereotype which you’re drawing on is a failure to be able to properly tailor one’s appearance to the expectation in the business world. It’s a problem for any gender non-conforming person, whether they’re a gay man, a lesbian, or a trans person. As such, it seems to me like the protections should be in place to protect people who manifest their orientation or gender identity in non-traditional forms, because in the end it’s that type of perceived gender deviation that gets people fired more often than not. Similarly, as a legal matter, it’s a hell of a lot easier to prove that a person was discriminated against based on gender stereotypes than solely based on their sexual partner… but a lot of people seem to prefer an unenforceable law in this arena than one which would give a clear path for compensation in court.

    As for your point two, perhaps I was unclear. It’s not my history or your history; it’s our history. Homosexuality is an invention of the Victorian era, true, but queers have existed alongside trans folk into the far reaches of history. It’s impossible to separate out who was what because history is written by a class of people for whom queers and trans people are the same damn thing. Just because the queer and trans communities are better positioned to know the distinction now doesn’t change the fact that those voices in power still see us as being the same, and still force us into a coalition based on that shared history and shared perception. To claim either side is absent, or that either side is leeching of the other, well that’s just not a historically accurate claim.

    As for why every LGBT activist you’ve ever met has been a gay or a lesbian, well, I can think of a couple of reasons. For starters, you don’t really seem too tolerant of trans people in your responses. If any of those gays or lesbians were trans, do you really feel they’d be comfortable sharing their identity with you? Furthermore, what section of the population are you doing activism in? If you’re doing activism primarily in a white, upper-middle class, middle-aged environment, it could very likely be that the rampant discrimination faced by out trans people has winnowed them out of the avenues of power you would have access to. Personally, I’m involved in queer activism that teaches highschool LGBT students their legal rights. I’ve been heavily involved in queer activism on my college campus and my law school campus, improving queer access to sexual assault services and helping establish a LGBT services center. Maybe that type of LGBT activism is different from the type you do, but trans people do beat the ground for the LGBT community. That’s why it hurts so much when the same community we work for turns on us.

    And in the end, that willingness to sell us out means that trans people are going to be less likely to throw in with groups like the HRC. NGLTF, and some of the other groups who supported us in ENDA still have the support of trans people, but it’s hard to keep working for an organization that promises not to hurt you and then goes and does the same thing again and again.

  • Southern Decency

    Same-sex attraction (homosexuality) and feeling like the other sex inside (transsexuality) are different phenomena of reality. Forcing them together as one category/community/movement, just because ignorant people can’t keep the two apart, perpetuates that ignorance and is therefore counterproductive. I also don’t care who was where with whom and why at some seedy bar in 1969. It means nothing to me.

    I agree that if you’ve had a sex change but the legal documents don’t reflect that change because the law won’t allow it, the employer shouldn’t be allowed to fire you. That’s why I agree “gender identity” should be included.

    I don’t agree that “gender expression” should be included. No employer should be forced to lose customers because the employees turn them off. Dress codes are required for professionalism and are not inherently “oppressive” — you can’t control who you’re attracted to, but you can control how you dress and behave. It’s not cruel or oppressive to tell someone with a male body and hairy legs that he can’t wear high heels. Do that in your free time, not on the job.

    If you’re concerned about gays being fired because they’re not “straight-acting” enough, which is what Lambda Legal harps about, you can protect against that by including “actual OR PERCEIVED sexual orientation”. Also, if you assume that a discriminatory employer will lie about his reasons, the whole law becomes useless, because he’ll just say the employee wasn’t qualified enough, and good luck trying to disprove that.

    So: yes to “gender identity”, no to “gender expression”. Don’t pass the law without “gender identity”? Doesn’t matter, because Bush will veto anyway.

  • Polar

    4) You still haven’t told me why every LGBT activist I’ve ever met is either gay or lesbian. Want equality? Want to further the LGBT cause. Put on something “fabulous” and make yourself visible politically.

    To be a gay man doesn’t cost anything. You simply go to bed with another man and have sex. Condoms are available at your local C-store for $2.99/box of 3.

    To be transsexual costs much much more. Sexual reassignment surgery is not paid for by health insurance. US surgeons charge about the same for SRS as a new Jetta or Wrangler, payable in cash on the barrelhead with no time financing possible. Electrolysis is not covered either, and is thousands for most. Hormone therapy isn’t cheap, either, and is forever. But, then you lose your job – as over 70% of transsexuals do – and when a T gets a new job, it likely is far below their skill set. And that T person discovers that they belong to a tiny minority – well under a fraction of 1% of the working population.

    Political activism is not cheap. Many T people are active locally – particularly if unemployed – but often they are not welcome in their local GLB and (supposedly) T organizations. It costs money to travel to DC. Cost of living in DC makes it impossible for most T people to consider living there. And there are very few GLB political organizations that are even willing to hire a T person – if there is one employed in any sort of responsible position in a GLB org in DC, I don’t know of them. And, remember the part about T people not having jobs, and having to pay $20K+ for surgery? Kind of cuts into the money you can pay for political donations, doesn’t it?

    T people do not have the gay or lesbian ability to hide. Most T people in transition, and many after, simply don’t pass. The fact that they don’t doesn’t make them any less T. It certainly harms their employment and housing possibilities and exponentially heightens the prejudice and bigotry they face. GL people need never let anyone they work with, know who they sleep with, and they don’t have to be read by their outward appearances, as many T people do.

    T people have hitched to the GLB train because, simply, coalition building is the time-honored way to win civil rights laws. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed by a coalition of religious people, people of color, women, organized labor, academics, and many others who lent their support to a broad coalition. ENDA will become law when it attracts the support of, and protects the widest range of, people of many different walks of life.

    And, besides, wouldn’t you rather have us on your side? If you think the hue and cry in fall 2007 from the T community was bad, don’t even ask what it will be like if we’re left out in 2009, when it will probably count. The Kennedy betrayal was expected, as is its failure in the Senate, and the T community will likely not do much about it. But we expect to be “included” in 2009, and we will do our level best to defeat a non-inclusive ENDA if we are not. Period.

  • emb

    I’ve read and appreciate what is (largely) a civil and thoughtful discussion here–and thank you for that, everyone: quite instructive.

    That said, I have to go back to the top and agree with Abracadaver and Kevin57 about balancing the perfect and the good. Incrementalism may not be ideal, or exciting, or even fair, but it beats no forward movement at all. A society that finally allows for equality for part of the LGBT community is poised to become more progressive and embrace everyone.

    Of course, there is the whole issue of whether or not a “movement” or “community” can or should be made up of just anybody with any sexual difference from mainstream heterosexuality. But we’ve already had that screaming match when ENDA was in the House, so I’ll be quiet on that.

  • Not Articulate

    Thank you jlina! You’ve clearly stated so many points I had in my head, but could not articulate. I spent hours yesterday disturbed by the top part of this conversation. You’ve summed up so many great points.

  • Tim C

    Ted Kennedy is a smart man. He is proposing legislation that will pass. Not something that’s going to take another 10 years while everyone else waits. And don’t talk to me about how it’s not worth the effort because the President will just veto it. One, we don’t know what Bush will do, and two, I’ve never bought into the “we had may as well not try to succeed because we’ll probably fail” mentality. Letting Congress, and our supposed allies, off the hook because of what Bush may or may not do simply reinforces the belief that they really don’t need to do anything for us except to say nice things.

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