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T'd off about ENDA
T'd off about ENDA
Will Trans activists ratchet back the rhetoric, having failed to convince even their closest allies to kill historic GLB workplace protection? by Chris Crain - SGN Contributing Writer

The historic passage last week of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House has exposed deep divisions among the activists who lead the movement for Gay rights and the people they claim to represent.

When Gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) decided to drop Transgender protections from ENDA because including them would kill the entire bill, Matt Foreman and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force mobilized some 300 GLBT groups into a coalition called "United ENDA." These groups demanded that "gender identity" either be added back into ENDA or the bill be scrapped altogether.

By the time the dust settled last week, any claim to a "united" community view about ENDA was downright Orwellian. Barney's Gay-only ENDA passed the House overwhelmingly, with only seven members voting against it based on the Transgender issue.

The Trans activists' chief House ally, Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), withdrew an amendment that would add Trans protections and voted herself for the Gay-only bill. Afterward, she called House passage of the compromise ENDA a "historic moment." Other top Gay allies, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and civil rights lion John Lewis (D-Ga.) praised passage in similar terms.

The Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights all endorsed passage of the compromise bill, as did the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Washington Blade. An HRC poll showed that some 70 percent of LGBT Americans supported ENDA even without Transgender protections.

Unfortunately, Foreman and the Task Force appear undaunted in pursuing the "United ENDA" strategy that demands workplace protection for GLB Americans wait until Congress, the president and the country are also ready to protect Transsexuals, cross-dressers and other Transgender people as well. Acting on a combination of principle and a desire to compete with HRC on the national stage, the Task Force is nonetheless disregarding the damage their strategy is doing to their own cause.

In addition to isolating many LGBT activists from their allies in Congress and the media, and from their own LGBT constituents, the "Trans or bust" ENDA strategy has opened deep fault lines within "the LGBT community" itself. Respected Gay commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, John Aravosis and Rex Wockner, have voiced long-held objections to the marrying of sexual orientation and gender identity as conjoined issues and even to the idea that there is such a thing as an "LGBT community."

I've been asking similar questions for years, ever since Trans activists pressured LGB organizations to add Transgender to their mission statements. The idea itself wasn't objectionable, but it was deeply troubling to see Trans activists argue it was somehow "exclusionary" for Gay people to have any organizations focused solely on sexual orientation issues. Trans folks have their own groups, so why shouldn't we?

I also worried, unfortunately prophetically, that including "T" in mission statements would become a distraction for resource-strapped Gay groups, as if our own battles weren't consuming enough. Even a group as important to our cause as Lambda Legal has fallen victim to mission creep, feeling obliged to argue that GLBs shouldn't receive any legislative protection until the political will is there for Ts to receive the same.

This "Trans or bust" legislative strategy may have been the crowning achievement for Trans activists successfully leveraging the Gay rights movement, but now it has blown up in their faces. The only adjustment in their rhetoric has been the curious claim that ENDA, having just passed the House for the first time, is somehow "dead" until 2009.

To the contrary, Sen. Edward Kennedy has promised to introduce ENDA in the Senate, where it came just one vote short of passing more than a decade ago. The White House did issue a veto threat, though from the president's advisers, not from him. After the House amended ENDA to broaden the religious exemption and reassure Gay marriage foes, the president's peeps have said they will reevaluate the bill to decide their position.

It's transparent how Foreman and Trans activists are calling ENDA "dead" based on a veto threat when they never say the same about the Trans-inclusive Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which the president has also said he'll veto. Senator Kennedy protected the hate crime bill from a veto by attaching it to Defense Department funding. The same could be done for ENDA, of course.

Having failed to persuade even our closest allies in Congress, the civil rights community and the mainstream media, or even their own constituents, you would think that Trans activists and the Task Force would ratchet back their rhetoric, and stop pressing ENDA as an all or nothing proposition. At this point, they proceed mostly at their own peril.

Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade and five other Gay publications and now edits GayNewsWatch.com. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com.
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