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Kicked by a one-trick pony
Kicked by a one-trick pony
by Chris Crain - SGN Contributing Writer

This week was the last for Matt Foreman as executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and in a media conference call on Tuesday he offered his own view about the direction LGBT rights might take in Washington in coming months.

Foreman's five-year tenure at the Task Force was a controversial one. On the one hand, he brought greater financial stability to an organization that has always seemed to operate on a shoestring, and he expanded the number of concrete projects and programs to complement the grassroots outreach for which the D.C.-based organization is known.

But it was his spirited leadership in the divisive fight over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that will mark Foreman's time at the Task Force. Last fall when Gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) decided there weren't enough votes to pass ENDA with Transgender protections included, they reintroduced the measure in the same form it had taken since 1996 - as a measure that protected "sexual orientation" only.

Foreman and the Task Force rallied Transgender allies and a grassroots network of local LGBT groups, forming a coalition with the Orwellian name of "United ENDA" that actually opposed "GLB" workplace protection because the "T" had been taken out.

He was an unlikely leader for that effort, since as head of New York's Empire State Pride Agenda it had been Foreman who cut a deal with George Pataki, then the state's Republican governor, to cut "gender identity" from a LGBT rights bill that had been stalled for years. Foreman took heat for doing so, even though it resulted in passage of the act.

With all the fervor of a reformed smoker, Foreman attacked as immoral those who were adopting the same tactics on ENDA that he himself had espoused in New York just six years earlier. It didn't hurt that his progressive stance made for an excellent contrast with the staid Human Rights Campaign, whose director Joe Solmonese had foolishly promised Trans activists he would never back ENDA without "Trans" included.

Now in his last day at the Task Force, Foreman was wholly unrepentant about the ENDA debacle - even as Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy announced he would introduce the bill in the Gay-only form that eventually passed the House.

But Foreman was willing to acknowledge that the ENDA battle had left some serious scars on the bill itself, and he lamented how it had become the movement's "one-trick pony" over the years.

This "very small bill," as Foreman described it, took the top spot on the "Gay agenda" because Barney, HRC's Elizabeth Birch and other movement leaders in the early 1990s decided to trim down the broader Gay rights bill pushed by Bella Abzug and others since the early '70s in favor of a more limited bill that had the best chance of passage.

Whatever your view about the "Trans-or-bust" debate last fall, it's clear that ENDA is no longer the golden child most likely to succeed: whether as a Trans-inclusive bill that lacks support even among House Democrats, or as a Gay-only bill that generates public bickering within the movement, leaving even friendly politicians with no-win options.

I asked Foreman whether movement leaders ought to step back and reconsider the federal legislative agenda and whether to prioritize other issues that involve actual discrimination by our government, like "Don't Ask Don't Tell" or relationship recognition.

"We as a movement probably made a mistake a long time ago about what our priorities would be," allowed Foreman, since as it turned out that ENDA as a Gay-only bill stalled even when Democrats controlled one or both houses of Congress and the White House.

At the same time, he nodded to the political reality that "the bills debated the longest are at the head of the queue," meaning ENDA isn't going anywhere from its perch at the top of the agenda. Foreman said his "biggest fear" is that even if a Democrat takes the White House and the party solidifies its control over Congress, they will enact ENDA and declare that's enough for the Gays for the new president's first term.

The ripple effect of that "mistake" in agenda-setting more than a decade ago is now rolling in at a very high tide. On the same call, the Task Force leadership talked about how they are working now to do what critics said they should have been doing all of last year, lobbying Congress for a Trans-inclusive ENDA.

That's a boon for Transgender Americans, the vast majority of whom don't even identify with "the LGBT community," but it's a diversion of precious resources on several levels. Lobbying for an inclusive ENDA means they're pushing already Gay-friendly members to also support Trans protections, rather than working for a veto-proof majority that might get ENDA done this year.

Because of the "first come, first served" reality that Foreman described, the long slog for a fully-inclusive ENDA only further defers the real dream of the Gay rights movement - relationship recognition - from finally getting its day in Congress.

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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