[EDITOR'S NOTE:] The following is a guest post by Peter Rosenstein. Peter has worked for Congresswoman Bella Abzug, the Carter administration, and the White House Conference for the Handicapped Implementation Unit. In addition, Peter has been a member of the Development Committee for Whitman-Walker Clinic, Chair of the Issues Campaign for DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chair of the Issues Committee for Washington DC Mayor Williams’ election campaigns, and a Senior Advisor to the Mayor.
Hate Crimes passes the Senate! The Democrats deserve our thanks because they managed to include not only the words sexual orientation but “gender identity” as a protected class.
Now comes ENDA and that seems to be the harder fight. There are still those who believe we should be second class citizens without employment rights. On the eve of the House taking up ENDA the issue of “gender identity” again was raised. Even some of our supporters appear to have a problem with this. Our national organizations must face this head on and make hard decisions, but our community doesn’t agree on what that decision should be.
Matt Foreman, now Executive Director of NGLTF who signed a letter that he would oppose ENDA without “gender identity” seems to have changed his views based on who he works for. In 2002 in New York when they passed their version of ENDA and State Senator Tom Duane tried to add “gender identity” Forman opposed it as Executive Director of Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), and said in a December 25th, 2002 Village Voice article, “I’m no longer going to stand on statements that sound good and get us nowhere. We want deliverables.” Duane decried ESPA, led by Foreman, for their tactics opposing his trans-inclusive amendment calling them “vicious and mean-spirited” whey they even went so far as to threaten to withhold money from him. Duane’s amendment failed.
I want us to fight for “gender identity” in the bill but am not willing to give up ENDA if we can’t get it passed with that. I want ENDA passed after fighting for it for over thirty years. Bella S. Abzug (D-NY), who I had the honor of working for, first introduced it in the mid 70’s. So I have a real problem when many of our national organizations release the following statement which they did yesterday: “…We would also oppose any bill that did not protect transgender people”.
Our national organizations have had difficult decisions before and I have been pissed as hell at them for some of them. I stopped giving to NGLTF when they got involved in every issue under the sun and the Human Rights Campaign when they endorsed Alfonse D’Amato in New York. I stopped going to both their dinners for other reasons (including that they were interminably boring).
But the reality is that many of us give to one or another of them each year. Lately I have had to recognize that when all is said and done, HRC is the one organization that has the potential to accomplish the most for us. They have the clout to get all the Democratic Presidential candidates to a debate. They can change a candidate’s statement as we saw after General Peter Pace called us names and they have the potential to make a real difference in Congressional races as we have seen in the last cycle in a number of states.
I would expect that all our national organizations will debate whether or not to support ENDA if it is introduced without “gender identity”. The boards of HRC, NGLTF and P-FLAG should meet if they are truly serving us, to discuss this. They should take into consideration that we have been fighting this battle since long before our community added the “T” to our acronym. We started this fight for the nearly 30,000,000 gays and lesbians in the nation, if we use the 10% figure. It is time to get this bill passed and not hold it up for any reason.
We have always known that inclusion of transgender protections would potentially be a non-starter at this time. Though the issues our opponents raise regarding transgender employees are all specious, the fact is we haven’t figured out yet how to fight them effectively.
When the Boards of our national organizations adopted policies including “gender identity” in all legislation, they did so when nothing was moving or could move through Congress. So the decision was a fairly easy one and the right one.
But now we are faced with reality and crunch time for a decision in our community. I think we need to take the lead from Barney Frank (D-MA), who has been the leader of our community in Congress for 20 years, and move a bill that can win. His introduction of two bills makes sense.
We must ask if there is no way to move ENDA with “gender identity” can we afford to say no to ENDA now? If we do will we wait one year, two years, or another ten years? In that time how many men and women will lose their jobs or be denied jobs or promotions? How many will lose their own and their children’s health insurance? How many might lose their homes?
These are some of the issues that I expect the Boards of our national organizations to reconsider as they make this crucial decision. We need to only look at history to see that all civil rights legislation has been gained incrementally. It has never been all or nothing.