If latest reports are true, the Baldwin amendment may be DOA. House leadership is remaining quiet thus far, but if this is actually the case, the House Democratic leadership will have basically two options: They can proceed with the non-inclusive bill, knowing it’s not supported or endorsed by even a single LGBT community or allied civil rights organization, and actively opposed by over 350 of them, or they can just shelve the whole thing to introduce in couple of years when an inclusive bill may have a good chance to actually become law.
It seems likely to me that ENDA will not survive to be voted on during this session of Congress, and if by some chance it is, it will not pass. The reality which even those as arrogant as Barney Frank can no longer ignore is that passing a non-inclusive ENDA not only won’t help Democrats in the next election, but rather will actually serve the opposition, to rally the progressive left against the Democratic Party leadership’s elitism and willful mistreatment of persecuted minority groups to try to pander to wealthy elitists. The last thing Frank and Pelosi want is for Democrats running for reelection is to have to keep explaining to LGBT Americans and our friends and families is why they chose to vote to exclude the poorest and most discriminated against among us from protection under the law, especially when our community banded together millions strong and told them in no uncertain terms that we didn’t want them to do it.
For the Dems, it’s now a lose-lose situation. Should the non-inclusive ENDA be voted on and pass the House, the vast majority of the LGBT community, a constituency the Party is looking to court for votes, campaign participation and endorsements, and financial support, will be furious and will hold it against them. While they may or may not take a major hit in votes, it’s almost certain that when Democrats go looking for support and endorsements from these organizations, their memberships, and their friends and families, those who vote to exclude gender-variant American citizens from employment protections through this bill will not find that support forthcoming, except perhaps from their spineless lapdog, HRC.
In addition, supporting this bill will send a clear message from Congress to the working-class American LGBT community that they really don’t care about what we want or need, that the Democratic leadership will do only what they believe will help to maintain their own power and privilege, that when the chips are down and the legislation is on the line, they will continue to pander exclusively to the uber-wealthy and connected, just as they’ve always done. All that “Vote for change!” rhetoric will fall worse than flat in such a political climate, and the Dems surely know it.
Therefore, in my opinion, the only logical option for the Democrats right now, the one that hurts them the least going into an election season, the one that makes this issue go away for a couple of years, is to withdraw the bill and try again after the election.
If this does prove to be the case, it may make all the difference as far as equality for gender-variant Americans goes. If this bill goes down, it’ll be blamed on the trannies, but in reality it won’t be as much transpeople ourselves who killed it as it will be the courage and dearly-held values of the greater LGBT community and those Members of Congress who really believe that the ideals upon which this country was founded are more than just pretty words who really did the deed. It will make the statement, once and for all, that while the perception may not have made it completely into the mainstream as yet, for the LGBT community, discriminating against gender-variant people is no less offensive or worthy of being fought against than discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, or biological gender.
Of course, this would be bad for the Democrats and they know it. After all, if they really want to appeal to LGBT voters, it won’t do to support anything non-inclusive lest it be perceived, much as this legislation is, not as a bill to provide gay, lesbian, and bisexual people with rights, but rather as the exercise in bigotry and political opportunism it actually is, providing advantage to the wealthiest, most politically potent groups by denying those very same advantages to the poor and disenfranchised, just like the Republicans have done for the last six and a half years.
Combined with the other bad message this bill would send about willingness of elected officials to respond to the intensive lobbying efforts of their constituents and the unquestionable will of the vast majority of the politically-conscious LGBT community, I doubt they’d dare to try introducing a crippled, exclusionary ENDA with the strong Democratic majority and Democratic President we expect to find in office in ‘09. When you really think about it, it’s the only way that makes Congress seem even somewhat credible when they say they support us and our equality under the law at election time.
By now, it’s common knowledge that ENDA will not become law by ‘09 at the very soonest, and that any attempt to pass this already-doomed bill now is really nothing more than a shameless attempt at pandering to LGBT voters before the election season really begins (i.e. when the Reps and Senators actually start campaigning for their own seats). If the Democrats are so arrogant as to try to pass this incomplete, unwanted piece of crap anyway knowing all this, not only isn’t it going to help them in the more conservative areas, but it will also hurt badly them in the more liberal areas where they’re hoping to see their strongest LGBT community support.
The upshot: Transgender people don’t need more Americans to rally behind us or to do more education in order to simply be considered worthy of being protected under the laws of this country by most of its citizens. We’re past that now. The numbers in our own community are unquestionably on our side, every poll taken indicates that the American public supports protecting transpeople from workplace discrimination far more strongly than they support same-sex marriage or any other gay-only issue. Those old saws just aren’t credible anymore, and now, everyone knows it. That’s not to say we don’t need to continue doing exactly what we’ve been doing, but we’re lobbying not from the perspective of trying to explain ourselves and our needs to the utterly clueless anymore, we’re going into Congressional offices as a valid American minority interest and saying, with the backing of millions behind us, that we demand the same level of representation and support from our elected officials as any American minority group has the right to expect. When you think about it, you know it has to make all the difference in the world, for us, and for those who will be seeking our support and votes, and of those who love and support us.
The only thing Democrats can accomplish now by insisting on proceeding with civil rights legislation that intentionally excludes any minority group from its protections as this bill does is to clearly demonstrate to the American public that they’re willing to help further their own interests by facilitating discrimination against transgender and other gender-variant American citizens through passing a law that would effectively declare open season on us by bigoted employers in defining for them exactly who is protected from workplace discrimination under federal law and who they can continue to freely discriminate against with impunity.
A fork in the road, yes, but a fork with only one path leading to a potentially sunny shore for Democrats looking for LGBT community support, the path of liberty and justice for all. It’ll be interesting to see exactly who and what this Congress really holds dear.