Rebecca Juro

ENDA: Lessons Learned

Filed By Rebecca Juro | November 10, 2007 6:21 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ENDA, gender, LGBT, politics, queer, transgender

Sometimes it's hard to keep a certain amount of journalistic distance on a story, especially if it affects you or people you care about in some way. For me, ENDA has been, and continues to be, one of those stories. Since going full time about ten and a half years ago, I've lost at least three jobs for reasons I directly attribute to anti-transgender discrimination, and I can't even begin to come up with a number for how many times I've not been hired for the same reasons. I'm essentially unemployed right now. All this has happened in New Jersey, bluest of the blue states. And oh yeah, we've got a state law protecting transpeople here, too. The problem is that in order for that law to even be potentially useful you have to get someone to hire you first, and all too often that's just the first of your problems in the workplace when you're visibly transgender.

Since I transitioned in 1997, it's not unusual for me to have been unemployed for significant stretches of time. Not because I can't work, not because I don't want to work, but because the fact that I'm different keeps getting in the way of actually being hired. While I can't say for sure, of course, with transgender unemployment estimates being what they are, currently between 50 and 70 percent nationally, I'd guess that my experience is probably pretty common. If that's what it's like for a lot of transpeople in the workforce in New Jersey, imagine what it's like for some of us in less enlightened areas of the country.

That's where a lot of my emotion around this story comes from. I know people who have been there and I have been there myself. I know what it's like not to know where my next meal is coming from or where and when, or even if, I would sleep that night. I know how easily it can all come tumbling down in short order when an income source suddenly dries up and a replacement can't be found in time. I know many of my transgender sisters and brothers are dealing with or have dealt with much the same issues for much the same reasons. Most of all, I know why we must demand that yesterday's vote be no more than a building block toward a fully inclusive ENDA , not a shamefully poor substitute for one. Of course, we don't actually know what will happen next, but I think we're in what I believe is a unique position to influence the outcome. Probably not a lot, mind you, but maybe, just maybe, enough.

United ENDA is the seed from whence it should spring. There needs to be a solid, reliable , coalition-type organization formed to lobby Congress on behalf of the entire LGBT community openly and honestly, a Leadership Conference on Civil Rights for truly inclusive, open, and honest civil rights legislative advocacy organizations, if you will. We need to replace HRC in the community spokes-organization slot. We need to have our own scorecard, to help LGBT voters make real, common-sense choices based on the principles of fairness for all, not just furthering the interests of a small group of self-involved millionaires funding and setting the political agenda of a single organization. And yes, we need to cut HRC completely out of the loop, especially for the immediate future. They simply can't be trusted to participate fairly and honestly, and everyone knows it.

The time to plan for 2009 is now. I've said that I believe Hillary Clinton will probably be our next President and thus far I haven't seen much happen to dissuade me from the correctness of that notion. For all my misgivings about what another Clinton Presidency would mean for progress in LGBT rights, I do expect that she'd sign any ENDA that made it to her desk. We have to keep up the lobbying, the media coverage, all of it...we can't let ourselves slip off the radar for too long. Most of all, we must make sure that we fully capitalize on every shred of guilt fair-minded Democrats were feeling as they voted for that crippled, non-inclusive bill. While that may sound cold, we can't afford not to do everything in our power to make certain that everyone is included in ENDA '09. If we miss that boat, it's gonna be a damn long time before gender-variant Americans get another chance to to even approach having basic civil rights in this country.

Most of all, our community needs to speak with bold, new, credible voices to those in power, community leaders who do not advocate political expediency and selfish personal agendas at the expense of that which is right, fair, and in keeping with real American values. We must reject the kind of top-down, "ivory tower" style of advocacy practiced by HRC and its allies and instead embrace the restructuring of the leadership of our movement to a model where the real decision-making power and the setting of agendas is placed in the hands of our entire community and its most skilled, dedicated, and inclusively-minded activists, not solely with the wealthiest and most well-connected, as has been the case until now.

Transparency must also be a hallmark of this newly restructured movement. It will take years, perhaps even decades, before some of the wounds opened here will ever have a chance to heal, and most of it is centered around issues of trust and dependability. The entire community, no matter what our political positions, social and economic statuses, or particular ethnic, racial, religious, gender,and sexual, labels we might define ourselves with, must have a certain, effective, and staunchly protected voice in how the issues that affect our lives are advocated for by our movement's chosen (key word) leaders. It will not do to simply replace one ivory tower with another. There must be a complete and thorough restructuring of how this community advocates its own interests to those in power and to the American public in general.

The Human Rights Campaign has intentionally and willfully abrogated its right to be credibly considered as the leading voice and advocacy organization of this movement. HRC knew the will of the community, and they made public promises to our community reflecting that understanding. Yet, the moment those promises were truly tested for the first time, HRC reneged on them, taking the low road of political expediency over the high road of principle to advance their own agenda at the expense of the poorest, most vulnerable, and most harshly oppressed victims of the kind of discrimination the passage of ENDA would seek to protect against.

In my opinion, that isn't real, honest, or credible LGBT community advocacy. A real advocate of any minority group shouldn't be willing to put the rights of any portion of its constituency on the chopping block in order to help gain rights for others, and they especially shouldn't be willing to trade away the rights of those most desperately in need of them in order to help ensure those selfsame rights for wealthier, more politically potent groups.We expect our advocacy organizations to stand against the will of politicians and others to divide and separate our community, not to help facilitate and validate doing so as HRC has done here. Call me an idealist if you like, but I just don't think this kind of behavior gives HRC or any of its allies the right to credibly speak on behalf of gender-variant Americans, or for anyone who really believes that civil rights should be the birthright of each and every American citizen, not just those belonging to the most politically popular and palatable groups.

In my opinion, HRC has now redefined itself not as an LGBT civil rights organization, but rather as what it actually is, the lobbying arm of a small but well-funded special interest group of rich, white, lesbian and gay millionaires who act and speak only on behalf of themselves and their own narrow, self-serving agenda. That is how their actions have defined them publicly, and it's how they should be seen and dealt with by the rest of the community as we move forward. HRC has proactively made its choices in this regard, and so too should the rest of us.

What we need now is a new movement, with a new agenda and a new way of advocating it, and a new level of involvement and influence in its leadership and advocacy for LGBT Americans at all levels of social and political influence and social strata. It's the only way things are going to change for the better in any real way, and the only way we won't find ourselves right back where we are now next time.

We can have all of these things, but only if we insist on them and work together to create them. I believe we can make it happen if we collectively acknowledge that we have indeed had enough of the way things have been until now and consciously choose to go another way, toward a path of liberty, justice, and true equality for all Americans, with no trade-offs, compromises, or selling out of those precious ideals, no matter how much political pressure is placed on us by politicians and others to do so. Not only is it the kind of movement LGBT Americans want and need, but it's the kind of movement we deserve and have a right to expect.

We can do better, far better, if we set our minds to making it happen, and I believe it's high time we did exactly that.


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I agree with each and every single point in Rebecca's post with respect to strategy going forward. With respect to the guilt factor, I am not sure how that becomes operational. Appealing to justice and making a strong case which is repeated constantly in the media, in lobbying and in every LGBTQ publication, and the publication of friends (70% unemployment is a drastic statistic) is all part of the next campaign. This is education based on fact.

As a gay woman long ago alienated by the culture and
priorities (give us your money and shut up) of HRC, I am all for more and better leadership on the next ENDA-and every other bill going forward under a possible Clinton Presidency. HRC will insist on the leadership monopoly because it is tied to their fundraising claims.

I am interested in hearing more on your views on what broad based alternative we have, or can create, after this episode.

I agree. We have to bypass HRC and let them wither on the vine. We need our own massive, democratic, ‘pushy’ movement that will accept nothing less that equality. And that’s what will grow out of UnitedENDA and the sentiment it represents.

But that’s just the first step.

In 1820, discussing the future of the Union and slavery, Thomas Jefferson said “… this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror." The passage of the fake ENDA by HRC, Frank, Pelosi and most Democrats is our fire bell in the night.

The Democrats and their toadies like HRC lost out big time when they betrayed us. In terms of court fights their bill is DOA and everyone knows it by now.

The creation of UnitedENDA and the politicization of what appears to be tens of thousands of activists around this question is a key step forward on the road to the creation of independent POLITICAL action by our movement.

For several years the foreshocks of a deep seated social crisis have been spreading across the political landscape. The signs are everywhere. It’s not everyday that you see the long suffering American people having more confidence in the worst president in US history than in Congress but that’s been the case for months.

The two parties used to huddle comfortably in the middle but now their open loathing of one another and fierce rivalry are scaring the socks off the polysci types. A few years ago a group of the most militant unions in the country met and founded the US Labor Party. Two years ago at a conference of the AFL-CIO’s Coalition of Black Trade Unionists the CBTU president called for a break with the two parties and the creation of independent political action groups by African Americans. The CBTU represents several hundred thousand members. The AFL-CIO itself split right down the middle last year over the question of wasting money on the Democratic party of NAFTA and union busting or spending it on organizing.

Now our pursuit of an independent political voice will join with voices raised in trade unions and in the minority and immigrant communities. Those voices will be amplified by the anger and frustration of the people over health care, a declining standard of living and worsening working conditions and particularly about the oil war. At some point, and this is what we have to plan for and embrace, the compressed power of these political pressures that will blow apart the old political system.

Like the Minutemen who broke the back of Imperial England, the Civil War Republicans, the rise of the CIO and the antiwar and feminist movements of the 60’s and 70’s we’ll get our chance to change American history.

We can’t do it if we’re locked into the twin parties. We have to do the hard work of creating our own party and in that party our own strong voice. For a clear example of how that works check out the website of the New Zealand Rainbow Labour Group, who have several members in the NZ Parliament at http://www.rainbowlabour.org.nz/aboutus.htm .

"the lobbying arm of a small but well-funded special interest group of rich, white, lesbian and gay millionaires who act and speak only on behalf of themselves and their own narrow, self-serving agenda."

I really resent this viewpoint, because you know what? Not all of us gays and lesbians who support HRC (verbally and financially) are millionaires, and most certainly we are not all white. I am neither. And I am TIRED of being marginalized by you so-called "progressives" who choose to believe that all "people of color" and all people who make less than seven figures annually are rich and white. (Kudos to you not writing "rich, white gay men" - normally it is assumed that lesbians couldn't possibly be pro-HRC or identify as members of the gay community rather than this trendy "GLBT" amalgam.) I'm sorry for being inconvenient to y'all's argument, which typically has something to do with older rich white gay men being so privileged that they have no connection to the Real Prejudice the rest of the community faces. Unfortunately, I am a twenty-something Asian-American lesbian professional who was born to lower-middle-class parents in the South in a state that will be the last to have any protections based on sexual orientation. However, I am gay. And gender-normative. Not "GLBT." Not "automatically gender transgressive as a woman who loves women." And it follows from the fact that I am gender-normative that I am not a part of any "minority constituency" that includes gender identity.

I support the rights of the transgender population; I just reject the notion that I am part of some amalgam community such that it is "selfish" and "immoral" for me to advocate for gay rights unless they include a gender identity codicil. I was a vocal ally of the trans community and went out of my way to educate straight friends before now. But the trans hysteria during this ENDA debate has so alienated me that "ally" would be a dishonest word at this point.

Actually, Christa, I was referring to HRC's Executive Board, not the whole of its membership. The Board is indeed made up mostly of the uber-wealthy (pretty much a requirement since one must raise or donate $50K a year in order to have a seat on it), and yes, its makeup is indeed whiter than a Klu Klux Klan rally in a snowstorm.

I did use words like "leader" and "leadership" throughout, trying to draw that distinction. Sorry you didn't pick up on it.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 11, 2007 2:57 PM

but because the fact that I'm different keeps getting in the way of actually being hired.

I am really sorry to hear that, Rebecca. I know how it feels, and it's terrible. And so effing unfair. You have my sympathy and support.

I was a vocal ally of the trans community and went out of my way to educate straight friends before now. But the trans hysteria during this ENDA debate has so alienated me

Hysteria, is it? Well, please forgive me for objecting when you kick me in the (proverbial) balls.

People reacting with rage when after 30 years a law is finally up for a vote and they are removed from protection, is not hysteria. And that "educating" your were doing of your straight friends? You might want to go back and start over with yourself, because it's clear that you've missed something very fundamental.

Rebecca: although you do speak of "leadership" in general, nowhere did you make clear that the "the lobbying arm of a small but well-funded special interest group of rich, white, lesbian and gay millionaires" was intended to refer only to HRC's Executive Board (boards are normally not referred to as "special interest groups," so I took your comment to refer to HRC's financial backers as a whole (I don't contribute more than $50,000 a year, to be sure, but I belong to their Federal Club, which supports them handsomely every year.) But if that is what you meant, very well. Certainly more racial diversity in HRC's leadership would be a wonderful thing; you'll get no argument from me on that point -- and I intend to lobby for that by participating in the organization and attempting to shape it.

Brynn: "gender identity" was introduced into ENDA THIS year, not 30 years ago. You are correct that for 30 years, gays and lesbians have worked and lobbied for a vote. And we are NOT the enemies of a trans inclusive ENDA; I defy you to find me anyone in the gay leadership (or financial base) who would work against gender identity protections, or indeed do anything other than be supportive. Your rage is directed at us when it should be directed against the social conservatives who are the actual reason that gender identity protections were removed.

The "hysteria" is not the desire to be included in federal antidiscrimination law. We all desire that. The "hysteria" is the refusal to work with political reality - the refusal to say, "Okay, we don't have the votes for gender identity this year, so we as the trans community organize, mobilize, and try to ally with gays and lesbians to get this legislation passed as soon as possible." The "hysteria" is the demand that gays and lesbians must not enjoy federal antidiscrimination protections until and unless trans people can as well. The "hysteria" is the demand that we must put your rights BEFORE our own, leaving ourselves open to legal discrimination if you cannot be protected. And my favorite part? I live in California, where transgender people who are PROTECTED by state law are demanding that gays and lesbians who live in states without protection must forego that protection until they can enjoy both state and federal law protections. That is hysteria, and that is why the trans community has lost me (and many, many other gays and lesbians) as an ally. You may say that, in that case, we were never true allies - in that case, you need "fake allies" like us to make any progress, if as you all have claimed in recent weeks, you are simply too small to go it alone.

Christa,

If you think by giving HRC money you are furthering your own advocacy goals then by all means do so, but know this:

The leadership of HRC are liars, plain and simple. They made the community repeated promises of support to gain transpeople as members and donors, but the moment those promises were tested in any real way, HRC simply reneged on them and did precisely what they promised over and over, even as recently as just a few weeks ago, that they absolutely wouldn't do.

This organization's leadership cannot be trusted by any of us because they have proven that when the chips are down and the legislation is on the line, HRC's leadership will do what they feel is in their own best interest and simply ignore the plight of everyone else in the community they have claimed to represent and speak for.

It's worth noting that not only will transpeople be denied protections under this bill, but also anyone, LGBT or straight, who transgresses gender norms in some way, such as butch lesbians or effeminate gay men. The non-inclusive bill also widens the religious exemption to allow faith-based organizations an even wider latitude in discriminating against all of us. It's a bad bill and lousy protection no matter how you slice it.

And hey, let's not also forget that chances are it'll never see a vote in the Senate until '09 anyway (about a week left to go in the session with a full calendar and an election year coming up). And of course, even if by some miracle it makes through the Senate, Bush has already said he would veto it.

The non-inclusive version is a lousy bill, and no ENDA, inclusive or not, going to become law until a new President and Congress are in office. So, donate all you want to HRC. Their leadership will still do exactly as they please and use your money to further their own selfish goals, and you still won't change the reality that even Barney Frank has publicly acknowledged, that no one will be protected against workplace discrimination by ENDA until after the next election at the soonest.

"all people who make less than seven figures annually are rich and white."

Christa, you'll have to excuse members of a community with an unemployment rate of 70% and an equally abysmal underemployment rate for thinking of an annual salary north of $100,000 as being rich. It's a mark most of us will never reach, or even have any hope to reach.

"lesbians couldn't possibly be pro-HRC or identify as members of the gay community rather than this trendy "GLBT" amalgam."

"GLBT" isn't especially trendy. It's been in the lexicon for decades, starting by the insistence for visibility by lesbians who felt that just saying "gay" only meant men. Not necessarily by definition, but by the inference of the general public.

So then the phrase "gay and lesbian" came into prevalence. However, if someone then failed to specifically say "lesbian", they *must* have been purposely slighting lesbians.

And with all of the "gay and lesbian"'s being bandied about, surely bisexuals and transsexuals were being purposely omitted.

Mostly, it became cumbersome and boring to enumerate each category; so for the sake of simplicity, good will, and timing, it was reduced to GLBT - which is an acronym, BTW.

So, no. Lesbians fought for more than 20 years to not just be "members of the gay community". Sorry if you don't like it, but it is your history which led to this. Transsexuals don't have the numbers to have brought about that change.

"Unfortunately, I am a twenty-something Asian-American lesbian professional who was born to lower-middle-class parents in the South in a state that will be the last to have any protections based on sexual orientation."

I don't think anyone believes that it's unfortunate that such a young person has done so well that you're in a position to make a $1,200 donation. Congratulations on your success.

"However, I am gay. And gender-normative. Not "GLBT." Not "automatically gender transgressive as a woman who loves women." "

Well, I don't think we're the ones who decides if we're gender-normative in our presentation. I think that people who hate queers decide whether or not they will hate you. And if you think you are any less queer than a transgendered person is to someone who is a hater, you'd be wrong. I can tell you will certainty that they have no idea what the difference is between gender identity and sexual orientation. Nor do they care.

(That's the dirty little secret, BTW, about inclusive legislation. The reason it *does* pass in states and localities, is the haters don't get the difference.)

I suppose you could argue that you pass for straight, but to do so means sacrificing some portion of your self identity and esteem to remain closeted.

And yes, since GLBT is an acronym which stands for, among other things, gay, and you identify as such, you are part of the GLBT community. I know of no way to opt out. Jews who converted to avoid the camps were still considered Jewish when the Nazis came for them.

"And it follows from the fact that I am gender-normative that I am not a part of any "minority constituency" that includes gender identity."

Well, I suppose if you only identify with straight-looking gay people, you could argue that you're not part of a minority constituency. But I'm willing to bet that anyone who hates gay people will not make that distinction. As someone who is originally from the south, you should be familiar with the type of success that African-Americans had by being differentiated by skin tone. And that, too, takes a little piece of your soul.

But good for you that you won't be discriminated against because you pass as straight. No one wishes discrimination on anyone. I just don't know when it became the standard that we only support the things that effect us directly.

"I support the rights of the transgender population;"

Which ones? Not employment non-discrimination, which is usually on the top of the list.

"I just reject the notion that I am part of some amalgam community such that it is "selfish" and "immoral" for me to advocate for gay rights unless they include a gender identity codicil."

I don't think it's immoral to support gay rights and not transgender rights. It's pretty cold, and ultimately self-defeating since it plays into the bigotry of the right-wing. But you misstate the facts by referring to a "gender identity codicil". Gender identity wasn't something that we were trying to add in after the fact. It was part of the bill. It was *stripped out* at the eleventh hour. A gay man broke faith with the GLBT community which supported the inclusive bill. Transsexuals didn't try to crash the party.

"I was a vocal ally of the trans community and went out of my way to educate straight friends before now."

What did you tell your straight friends about the gender community? Better yet, what did you tell your gay friends about us? You might want to re-read some of the excellent articles in this blog over the last several weeks about the ENDA issue. I don't think you quite got all of the points.

"But the trans hysteria during this ENDA debate has so alienated me that "ally" would be a dishonest word at this point."

I think we can live with the disappointment. Your level of passion and empathy for this cause has been truly underwhelming.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 12, 2007 11:09 AM

"gender identity" was introduced into ENDA THIS year, not 30 years ago.

Christa, I honestly don't know when gender was added to ENDA. But I've been an LGBT activist now for 25 years and I remember that when I first heard of ENDA back 15-20 years ago, it was in the context of whether or not trans should be included. So the DEBATE has been going on for a long, long time.

What happened just a year ago (or 3 years ago, according to a comment on a previous post) was the long fight to include gender was successful.

Which makes it that much more soul-crushing to see it removed just as the measure was coming up for a vote.

Christa -

Just because you support HRC financially and otherwise does not mean that HRC supports you or that it is working in the best interest of marginalized members of the queer community.

HRC sells sweatshop-produced goods in its stores and gives scores of 100 on the 'Corporate Equality Index' to companies that murder their workers in the Global South, engage in environmental terrorism against poor people and people of color, use patents to keep AIDS medication unaffordable, help fund Burma’s military dictatorship, etc.

Wake up.

Just an FYI Christa,
The public sees you as "transgressing normative gender roles" even if you try and define yourself our of LGBT. Their conception of "norrmative gender behaviour" for a woman does not include sleeping with a woman.
You might try reading Judith Butler.

Also, there was a condescencion in your written tone that I, as a Lesbian, found offensive. There was more than a smack of what this good feminist calls patriarchial superiority, expropriated by a Lesbian and used over another minority. You might try reading Mary Daly's "Amazon Grace" someime. She discusses it in detail. Another author refers to the phenomena's practitioners as "Conserva-queers."