What's interesting is how this is being sold as "House Democrats sell out the queers." That seems to be a pretty unstrategic way to describe this since the Matthew Shepard Act wasn't just about adding LGBT people to existing hate crimes legislation, it would have effectively created hate crimes legislation at the federal level. According to PFLAG, the bill would:
Thoughts on recent hate crimes legislation developments
- Expand the law to authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Current law only includes race, color, religion or national origin.
- Eliminate a serious limitation on federal involvement under existing law which requires that a victim of a bias-motivated crime was attacked because he/she was engaged in a specified federally-protected activity such as voting, serving on a jury or attending school.
- Add "gender" and "gender identity" to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.
So it's strange that the bill would get painted as "LGBT legislation", when it's clearly much more. In fact, that's the main reason that disparate organizations like the NAACP, NOW, the ACLU, the Latino Coalition, and the ADL all supported the legislation. As much as it's portrayed as "LGBT legislation", it's definitely not.
I wonder if being tagged as such was a large reason that it failed. Let's face it - we're not the most popular kids on the block. And it seems like a pretty ingenious right-wing strategy to make the entire bill just about the LGBT's, helping people to forget the thousands of protesters who, after the Jena, Louisiana, chain of events, gathered to protest in Washington and demand federal hate crimes legislation.
That's one piece to this puzzle. People have been trying to describe why this legislation was dropped from the defense authorization bill. Of course, the issue is more complicated than one reason, but here are a few ideas:
- Putting the two bills together (funding for the endless war was the other half), one conservative and one liberal, didn't give everyone something to love, it gave everyone something to hate.
- The Democratic Party's current conservative bend, trying to reach a Platonic "center" that always seems to be in moderate-Republican territory, means that liberal legislation won't get passed unless it's polling in at least the low 90's.
- A highly partisan White House that would never, ever want to piss of the Religious Right by acknowledging that queers exist (unless they could re-implement sodomy laws) would have rejected this legislation if it stood alone.
Some have tried to pin this on the United ENDA letter, and, frankly, the argument's flat wrong. First, it assumes that ENDA and hate crimes legislation are similar enough that if you're for one, you automatically have to be in favor of the other, when that's absolutely not true. There are folks who support only one of those bills and have respectable reasons for doing so.
Second, it assumes that an "organization" that was little more than a letter and a website is somehow responsible for this decision. Should they have sent another letter? Would that have changed anything? Their first letter didn't stop the sexual orientation only ENDA, so there's little reason to believe that another United ENDA letter would have kept the legislation on the defense spending bill.
Third, many of the individual organizations and people in those organizations that signed the United ENDA letter have been lobbying in favor of the bill. Most of the others don't include lobbying for federal hate crimes legislation in their scope since they're state or local, non-political, or not focused on hate crimes legislation. Signing the letter was different: it was a statement about who gets to be properly queer, how we're defining our activism, and respecting for the tremendous amount of work trans and gender non-conforming folks have put into LGBT activism.
I also have a hard time believing that HRC "set a precedent" for selling us out here. Seriously, the Democrats would have done it either way, since they obviously don't care about HRC's position on the hate crimes bill.
Pretty much the only thing HRC set a precedent for was that Democrats don't need to care about trans people to have the support of the "GLBT" lobby, and if the Democrats were just trying to get rid of "gender identity" from the hate crimes legislation, that argument would make sense. But they aren't - the plan of putting those two bills together from the beginning was poor strategy for exactly the reason they're citing, and now they're finally realizing it. Maybe it would have been good to have accepted this from the start and devised a different strategy.
And both of these arguments buy into the frame that the legislation is "LGBT legislation", further perpetuating a needlessly divisive right-wing mythology.
That said, I'll accept the criticism that there are some who were vocal about the ENDA who aren't about hate crimes legislation. I'm a lot more mixed in my thoughts on hate crimes legislation than I am on employment nondiscrimination, mainly because of the sentencing enhancements in the hate crimes legislation.
I don't really have a problem with people suing their former or current employers when they're discriminated against - that's one of the few recourses they have for an attack on their personhood and one of the tools that can be used to change those corporate policies of discrimination.
Throwing people in prison longer, though, isn't going to do much to solve the original problem of hatred. On the contrary, prisons can be hotbeds of hatred, and further separating the haves and have nots in our society seems to just be a way for some who have an investment in more people being shipped to prison to use civil rights rhetoric for their own ends.
I'm going to go on the record as just being uncertain that this legislation will solve the original problem of violence since prisons themselves are quite violent, or the problem of homophobia since prisons themselves are quite homophobic. Perhaps there are better solutions to the problem of hate crimes, since throwing more people in jail hasn't eliminated crime yet.