Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

ENDA, marriage equality and moving the ball forward

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | November 05, 2008 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, labor, marriage equality, Prop 8, trans, transgender, transsexual, workforce, workplace protections

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I am elated at President-elect Obama's (how I love saying that phrase) resounding electoral college win, slightly dismayed at the margin of the popular vote (although it is practically a "mandate" compared to previous elections), and overwhelmingly sad at the level of prejudice displayed against LGBT people in California, Arizona, Arkansas and Florida. It is not yet clear whether California's Prop 8 will pass or not, but the closeness of it shows how many people are against us.

I will spend today reveling in the accomplishment and recovering from the blow. I spent this morning commiserating with Larry Flick on Sirius OutQ, who was devastated by the bad news, and the many callers who expressed their disappointment, anger and despair. But tomorrow, I will put away my disappointment and get back to advocacy work. I hope that a lot of you will, too.

It seems almost too much to bear, coming as it does so soon after the ENDA debacle last year. I was also overwhelmed with despair and grief then too. But I have come to be much more philosophic about these things. In fact, although I was very angry with Barney Frank then, I've come around to his point of view on how to get it accomplished. Indeed, I will take the same position about marriage equality that Barney Frank took about gender identity in ENDA.

This is a fairly recent addition to the fight, and part of the problem we face is that while there have been literally decades of education of the public about the unfairness of sexual orientation discrimination and the inaccuracy of the myths that perpetuated it, our educational efforts regarding gender identity are much less far along, and given the prejudices that exist, face a steeper climb.

Marriage equality is also a new issue, and was placed on the agenda only in the past few years. It is much newer than the issue of gender identity. It is much less understood than the issue of job discrimination. It doesn't yet have legs. We have worked long and hard to move it forward, as we have with gender identity. But there's no prize for second place. And this is still a deeply traditional country, except in certain areas. And also the closeness of the votes show that we can come back from these defeats if we learn from them.

There have been many times in my life when I have been slammed by criticism that came from prejudice, and it hurt me deeply. I remember the time that the counter person at the fast food restaurant kept loudly calling me "sir" in front of a long line of customers, even after I politely requested that she call me "ma'am" rather than "sir." I was embarrassed to the core. I asked her if I looked like a sir (which I didn't in my skirt, long hair, and makeup). With high disdain in her voice, she said "you don't look like sir, but you sound like sir." I stormed out of there, angry and embarrassed.

As I walked down the street in the rain, feeling the shame keenly, a voice inside me said, much to my chagrin: "You should thank her." I was astonished. Whose voice was this? Thank her? She was a prejudiced jerk. "She told you what the others wouldn't." What? What did she tell me? That she didn't like transgender people? No, she was telling me to my face what many others wouldn't or couldn't - that my voice didn't match my presentation. If I wanted to be perceived by society as a woman, whether or not it was fair or right, I would have to work on my voice. I would have to put in the same or more time and effort to my voice that I had put into my physical appearance. But should that be a requirement for being treated like a human being? No, but I learned something about making it in the world, and how not to curl up and die when prejudice comes my way.

I was deeply hurt and left feeling abandoned by the ENDA debacle. I am also deeply hurt by the marriage equality debacle. But the proper response is not to curl up and die from disappointment, sadness and anger. It is to be disappointed, sad and angry, and also move the educational efforts forward.

I didn't like Barney Frank when he said that we needed a stronger educational effort on transgender issues in order to win ENDA. I and many other trans advocates have made big sacrifices to educate people. I don't like the advice given by the public in their vote that gives us a "poor" rating on educating people about the importance of marriage equality. But it avails nothing to get mad at the coach when she says you dropped the ball, and here's how to catch it better next time. Granted, the coach may be a bit loud and annoying, and not put you in the game, and give you every reason for dislike. But which is more important: hating the coach or catching the ball and moving it forward?

Personally, I am strongly committed to moving ENDA forward, as workplace equality is my area of professional expertise, and a subject about which I have profound feelings. I am putting aside my hard feelings and concentrating on catching the ball. I hope that advocates of marriage equality do the same. Yes, we got dinged. Now let's pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and get back to work.

Barney Frank said last August that "if we can pick up 15 Democratic seats, then I think we are in a good position to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA."

We have picked up 18 Democratic seats. It is time to move forward on ENDA. (Wait -- 19 as of 12:51 today)

I am not going to wait for Representative Frank to move this forward. He's got enough on his plate, and, despite his nice words about transgender inclusion, I know that his commitment to it is way down in his list of priorities.

I am going to start contacting the new Representatives to extend my congratulations, and to send them information on ENDA and gender identity in the workplace (including a copy of my book and a clip of the hearings last year in the House). I am going to call on them and schedule meetings with them so they can meet a real-live transgender person. I'm going to do the same with other Representatives. I'm going to post the contact info for our public officials on the Transworkplace network site. If enough people take action, little by little, and not just at the end when a vote is two weeks away, we will eventually move the ball forward enough to make this happen. And that's what counts.

P.S. Congratulations to President-elect Obama and his family, to Vice-President-elect Biden and his family, to my fellow Democrats, and to the United States of America. Let's all get to work and make this country a better place!


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Reformed Ascetic | November 5, 2008 1:00 PM

Thanks. I think we all needed a bit of refocusing this morning.

Thanks for this - I'm working on a post myself for our "No On 102" blog and I'm focusing on hope and moving forward - it's the only thing to do.

Very nice and insightful piece, Jillian.

I'd only add that perhaps one of the best forms of education is that employed by the Obama campaign: meeting people where they live and not simply mailing them "educational lietrature."

Placing ourselves into the context of our mutual humanity comes about through actually knowing people, or at the very least thinking you know them because you've shaken their hands or shared a meal or discussion.

"The ground offensive" clearly pays dividends.

You are so right, Nichole. I will look to meet with them to hand them the literature wherever possible. At the same time, having a lot of experience lobbying politicians, I also know that it is sometimes hard to get a meeting with them. So I'll do the best I can.

Remember I'm Right Wing - fiscally conservative, socially liberal, so realise that I will always tend to be highly sceptical of the DNC. I'm also usually right.

Those 19 new senators... what majorities did they have? And how many are now dependant for a large part of that on Black Americans? 70% of whom disapprove of homosexuality on religious grounds?

Good luck in getting ENDA on the table let alone GENDA. Every single state that had an anti-gay proposition passed it. Every one. You expect politicians to ignore that?

You don't need to be a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

I am afraid I must disagree with your argument. I also note that it got my ire up because of its racist implication that 70% of African Americans are homophobic and are going to hold up gay rights protections. The exit poll to which you refer sampled a highly specific population of African-Americans - people who came out to vote in California on a ballot initiative involving a lot of homophobic rhetoric. The poll also found that 83% of church-goers supported the measure. Church-goers are a much larger percentage of the U.S. population. Why are you singling out African-Americans, who are only 12% of the US population? I would contend that the fault lies with advocates who failed to reach out to the African American community. For more on this, see http://www.pamshouseblend.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=8013

Furthermore, this initiative was already voted on last year and passed by the US House of Representatives in an even more conservative environment - so it is logical to assume that the House would have an easier time moving forward on it in this session. Furthermore, because the new members of Congress are from states other than those which passed the anti-gay initiatives, I do expect them to ignore those intiatives.

Lastly, the Democratic party platform calls for sexual orientation and gender identity job protection, and President-elect Obama is on record as supporting that. Of course, it may not happen, but I don't believe for the reasons you give. Despite your humble observation that you are "usually right," I think your argument is all wet here - and gives an impression of racism I am sure you did not mean to convey.

The polling on support for employment protections (including those on legislation inclusive of gender identity) are very different from those for marriage. If memory serves - it's something in the 70%'s of the US population supporting employment protections including gender identity & sexual orientation..

The Pew Polling on Same Sex Marriage:

Date Favor Oppose No opinion, or didn't answer
5/08 38 49 13

I'd argue that one can't conflate the level of support for the two issues - employment protections are very much more likely to be achieved. The voting record last time around also supports this. And - if a new President supports it - it's very likely to pass. "Cause the times they are a' changing. For employment, if not relationship equality.

Jillian, please pardon me. I'm Australian - and we just don't get the obsession Americans have with race.

To me, "Black' is a demographic, it could be left-handed redheads for all I care. And Australians are not noted for nuance or subtlety.

Obama's win is at least in part because he's Black, right? Even if Kenyan-American rather than African-American, descended from Americans barbarically treated in the past. Close enough - 95% of African-Americans voted for him. That's a lock. Only 90% of Republicans voted for McCain, and only 89% of Democrats for Obama. Just as some whites voted against him because of his skin colour - or rather, color - rather more Blacks - and quite a few whites who thought it was about bloody time the US had a Black POTUS - voted for him because of his skin colour (or color).

I don't have to understand this melanin-dependant qualification to acknowledge it exists.

69% of first-time voters voted for Obama. He won at least in part because he mobilised the base, getting African-Americans in particular to turn out in record numbers. I conjecture because they felt that this time, despite all the odds stacked against them, they could really make a difference.

In Florida, 71% of African-Americans voted to ban any rights whatsoever for GLBT couples. So it wasn't just California.

Obama has stated repeatedly that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, on religious grounds.

From my view here in Australia, looking at Black LGBT and Black Church sites, those figures are only to be expected. We have a problem here, entrenched homophobia and transphobia based on religious grounds in African-American churches. Just like the one Obama attended for decades. His "base". The high proportion of Blacks who buy into this culture, whether church-going or not, means the higher proportion of African-American voters, the more pressure there is to deny GLBT rights.

Ignoring this problem because I don't want to be seen as racist isn't something I think will be helpful, merely comfortable. If I'm called racist, it won't be the worst thing I've been called. "Spawn of Satan" I think holds the record. Pervert, etc etc. The usual. As for the "impression of racism", I guess I don't really care. As long as I'm not actually racist. The term has been devalued recently, with any critique of Obama's team given that label. I look forward to a future when a Black POTUS will be as unremarkable as a green-eyed one. Obama's election makes that day achievable within my lifetime.

Jillian, thanks for your candour. I may indeed be, if not all wet, then distinctly moistened. Monica Roberts would have a more accurate view on it. I observe from afar, she lives it.

I might add that anyone who distrusts the veracity of any politician, be it in the US or Australia, be they on the Left or the Right, will also "usually be right". It's not Rocket Science - though I do that too.

It's nice to be able to converse freely with someone I admire and respect, especially when we differ. Not having to tread on eggshells, and when someone thinks you're terminally, irretrievably and hopelessly full of it, wrong in every way (and possibly even racist), the worst that you get is "you're all wet". Thanks, Jillian, for your honesty and the respect for me (despite, not because of my opinions) you've shown by your gentle disagreement.

Yes, and white Australian have always been so kind to their native race. (sarcasm) Your country's track record on race relations has a lot to be desired.

Monica, I won't attempt to defend the indefensible, nor engage in Tu quoque. I agree with you.

My thesis stands, and this time I'll leave out the melanotic bit that causes controversy: that many of those who voted Democrat this time are homophobic, and part of Obama's base. He must cater to them.

We have to change things so they're not homophobic, if we are to get things moving.

That will take some time, so don't expect to have the same degree of GLBT support in the DNC that we had last year. Not for a while.

"It's not Rocket Science - though I do that too."

Yes, I've heard you say that. And, it got me to wondering...

I can understand the Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineer's (AE) claim to being rocket scientist...at the least they are responsible for the aerodynamics of the craft. Certainly the Chemical Engineers (CE) who develop the propellants can lay claim to that title. Undoubtedly the Mechanical Engineers (ME) who design the engines are rocket scientists. As well the Controls Engineers (ME) and Reliability Engineers (ME) involved with the aerospace industry fall into that spectrum. The Electrical Engineers (EE) and their avionics and telemetry expertise could claim a rocket science wreath. Surely the physicists and their orbital mechanics knowledge (among other things) are rocket scientists as well.

Aren’t you a computer programmer, albeit and evidently a very experienced and educated one? How does computer programming, even when associated with the aerospace industry, qualify as a rocket scientist?

The Civil and Structural Engineers (CE) who design the launch pads certainly wouldn’t claim to be rocket scientists, would they? The electricians who wire the control room wouldn’t qualify would they?…nor the carpenters who build it…or the architects who are responsible for the overall design…would they? What about the material science gurus who design the space suits…are they rocket scientists? And even those who design the satellite packages themselves, even though they sit atop and enclosed within an aerospace platform…do they claim to be rocket scientists too? How about the technical writers who pen the operations manuals…rocket scientists?

Just wondering…as an engineer, I’m curious.

As a side note…being Australian and speaking to a predominately American audience it might be worth remembering the age old adage, one you seem to be increasingly forgetful of…you know the one that says I can talk about my brother because he’s MY brother...but YOU can’t.

At least you can’t without offending.

I’m sure you understand.


That's a positive way to look at it. Every loss should be a teachable moment, increasing our drive to win.

Everyday Transperson | November 7, 2008 7:58 PM

Dr. Weiss, a few observations here if I may.

I think that it is very notable for you to address the issue of our advocates not taking responsibility for dropping the ball concerning these legislations, but let us not forget that it was this type of advocacy ideology which had caused the ball to inflate in the first place........ So my question is, the names and faces stay the same, but what has changed ???

To illustrate my point, please refer back to another discussion I had with you concerning that Harvard Business study in which you willingly admitted that the one- size-fits-all approach to transgender education just doesn't work. Yet in your above article you state:

"I am going to start contacting the new Representatives to extend my congratulations, and to send them information on ENDA and gender identity in the workplace (including a copy of my book and a clip of the hearings last year in the House). I am going to call on them and schedule meetings with them so they can meet a real-live transgender person. I'm going to do the same with other Representatives. I'm going to post the contact info for our public officials........"

In every action item that you list above, the central figure remains, YOU. Did the notion of approaching any of these important figures as a COMMUNITY, with EVERYONE involved in the effort ever cross your mind ??? And have any lessons really been learned or points been made concerning one individual speaking for all of us ?? or will this just be a repeat of the same old names and celebrity faces with the same old ideas resulting in the same old results in congress or at the polls which spells one word, DEFEAT.

As we did as a country to unite together to change history in electing our first African American president, perhaps we as a GLBT community should unite to elect ourselves new leadership and advocates in our community to finally achieve some tangible results and not false hope and rhetoric.

Thank you for your time.

You're so right that this is a responsibility for all of us. But I'm not going to let you off the hook just because you're right.

Yes, this is not something one person can undertake successfully. I made that point right after the snippet you quoted, when I said: "I'm going to post the contact info for our public officials on the Transworkplace network site. If enough people take action, little by little, and not just at the end when a vote is two weeks away, we will eventually move the ball forward enough to make this happen. And that's what counts." So it wasn't only about me. And it can't only be about me. If I made it sound like it was about me, that was poor communication on my part.

So, Everyday, I now challenge you -- and everyone else reading this and shaking your head -- to start speaking up this way to Congress. Criticizing me because I wrote a blog post is the easy way out. We -- you and I and everyone -- need to do the hard work. I challenge you to speak up to Congress and to encourage others to speak up this way to Congress.

What say you?

Everyday Transperson | November 7, 2008 11:53 PM

Dr. Weiss, I really can't make my point any more clearer than I already have.

If everyone is going to help do the work then EVERYONE should be provided an equal opportunity to do so and should be recognized for their efforts, not just a select few advocate celebrities who want to bask in all of the media fame and glory.

Certainly, I would love to express my opinion to those lawmakers, politicians, corporate big wigs and others, but there has to be a system in place which allows me to do this............

Thus far, I have had my voice covered-up, censured, debased, and anything else you can think of in these activist circles by some influential community activists who didn't want me to uncover some corruption that is going on and these folks use the same textbook consensus that I am this undesirable voice who does nothing but "criticize" others because I may disagree with them. Sure there is the blogsphere, however how far does a voice or opinion go here other than a few attacks here and there from crony protectionists.

Lastly, I don't accept "challenges" to do anything. I will, however be receptive to helping out if the effort is accepting and open to diverse opinions, which as I had said prior, I do not think this is even possible under the current closed activist celebrity system.

I'm curious as to how those trans folks were selected to be "spokespeople" at the last senate hearing. I highly doubt they were simple everyday bloggers......

Just for reference. There is a small group of trans people who have been writing to legislators and have reached over 235 supporting a fully inclusive ENDA. This is before the election added those 19 seats, and I know a few of these support it. So, should the inclusive bill be brought up again, there are enough to keep Barney and the HRC from doing "it" to s again. I know that United ENDA has been tabulating this, also, and probably has similar numbers. It is not fair to say that trans people "are behind" in being active in this. It is fair to say we stupidly relied on the promises we received from HRC that they "had our backs" on this issue. We should not have believed them, but "fool me once....." We will not be so trusting again.

I think the problem will be to get the issue scheduled for action, rather than whether it has support. They have quite an avalanch of problems to rectify from the Bush years.

I only hope those putting it forward approach it as, "Hey, Look, here is something that is a no-brainer, (no offence to Zoe) and doesn't cost us anything! Let's just do it and get it over with!"

Regarding all the marriage equality - it came up rather fast, we weren't ready. It came out of the court system and although court judgments should hold, the best social policy should be legislative. I have heard the argument that a constitutional change can only be achieved by 2/3 vote of the Calif. legislature. How does the referendum system over ride this function? I don't believe there is a legal standard that a mear "tight" majority in a popular vote can over ride that standard legal requirement of legislative vote. A little help???