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!