Bil Browning

Ridicule, the federal jobs site, and an ENDA prescription

Filed By Bil Browning | January 07, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Congress, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gender identity, passing a law, prescription for ENDA, prescriptions, sexual orientation

My first op-ed written for the Advocate went up this week - "Prescription for an Ailing ENDA." prescription-drugs.jpg I lay out a three point prescription on how to get ENDA passed before the end of this congressional session when health care reform has dominated the conversation.

In related news, the US government's website for job seekers now lists gender identity as part of the EEO statement.

The United States Government does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability, age, membership in an employee organization, or other non-merit factor.

While this is indisputably good news for the LGBT community, I want to take a moment to reflect on it through the lens of my Advocate op-ed. When it boils down to it, this isn't something to celebrate and should serve as a smack in the face for activist queers.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey got it right in her statement yesterday about the updated website. (emphasis mine)

"We are pleased by the administration's decision to modernize the federal jobs Web site by explicitly banning employment discrimination based on gender identity. This is an action the Task Force and other groups have been advocating for with the Office of Personnel Management, and it is certainly a welcome step toward eliminating workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in federal employment.

"However, it is unacceptable that in 60 percent of the country, it is still legal to fire someone for reasons that are unrelated to their performance, skills and talents. So, while we are pleased by the change to the federal jobs site, the Task Force will continue pressing Congress to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) early this year. We need to pass ENDA and afford essential employment protections under federal law so that employers across the nation will understand that discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation will not be tolerated whether it is in the private or public sector."

The federal government updated the website where they list job openings yesterday. That is not a reason to have a party and laud Democrats for their leadership and bravery. Instead, it's an item to ridicule.

On June 17th, President Obama signed a memo meant to even out some of the benefits opposite-sex couples were given that same-sex partners weren't. It was roundly criticized by the LGBT community as toothless since DOMA prevented the government from truly offering the same benefits package.

One of the most overlooked facets of that memo though, was that it also slid in non-discrimination protections based on gender identity. From the White House press release about the memo:

The Memorandum will also direct OPM to issue guidance within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil service laws, which make it unlawful to discriminate against federal employees or applicants for federal employment on the basis of factors not related to job performance.

Granted, that seems a little vague, but Managing Editor Alex Blaze was on a conference call that afternoon with the director of the Office of Personnel Management John Berry and directly asked whether this meant gender identity was being added to the nondiscrimination policy via the memo.

I got a question in and wanted to know about protections for trans people mentioned in the Advocate. Since Berry mentioned several times that only job-related factors will now be considered in federal employment, and said how sexual orientation isn't included in that several times, I asked if the new directions will specifically mention gender identity, gender expression, and/or transgender people. He responded:

Gender identity is a non-work-related factor, and in the guidelines [to federal agencies] we will be making that clear.[...] Gender identity will be added and made very clear in our guidelines.

That's at least one positive out of this memo: specifically mentioning transgender people when it comes to federal employment.

In my first draft of the Advocate article, I mentioned Saul Alinksy's Rules for Radicals under the "Flex Our Muscle" section. One of them is particularly relevant for present gay rights struggles: Force your opponent to live up to their own rulebook because you can ridicule them when they don't.

As Alinsky says, "It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also, it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage." Americans love to point out hypocrites and our opposition - whether Republican vociferous family values pablum or Democratic weak-kneed re-election cowardice - is full of hypocrisy.

The Democrats swept into office on promises of hope, equality, and justice. They promised us hate crimes protections, employment protections, the repeal of Don't, Ask Don't Tell, and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. So far, the only item to be checked off the list is passing a hate crimes law.

Let's take a look at the timeline:

January 20, 2009 - Inauguration Day
June 17, 2009 - President signs memo
January 6, 2010 - Text including gender identity shows up on federal jobs site

If we allow things to continue at this pace, we'll have grown old and died before all four items are achieved. It took almost a year from Obama's inauguration - and almost 6 months since he set his pen to paper - for the federal government's website to be updated to include us.

If it takes that long to add two words to a standard sentence on one website, how long will it take to get ENDA passed? ENDA covers both the public and private sectors. If activists complained that the Presidential memo only gave lip service to the repeal of DOMA, can we not agree that one sentence on a job-seekers site is a poor substitute for full employment protections nationwide?

The Democrats' glacial progress is worthy of ridicule and our community ignores it to our own peril. It's time to flex some muscle and show we mean business instead of having a parade over something six months past due.

Any blind support for the administration on this one would be, well, ridiculous.


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"The Democrats' glacial progress is worthy of ridicule and our community ignores it to our own peril."

Suggesting that we can influence Democrats is ridiculous.

There is no political solution to LGBT Equality. Until we change the polls, we continue to lose. Ridicule doesn't change any minds. Conversation does.

Ridiculing, even embarrassing a government's inconsistencies is a perfectly legitimate tactic and in no way precludes changing the hearts and minds of the individuals within that government. Ridicule, shame, embarrassment, and turning the oppressor's own laws and statements back on them was a strategy consistently employed by Nelson Mandela, both before and after his incarceration. If you wish to learn how a civil rights hero managed to do so from prison while simultaneously changing the hearts and minds of many of his jailers, I urge you to read his sublime autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom." There are many, many lessons in there for the LGBTQ community in its struggle to achieve the basic human right of full equality before the law.

Good on you, Bil! The Advocate, eh? Woot! Woot!!

I'm sorry Hugo, but we live in a different time. The world has changed and many in the LGBT community refuse to recognize that. In the old days we had to March/Protest to make sure people knew about our plight. Today, everyone knows.

We have incredible ways to connect and communicate - shouting, insulting and demanding don't help our cause.

You may want to be the "angry victim" and part of a "special minority class" needing "protections," but I just want to be EQUAL. Not special. Not protected. Not a minority.

The majority of Americans believe in our equality, but they're not going to help because you yell and complain - no matter how much volume you add. In fact, the more you do that, the less inclined they are to help.

Getting our fellow citizens to actually care is the important challenge. Demanding help will never be as effective as asking for help.

Hey Andrew! My queer identity certainly doesn't feel like angry victimhood to me. I'm a pretty joyful person, love being gay, and my revolution definitely includes dancing!!

I couldn't agree with you more that equality is the prize. My eye is definitely on it. I also agree that we need to engage our fellow citizens. Perhaps we can agree to disagree on tactics.

All the best!

Thank Hugo.

I'm not going to read "The Long Walk to Freedom," but I understand the thought/suggestion. I have been working the past year on "winning strategies" for LGBT Equality. I have licensed 4 very compelling ideas that confirm our ability to achieve our full equality. I've also commissioned 7 very creative media campaigns that will re-brand and re-define "gay." Not as victims, but as the creative, clever and very valuable people that we are. These campaigns support the four ideas. For the first time in our history we won't be that "gay guy" in the Doritos commercial or the victims in the Prop 8 style election efforts - we be valuable, beautiful and EQUAL human beings.

Our full equality is coming soon - within 3 years. The Movement starts this year. It's exciting.

We'll dance some time. Keep smiling.

The article makes a good point. In addition to the delay, it is worth noting that the inclusion of gender identity protection has appeared merely as a statement on OPM's website rather than in an Executive Order. Thus there will be little cost to reversing this when the next hater discrimination gains power.

But the tide of progress gradually continues ashore.

Bil, I think your Advocate piece was excellent. You're not reaching a Bilerico audience there, and that's the point—different approaches for different audiences.

Yeah, but where would we be if the previous administration was still in office? Not even close or closer.

Why don't we push to elect a third party canidate??? That would scare the bajesus out of the Dems and maybe get them moving!!! Libratarian anyone????
Like your style Bil!!! Happy that you got a shot at the Advocate!!!

Because there is no "political solution." Doesn't matter what Party or what promises, it matters what the people think.

Until we change the polling data - or demonstrate changed data - politicians will vote the view of their constituents. Right know they believe their voters do not believe in our equality. I don't think that's true, but we don't have a way to prove that.

A real Movement might produce that evidence. But, until we let go of the false hope of a political solution, we'll never do the real work to create our equality.

We can either hope for politics to save us or we can actually do something tangible. Hope is not a Plan. Enrolling our fellow citizens is the answer. Maybe after 50 years of failure we're finally ready to figure out how to win - not just survive.

Unless you actually aspire to work for the government, or actually do, perhaps you should spend less time fulminating and more time actually pondering. Your "Rx" sounds exactly like the crap I can listen to on Fox.

1. We are supposed to be, and do try to be apolitical. This may annoy you, but that's not really my problem. My job is to do my job, to often do what the rest of you would balk to do at the pay offered, and often with conditions less than a tip toe through the tulips. I serve my country and my fellow people, can you really say the same?

2. The federal government is actually quite welcoming of GLBT, or else Metropolitan Washington would have an unemployment rate several times the national average when in fact it has one considerably less. The climate has improved immensely with the new president and I'm happy to have competence at the helm for a change. We no longer have Scott Bloch running OSC (the agency that administered protections for GLBT) and now the EEOC (better resourced, higher profile, better funding) would handle those complaints? That would be huge to us! Either way I'll take OSC without Scott Bloch, even if we don't get EEOC.

3. The government is not built to act quickly and that is not a design flaw. Methodical and thinking before acting used to be values Americans held dear, but now it's all shout the loudest and belittle anyone who disagrees with you, and step on anyone to get ahead. It works both ways, and you people rarely saw what went on in the last 8 years to oppose the past administration.

Constantly attacking the government makes you and your team just more Teabaggers. Challenging the government doesn't mean insulting constantly; is the O'Reilly Factor on in your office all the time?

While credit is due to the current Administration, for the gains made, it is slow in coming considering we just suffered through eight years of the biggest A**hole ever elected to public office or at least that is my opinion. As one who falls under the T in LGBT, I know the sting of job loss all too well and frankly I feel ENDA is the most important piece of legislation waiting in Congress for passage. I do not care what tactics are used to get it passed but for gods sake get it passed. We had the votes to pass it from what I could see but now the Democrats are sitting on their hands again. At this rate they will be in the minority come the next mid-term and you can kiss the hope of ENDA goodbye for another 10 years or more.