Adam Bink posed some interesting questions yesterday about how DADT is taking attention away from ENDA, whether that's fair, and what it means for the LGBT movement. In 2009, Congress kept on kicking ENDA further and further down; now it's kicking DADT repeal further down the line. That's change we can believe in!
It's nothing new, though, that DADT gets more attention than ENDA even though the latter will help far more people. If we conservatively estimate the size of America's LGB population to be 5%, or 15 million people, then around .44% of LGB people is serving in the armed forces, according to the Williams Institute's most recent numbers. On the other hand, almost every LGB person will eventually have a job, plus ENDA helps transgender people, plus there are millions more people who experience job discrimination based on their sexuality or gender outside the military than within.
So why does DADT get more attention, more polling, better messaging, more straight media, and more overall hoopla than ENDA? I can think of a few reasons.
1. The attention follows the funds. People who have more money to donate to the LGBT movement have more power to control what we focus on, and they also have more power to grow certain programs that speak to their values. Sure, anyone can start an org and try to get more attention on their pet project, but if you're working too many hours at an under-staffed job you're worried about losing if you slack up just a little bit because you have no savings, then you aren't really in the same position to start an org as someone else who calls their LGBT org to order on their yacht while sipping martinis (and there are people like that in the movement, but I have a don't ask, don't tell policy when it comes to naming names).
It's funny how I've heard a couple people within the movement - one who was a major donor and another who works in mainstream media - complain about Tammy Baldwin's domestic partnership legislation, the bill that would grant benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. They each said, independently of one another, that it wasn't a priority that the community came to itself (remember, these people define their own priorities as "the community's" priorities), both scoffed at how it would only help a minority of LGBT people out there (even though more civilians work for the federal government than military folks, and it stands to reason LGBT people would be more likely to be in the bureaucracy than in the military), and both have gotten far more excited by the prospect of overturning DOMA than they ever were about ENDA.
Neither is partial to irony, either.
ENDA's gotten accepted on the official LGBT wish list because it would help most people and because it's been around forever. But that doesn't mean that it's going to be high on that list, or as enthusiastically supported as other items on there.
What that means is that there's more free time for people who want to work on DADT. Plus more staff. Plus they can pay for more polling (and they get more polling on DADT than they do ENDA). They can hob nob with the right people to get media attention drawn to DADT. They can coordinate their message for important events in advance of them happening since fighting DADT is their full-time job. And they can turn out studies about how much money it costs to enforce DADT and yet we never see one on the impact homophobic and transphobic discrimination have on the American economy. Heck, they can staff entire think tanks to work just on DADT, while ENDA's the foster child moving back and forth between HRC, the Task Force, the NCTE, and PAW.
While everyone can, and should, participate in this thing we call the movement, and while there are no set leaders and we're all free to participate how we want, some people will have more leisure time and free money to devote to their pet projects and those projects will end up getting more work done on them because of it. The fact that the people who decide how the movement's money gets spent haven't, for the most part, experienced job discrimination themselves means that ENDA doesn't have a real impact.
These sorts of people are looking for powerful symbols of inclusion - like marriage and military participation - and ENDA's definitely not that. They know they're seen as less-than and they want that to go away, but ENDA's not the way to actually change the general "ick" people get thinking about gay sex. And ENDA doesn't even go as far as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which means it can't be used as proof that we're a bona fide oppressed minority, that "Gay is the new black." It is just about making an incremental improvement in people's lives, and continuing the long process of rooting out systemic homo- and transphobia as it affects economically average queers.
2. DADT repeal is more conservative than passing ENDA. And I don't mean that as a reproach - I support both. But there's a reason Dick Cheney came out against DADT yet hasn't voiced support for ENDA, or why GOProud supports DADT repeal but not ENDA.
One of them is about getting to be a soldier and fight the enemy; the other is about getting a stable income in what's probably a soul-crushing job. One's about defending America's freedom; the other's about economic development of an oppressed minority. One is about fully participating in one of the most regressive institutions in the US; the other's about challenging big businesses to be more PC. One can borrow all sorts of fun national security/fight the terrorists arguments; the other has to depend on, at the most, labor and civil rights rhetoric.
And being further to the right it A) becomes inclusive of centrist and conservative queers, B) becomes more intuitive, since the CW still understands the US as a center-right nation, and C) seems, after 40 years of conservative dominance, to be easier to pass.
3. DADT repeal is a goal, ENDA is a tool. DADT repeal won't end discrimination against LGB people in the military, and it won't even begin to attack discrimination against T-folk in the military. There will still be gay men beaten up in the military for looking at other guys the wrong way in the shower. There will still be lesbian women denied promotions because of their sexuality. There will still be bi folks whose sexuality will be used to blackmail them and keep them quiet. And people who transition while in the military will still be discharged.
But I'll predict right now that the rest of us outside the military will care less about military discrimination after DADT is repealed than we do now because all that stuff will be about a few bad apples, some people not getting along, lingering discrimination, and other free-floating factors that aren't easily described on paper or easily fought with a new law. The situation will often be just as bad as it is now, and just as homophobic. It'll be just as wrong and it'll prevent quite a few people from coming out or signing up. Changing the wording of a law is something concrete that can be accomplished, while on-going advocacy for individuals is difficult, frustrating, and complex.
That's what ENDA is, though. It's the military's second step, after DADT gets repealed, except for the private workforce. There is no specific ban on LGBT people getting jobs, but LGBT people still face discrimination and will need, should ENDA pass, help on a case-by-case basis. ENDA passing Congress and becoming a law won't change much, but it'll be a legal tool to victims of discrimination. DADT getting repealed will immediately change military policy, even if it doesn't actually improve the lives of many LGB people in the military for a while.
4. Straight people like talking about DADT more because they understand why it's wrong and what needs to be changed. It's formal discrimination. It's a clearly-written law that discriminates in a way that's so black and white they can't miss it.
ENDA, on the other hand, adds a protection. It's not about us "getting our rights" or being equal to straight people (since straight people don't have job protections based on sexual orientation in the status quo); it's about rectifying systemic inequality present throughout the workforce. It's about attacking a problem most straight people can't or won't see because they aren't the victim of it and it's not written out in clear block letters. And, lest we forget, many of the same people who think of themselves as supportive of LGBT people even participate in discrimination against us.
ENDA requires them to really put themselves in our shoes and understand that discrimination against LGBT people is prevalent and hurtful. DADT doesn't require that much thought from them for them to look down their noses at homophobic straight people. It's moral superiority without any price at all, which people in the dominant class of an axis of identity love.
5. DADT repeal doesn't include trans people; ENDA does. I'm not going to spell it out any more than that, other than to say that there are a few Ronald Golds in the movement who would cut off their noses to spite their faces. And after 2007, some borderline cases are just burnt out on being forced to pretend to care about trans folk or the larger "LGBT goddammit wasn't it easier when we were just gay instead of this dumb list of letters community."
6. It's more fun to argue with fundies about DADT than ENDA. This links back in with why straight people like talking about DADT more, but it's also why our media prefers it and why it attracts more attention both in and out of the LGBT community.
Their arguments against DADT are just plain funny. Gays will attack straights in the military (as if we'll outnumber them). Gays will spring a boner while in the battlefield. Showers will become as steamy as a Cinemax movie. It's not meeeee who's homophobic, but other soldiers from rural areas who are. The military's about traditional values, and sodomy isn't a traditional value.
On ENDA? It's usually something about lawsuits, about how churches will be forced to ordain gay clergy, or about transgender people using showers and bathrooms. Basically, their arguments are things that are just false or the opposite of what we believe or offensive. But they're not funny or ridiculous. They don't make good Daily Show fodder and they don't create a good hook for a Washington Post column. And they're usually repeated so often, with no inspiration or creativity, so they don't even make headlines in LGBT media.
Elaine Donnelly is crazy and Dan Choi looks like a hero, but do we even know the name of the head fundie against ENDA? It's all their orgs, I suppose, so it's not about personalities. This one's just about the issue. It's doesn't make for good media.
While it's nice that Barack Obama mentioned DADT in the SOTU, we'll have to wait and see on that one. Nathaniel Frank has already pronounced it dead in Congress for this year, Congressional sources are telling media anonymously that they're advising Democrats to ignore it this year, HRC's been saying DADT repeal won't happen before the midterms for ages, and the Defense Department said it needs a year to study the issue (and who knows how long to move on it after that).
The momentum is still with ENDA, which is further along the legislative process than DADT is. And Obama's words didn't move it any closer, even if part of the discussion of the issue we've seen these past few weeks was because of his SOTU. When his DoD is specifically saying it won't happen this year, I don't see much hope in him pushing for it this year.