Editors' note: Ryan Blackhawke is a board member and the director of online communications at the Ingersoll Gender Center.
Those of you who have ever met me can tell you that I can be impetuous and impulsive. I can be a hothead and go off half-cocked before I have all of the facts. I also have very little patience for people who like to criticize others without lifting a finger to help and tend to be undiplomatic as hell. In other words, I will not couch my concerns with the niceties of a civilized society.
I've been guilty on more than one occasion of spreading rumors like the ones that I am about to discuss here. Just ask Bil. I was livid during Ron Gold-gate and slammed Bilerico everywhere that I could. And then I met Bil and got the facts.
That led to me feeling like an idiot, but I learned that getting the facts about something is relatively easy. It involves picking up the phone or meeting someone face-to-face and asking those who would know what is really going on. I'd much rather feel like an idiot with the facts than act like a clueless ass without them.
The people who are in the know don't live in ivory towers. They are very approachable, so that leaves no excuse for insults about their efforts.
So once again, here I sit in full on rant mode, about to lay some facts on you to counteract various rumors that are circulating around an inclusive ENDA. I'm really sick of having to point this out time and again but will continue to do so until it is no longer necessary.
I'm ashamed to say that I participated in perpetuating the rumors that have circled around "the bathroom issue" this week before I got the facts. Then I spent the next day trying to undo some of the damage that I have caused by laying out the facts in every thread that I could on Facebook. Some people listened. Others didn't and this post is for them.
Now, I realize that some people would rather criticize those doing the work instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting involved themselves. They slam our "supposed leaders" for "selling us down the river" on ENDA without realizing that they have the capacity to be a "supposed leader" themselves. It ain't rocket science, folks. Just roll up your sleeves and get to work. It is that simple. Do what our "supposed leaders" have been asking for over the past several years. Get involved. They can't do all of the work by themselves. Before you know it, you'll find your passion and will work tirelessly to create the change that you think needs to happen. You'll sometimes feel that it is a thankless job and you will be right. But you'll do it anyway because you will know that the work you are doing ultimately strengthens your community.
That, my friends, is how "supposed leaders" are born. Or you get fed up, call the people slamming you idiots because you get tired of hearing the lies spread about you and quit. Luckily, our "supposed leaders" haven't quit the scene. They have much more patience than I would if I was in their shoes.
Let's talk about some of these rumors first, followed by my observations as a political junkie and the facts as presented in a national conference call sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality and Transgender Law Center on May 10. On Facebook, I attempted to live-blog the call, summarizing what was being said to the best of my ability. Nothing that I summarized should be taken verbatim unless I mentioned it on my thread. It appears that my efforts in summarizing this call opened up a can of worms. Sorry about that.
Also sorry that some people have such thin skins that all they can see is OMG, someone who was sick of the rumors called the people propagating those rumors idiots instead of realizing that their rumors have no basis in fact. I guess it is OK to call our "supposed leaders" "Gramma Frump" or "St. Barney" but when they get called out as "idiots" for spreading malicious rumors, well then the gloves come off.
Over the past few months, I've heard rumors spanning from "we're being totally dropped from the bill just like in 2007" to "Trans women will be 'exterminated' with the passage of ENDA." Please. Really? Trans women will be marched off to concentration camps where they are to meet their demise? That's what you think an inclusive ENDA entails? Do you really believe that the organizations that work tirelessly day in and day out would work on a bill that includes something like this? Do you really think the sponsors of this bill would allow this? It just ain't so. I may think that Barney Frank is an arrogant ass, but I think he caught a clue after the 2007 debacle and he is now committed to make sure that people in the trans community are protected.
Now, if there was one thing I learned from Creating Change, it is that in order to do the work that must be done and develop more allies for our cause, we must expect good intentions. This means everyone, from our "supposed leaders" to others on the front lines of the progressive movement. When we are running around talking about how our "supposed leaders" want to exterminate us, we end up creating a circular firing squad that harms us all. Now that we are all expecting good intentions, let me lay out the facts.
ENDA is a beginning, not an end. It sets the minimum standards that all states must follow. If you consider the trans people living in states that despise us, this is a welcome change indeed. ENDA does not force employers nor employees to do anything that they don't want to do, but it does create legal consequences should employers choose to act like asshats. In other words, an employer can still treat you like crap but with the passage of ENDA, you can sue them for damages.
NCTE and the other organizations that have taken on the dirty task of working within the political realm to get our issues passed do not have the deep pockets of lobbyists. They have a few paid staff and rely upon us to back them up by calling our congresscritters and telling them what we need from them. NCTE is not hiding anything. They have not released information on the latest iteration of ENDA because they haven't seen it themselves. As it stands right now, ENDA is exactly the same as was introduced earlier in the year because it has not gone to committee for markup. Markup is where the work is done to attach amendments and tweak the language before it goes to a full floor vote.
ENDA will have "bathroom language" and no one likes it, least of all the folks at NCTE. They have been working at educating legislators so that the legislators who support us can limit the effect of any bathroom language.
ENDA is not going to force anyone to use the wrong bathroom. In fact, it will require employers to make reasonable accommodations for us, which is something that we are currently lacking. The EEOC is being charged with creating some regulations regarding "reasonable accommodations." It is thought that this would entail allowing a trans worker unfettered use a single stall restroom. If the restroom is multi-stall, the employer can create some sort of system such as placing a marker on the door so those with a problem with you using the multi-stall restroom can choose to stay out until you finish.
And those single-stall restrooms need to be within a reasonable distance from your work area. In other words, they can't tell you that you have to use the single-stall restroom that is five floors down, all the way to the back of the building. Not ideal, but I find it an acceptable starting point. If employers make reasonable accommodations, then they cannot be sued under ENDA.
ENDA is not going to allow employers to do "panty checks." In fact, you could sue them if they tried to require you to show your genitalia. This is a definite win, considering what happened to Kate Lynn Blatt.
ENDA will not supersede any state laws that already provide protection for gender identity and expression. As I mentioned before, ENDA is a floor, not a ceiling.
Politics is a dirty game and it requires compromise. As a political junkie who thinks that watching C-SPAN is a good time, I can tell you that I have never seen a bill make it from introduction to the president's desk without amendments. We are in the best position ever to limit amendments that would strip our rights from the bill. ENDA has 202 co-sponsors in the House. All of the Democrats on the committee responsible for markup are co-sponsors. If the Republicans succeeded in adding an amendment that would negate the purpose of the bill, it will not make it out of committee. There are 30 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Some of the Democrats are Blue Dogs and may need to be swayed to support an inclusive ENDA. The overall feeling is that they will be able to put a bill on the floor that protects our rights and will be signed into law, assuming it can get past the Senate.
I am fortunate to sit on the board of Ingersoll Gender Center, an organization that has provided peer support services and a speakers bureau for over 30 years. Ingersoll was there for my wife when she transitioned 20 years ago and it was there when I began my transition two years ago.
My work with Ingersoll is so gratifying because I get to see people re-create themselves so that they can live a more authentic life. I've been a grassroots activist since I came out in 1985. Now, I am learning how to work from the inside while not forgetting my roots. I believe that grassroots organizing and institutional organizing both play a very important role in our movement and when working together, can form a powerful force for change.
Will you roll up your sleeves and call or write your congresscritters and tell them to stop running out the clock and get ENDA passed now or will you sit on the sidelines criticizing those of us who will? The choice is yours.