We have been speculating here at The Bilerico Project as to why ENDA failed in this Congressional session.
Of course, the fight for ENDA isn't over in this session, but even if it passes the House, it's likely too late in the session to move through the Senate. It would be largely a symbolic victory, though an important symbol for future Congresses.
Rebecca Juro says the media, and particularly MSNBC, shares some of the blame. Joe Mirabella says it's the gay leadership's poor messaging underlying that, and several commenters also pointed the finger at LGBT community apathy.
But I think there's a far more important cause that underlies all three of these factors.
That is Gay Inc's change in strategy that occurred in the early 2000s.
I enjoyed both Rebecca Juro's post and Joe Mirabella's. It's post-mortem analysis that is sorely needed.
But I think that, while there is plenty of "blame" to go around, we ought also to look for the strategy underlying the tactical failures of MSNBC, gay leadership and apathy.
Gay Inc. made a decision in the early 2000's to move away from targeting traditional civil rights movement discrimination, and concentrate almost exclusively on marriage equality via the "good as you" theme. I believe the thinking was that the campaign for marriage equality would drag the rest along in its wake.
That agenda came from our advocacy leaders, who live in an environment insulated from most LGBT people in terms of economics, education and culture. But most LGBT people are also not necessarily prepared to do such analysis in understanding why their advocacy leaders would push them into marriage equality as the number one issue.
Discrimination was moved way down the list in the hierarchy. It was never abandoned, but it limped along.
Marriage equality as a lead issue has proved largely a bust, having been stripped away from Americans in 31 states, in every single state in which it has been placed on the ballot. It has been quietly rotated out for a while, while we lick our wounds and regroup. But the philosophy behind it, the "good as you" philosophy, has not changed.
ENDA, and other non-discrimination measures do not fit with the world-view of "good as you." It requires making the argument that we are victims of oppression, and require liberation, something which I think most gay leaders do not feel.
Theirs is the "formal equality" mindset, under which all that need be done to achieve equality is to ensure that laws are neutral towards us. "Substantive equality," the idea that laws need to do something affirmative to correct the many forms of institutional bias against us, is a more radical proposition.
They have their high-paying jobs and their political friendships, and are treated as equal in their gay-friendly enclaves. They don't feel the oppression, and want to portray themselves as winners in the cultural Monopoly game. They want to wear Dolce and Gabbana, and hobnob with celebrities and politicians. Hell, who wouldn't?
As a f'rinstance, Ann Rostow recently made the argument that ENDA is "as useful to 21st century gay rights as a Betamax player." Heck, she's probably got DVR and TIVO. I don't even own a television. Not that I'm poor anymore; I've made it back to the ranks of the middle class. But I know where I was a few years ago, and you don't want to go to that neighborhood.
But this "good as you" strategy has led us to a place where ENDA is not something that Gay Inc really wants to push in the ways that count. Oh, they have their "ENDA Now" website and their stodgy "call your Congressmembers" emails, but there's no real creativity or money going into the issue. Prop 8 cost us $82 million. How much have we spent on ENDA? Not $82 million, I can tell you that.
Rachel Maddow is being advised by these folks, and for all I know, she's of the same mindset. Heck, she's got her fancy degree and her popular TV show, and a few shekels now. She's heard of ENDA and knows what it's about. Can we blame Gay Inc totally for her total failure to follow up on ENDA? For her calling "gender identity" by the name "sexual identity" as I heard her say when mentioning ENDA in passing last year?
Gay Inc. isn't helping, sure, but it's this underlying mindset of "good as you" that is the real problem here.
Marriage equality had to be put aside for a few years to regroup after Prop 8 and Maine. The fallback was DADT repeal. The reasoning I hear from a lot of folks for their support of DADT over ENDA, is that DADT is a specific law that prohibits gay people from doing something. There's no law against LGBT people working. So DADT logically comes first.
I hear the words, but I don't get it. There is a law against LGBT people being open in the workplace: it's called "at-will" employment law. While it doesn't specifically single out LGBT people, it's a law that acts on millions of LGBT people, making them unemployed, underemployed, subject to harassment and requires being closeted.
Does the fact that the military singles out gays make it a more pressing issue? It does if your goal is "good as you." We can't be "good as you" when there's a federal statute singling us out. But what about the statutes singling out gay federal workers who can't receive domestic partner benefits? What about the the DOMA statute singling out gay people who can't get married? What about adoption? There are plenty of statutes and laws singling us out.
And I'm guessing they are all more important than ENDA to people in the "good as you" camp.
The reason for ENDA's failure isn't MSNBC, and it isn't poor messaging, and it isn't LGBT apathy.
It's this "we're as good as you" focus that wishes to leave behind issues of oppression and liberation. Us? Oppressed? Liberation? Oh no. We're as good as you. We're just like you, with the exception that our partners are of the same sex. It's just these old fashioned laws that need changing.
What? That's not true of bisexual and transgender people? Oh, well, um, we value all parts of our community. Uh, ENDA is important and we'll continue to demand equality. But the votes just aren't there. What's that? We have enough votes? Oh, I meant the political will isn't there. But we'll continue to educate Congress. We don't have much money left for ENDA, though, because there is a lot on our plate.
The truth is that, in the minds of many Americans, we are not as good as them. That's why the "good as you" campaigns are failing. Even DADT repeal hasn't succeeded, even if that compromise measure passes. That compromise specifically says that the President and the Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff get to say whether our being begrudgingly allowed into the military will cause any problems for the normal soliders. As long as we don't cause any disruption, they might let us in.
There's no non-discrimination clause in the compromise measure. That's because Gay Inc wants to work from the assumption that everyone knows we are "good as you." This is a totally unwarranted assumption. It exists in the minds only of some liberals in DC and New York and San Francisco.
As the picture at the beginning of this post sarcastically says, the key to success is pretending you already have it, and selling it to others. But "good as you" hasn't brought us any success. It's tantamount to pretending that we have been successful.
ENDA died because it's not about "good as you." Gay Inc didn't push it because it's not consistent with their "good as you" thinking, and MSNBC ignored it for the same reason. LGBT people didn't get behind it because Gay Inc and the media sabotaged it for the same reason.
Sure, we'll try for ENDA again in the next Congressional session. But with "good as you" thinking, it's not something we really want to put much time or money into.