Robbi Cohn, a strong advocate for the trans community, has written an important piece in QNotes.
...this will probably be deemed contentious and recalcitrant. I know how important the issue of marriage equality is to many within the gay and lesbian communities. You may have wondered why some of your trans friends are turning their collective backs regarding this issue. It's not that we don't support the general agenda of equal rights. We do. And, it isn't that spousal equality doesn't affect trans individuals. It does.
...For a significant portion of the trans population, life has become a matter of survival. For a majority of trans identified individuals, life is substantially burdensome. And, too many trans persons are marginalized, vilified, ostracized and, in some cases, murdered.
Yet, the history of trans activism within the LGBT umbrella has seen a consistent pattern of pejorative treatment. If it wasn't the baseless and untenable argument that we should be patient and wait our turn, then it was the patronizing and condescending handling of trans issues or the co-opting of trans tragedy as a fundraising tool to increase the coffers of Gay, Inc. and its single-minded effort to work on legislation paramount to the gay community. To wit: marriage equality, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).
Strong words, indeed. The full article is well worth a read if you're interested in what makes ours an "LGBT" community, rather than a "gay" community.
But is this criticism fair? Can people be blamed if they want marriage equality and trans rights too?
A lot of this comes down to resources. As noted in my Comment of the Week post, Jarrod Chlapowski of Servicemembers United found, in his conversations with community leaders, that ENDA couldn't get resources because many organizations are so tied up with marriage equality to the exclusion of other issues.
This intersects with an editorial by Kerry Eleveld of Equality Matters, in which she says that the pols in charge fumbled the ball in a way that left permanent scars on ENDA's chances, partly because those pols weren't honest with the community, and still haven't been. As a result, we're miles away from ENDA passage. Meanwhile, the gobs of time, money and effort thrown at the marriage issue have paid off by making this into a winnable issue because the American public understands it and it will help gay people around the country, particularly in rural areas. Meanwhile, Congressmembers are still in the dark on trans issues. Differing with both Cohn and Chlapowski on the resources issue, she notes that "ENDA and marriage equality are simply not an either-or proposition. Fortunately, the resources required to advance each of these issues at the federal level share similarities but don't infringe on each other. And choosing between them is not an option." It may not be an option, Kerry, but it may wind up being a choice.
More importantly, as Cohn notes, there is a fundamental contradiction between the representation accorded to the gay part of the community and the trans part of the community. When it comes to marriage equality, the tactic of incrementalism for civil unions is unacceptable, but a transgender rights bill from which "public accommodations" protection was ignominiously stripped is okay.
Frankly, I'm not sure whether to oppose the Maryland trans workplace protection bill on these grounds, or just be thankful that something, anything, is happening to ease the burden, however slight, on trans people. I get calls from people every week telling horrific stories of losing jobs and inability to get any jobs, for which I can do little. Unfortunately, it seems that the bill has been sidelined by the legislature, so maybe it's beside the point by now. But for the future, and a better understanding of the strategy, do you support or oppose the Maryland bill? Do you support or oppose incremental progress in marriage by seeking civil unions legislation? Is there a contradiction in our movement advocacy?