Sara Whitman

ENDA Rift: Throw Tammy Baldwin Under the Bus?

Filed By Sara Whitman | November 08, 2007 7:26 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: amendment, bisexual, Congress, ENDA, lesbian, Tammy Baldwin, transgender

A historic vote took place yesterday. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was finally passed, having first been introduced in 1974. Thirty three long, hard fought years and the measure “was approved 235 to 184, perhaps reflecting polls showing that a plurality of Americans believe homosexuality should be accepted."

image021.jpgAll did not celebrate the bill, though. Through what was deemed necessary, strategic moves, the gender identity piece of the law was removed in order to assure, the community was told, passage. In an attempt to reintroduce the removed language, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) presented an amendment, she said, “because I strongly believe that we must prohibit job discrimination against people because of their gender identity.” It was not a long fight on her part but a symbolic one. Some were ready to throw Baldwin under the bus for ultimately voting for the bill.

As this entire debate has been, because President Bush as promised a veto.

I appreciate and support Congresswoman Baldwin- she was true to her beliefs. She also voted Yes to ENDA without her amendment, because, “The importance of non-discrimination laws cannot be overstated. Substantively, they provide legal remedies and a chance to seek justice.” If I were on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday? I would have voted Yes, too.

It would have made me sick. But I would have done it.

What has been missing from the debate, mainly focused on transgender people with foes playing up fears of penises showing up in women’s locker rooms, is the very real discrimination against all people- straight, gay, bisexual and transgender- for not conforming to “rules” about gender expression. It’s about the straight bartender who refused to wear makeup at a Reno casino and ended up losing, the court siding with the casino, ruling she was not unfairly dismissed from her job as much as it's about Susan Stanton losing her job when she announced she would be transitioning.

For me, it's personal- I'm not a petite blond in a bikini. I get called sir on a daily basis. I had a job where I was asked to wear a skirt for client meetings. I interviewed at another and refused because at this small start up software company in the early 90’s, women were not allowed to wear pants. I love getting dressed up but please don’t ask me to wear a dress. It makes me miserable. If you ask me to wear make-up, I’m going to look like a clown.

It's personal because one of my kids struggles with gender identity. I watch his pain and know there is a very real chance he is transgender. Threaten my children's rights and I am no longer sane... throw him under the bus and I'll go out and pick that damn bus up and throw it off the road.

And it's personal because it is a statement about my community. What we are willing to do, and how we are willing to walk in the world.

It is a devastating loss. In 1987, Massachusetts passed a gay and lesbian civil rights bill. Twenty years later, we still have no gender identity protections. The only state in the country with legally recognized gay marriage and no protections for gender expression.

As a community, we need to reframe where we are. It's not about making chicken salad out of chicken shit, which implies making due with what we have. It's about creating a calculated, thoughtful strategy for moving forward, building on what we have. It's about making stone soup. I believe that’s what Congresswoman Baldwin was trying to do. Regardless, I am going to support her because I am unwilling to throw anyone under the bus.

Now we have to move forward. Together.

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Hi Sara,

It's personal for me because my friends have no F-ing rights. It's personal for me because i see people who don't have the stones or the fortitude to do what is right and tell the congressional leadership to go to hell with a bill that is not inclusive. And yes it's person to me because according to my daughter my grandson may be transgender, And she would know what to look for.

Maybe it's time some people looked up the meaning on
integrity and walked their talk.

Maybe by the time your son is old enough to have his own children there wall be equal rights instead of this social apartheid that exists now.

Take care
Susan Robins

You know, if it were me on that House floor, I'd have voted against it. Why? Because I'd know that it was was nothing more than a symbolic exercise, and it was virtually impossible that anyone would be denied employment protections as a result. Knowing that, I'd feel free to make the right symbolic statement, and I don't think passing 3685 was the right one to make.

What I am heartened by, though, is a very new but hopefully also very useful phenomenon among Democrats, making it a point to publicly pledge in some way to work for protections for transpeople. Barney did it, Tammy did it, Keith Ellison, did it, others too.

If there's any real positive result of all this, it's that even extreme unlikelihood ENDA somehow were to become law this time, I believe it can now be honestly said that Congress may not give us our rights quickly as we'd like, but they will not be able to ignore us or forget us anymore like htye used to. Try as they might, Frank and House Democrats cannot remove the stain from their symbolic trophy,that their victory was won by disenfranchising the poorest and most harshly oppressed LGBT Americans in order to accomplish it.

Wow, Sara... agreed on all fronts.

I wrote my own response yesterday from a labor perspective, in the form of an open letter to HRC. As the folks at national Pride At Work seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, I'm going to repost it here in case anybody else finds it useful or cathartic.

Please forgive me its length. I wasn't exactly focused on brevity when I wrote it...

As a former HRC staffer, labor and LGBT rights advocate, and self-identified butch, I feel I must express deep disappointment both over HRC's recent actions and the unfortunately celebratory tone of your communications about today's vote on a non-inclusive ENDA.

To me, and I believe to many other HRC members, the passage of a non-inclusive ENDA was not a victory, but rather an event by which it was made clear that some of our leaders are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces - or perhaps that they are, if you'll permit the use of another axiom, simply not seeing the forest for the trees.

No doubt you have heard from many others about the sense of betrayal that they feel, and no doubt you have received very many angry e-mails and calls today. I will spare you my ire, which is not to say that I am not upset, and I must admit to the fact that I do not feel betrayed, as this end result is very close to what I expected all along. What I really feel is, just as I said, disappointed, and perhaps a little left out.

As for why I feel left out, Riki Wilchins summed that up more eloquently than I ever could in her commentary in the October 3rd edition of The Advocate. But, my primary disappointment lies in the fact that I believe a fundamental strategic error has been made today, and the days leading up to it.

I have moved between Democratic politics, union organizing, and LGBT rights work throughout my ten-year career as an advocate. I am nothing if not pragmatic when it comes to incremental progress on issues of social justice, and many times have found myself on the flip side of this coin, arguing the need for patience in what must almost always be a long-term struggle.

However, there is a place where I draw the line on compromising, not just morally, but also strategically. That place comes from a lesson I have learned over and over again as a part of the labor movement: an injury to one is an injury to all.

Building a strong Union requires unity. It requires that each worker knows that when the boss tries to single out one of their co-workers, their response must be to circle up and protect that person. Why? Because it could just as easily be them, next time. Because it shows a recognition that an attack on one person's rights and dignity doesn't just attack that person, it attacks everyone else's fundamental rights and basic dignity, as well. Because it demonstrates that those workers fully understand the nature of power, and that to be powerful, they must be united.

There is a reason that the phrase "divide and conquer" is used so frequently - it highlights a fundamental truth about the nature of power, and how one acquires and loses it. I would not dream of accepting a multi-tiered wage or benefits scheme at the bargaining table, no matter how juicy those wages or benefits might look, unless I truly had no other option. Instead, I would go back and tell the affected workers that sort of proposal from management was straight out of the "how to divide and weaken the Union" playbook, and encourage them to hang tough and fight like hell for fair wages and benefits for all.

What disappoints me so much is that what is common sense to just about every Union organizer in this country seems to have escaped some of our community's topmost leaders. Given the opportunity to build unity, some instead chose to stick a crowbar in one of the biggest fissures that already exists among us LGBTs, and pull. It is quite clear to me that the ones who made that choice, including some of HRC's leadership, have neglected one of the most fundamental lessons on the nature of building power for any group of people.

I find that distressing, to say the least. If we do not learn from history, it is bound to repeat itself. One of the biggest reasons that the labor movement started to decline in this country is that it pulled its focus inward, away from building power for and unity among its members.

I believe that we must stop ourselves from making some of those same mistakes here. I beg you to take the opportunity to step back and re-examine this issue in the months ahead.


Wendy Howell

Bravo, Sara. Beautifully said.

Although I have studiously avoided commenting on the ENDA controversy, I'm finally ready to say this: If the votes simply were not there to include gender identity, then Baldwin, Frank and the rest of Congress who voted YES did exactly what they should have done: Send this forward-moving bill to Bush and make him sign it or veto it.

If, miracle of miracles, he signs it, we'll have a quick party, and then immediately begin working on passing gender identity protection.

Politics can be ugly, ugly business --- but history shows that rights for any group move forward incrementally: between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the rights of African-Americans evolved in a penumbral twilight for 101 years ... and even that was not the end of the story.

Unfortunately, the essence of politics is often compromise and incremental progress --- and history demonstrates it again and again and again.

I still think the political hay that could have been made from the only openly lesbian members of Congress voting against ENDA was too serious to ignore. The right wing would have had a field day and, sadly, lots of idiotic Blue Dog Democrats would have bought into it hook, line and sinker. After all, "equality" for homosexuals must not be that important if even the lesbian voted against it.

OTOH, think about the symbolism of the only lesbian in the House feeling so strongly about trans-inclusion that she voted against a bill, apparently in her own self interest. It's hard to imagine a stronger signal than that for HRC.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 9, 2007 6:18 AM

Eloquently and powerfully stated, Sara. Thank you.

A.J. - You waited this long just to say that?? LOL. What do you think everyone advocating for a non-inclusive ENDA has been arguing the whole time? Compromise this… baby steps that…

You know what? We lost. We lost the argument in the community to have a inclusive ENDA. I hate to lose but I did.

We are so few, with so little money and resources, we cannot let this create an irreparable rift. If we do? We will ALL lose.

That doesn't mean give up- it means we need to work on reframing the issue. It's not about penises in women's locker rooms... it's about trans kids and their self esteem and suicide rate. It's about gender identity which includes a lot of women- straight, lesbian and bisexual. We have to get more voices in the debate because it's not over.

But the other day? I would have voted Yes. I would done so to remain a solid political force. It's what the Right Wing has done for years and spanked us mercilessly over and over in votes.

I don't think that makes me a sell out. I think it makes me a participant who will not be shooed away from the table.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | November 9, 2007 4:37 PM

In a response to a post at EndaBlog, “A Question That Should Have Been Asked”, about your piece I wrote the following:

Gender identity inclusion was not in her [Tammy Baldwin's] consciousness when she was in the Wisconsin legislature. Even if it had been, like she is junior to Barney now, she was way junior to that state’s civil rights bill’s definitely Barney-esque (if not worse) titular gay rights bill author (who would’ve had to have been kowtowed to to make any adjustments to it then.) In other words, it wouldn’t have been her call in Wisconsin, either. One thing’s for certain, in her district, it wouldn’t have been an obstacle to her Congressional aspirations.

I get the sense that she, like many activists and politicians I’ve known, has been evolving — particularly in the new millennium — and that her conciousness then is far different than it is now. Is it good enough? I’m not entirely certain that her vote here provides enough evidence to judge.

For one thing, I know that she and her staff were cut out of the decision-making loop on SPLENDA by Pelosi and Frank when the HRC was, instead, solidly in it. I speculate that the only thing left she had to trade with was her vote and that she traded it for getting her amendment approved for the calendar in Rules — and may well have originally intended to get a record vote on it and had to trade that as well in a last-minute doublecross from her leadership to get even the few minutes they gave her/the amendment even then.

Would I have done that? It’s a tough call. There was merit in getting the issue of gender identity on the floor — and her vote preserved whatever chances Baldwin might have in the future to act on our behalf and that of her constituents — but was it worth the price to her integrity and her soul?

I, for one, am glad it was not my choice to make. Either way, I think she was trying to do the best she could with what she had to work with which, thanks to the Frank/the HRC/Pelosi cabal, wasn’t much.

One more thing…
I suspect, too, that her timing on calling for the amendment’s withdrawal was no accident. She used up all her time without getting in the withdrawal request, knowing full well that Souder had retained some of his and that he was representing people who did want to force a record vote on that issue when (and no doubt because) it was obvious from all the hateful crap the cabal had been pulling that Pelosi and the DCCC wanted to avoid one at all costs.

Baldwin had to know that Souder could legally request the vote and would get that request in prior to her getting recognized to withdraw — and that the chair would have to expose ON THE RECORD for all the world to see just how far it would go to keep that record vote from taking place, including undertaking a highly illegal ruling to do so.

Yet Baldwin was able to preserve her plausible deniability in the process. The more I think about it, the more respect I’m developing for that sweetly innocent-faced young Congresswoman from Wisconsin!

Granted, there are ifs on ifs in my thinking above but they're all supported by observations -- either my own direct knowledge or others'. I don't think this one is as black and white as it might seem and that I originally thought it to be.

Either way people assess Baldwin, I have to applaud Sara's stone soup analogy. I have several recommendations to add to that pot, not the least of which is, now that the LCCR has written themselves out of any consideration as trustworthy allies and, as they were the force demanding that we be denied a real civil rights bill and would have to settle for ENDA -- one that was employment-only, that we start from a truly clean slate and return to a comprehensive amendatory bill as well as a gender-identity-inclusive one. For one thing, attaching to existing statute should help us put all the crap about expanded religious exemptions and watered down, 'maybe it's included and maybe it's not' disparate impact coverage to rest.

As for the infrastructure needed, we sure as shootin' can't afford to keep giving the HRC Hill work primacy, which means we'll have to two things:

1) Create a functional lobbying coalition with increased Hill emphasis from NGLTF (which was lost in the era when Elizabeth Birch was secretly conspiring with her new and mostly undisclosed lover, Hilary Rosen, to kill the Task Force altogether) and strongly encourage groups like the Equality Federation to step up their participation to include a substantive Hill lobbying force as well; and

2) Match or exceed the HRC's 'putting the money where the mouth is' efforts by adding a campaign fund to NGLTF and/or a UnitedENDA coalition. My recommendation is that it be modeled more after a combination of EMILY's List and Act Blue emphasizing check-bundling and other direct-from-donor donations as opposed to a straight-up C5 like the HRC -- if only to provide a solid contrast between organizing that involves and trusts our people instead of one that demands rigid, 'I know better than you ever will' top down control.

bill perdue | November 9, 2007 6:41 PM

The San Franciso Chronicle takes a better approach:

“On Protecting Gay Americans from Workplace Discrimination Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) vote tests our values

An incrementalist law is a blunder

…the recent history of the LGBT movement suggests that incremental approaches sometimes prove effective, still American history is rife with counter-examples where the increments won were far too modest and actually slowed progress and where the sacrifices made were unconscionable by most any measure.

With ENDA, Frank is again leading the charge to pass a fatally compromised bill. While most incrementalist approaches to civil rights have sought to protect an entire group or “class” of people, and gradually expand protections, Frank’s ENDA compromise divides the LGBT community by protecting some members while betraying others. The scaled-back version of the bill would protect many lesbians and gays, true, but it leaves all transgender people unprotected from employment discrimination. According to several studies, UNEMPLOYMENT AMONG TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IS BELEIVED TO EXCEED 70 PERDENT. (my caps, BP)

As a result, no national LGBT organization supports the Frank compromise, and hundreds of organizations around the country have risen up to oppose Frank’s efforts. Even worse, President Bush already has pledged to veto ENDA under any circumstances. So if the Congress is to vote on principle, one can’t help but ask: What principle?” November 7th, 2007

Incrementalism is for two groups of people. Those too tired to fight who should get out of the way and those who are trying to stop us who will get pushed out of the way by the needs of the fight for full equality,

Nick: Laugh at my post all you want --- but I did say something new. I posted what my view on this matter is.

If you disagree ... well, there seems to be a lot of disagreement in the air, and as others have said, this is a tough call. Even Sara herself said that.

And, Nick, you are mis-quoting me and others: I don't believe that anyone in the GLBT community is advocating a non-inclusive bill. The question is whether we should pass what we have the votes for, or play a "This isn't good enough" game that, in and of itself, won't do a damn thing to get even one more Congressmember to vote in favor of T-rights. Merely playing stubborn won't do that --- but continued lobbying will.

And continued pro-T lobbying is exactly what I do advocate.