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By Marc Salomon

Guest Editorial

October 3, 2007

Lesbians and gays have been working and waiting to move the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) for almost 20 years now. Lesbians and gays have organized intensely for 20 years before that to get to the point where we might move towards a place where legislation would become viable, and the climate is warming up for us in Congress.

Our movement has been distracted and impeded by a series of strategic blunders such as Clinton I's glib MTV promise of support for gays in the military in the 1992 campaign which became the disastrous focus of gay rights throughout the 1990s or the legal campaign for same sex marriage.

Throughout the past two decades, far and away the goals that polls indicate lesbians and gays support are workplace and housing discrimination protections. The focus of our movement has been hijacked onto issues with much narrower and conservative constituencies like same sex marriage and gays in the military. All folks have to be housed and work but not everyone gets married or serves in the military. Those hijacked issues have crashed into the ground, leaving our movement weaker as a result and bolstering the fundamentalist homophobic Christians who hate us all.

For all the whining from Democrats about Green support for Nader in 2000 installing Bush II into the White House, grand gestures like Gavin Newsom's civil disobedience of allowing same sex marriage in 2004 as a means to consolidate his position after a narrow election victory the year earlier--playing political tiddlywinks with our hearts--just might have contributed to Bush II's reelection by mobilizing the fundie base in mid western swing states, delaying enaction of ENDA.

The story of gay and lesbian rights over the past fifteen years has been one of stunning incompetence on the part of advocates despite a sophisticated and well-funded organizing apparatus and the strategic blunders by the Democrat Party to the extent that we've made no gains nationally, even when government was completely Democratic in 1993 and 1994 and allegedly friendly to our interests.

Trans folks have been integral to queer organizing since before forever, but have not organized for federal trans civil rights legislation to the extent that the mainstream lesbian and gay groups have, so tracking public opinion, Congress is cooler to their position. Trans folks did that kind of organizing work in California, but even here, the victory in the assembly and at the Board of Supervisors for health benefits was razor thin. There is no Mark Leno in Congress.

For every central valley Neanderthal Republican in the California Assembly there are a handful of fundie Christian Republicans in the Congress who will go to the mat to oppose trans protections, because unlike the Democrats, Republicans know how to play for keeps and do. With a fifteen seat House majority, Democrats have little room to maneuver, and given their stunning and repeated demonstrations of utter strategic incompetence --Democrats hold the purse strings yet the criminal Iraq war rages on -- their margin of error right now is less than the exposure that the inclusive bill involves.

What people supporting trans inclusion in ENDA are saying here, and let's be clear, is that the status quo, it being okay to fire gay men and lesbians until there are protections for trans folks, will hold for years to come. This means that lesbians and gays in the flyover in addition to trans folks will be dismissible from their jobs just for being lesbian or gay until ENDA passes.

I cannot support a stand where tens of millions will continue to be at risk in order for posturing coastal activists to take a principled yet failed stand that will fail to protect hundreds of thousands more in the sticks. That would stand as a victory for the fundamentalist right wing and impede what little momentum exists after the debacles of gays in the military and same sex marriage. Just like gays in the military and same sex marriage appeal to a smaller constituency than plain, vanilla civil rights, trans civil rights antagonizes opponents, appeals to a smaller constituency and puts the protections of the many at risk for the nonviable protections of the few.

Civil rights are not things to be asked for or to be entitled to because folks have worked hard for years. All that matters at that level is what kind of political power can be brought to bear to exact favorable outcomes. Each successive movement has had to fight to wrest civil rights from the government--there have never been any civil rights gifts bestowed except to corporations. And there are race and class components to this precession of civil rights.

Blacks had to wait 100 years between reconstruction and the civil and voting rights acts to get de jure protections that still have yet to fully materialize in the real world.

Some early feminists tried to get protections for women into the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, but imagine what would have happened had the freed slaves not been granted minimal civil rights because the amendments failed for lacking feminist content?

When women organized, fought for and won the right to vote in the decades leading up to victory in 1920, what would have happened had school desegregation or civil or voting rights for blacks been the fatal condition of passage? Or when blacks finally got civil and voting rights in the mid 1960s, what would have happened had a nascent lesbian and gay movement insisted that we get protection as well as blacks or nobody would?

For better and for worse, the history of civil rights expansion in the US has been a race and class tainted process that has been a study in incrementalism. Unless there is a viable model for bringing a progressive perspective to that process, and I don't see much progressive in Congress these days, then we are stuck with that model. It might make activists feel good to "fight the good fight," but that is slim solace to the bull dyke who gets fired in Kentucky or the nelly queen who gets the pink slip (but doesn't wear one) in Amarillo--just for being a homo.

All things being equal, trans protections belong in ENDA and all subsequent civil rights laws. But the insertion of trans protections into this most recent version of ENDA was done without the requisite prepatory political work required for it to be viable. The political strategy for a lesbian and gay ENDA that has been followed is different than a strategy for a trans inclusive ENDA. This is not because there is any fundamental difference in civil rights rather that in the absence of a successful educational strategy, legislators are not convinced that both are equivalent at this time and won't support it.

Trans folks must autonomously chart their own future, but to my mind it would be a strategic blunder to split the bills and allow both to go forward with the trans bill failing--that would only embolden the fundies.

I'd recommend that the trans bill be tabled until a strategy and an educational campaign can be executed that will change the political realities to ones more favorable for advancement.

LGBT activists in liberal and progressive coastal cities have the luxury to engage in philosophical horse trading like this because we enjoy job and housing protections at the state and local levels. But we need to step aside from our privileged positions to consider the tens of millions of lesbians and gays who live in middle America. Surveys show that 2/3 of Americans support job and housing protections for lesbians and gays. Are those numbers anywhere near that for trans folks? This is because lesbians and gays have done the work for decades to make our position increasingly mainstream. Asking us to wait further after we've worked hard and waited for decades until trans folks catch up is simply unacceptable.

Lesbians and gays have organized for basic civil rights for decades. At every turn, that struggle has been sandbagged by last minute salvos towards the narrower and more conservative of our constituencies. In this case, trans folks are narrower but not more conservative but threaten to derail ENDA. If ENDA goes down because of a third "friendly fire" distraction, then that will deplete the political momentum that has been carefully nurtured and successively squandered for decades and create fault lines which will be difficult to repair and last for some time. If ENDA passes even just for lesbians and gays, it would represent a major defeat for fundamentalist Christians and social conservatives.

It is always easier to build upon and consolidate successes than to recover from successive failures.

Marc Salomon facilitated the successful inclusion of a transgendered civil rights plank in the platform of the California Green Party prior to similar action by the California Democratic Party.

Marc Salomon (far left)


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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