By Marc Salomon
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
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
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
Marc Salomon (far left)
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