Thursday, November 08, 2007

One For All And All For None

Way back in 1974, Representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch introduced to Congress the Equality Act of 1974 which would have added sexual orientation as a protected class to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The “Gay Rights Bill,” as it became known, failed to make it through the House of Representatives.

In 1996, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was proposed, and would have made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in hiring and employment and the treatment of employees. It failed in the Senate on a vote of 49-50.

This past April, Representatives Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Deborah Pryce and Chris Shays re-introduced ENDA as HR 2015. That version would have protected people based on sexual orientation as well as gender identity – with exemptions for small businesses, religious organizations and the military.

In September Representative Barney Frank backed away from HR 2015 and introduced a new bill, HR 3685, which would not provide protection from discrimination based on gender identity – only sexual orientation. Rep. Frank assumed his new position due to a lack of support for a gender-identity inclusive bill. He, and the Human Rights Campaign, have taken the position that a limited, but passed, ENDA is better than no ENDA at all. Apparently, there is a glimmer of hope that the federal government could possibly decide that it’s time to pass a law to protect people from being fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation – but there is no hope that the time has come to stop discriminating against trannies.

HR 3685, in effect, would make it illegal to discriminate against “straight-acting” gay men, lesbians and bisexuals – but would still allow for discrimination against transsexuals and transvestites and anyone who gender-identifies in a way that differs from traditional gender roles. The vote on HR 3685 could take place today. Of course, it would still have a long way to go to become federal law.

I am so disheartened by the angry discussions that I’ve witnessed around whether we, as a community, should support the passage of HR 3685 and leave out the protections for gender identity, or whether we should hold out until there’s a possibility for an all-inclusive law covering all sexual orientations and gender identities. The differing viewpoints have created a rift in the community – with the Human Rights Campaign supporting HR 3685, and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force refusing to support the non-inclusive bill.

Over at Joe.My.God. the debate is raging with a lot of commenters taking the position that it’s better to have something than nothing, and that once the Gs, the Ls and the Bs of the GLBT community are protected – then we can work towards having the Ts added later. I think that’s a valid position – it’s not my position – but it’s a strategy that might work. But, what really stung me, in reading the comments, was how many people were taking the position that “they” are not “us” - so fuck ‘em. Some of the gay commenters expressed a lot real hatred and disgust for transsexuals.

On Joe.My.God. Pintuck wrote: I oppose "LBGT" on a more primal level than the ENDA. I'm not a lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered person. I'm a gay man. Your lamely-imposed label means nothing to me and has no bearing on my life. And that's a simple statement of fact. If that makes me your enemy, then may your hate give you an ulcer, cause I don't give a fuck….And most of all, a drag queen who wants to cut off his dick and give himself a frankenpussy is NOT a "gay issue"!

Over at Michaelangelo Signorile’s blog, Southern Decency said: Trans advocates were behaving as an appendix to gay/lesbian-rights activism, assuming that when gay/lesbian rights pass, trans would automatically included because gays/lesbians have some sort of historical debt to the trans people. Well, they were fooling themselves, and I can't help but find some fault with them as well. That they're now whining like you do, instead of engaging in the necessary activism and education, shows that they are part of the problem.

It’s just fucking unbelievable to me that these people, who are gay themselves, could be so disinterested in standing up for the most vulnerable of our community – and whether they like it or not, those who live their gender in ways that aren’t traditional are a part of our community. It seems to me that people who express such animosity towards transsexuals, drag queens, drag kings, transvestites and the various other folks who fall under the “T” in LGBT, do so because of their own insecurity and internalized homophobia. I think of them as roughly the same people who strive to be “straight-acting” and post online personal ads claiming to be bisexual because they think it’s somehow “less gay.”

The fact of the matter is that without the protection for gender identity, it will be possible to deny employment to a qualified applicant, simply because he was too effeminate, or she was too masculine. What is being overlooked by the “abandon the trannies” crowd is that too a large segment of the anti-ENDA public, there is very little difference, if any between a gay man and a cross-dresser. No matter how far you distance yourself from the gender queers, you will never be straight to the straight people.

I’ve lived my entire life without the luxury of equal treatment under federal law. If ENDA doesn’t happen because we refused to allow our community abandon our most vulnerable, our lives won’t be any different than they were yesterday. If we do accept the “gift” that they’re willing to give just some of us, then we’ll have sold our community’s soul for a bill that will almost certainly be vetoed by Dubya anyway.

Who will have won then?
UPDATE: The House of Repesentatives actually passed HR 3685, the non-inclusive version of ENDA. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.


Lauren J said...

Thanks for sharing this, as I never would have known otherwise. Great blog!

Joe said...

I think my new drag name will be Edna Frankenpussy.

I'm with you on this one, Cyrus. The trannies need to be included. Their struggles are much different than mine, but they are part of our family! And, what would gay culture be without their cousins, the drag queens (and kings) and even the effeminate divas and lumberjack dykes? We'd be as dull as a box store. And, I don't think "the gays" would be as accepted as they are today without the parade of trannies, queens, and divas on 90's talk shows (anyone remember Ricki Lake?) that desensitized America.

God bless the "freaks"!