Thoughts on a transgender deficient ENDA

NGLTF Executive Director Matt Foreman wrote an op-ed piece regarding Congress’s recent decision to modify the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) under discussion so that it no longer includes transgender people. I also received a request from Michael Rogers of PageOneQ to post all or part of that op-ed piece to my blog. I will do so, but I first want to offer my own comments on the topic.

I understand why Congress and some LGB groups might find a modified ENDA so appealing. Many of the religious right’s attempts to discredit ENDA, have focused on the transgender issue. Indeed, the fact that the main strategy for opposing ENDA has been to feed on people’s lack of understand and fear of trans-folk may suggest that gay and bisexual people simply aren’t the great bogeymen needed to keep workplace discrimination in place. And it’s not surprising that Congress and some activists would consider monopolizing on that fact by removing the “new bogeyman” from the picture to end workplace discrimination for at least some people. The reasons are quite appealing. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the wrong choice. We as gay and bisexual people must not give into the temptation to leave our transgendered allies behind. It’s a dual sacrifice we can’t afford, because it sacrifices both our friends and our own principles on the altar of convenience. I for one don’t want to live in a world where I’ve lost either.

Nor do I want to give up the mutual support and the benefit of working together in the future might bring both queerfolk and trans-folk. We are stronger when we work together for our mutual benefit. Collectively, LGBT-folk have the potential to accomplish far more than if we work separately as LGB-folk and trans-folk. If we allow ourselves to lose track of that fact, the word tragic cannot even begin to characterize the results.

I’m reminded of online conversations I had with seasoned LGBT activists back in the nineties, when I was first coming out myself. I remember them lamenting that the fight for everyone’s equal rights would be far more effective if all minority groups would work together for their ultimately common cause if only each group could get over their own prejudices concerning the other groups. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened, and there are still groups who fight for their own rights and never consider those potential allies amongst other minority groups.

I don’t want to see queer-folk and trans-folk become two more groups fighting for similar rights but unwilling to consider working together. And one way to prevent that from happening is to keep us together now by making ENDA trans-inclusive again.

In closing, I offer Mr. Foreman’s compelling thoughts on our commonality:

Why have we all worked so hard together and in such a dramatic way over this issue? For over a decade, the Task Force, and increasingly our organizational colleagues, has re-embraced transgender friends, family and colleagues as part of our community and part of our movement for freedom and equality. We believe the social disapproval and punishment of LGBT people varies only by degree. Yes, we can be fired if we identify ourselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. But it isn?t always about who we love; sometimes it?s about a refusal or inability to disguise ourselves ? ?pass? ? as heterosexual.

The freedom to express ourselves and be ourselves is at stake when any one of us is punished and persecuted for stepping outside the rigid rules of gender conformity. Lesbians, gay men and bisexual people historically engage a whole range of dress and behaviors that challenge the traditional gender code. Women who are too masculine and men who are too feminine often suffer job discrimination and harassment at work, just as our transgender sisters and brothers do.

For more information, please see the NGLTF’s page on ENDA.

Leave a Reply