Saturday, November 10, 2007

AV: Passing in the House

A bit o' background: In January I was honored to be elected President of a local Democratic Club. The San Diego Democratic Club is a LGBT club, whose primary mission is to elect LGBT and LGBT-friendly folks to office everywhere. In addition, we're frighteningly progressive, as you might imagine.

I'm not being just sappy when I say I was honored to be elected. The SDDC has been a strongly influential voice in local, regional, and state politics for over 30 years. At present, we number almost 500 members, among them several long-standing elected officials and many more who are seeking office.

The only problem? The monthly column I have to write for our newsletter. I swear, it's the most difficult part of the job for me, although it's getting easier. And doesn't it seem strange that I agreed to do this blog thing if that's how I feel about writing on a regular basis? Yeah, I thought so too.

But here's the column for November on a subject I think is important: the passage of (SPL)ENDA in the House.

As no doubt you’ve heard by now, the House passed HR 3685, otherwise known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA. And, because this bill had been stripped of protections for transgender individuals (and any meaningful protections to LGB folks as well), this version of the bill has in recent days also become known as SPLENDA. You get it.

I suppose on the face of it, federal protections for LGB folks in the workplace is a good thing. We’ve been fighting for this protection for over a decade, right? In fact, as recently as the last couple of years, our side took one on the chin even for the arguably smaller pond of queer federal employees. Our good representatives couldn’t manage to provide protections for their own staff, fer goodness sakes.

So here we are at a grand day for the home team. Oh yeah, there’s that whole Senate vote thing and then the limbo under the veto pen of our Executive Officer. For now, though, let’s just pretend it’s all smooth sailing ahead, shall we?

And still I would be bitterly disappointed.

This bill doesn’t protect all of us and, in my opinion, does nothing to advance the general cause of equal rights for any of us. Especially for those of us who need it most: our transgender brothers and sisters, the gender non-conformists among us, and anyone who doesn’t fit someone else’s idea of what’s “okay.” You know … those of us who don’t, can’t, or won’t pass.

When it became known over six weeks ago that this bill was being rewritten to remove protection for transgender Americans in order to make it – get this – easier to vote for, there was an immediate outcry across the country and subsequent organizing on a grand scale. But, as we heard from Rep Frank and a certain national organization, the full bill didn’t have the votes and we’d have to go slowly. Or some such expedient nonsense. I’m sure that it’s much more complicated than – and at the same time exactly as simple as – that.

I am especially distressed, and angry, at HRC for their disingenuous actions over the last weeks, especially as Joe Solomonese, ED, pledged over a year ago to unequivocally support transgender rights at the federal level. Instead, the HRC waffled on the side of expediency in the face of overwhelming opposition from almost every other national LGBT organization on this issue.
Then, as some of you may have seen, they released a “field poll” the day before the vote which purported to have asked 500 “LGBT community members” about ENDA, returning a reported 70% support of the non-inclusive bill. They have not, as yet, released any details about the polling company, the selected participants, nor the margin of error. For me, I’m curious specifically about the “T” folk they talked to. I’ll bet you are too.

Adding further insult, they are also docking the official legislative scorecard of any politician who voted against the gutted ENDA on the grounds it was not inclusive enough. They’re treating our real friends as if they were right wing bigots. This is unsupportable.

Digression: At this point in my own administration, I feel obligated to reveal what has most certainly become painfully evident in these columns: I am an eternal idealist. Sometimes I think it’s a poor quality in politics. There.

Perhaps that will help to explain my disappointment and the fact that I would prefer no bill at all to this one. It is deeply flawed and smacks of unsupportable pandering. None of us get what we really want, least of all our family and friends who were summarily tossed off the ol’ freedom bus.

I can’t help but take this personally and not only because my family circle includes transgender individuals about whom I care deeply. Nope, it’s not so much that, although that’s certainly good enough reason.

No, it’s because the result of this legislative betrayal has cast me in the role of the enemy through none of my own doing.

As a simple not-so-exotic gender queer lesbian, I’m suspect in some circles of the transgender community; I’m a potential ignorant and well-meaning oppressor. I’m someone who, at first encounter, must be defended against – even just a little. I’m in a position where I feel I must say at the outset that I joined – along with all of you – a huge swell of support for an all-or-nothing push at the hill for an uncompromising inclusive bill. I feel as if I have to state my explicit and unconditional support of every person in our community to be all – and everything – they are right up front, before we get to the other small talk of introduction.

And I understand it. That’s part of what’s hard for me. We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s the hallway or the breakroom where a coworker asks what those multicolored rings are around our neck. Or maybe a question about the wedding band. Or the weekend. Maybe it’s the PTA. Or a City Council meeting. There’s a moment where we still wonder, “is it safe?”

Sometimes it’s not. And how desperately wrong is it when that question arises in our own midst; when the not-quite-so-safe place is in our meeting rooms, our clubs, the gathering places of our community? It shouldn’t even be a question, that safety.

This recent political maneuver supposedly will make “real” change possible. In the meanwhile, we are implicit in the overwhelming statement made that, again, equality isn’t really for everyone.

In this case, it’s only for us. Not for you. And really, it’s only for us if we can pass. Bravo.

I’d like to end this screed on a more uplifting note, though.
I want to give my thanks to everyone in our community that worked tirelessly to move support of a full and inclusive ENDA to the House. I am proud that the SDDC was one of the organizations that moved to sign the petition and to (most visibly in the person of our Legislative Advocate, Alex Sachs) stand up for true equality.

The swell of support across the country from hundreds of national, regional, and local organizations for an uncompromised and fully inclusive ENDA has been the spark of encouragement my inner idealist needs to keep moving forward. Organizations such as the NGLTF, NCLR, Al-Fatiha, Dignity USA, GLSEN, Pride @ Work, and the National Association of LGBT Centers (to name only a few) have demonstrated a phenomenal ability to organize and create real results. Impressive and inspiring to say the least.

Locally, FTMI, SDDC, The Center, Transgender Advocacy and Services Center, UCSD LGBT Resource Center, and many others immediately joined the nationwide chorus. My thanks to everyone who participated on behalf of those organizations, and to each of you who took the time to write a letter, pick up the phone, or to craft an email.

Our gracious thanks as well to Congresswoman Susan Davis, who again proved her dedication to equal rights and spoke eloquently on behalf of the fully inclusive bill prior to the vote. You can see her speech online at .

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