Earlier today, the National Center for Transgender Equality released Executive Director Mara Kiesling's latest update on where we in the battle for an inclusive ENDA. I include her entire statement here for reasons I'll go into afterward:
"There hasn't been much in the way of news to report. We are beginning the sixth week of this ENDA situation or crisis or opportunity. A huge amount of education has been done. Quite actually tens of thousands of people have been engaged. And we are basically where we were at the beginning-our best allies in Congress with strong support from HRC still seem determined to jam a civil rights bill through the House of Representatives that virtually every LGBT organization, including HRC, says they do not want.
Because of the Congressional calendar for this fall, we are one way or another coming to resolution. At least for now.
My best estimation is that sometime today (possibly even before you read this) or tomorrow a decision will be made by House leadership as to whether to run H.R. 3685 and whether to first allow the Baldwin Amendment to be debated and/or voted on.
Until then, we are encouraging all of our members to visit their local Congressperson today or tomorrow to express one last time the need to pass a unified ENDA. We must convey the need to stop the divisive HR 3685 and move a unified ENDA or nothing. Mend it or end it. Fix it or nix it.
At this point in the train wreck though, the truth is that no real victory is possible for anyone-not this round. If they pass the divided and divisive bill, the vast majority of us in LGBT-land are disappointed. We are not and will not be divided because very few LGBT organizations are not on the United ENDA side in this. Some fringe-we are almost the whole cloth of the community. More importantly, our collective federal, state, and local work is set back years. No ENDA, despite how hard the House leadership tries to push the divisive ENDA at us, is going to become law this year. There is no incremental gain possible. First, the bill will not be signed into law thus no gain, and second, the incremental gain would be most like the incremental gain promised when Don't Ask Don't Tell was similarly shoved down the throats of a, to say the least, reluctant LGBT community. Mere weeks and months after that fiasco, it was clear to almost everyone what a harmful ill-conceived increment that was. About 15 years of work still hasn't undone that damage.
We know that the unified and inclusive bill (H.R. 2015) is off the table for this year, so passing that is very much not an option at this point. The Baldwin Amendment is apparently off the table. But even if the Amendment were still open for discussion, some LGBT supporters in Congress and our community have done such a thorough job of undermining the work that we all have been doing that it has become barely a long shot to pass it. [Still, as of now, it is unclear if the Baldwin Amendment would be allowed by House leadership. One thought is that Ms. Baldwin may be permitted to introduce her Amendment and speak on its behalf, then withdraw it prior to a vote. On the one hand, having Tammy Baldwin and other supporters speak about the need for gender identity protections would be helpful in concept; on the other hand, it would unlikely be sufficiently helpful to undo the damage caused by passing the divisive bill minutes later.]
If the bill is pulled for now so that we can work together on a unified bill, that too is hardly a victory. Relationships have been strained tremendously, resources and political capital have been expended needlessly and we all go back to square one minus several. However, this is still the best option. Our goal has to be moving the ball forward to pass a bill that will protect all of us and until the divisive bill has been pulled from consideration, we cannot begin again working together to pass such a unified bill
Any victory by anyone at this point would be utterly pyrrhic.
The only victory to come from this crisis has been the advancement (albeit incremental) of the LGBT community message of solidarity and willingness to step up for social justice. Hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals have spoken strongly and clearly about the need for us to stick together to have the best chance of winning protections for all of us. That is a huge win. And I will be forever grateful for that."
While I've often had differences of opinion with Mara on a variety of issues, I think she's right on the money here. At this point, there's no real victory to be had here by anyone, no matter what version of ENDA you personally support. No one will see any actual concrete benefit from this bill over the next couple of years, not even the Democratic candidates who were hoping to use its passage as way of appealing to LGBT Americans for votes and support.
The best we can hope for now is to call a "time out" in the form of seeing ENDA shelved until after the next President (read: Hillary) takes office. Given that ENDA will never survive Bush's veto pen, no matter what the non-inclusive bill supporters might try to contend, I believe it would be foolish in the extreme for the Democrats to even a take a vote on this right now. Win or lose, pass or no pass, large numbers of LGBT people are going to be unhappy with the result and, as we've clearly seen over the last month or so, will not hesitate to take it out on them publicly on Democrats as they campaign for office. As we watch the Obama campaign go spiraling down from its former heights toward a fatal crash on the shores of irrelevance to LGBT voters, we can be sure that every other Democrat running for office is watching this spectacle closely and is no doubt seriously considering whether they even want to see any ENDA come up for a vote now, when they would have to put their positions on the public record.
I continue to believe that the best, safest path to equality for all LGBT Americans is the same as it is for the Democrats: Shelve the bill, let the issue and the advocates cool down over the next couple of years, and then come back to it when there's a real chance of actually seeing this thing become law. With a strong Democratic majority and a Democratic President, an inclusive ENDA will likely pass with little problem or complaint from anyone but the right-wing extremists who's influence in Washington will have left the federal political process right along with George and Dick. When you take the time to really think it through, you know that this is the only possible path Congressional Democrats can take that offers the possibility of a real win for everyone, or even anyone, who wants to see this bill become law.
Two years is a long time, more than enough for the task ahead of us. We who are gender-variant are no longer teaching America who we are and what we're about, we've progressed to the next class in the curriculum, why it's right, fair, and fully in keeping with American values that we be protected against discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, it's fair to say that in this we're now in the same relative place as conventionally-gendered gays and lesbians are and have been for some time now. As loathe as some may be to admit it, we've not only caught up, but we've done it in an unbelievably short amount of time as compared to the rest of the community.
For this, we need not thank Congress. The change we are seeing there is the result of our community's own hard work and our ever-increasing presence in the media. I'll go into this particular topic in more detail in a later post (thanks Bil for the suggestion), but the reality some still aren't willing to acknowledge is that while straight-looking and acting gays and lesbians have most certainly blazed the trail at the cost of much pain and sacrifice on the personal, social, and political levels, transgender and gender-variant people have followed that path at lightning speed behind them, and in the minds of most Americans within and without our community, we are now moving forward together as one united community.
Those of us who are gender-variant must not forget this. Over the last couple of decades, gays and lesbians have been on the front lines of this battle, those who have tirelessly worked for rights at the state and local levels and those who have led the way at the federal. And yes, even though most of us detest the selfish political gamesmanship they are indulging in now and have in the past, the Human Rights Campaign deserves our thanks for their work in establishing the lines of communication between Congress and our community that we are now taking advantage of to effectively promote an agenda of true equality.
Yes, HRC are sellouts, they're liars, they're self-involved elitists who care little or nothing for the working class majority, but their work in the past has served us well in this effort. It's because of what HRC, NGLTF, and other community orgs advocating at the federal level have done for years to get Congress to pay attention in the first place that when United ENDA spoke out Congress listened and is still listening now. For all their failings, their incompetence, and their recent rapid devolution into little more than a discredited, obsequious mouthpiece for the Democratic leadership, it's highly doubtful that we'd be anywhere near where we are today if not for the work HRC and others have done in getting to Congress to listen and actually hear what any of us in this community have to say. Even a broken clock really is right twice a day.
So, where are now, really? Not at a place where we need to try a "Hail Mary" pass to gain a win by any means possible as some believe, but when the coaches need to call a "time out", huddle up with the team, and come out fighting strong in the next quarter, when we'll have a much better chance to put that ball over the goal line.