Rebecca Juro

It's All About Trust

Filed By Rebecca Juro | October 12, 2007 9:26 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender, LGBT, politics, queer, transgender, transsexual

Feel the breeze? They're spinning faster than Lance Armstrong's bicycle tires on the last leg of the Tour D'France.

First, Joe Solmonese issues a press release I can only describe as "willful misdirection" on his part. It seems like this press release is worded in a way that seems to imply that Solmonese himself chose the political path HRC is taking during this latest ENDA crisis. He talks about his "decision-making" on ENDA, but Joe Solmonese isn't President of the Human Rights Campaign in the same way as George Bush is President of the United States. He doesn't get to make agenda-setting decisions. He's a hired gun, HRC's chief spokesperson and lobbyist, and he serves in that position at the pleasure of the HRC Executive Board. If they decide they don't like the way he's doing his job, they can fire him, just as they did with his predecessor, Cheryl Jacques. Joe Solomonese's job is not to run or direct the efforts and agenda of HRC, it's to be the chief spokesperson for those who actually do.

Yet, in this press release Solmonese seems to try to claim the role of true decision-maker, and direct the community outrage at HRC's refusal to oppose a "rights for straight-appearing and acting gays and lesbians only" version of the bill toward himself. Perhaps seen by some as a noble effort to defend his employers from the righteous anger of the vast majority of the politically-active LGBT community, in reality Solmonese is simply trying to set himself and HRC in the position of (as a certain elitist gay male blogger might put it) human shields, to protect members of Congress from having to decide if they really believe federal employment protections should be offered to every American citizen, instead of only the most politically popular minority groups.

At least we finally get a chance to see what Congressman Barney Frank really thinks of us. He takes to the House floor and in a press conference a day later, not to declare his support and advocacy for transgender people and our inclusion in ENDA, but to validate Members' fears over a trans-inclusive bill, and to offer them moral approval in agreeing to throw transgender people over the side in order to secure employment protections for straight-looking and acting gays and lesbians exclusively. Like the Human Rights Campaign, Frank plays both ends against the middle, asking Members of Congress to ignore their consciences and the impassioned words of the constituents now lobbying their offices daily, to vote for a bill that he knows perfectly well will most likely leave most Transgender-Americans unprotected from workplace discrimination for the balance of our lifetimes.

Can we trust them to fight for us once gay and lesbian rights are won? The short, obvious answer, is no...not anytime soon. We've seen it play out in New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Maryland, and other places. Once the monied gay elite win their own employment rights, their support in that effort, as well as that of the politicians who seek their votes, will quickly dry up as they move on to focus their efforts on marriage. Sure, there are a few exceptions, such as New Jersey, where this year we did finally win an addition to the Law Against Discrimination protecting gender identity and expression after protections for gays and lesbians were passed into law, but it took 18 years, the threatened public embarrassment of a major Democratic Party official, a strongly-supportive legislature and voter base, and a leading state gay rights organization as staunchly supportive of transgender rights as Garden State Equality in order to make it happen. Not only isn't the track record on coming back later to protect transgender people good, it downright stinks to high heaven, and Frank, Pelosi, and HRC surely know it.

Joe Solomonese opened his remarks at the 11th Annual HRC National Dinner wanting to address the "elephant in the room", meaning the transgender activists and allies protesting outside the event, but none of these people seem to want to address the root of the problem rather than just the superficialities. The real issue here, the one the vast majority of LGBT activists and organizations understand but these people refuse to acknowledge, is that there really is only one way to proactively support transgender equality: By insisting that gender identity protections be included in ENDA now, before it becomes law, because history teaches us that it will be decades at minimum, if ever, before the politicians are willing to even consider adding those protections on their own. Barney Frank knows it, Nancy Pelosi knows it, the Human Rights Campaign knows it, and most importantly, we who make up the vast majority of this community and its voting numbers, we who have formed a coalition of over 300 organizations representing almost 2 million members virtually overnight to speak out on this issue, we who understand that, for transgender Americans, the realistic choice is now or never, we know it too. Nothing said by Frank or Pelosi, nor anything not said by the Human Rights Campaign, can ever change that. The community has spoken, loudly and clearly, and what we have said is "We're all in this together, and for the long haul.".

Frank calls us idealists. Ok, fair enough...I'll own that, probably a lot of you will as well. I'd bet Barney Frank would admit to being one himself, because if he isn't he's certainly in the wrong business. The question really comes in not in determining what you want, but how figuring out how hard you're willing to fight for your ideals and what you're willing to do in order to see them become reality. This, as I think a lot of politically-conscious LGBT people are coming to understand, is really where the rubber meets the road in politics.

Barney Frank and the Human Rights Campaign have their own threshold on transgender rights, and it's not the same as most of the rest of the community. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, in a statement yesterday, said:

"I am under no illusions about the challenges of achieving our goal. But, the quest for advancement of civil rights in our nation has never been easy. It is precisely because of the discrimination these groups experience that this legislation is needed.

As is the case with all legislation, there is no guarantee of success. Everyone pressing for this legislation knows that. We know that opponents of workplace protections may offer any number of amendments designed to derail the bill, including, perhaps, an effort to remove protections based upon gender identity. I believe we must boldly face these challenges.

Perhaps some of these hostile efforts will be successful. That should not deter our work. We must bring the strongest possible bill to the floor of the House for a vote. If our adversaries wish to erode protections in the bill, we must be prepared to face that challenge and make our case.

However, I believe it is a mistake to concede defeat on any issue, before our opponents even raise it."

Damn it, we should give this woman a medal. I'll sleep better tonight knowing that there's at least one Member of Congress leading the ENDA effort who really, truly, gets it. It's Tammy Baldwin who is our real hero in Congress, and our community should not forget that, now or when this battle is over, no matter what the eventual outcome.

Yes, Barney, HRC, we want you to fight for us! We want you to stand up on those bully pulpits of yours and show us that you actually understand that it's not really civil rights unless all civilians are protected. We want you to show us that you actually get it, that you've received the message that we transfolks and the vast majority of the rest of the socially and politically-active GLBT community have been trying to send you for years now: You can't ignore us anymore...we're a legitimate American minority group, we demand our place at the table, and we have as much of a right to expect one as any other group of like-minded American citizens.

To truly understand where we are now, we need to understand where we were just a few short years ago. In 2004, the last time ENDA was a real issue, we were nowhere politically. We had John Kerry, the Democratic Party Presidential nominee, come out in opposition to treating transgender workers fairly in the workplace and in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in his home state of Massachusetts. We had a Democratic Party that refused to do more than simply acknowledge our existence and offer us token representation when they did. We were excluded from the 2004 Democratic Party Platform, and to my knowledge not a single Presidential candidate had ever said the "T-word" publicly. Worst of all, there weren't a whole lot of non-transpeople in the greater LGBT community who seemed to notice.

To say things are different now would be among the vastest of understatements. We're all over the Internet and the media, a truly transgender-inclusive American LGBT community and agenda and our acceptance and equality within it is becoming a grassroots movement in and of itself, despite all the naysayers, including those ostensibly on our side. The American LGBT and allied activist community, and perhaps even entire parts of America as a whole, are literally evolving right before our eyes. Pay attention, the last time something like this happened on a major scale in this country, the Beatles were still around.

ENDA is, without question, the top current news story and political cause in our community right now, and that's of course as it should be. The kind of civil rights progress that's being fought for here happens once every generation or two, if we're lucky. We know it's not going to happen now, this year. We know it's not going to happen next year. But we also know that if gender identity isn't in the bill when it finally does pass, it's far more likely than not that we'll all be collecting Social Security before a stand-alone transgender employment rights bill ever sees the light of day in Congress, much less passes into law. That's not idealism, Congressman Frank, that's realism. We know this is "do or die" time for transgender employment rights, and we know that you know it, too.

The fact that Barney Frank felt compelled to go speak in Congress and hold a press conference on the issue tells you something as well: The effort, our version of "the surge", if you will, is working...maybe not to the extent we need as yet, but it's having enough of an effect that Frank feels he needs to get his position on the public record. If you think about it, the very fact that we're hearing as much from Congress on this issue as we are should reassure us that our efforts are indeed having an impact. If Congressional supporters of the bill weren't seriously considering what they have been seeing and hearing from our lobbying efforts, I strongly doubt Barney Frank would be discussing it this publicly.

Most interesting in all of this, to me at least, is the split between Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin over this. Seemingly joined at the hip with Frank on just about any LGBT-positive legislation until now, Baldwin has refused to take the defeatist attitude on a trans-inclusive ENDA espoused by her Massachusetts colleague. More than simply her principled insistence on a fully inclusive ENDA, her refusal to go along with Frank in offering moral succor to those who would deny workplace rights to those who look and act differently than straight people defines her as a leader who not only stands her moral ground but also defends it, someone who really believes that full participation in American life is the birthright of all American citizens. Forget Hillary...Tammy Baldwin is the kind of woman I want in the White House.

The truth of the matter is that going forward now with a transgender-inclusive version of an employment rights bill that will never pass into law this session of Congress in any case costs no one anything, and quite possibly could mean the difference between all LGBT Americans waiting a couple of more years for all of us to get our basic civil rights in this country, and transgender people having to wait another generation for that level of equal treatment under the law. Given that, isn't it worth a little bit of extra effort to try to get it done?

Tammy Baldwin certainly thinks so, as does pretty much every major civil rights organization in the country...hell, even HRC is with us on this part of it. Why go on the national stage and speak not in support of passing the broadest possible civil rights law, but instead, offer excuses for not doing so? Frank's speech was clearly not intended to promote an inclusive ENDA, but rather to deflate whatever support such an effort might have already built up in Congress and direct it behind a non-inclusive version. You'd think that even if Barney Frank doesn't agree with what we're trying to do, he'd at least have the class not to try to publicly demean and sabotage our efforts.

Tammy Baldwin is right: advancement of civil rights is never easy. Passing ENDA won't be easy either, no matter how eagerly and enthusiastically Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi try to make it so. There are times when we just have to bite the bullet and keep working until we get it right. This one of those times.

One thing that will make it a whole lot easier is if those who represent the (more) conservative minority viewpoint would stop acting like they represent the rest of us. Idealists we may be, but we're almost two million strong. We represent the majority viewpoint of this community, and we will NOT be divided!

They call 'em "Representatives" for a reason, y'know.

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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 13, 2007 12:49 PM
Feel the breeze? They're spinning faster than Lance Armstrong's bicycle tires on the last leg of the Tour D'France.

Excellent metaphor!!!

And great post. You've hit all the bases, and said it well, too.

Tammy Baldwin, who I must confess I'd never heard of before this brouhaha, is my new hero!

I have to admit Tammy Baldwin's courage was a surprise to me. I knew the basics about her, but little more. One thing I hope I can say (if there's any justice), is that she's a rising star in this crowd and in the Democratic Party. Maybe this is her way of stepping into the spotlight and distancing herself from Barney Frank. Maybe she just believes it's the right thing to do. Whatever the reason, she is helping to send the message that the Barney Frank/Nancy Pelosi way is not the only way, that Barney Frank is not the end-all-be-all on LGBT-relevant legislative strategy.

Tammy Baldwin is proving to gender-variant LGBT people, all of us who may not look or act like straights in some way, that we have a champion in Congress too, that we don't have to settle for the condescension and compromise of Barney Frank. He's not the only game in town for Queer Democrats anymore.