Alex Blaze

The Nation on the ENDA split

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 22, 2007 3:10 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barney Frank, Chris Lisotta, ENDA, transgender

The Nation's Chris Lisotta has an article up that goes through the ENDA split and the ensuing drama of these past several weeks. It's pretty thorough, but buried in it is this paragraph:

One of the consequences of the ENDA conflict is a realization that LGBT rights groups have organized themselves differently over the past decade. In the 1980s and early '90s, a handful of national organizations based primarily in New York and Washington lobbied legislators and served as mouthpieces for gay rights issues, most often AIDS-related funding. But with the Republican Congressional takeover in 1994, plus the cultural shift toward more openly gay people living outside big cities, local LGBT political organizations flourished, especially after the spate of marriage amendment campaigns began. The move has started to pay dividends; with help from national organizations, Equality Arizona helped beat back a marriage amendment initiative in its state in 2006.

That is pretty interesting and strikes me as pretty true. As the gays have been moving away from coastal-urban areas to small towns and the country in the past decade, and those of us who were already out there are finally getting some attention because we're finally coming out.

But I'm interested in this idea that the marriage amendments have actually galvanized the gay rights movement, and that's after the jump.

It's true that the gay rights movement is spread out throughout more of the country now than it was even ten years ago. And those anti-marriage amendments woke people up and created coalitions, organizations, ties, and experience for gay rights activists who were previously removed from direct, local activism.

These organizations have started to be materially successful, what with Arizona's beating back an anti-marriage initiative at the ballot box and Indiana's beating it in committee. Gay rights advances are happening all over the country now, not just in California and New York. It's even pretty amazing that a website like this one started in Indiana and then went national, instead of a coastal creation going national to include places like Indiana.

But does that really explain what happened with the backlash against the ENDA split? One thing that all of these movements against anti-marriage amendments have in common is strong support from trans activists, and those local organizations understand the GLB and the T as one community when it comes to politics and activism. Instead of wondering what it is we all have in common and trying to imagine who the other is, these people have actually been working together and have a fundamental understanding that we're all fighting discrimination against the same transgression.

That made a space for such a backlash. Many of those nearly 300 organizations that signed on to support trans inclusion were state or local and had already learned how to operate independently of the gay community's power brokers who live in DC and try to decide what we'll want and how we'll want it. By being organized in a dispersed fashion instead of in under a large national organization, or not organized at all, those outside of the beltway's gay power brokers had the voice, the connections, and the experience to put out a fast response to what we were being told we'd like.

Lisotta says:

What unfolded over the next forty-eight hours apparently caught Frank and the Democratic leadership shepherding ENDA off guard. The vast majority of LGBT rights groups, both national and local, rejected Frank's argument and raised howls of protest over the jettisoning of transgender protections.

What caught them off-guard was the fact that there were people outside of them who understood the political process enough to know that this wasn't a question of "gay now, trans later" in terms of rights, but that it was "trans now or never", since the chance that the House and Senate would come back for a group of people without the clout that most minorities have in terms of numbers was slim to none, and people outside of the beltway elite were able to make these calculations and see what was working and how it worked, and then speak to and with large numbers of people to see what they thought.

This is the Information Revolution meeting the Queer Diaspora, after a bit of real battle experience.

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Andy Birkey had an interesting column at Minnesota Monitor Sunday along those same lines, titled "What Works for Minnesota Can Work for America" ( ) that notes how opponents to an ENDA inclusive of gender identity protections raised the same argument in that state, it we include gender identity, it won't pass. But it did. 14 years ago.

It seems like it's the bicoastal "LGBT elites" who are the ones who are out of touch with what's going on nationwide.

FWIW, does it seem a little odd that these same insiders moved on to marriage equality before getting ENDA protections (even "gay only" protections) for the remaining states that didn't have them? Not that marriage equality isn't also a worthy cause, but it does seem like basic ENDA protections ought to be a priority.

And BTW, have you noticed that the insiders who are complaining about how trans folks should wait their turn so often seem to be the same folks who argued a few years ago for no compromises on marriage equality (even if that might mean not getting something passed)?

The shift to local orgs has been dramatic and fascinating to watch. I remember trying to organize LGBT folk in 1992 here in Indiana with very little results. Now, the fledgling org I am co-chair of has already garnered a mailing list of hundreds of names.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | October 23, 2007 6:40 PM

Perhaps it's the Information Revolution de-necessitating the Queer Diaspora, in that, now that we can be as connected in the Heartland as we used to have to go to The Village or the Castro to be, we're now staying home and ensuring that our nests there are properly feathered with basic rights.