A historic vote took place yesterday. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was finally passed, having first been introduced in 1974. Thirty three long, hard fought years and the measure “was approved 235 to 184, perhaps reflecting polls showing that a plurality of Americans believe homosexuality should be accepted."
All did not celebrate the bill, though. Through what was deemed necessary, strategic moves, the gender identity piece of the law was removed in order to assure, the community was told, passage. In an attempt to reintroduce the removed language, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) presented an amendment, she said, “because I strongly believe that we must prohibit job discrimination against people because of their gender identity.” It was not a long fight on her part but a symbolic one. Some were ready to throw Baldwin under the bus for ultimately voting for the bill.
As this entire debate has been, because President Bush as promised a veto.
I appreciate and support Congresswoman Baldwin- she was true to her beliefs. She also voted Yes to ENDA without her amendment, because, “The importance of non-discrimination laws cannot be overstated. Substantively, they provide legal remedies and a chance to seek justice.” If I were on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday? I would have voted Yes, too.
It would have made me sick. But I would have done it.
What has been missing from the debate, mainly focused on transgender people with foes playing up fears of penises showing up in women’s locker rooms, is the very real discrimination against all people- straight, gay, bisexual and transgender- for not conforming to “rules” about gender expression. It’s about the straight bartender who refused to wear makeup at a Reno casino and ended up losing, the court siding with the casino, ruling she was not unfairly dismissed from her job as much as it's about Susan Stanton losing her job when she announced she would be transitioning.
For me, it's personal- I'm not a petite blond in a bikini. I get called sir on a daily basis. I had a job where I was asked to wear a skirt for client meetings. I interviewed at another and refused because at this small start up software company in the early 90’s, women were not allowed to wear pants. I love getting dressed up but please don’t ask me to wear a dress. It makes me miserable. If you ask me to wear make-up, I’m going to look like a clown.
It's personal because one of my kids struggles with gender identity. I watch his pain and know there is a very real chance he is transgender. Threaten my children's rights and I am no longer sane... throw him under the bus and I'll go out and pick that damn bus up and throw it off the road.
And it's personal because it is a statement about my community. What we are willing to do, and how we are willing to walk in the world.
It is a devastating loss. In 1987, Massachusetts passed a gay and lesbian civil rights bill. Twenty years later, we still have no gender identity protections. The only state in the country with legally recognized gay marriage and no protections for gender expression.
As a community, we need to reframe where we are. It's not about making chicken salad out of chicken shit, which implies making due with what we have. It's about creating a calculated, thoughtful strategy for moving forward, building on what we have. It's about making stone soup. I believe that’s what Congresswoman Baldwin was trying to do. Regardless, I am going to support her because I am unwilling to throw anyone under the bus.
Now we have to move forward. Together.