Dustin Kight

Bigotry, Show Thyself!

Filed By Dustin Kight | April 26, 2008 11:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ENDA, Matthew Shepard, nondiscrimination, Richard Florida, Senate, USA PATRIOT Act

This past Thursday, April 24, the Senate passed the immensely popular Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Put broadly the Act bars discrimination in insurance and employment based on one's genetic information. Medical researchers, in particular, decry the reluctance of individuals to participate in trials due to their fear of discrimination from what others might find out about their less-than-perfect genes.

Never you mind that the acronym GINA sounds gayer than ENDA. The real issue here is how the passage and heralding of GINA puts our country's homophobia and transphobia in even starker relief.

The Senate passed the Act 95-0. The House passed an earlier version 420-3. We haven't heard legislative harmonies like these since the USA PATRIOT Act!

Yet we know the recent history of our own nondiscrimination acts -- ENDA and Matthew Shepard, both. Bills that would protect real live people from injustices they incur on a regular basis have been stalled or derailed entirely in one or both chambers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-GINA. I just find it astonishing (or, I guess, with my cynic's hat on, not so astonishing) that federal action has been taken to protect against something (genetic-information discrimination) that experts admit hasn't even been much documented at this point, when we have a slew of information on hate crimes, employment, health care and housing discrimination against LGBTQ people and very little has been done.

So, Congress, pass GINA -- I'm all for it! But go ahead and pass a united ENDA and Matthew Shepard while you're at it, if you're so concerned that people will be discriminated against based on something inextricably linked to who they are.

And since you're working on nondiscrimination these days, why not give all of these bills some teeth. 'Cause let's get real here. The vast majority of folks who will be discriminated against because of their genetic information, sexuality, gender identity/expression, what-have-you won't know that it's happening, and even if they find out won't have the resources or the wherewithal to file claims and fight back.

You might say GINA has garnered such enthusiastic support because genetic information discrimination touches us all. If you put on your spectacles and took a hard look at our government the way it really is, you might say Congress passed it so handily because there's big benefit to the big businesses that want to research and control the future of medical research, drug developments, etc. To control, in other words, the very genetic information we all want kept safe.

On the flip side, there's not a lot of added benefit to protecting against a group of people already being widely discriminated against in housing, insurance, employment and the like, unless you're an avid follower of Richard Florida and his "treat gays well for good business" mentality. Once protected, we queers aren't going to run out and participate in new activities that generate new wealth. We, like anyone else, work and spend to sustain our lives, regardless of whether we're in danger of losing the jobs and the funds that allow us to do these things.

However, once protected, we might actually start to file claims and sue, for we've got a backlog of discrimination to be reckoned with!

Guess we'll find out how GINA applies to the gays when someone finally pinpoints that ever-elusive gay gene. In the meantime, it's disheartening to see such legislative bowing to a nondiscrimination bill that has at least as much to do with satisfying the medical lobby as it does the protection of actual people, when two vital bills for so many of us languish in bigotry and unease.

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 27, 2008 2:23 AM

Dustin, this is what the next election is all about. I cannot wait to watch the final campaign debates, because McCain has hero, smile, and intelligence, on his side, but no ammunition.

All he can do is try to recreate the snowjob of Reagan's "It's Morning in America" and somehow morph that into keeping Americans scared to death about security.

All other issues belong to the Democrats. It is going to take a serious and strong Democratic majority in Congress to get ENDA passed, once written correctly to include transgendered persons.

Besides, politicians love to appear to be protecting "the little guy" from insurance companies, before going to cocktail parties to accept checks from them.

With so little genetic discrimination going on, there's not many (any?) folks who want to fight for their right to discriminate against the... uh, under-gene-ed?

But there are plenty of people who like discriminating against queer and trans folks. And they'll desperately fight to protect their right to do so. With that in mind, GINA is a political no-brainer -- there's no opponents. Whereas ENDA is a hot issue. It's not about the impacts of the policy, but the impacts of the politics.

This is a fabulous post, Dustin. You really hit the heart of the matter. Overwhelming majority to pass a law against discrimination that doesn't happen. Outright denial to pass a fully inclusive ENDA.

What in the hell does that say?

GINA exemplifies bigotry in a more direct way than just highlighting how little progress the Congress has commited to ENDA (inclusive or not).

Who is excluded from this bill?

"(B) EXCEPTIONS- The term `genetic information' shall not include information about the sex or age of an individual."

So - transgender & intersex people are singled out as not being covered by this bill. Much like Strom Thurmond made sure we all were excluded from the ADA. It was purposeful - if below the radar for most people.

I don't know of any genetic testing for age (perhaps telomere length?)

Kathy, that (B) EXCEPTIONS paragraph is a loophole big enough to fly a 747 through. ... Wouldn't that mean that even a glaring chromosome abnormality such as XXY,47 would not be protected? Amazing!

What about gender-specific disorders, such as genetic predisposition to uterine or prostate cancer? Probably the courts will have to resolve that one!

P.S. Dustin, be careful when you criticize the 'Richard Florida and his "treat gays well for good business" mentality.' --- Here in Indiana, that is essentially the same argument that finally found traction and kept the marriage amendment off the ballot this year.

It's (C) Exceptions in the latest version.

But yes, it specifically excludes Intersexed and Transsexual people from protection.

I'm not sure whether this was an oversight, or deliberate. "Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence", so I'll assume that they just never thought about it.

So... when can we expect GLBT groups to do some lobbying to get a last-minute amendment passed to delete the exclusions? Because once passed and signed, getting the issue re-visited in the next 20 years will be practically impossible.

I'll second what AJ said about respecting the Richard Florida argument. It goes beyond him, too. There are a lot of really strong arguments to be made from a purely economic-interest and bottom-line perspective. I sincerely believe that one of the great motivators of social change in the last 30 years was the effect of people interacting with LGBT co-workers after those companies voluntarily enacted non-discrimination policies in order to exploit the buying power of the LGBT community.

The legislation says, in effect:

It shall NOT be an unlawful employment practice for an employer--

(1) to fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any employee, or otherwise to discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the employee, because of genetic information with respect to the sex of the employee (though it is for all other genetic information); or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify the employees of the employer in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any employee of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the status of the employee as an employee, because of genetic information with respect to the sex of the employee (though it is for all other genetic information).

(b) Acquisition of Genetic Information- It shall NOT be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to request, require, or purchase genetic information with respect to the sex of an employee or a family member of the employee (though it is for all other genetic information).

See the problem?

Now why weren't our GLBT representatives on top of this, just like they missed the opportunity to get rid of the exclusions in the Americans with Disabilities Act during the recent review? Could it be because they're GLB only, and Ts just don't register on their radar? That when it comes to T issues which are not also GLB ones, they haven't got a farnarckling CLUE?