My first op-ed written for the Advocate went up this week - "Prescription for an Ailing ENDA." I lay out a three point prescription on how to get ENDA passed before the end of this congressional session when health care reform has dominated the conversation.
In related news, the US government's website for job seekers now lists gender identity as part of the EEO statement.
The United States Government does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability, age, membership in an employee organization, or other non-merit factor.
While this is indisputably good news for the LGBT community, I want to take a moment to reflect on it through the lens of my Advocate op-ed. When it boils down to it, this isn't something to celebrate and should serve as a smack in the face for activist queers.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey got it right in her statement yesterday about the updated website. (emphasis mine)
"We are pleased by the administration's decision to modernize the federal jobs Web site by explicitly banning employment discrimination based on gender identity. This is an action the Task Force and other groups have been advocating for with the Office of Personnel Management, and it is certainly a welcome step toward eliminating workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in federal employment.
"However, it is unacceptable that in 60 percent of the country, it is still legal to fire someone for reasons that are unrelated to their performance, skills and talents. So, while we are pleased by the change to the federal jobs site, the Task Force will continue pressing Congress to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) early this year. We need to pass ENDA and afford essential employment protections under federal law so that employers across the nation will understand that discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation will not be tolerated whether it is in the private or public sector."
The federal government updated the website where they list job openings yesterday. That is not a reason to have a party and laud Democrats for their leadership and bravery. Instead, it's an item to ridicule.
On June 17th, President Obama signed a memo meant to even out some of the benefits opposite-sex couples were given that same-sex partners weren't. It was roundly criticized by the LGBT community as toothless since DOMA prevented the government from truly offering the same benefits package.
One of the most overlooked facets of that memo though, was that it also slid in non-discrimination protections based on gender identity. From the White House press release about the memo:
The Memorandum will also direct OPM to issue guidance within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil service laws, which make it unlawful to discriminate against federal employees or applicants for federal employment on the basis of factors not related to job performance.
Granted, that seems a little vague, but Managing Editor Alex Blaze was on a conference call that afternoon with the director of the Office of Personnel Management John Berry and directly asked whether this meant gender identity was being added to the nondiscrimination policy via the memo.
I got a question in and wanted to know about protections for trans people mentioned in the Advocate. Since Berry mentioned several times that only job-related factors will now be considered in federal employment, and said how sexual orientation isn't included in that several times, I asked if the new directions will specifically mention gender identity, gender expression, and/or transgender people. He responded:
Gender identity is a non-work-related factor, and in the guidelines [to federal agencies] we will be making that clear.[...] Gender identity will be added and made very clear in our guidelines.
That's at least one positive out of this memo: specifically mentioning transgender people when it comes to federal employment.
In my first draft of the Advocate article, I mentioned Saul Alinksy's Rules for Radicals under the "Flex Our Muscle" section. One of them is particularly relevant for present gay rights struggles: Force your opponent to live up to their own rulebook because you can ridicule them when they don't.
As Alinsky says, "It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also, it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage." Americans love to point out hypocrites and our opposition - whether Republican vociferous family values pablum or Democratic weak-kneed re-election cowardice - is full of hypocrisy.
The Democrats swept into office on promises of hope, equality, and justice. They promised us hate crimes protections, employment protections, the repeal of Don't, Ask Don't Tell, and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. So far, the only item to be checked off the list is passing a hate crimes law.
Let's take a look at the timeline:
January 20, 2009 - Inauguration Day
June 17, 2009 - President signs memo
January 6, 2010 - Text including gender identity shows up on federal jobs site
If we allow things to continue at this pace, we'll have grown old and died before all four items are achieved. It took almost a year from Obama's inauguration - and almost 6 months since he set his pen to paper - for the federal government's website to be updated to include us.
If it takes that long to add two words to a standard sentence on one website, how long will it take to get ENDA passed? ENDA covers both the public and private sectors. If activists complained that the Presidential memo only gave lip service to the repeal of DOMA, can we not agree that one sentence on a job-seekers site is a poor substitute for full employment protections nationwide?
The Democrats' glacial progress is worthy of ridicule and our community ignores it to our own peril. It's time to flex some muscle and show we mean business instead of having a parade over something six months past due.
Any blind support for the administration on this one would be, well, ridiculous.