Alex Blaze

Barack Obama's ENDA post-mortem: DADT had to happen first

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 23, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, DOMA, Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, ENDA, gays in the military, Kerry Eleveld, legislation

Kerry Eleveld published an interview with Barack Obama yesterday in which she barack-hussein-obama.jpgasked a few questions about ENDA. Obama basically says that he didn't have time to do more than one piece of LGBT legislation, and here's why it was DADT:

So Congress is a complicated place with 535 people that you have to deal with in order to get anything done. And my belief was when I first came in, and it continues to be, that by getting "don't ask, don't tell" done, we sent a clear message about the direction, the trajectory of this country in favor of equality for LGBT persons. The next step I think would be legislatively to look at issues like DOMA and ENDA. And I'm going to continue to ...

He continues a bit later:

As I said, though, that outside of legislative circles, attitudes are changing rapidly. They're changing in our culture. They're changing in our workplaces. One of the most important things I can do as president is to continually speak out about why it's important to treat everyone as our brothers and sisters, as fellow Americans, as citizens.

And looking for constant opportunities to do that I think is going to be critically important because that helps set the tone and changes the ground beneath the feet of legislators so that they start feeling like, gosh, maybe we are behind the times here and we need to start moving forward. And so you chip away at these attitudes. It also continues to require effective advocacy from groups on the outside.

So I guess my general answer to your question is when it comes to legislation, it took us two years to get "don't ask, don't tell" done. I know that there are a whole bunch of folks who thought we could have gotten it done in two months. There were people who thought with a stroke of a pen it could get done. That, in fact, was not the case. But it got done.

And I'm confident that these other issues will get done. But what they require is a systematic strategy and constant pressure and a continuing change in attitudes. And as I said, there are things that we can continue to do administratively that I think will send a message that the federal government, as an employer, is going to constantly look for opportunities to make sure that we're eliminating discrimination.

That's just not how I remember things. They didn't just go into office, announce a grand strategy that started with DADT repeal, push for DADT repeal for two years, and now start looking at ENDA and DOMA repeal.

From about halfway through 2009 (before which hate crimes legislation was the only LGBT issue that got any attention in Congress) until early 2010, ENDA was the big LGBT bill that everyone thought was going to pass first, what with its huge public support, the hearings in both the House and the Senate on the bill, and the fact that it had passed (albeit without gender identity protections) in the previous Congress.

But it kept on getting punted down the line as Congressional Democrats kept on making promises they wouldn't keep regarding its passage, and the gaystream's attention turned towards DADT repeal because it's a big, shiny object that makes for good press and parades and stories about heroes serving their country (as if people who work in other professions do jack taco for others), so DADT repeal it was.

If Obama (and, by extension, Democrats) had a clear reason for putting DADT repeal before ENDA, then why did both the House and the Senate hold hearings on ENDA in 2009? Why were we constantly hearing about them scheduling mark-ups and then not following through on ENDA? If DADT repeal had to happen before everything else, why wasn't the administration or the Democratic leadership in Congress pushing for it in 2009 so that there'd be time for other bills later? Why didn't the push for DADT repeal start earlier than this year's Defense authorization bill, and instead start on, say, last year's Defense authorization bill? Was the Matthew Shepard Act already enough queerness for one big bill?

Neither DOMA repeal nor ENDA are likely to even come up for a vote in a Boehner-controlled House, even though there would probably be more than a few Republicans crossing over to support ENDA. But this is the first I'm hearing from a Democratic leader that there was a conscious strategy to put DADT repeal before ENDA, and I can't say I really buy that excuse for ignoring ENDA considering no one was talking about there being a "natural" (Obama's word) order to these bills back in 2009. If anything, they were acting like the "natural" order was the other way, that ENDA was just more doable so it would happen first.

Anyway, like I said earlier this week, straight media has already forgotten that job discrimination against LGBT people even occurs and they're back to their one-track focus on marriage. It's a bright shiny object, complete with cakes and music and dresses and easy jokes, while ENDA is the beginning to a lot of boring lawsuits.

The reason I criticize The Advocate so much is because they have an important role to play that they don't always live up to. And here Kerry Eleveld was at least able to get in a question or two that actually matter to real-live LGBT people, not just the straight people with a shallow understanding of our politics.

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SkepticalCidada | December 23, 2010 1:12 PM

While I agree with much of the substance in this post, I don't endorse the belittling attitude toward DADT repeal or the petulant attitude toward straight allies.

The answer on ENDA, it seems to me, is that getting DADT done allows Obama to stop filing some of the disgusting legal briefs defending it. ENDA would not have changed that, and DOMA repeal probably isn't yet achievable.

One disagreement with the substance of this post, however, is that I no longer believe we can afford to (or should) just assume nothing can happen as long as the GOP has control of one house of Congress. We can bring the same pressure to bear on Republicans. John Boehner can have his speeches disrupted too. We need to take the lesson that the GOP is scared of an open confrontation on gay rights and exploit it to our advantage instead of sitting around waiting for Dems to retake the house.

1. Where did I "belittle" DADT repeal? If you're referring to me calling it a "big, shiny object," then perhaps your definition of "belittle" is over-inclusive.

2. Where did I talk about "straight allies"? I think I was pretty clearly referring only to people with "a shallow understanding of our politics" who work in the media, which should exclude "allies" if that term means anything.

Agreed on your last paragraph. While I don't think anything will happen in the next two years, that doesn't mean we should stop making a stink about this.

It sucks when people rewrite and misrepresent your words, doesn't it!?

I could be mistaken, but wouldn't DADT repeal be the necessary first step prior to addressing ENDA? After all DADT was effectively government mandated employment discrimination. I would think that premature passage of ENDA would cause an administration nightmare in the DOD (as we can already see how convoluted the formal repeal process itself will take before full implementation).


It wouldn't have done anything to the DOD because there was a military exemption in the ENDA. It wouldn't apply to them.

I can totally see an argument for DADT repeal going first, but if that were the case, when why didn't we hear a major Democrat saying that was the strategy back when it would have been helpful (like early 2009)? Why didn't the push DADT repeal sooner instead of waiting for this year? Why did they hold House and Senate committee hearings on ENDA before they did anything on DADT repeal?

It strikes me as lie made up after the fact to cover up for the real reason ENDA didn't happen: homo- and transphobia in both parties.

Alex of course there was no master plan. You must remember the dynamics and couple it with the fact that Congress is composed primarily of lawyers.

The big 2009 issue was health care. As that halted progress on most everything else it became apparent that the overlap between ENDA and mandates in the health care bill could be an explosive problem. Remember we are dealing with lawyers here. Right or wrong they became scared of what non-discrimination in employment might mean in the courts when it came down to health care benefits regardless of the care they had taken to craft exclusions into the health care legislation. DADT had no overlap with health care legislation. So ENDA was eased off the front burners in part by shifting focus to DADT.

IMO, DADT and ENDA are independant of each other. However, DADT repeal would drive ENDA and DOMA repeal passage. This is because service members have certian rights/benefits that come with enlistment/commission. I don't think they can give a military Gay/Lesbian married couple benefits without violating DOMA.

And while ENDA or DOMA repeal wouldn't drive passage of any other stand alone bill.

I think we should work on enda next.
Marraige is hopeless because the public are sentimental about it, and they're not budging. They've made a huge concession on civil unions, and we should take advatage if that.
We might be able to get movement on enda by making a concession ourselves. The public want to exclude trans folk from one job only. So we might consider a law that excludes them from that job. It would also give us a great argument for including trans folk in the rest of enda. We could say that people who are too fragile to work with trans folk are a disgrace to adulthood.
But I forgot. The gay community don't compromise on anything. Universal Equality is on our side, and any compromise is a savage betrayal of the Glorious Light of Future Perfectability.

I'm confused. What is that one job you are referencing?

The Repoublicans want to exclude trans-people, period. When ENDA was still alive but on life-support, the Right's Christianist stooges did a series of attacks upon trans-people that infuriated me and that Gay, Inc by and large did not repsond to.

As for the President, he is frightened and has been since southern governors first began advocatign nullification(shades of John C Calhoun) and Secession.

Obama did not get DADT done, he finally chpiied in and helped towards the end. He wanted START to have priority and figured thare would be a lengthy debate, with DADT and DREAM brought up afterwards in the session if there were still time.

Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi reset the legistaltive aganda, bless them.

President Obama is a politician -- he would never openly admit that DADT repeal came first because the only people who actually matter to him are those who have enough money and privilege to get dealt into the good old boys' game of political influence. That's why rich white cissexual gay men always get everything they want at the expense of everyone else.

The point is, Obama and the Democrats got DADT done, and we should be happy about that. Forget about federal advances over the next two years with John Boehner's House, and more Republicans in the Senate. We should take the next two years to educate Congress on our issues, especially transgender issues.

It's wrong that we have to constantly explain our lives to get equality under the law, but that's reality, kids.

President Obama is a politician, but he doesn't seem to realize that, as president, he can SET the tone of the discussion. He's still "looking for opportunities?"

And he wants legislators to "start feeling like, gosh, maybe we are behind the times here and we need to start moving forward."

Gosh, Mister President! That is SAD!

I think there is a serious misread going on within the GLBT assessment of the current state of the American public. I do not blame "Gay Inc." for DADT repeal happening before ENDA. I watched as the politicians and the public were exposed to increasingly vociferous voices of "trans" on youtube, the airwaves and other media. I think the public had swung towards accepting "gay" but recoiled from the "anything goes" broad and undefinable trans spectrum. Please understand that I am not in personal opposition to "anything goes" but I am just saying the general public wasn't quite ready for it and the "bathroom" issue exemplified the dilemma. There were some really wonderful testimonies by "trans" people before committees in both the house and senate. But there were far more "in your face" youtube videos and media splashes by obnoxious narcissistic gender variants attempting to push the public where it was not yet ready to go. I realize my observations may not be very pleasant to a lot of the "T", but I think it is time to reflect on the real cause of ENDA's crash and it was not Gay Inc. IMHO.

You're right Deena. It's very unpleasant to once again see someone blaming the victim.

If narcissistic and flamboyant gay men didn't derail DADT (and you know darn well the christianists tried like hell to make this issue primary in their attacks) then a minority of gender variant people on YouTube didn't necessarily derail ENDA. It's transphobia and misogyny that stand in the way of achieveing equal protections for the LGBT community, not the gender expression of a few individuals who you are so clearly trying to marginalize.