Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Comment of the Week: Jarrod Chlapowski

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | April 03, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Site News
Tags: Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, Jarrod Chlapowski, Overcome Fear of Trans Americans, Servicemembers United, SU, Tico Almeida, transphobia

On Guest Blogger Tico Almeida's post 3 Ways to Improve ENDA Advocacy: Overcome Fear of Trans Americans, which recommends, among other things, addressing the trans-phobia among some staffers and members on Capitol Hill. Projector Jarrod Chlapowski's comment on this post is particularly noteworthy, as Jarrod is the co-founder of Servicemembers United, which had a leading role in the successful Congressional vote in favor of ending the anti-gay Don't Ask, Don't Tell military policy.

This is long, but I think very necessary.

It would be helpful to begin the discussion with a section on 'why' ENDA didn't pass.
I think many blame ENDA failing on DADT repeal taking all the communities energy, with the underlying presumption that DADT repeal had capital to spare to send ENDA's way, and therefore both bills were possible. Your opening hints at this perception with the argument that because we had enough votes on DADT repeal, we should have had enough votes for trans-inclusive ENDA.

However, your argument completely disregards the difficulty of getting tepid blue dogs to vote on two gay bills in Congress within months of each other in either the pre-election frenzy or post-election lame-duck, and that we barely passed DADT, biting our nails as we pushed to literally the last possible minute.

This is long, and so more of Jarrod's comment after the jump, wherein he answers the question of how we get over the trans hump.

You then focus the article on addressing trans-phobia in Congress through a mass media campaign and educating constituents and members. I absolutely agree, and have discussed in private and in detail how to go about such a campaign with a number of national field leaders who unfortunately have all their resources tied up in state-level marriage campaigns. However, because this sort of education work has not occurred before - at least to the level needed - ENDA simply was not as sexy to the media as DADT and was forgotten en masse by mainstream media.

Therefore, to say we need education work now conflicts with the idea that ENDA was passable in 2010 along with DADT. It was not.

The overall lesson the community needs to learn is that any sort of campaign for change is years in the making, with education work in not so friendly states being the first step of what could be a 5 to 10 year process. We need to do the education work you prescribe now. However, it cannot with the expectation that this will be done in x amount of time. Rather, it should be done as a means to push forward knowing that when the political winds outside of our control are blowing the right way, we are ready.

Jarrod says that ENDA was not passable (no pun intended, I'm sure, but gladly taken) because more education was needed, that it might take 5-10 years to get this work done, and that this poses a problem because a lot of LGBT advocacy orgs have all their resources tied up in the marriage issue.

Of course, the obvious counterargument, as laid out in the original post, is that the problem isn't a need for nationwide education, but a lack of education, leading to a mild form of transphobia among Congressional staffers, and, consequently, their bosses, who aren't going to vote for something their under-educated staffers tell them is political poison. If we got these staffers in a room, locked the doors and "educated" them, we would see a sea-change in attitudes towards ENDA.

I intended to do something just like this about a year ago, in conjunction with webinars that I was conducting with corporate, educational and political constituencies on transgender workplace issues generally. I planned to invite all Members of Congress and their staffs to a webinar, which would be available for viewing in recorded form as well. But I got calls from, guess who -- panicked staffers. They said that such an education effort would kill the bill, and that the key to success was to soft-pedal the transgender thing and hope it went unnoticed. I argued against this, but not wishing to alienate my few friends on Capitol Hill, and having no support from my friends at the advocacy organizations with whom I inquired, I dropped the project and hoped for the best. Silly me. Fool me twice, shame on me.

What say you, Projectors? Is the problem with ENDA primarily a lack of education generally among members of the public, or primarily lack of education and/or transphobia among Congressional staffers and their bosses?

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I'm not seeing how sneaking it in under the wire and hoping no one notices is a particularly helpful strategy. Someone *is* going to notice. I think the ticket is to call them on their bluff, and illustrate how doing the right thing is good politics. While the Tea Party led GOP is tearing itself apart, educate friendly pols and staffers on how to do something they know is right. Get them ready to come on strong when they are back in power. It won't be fast or easy, but it can be done.

You're right, Greg, trying to sneak things into the bill, like that trans person behind that tapestry right there, isn't going to work. But Capitol Hill people pride themselves on their sneakiness -- they call it "political savvy" -- and they'd rather take a shortcut around the block to the back entrance than walk the few short steps to the front door and pay the ticket price. I bet even now if I tried to get a campaign going to educate those Capitol Hill staffers I'd get another "shush, not now" message from a patronizing staffer. I'd rather work on state and local level mini-ENDAs, which is what I'm doing with GetEqual.

Maybe not a webinar. Webinars lend themselves to a feeling of distance and lack the personal feedback that makes people recognize the humanity of others. I am a software person and when people sell or demonstrate with webinars the atmosphere in the farway audience is often very very far from what the presenter would hope for or expect.

If the issue is to convince professional lawyer types that we're not a problem, we should probably undertake to show ourselves as normal and unremarkable in as many contexts as possible -- trans folks just doing their jobs without freaking anyone out at all. A short film showing trans people just doin' their daily gigs like anyone else...no pain, no horror stories (common and true as they may be)...something that would appeal to the part of their brains that is constantly weighing reaction and impression and leads to the natural conclusion that we are simply people at work. Just a thought...

Sounds like a good idea, Jess. How would we do that?

Staffers & bosses. Definitely.

BUT... ENDA was passable. Still is, I think, even with a republican controlled congress if handled deftly enough.

With the pending government shutdown, overseas obligations, repeal implementation, and then 2012, the blue dogs and rinos are not going to want to touch anything gay in this Congress (nor will the White House, but that's a different story altogether). It may be passable in 2012 in a vacuum, but I really don't see how in context of everything else. Do you?

The phrase was passable along with DADT. I think it could have been done if DADT wasn't coming to fruition, but that's not what happened, and it will be a long time before we have the same political conditions we had in 2011. ENDA was drowned out by DADT last year because DADT was sexier and seen as less controversial. ENDA needs that sexiness, needs to be seen as less controversial, and you do that through public education. You then sway members of Congress with polling and local media pieces generated, utilized in combination with lobbying and staffer education.

*that's "political conditions we had in 2010", not "2011." Sorry.

Jarrod, firstly thank you for contributing your insightful comment that led to this post. Your campaign idea sounds like a great idea. But as you said in your original comment, that would take a combined effort from lots of advocacy groups, most of which are tied up in the marriage effort. So how do we accomplish this with few resources?

It's not really that expensive to pull off - Call To Duty was done with less than 60K, the first Voices of Honor at around 20K - so really, an independent actor positioned well on ENDA could identify a major donor to support such an action, and only that action. The work would be in identifying spokespeople and key markets, with events being planned through universities as they provide a ready audience attractive to local media. Tell me if I'm oversimplifying, but this is exactly what we did with DADT 5 years ago.

Bil -

I agree that the numbers might well be there to pass the current House; unfortunately, there is NO way the leadership (such that they are) would allow a vote to take place. If the President were to sign such a bill on their watch, Boehner, Cantor, et als. would lose their next primaries by very wide margins.

Oh Bil, your words are music to my ears, but I'm afraid they're just what I want to hear. ENDA passable in 2012? I'd want to see real commitment on the part of Capitol Hill. With the delay in the introduction of ENDA while waiting for more co-sponsors, I'm not particularly impressed.

I think many blame ENDA failing on DADT repeal taking all the communities energy, with the underlying presumption that DADT repeal had capital to spare to send ENDA's way, and therefore both bills were possible.

That's not the underlying presumption at all -- the criticism of DADT repeal taking all the community's energy was precisely because people did understand that there wasn't enough political capital to pass both bills, and felt utterly betrayed that "Gay, Incorporated" chose to use its power and privilege to push the bill which was unequivocally less important and would help fewer people.

The idea that DADT "didn't have energy to spare" posits that DADT had some kind of first claim on community resources, which is exactly the arrogance that critics of Gay, Incorporated are pointing to. If anything, ENDA has been "in line" a hell of a lot longer.

Desiree, I couldn't agree more. They edged us out and we lost. At the same time, I can't help observing that we both very nearly lost, and that one of the major factors that gave Dems the political courage to move on DADT repeal, which was declared dead on several occasions up until the end, was the White House protest by GetEqual that received a lot of media notice.

with the underlying presumption that DADT repeal had capital to spare to send ENDA's way

I don't know a single person operating under that presumption. The assumption was that DADT repeal is far less important than ENDA, so ENDA should have happened first.

I agree that ENDA is more important than DADT repeal (it affects tens of millions instead of tens of thousands; sorry, Jarrod, but I'm never going to join the military while I will eventually need to work for a straight employer), but I don't think that it was a trade-off or that they were competing for political capital in any meaningful way. By the time DADT repeal was being seriously taken up ENDA had already been postponed half a dozen times.

Moreover, all this talk of "community resources" implies that the bills that happen are the ones we want to have happen, as if we have as much sway as we think we do. Sure, nonprofits will never disabuse the LGBT community of that notion, but most of what goes on they can't control.

ENDA is more difficult because it challenges more than people's beliefs. It challenges their pocketbooks. Giving workers another legitimate claim on their employers, at a time when the balance of power has tipped far away from the American working class towards the owning class, was a big ask.

We live in a time where big corporations have no problem putting black, gay, trans, latino, etc. people in their ads but don't want to pay all their workers a living wage. Inclusion is chic, giving away power is unthinkable. Politicians telling a few generals to get over their fear of the gay takes some chutzpah, but telling corporate America that their workers have a new reason to sue them is suicidal.

Plus there's the trans issue. DADT repeal advocates made no bones about the fact that they weren't even going to try to help transgender people in the military. On ENDA, gender ID protections just can't be removed at this point. As Tico said, there's transphobia on the Hill to take into account.

We must run in separate circles. But that doesn't matter, as the 'underlying presumption' was in reference to Tico's piece, and not you.

I can tell you with deep certainty that there was indeed competition between ENDA and DADT repeal until as late as early 2010, though - for SU at least - the writing was on the wall that DADT repeal was the low hanging fruit. This was the inside game that many are not aware of.

Bills happen because of what the community finds interesting, provided it finds it's way into the mainstream. This helpless bit by supposed powers-that-be is total malarky. The media is a tremendous tool to get what we want, provided we use it effectively - which means sometimes using sticks on our 'allies' and carrots on our 'enemies.' Because most in the community are not willing to do that, a sense of inability to affect change results.

As far as far-reaching effects of DADT repeal on the overall gay rights movement:

1). The fight for DADT put a face on an LGBT issue for the first time for many Americans, utilizing heartstrings and apple pie that only the military community can invoke. Folks won't forget that, which will help tremendously in future fights;

2). We know have an eclectic population that will work, live, and interact constantly with gay and lesbian troops. After their respective terms of enlistment ends in 3-6 years, each one will take that experience home with them and spread acceptance in communities that no LGBT activist can touch;

3). As DOMA is key to partner benefits in the military, partner programs such as SU's Campaign for Military Partners are in effect grooming DOMA spokespeople for when the fight takes off. The DOMA fight now has some extra apple pie to dish out.

But, despite all this, the bottom line is that DADT won out because it was ripe, and because groups working on DADT repeal did a better job in pushing the media into creating a mainstream issue. There are lessons to be learned here, and my post was meant to help convey some of those lessons.

"However, your argument completely disregards the difficulty of getting tepid blue dogs to vote on two gay bills in Congress within months of each other in either the pre-election frenzy or post-election lame-duck, and that we barely passed DADT, biting our nails as we pushed to literally the last possible minute."

One of the reasons there maybe conflict is there is a lack of understanding that ENDA is not a GAY BILL... Its not even a trans bill. It provides protection for anyone who may not present their gender according to social constructions of gender.

DADT as with MA will only effect those who desire to access the military or get married. While ENDA helps protect everyone from employment discrimination. NOT JUST THE TRANS FOLK. It seems the gays would rather continue to oppress and act in divisive ways to disenfranchise trans folk. its so sad...

And how do you solve a lack of understanding, if not with a mass education campaign? Though I don't think there's any chance of changing the perception of ENDA being an LGBT bill anytime soon, and would argue that the community's energy could be better spent elsewhere.