THE Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, passed Congress in November.
Rep. Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) controversial removal of gender identity from the bill enraged lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups across the country. Frank, one of two openly gay members of Congress, claims to support transgender protections but said he didn't have the votes. It's been reported that freshman Democrats, many from previously Republican districts, didn't want to vote for gender-identity language.
Frank and the gay-activist Human Rights Campaign wanted the bill to be voted on without the gender identity protection. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) the other openly gay member of Congress, wrote an amendment returning gender identity to the bill, then withdrew it before it could be voted on.
Some 360 LGBT groups protested the removal of gender identity, but on the eve of the vote, Human Rights published a poll of 500 LGBT community members claiming that 70 percent preferred passing a bill that didn't cover transgender people rather than not passing a bill at all. (The methodology of the poll has been criticized.) After the vote, HRC commissioned a second poll that (60 percent to 37 percent) indicating that those seeking to pass the law were wrong to remove protections for transgendered people in order to get the votes necessary for passage.
According to Frank, "The transgender issue is of relatively recent vintage." This is erroneous. Americans have been aware of transsexuals at least since Christine Jorgensen shocked the world with her sex-change operation in the early '50s.
But no matter how many times Frank hears that transgender people want equal rights, he is perturbed and surprised. For at least 13 years, transgender people have been lobbying Congress, yet it's news to him?
Early gay and lesbian activists believed that in order to appear as normal-looking as anyone else, they had to vilify the transgendered. During the '70s, drag queens and transsexuals were harassed in many lesbian and gay groups and social environments.
So there is a problem with lesbians and gays claiming that transgender people only recently became involved in this legislation when for decades they have worked to keep transgender people out of the movement. We can't be part of the civil rights movement because we weren't allowed to be in it.
Without gender-identity protection, Gertrude Stein could be fired from a writing job for having a butch haircut. Ellen DeGeneres for being "boyish." Elton John for wearing platforms and sequins. Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote and James Baldwin for being effeminate.
Anybody who doesn't conform to someone else's gender perception can be fired. Forty years ago, women weren't allowed to wear pants to work, school or formal restaurants. It was a major change in the consciousness of our society for women to wear pants in public.
When I asked an NAACP official about transgender exclusion from the employment bill, he said that civil rights comes in increments. I am well aware it took more than 100 years from Emancipation to the '60s civil-rights laws.
But this is not a civil-rights model we should be emulating.
Also, I don't recall any civil rights groups suggesting civil-rights protections only for light-skinned, bourgeois African-Americans who can pass for white.
While there were probably people who harbored those sentiments, this wasn't the way it was presented to the public.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's special report on transgender hate murders, "Disposable People," pointed out that, according to the FBI, in 2002 there were 11 murders motivated by racial, religious or sexual-orientation bias. But it also reported 14 murders of transgender people that year.
If transgender people don't even have the right to employment without discrimination, how is this society supposed to take hate crimes against us seriously?
Ironically, the House dropped legislation approved by the Senate that would have expanded hate-crimes legislations to include gays. The bill was included in the defense policy bill. The Senate approved the bill, but the House refused to vote on it.
Attaching the hate-crimes bill with sexual and gender identity wording to the defense appropriations bill suggests that inclusive hate crimes legislation doesn't have the merit to stand on its own. Removing it from the defense bill means that protections for gays is expendable just as protection for gender-identity was expendable in the employment bill.
Sen. Ted Kennedy's office is uncertain whether ENDA would be voted on before the end of the year. Even if it is, President Bush is expected to veto it.
CONGRESS isn't able to override a veto for things that the public clearly wants, like pulling out of Iraq or health insurance for children. So what's the point of pushing the legislation now when there's a good possibility of success with a future Democratic administration? Unless the purpose is a pretense to make it appear for the LGB community that the Democrats are doing something.
If Barney Frank isn't willing to stand up for transgender people and gender identity in ENDA, then maybe someone else should introduce the bill next time. *
Cei Bell is a Philadelphia writer.