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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Minnesota Gay Groups and ENDA

I interviewed Joe Carlile, Chair of Stonewall DFL, to get their position on the controversy over strategy to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I asked him for Stonewall DFL's position on ENDA and he said:

We support a full and conprehensive ENDA that includes full transgender protections.

I asked if this meant that Stonewall DFL would oppose ENDA legislation that falls short of this, and Joe said there is nothing on the record that says that Stonewall DFL would take a public position against an ENDA that doesn't include transgender, but their public strategy now is to push - along with other gay groups - for a version of ENDA that includes transgender protections. Joe answered:

We are part of a national effort to ensure that any bill that comes to the floor would have protections for all. I can say that as an organization we favor the inclusiveness of the Minnesota legislation and would like to see it enacted on the federal level.

I asked again whether this meant they would oppose ENDA if it didn't include Trans protections. Joe stated:

I can't answer that right now. Our public strategy is to work within the party to make sure a trans-inclusive bill is the bill presented.

Contrast this to OutFront Minnesota's script that they encouraged people to use when calling Keith Ellison's office:

"I'm a constituent calling to let Representative Ellison know that I strongly support H.R. 2015, the version of ENDA that protects all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I oppose any efforts to cut transgender people out of the bill, and I oppose any substitute bill that would leave transgender people behind."

The email they encourage says the same thing:

(1) Support only an inclusive ENDA, HR 2015 -- the original ENDA, which provides the only real protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

(2) Oppose a Motion to Recommit -- Do not allow an inclusive ENDA to be stopped by procedural maneuvers that could strip out some protections.

(3) Oppose a Non-Inclusive ENDA -- Any bill that does not include gender identity and expression does not effectively protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, OR transgender people. It leaves ALL members of our community vulnerable to employment discrimination. [emphasis mine]

There is much argument on this point. Dale Carpenter, from the University of Minnesota School of Law argues against this perspective:

That brings us to pragmatic considerations. The relevant choice, if Barney Frank is right about the temperature of Congress on this issue, is not between a limited ENDA and a comprehensive ENDA. It's a choice between a limited ENDA and no ENDA. It's hard to see how it serves any principle at all if it can't be enacted.

In other words, ENDA doesn’t “include” anybody if it can’t pass. Nobody knows how long it might take to educate Congress about trans issues. In the meantime, in 31 states there will be no job protection for gay people. After working so hard for this moment, shall we make them wait another year? Five years? Forever?

Just how much are activists’ uncompromising principles worth in terms of the lives of gay Americans in 31 states?

Some observers have noted that even if a gay-only ENDA overcomes a filibuster in the Senate, President Bush might veto it. That’s certainly possible and maybe probable, but a trans-inclusive ENDA would make both Senate passage and presidential approval less likely. Even if Bush vetoed ENDA, simply winning in the House would be a historic victory. It would build political momentum for more advances later, including eventual coverage for gender identity.

Progress in civil rights has never been an all-or-nothing proposition. If it were, we’d still be waiting to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protected blacks from job discrimination, but left out the aged and disabled people. When the law was expanded in 1991, but still excluded sexual orientation, gay people didn’t picket the NAACP.

Dale concludes:

Ironically, many of the activists demanding trans inclusion live in states where an incremental approach to gay and trans rights is well understood. California adopted gay civil rights laws long before trans protections. One of the groups opposed to a gay-only ENDA is the Empire State Pride Agenda, the New York gay-rights group, which just four years ago lobbied successfully for a gay-only state antidiscrimination law because a trans-inclusive one couldn’t pass.

The opposition to ENDA is coming mostly from a cadre of articulate, politically aware, and protected gay activists living in cocoons on the coasts and in large cities. They are imposing gender and queer theory on the lives of millions of gay Americans throughout the South, Midwest, and West. They charge that a gay-only ENDA manifests a selfish willingness to throw transgenders out of the boat.

Instead, the all-or-nothing ENDA manifests a self-satisfied willingness to sell the fly-over gays down the river. Hearts pure and integrity intact, elite activists who already have their rights will defend their high-minded principles right down to the last gay Alabaman.