Sunday, October 07, 2007

The ENDA controversy

Currently Congress is considering the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. This legislation would prohibit firing someone because of their sexual orientation, just as you can't fire someone because of their religion or gender and this year ENDA is as close to passage as it has ever gotten in the 30 years since it was first introduced. Unfortunately the bill has become mired in controversy-not just from the religious right which as you might guess opposes any sort of ENDA passage but also controversy among groups that are at least nominally allies.

The problem is that ENDA, as proposed this year includes gender identity and some gay writers are afraid that adding this provision will make ENDA less palatable politically. An article in Salon by John Aravosis sums up the concerns that some gay leaders have. He observes:

"I support transgendered rights. But I'm not naive. If there are still lingering questions in the gay community about gender identity 10 years after our leaders embraced the T -- and there are -- then imagine how conflicted straight members of Congress are when asked to pass a civil rights bill for a woman who used to be a man. We're not talking right and wrong here, we're talking political reality. Our own community is still grappling with this issue. Yet we expect members of Congress, who took 30 years to embrace a gay ENDA, to welcome the T's into the bill in only five months."

I see his point of view, but I think he misses a couple of points. First of all historically transgendered people have been involved in the struggle for gay rights. For instance, transgendered people were involved in the Stonewall riots which many say marked the the start of the modern push for gay rights. Second of all, the inclusive ENDA does more than protect transgendered but any one whose expression of gender doesn't exactly conform to the norms. This could be a man who is somewhat feminine in appearance, but other wise straight and also a butch appearing woman who may or may not be lesbian.

Finally I agree with him, when he says that the gays are still scratching their heads about transgendered people. But does he really think ENDA opponents such as the Concerned Women for America are any less likely to oppose ENDA without gender identity added? Granted CWFA is currently using scare tactics and misinformation about transgendered people to energize their supporters. For instance consider this gem:

"ENDA would force all Americans who prefer to live within the realm of reality to pretend, by force of law, that a man is a woman — that an apple is an orange, simply because that apple thinks it’s an orange (awkward, fruity pun not intended). It’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” meets George Orwell, and even if you’re the Mary Lou Retton of mental gymnastics, you land flat on your keister on this one.

ENDA is portrayed by proponents as a panacea against workplace discrimination — a mere extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They claim it simply insulates people against employment discrimination based upon “sexual orientation” (i.e., “gay”) or 'gender identity' (i.e., cross-dressers). But instead, the legislation would actually violate the Civil Rights Act by codifying the very thing it purports to prevent — workplace discrimination."

The people at CWFA aren't stupid. They use this language to play to people's ignorance about gender identity just as Rush Limbaugh recently did on a radio show. I won't quote any of this because it just is not appropriate language. Limbaugh and CWFA are not going to be any less adamant about opposing ENDA. They are simply playing on people's fears to split ENDA supporters. It is we ironically who have deluded ourselves into thinking that ENDA is really more likely to pass if without the gender identity provision.

I am pretty pragmatic, if a less inclusive ENDA is really the best we can get...I say take it. Maybe half a loaf is better than none. I hope some sort of ENDA can pass in the next decade and that if we get the half loaf, we come back soon for the rest. The worse thing that can happen is that ENDA supporters be they gay or transgendered or just not able to fit gender stereotypes get polarized from each other. If that happens the CWFA, and Focus on the Family and the Rush Limbaughs of this world will have won an even bigger victory than the defeat of ENDA. What a deal...Bush vetoes ENDA (You really think he won't?). Conservatives get an energizing issue that is now even more potent because the proponents are now fighting among themselves.

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