It's always difficult to lose a political contest. Sometimes it takes a while to mourn that loss and move on, adapt and face the new political reality. Such is the case with the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the fiction crafted by United ENDA to justify their politically untenable position.
First off, nobody is saying that transgenders were not active in the 1960s. What is empirically true is that transgenders did not do the political work to build a majority in Congress to pass an inclusive ENDA, otherwise the votes would have been there.
The only thing the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has done right over the decades is push an ENDA to protect LGB to the extent that it won a vote in the House. Earlier this decade, HRC adapted and included transgenders in ENDA but failed to take the temperature of congress to secure support. Progressive queers have been protesting the HRC's conservativism for decades before United ENDA leader Theresa Sparks was awarded and accepted an achievement award from the HRC recently. Apparently the HRC was not so bad then as it is now.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a long time friend of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is the one person responsible for rounding up votes in the House. Many local Democratic Party and Labor activists are covering for Pelosi's decision to not crack the party discipline whip on members to find the votes to pass ENDA for all. The HRC does not have the power and leverage to coerce votes from members of congress, Pelosi does.
It is politically suicidal for a slim minority of an already diffuse group to hold up the progress of a majority without having support from that majority to do so. Polls taken last fall showed that 70% of LGBT opposed holding off on ENDA until trans folks were included if all we could get then was the simple bill. Yes, without protections, trans folks will be oppressed. Does it really make them feel better if they hold back tens of millions of others?
In California, LGB rights were secured legislatively over a period of decades into the 1990s. Years passed before a champion, Mark Leno, took the issue on and expanded protections for trans folks. Thus, it is disengenuous to assert that incrementalism leaves people behind forever. It takes a champion and effective political strategy to succeed, not holding others back until you get what you want.
And it is utterly hypocritical for Pride at Work, the queer arm of organized labor, which demands solidarity as it negotiates contracts for a slim percentage of represented working people while denying solidarity en masse to the rest of us, to condemn those of us who accepted the original ENDA lite as a fallback once Pelosi threw trans folks under the bus, as lacking in solidarity.
Would Pride at Work demonstrate solidarity with working Americans and insist that no more union contracts be negotiated until we are all represented? I don't think so, but that is what they are asking of lesbians, gays and bisexuals when they insist we delay seeking our rights.
Trans folks lost this months ago now, yet they are still locked in protest mode. I might not agree that the netroots can "take on the system" without being significantly incorporated into it, but Markos Moulitsas is correct in his assessment
that the system has developed an effective immune response to protest, one that Cindy Sheehan and United ENDA have yet to learn.
In this case, protest functions as an ego salve that is also a political sleight of hand to deflect accountability from Nancy Pelosi, the person with sole authority to have passed an inclusive ENDA and alienates tens of millions of LGB allies.
Moulitsas is correct in pointing out in his criticisms of Sheehan that other-centered politics cannot be eclipsed by egomania, which is precisely describes United ENDA--a group which is aiming for failure by taking a destructive stand that proves to them and their friends how politically correct they are. He is further correct when he says that we do better basing our more ambitious campaigns on the consolidation of our successes rather than the shards of failure. Too bad this guy is a Democrat.
Now that almost a year has passed since United ENDA rained on the LGB ENDA parade, obscuring the fact that the first ever queer rights bill passed the House, it is time for advocates for put away the picket signs and wear out some shoe leather and internet packets organizing to find the votes to pass a complete ENDA.
Maybe if we're all lucky and Congressional Democrats get their act together, ENDA can morph into a jobs and housing protection bill for all queers.
But even if that is not the case, tens of millions of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in the flyover are at risk of being fired from their jobs now because they might be queer. They deserve protection today even if the political support is not there to include transgender folks.
Marc Salomon is a member of the San Francisco Green Party.