The transgender fiasco

WHY ADD GENDER IDENTITY TO ENDA WHEN YOU KNOW IT’S GOING TO BE DROPPED ANYWAY?

Something has been bugging me. Why did Congress add gender identity to ENDA this year if they knew it didn’t have the votes and they knew they were going to remove it anyway? I mean, they must have known that America isn’t exactly as trans-friendly as it is gay-friendly (and calling America gay-friendly is already a stretch). And they must have known that they didn’t yet have the votes in the House, and certainly the Senate, to pass a law that protects transexuals in the workplace. Yet, at the same time they added gender identity to ENDA for the first time ever, those same members of Congress knew that this year they were going to get ENDA passed, come hell or high water.

But none of this makes sense. If you’re hell-bent on passing ENDA this year, then you don’t add a provision to ENDA that you know is going to kill it. And if you were planning on eventually dropping transgendered people from the bill from the git-go, then why add them in the first place, when you know darn well that there’s going to be hell to pay when you drop them? The entire thing doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?

MY THEORY ON REVOLUTIONS

I have a theory about all of this. It’s a theory about revolutions. I’ve always believed that you can’t force a country to have a revolution, and then expect democracy to stick. Yes, you can launch a coup, topple a government, execute Saddam, but for a revolution to stick – for democracy to stick – a country’s citizens need to be responsible for their OWN revolution. Otherwise they have no ownership – it wasn’t their revolution, it was yours. (And actually, the Washington Post (I think) did a fascinating article about this a while back, about how statistically revolutions really don’t stick when they’re forced from the outside – anybody got the link?)

Anyway, that brings us back to transgender rights.

THE ORIGINS OF LGBT/GLBT

Once upon a time we were called “the gay community.” Then some of the women in the community felt that the word “gay” really only applied to gay men – women were called “lesbian.” So lesbian was added to gay (not clear by whom) and we became the “gay and lesbian” (or “lesbian and gay”) community. Then a while after that, bisexuals were feeling left out. Someone then decided to add bisexual to the mix, so we became the “gay, lesbian and bisexual community” (or “lesbian, gay, bisexual”). And if you Google the phrase, you’ll see that the phrase, while not used any more, was in popular use a while back, and if you put the lesbians in front, and call it “lgb community,” you get 15,000 hits. While verbose, perhaps, none of these inclusions was terribly controversial as everyone in the community accepted that gays, lesbians and bisexuals were all “gay” (well, bisexuals were at least “part-time gays,” as the religious right so affectionately calls them :-)

As little as 14 years ago, the phrase “lesbian and gay community” was used by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force back in 1993 (while NGLTF is now leading the charge for transgender inclusion in the “LGBT” community). And as little as two years ago, GLAAD (which has also been at the forefront of trans inclusion in the gay community) still used the phrase “LGB community” on their Web site to differentiate the gay community from the transgendered community (“By dismissing these issues as merely a by-product of comedy, the LGB community gives a free pass to the mockery of the trans community”). Then, sometime in the late 90s, groups like GLAAD and NGLTF started adding the T to the LGB, and I remember at the time scratching my head as to why. And I wasn’t alone.

The moral of the story: Anyone who says that transgendered people have always been accepted as part of the gay community is simply wrong. A little over ten years ago, NGLTF, the group that was quite possibly at the forefront of pushing the inclusion of T in LGB (and who is leading the effort to include trans in ENDA) didn’t even use the T themselves. So the question remains, if NGLTF has only accepted transgendered people as part of the community for a little over ten years, when did the rest of the gay community do the same, and has it yet?

I would argue that the gay community never collectively and overwhelmingly decided to include the T in LGB (or GLB). It happened because a few groups like NGLTF and GLAAD starting using it, and they and a handful of vocal activists and transgender leaders pretty much shamed everyone else into doing it. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the T shouldn’t have been added. I’m just saying that I don’t think the T was added because there was a groundswell of demand in the gay community that we add T to LGB. I think it happened through pressure, organizational fiat, shame, and osmosis.

And that is how we got into the mess we’re in today.

WHEN REVOLUTIONS FAIL

I think that the transgender community was added to ENDA the same way the T got added on to the LGB. By force, and attrition, rather than by popular demand. I remember being at the beach with a bunch of gay friends about 6 or 7 years ago. There was an Advocate or OUT magazine on the table and it was open to some article about the transgender community. The details of the discussion now elude me, but I remember there being a lively debate about just how and when transexuals became part of the gay community, and vice versa – the consensus was that nobody knew how it happened, and nobody was quite sure that they agreed with the inclusion. Now zoom forward to today. We’ve heard a lot of anger from every single gay group on the planet, save HRC, that gender identity is being dropped from ENDA in order to save the bill. We’ve also heard from a number of vocal activists. But when I speak to friends and colleagues privately, senior members of the gay political/journalistic establishment, and just plain old gay friends around the country (and our own readers), the message I hear is far different from what I’m hearing from the groups. I’m clearly hearing three things. Well, four:

1. I feel empathy for transgendered people, and support their struggle for civil rights.
2. I want ENDA to pass this year even if we can’t include transgendered people.
3. I don’t understand when transgendered people became part of the gay community?

And then there’s always #4: Please don’t tell anyone I told you this.

What I’m hearing is a message far different from what you hear from NGLTF and some of the louder activist claiming to speak for the enlightened masses. I think that a lot of gay people never truly accepted the transgender revolution that was thrust upon them. They simply sat back and shut up about their questions and concerns and doubts out of a sense of shame that it was somehow impolite to even question what was happening, and fear that if they did ask questions they’d be marked as bigots. And now, that paper-thin transgender revolution is coming home to roost.

I have no insider information leading me to this conclusion, but, I think that gender identity was finally added to ENDA out of shame and fear. Neither the Congress nor the le
ad gay groups wanted to be seen as anti-trans, even though some of them clearly knew that adding trans was a death-blow to ENDA. So they did it anyway. Their calculus wasn’t about including a vital, core member of the gay community (otherwise trans would never get dropped). And their calculus wasn’t that we could win even with trans included (because in today’s America, that’s simply not true, and they know it). The calculus was one of fear and shame: I.e., If we don’t add trans to the bill, we’re going to get beaten up and labeled bigots. (Obviously other groups supported adding trans to ENDA because they accept the transgender revolution, but for the Congress and the lead groups, I don’t think so.)

A STATE OF FEAR

People are simply afraid to ask any questions about this issue, and those unresolved conflicts are coming home to roost. I know I was afraid to write about this issue, and still am. I thought long and hard about even weighing in on this issue last week. Did I really want to have to deal with people screaming and calling me a bigot? And I’ve got gay journalist friends and gay political friends who have sent me private “atta boy”s supporting my public essays, while refusing to go public themselves.

There is a climate of fear and confusion and doubt about the transgender issue in the gay community. And no one wants to talk about it. And when you don’t talk about your small concerns, when you’re afraid to talk about them, when it’s not considered PC for you to talk about them, one day those small concerns turn into big problems and the revolution comes tumbling down.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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