This is hard for me. I am about to advocate for the passage of a federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or ENDA, that strips gender identity from its protected classes but keeps sexual orientation. It is unfair to every hardworking transgender American who face uphill battles to live their lives openly. Social stigma, violence and abuse haunt our trans-brothers and sisters every day, and it's a scar on the face of America for having absolutely zero legal protections for them. If I could wave a magic wand and make law, ENDA, including protections for transpeople would be law yesterday.
I'm gay. I'm not transgender. But I am also not black, a woman, Jewish, or married (although I'm not a member of a majority in any of these areas, except I am a male, which is not a majority but historically, it's not men that have been discriminated against in favor of women). I don't believe in discrimination based on race, sex, religion or marital status, either. I believe, without equivocation, that federal protections against employment discrimination must
expand to include both sexual orientation and gender identity. The principle behind it is too important to leave the fight anywhere but at its desired conclusion.
However, I'm a principled pragmatist. I do not believe in letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. Whenever progress can be made for GLBT rights, even in small steps, we should support and accept it. That does not mean we should ever stop pushing for full equality - not just in employment but in all areas of the law - but every small step of progress should help us redouble our efforts to pursue full equality. But it does mean that when legislative progress comes along that meets any of our goals, however partially, we should not discount it.
On Friday, Congressman Barney Frank explained
what was going on with the federal ENDA of 2007, which originally included protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. The political reality is that while the Democratic leadership and a strong majority of Democrats back expanding protections to both gender identity and sexual orientation, but they (emphases mine)
... did a special official Whip count - a poll of the Members. There had been earlier informal counts that had showed significant support for a bill that included transgender, although even these informal checks never showed that we had a majority. But Members will sometimes be inclined to give people the answers they think the people who are asking the questions want until the crunch comes. In the crunch - the official Whip count taken in contemplation of the bill - it became very clear that while we would retain a significant majority of Democrats, we would lose enough so that a bill that included transgender protection would lose if not amended, and that an anti-transgender amendment would pass.
This sucks. But this is a fact, albeit an unpleasant, disgusting one. This fact shows that most members of Congress are still living in the dark ages and think either that it should be permissible to allow workplace discrimination against transgener people or that their districts won't stand for full employment equality. It absolutely sucks. The fact is the votes are not there in House presently to pass ENDA in its current form. But the whip count also found that a bill with only sexual orientation included would pass the House.
The question then is a simple - do NOT confuse simple with easy - one: do we accept partial progress and allow for the unprecedented occasion of Congress speaking out against employment discrimination based on sexuality, or do we resist that partial progress because we could not get a more perfect bill to pass? To me, the answer, too, is simple - once again, not to be confused with easy. We cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We take any progress we can, and then keep pushing for broader change, greater progress and full equality. To that end, Frank has said that while the current ENDA will have protections for only sexuality, another bill with protections for gender identity will advance through committees and educational agendas on a speedy track.
Besides, every passage of every civil rights legislation, however inadequate, takes us one step closer to the next one, because that passage, however imperfectly, re-establishes the principle of equality and fairness. And that basis is reason for hope, not cause for despair. So if we must take baby steps towards equality, let's. And let's never take our eye off the ball.