All or Nothing on Trans Rights
It's Time for Gays to Practice What We Preach
Gender identity deserves the same emphasis in this movement as gay rights legislation.
THE VICTORIES CAME at opposite ends of the country. In New York City and Takoma, Wash., transgender rights activists have celebrated in recent weeks the passage of landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
But it has been an entirely different story in Washington, where gay rights groups trumpeted the passage out of a Senate committee of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote for the first time since 1996, but that's not cause for celebration among trans rights activists and their constituents because gay activists and their allies in the Senate agreed to exclude "gender identity" as a protected
category in the legislation.
The Human Rights Campaign, ENDA's primary lobbyist, added the "T" to the "LGB" in its mission statement a year ago, but the group still does not support adding gender identity to ENDA, arguing that such a move likely would kill the legislation, according to HRC spokesperson Wayne Besen.
So members of our community line up, once again, on different sides of the same rope, playing tug-of-war to determine how inclusive our civil rights movement should be.
It?s already a politically correct requirement to list "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" when referring to anyone who isn?t heterosexual. It can?t be good enough to say "gay" and let people infer that you are including all "non-straights." Better say LGBT, lest you be chastised for excluding someone.
After all, inclusion is at the core of our demands for equal civil rights for gays. We don?t want to be divided from straights and given lesser rights and secondary status. We want to be treated equally. We demand equal freedoms and civil rights, regardless of sexual orientation.
HRC OFFICIALS AND other gay leaders contend that including gender identity and gender non-conformity as protected categories in ENDA will prevent the bill from passing. Trans activists disagree; they say members of Congress tell them that an all-encompassing ENDA could pass.
One side says activists should push what they realistically can expect to get made into law. Later, they contend, trans folks can be added to the protections.
The trans side says everyone should be included. Both gender identity and gender non-conformity should be among protected statuses for American workers, they argue. The fight is an ironic one for a movement whose beginning is marked by the Stonewall Riots, led largely by drag queens and other gender-benders.
It may be practical to only include in ENDA the categories that are deemed acceptable enough to pass Congressional muster. But advocating for what society can handle right now, instead of what society should do, is shortsighted. Gays cannot in good conscience expect justice for themselves while leaving transgenders out of the formula.
As Coretta Scott King has said: "An injustice to one is an injustice to all."
Gay leaders seem to be saying, "We?ll take what we can get," rather than, "We?ll take what is right." It is inconsistent for gays to ask for inclusion while simultaneously excluding transgender rights.
No, sexual orientation and gender non-conformity are not the same things, not
by far. But when it comes to civil rights, gays demand inclusion and should practice what they preach: Everyone should be treated equally, as human beings, regardless of immaterial characteristics such as gay, straight or trans, black or white, old or young.
Whatever label we choose -- gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian, transgender -- we have much more that unites us than separates us. With or without labels, we each are human. We love, we hurt, we laugh, we cry. Most of us have experienced discrimination personally -- and most of us have discriminated against someone else.
Just as gays expect to be included in legal protections for minorities, gays should include transgender rights in that same fight against discrimination. If it takes longer or is a tougher fight for ENDA to become law, so be it. An ENDA that itself discriminates but becomes law would be a hollow and shortsighted victory.
Let?s hope that no matter which side we are on, we can all see that we are pulling on the same rope, all working for equality. When we begin to understand how many more similarities we all have than differences, we will begin to achieve that equality.