Log Cabin's Tafel Speaks Out on Trans Inclusion
"We seem to not have open discussion. When anybody questions anything, they're called a heretic for questioning what the truth is," says Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Rich Tafel, who believes the world is changing all the time and we should constantly question it.
A theologian by education, Tafel continues to question and to observe. In March he wrote an opinion article for the LCR online newspaper that asked for a re-examination of the premise behind the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, saying many of the nation's top corporations and other private employers have already adopted policies against anti-gay employment discrimination. Tafel went on to say, "I can tell you anecdotally that as I travel all over the country, I almost never hear from anyone who was fired because they were gay. In fact, I hear almost every other issue being passionately argued, but not this one."
"Only 15% of Americans claim they would want to discriminate against a gay employee, and the business community is way ahead of the government on diversity and freedom. Often legislation follows change - it doesn't lead change," he said, referring to a decade-long attempt to pass ENDA legislation.
"The transgender community is more likely to be fired from their jobs and more likely to be the victim of a hate crime, I believe" Tafel says. "The gay and lesbian community needs to work out its relationship with the transgender community, some of whom are gay and some straight. This discussion really hasn't taken place in any formal setting. There is a lot of ignorance [on transgender issues] in the gay and lesbian community and the first step is to figure out what our fundamental needs and goals are."
LCR participated in preparing the first ENDA, introduced in the 103rd Congress. During the mid-90s, LCR worked on the Workplace Fairness Act. This bill was transinclusive and stated that merit would be the sole criteria for hiring, firing, and promoting in the workplace. The Democrats and the Human Rights Campaign feared the bill, thinking it might roll back quotas and affirmative action for other minorities who enjoyed those laws. It was never introduced.
It seems that even transgender Republicans assume LCR is no more supportive of transgender rights than the GOP. Tafel responded, "I think there's been little discussion between the two communities, and I think stereotypes on both sides harm this effort. Philosophically, we must decide if we are organized as a gay movement, a sexual minority movement, or other models, " he says. "As a gay movement, transgendered are part of it if they are gay. LCR has traditionally seen itself as a gay organization. I think we've all fallen victim to identity politics here that likes to put everyone in a nice neat category. I don't think we fit into nice neat categories. Operating under the umbrella of people who are different, and discriminated against because of it, might be a wiser organizing strategy. It would also come across as more honest to the mainstream as well. At some level, we have all felt the pain and joy of being different."
The transgender community has been increasingly effective in securing local and state protections, but covet inclusion in ENDA. "I think the fear of including transgendered people under protections is much greater among gays than among those we lobby," says Tafel. "There's a lot of misunderstanding in the gay community concerning transgendered people. I think that we've failed to discuss this within the community. I doubt there would be much more difficulty in adding transgendered, but the education must start first in the community. To the extent gays fear that transinclusion will freak out legislators, I think they underestimate two things. First, we gays freak them out. Second, the legislators have a greater ability to deal with human differences than we give credit."
"I'm often criticized for not using LGBT in my comments," he says. "I believe gay is a more inclusive word than the list, and I'm not sure how long that list or acronym will become. Words are important and I think there needs to be a discussion about what represents us best."
"Currently I think there's a bullying effect about adding the 'T' and I believe this will backfire because those same people who publicly add 'T' to their group or speaking style strike me as being very uncomfortable and even hostile behind the scenes. This means they've made a public accommodation, but not a personal one."
"I think there is huge ignorance, which should be addressed in some type of forum. Today, I think the TG community is winning their inclusion through intimidation of more liberal groups, but they have not won their hearts. This will lead to public use of 'T' in their comments and inclusion of token transgendered people on their boards or as employees, but I do not believe the underlying ignorance has been addressed. As a person who has experienced the sting of the gay community's 'Inclusion,' I can understand the anger among transgendered people toward the greater community."
"I personally believe discrimination in the workplace and hate crimes are much more a reality for gender benders [than straight appearing gays], " he says. "I think gender issues are not addressed well in the gay world. Many gay men have a strong fear of being perceived as feminine, for example. Gays still pride themselves, sometimes secretly, that they can pass as straight. I still have incredibly effeminate men praising me after speeches for looking so straight 'like us.' They don't see their own gender bending. This internalized fear may be the source of this public nod to the trans community and private mockery of it in many mainstream gay circles. Again, I feel identity politics is a trap here. It pretends we fit nicely into categories and we don't."
Tafel believes that corporate America will increasingly realize that what makes our country successful is our creative genius. "Our creative abilities come from our tolerance of those who think outside the box," he says. "Future leaders of corporate America will be looking for those 'different' people who break the mold. They will also understand that if a company tolerates 'their' difference well, it will certainly tolerate my difference well, and thus draw employees."
Tafel recommends that the transgender community. "First, attempt as best as possible to create a united front. I know that's not always easy, but my experience with transgendered leaders is that one knocks the other one. I'd say get your house in order," he advises.
"Second, educate the gay community or any community that is crucial to your coalition. This is a pain, but there's so much ignorance on this you wouldn't believe it. Third, don't wait for gays to 'get it.' Stop waiting and stop blaming the gay community. Go about your mission as you see it. Don't be afraid to break the mold on strategies as well," he says. "Set real goals and work a strategy from there, but don't immediately repeat the goals of the gay community and mimic them. Set your own goals. Don't assume that someone isn't your ally and don't assume someone else won't be. Go and meet and discuss. In your speeches and pronouncements talk more about the complexity with which God has created ALL of us, and how there's nothing wrong with that complexity except that we humans love to simplify and label. Encourage your audiences to explore and celebrate their differences, rather than conform to one label of one identity group. Speak from your heart. Also, speak of your sacrifice. All people can appreciate that. You [the author], for example, lost a career because of your decision to be honest about how you feel you are. Your audience may not agree with you, but they will definitely respect you. How many gay leaders would risk anything to be gay?-very few. Hate crimes are a reality and should be discussed, but don't become victims. I find the transgendered community to be strong that's a plus."
Tafel says his spiritual outlook, which has given him a strong sense of justice, guides him. The only conflict "is that the political realm in Washington is very brutal and mean and dishonest. I've chosen a job in which I invite attacks on myself. The most stinging ones are from other gays that are very threatened by my refusal to fit into their world view," he says. "They feel they must demonize me. They've impugned my motives and lie about me. So, the toughest aspect of my work is not returning hate for hate."