By ANDREW MIGA
Associated Press Writer
AP - Friday, October 12
WASHINGTON - Rep. Barney Frank, a leading gay rights champion in Congress, on Thursday urged fellow gay rights advocates not to let their dispute over protecting transgender workers doom a job discrimination ban that could mark a major civil rights advance for gays in the workplace.
The debate over including transgender people has sharply divided gay rights activists, many of whom are trying to kill a stripped-down bill without protections for transgender workers that Frank and Democratic leaders hope will win House passage this year.
"We're not going to be split off this way," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We're driven by principle. No civil rights movement has ever left a part of its community behind - and we're not about to be the first."
Frank, D-Mass., one of two openly gay members of Congress, supports transgender protections, but said they don't have the votes.
"Politically, the notion that you don't do anything until you can do everything is self-defeating," he said.
Frank said the public has more awareness because gay activists began educating people about the unfairness of prejudice based on sexual orientation a long time ago.
"These things take awhile," Frank said. "The transgender issue is of relatively recent vintage."
Legislation banning workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals _ but not those who have had sex-change surgery or cross-dressers _ has stalled after an outcry from the transgender community and its allies, including many gay rights organizations.
"Transgender" is an umbrella term that covers transsexuals, cross-dressers and others whose outward appearance doesn't match their gender at birth.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Churches and the military would be exempt.
But when Democrats took vote counts and realized the measure would fail, they substituted a new scaled-back version dropping transgender people from the bill. A second bill to ban workplace discrimination against transgenders was also drafted.
Gay rights groups that oppose a ban that leaves out transgender people have waged an aggressive lobbying campaign.
"Fighting your friends can sometimes be difficult," said Frank.
"I never thought in a million years we would be on the opposite side of Barney Frank and it is painful," he said.
Federal law bans job discrimination based on factors such as race, gender and religion. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have laws against sexual orientation discrimination.
However, only nine states specifically protect transgender people from discrimination: New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Mexico, California, Illinois, Maine, Hawaii, Washington. The District of Columbia also has a similar law.
By January, laws also will be in effect in Iowa, Vermont, Colorado and Oregon.
The bill numbers are H.R. 2015, H.R. 3685 and H.R. 3686.
First off, I applaud Andrew Miga for referring to us as "transgender," rather than the often misused "transgendered" (a pet peeve of mine). Thanks, Andy. Sorry... had to get that out of the way.
As for the ENDA bill, it directly affects my personal and professional life, so I've been tracking it for a while. Even among local groups, there has been some debate over the inclusion of the T in LGBT. The problem reportedly lies in getting enough votes in Congress to support the full LGBT version of the bill. My question is, why do some legislators think they can safely support pro-gay legislation, but not pro-trans legislation? Do they have large numbers of constituents who are gung-ho for gay rights, but firmly against trans rights? I just don't see that being the case.
So, on the one hand, we have the practical Barney Frank (did I just say that?), who wants to take what he can get, while the political mood is right; and on the other hand, we have the principled Matt Foreman, who seems to be fighting for the entire LGBT community. It's difficult to fault either side, because both approaches make sense, on the surface.
I disagree with Frank on general politics 95% of the time, but I certainty don't think he's anti-trans. As a Washington insider, he's all too aware of the political realities of getting legislation passed, and I give him credit for thinking he's doing the right thing. Unfortunately, I think he's a bit misguided.
I have my doubts that transgender civil rights initiatives will garner much support anytime soon, unless they are included along with gay civil rights legislation. Personally, I don't want to wait, but I certainly don't want to sabotage the efforts of gay rights activists, either. I'd rather see one group succeed than two fail... but I'd much rather see two succeed, and I think that's feasible. There's enough momentum right now if they key players will just push it.
Supporting inclusion of transgender rights is not just a matter of my particular situation, though. Looking forward, I think future efforts to enact or amend LGBT civil rights legislation depend on a united LGBT community, and both gays and trannies (please forgive my casual terminology) must understand that we are in the same boat. In my opinion, scaling back the bill to exclude transgender rights will divide the LGBT community... not on a personal level, but on a political level. The next time the LGBs need the Ts, they might not be able to count on them.
Gay Rights Backers Split on Bias Bill