Editorial: Rep. Barney Frank is Right

October 4, 2007 at 1:12 pm 2 comments

In the continuing swirl of debate around the Employment Non-Discrimination Act comes this editorial from Bay Windows, one of the largest and most influential LGBT papers in the country. The editorial was written by editor-in-chief Susan Ryan-Vollmar.

Rep. Barney Frank is right

If only we’d seen the passion, the blog posts and the last-minute organizing by LGBT organizations around a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) last year. And the year before that. And the decade before that. Just yesterday, a coalition called United ENDA unveiled its website featuring talking points for a trans-inclusive ENDA; legal analysis showing that an ENDA bill that only protects lesbians, gay men and bisexuals will be too weak to actually protect lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (the bill’s failure to protect actual transmen and women is conspicuously absent from the analysis); and an impressively lengthy list of national and state LGBT organizations demanding an all-or-nothing approach to passing ENDA.

The outcry has been strong enough to convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who supports a trans-inclusive ENDA and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who has been lobbying House members on the trans-inclusive ENDA, to back off of their controversial plan to put forward two ENDA bills: one that is trans-inclusive and one that would make it illegal to fire an employee based solely on his or her sexual orientation.

In a lengthy statement outlining his rationale, Frank said that after House Leadership took an official count of the votes, it became clear that the trans-inclusive ENDA bill wouldn’t pass. Even worse, Frank wrote, a trans-inclusive ENDA would also be vulnerable to anti-trans amendments from Republicans: “[I]t became clear that an amendment offered by Republicans either to omit the transgender provision altogether or severely restrict it in very obnoxious ways would pass.”

LGBT organizations from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network are demanding that either a trans-inclusive ENDA be put forward or none at all.

This is madness.

The House is on the verge of passing groundbreaking workplace protections for millions of Americans. It’s the first piece of legislation Congress has seriously considered since the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993 that offers American workers protection from arbitrary firings. It’s not perfect. Few pieces of civil rights legislation are. But it would provide a concrete base upon which to expand ENDA protections not just to transmen and women but to also add provisions to the bill that would require employers to offer domestic partnership benefits to the partners of their LGBT employees if they offer such benefits to their heterosexual employees — a provision that is not in the current bill. As it happens, that’s exactly how Congress dealt with the FMLA. It was a nine-year fight of submitting bills, amending them and persevering through two vetoes of the bill by President George H.W. Bush. The bill that was eventually signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993 was much more comprehensive than the one first approved by Congress. This is not unusual; it’s how the legislative process works.

There is much concern that if a bill protecting employees solely on the basis of sexual orientation is passed then protections for transmen and women will be forgotten. It’s hard to take that concern seriously given the flurry of support that’s been forcefully expressed for trans rights now that we know a trans-inclusive ENDA simply will not pass in the House as its currently configured.

Claiming that Frank has betrayed the trans community, as some are now doing (Los Angeles Times sportswriter Christine Daniels wrote this week that he was engaged in a strategy to “throw the transfolk overboard”) is breathtakingly ignorant of the facts.

The targeting of the Human Rights Campaign for its failure to align itself with the LGBT organizations that have promised to work to defeat a non-inclusive ENDA is equally ignorant of reality. Who can seriously expect the nation’s largest organization working to pass legislation on our behalf to refuse to work with Pelosi and Frank?

This petulant insistence on purity, principle and perfection is a hallmark not just of the LGBT community, but of American politics in general. Just look at James Dobson’s and the Christian right’s demands that the Republican Congress take up an overly broad Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when a much narrower provision that would have allowed for civil unions stood a much better chance of passage.

Not that I’m comparing progressive LGBT activists with the Christian right. After all, the Christian right is capable of delivering votes, huge sums of money to candidates and hundreds of thousands of phone calls to lawmakers when an issue is deemed important enough to warrant it. Progressive activists? Not so much.

Entry filed under: Advocacy, Congress, Democrats, LGBT, Liberals, Media, Politics. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mad Professah  |  October 4, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    I do find it interesting that all these 100 organizations that have formed a coalition to support a trans-incluive ENDA have not been engaged in equivalent activism to get trans-inclusive non-discrimnation bills passed in STATE HOUSES, especially ones like Wisconsin which passed LGB civil rights protections DECADES ago (1982).

    All of the most recent LGBT civl rights bills (NJ, IL, NM 2005, WA 2006, Iowa and Oregon 2007) since NY’s SONDA in 2002 have been gender identity inclusive and I think this is a great thing.I believe that the federal bill should be inclusive as well. I agree with this Bay Windows editorial that it is madness to say that you will literally OPPOSE incrementally good legislation as opposed to having nothing pass at all.

  • 2. Bloggernista  |  October 4, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    It would have been great to see the 100 organizations that are now saying to a sexual orientation only ENDA display the passion and grassroots organizing when the inclusive bill was first introduced. If they had, we would be further along in building the support that is needed to pass an inclusive bill.

    I also don’t understand why some are calling a sexual orientation a bad bill. Its a good bill that would be made stronger with gender identity and expression added.


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