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House Passes ENDA: One Small Step


Taken completely out of context: Astronaut Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, who is not Gay, in front of a new statue of himself as a lowly undergraduate, at the dedication of Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering at his alma mater Purdue University.

At long last, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw discrimination against Gay people in jobs, housing and public accomodations.

This is the first time either house of Congress has voted to keep Gay people from being fired from their jobs. In 1996, the U.S. Senate came within one vote of passing a similar bill, but there’s been no progress these past 11 years.

Hallelujah! We got through one house of Congress. Now comes the hard part.

What the Senate will do is anyone’s guess. I’ve seen reports that the Senate might pass a similar bill in 2008, which President Bush threatens to veto, and other reports that the Senate won’t even sneak a bill out of committee, lest Gay rights derail the Democrats’ Big Picture of retaking the White House and “doing something” about the war in Iraq.

As always with minority rights, we’re expected to yield to the Big Picture. Somehow it never includes us.

I write this knowing the Big Picture rightly does focus first on Iraq and the White House. We’re engaged in an immoral, strike-first, aggressive, illegal, needless, unjustified, ridiculous war, with 4000 American soldiers dead, tens of thousands wounded and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties.

First things first, but meanwhile back at home, we still must strive to create a just society.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s New York Times editorial:

With its vote on Wednesday in favor of a bill to outlaw discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, the House scored a significant, if long overdue, breakthrough for equality and fairness. The Senate should now pass its own bill, and President Bush should sign this guarantee into law.

The House bill’s passage owes much to the diligent efforts of Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the measure’s chief sponsor, and fellow Democrats Steny Hoyer, Tammy Baldwin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Truly, though, the victory was more than 30 years in the making. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act is the latest version of a bill that two former Democratic representatives from New York, Edward Koch and Bella Abzug, first introduced in 1974.

Protecting the employment rights of gay people no longer seems as bold as it did then. Americans have come a long way in accepting gay rights, and some 20 states already have adopted similar laws. Despite this progress, a federal law is still very much needed, since there remain 30 states that have not acted to prevent gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from being denied jobs or promotions simply because of who they are.

Read the whole editorial here

Much has been made within the LGBT community these past few weeks of the political decision to cut loose Transgender persons from the bill. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force actually found itself opposing ENDA because it wasn’t perfect; this is the very definition of Political Correctness. The Human Rights Campaign supported the bill while decrying its obvious imperfections.

Legislation is like sausage; it’s a great big gonad-grinder and you don’t want to watch. It’s never perfect; it’s always grotesque. But the best thing that could ever happen to Transgenders is getting some form of ENDA passed, because that will pave the way to their own liberation, which may take another 10-20 years or so.

Does anyone on the planet think Transgender rights will come easy?

Civil rights progress is always incremental. For heaven’s sake, we’re trying to reverse centuries of prejudice! Do you think that can be overcome in a decade or two?

As I write this I think of a Transgender friend in Cincinnati, a person I very much respect, an Episcopalian with a healing ministry who recently underwent the change in Thailand. Do I want her included in the law? Absolutely. And she will be someday.

As a child of 13 in 1964, I watched with horror the network news every night, as Huntley-Brinkley, Walter Cronkite and Frank Reynolds reported the most ghastly scenes in the American South: African-American children, ministers, old people, fire-hosed, water-cannoned, beaten, murdered, fire-bombed, assassinated. Those images are burned into my brain. I wanted to march with those brave folks, but I was too young.

Finally that presidential year, the House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights Bill and Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, a conservative Republican, gave President Lyndon Johnson the one-vote majority he needed in the Senate. I have never been prouder to be an American.

Southern Democrats opposed the bill; some Northern Republicans favored it. My, how things have changed. The parties have since realigned on racial and Gay lines. We have Nixon’s “Southern strategy”—that is, racist strategy—to thank for that. The party of Lincoln now opposes civil rights, and Pat Robertson’s climbed into bed with Rudolph Giuliani.

Meanwhile, despite the House’s action yesterday, nothing has changed legally. It’s still OK in 30 states to refuse to hire a Gay person. If you’re Transgender, fuhgeddaboudit. Even if the Senate passes ENDA, Bush will veto it.

But “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

4 Responses

  1. Josh,
    This is a great post and very good news. The rationale that we must focus on the war to the exclusion or glbt rights reminds me of the way MLK was attacked even within the African-American community when he came out so strongly against Vietnam. It is one of the strategies of the ‘principalities and powers’ to make us think we must choose–but God’s justice is ONE, and we must fight on multiple fronts, as you so rightly say.
    And I am really glad you said what you said about the issue of transgender rights. I too agree that this will be a very hard one to fight, but I also think transgender persons can be a very valuable asset to the fight for gays and lesbians as well, and not just the other way around.
    Yours in restless yet patient hope,

  2. Josh,
    we had a similar law in the UK a while ago now, and there has been no controversy about it at all since it was passed. Needless to say, at the time, the Anglican bishops in the House of Lords opposed it, but what should one expect? Nearly all the EU countries now have the same law in place (some of the Scandinavians have had it since the 70s), with all of them obliged to bring it in soon if they’ve haven’t done so already. Equal rights for gays in the workplace have become accepted everywhere in Western Europe, and it’s great! Let’s hope the US follows suit smoothly and quickly.

  3. Hmmm…. You complain that “As always with minority rights, we’re expected to yield to the Big Picture. Somehow it never includes us.” but turn around and expect trans people to sit by quietly when you expect the same from us?

    If you’re going to ask me to STFU for the greater good and “we’ll come back for you” I’d like to know the details of how exactly you plan to help trans people do that. Because frankly the record for coming back for trans people later hasn’t been good in the states that passed sexual orientation-only ENDAs. In Massachusetts, it’s been 18 years and there’s still no protection for gender identity/expression — which also protects any one who’s not straight-acting — and the leading LG organization, MassEquality, is thinking about disbanding because they don’t see any rights to fight for now that they’ve got same-sex marriage. The Civil Rights Movement did work incrementally — but incrementally for all. They didn’t secure voting rights for those who were light-skinned and tell darker-skinned folks that “well that’s politics, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.”

    Yes, the vote _was_ symbolic — unfortunately in bad ways as well as good.

  4. One might as easily question the morality of some Transgenders’ insistence that 30 million Gay and Lesbian Americans be denied employment rights while we all wait for the liberation of several thousand Transgenders.

    It’s a thorny issue, no doubt about it. Politics is never perfect. (We are, after all, the people who coined the term political correctness as a rebuke to the utopian fantasies of LGBT leaders.) I simply think that if you have a chance to help 30 million, you take it, even though that comes at the “expense” of 30,000 or even 300,000.

    You can’t have it both ways, saying “We’re not part of the Gay community” and “the Gay community has to mortgage its future to us.”

    But thanks for your comment, Lena.

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