Matt Zeitlin makes this argument for denying transpeople protection under ENDA:
I think a little historical perspective is necessary here. When Loving vs Virginia was decided in 1969, did it “throw gays under the bus” when it only established protections for interracial marriages? No, it instead was a huge step forward for equality and laid the groundwork for the push for gay marriage, which came more than 30 years later. Hopefully, employment protections for the transgendered won’t come around in 30 years, but ENDA — in its current form — is still a large step forward that should be supported by all of those who care about equality and substantive rights for sexual minorities.
Loving v. Virginia was decided in 1967. Stonewall was 1969. That´s one major difference between the two situations: gay rights were barely on the radar, and gay marriage was pretty much unthinkable. Transpeople are nearly as visible, if not nearly as acceptable, as gay people. Discrimination against transpeople is recognized as an issue, if not as an outrage, and it has gotten a significant amount of coverage over the past few years. (I wrote about one such community debate here, and another one here.) People on all points of the political spectrum are aware that there are transpeople, that they are demanding their rights, and that they are often politically allied with the gays. Employers across the country are dealing with employees in transition. Frank and Pelosi concede this visibility. They´re afraid to allow transpeople to be part of the discussion because they´re such a contentious part of the homosexual agenda.
There also was no similar connection between gay couples and interracial couples, unless the gays stood in for box turtles back then. And while there are many similar legal and moral arguments to be made on behalf of both groups, racism and homophobia are distinct. This, on the other hand, is a grouping of two communities with a pretty natural alliance: gender nonconformity, trans status, and sexual orientation are linked and often confused by the mainstream in ways that sexuality and race aren´t and weren´t. (Some activists make the point that it´s difficult to fully enforce one set of protections without the other. A butch woman can be fired either for being a dyke or for being a masculine woman, and a pre-transition transwoman could very well get fired because she is perceived as a gay man. There´s also the thorny question of what you do for a butch woman or femme guy who happens to be straight. I don´t doubt that sexual-orientation protection will help people whose only worry is anti-gay discrimination, but specific disavowal of trans protection could be a dangerous thing.)
This is also an existing coalition, not a hypothetical one. Transpeople have been part of this struggle, specific and general, since the very beginning, and you had better believe they´ve been holding up their end of the bargain. This strategy involves an active severing of that alliance–and that dissolution is a unilateral decision on the part of the side to benefit first. Few if any transpeople are content to be left behind. That isn´t incrementalism. That´s betrayal.
If you need an analogy, I think this one is a bit stronger: say a coalition of interracial couples spends several decades attempting to gain legal recognition of their marriages. Despite infighting and some unexamined prejudice, their alliance survives and wins several decisive victories in recognition, social and legal. Finally, on the eve of a major legislative vote on the rights of interracial couples, the leadership says, “Listen, we´ve decided that partnerships consisting of white and Latin@ spouses are just too threatening. That whole illegal thing, you understand. So you´ll just have to quietly bow out of the struggle until we need you to collect signatures again. You should have your rights eventually, but we´re worried that the debate will be too contentious if we let you remain with us, and we´d rather solve our own problems now. Kisses! Thanks so much! Try not to get thrown in jail in the meantime, huh?”
Does that seem defensible to you? Does that not seem selfish, cowardly, and insulting? Does that not seem kind of dishonest? If you were treated that way, would you be content to simply step back? This is not how a civil-rights movement should work, and not how it will survive. I realize that the gay community may lose some public approval if it insists that transpeople are just as human. I realize that the panic levels will increase. Given the level of callousness exhibited by gay leaders like Barney Frank, I can hardly dispute the virulence of transphobia in the general population. However, the cost of this strategy in trust, in strength, and in moral force is much higher than the value granted by one sanitized debate over one symbolic vote over one doomed bill. Frank should dance with them what brung´im.
- Ruining it for Everyone by piny February 14, 2006