No, not so much.

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.

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22 comments for “No, not so much.

  1. Will
    October 3, 2007 at 4:31 am

    Would you mind linking to the original post so we can see the entire context in which that quote was written in?

  2. Firestone
    October 3, 2007 at 4:36 am

    Can we get a link to the original post to see the entire context for that quote?

  3. AD
    October 3, 2007 at 5:45 am

    Firestone, it comes from here:

    A later post takes the opposite point of view, FWIW.

  4. CBrachyrhynchos
    October 3, 2007 at 10:31 am

    I get so frustrated when “pragmatism” is appropriated as “stab your allies in the back.”

  5. October 3, 2007 at 10:42 am

    There’s also the fact that Loving was a court case, not a piece of legislation, and therefore pretty much has to be more incremental.

  6. Jennifer
    October 3, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Piny, thanks so much for writing about this. I was hoping you would! I was appalled when I read about this. I’m not interested in a bill which doesn’t cover Trans people and by default the grey area of gender ambiguity. Do we want legislation which puts us in a position of saying “oh NO, I’m not transitioning, I’m just butch?!” What’s wrong with either? Why should we be able to be fired for either?

    From Pam’s House Blend:
    In response to the prospect of a non trans-inclusive ENDA, National Stonewall Democrats has put up a web petition,, in support of the trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, HR 2015

  7. CBrachyrhynchos
    October 3, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Another reason why ENDA is not analaogous to Loving is that one is a legislative action by elected representatives, and the other was a jucidial action by appointed judges. While activists can submit arguments to the appeals and supreme courts, they have little control over the arguments actually accepted by the court, and the scope of the final decision.

    Meanwhile, we do have input over the range and scope of an act of congress. If that congress chooses to pass a revised ENDA, then that is necessary. But the fight to get protection for TS and TG people started in ’69 and goes to the next stage of intensity now. All this talk about how TS and TG need to do more work is BS.

  8. October 3, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Mr. Zeitlin isn’t even making a coherent argument. Loving was not a case where anti-racism activists agreed to accept legalized “mixed-race” marriage in return for leaving same-sex marriage in limbo.

  9. Holly
    October 3, 2007 at 11:57 am

    On one hand you have incrementalism as a general philosophy, and then there’s the specifics of what’s going on here. Even if you do believe in incrementalism, that doesn’t mean a ENDA that leaves some “sexual minorities” unprotected is a good idea, politically or pragmatically:

    – trans activists and organizations have been working on this very bill, and kicking them off is politically and ethically questionable, especially when trans activists have been working on these issues for decades;
    – every gay org in the country, with the exception of the main sponsors who are closest to the inside and probably have the most invested, thinks this is a bad idea and is putting out the general word that not only is the ENDA likely to fail either way, but that this new version of ENDA is unacceptably weak and has loopholes that leave many non-trans gay folks exposed as well — in part because “gender identity” (including expression) is not covered, and that’s the basis for so much discrimination against gay folks in general, as piny notes.

    – it’s extremely hard to believe that anyone would “come back later” to help trans folks when some of the allies involved, notably Barney Frank, have taken every opportunity to leave trans folks behind. There’s a lot of rhetoric out there in less progressive gay-rights circles that shows how little some people understand that discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on gender identity are so often intertwined that in many cases they’re practically indistinguishable.

    – asshole fundamentalists in the right wing, the “focus on the family” types, have been going after trans people especially (remember that ridiculous “bathroom” cartoon they were distributing?) because they perceive trans people as the weak point of this struggle for equal rights. Is it the right thing to do — ethically or pragmatically — to respond to this targeting by trying to jettison protections for trans people? Surely this shows that trans people are more targeted for bigotry; surely there are ways to respond that would not only show strength as a community but also look better too, for political reasons, instead of capitulating to their taunts.

  10. Louise, Grand Poohbahness of Mac N Cheez
    October 3, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    Piny, what bothers me most about this kind of legislature and posturing is the willingness to throw others under the bus; thanks for pointing out the obvious for what it is. God, I wish we already lived in a world where EVERYONE WAS FUCKING EQUAL, ALREADY- ENOUGH OF THIS BOGUS HORSESHIT.

    A question: how can I, as a white straight woman, REALLY help? My frustration lies in the situation as I see it- that I can believe all have a right to equality, but have damned few resources avaialable to me for change. Please, someone give me a clue.

  11. Spatterdash
    October 3, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    What good reason do people have to deny transpeople protection, anyway? I can’t think of a single decent argument to deny them the right to not be fired for being who they are.
    It really shouldn’t be so controversial. People are people, dammit.

  12. maatnofret
    October 3, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I remember one of my transgendered friends bringing this up almost ten years ago. She was fired from her job for being trans, so she educated herself and knew a lot about this issue. Although MN has a law protecting against sexual orientation discrimination at work, and that definition supposedly includes trans folk, the statutory language was not strong enough to help her win her subsequent lawsuit.

    Her objection to being excluded from ENDA did not go over well with a few other gays and lesbians. Watching an exchange between her and a couple of HRC members about ENDA really opened my eyes to the rampant transphobia that existed within the gay and lesbian communities at that time.

    Judging from the way things are going a decade later, that prejudice is still in place.

    I agree that that trans folks getting stabbed in the back here. It’s hateful and absurd. It makes me wonder—who is next? Bears? Drag queens? People who insist on flying rainbow flags in public? Who among us isn’t a little bit, well, queer? Besides, it’s not as if we can ever jettison enough people out of the movement to please the people who hate us–“us” meaning GLBTI and allies. If we keep going, who will remain? Log Cabin Republicans? Oh yes, I’m sure *they’ll* be a big help. Sheesh.

  13. Thomas, TSID
    October 3, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    JFP, CB and Mythago said what I first thought. The analogy of legislation to judicial decision is flawed from its inception, for all the reasons stated above; and for one more. When judges say more about the law than is necessary to the holding in the case, what they say is not binding. It is what lawyers call dicta. Now, folks can argue over whether something is dicta or not, and it may be a good indicator of how the Court is going, but really, the judges are bound to apply the law to the facts presented by the case — there’s a “case or controversy” requirement in the Constitution. So even if the Loving Court had said, “no person shall be denied the right to marry his or her chosen spouse,” we’d still have to refight the battle.

  14. Holly
    October 3, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    The HRC has now down an about-face and is insisting they won’t support an ENDA that jettisons trans people either. I guess that makes pretty much every single large LGBT organization around now!

    The support is heartening, and sometimes it does seem like priorities have changed about from five years ago, when I first started hearing and having arguments about whether trans people should be in ENDA, or the local NY state version, SONDA, which got passed in this state without trans people. 5 years later… still no state protection for trans people in this state, go figure! Matt Foreman, who at the time was a major advocate in the fight for SONDA and instrumental in keeping trans people out of it, has since had a change of heart and pushed for a trans-inclusive ENDA as part of the NGLTF.

    Maybe now that most people in the LGBT umbrella seem to agree that we shouldn’t be leaving anyone behind, we can get on with the work of telling everyone else. As for what you can do — HRC is asking people to send letters to their representatives, asking them to support a fully inclusive ENDA. I guess that goes double and triple if you live in the Massachusetts 4th (south mass, west of cape cod) or the California 8th (most of San Francisco) because Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi are the congresspeople who are still moving forward with the new stripped-down ENDA despite their allies from outside Congress, like HRC, asking them not to.

    I wonder if HRC is still honoring Pelosi at a fundraiser this week…

  15. Holly
    October 3, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Oh, here’s HRC’s “take action” page, it’s basically a send-letter-to-your-rep kind of form.

    Boy, lobbying is one of my least favorite forms of activism.

  16. Valerie
    October 3, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    If the situation were reversed, and Gay and Lesbians were left out of the bill, I am sure there would be similar reaction among their community. Why abandon transgender folks when they have been with us all along? A step forward for gay rights, yes – but a step backword for the LGBT community, in my eyes.

  17. October 3, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    I’m with Holly @ #10 on this one.

  18. RachelPhilPa
    October 3, 2007 at 8:14 pm


    I’d suggest:

    Call other white people on their racism.

    Call other straight people on their homophobia.

    Call other cissexual / cisgender people on their transphobia.

    And constantly check yourself, and listen when poc / queer / trans people call you on something.

    (For the record, I am a white, middle-class trans woman.)

  19. October 4, 2007 at 2:10 am

    I also find it hard to believe that transpeople will ever get their own initiative offering this kind of protection, because they are less visible than the larger gay community. Their best bet is being included in this one, and it’s sad that our the people we put in office don’t see that.

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