I’m glad to see that the House passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (a bill that would extend basic workplace protections to gay, lesbian and bisexual employees). I’m glad that Congress has taken a stand for the rights of some marginalized people. But damn if I’m not angry that they’re all too willing to throw some other people under the bus:
To ensure passage of the bill, Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats, including Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is openly gay, removed language granting protections to transsexual and transgender individuals by barring discrimination based on sexual identity, a move that infuriated gay rights groups.
The Democrats also carved out a blanket exemption for religious groups, drawing the ire of civil liberties advocates who argued that church-run hospitals, for instance, should not be permitted to discriminate against gay employees. The civil liberties groups wanted a narrow exemption for religious employers.
On the House floor, Ms. Pelosi acknowledged challenges. “History teaches us that progress on civil rights is never easy,” she said. “It is often marked by small and difficult steps.”
That’s certainly true, but I think history also teaches us that it’s important to push for the big goals and to promote inclusive movements. The same-sex marriage issue is a pretty good example. Twenty (even ten) years ago, same-sex marriage was pretty much unheard of, and civil unions were a radical idea. The incrementalist approach would have marriage equality activists pushing for civil unions, and dealing with marriage later. And they did, in states like Vermont and Hawaii, with mixed success. But where the movement actually got it legs was when activists pushed for marriage — they succeeded in putting the big goal on the table and in shifting the conversation leftwards so that civil unions, which were previously pretty out there, were suddenly the moderate position. Had marriage equality activists gone the incrementalist route, I don’t think we’d be seeing the kind of debate we’re having now (a debate that I do think will come down on the side of justice). I think it would have taken another decade to get to where we are today.
If Bush isn’t going to support the rights of LGBT people, he isn’t going to support the rights of LGBT people. Taking the “T” out isn’t going to help. But it will further marginalize the transgender community, and remind us all that certain groups are disposable.
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