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October 2nd, 2007

EDNA And The Trustworthiness Of Our Enemies

Before there was an Internet, there were computer BBSs.  It was on a gay BBS, the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau (GLIB), that I finally found my little subset of the gay community, and began settling in.  It was during one of our GLIB happy hour gatherings that I had my eyes opened about transgendered folk.  This was sometime in the late 1980s as I recall.  A group of us were sitting at the bar and this really cute guy, not a GLIB member but a friend of one, joined us.  He seemed almost a stereotypical D.C. K Street type.  He had on his Power Office Worker suit and tie, and his expensive walking sneakers because it was rush hour and you leave your good shoes at the office and put on your Nikes for walking to your Metro stop.  And he had his Franklin-Covey Day Planner with him, and as he chatted with his friends there, I kid you not, he would glance in his appointment pages to see where his free time was. 

At the time I was working as a contract software developer, and as this was a time before PDAs were mated to cell phones, I also had a paper day planner, mostly so I could keep track of my billable hours.  Mine was the Daytimer product, largely because it had twenty-four hour day pages, and my workdays were anything but nine to five.  And being a techno-geek, and more interested in the technology of managing time then actually managing my own, I asked this guy what he liked about the Franklin-Covey product.  After a while he and I were enjoying a nice chat.  I about the technology of time management, and he about how busy his life was.

Eventually he went off to make a phone call.  As I sat at the bar a GLIB member who knew him came over to me and asked me what I thought of him.  He’s real cute, I said.  But a bit too much K street for me.  Does he have any friends, I asked jokingly, or are they all business contacts?  The GLIB member asked if I knew ‘he’ was really ‘she’. 

I was stunned.  I hadn’t a clue.  Not clue one.  He was, I was told, female, but living as a guy because that’s what he felt he was.  He’d had no surgery, not even merely cosmetic, and apparently had no interest in it.  He was just living as a man, because that’s what he felt he was really, regardless of the physical sex he was born as.   And when he came back and sat down next to me, and we resumed our conversation, even knowing that he was physically female, I could not help but believe, somewhere deep in my gut, that I was talking to another guy and it wasn’t an act.  He just gave off guy vibes. 

That was, I think, when I saw for myself that there really could be a difference between the sex of your body, and the sex of your mind, and that it was something distinct from one’s sexual orientation.  But that’s not to say that the struggle of transgendered folk is separate from our own. 

Homosexual.  Bisexual.  Transgendered.  What do these people have in common?  One thing: we don’t fit the gender stereotypes of the majority, and that has had profoundly negative consequences for our lives.  This is why we need EDNA, and why it’s at root, our struggle for equality.  All of us.  Not some of us.  Our life struggles are different in the particulars, the obstacles we face are not always the same ones, but the hate has, I am convinced, a common root.  People who hate gays and who would deny us jobs, housing, a decent life, the freedom to be, hate transgendered folk just as much, just as deeply, just as passionately, and really don’t see a distinction between us.  We’re all sexual deviants, and they wish us all gone from this world.

Which is really why there is no point, none, in splitting EDNA into gay protection verses transgendered protection.  It has to be Our protection, or it protects none of us.  Don’t believe me? Take a look at what Lambda Legal discovered about the new and improved EDNA rewrite that the normally sane Barney Frank signed off on

Preliminary Analysis Summary:

  • As a point of clarity for the community: The recent version is not simply the old version with the transgender protections stripped out — but rather has modified the old version in several additional and troubling ways.
  • In addition to the missing vital protections for transgender people on the job, this new bill also leaves out a key element to protect any employee, including lesbians and gay men who may not conform to their employer’s idea of how a man or woman should look and act. This is a huge loophole through which employers sued for sexual orientation discrimination can claim that their conduct was actually based on gender expression, a type of discrimination that the new bill does not prohibit.

Do you see the problem with leaving out protections for transgendered folk now?  If your employer can fire you for not acting like a normal All-American heterosexual, as opposed to simply for being gay, or bi, then the bill does exactly nothing.

Let me reiterate…the problem isn’t that we’re homosexual, the problem is that we don’t conform to the gender norms of the majority.  You can’t craft a law that protects homosexuals, and not the transgendered, and end up with a law that actually protects homosexuals.  It has to outlaw discrimination based on gender expression, real or perceived, or it won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

I have to say I’ve lost a lot of respect for Barney Frank in this.  His reputation is as a shrewd politician, and in fact he tried to justify doing this to ENDA on the grounds that it made better political sense.  It was something he averred, that he could get more agreement on…maybe enough republican agreement that Bush would either sign it, or his veto could be overridden.  Damn Barney…  God Damn…  Haven’t you fucking learned yet, that when you shake hands with these people, you need to count your fingers afterward…?

  • This version of ENDA states without qualification that refusal by employers to extend health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of their employees that are provided only to married couples cannot be considered sexual orientation discrimination. The old version at least provided that states and local governments could require that employees be provided domestic partner health insurance when such benefits are provided to spouses.
  • In the previous version of ENDA the religious exemptions had some limitations. The new version has a blanket exemption under which, for example, hospitals or universities run by faith-based groups can fire or refuse to hire people they think might be gay or lesbian. 

The problem with negotiating in good faith with people who have no conscience, should be obvious.  Even to people on Capital Hill.  Or so you’d think anyway.

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