I don’t expect this to be the most popular column I’ve ever written. In fact, this will probably be deemed contentious and recalcitrant. I know how important the issue of marriage equality is to many within the gay and lesbian communities. You may have wondered why some of your trans friends are turning their collective backs regarding this issue. It’s not that we don’t support the general agenda of equal rights. We do. And, it isn’t that spousal equality doesn’t affect trans individuals. It does.
The rationale underlying my lack of interest and support for marriage equality must be seen through the eyes of proportion. Last month I wrote about the results of the mammoth trans survey which has plainly demonstrated that opportunities and quality of life for trans persons indicate “injustice at every turn.” For a significant portion of the trans population, life has become a matter of survival. For a majority of trans identified individuals, life is substantially burdensome. And, too many trans persons are marginalized, vilified, ostracized and, in some cases, murdered.
Yet, the history of trans activism within the LGBT umbrella has seen a consistent pattern of pejorative treatment. If it wasn’t the baseless and untenable argument that we should be patient and wait our turn, then it was the patronizing and condescending handling of trans issues or the co-opting of trans tragedy as a fundraising tool to increase the coffers of Gay, Inc. and its single-minded effort to work on legislation paramount to the gay community. To wit: marriage equality, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).
The history is remarkably clear. Even as far back as the early 1990’s (much earlier, in fact) we see evidence of an extreme lack of sensitivity and understanding by the gay hierarchical structure vis-à-vis the inclusion of trans issues in the broad umbrella of discrimination. This is all the more incomprehensible given that, in many cases, discriminatory behavior has been generally prompted by the alleged transgression of gender expression in a world which thrives on gender normativity.
The view toward LGBT solidarity was irrevocably damaged after the 2007 fiasco over the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). It became obviously apparent that many in the LG world not only did not understand the nature of trans discrimination, but displayed an acute insensitivity towards the repercussions of a non-inclusive ENDA. We’ll come back for you later, we were told. Yet, reality proves that revisiting this kind of legislation is rare and that many in the gay and lesbian communities could care less. HRC made that abundantly clear.
Fast forward to the Obama administration. We thought the time had come for total inclusivity. We’ll all get there together. We’ll pass all the legislative measures for which we’ve been fighting…and first, and foremost, will be ENDA.
That’s not what happened. Instead, the first bill passed was a relatively toothless hate crimes bill. Sure, this was necessary, but not the most important piece of legislation needing passage. Regardless, ENDA still appeared to be on track, until the fight for health care became a juggernaut with its own mass-dominating politics. ENDA was essentially shunted to the side, even though talk still circulated that leant credibility to its possible introduction and support.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case. In fact, the contentiousness of Congress and the inability to address cloture issues, the perpetual boondoggle agenda mobilized by the Republican caucus, essentially doomed ENDA. Yet, there was enough support for the dismantling of DADT, and the lame duck congress, along with executive support, managed to see this bogus program get dumped. There is every reason to presume that ENDA might have been that last ditch piece of legislation, yet it seemingly wasn’t even up for consideration.
Now that DADT has been undone, what is the most important issue that most gay and lesbian activists are hoping to advance? Is ENDA finally the consensus favorite?
The number one issue which members of the LG communities hope to advance is marriage equality, as well as the corollary repeal of DOMA.
The political affairs of the state of Maryland have been a microcosmic slice of what activists are addressing nationwide. And, the hypocrisy is blatant. Many bloggers in the trans community have addressed this disparity, foremost amongst them Transgriot, ENDAblog and Planetransgender. What is the nature of this disparity? In Maryland, concurrent bills were put before the state legislature — a marriage equality bill and a transgender protections bill.
Of course, when it comes to marriage equality, the tactic of incrementalism is unacceptable. Nothing short of full equality in marriage will be championed or accepted. Yet, the bill which would make discrimination against trans individuals illegal was amended to remove the “public accommodations” language. A transgender protections bill without public accommodations is essentially worthless. Most trans activists would rather see no bill than one so poorly constructed. Yet, Equality Maryland has been fully supportive of this incremental approach for the trans rights bill, even thought that kind of strategy is deemed unacceptable when we talk about marriage equality.
In Maryland, public accommodations protections for gay and lesbian individuals were passed in the early 1990’s under the aegis of across-the-board anti-discrimination legislation. Yet, here we are in 2011 and Equality Maryland supports a bill which denies trans persons the identical protections it’s members enjoy. Insisting that something is better than nothing subverts the very safeguards that gay and lesbian persons would insist upon for themselves. And to only advocate legislation mandating full marriage equality rather than work toward a compromise (read: incremental) civil unions language appears to make a fairly clear statement. Incrementalism is acceptable for the trans bill, but unacceptable for the marriage equality bill.
The trans community is merely asking for fair and equal treatment, made all the more difficult when our allies neither understand nor support our core issues.
Next month this column will address the issue of public accommodations and why it’s such a critical part of any anti-discrimination legislation. : :
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