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. : :

— Comments and corrections can be sent to editor@goqnotes.com. To contact Robbi Cohn, email robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.


6 replies on “Marriage equality or bust?”

  1. Robbi, thank you for this article you articulated clearly most of the issues involving HB234 but there one more I would like to talk about.

    Equality Maryland has done all of the things you talked about first without the informing the transgender population, then when the cat got out of the bag they ignored us.

    After their membership started questioning their activities they began banning people from there facebook page( myself included) and even deleted comments from there previous board president David Toth. (Click my name for the planetransgender link too that atrocity)

    Censorship has failed Equality Maryland so it resorted to violence inspiring tweets encouraging there members to “take the gloves off” and fight.

    That tweet has since been removes but not before I clicked it and posted it on my blog and not before other tweeters noticed it.

    The damage Equality Maryland has done can not be compared to HB2015 in scope it is far worst. HRC and its political ally Barney Frank was the villain then. They did a bad and we took them to task for it united as a community.

    Equality Maryland has and is continuing underhanded evil tactics in its quest to force this bill on the Maryland Transgender community.

    This will never be forgotten or forgiven.

  2. The current state of disharmony vis-a-vis the LGB and the T communities is as if, during the 1960’s, there were two sets of laws for African-Americans: one for light-skinned people, who would have the same rights as whites, and a separate set for dark-skinned people, who would have some but not all of the same rights as the others. “Be patient,” they’d be told. “The time isn’t right for really Black folk to be equal. Wait your turn.”

    Would the African-American community have set still for these divide-and-conquer tactics from the defenders of the status quo? I seriously doubt it. They would not have sold out a portion of their brothers and sisters so that some of them could advance. Why then are transgender men and women being told we must do it, then?

    After careful consideration and lots of thought, I can only conclude that we are not considered whole people by the LGB worlds. So here’s my offer: recognize us and fight for our rights, and then I’ll put my queer shoulder to the wheel and fight for yours.

  3. LGBT politics are dominated by the same people that dominate “regular” politics: affluent white men and women. Transgendered people, as a group, are not known for being affluent. That is why their cause tends to lag behind others, such as gay marriage, that are of more relevance to the movers and shakers within the community. Otherwise, how do we explain the fact that other, equally important issues are being left in the dust?

  4. Why mention the fight for marriage in Maryland while ignoring the recent successful civil unions bills in Hawaii and Illinois, the recent unsuccessful civil unions bill in Colorado and the existing civil unions bill in Delaware?

    Recognizing that the recent situation in one state differs from the other recent situations in four other states seems to undercut a hypothesis that incremental progress isn’t acceptable to much of the LG community.

    Indeed, the gender-identity inclusive federal hate crimes law is itself another piece of incremental progress. It was just a law about hate crimes and no other issue.

    It’s also noteworthy that DADT has not “been undone” yet.

    Of the four pieces of LGBT issues most often cited (hate crimes, DADT, ENDA, DOMA) only hate crimes has been completely finished. The other three items are currently the subject of multiple lawsuits each.

    Could it be said that the trans community didn’t get “fair and equal treatment” under the only one of these four oft-cited pieces of LGBT legislation brought to completion (hate crimes)?

    If so, please elaborate.

  5. There have been some excellent comments here, but I think the treatment of trans in the LGBT community is symptomatic of something much bigger: the gay rights community is dominated by white gay men. As such, their primary goals are for the benefit of white gay men. Blacks and other racial minorities are never reached out to, and the ones that get involved are marginalized. Lesbians constantly deal with issues of invisibility. Bisexuals say they always feel like they’re being pressured to take a side and change their identity. And trans individuals obviously have good reason to feel they’re the first ones to be dropped.
    For decades, the LGBT community has been trying to look and act as much like the straight community as possible. We decided if we looked like them and acted like them, heterosexuals would stop thinking of us as “the others”. Unfortunately, the community did its job so well, we marginalize people of color, women, bisexuals, and trans, just like the rest of the country does. One would think that we would be more sensitive than that, but apparently we can be just as bad as the heteros.

  6. With all due respect, I don’t believe it’s fair to generalize, as some of these comments (and to a much lesser extent, the article itself) have done. I genuinely don’t believe the gay and lesbian community has forsaken transgendered persons at all. If anything, I think that we as a whole LGBT community have fallen into a very unhealthy thought process whereby we go for the easiest wins first. And, unfortunately, acceptance and protection for transgendered people is not exactly an easy win. There is a certain cold logic to it; we “don’t waste time” on the issues that would take a tremendous amount of effort and instead pursue the issues we know we stand a chance of winning immediately. Still, it isn’t fair that transgendered people are always at the end of that list. But it isn’t as if we non-transgendered people are sitting around plotting ways of screwing over our TG allies. I think that we as a community have become so tired of fighting that we will take our victories anywhere we can get them. And no, I’m not talking about Gay Inc. Those corporate fat cats aren’t actually helping anyone but their own bank accounts. I’m talking about every day people like me. It’s a very defeatist attitude, and for that I apologize, but I’m so weary of fighting my own battles that I simply don’t have energy to fully invest in someone else’s. That isn’t fair, but it’s truth. I am always dreaming of equality for everyone, but I can’t manage equality even for myself, so what can I possibly do for the transgender community, the part of “LGBT” that has the most social stigma against it? I don’t think it’s a matter of apathy, I think it’s just a matter of being tired of hoping and fighting. At least, that’s how it is for me.

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