In the ninety degree heat and beating sun, most of us who demonstrated in front of the Washington Convention Center last Saturday afternoon glistened with perspiration. “No ENDA without gender,” which can be made to sound like a rhyme, was the recurring chant. We handed out Equality Federation stickers which read “Equali_y.” Many of the arriving invitees for the Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner reluctantly took the sticker but never put it on their cocktail attire. Some of the LGBT glitterati, who paid $250 for the evening, were clearly uncomfortable because of the temperature and the additional heat generated by the demonstrators reminding them that the HRC’s position on an Employment Non-Discrimation Act which would include protection based on “gender identity” was less than consistent.
That inconsistency resurrected doubts that the transgender community has harbored since the August 2004 HRC Board decision to commit itself and its immense political and economic power to trans-inclusive federal protective legislation. Ironically, along with the rest of the LGBT community, the trans community had celebrated the passage of the hate crimes amendment to the Defense Authorization Act just days before. We were included in that bill which has still to go to the President for his signature. He has threatened to veto it.
Also ironically, three weeks before at the Southern Comfort Conference, the world’s largest gathering of transgender people, HRC President Joe Solmonese had promised not only to support a trans-inclusive ENDA but to oppose an ENDA which was not inclusive. I was at Joe’s luncheon table just prior to the speech but had met him on a number of other occasions and had even been a guest on his XM radio program. Joe is one of the most charming and politically astute people I have ever met. For the most part he has lived into the HRC’s 2004 commitment. Officially, he still is and has urged the greater LGBT community to push for an inclusive ENDA. However, that part of his Southern Comfort speech which promised to oppose a non-inclusive ENDA has been placed into doubt, not because Joe is not an honorable man leading a great organization, but because Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives are prepared to send a non-inclusive substitute to the floor (HR 3685). HRC’s largest visible constituency and the core of its financial support is gay men. To deny gay men and lesbians employment non-discrimination in order to fulfill his promise to transgender people puts Joe in a difficult situation. I don’t envy him. Achieving such a laudable goal at the expense of others poses, or should pose, a moral dilemma of the highest order.
Two days before, Donna Rose had resolved her personal dilemma by announcing her decision to resign from the HRC Board. She had been its first and only transgender member, our articulate and influential voice inside the HRC. Her principled and courageous decision stands in sharp contrast to that of others who in their silence appear to acquiesce to our further marginalization
At the urging of other National Center for Transgender Equality Board members, I had abandoned my plans to boycott the HRC dinner and had entered along with three other Board members. We had hoped to lobby HRC Board members and staffers to rethink their decision of October 1 not to oppose HR 3685 should the trans-inclusive ENDA, HR 2015, appear to have failed to garner the 218 votes needed for passage in the House of Representatives. The senior staff and HRC Board members whom we approached were courteous, if somewhat condescending, but unbending in their belief that something was better than nothing, although their confidence that ENDA in any form would become law under this administration was fanciful. Still inspired by the demonstration, I sat, my back toward the stage as Joe Solmonese spoke and referred to us as “the elephant in the room,” never once pronouncing the word “transgender.” That was left to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi whose announced sympathy for us belied the Democratic leadership’s willingness to drop us from ENDA “for now.” As I suggested to the Advocate reporter, incremental civil rights usually means a fifteen year wait.
However disappointed we may be that some of our friends in Congress and in the larger LGBT community seem ready to sacrifice our protection from discrimination in order to achieve theirs, we are going to have to work with them in the future. Our justifiable anger must give way to a reenergized determination to realize our equality which will mean, whether we like it or not, patching up our differences with those who have so recently abandoned us. As Christians we are called to forgiveness. As Episcopalians we see God’s hand in our relationships. With God’s Grace, our community will be one again.
Dr. Bacon is Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha,
Board member of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and member of TransEpiscopal