Thursday, October 4, 2007

Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA)

I usually try to limit the discussion of politics on this blog. As the name of the blog suggests, I enjoy my prom dresses very much. I also am very thankful for the many friends I have in the community and the opportunities to get out. My belief is that the positive experiences we have in the mainstream world is what will change the hearts and minds of that world. However there are times when legislation written on a piece of paper is necessary to help pave that path. Such is the case with ENDA.

Many in the transgender community subscribe to any number of message boards and are aware of the events of the last eight days. In short, the ENDA legislation would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federally protected classes. A person could not be denied employment or dismissed from a job based on the above. Such legislation was started way back in 1994 and was finally set to come to a vote in the Houuse of Representatives this month. The liklihood is any ENDA bill passed would be vetoed by President George Bush. However, it would set a precedent for a similar bill with a new president in 2009.

Eight days ago (September 26, 2007), rumors started circulating that the transgender provision in the bill had been removed after a polling indicated ENDA did not have sufficient votes to pass the House. The rumors quickly turned to hard news that Democratic Party leaders lead by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had indeed removed the transgender provision. This lead to a firestorm in which several GLBT groups and leaders crafted a letter strongly opposing ENDA without the transgender protections. The one group noticeably missing from the signees: Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

HRC in 2004 voted to support ENDA with a transgender clause. This has helped them draw from a huge well of transgender support lead by the amazing Donna Rose who was the only TG on the HRC Board of Directors. I along with many local TG sisters felt this unity just a few months ago at the North Carolina HRC Gala in February. I felt like we had found a group to align with that would fight for all of us. Even though HRC had a history of leaving out the T in GLBT, many in the community believed that HRC lead by Joe Solomonese would take care of the entire umbrella. My belief was strongly validated by Solomonese's speech at SCC 2007. Imagine how we all felt when HRC did not immediately jump on board to oppose the newly crafted ENDA. HRC waited until Monday, October 1 (five days later) to hold a board meeting and vote to reaffirm the position they had voted on in 2004. HRC did add its name to a new letter which unfortunately does not adamantly oppose the new ENDA. HRC essentially has said while they will not support ENDA, they will not actively oppose it either. To be fair, HRC has started a last ditch effort to rally support as Speaker Pelosi was convinced to delay the markup of the bill. I fear however it is too little too late.

This fence sitting stance by HRC has forced many in the community to make some difficult decisions. Donna Rose made her resignation letter public. She also has an excellent timeline from her perspective inside the beltway. I know of one friend who made a similar decision on a local level. All I can say is I am very disappointed. I know the decision to step away from HRC is an immensely painful one on many levels. Leaving friends you have worked closely with on key legislation is not easy.

I also believe that HRC is not on solid ground in terms of representing the GLBT community. The outpouring of support at the end of last week from so many groups indicate that the transgender community has earned the respect of ther gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They understand that equal rights for some are not truly rights as stated so eloquently by Martin Luther King Jr. I wish the spirit felt at the HRC Gala in February could be transmitted to Washington, DC. We felt so genuinely loved and respected. The conversations were amazing. At some point, there is a disconnect between the real world and the "inside the beltway" world. If they would truly come down from their glass toweres, they would get an inkling of what we are about. They would then understand the mistake they have made.

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