ENDA Passes House: A Partial Victory for Inclusive Justice
After 20 years of attempts, ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has passed the House of Representatives. ENDA, if it becomes law, would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual people in hiring, firing, promotion, or workplace treatment. There are exemptions in the act for the military (which I oppose) and for religious organizations (which I support because of my commitment to the First Amendment). Thus, conservative talking points to the contrary, ENDA would not force churches to hire gay pastors or faith-based organizations to retain and promote openly gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals. (If a faith-based organization, such as a hospital or children’s home or college, receives government funding, it may have to choose between said funding and it’s commitments to be anti-gay–just as the fundamentalist Bob Jones University had to decide to modify its whites only policies, and, later, its policies against interracial dating, in order to keep being eligible for PELL Grants, etc.)
As an advocate for inclusive justice, I should be thrilled, but the thrill is decidedly muted. You see, to get this version of ENDA passed, not only did Congress need to go along with continued military discrimination (“Don’t ask, Don’t tell”), but it had to strip the ENDA bill of language protecting gender identity from workplace discrimination. Transgendered persons can still be denied employment, fired, or otherwise discriminated against. Transgendered persons are not gay or lesbian: the issue is not sexual orientation. Gay men still identify as male and lesbians still identify as female. Transgendered persons, by contrast, feel trapped in the wrong bodies. Many eventually undertake sex reassignment surgery so that their outward bodies match their underlying sense of who they are. I finally began to understand the issues of the transgendered through meeting Rev. Elise Elrod, once a conservative, overweight, white, male, married, Southern Baptist pastor, who is now a thinner woman–and still married to her wife, though the two have separate bedrooms and are celibate.
Part of me wants to celebrate this as a partial victory–refusing to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Another part of me remembers the horrible lessons of history about the number of times that victory over oppression for one group was achieved by leaving another group behind–and the negatives that always resulted for everyone. In the 19th C., early feminism was united in its efforts with the anti-racist efforts against slavery and racial discrimination: until after the Civil War when votes for black men were achieved at the expense of women–some white feminists responded with racist comments and black women were forced to choose between racial and gender loyalties. Women’s suffrage was delayed until 1920 and the division between white women and African-Americans was one factor in allowing the rise of Jim Crow laws of racial discrimination. This terrible scenario was repeated in a minor key during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s and the Second Wave of feminism in the late ’60s and ’70s. Will we see this again with a division between inclusive justice on matters of sexual orientation and lack of the same for gender identity? When will we learn the truth of Martin Luther King’s oft-repeated slogan that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?”
The good news is that MANY Gay Rights organizations chose to stick with the transgendered and urged Congress to pass the more inclusive version of ENDA. But some division was fomented in the move to strip gender identity protection from ENDA–with some gay rights spokespeople denying that there was a “GLBT community” and saying that gender identity wasn’t important. That is sad, though I take heart that the “divide and conquer” tactics were less successful than with previous movements for inclusive justice.
Even this watered-down version of ENDA will have an uphill battle in the Senate and, if it passes, Pres. Bush has sworn to veto it (and there is nowhere near the votes needed to override a veto). So, real victory will wait at least until 2009 and a new president and (hopefully) a more progressive Congress. I hope the time between will be used to solidify the gender identity and sexual orientation protections. Lack of gender identity protection in the workplace, after all, leaves far more people vulnerable than the tiny minority of transgendered people: Employers are free to impose punitive and idiosyncratic standards of “proper behavior for one’s gender.” (I have had employers tell me that “real men don’t have hyphenated names” for instance.) The opportunities for abuse are ripe. We do no one any favors by abandoning the transgendered.
This issue has reminded me of the need to finish up my long-neglected series on GLBT inclusion in the Church. Hopefully, by this weekend, I will have finally posted on Romans 1. I let this lapse for far too long. Apologies to all.
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