Lesbian Notions - The ENDA Game

The recent tumult over whether the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act would pass if it included protections for the transgender community brings to mind the old political chestnut: ?Laws are like sausages; it?s better not to see them being made.?

Just because Democrats hold a healthy majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, that doesn?t mean legislation to make the lives of LGBT people better is just going to sail through Congress.

The Matthew Shepard Act, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate-crimes statute, faced stiff opposition from the radical Christian right, which called it the ?Thoughts Crimes Bill? and outright lied about its impact on religious freedom.

Focus on the Family?s James Dobson said the bill ?could silence and punish Christians for their moral beliefs.? The folks at the Traditional Values Coalition contend that the bill would ?make it illegal to publicly express the dictates of their [Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin> moral beliefs.?

Despite their hyperbole, the bill passed both houses and is now tucked nicely into a war appropriations bill, making it more difficult for Bush to veto.

But for those of us who walked the halls of Congress or who tracked what was happening, the debate was ugly. It wasn?t easy to listen to or read what the opposition was saying. But hey, nobody ever said politics was easy.

It?s anything but. Politics is cutthroat, filled with folks who lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want accomplished.

Folks you thought were political allies can disappear in the blink of an eye.

Ask Larry Craig. You know, the toe-tapping Republican senator from Idaho who played footsie with the wrong bathroom stall neighbor. He lost all of his political allies faster than a speeding bullet when the possibility that he wanted to engage in sex with another man came to light.

Or ask the Human Rights Campaign. Because this venerable ?inside the beltway? LGBT lobbying organization didn?t respond lickety-split to U.S. Congressman Barney Frank?s (D-Mass.) decision to drop protections for the transgender community from ENDA, it was pilloried literally from blog to blog within the LGBT community.

When HRC did voice its opposition to Frank?s compromise bill, our blogger and activist community again took the group to task. Why? Because it made a calculated political decision - it wouldn?t support Frank?s bill, but it also wouldn?t lobby against it. Unfortunately, HRC?s position caused its only transgender board member to resign.

HRC knows, as does anyone who watches our nation?s political process, that while we may demand full civil rights for our entire community, the legislative road we take to get there is full of detours, potholes, and stop signs.

I, for one ? and believe me, I know I?m just one in a handful ? am glad HRC didn?t respond in a knee-jerk way and start screaming ?No-o-o!? and blasting Barney Frank. After all, someone has to be able to go back to the halls of Congress and respectfully give our elected officials the support and time they need to pass the original version of ENDA.

I?ve always thought it was absolutely necessary for us to have people working onthe inside and the outside.

I was inside, on the floor of the New York State Senate, when, after 30 years of languishing in that Republican-controlled house, the State Omnibus Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) was finally going to pass. As the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda, my friends in the transgender community pressed me to get them included in the bill.

Not that I could have done anything, but I respectfully declined to get into the fray. I told them the lesbian and gay community had been waiting 30 years for this vote, and nothing should get in the way of the bill passing. It did and was then signed into law.

Sometimes we?re successful, and sometimes we?re not. That?s just the way the game is played. There is no political correctness in hardball politics ? just political calculation.

I?d love ENDA to be trans-inclusive. However, if it passes without the T...well, I think Frank has a point. We need to protect as many people as we can, and if passing his revised bill protects a very healthy majority of our community, it?s better than not having any protections at all.

By the way, I don?t eat sausage (at least not the kind with pork in it), but I do love watching the way our laws are made.
Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com."

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