Friday, September 28, 2007

Passing ENDA Without Transgender Americans

The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is up for vote again at the national level. Once again, the issue has come up to exclude transgender people from the employment protections ENDA would offer.

This battle has been waged for many years with people reasoning that ENDA is more likely to pass if we exclude transgender people from the legislation. In today's climate, most gay-right's organizations and activists around the country have said they oppose passing ENDA without including transgender people. In fact, people feel so strongly about it they have said it is better not to pass any legislation than to leave out our transgender brothers and sisters.

It's complicated and it's simple.

Yes, I sure would like a law passed that would protect gay and lesbian Americans from being fired simply because of their sexual orientation. Many people aren't even aware that it is legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian (or even perceived as gay or lesbian). There are no protections. Nothing. ENDA would make it illegal for employers to fire someone for being gay or lesbian.

Gay Congressman Barney Frank thinks we should pass this legislation without including transgender people because it is more likely to pass. He says we will come back later to legislatively protect the transgender people in our community.

Though I am no fancy lobbyist or politico, I know enough to know this:

1. we identify ourselves as the LGBT community, and it just doesn't feel right to suddenly abandon a part of our community because it is convenient for the rest of us. We all know that society can generally tolerate the idea of two women being together better than 2 men. Imagine if we started trying to pass legislation that excluded men because we knew it had a better chance of passing (adoption legislation comes to mind). We would never do that, so why are transgender people any different?

2. If we pass ENDA without transgender people now, will we really come back to help pass one later that includes them OR will we move onto issues that affect a bigger majority of the community? Also, what are the chances of an ENDA passing that only addresses transgender people? Slim-to-none.

3. In my personal experience, the people in our community who need employment protections the most are transgender people. Most LGB people have no idea the employment discrimination transgender people face. It is one of the most heart-wrenching realities in our community.

For those in our community who would prefer to see transgender people as not really part of the community, you are wrong. Their discrimination is our discrimination. It is all the same.

Therefore, I must agree with the majority of our courageous leaders from around the country that it is not worth passing ENDA if we are to leave out a very vulnerable and important part of our community. I can only support legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

I hope you feel the same way.

Kathy Kelly
Executive Director
MEGA Family Project

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