Dear Representative Frank,
I was dismayed when I learned that you had plans to remove the phrase “gender identity and expression” from the ENDA bill. Thanks to the efforts of approximately 90 organizations and numerous private citizens the bill remains intact, but I nonetheless feel compelled to address you and your efforts personally, especially in light of some comments that you have made. Your quoted reasoning behind this split, which I read in an online article from Seattle’s Gay City News, is this:
One of the problems I have found over the years of discussing this is an unwillingness on the part of many, including leaders in the transgender community, to acknowledge a fact: namely that there is more resistance to protection for people who are transgender than for people who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual.
This is offensive, Representative Frank, and not because you claim that passing transgender rights laws is difficult. Passing those laws IS often difficult. I know that transgender inclusion is often an uphill battle, and most other transgender people, our allies, and our family members are keenly aware of this as well. We, as a community (your word), do not have our heads in the sand. We doggedly pursue our basic civil rights because they ought to be ours in the first place, not because it is easy to do so. Your belief that bill supporting transgender rights would likely drown is correct, but, luckily for you, a full and complete ENDA is actually not a transgender rights bill.
In point of fact, it’s a human rights bill. The phrase “gender identity and expression” applies to everyone, not just those of us who are looking to modify the M or the F on our driver’s licenses. Every single person has a gender identity, and each one us expresses it somehow, and, unfortunately, people—queer or not, transgendered or not--are often denied jobs because their particular gender expression is somehow deemed inadequate for the work required. From the willowy, quiet guy who is deemed too effeminate for manual labor, the androgynous lesbian who “isn’t hot enough” for public relations work, or, in my particular instance, when I was fired because I refused to wear a skirt to my job. I didn’t refuse out of principle—I would have worn ruffled bloomers if it had given me job security—but because I worked as a stockperson in a shoe store and spent all day climbing up and down ten-foot ladders. A skirt would have been immodest at best, dangerous at worst. This occurred while I was living in San Francisco, which, as you know, is Rep. Pelosi’s district, so the irony that she was willing to back a version of the ENDA that didn’t include these protections is particularly troublesome for me.
However, this is hardly the final paradox that this bill has brought to light. In stripping “gender identity and expression” from the language of the bill you have actually weakened its protections for sexual orientation. As a gay man it is likely that you are acutely aware that sexual orientation is ultimately something between your brain, your body, and any deity that you believe in. While your orientation may affect some aspects of your work as a public agent, you are undoubtedly aware of the multitude of jobs available where it would be irrelevant, and like many others, might actually prefer to leave your home life at the office door (at least once in a while). However, for some (dare I say many) gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer folks, that just isn’t possible if they would like to remain true to themselves. The simple fact that most Americans initially determine a stranger’s sexual orientation based on their gender expression, rather than by asking that person what they are attracted to in a mate, means that gendered signals like a limp wrist, a lisp, or a buzzed haircut will cue discrimination before someone’s known orientation does. We would both prefer that sexual orientation be left out of job interviews, but if it is (and I think it is, per sexual harassment laws, but I’m not sure), how else would a narrow-minded employer who seeks to do so determine a potential employee’s orientation? If this bigoted employer doesn’t want to hire someone based on their attractions, he’ll use gender cues to determine when to discriminate, and without a line of questioning to indicate the employer’s preference, it would be difficult for the interviewee to prove that they were even discriminated against. An ENDA without gender protections leaves those GLBQ folks who cannot seamlessly blend in with the norms for masculine men or feminine women out in the cold.
And, since I brought us to the subject of cold, there is one more thing that I feel the need to comment on. Later in the same article you are quoted again, this time criticizing the gender identity clause by noting that it is “a fairly recent addition to the fight.” You seem to have forgotten a key fight in all of this. The Stonewall Rebellion (which you lived through and I have only read about) was led by transsexuals, drag queens, butch lesbians, and feminine gay men. After those folks licked their wounds from that fight, the gay rights movement launched itself, and many of those rebels and others like them were deemed too unattractive and too weird just because their diverse gender expressions seemed to threaten the acceptance of gender-normative gays and lesbians into a straight world. If we haven’t been present at the table, if we haven’t been crafting legislation, it’s not because we didn’t want to be, it’s because attitudes like yours kept us from doing so. I know that I owe a debt to the people who fought back in Greenwich Village, and, as someone who benefits from the acceptance of gay life that the Rebellion triggered, I think you do, too. Based on your political history, I think it’s fair to wager that you believe in fighting the good fight. I do, too. Just remember that the fight isn’t good because it’s easy.