Thursday, October 04, 2007

Throwing Transpeople Under the Bus

It was a beautiful, sunny day early this year when I opened up my e-mail after an editorial I wrote explaining why Outright Libertarians was opposed to ENDA. In short, we oppose it because we support equal rights – marriage, adoption, military service, etc. – rather than the special rights only for (back then) LGBT people that ENDA entailed.

Our argument was (and is) both practical and principled. On the practical side, we believe that our community’s resources are better spent pursuing equal rights in areas where government discriminates against us. Given that the vast majority of ENDA advocates live in areas where “nondiscrimination” legislation already exists, it’s a moot point anyway, even if you accept the specious argument that government can outlaw homophobia.

And on the principled side, as libertarians, we don’t support the creation of special classes of people – even when the membership of Outright would largely be members of that special class.

That didn’t stop the hate mail. My inbox filled up with e-mails from Democrats (and a few Republicans) accusing me of “hating gay people” and being “self-loathing.”

Fast forward to today.

Now, in a typical Democratic Party snowjob, the “T” has been dropped from the ENDA bill courtesy of Barney Frank – and it now is only for LGB people. Of course, the people slamming me (and Outright) would object strenuously to applying their own logic to them, accusing them of hating trans folk and being “trans loathing” – after all, that would require consistency from the same group of people who talk ceaselessly about “equality” yet swoon over the homophobic platforms of Clinton and Obama while attacking Libertarian candidates who are far more inclusive (and supportive of marriage, adoption and military service equality).

A Hostile Climate, A Laughable Apologia

What makes the anti-trans movement in the so-called queer commentariat even more astonishing is the utter lack of diversity that it represents. Rhetoric from connected, well-to-do (and wealthy) white guys represents the near totality of the argument in question.

Consider John Aravosis, a Washington Democratic Party partisan who made a name for himself by attempting to get right-wing radio host Laura Schlesinger’s program thrown off the air when she said some mean things he didn’t like. This well-to-do former attorney (and Democratic commentator) wrote a tortured blog-post “explaining” how he had such great sympathy for the transgender community but how it’s not really part of the “gay rights” movement.

He states that the “transgender revolution” is a “revolution from the outside” that has been “forced” on gay people. As a result, while he has “sympathy” for inclusion for transgender people in our society, they’re just going to have to fight their own battles, because even though the LGBTQ lobby accepted their cash for years, they’ve just become. . . you know. . . inconvenient. Under the bus with you, boys and girls!

(I wonder if “” is still available?)

Chris Crain, the wealthy and jet-setting former publisher of the Washington Blade, weighed in with a piece stating that ENDA was “transjacked” – a pleasant term that I’m sure he wouldn’t mind seeing modified. Perhaps Republican leaders (or, as the wind blows, Democratic leaders) would be happy to complain that gay people are “gayjacking” marriage in Massachusetts, or “queerjacking” immigration law so that his Brazilian boyfriend could join him stateside?

He complains that efforts to include transfolk in the ENDA morass would “kill momentum” for the bill, and thus, well, it’s that darn liberal guilt harming the greater movement again.

And on and on it goes. Bay Windows, the reliably establishment queer paper in Boston, has articles from queer white guys (and the token lesbian) praising Frank’s betrayal of the trans community, from people who can get married, adopt, and have a state equivalent of ENDA already. Of course, if ENDA “had to” exclude lesbians, you’d have quite a different story.

So what exactly is going on?

Bolstering the Democratic Party, Targeting Transgender Americans

Gay people often cock their heads and look at me strangely when I mention that the primary agenda of much of the gay “leadership” is not actual equality, but bolstering the Democratic Party. However, a detailed look at the situation reveals a consistent pattern of duplicity. This latest embarrassing saga is a prime example.

The vast majority of gay people in this country are already “covered” by ENDA-style special rights laws that guarantee employment for gay people at a state or local level. Certainly, every single one of the gay leadership who have chimed in to date are covered by such laws already. And looking consistently at polls of the LGBTQ community, ENDA-style protections are ranked as far less important than marriage equality, equal adoption, and only just above equality in immigration rights for same-sex foreign partners.

In short, very few everyday gay people who aren’t regulars on the HRC black-tie dinner party circuit, or professional panderers to powerful Washingtonians, care about it.

So why the attention on ENDA from “gay leaders?”

Because the Democrats need a law that is largely symbolic, and devoid of substance, so that disgusted gay voters across the country – most of whom are not millionaires with jet-set Brazilian boyfriends, married prosperous lesbians in pricey Boston, or connected members of the Washington establishment – don’t bail on them and either stay at home or vote for Libertarians and Greens (both parties that had impressive vote totals – and cost Republicans lots of seats – in the 2006 elections).

And transgender people, being the smallest group in the LGBT community, represent a vocal impediment to this process. After all, Democratic legislators are opposed to transgender inclusion in their special-rights bill, and rather than suffer the embarrassment of having their anti-trans orientation pointed out, they’d rather drop trans folk from their bill in their desperate effort to get it out the door prior to the elections. Since Democrats have also never been that great at dealing with people who are “different” – mouthing platitudes about “diversity” rather than practicing them – transgender people represent an uncomfortable reality they’d rather not deal with.

To create the artificial consensus necessary around this bill, they need to launch a full-court press, and that means if pesky transgender people, grassroots LGBTQ activists (or even Libertarians!) get in their way, they’re to be dealt with promptly through an abusive stream of hyperbole.

Effectively, the LGB “leadership” and press corps have decided to do to trans folks what they helped Bill Clinton do to LGBT folks back in the 1990s – take their money, take their support, and then promptly stab them in the back.

And if a little transphobia helps them get their meaningless (and low-priority) ENDA bill through to “prove the Democrats really DO love us,” so much the better for them. They keep getting invited to Democratic Party black-tie dinners, and get to hob-nob with (and be photographed with) Hillary, Pelosi and the rest. They remain part of the “elite,” while trans folks get brushed off like a bit of lint on their Armani jackets.

Best of all, it’s a no-lose proposition for the Democrats.

If ENDA fails because Bush vetoes it, Dems can run as the brave warriors fighting for queer folk against the Republicans. If it fails because of a lack of LGBTQ support, they can claim that gay people “aren’t serious about their rights” – despite the fact that ENDA isn’t about our equality, but rather Democratic Party priorities. If it fails because of transgender opposition, the white rich bois who don’t like transfolk can claim that they’re “harming the movement.” And if, by some miracle, it passes, Democrats can claim they “fought for an important victory” – even though the “victory” is meaningless for everyday gay life.

So Where Do Grassroots Queer Folk Go From Here?

Sounds like a pretty disheartening situation, right? Transphobia running rampant, ENDA being pushed as some Barney Frankenstein monster to preserve queer votes for a Democratic Party that hasn’t earned them, and a lack of real dialogue with the everyday gay community (which doesn’t really care that much about ENDA anyway).

But it’s not really so bad as it looks.

Consider, for instance, the grassroots efforts that have won us the equality under the law that our community really values.

Marriage equality started as lawsuits in Vermont and Massachusetts – leading eventually to civil unions and then marriage equality in Massachusetts. All throughout that process, individual grass-roots activists who cared more about their own equality than a Democratic Party central committee agenda, took the matter into their own hands (and to court). No less an “authority” than Barney Frank himself called them, desperate, demanding that they drop their case and explaining how they’re asking for too much -- that their efforts would hurt the Democratic Party (and ENDA!). But they soldiered on, with the support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and yes, transgender people, to a stunning victory.

If they’d taken Frank’s “advice,” marriage equality would still be a distant goal – not something many people enjoy today, and an achievable thing in many parts of the country. When push came to shove, Frank and his supporters valued their own political power over what the average gay person actually wanted and needed – and laughably described their concern for their own family’s well-being as “selfish and misguided.”

This has continued within the marriage struggle today. California is just a governor’s signature away from full marriage equality, thanks to a broad transpartisan (and transgender inclusive) coalition of grassroots activists who brought the issue to light with state legislators. The commentariat who are busy slamming transfolk today were nowhere to be found in the California struggle – and neither were most of the “national leaders” who are today busy pushing ENDA. This is a struggle that once again, grassroots activism delivered.

In fact, most of the real advances being made by queer folks in the past 15 years have been the result not of Democratic Party politicians (and their apologists), but by grassroots action. And the good news here is that regardless of what happens with the ENDA fiasco (and its firestorm of transphobia), we can look forward to continued progress if we work together on the grassroots level and ignore the self-appointed commentators’ pronouncements on who is “in or out” of our community.

Transgender people are a crucial part of the LGBTQ community. They have fought many brave battles in their everyday lives in the service of living and loving openly. They deserve nothing more, nor less, than full equality under the law – as do all queer Americans. The grassroots knows this and accepts it. The Democratic Party and its associated apologists know it, and fear it. If we stick together, ignore the manufactured ENDA “controversy,” and push for equality under the law rather than Washington-crafted special rights legislation, we’ll all win.

I invite transgender people feeling burnt by this controversy to commit to joining Outright in the grassroots. And I invite the rest of the LGBTQ community (and its allies) to recommit ourselves to real equality under the law, without regard to the fortunes of a corrupt and mendacious Democratic Party (and its privileged white urban apologists).

If you want to get started, why not head to Outright’s web site ( and sign our petitions demanding equal marriage, equal adoption, equal immigration rights, and equal treatment in criminal law. Then, consider working locally with LGBTQ people who share your passion for real-life issues like marriage, adoption, and immigration – not Washington policy-wonk politics. Learn more about candidates for office (including Libertarians) who share your concerns on these issues – and will actually do something about them.

We still have time to make lemonade out of this latest basket of pungent Democratic lemons.

And shame on the queer commentators who are leveraging transphobic bias to appease their political masters. You don’t speak for us – and never did.