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ENDA Passes the House: No Party in the Square

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) was voted on by the House of Representatives today. It passed by a vote of 235 to 184 with 14 not voting. It needed 212 to pass.*

It passed by the skin of its proverbial teeth. So, why are we not celebrating?

Let’s review:

1. ENDA does not really protect gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Even though the debate about including or not including protection for gender identity or expression was framed in terms of protecting the transgendered, really those provisions would have protected gays, lesbians and bisexuals better than simply stating that, as the bill that passed the house does, that you can’t fire or refuse to hire someone because of his or her real or perceived sexual orientation.

That is like saying “Fine, so we can’t fire you for being a lesbian as long as you aren’t too butch.” If you’re “too butch” all bets are off.

HRC and its coaltion and Barney Frank and allies in the House have framed this as an issue of society becoming used to talk about GLB issues and being ready for civil rights legislation for lesbians and gays, but not quite being ready for legislation protecting transgendered folks because that issue is just newly in our consciousness as a society. That is naive and elitist. It presumes that most GLB folks are middle class and upper middle class professionals just looking to move up in the corporation. That simply isn’t the case.

2. ENDA does not consider the U.S. military an employer. All those troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? Not covered by ENDA. After all, we can’t let an important civil rights bill interfere with our “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.

3. ENDA does nothing about housing discrimination which weights much more heavily on working class and poorer LGBT folks than on middle and upper class ones.

4. ENDA will likely be vetoed.

Here’s where I think the HRCs cynicism creeps in. I think they don’t like the eviscerated ENDA either but they recognize that a veto is likely and is counting on that opportunity to go out and say “See how bad the Republican party is to LGBT folks? Don’t vote for them.”

But the truth is that we already know that the Republican party is bad to LGBT folks. There is no better evidence of that than their own sex scandals. You don’t see nearly so many people falling out of the Democratic party closet partly because the Democratic party doesn’t force people to be so closeted.

I’ll be away at a union conference this weekend so won’t be blogging much, but in that spirit let me ask you a question:

How much value is a bill like ENDA when so much employment in the US is “at will” employment, meaning that your employer can simply fire you because he feels like it anyway. So long as he doesn’t give an unfair reason for firing you he can simply say “you know, this just isn’t working out. I’m sorry. We have to let you go,” or “No, we have so many people I don’t have any hours for you next week, sorry! Check back in on Thursday.”

We need strong legislation that moves us toward economic and social justice for all of us. Not “civil rights” bills that say, essentially, that you can’t refuse to promote the clean cut guy in the business suit just because his partner is a man.

ENDA-as-is? It makes for weak symbolic politics and ineffective workplace protections.

It certainly isn’t the bill we need.

Note: This was published first on SexInThePublicSquare.org, our community site. Drop by!

 *I first reported that the bill passed with a vote of 218-205 and 10 not voting. That was a mistake. That vote was actually a vote on procedure (a vote to consider the measure.) The vote on the bill itself is now correctly reported above.

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Filed under congress, ENDA, Gender, legislation, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sexual orientation, sexuality

ENDA: A sacrifice on the table?

Here is what I wrote at around 5:30 pm today on SexInThePublicSquare.org:

HRC is announcing that tomorrow, Wednesday November 7, the House is scheduled to vote on ENDA.

Please call Tammy Baldwin and urge her to offer her amendment and not to withdraw it. Then call your representative and urge that person to support her amendment.

If representatives are given the chance to avoid going on record about gender identity they’ll take it. I, for one, don’t want them to have that chance.

Click here to find contact information for your congressperson or use the Speak Out!! section on the left.

Oh, and happy election day.

Here is what I wrote 5 hours later:

UPDATE 10:00pm NOV 6: This is not such good news as it first appeared. This is the notation from GovTrack.us about the schedule debate and vote:

Last Action: Nov 5, 2007: Rules Committee Resolution H. Res. 793 Reported to House. Rule provides for consideration of H.R. 3685 with 1 hour of general debate. Previous question shall be considered as ordered without intervening motions except motion to recommit with or without instructions. Measure will be considered read. Specified amendments are in order. All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived except those arising under clause 9 or 10 of rule XXI.

So, maybe one of you can help decipher this but I read this to mean that the “previous question” (a yes or no vote on the bill as presented) will be considered without any other motions (e.g., amendments) except motions to send it back to committee.

This makes it sound like Tammy Baldwin’s amendment will not be offered.

Tune in tomorrow to see what the debate sounds like.

Meanwhile, expect an ENDA without gender identity included. In other words, expect a largely ineffective ENDA that reflects the needs of elite gays, lesbians and bisexuals but does not meet the needs of most of us.

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ENDA Tabled?

Khadijah Farmer, her mother Aliha and LGBT Center's Cristine HerraraSo you might have been following the ENDA stories and known that it was scheduled to come up for a vote in the House last week or the week before. And you might have noticed that that didn’t happen. And you might have been waiting for news about that. I even tried to put a legislation tracker on the site (SexInThePublicSquare.org) so we could more easily keep up with bills like ENDA. (Aside: you’ll probably have noticed that so far it is only working in Safari browser.) Even with all that, I’d noticed that, well, nothing seemed to be happening. So, I’ve been poking around trying to figure out what’s going on, and I just came across this, from October 31, by EJ Graff at TFM Cafe:

The latest news on this front: ENDA, which had been scheduled for a House floor vote this week, has been taken off the table.

The official reason that ENDA won’t come up for vote: it’s been pushed aside by other business. The generally accepted reason is the split between the Barney Frank faction and the Tammy Baldwin faction.

The Tammy Baldwin faction, remember, is the faction that was going to offer an amendment, on the floor, that would put gender identity back into ENDA. The Barney Frank faction is the one that “compromised” gender identity out of the bill.

Graff does a great job explaining, again, why keeping gender identity in the bill is so important. It isn’t just to protect the trangendered, though to my mind that would be reason enough. It is also important because much of the discrimination that lesbians and gays face comes not as a result of sexual orientation but as a result of refusal or inability to comply with gender normative behavior. Some examples from her piece that make this crystal clear:

After all, when grade school and middle school kids taunt or beat up some boy for acting “gay,” it’s not because he’s been kissing other boys; it’s because he hasn’t been masculine enough for their taste.

and

Consider what happened to Darlene Jespersen, who lost her bartending job at Harrah’s Casino after 21 years—when her employer instituted a policy that said all women had to wear makeup. She couldn’t do it; her whole being revolted against that mask. (And yes, the 9th circuit decided that this was legal)

These examples also make it clear that the teasing and the discrimination that we’re talking about can also be used to victimize heterosexual people who don’t conform to gender norms. In neither of the examples above do we even need to know the sexual orientation of the people involved (real or hypothetical) in order to know that their treatment is wrong.

Does anybody else remember the amazing book, Homophobia as a Weapon of Sexism, written by Suzanne Pharr? I remember reading it in a Philosophy of Sexuality class in college (eternal thanks to the phenomenal Peggy Walsh) and having one of those “eureka moment” epiphanies where suddenly all kinds of seemingly disparate oppressions slid into their interlocking positions and I really got why this was all so important to me. (It’s no accident that we read this alongside a piece by Marilyn Frye describing oppression as a bird cage.)

Pharr’s argument, very briefly and probably oversimplified, is that homophobia is used to keep people obeying gender norms that are sexist and that privilege masculinity over femininity. Any thing that challenges that system is framed in homophobic terms, and their success depends on our own internalized homophobia.

ENDA, while being framed as a piece of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights legislation, is really much bigger, but only if it includes gender identity. If it does, it is a piece of legislation that moves us forward in the enormous task of dismantling a gender role system that oppresses all who fail to conform to its narrow expectations. While some in the mainstream gay rights movement might not be comfortable with that goal (preferring a more liberal model where people of any sexual orientation are free to assimilate into the dominant culture) they need to realize that they won’t achieve protection for lots of gays and lesbians if they don’t back the gender identity part of ENDA. (This is something Barney Frank seems not to understand. In his statement in the House on October 9 he seemed to believe that ENDA could protect lesbians, gays and bisexuals effectively without the gender identity provision, and that later some bill could be written to protect the transgendered, who should effectively ‘wait their turn’. His mistake is in thinking that without specific gender identity protection that gays and lesbians can be protected effectively themselves.)

It irritates me that Barney Frank, a gay white man in power, is willing to sacrifice the effective protection of LGBT folks in order to look as though he’s done right by us. He doesn’t stand to lose if ENDA gets passed without gender identity, (though others of us do) but he does stand to lose of ENDA doesn’t pass at all.

ENDA is not for Barney Frank. ENDA is for all of us. It needs to be brought back to the table so that Tammy Baldwin can offer her amendment. The tabling of the bill is, I’m certain, in fear about Baldwin’s amendment, and I for one would much rather see the legislation voted down by people who have to go on record opposing the inclusion of gender identity then to see Baldwin and others intimidated behind the scenes into accepting the Frank compromise or having the bill die without a vote.

Note: This post is published on my blog at SexInThePublicSquare.org, our community site. Come join in!

Thanks to Feministing‘s always amazing Weekly Feminist Reader for the link to EJ Graff’s piece!

Photo of Khadijah Farmer, her mother Aliyah and Christine Herrara from the LGBT Center borrowed from GayCityNews story, “Not So Hot on Caliente” . Khadijah Farmer is the woman who was kicked out of Caliente Cab Company, a restaurant in New York City, because a bouncer believed she was a man using the women’s restroom. Though she offered to show him ID she and her party were still forced to leave. Her case, while not about employment, is an excellent example of how perception of gender identity is a source of discrimination. She was not kicked out because she was a lesbian. She was kicked out because a bouncer refused to believe she was a woman.

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Filed under civil rights, culture, ENDA, Gender, heterosexism, Homophobia, legislation, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sexuality

Prevention bill(s)* still stuck in committee while Democrats increase Abstinence-Only Funds

File this under “with friends like these…”

What has happened to the Prevention First Act (H.R. 819/S. 21)? Why are these bills stuck in committee while the Democrats are INCREASING funding for abstinence-only education? Don’t they at least have an obligation to hold the line on such misappropriate of funds? We’re talking about the spending of 141 million dollars on programs that we know don’t work and that actually put our communities at risk. And we’re talking about the party in control, the one that is supposed to be friendly to smart sexual health policy, granting this increase in spending and as a result teaching kids that abstinence-until-marriage is the only legitimate approach to sexuality and that condoms don’t work well.

James Wagoner at RH Reality Check, expresses his outrage about this far more articulately than I could express mine. He writes:

I am constantly told that it’s not “politic” to call out our friends on an issue like sex education. There are bigger fish to fry. I’m not buying that anymore. Not when ten thousand young people get an STD, two thousand become pregnant and fifty-five contract HIV every single day in this country. Not when poll after poll shows this issue to be a political winner, not a loser, for Democrats. Not after Democrats exploited this issue in opposition and now, with control of Congress, act like it’s an insignificant chit to be bartered away at the whim of a recalcitrant committee Chairman.

It is now time to call this what it truly is. A stunning disgrace.

A stunning disgrace, indeed. And this is not a new story. We wrote about this here back when the Dems in the House of Representatives voted to approve the increase when they passed the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill. But its in the news again because the bill has just come out of the Democrat-controlled conference committee and the increase is intact. And the increase is outrageous. SIECUS reports that the Senates version of the bill would have reduced funding for abstinence-only programs. Why didn’t they hold that position in the conference committee?

We’re nearing election day and it is important to remember that the Democrats are not so clearly our friends. And they ought not be allowed to continue to get away with hurting us just because the Republicans might hurt us worse.

You know, it really starts to feel like an abusive relationship, doesn’t it? You know, the kind where you are being beaten but feel trapped because if you leave you’ll be worse off?

We need shelters for the battered body politic. I think they’re called multiple-party systems. You know, where real choices are possible.

Maybe that would be a truly “pro-choice” system.

I think we need to start building one.

Now.

*The Prevention First Act is only one of a slew of bills that were introduced to try to make sane sex ed and contraception policy. The REAL (Responsible Education About Life) Act is another that is stuck in committee. For a look at the whole list, depressing though it is that none are moving, click here.

Note: This piece is also published on my blog at our community-building site, SexInThePublicSquare.org. Drop by and join in!

Photo of “Condom Police” sign not taken in the US no matter how much it may feel that way. The sign was photographed in Vanuatu by “Phnk“, posted on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

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The danger of dismissing Fred Phelps

 Are he and his small band of followers on the lunatic fringe of the Christian Right, or aren’t they? First they blame the wildfires in California on homosexuality. Now the loss of American troops is also the fault of gays and America’s failure to properly condemn them?

The New York Times today has the story of a lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church, which is being sued for creating a media circus outside of a soldier’s funeral. They protested outside the funeral carrying signs that blamed the deaths of American soldiers on the fact that the U.S. condones homosexuality. Actually they’ve been doing this for at least two years now, but because the father of a soldier whose funeral was protested has filed a lawsuit, Fred Phelps and his crew are back in the news.

Westboro Baptist Church members protesting Laramie Project in Ann ArborIt is easy to cast Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church as a kind of lunatic fringe among Christians. The Wikipedia page for Westboro Baptist Church cites sources estimating its membership as between 70 and 150 people and most of them are related by blood or marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Westboro Baptist Church to be a hate group. Phelps, and Westboro, maintain the web sites “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates America“. They also hate Jews, Catholics, Muslims and anybody who supports any of those groups. (They are certain that God hates Canada and Sweden , for example.) And they’ve been around for a long time. Phelps started out protesting the funerals of people with AIDS. You may recall that he and his followers picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard. There is a counter on GodHatesFags.com, that keeps track of the days Shepard “has been in hell.” (Shepard isn’t the only one, either. They also have a counter for Diana Whipple, a lesbian who was mauled to death by dogs that Fred Phelps believes God sent to punish her for her sins.)

Yes, he sounds like nothing more than lunatic fringe, and it would be reassuring to put him in that box, put that box away on a shelf, and ignore it.

Yet in many ways he is not so much “fringe” as we might want to believe. While Fred Phelps might be crazy, and may lead a small number of people, there are folks like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and others who ultimately promote the same basic ideas but in more mainstream venues and who as a result have exponentially larger audiences, and access to Congress, and to power. Dobson, for example, has a radio show that is reportedly run on over 1,000 radio stations, and reaches over 3 million listeners. His Focus on the Family organization has much more political clout than Phelps could ever muster, yet it works for the same basic agenda. When Dobson came out against Republican presidential hopefuls like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson it made national news, with stories on CNN, the Washington Post, and other mainstream news outlets.

Conservatives for American Values, which runs the disclaimer “Everything posted on this blog is satire and should be read as such” spoke more truth than satire about the relationship between Phelps’s lunacy and Dobson’s comparatively staid performance when it published this in 2005:

Also, it’s people like Fred Phelps who limit the donations that groups like Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family can get from righteous Christians who dislike gay people. He hurts the rest of us because he’s too stupid to know how to effectively frame his own disgust with homosexuality. Simply put, he’s hurting the cause he claims to support.

Listen, I’m sure if Fred Phelps, Dr. Dobson and I all sat down at a table we’d find a lot we could agree on. I mean we all understand what James Dobson meant when he spoke out against the Texas sodomy case. When he says that he doesn’t want homosexuals to have the right to have sex because it will destroy the family we catch his drift. He didn’t come out and say, “I don’t want homosexuals to have sex because they’re gross and I hate fags.” Dr. Dobson is much too smart for that.

It will remain difficult to believe that Phelps and Dobson don’t represent mainstream Christian thought until many more Christian groups stand up and speak out against them, and call for more understanding and respect for sexual diversity. The silence of the real mainstream lends credibility to the extremists. It isn’t enough to denounce Phelps, either.

It is important to see past the theatrics of the Westboro Baptist protests and recognize that the basic principles of sexual oppression that motivate Phelps and clan are the same ones that motivate folks like Dobson.

In fact, the danger Phelps poses is really that he makes the Dobson crew look reasonable. Yet Dobson’s rhetoric is just as dangerous when it comes to disenfranchising people because of their sexualities. Without similarly denouncing Dobson, mainstream Christians will just be making the hate and the heterosexism seem more polite.

I give a lot of credit to groups like the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing. Debra Haffner and her organization do important work. But many more mainstream religious organizations and left-leaning religious organizations need to add their voices to the call for acceptance of sexual diversity.

Otherwise, it’s going to seem more and more like the “the love-thy-neighbor” and “judge-not” Christians are the fringe, and the one’s who’d like to bring back stoning are the majority.

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Photo of Westboro members protesting the Laramie Project in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2005 taken by AlanLK and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

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Filed under civil rights, discrimination, heterosexism, Homophobia, News and politics, public discourse, Religion, sex, sexual orientation, sexuality