It’s been quite a whirlwind for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the last few weeks.
The excitement leading up to the U.S. Senate vote on the Matthew Shepherd Act, also known as the hate crimes bill, was palpable. Across the country, LGBT activists worked with groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and spoke with one voice to their individual Senators telling them to pass the bill. With bi-partisan support, the Senate voted 60 to 39 for a bill that the House of Representatives approved in May with a vote of 237 to 180.
In a savvy political move, Senate leadership attached the bill to a defense reauthorization measure to continue funding the fiasco in Iraq. Once again abandoning his “compassionate conservatism” campaign call, Bush has said he would veto the hate crimes bill bowing to pressure from the Radical Christian Right who consider it a “thought crimes bill.”
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but that never let Bush or the Right stop them. The strategy behind attaching the hate crimes bill to defense legislation is that it would make it much more difficult for Bush to veto. We’ll see.
The hate crimes celebration didn’t last long, however. Once the community breathed a collective sigh of relief that the bill passed, that sigh turned into a shout as the activist leadership of the LGBT community railed against a move to delete the transgender community from the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act—or ENDA as it is more commonly known.
It seems that someone did a head count in the House and came up short if ENDA included protection for transgender Americans. The bill’s main sponsor, Massachusetts’ Congressman Barney Frank, decided it was best to take the “T” out of this LGBT non-discrimination bill so it could pass.
It was a political decision—calculated to get the bill passed so that, as Frank put it, we could protect as many people as possible—a political decision that was derailed by the quick organizing of over 100 LGBT organizations and allies like People for the American Way.
The lightening speed at which we were able to bring a collective, incredibly loud “no way” to the exclusion of the transgender community was amazing. Blogs were ablaze. You could almost hear the web humming with automated e-mails and action alerts. New sites like www.nosubstitutes.org and www.unitedenda.org have popped up, virtually, overnight.
Both sites are great organizing tools. I just wish the LGBT community could respond as quickly to passing good legislation as it has to stopping bad legislation.
Caught in the middle of this maelstrom is the Human Rights Campaign, the LGBT community’s largest and most powerful political organization.
Formed in 1980, HRC has built an impressive “inside the beltway” reputation—and it is that insider politic that has so many upset. It seems that HRC took too long to voice its opposition to the Frank compromise bill and when it did, it wasn’t strong enough.
This is all about the politics of politics.
Instead of flatly coming out against the bill, the Human Rights Campaign reaffirmed its support for a trans-inclusive ENDA but was clear that it would not lobby against Frank’s revised bill. Some consider this to be playing both sides off the middle. I consider it to be shrewd politics by an organization who knows how to play the game.
And, that is what gets many of the grassroots LGBT activists mad. Maybe it’s because they’re not in a position to play the game, maybe it’s because they don’t want to. Whatever the reason, the hyperbole from many corners of the LGBT community regarding HRC’s decision is over the top and, quite frankly, naïve.
As a political entity, the LGBT community needs insiders as well as outsiders. Our movement has grown at lightening speed. We’ve accomplished so much in a relatively short period of time because we learned from other social change movements. Intentionally or not, we’ve taken a more sophisticated view of politics and recognize activism is needed at all levels—both inside and out.
To marginalize HRC because it’s not taking the “politically correct” stand—as defined by those who believe their position is the only effective approach—is not only doing a disservice to our community, but it is hurting our community.