Sunday, July 01, 2007

July 2007 TransGriot Column

Why “Gender Identity’ Is Necessary In ENDA
Copyright 2007, THE LETTER

Any day now Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) will be introducing his version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We can only pray, wait and see if it mirrors the language of the recently passed HR 1592, the Hate Crimes Bill that is now as of my deadline sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But one thing I repeatedly heard in several offices I visited during the recent National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) Lobby Days May 15-17 disturbed me. Several staffers informed me that Senator Kennedy’s bill DOESN’T mirror HR 1592 by including the words ‘gender identity’ and the definition for it as set forth in Section 3.6 of the House bill. I hope by the time that this column is read that that it tuned out to be just a rumor and the bill does mirror the one that passed the House May 3.

But what if that information IS true?

There are some gay and lesbian people that would be ecstatic if that happened. Some of them have expressed the attitude that the term doesn’t belong in ‘their’ ENDA bill. That’s a fundamentally short sighted, selfish and myopic viewpoint.

It’s not the revulsion in Christobigot brains about who your bedroom partners are that causes the virulent reaction to GLBT peeps (although it is a factor in some of the discrimination experienced by gay and lesbian people), it’s the transgressing of the binary gender system.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen or read about the negative reactions of straight peeps to lesbians who exhibit behavior that’s considered ‘masculine’ or the gay male that exhibits ‘feminine’ characteristics. We transgender people know all too well that transgressing gender binaries sometimes results in death or severe injury.

A few years ago there was an incident in downtown Louisville in which a six-foot tall broad-shouldered straight woman with short hair was verbally abused and nearly attacked by a group of bigoted men who assumed she was a lesbian or a transwoman. The irony is that the woman was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which has long pushed intolerance of GLBT people as part of its ministry.

In the Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins Supreme Court case, despite glowing reviews of her major role in securing a $25 million dollar government contract, Ann Hopkins was denied a partnership in the firm in 1982 because she was considered ‘too macho.’

She was even advised at one point in order to improve her chances to make partner she should ‘walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.’ She sued in 1984 and in a landmark care proved gender-based stereotypes played a substantial, motivating role in her employer's refusal to admit her to the partnership. When the Supreme Court ruled in her favor on May 1,1989 Ms. Hopkins was admitted to the denied partnership. She retired from Price Waterhouse in 2002.

Those are just two examples that point out why an ENDA that doesn’t include ‘gender or perceived gender’ language is a flawed bill. It would only cover 10% of gay and lesbian people. One of the lessons we African-Americans have learned from our centuries long struggle with the Forces of Intolerance is that when you draft civil rights legislation you design it as broadly as possible to cover the most people. You also don’t leave the bigot caucus any loopholes or wiggle room to come up with more creative ways to discriminate against you.

An ENDA that includes gender identity would not only cover all segments of the GLBT community, but also include straight people who don’t quite conform to the rigid gender binaries like the Ann Hopkinses of the world.

And that's a win for every American, be they gay, straight or transgender.

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