Friday, August 28, 2009

Words Mean Something – And So Do Letters

TransGriot Note: This is a guest post courtesy of another one of the people in the community I have much love and admiration for, trans historian and attorney Katrina Rose.

This was originally posted at ENDAblog,

Engaging in historical revisionism must give some people a buzz comparable to Pineapple Express.

Exhibit 639,172,825: Former Scampaign head Tim McFeeley.

Ted Kennedy’s leadership in defense of the civil rights and aspirations of LGBT Americans has been remarkable, and his death leaves us without our fiercest champion in the United States Senate. The value of one strong advocate in the Senate — someone who will use every parliamentary, personal and political lever to preserve, protect and defend an issue — cannot be overstated, and Senator Kennedy was the LGBT community’s lion-hearted advocate.

Whether working with Republican Senator Lowell Weicker to secure the first funding to care for people with AIDS, or standing up to the incessant, vile attacks on gay Americans and people with HIV/AIDS from Jesse Helms, or ensuring that all people with HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Ted Kennedy was the “go-to” Senator for LGBT Americans for over 20 years. Senator Kennedy was not deterred by a lack of political support; whether our side could deliver 50 votes or 5 in the Senate, and whether the public opinion polls favored the gay side or not, if Kennedy felt the issue deserved his support, he would hold the Senate floor as long as necessary to achieve the best result.

Would that be the same ADA that includes not one, but two, explicitly anti-trans provisions – provisions that led to the erasure of pro-trans Rehabilitation Act precedent?

Senator Kennedy was not deterred by a lack of political support….


Then why was there never even a trans-inclusive ENDA bill in the Senate until three weeks before Kennedy’s death?

And, if folks are keeping track, Kennedy died in 2009 – not 1994.

One day in particular stands out in my mind: July 29, 1994, a hot summer Friday in Washington. The Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) had its inaugural introduction just a few weeks before, and Senator Kennedy as Chairman of the Labor Committee scheduled a hearing on the bill for 10 a.m. We lined up outside the hearing room two hours in advance, and as the doors opened we had to jostle with a phalanx of right-wing ministers led by Louis Sheldon and his daughter Andrea who broke ahead of the line to try to pack the room. A scuffle and angry words brought Capitol police officers to restore calm, and before the hearing officially commenced Senator Kennedy had to denounce the uncivil behavior at a hearing to discuss civil rights. Here was the leader of every major civil rights bill protecting women, ethnic and racial minorities, and people with disabilities taking up the fight once again, this time to stop discrimination in the workplace against LGBT Americans.


What was Sen. Kennedy – or any senator, much less you Mr. McFeeley – doing in July 1994 to stop discrimination in the workplace against transgender Americans? You know – July 1994? When not only was there not a trans-inclusive ENDA but when trans activists were blocked by a Senate committee from even testifying? When one senator not named Kennedy managed to get the written testimony of two trans activists (Phyllis Frye and Karen Kerin) added to the record?

Yes – that July 1994.

But believe it or not, my posting here is not anti-Teddy. I’m willing to accept the possibility that Teddy may finally have come around – but, honestly, there’s not really much of a record (other than his co-sponsorship of the Senate ENDA bill) to back that up.

But that’s not the issue here.

The historical record, when it is finally in full view, may even provide some room to at least maneuver him out of the Barney Frank category; maybe he meant better than his lack of official action indicates – though, it does seem as though there are too many indicators that he indeed was the Senate roadblock that trans people have asserted him to be for the last decade and a half.

But even that’s not the issue here.

The issue is yet another purple-n-yellow-blooded professional queer creating more nuggets of fake trans-inclusive histories of a trans-exclusive movement and a disgustingly transphobic organization, to muddy not just the water but the air and everything else.

And honestly?

If there’s anyone who should be more pissed off about it than trans people…

its Ted Kennedy.

1 comment:

ginasf said...

Yes, thank you for writing this. Kennedy was, for many issues, the best progressive in the senate (along with Wellstone), but not when it had to do with trans rights. And, like you, I get tired having 'LGBT spokespeople' telling us some bogus history about how we struggled together and supported each other and who 'our' allies were.