fighting for gay rights since 1974 in Cleveland, when I
was part of GEAR (Gay Education And Rights) as
we became the first gay group to purchase our own
building. We were proud of that, although its windows
were soon broken and swastikas spray-painted on the
although most people saw me as an exceptionally effeminate
gay man, I was largely accepted. Yet when I
transitioned, my (female) lover and I were asked to
leave lesbian meetings. I was publicly disinvited to
women's events. I was twice thrown out of the
Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. A National
Organization for Women chapter told me I was welcome
to join as a man. Even by 1995, when 40 of us
showed up at a Falls City, Neb., courthouse after the
murder of Brandon Teena, many gay newspapers ignored
us, not considering Teena's murder "gay news."
only places where I remained consistently
welcome were the gay bars where I had first come out,
where other genderqueer gays, lesbians, and bisexuals
were always sheltered. My family had largely stopped
speaking with me (even today, I have yet to be allowed
to meet my nieces and nephews, now in their 20s). I was
forced out of my tutoring job through daily harassment
by students and coworkers who refused to even speak to
me. I began a new career in clinical psychology, but
left after it became clear that few of my peers would
refer patients to me. I began another career consulting on
Wall Street, but even there gender sometimes cost me
clients and accounts.
a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person of a particular age, you
may have had similarly painful experiences at some
point. We've probably been in the same marches
together, come out in the same bars, fought many of
the same battles.
Yet for the past
20 years there has been ongoing debate over whether
people like me belong -- over whether this is really an
How could it be
otherwise? We are all still uncomfortable around gender
nonconformity. There is a reason our personal ads start with
"straight-looking and -acting only" or
"no butches or fatties need reply."
The gay movement
-- which should have found it impossible to avoid issues
of gender -- has made enormous strides by doing so. Instead,
the movement has pointed to sexual preference as a
single immutable characteristic -- arguing that we are
"just like everyone else," except that we
sleep with same-sex partners.
this has worked to the disadvantage of gender
nonconforming gays and lesbians and transgender people, who
could presumably exercise at least some choice over
how they express their gender, and who -- since they
are "visible queers" -- are not
"just like" everyone else.
In fact, as legal
scholar Kenji Yoshino points out, the right to be
different ought to be something we care deeply about. But
this is one of the problems of identity politics.
We like our
categories simple -- unmarked by messy intersections with
race, class, or gender. It is one reason our movement has
often done a poor job of addressing the double
discrimination of sexual orientation and race.
For the most part
we have also done a terrible job of talking about
effeminate gay men and butch lesbians. You will never
find them mentioned on the Web sites of national
LGBT organizations. Yet they are often among the most
vulnerable -- and most visible -- members of our
community. They are individuals who need protection not only
because of their sexual orientation but because of
their gender, because they can be fired for either
As a community,
we remain in deep denial about who among us is really
genderqueer. As Carmen Vasquez is fond of saying, If you are
a man having sex with a man, or a woman having sex
with a woman, then by definition you are transgressing
gender norms in a very profound way, and in some ways
we are all genderqueer.
Yet as a
movement, we have gotten good at including gender
nonconformity only by carefully segregating it as a
problem affecting transgender people. I have sat in
congressional meetings with gay lobbyists who were
wearing smart suits and ties, wing tips, and short,
combed-back hair -- female lobbyists -- who,
when the conversation turned to gender, spoke with
deep compassion about how gender is a problem "for
transgender people." As I say, deep denial.
So, now that the
time comes to strike gender identity and expression from
ENDA, it is difficult for us to explain why not only
transgender people are affected. That effeminate gay
men (like Medina Rene of Rene v. MGM Grand) and
aggressive lesbian women (like Ann Hopkins of Hopkins
v. Price Waterhouse) and even straight men who are
not quite as manly as coworkers expect (like Joseph
Oncale of Oncale v. Sundowner) all face
harassment and discrimination because of their gender as
So I would like
to speak to you who support this stripped-down,
non-inclusive bill that protects only sexual orientation. If
you think this bill is about identity, about you
getting your rights as one of those fortunate
"straight-looking and -acting" gay people,
then you have made a fine decision.
But if you think
it is about a community, about the love, struggles, and
experiences we have all shared, then I think you have made a
terrible choice. I hope you will one day decide to
speak out, as I am doing, about the need for a bill
that includes all of us.
In the final
analysis, the moral center of a movement is not defined by
how well and how long we fight for our own rights. Important
as that is, the moral center of a movement is defined
by how well and how long we fight for those who are
not us, for those more easily left behind.
And so I think we
are not only being asked a practical question, "Can we
cut loose some of our community?" but also a moral one, "Is
it the right thing for us to do?"
it happen. Don't buy into the "we will revisit
this later" rhetoric. There will be no
"revisiting" -- this abandonment is a
dry run for that one. There will be no later. There is
only this bill now.
Join me in
working to pass an inclusive bill and, until that day comes,
in opposing anything less.
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