As the old saying
goes, nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a
hanging in the morning. Last month the Democratic leadership
in Congress unexpectedly decided to strip protections
for gender identity and expression from the proposed
federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. In
an unprecedented show of unity, within 48 hours more than
100 LGBT organizations from across the country sprang
into action to form United ENDA, a grassroots campaign
to pass only the original, unified bill. Indeed,
virtually every national LGBT organization unanimously
opposed the stripped-down version of ENDA as morally,
legally, and strategically wrong.
Last Friday, on
behalf of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, I
attended a meeting in which senior staffers from the
Democratic leadership informed LGBT advocates that our
congressional allies intend to move forward with a
sexual orientation-only bill -- over the opposition of
more than 300 LGBT organizations, including all of the LGBT
legal groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Equality Federation,
Pride at Work, Stonewall Democrats, the National Black
Justice Coalition, Parents, Families, and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays, and scores of state and local groups.
Tammy Baldwin's staff relayed Representative
Baldwin's opposition to this strategy and her
strong commitment to passing a bill that protects all
LGBT people. Indeed, from the start, Baldwin has
consistently maintained that we have the votes to pass
an inclusive ENDA and likely to fend off potential
Republican efforts to strip gender identity from the bill.
ordeal, Tammy Baldwin has shown extraordinary leadership
and courage, and she is fast emerging as our rising star in
Congress. Similarly, the Equality Federation, a
national coalition of state-based LGBT groups, has
emerged as a powerful new leader at the federal level.
In the past two weeks, the Equality Federation was able to
mobilize more than 55 state groups from 43 states to
oppose a noninclusive bill and to generate thousands
of e-mails, phone calls, and visits with congressional
representatives. Never before has the full power and
geographic diversity of the LGBT grassroots movement
been so dramatically in evidence. NGLTF has also
played a welcome new leadership role by coordinating the
efforts of other LGBT and allied groups in an
extremely nimble and effective campaign.
What do these
developments portend for the future? To an unprecedented
degree, the LGBT movement has made its voice heard in an
entirely new way in Congress. Following
Friday's meeting, we have redoubled our efforts to
build congressional support for an inclusive bill. In the
longer term, many of the groups that have come
together to form United ENDA are developing new plans
to strengthen our collective federal presence. With
new clarity, we understand that we have the power to control
our own political destiny and that we must play a much
more active role in shaping federal policy.
We are also more
unified than we have ever been. Over the past decade
transgender people have been reintegrated into the movement
after several decades of post-Stonewall banishment.
Just as important, many lesbian, gay, and bisexual
people who previously felt isolated and marginalized
because of their gender expression have felt truly accepted
and included for the first time as well. Collectively,
we have rejected the wounding accusations that our
enemies for so long have used to divide and debilitate
us -- accusations that gay men are not "real"
men and that lesbians are not "real"
women. For the first time, we are operating from a
deep-seated conviction that we all deserve full
equality and respect.
The results have
been stunning. Our movement is visible, effective, and
respected in a way that it has never has been before. Across
the country, LGBT people have rejected an ENDA based
on an outmoded and divisive model of our community.
Some of our leaders -- both in Congress and within our
community -- have been resistant to this message, but new
leaders and new voices have emerged. Whatever the
outcome of this particular battle, we are poised to be
an even more effective advocate on behalf of the entire
LGBT population in Congress and the White House as we
prepare for the 2008 national election.
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