Yesterday's historic cloture-proof vote in support of the Matthew Shepard Act, commonly referred to as the hate crimes bill was a major victory. Every Democratic Senator joined together with a handful of Republicans to reach 60 votes in favor of a bill that classifies crimes against people that are motivated by their sexual orientation or gender identity a federal crime.
While we should be celebrating a major advance in the movement for equal rights, the celebration was considerably dampened by reports that Democratic Leadership in the House of Representatives was considering dropping trans-inclusive language from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The Washington Blade broke the story yesterday.
The discussion over this has been steadily brewing since the trans-inclusive legislation was introduced less than a year ago. Political pressure couldn't be greater on both the Democratic Leadership and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT advocacy organization.
Democrats in general have come under fire from gay activists and funders for a lack of action on legislative priorities such as ENDA and hate crimes. HRC has also come under criticism for the same lack of progress. Both are desperately in need of substantive victories to appease their constituencies. In addition, Speaker Pelosi is slated to receive a major award at HRC's National Dinner next weekend. It's unclear how she will be received in light of this development.
All of this boils down to whether we should sacrifice transgender inclusion in the ENDA legislation in order to pass a bill in the immediate future. For me, the answer is simple. No one should be left behind at the convenience of others. It is a moral obligation and a defining moment in the movement for equal rights under the law.
I don't want a sex change. Chances are you don't either. However, the simple concept of equality under the law is surely something we can all agree on. That's all this is about.
The larger picture is even more problematic. It's almost October. The Democratic Leadership has done little to advance major legislative items that have been pushed to the backburner under the previous Republican majority. It seems that not a week goes by when a major constituency of the Democratic Party isn't disappointed with Congress. In our election-oriented political system, not much is likely to be done next year, so this presents a major problem or Democrats.
Regarding the more comprehensive version of ENDA, every major organization advocating equal rights for LGBT America unequivocally and immediately expressed their opposition to dropping the trans-inclusive language and opposition to any bill not containing the language -- every major organization except for the Human Rights Campaign.
There are conflicting reports as the action they will take. Some reports indicate a split between the staff and the board. Others indicate a split among their board Members. Either way, their decision is critical in determining how this issue will play out. HRC comes with a lot of cash, a healthy PAC, an influential board, and high name ID among the LGBT population. With all of these things comes a great responsibility. Their mission, as shown on their website, their building, and on their business cards states: "Working for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Equal Rights."
That it appears they are questioning their policy of opposing the exclusion of transgender people from equality in the workplace is a very bad sign. Should they abandon their policy, they will not only abandon the transgender community, but also their own mission.
Although you may not know a transgender person, please help spread the principle of equality under the law for all Americans. While some may attempt to make the issue more complex, it really is just that simple. We all deserve equal access to Justice.