If you've been paying attention at all to LGBT-relevant issues and politics over the last several years, you know that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and protecting LGBT worker's rights has been a priority goal for LGBT working families for a long time.
The problem is that it hasn't been a priority for the Obama Administration or for the Democratic Party leadership. It's on Obama's watch that ENDA lost its best chance for passage ever. In 2009, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress with Obama in the White House, and they'd comfortably exceeded the number of House seats. Congressional Democrats themselves told the LGBT community they needed to pick up in the 2008 election in order to get ENDA passed into law.
Obama and the Democratic Party leadership made an apparently politically-motivated choice to throw American LGBT working families under the bus in favor of a watered-down, easier-to-pass LGBT civil rights agenda that instead saw passage of a hate crimes law that offers LGBT Americans very little other than some high-altitude benefits in terms of government data collection on anti-transgender violence, and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), which protected only a fraction of our community that serves in the military from being excluded from service for being gay or lesbian while they are serving. This leaves our nation's transgender soldiers, as well as our lesbian and gay veterans, as completely unprotected against bigotry and discrimination as they've ever been.
Legislation that's mainly symbolic in impact, quietly tinkering around the edges of federal regulations, obtuse references to "equality" in presidential speeches that never actually pledge any serious action on the issues that matter most to LGBT working families, treating LGBT working families and our movement for equality like the unreasonable demands of a recalcitrant child -- that's what we've been getting from the Obama Administration on our key issues since day one.
Sure, they've done some good stuff for trans folks, but have you ever noticed that's only when it involves same-sex marriage or other issues of highest priority to the wealthy and well-connected that they want to tout that effort on MSNBC and other mainstream media? That's it's only when it concerns same-sex marriage, and other issues of the one percent, that they send the administration big shots out to the major networks to talk about it?
Seriously, think about it a second. While we often see Jay Carney dodging yet another round of direct questioning from LGBT media on ENDA and the federal contractor executive order, have you seen or heard any Obama administration official come out with a convincing public statement on what the administration plans to do on ENDA or on equality for LGBT working families? Ever?
Now, though, we can no longer accept this as standard operating procedure. The stakes have been raised, and that means players on all sides need to put more chips into the pot. This new Arizona law, assuming it's signed by Governor Jan Brewer, will give businesses and service providers an explicit right to refuse service to LGBT people based one's personal religious beliefs. Since one's religious beliefs are whatever a given individual says they are, this amounts to a license to freely discriminate against any LGBT person at any time, for any reason at all.
It's interesting to see how the left is freaking out about this particular bill when what this bill seeks to "legalize" is already perfectly legal in any area of Arizona, and any other area of the United States where there's no law at the state, county or local level on the books protecting LGBT people from discrimination. For the record, that's most of the country geographically, although, because they're more popular and easier to pass in major cities with large and diverse populations, anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT Americans do already cover about half the total U.S. population.
Our mainstream media has sadly bought into this ridiculous notion that this bill will create new law in most of Arizona rather than simply confirm what is already legal, and encourage business owners and others to exercise the right to discriminate against us that they've always had, but perhaps never realized it until the news of this bill hit the media.
The part of this that's new and scary is that this is not a defensive action, a way of preventing something considered undesirable from happening, such as banning same-sex marriage. This is a direct proactive attack by a state government on its LGBT citizens to intentionally make their lives worse, and to make Arizona less hospitable to LGBT people through legislation.
This legislature has passed a law that they have to know will drive LGBT and supportive businesses out of their state, and it seems that's exactly what they want to do. The fact that this bill is almost certainly wildly unconstitutional, and will eventually be struck down in court if signed into law, doesn't seem to factor in for these folks.
One good thing this bill does do quite effectively, though, is to point up ENDA's shortcomings and make the case for why the current push for ENDA should be discarded (it wasn't going anywhere anytime soon anyway), and replaced with one for a more comprehensive bill that protects not only workplace rights, but also public accommodations, housing and access to government services.
Arizona and other states now considering this kind of bigoted legislation have taught us that it's taken so long, over forty years, to get ENDA even halfway to passage that's it's now obsolete before it's even been enacted.
ENDA only addresses discrimination in the workplace, but it's now abundantly clear that LGBT Americans need more than just that to be able to live and work free of discrimination in a modern America that protects all of its citizens equally. If ENDA had been passed when it should have been, in 2009, we'd no doubt now be looking to expand upon its protections now. Since Democrats squandered that opportunity, trading away the hopes and dreams of two generations of LGBT workplace rights advocates for a handful of hate crimes and DADT non-magic beans, it's time to re-evaluate the entire strategy.
In light of the Arizona law passing their legislature (regardless of whether Governor Brewer actually signs it into law or not), this movement is no longer about fighting for what we don't have, expanding the coverage of already existent, anti-discrimination laws, this has now become about defending what we already have from those who are actively looking to take it away from us.
There's just no other way to look at it anymore. This is no longer merely a movement, a struggle, an ongoing political and cultural debate where both sides see wins and losses from time to time. This is different. Now, the other side has come out from behind their rhetorical shields of religious freedom, and they're shooting wildly into the crowd, not caring who or what they hit anymore -- just wanting to do as much damage to our side as possible.
This, boys, girls and everyone else, is what war looks like.
The rules have changed. Therefore, we must change as well, and so must the politicians who say they support our equal rights and treatment under the law. Silence is no longer an option, not from us, and not from them. Those who choose to remain on the sidelines and refuse to take a stand can no longer be considered true community allies.
As much as it chills me to the depths of my soul to find myself quoting George W. Bush, LGBT Americans find ourselves now in a cultural and political situation in this country where you are indeed either with us or against us. Whatever middle ground once existed on these issues no longer exists in states like Arizona, and it's now begun to translate into legislation specifically intended to punish and vilify law-abiding LGBT Americans simply for being LGBT -- you know, like they have in Russia.
Yes folks, this is war. The other side is overrunning our front lines. We need reinforcements and we need them now. Now we get to see just who's really got our backs, and, perhaps most importantly in an election year, who doesn't.
Follow Rebecca Juro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/beckyjuro