There's been a lot in the news lately about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. This is not the first time it's been taken to Congress. The first version of this iteration of the bill included protection for gender identity as well as sexual orientation. Democratic leadership then worked to revise the bill, removing gender identity because they didn't they could get it passed if it was included. There was an immediate and resounding outcry about the removal. It raises a very difficult question: do we include gender variance and risk not passing the law AGAIN, or do we work for what might be attainable now and keep coming back until everyone is included?
It's not a simple question, and there are some well-reasoned arguments on both sides. My initial reaction was that any step forward is SOMETHING, and that no struggle for equality has happened all at once. But I also know that gender identity is often forgotten, is less visible, and treated as more "fringe." But isn't providing protection for 80% of a community better that protection for none? It's a tough one, isn't it?
If nothing else, the debate has shown that the queer community can organize well and quickly, almost rivaling the grassroots machine that is conservative Christianity. Every member of the House received a letter signed by 90 different groups, asking that they consider the bill in its original, inclusive form. Over 200 churches - yes, I said churches - organized to have their members flood phone lines in support of inclusion. It's nothing if not impressive.
The more I listened to the discussions, debates, criticism, complaints, anger, and hope, the more I felt conflicted. Make no mistake: I firmly believe that gender identity should be protected in our country just as much as sexual orientation. Period. End of story. I think that if you're a good employee, you should not be fired for any "essential characteristic." Then I heard a very simple comparison. What would we have said if the civil rights movement had worked for rights for African Americans but not Asians? Or if a compromise were made so that light-skinned minorities were protected but dark-skinned people weren't?
It became very clear that if we're not working for equality for EVERYONE, we're not really working for equality. We might not be successful in getting it passed. But that doesn't mean we should try for anything less than what is right. Perhaps we could obtain employment protection for GLB people if we took gender identity out of the bill. But wouldn't that "victory" feel hollow if everyone in the queer community didn't have the same protection? Wouldn't we be hypocritical if we didn't do everything we can to include EVERYONE? If Congress wants to strip gender out of the bill, let them. But not without a fight...for fairness.