Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed out of the House of Representatives on November 7, 2007 with a vote of 235-184. In order to become law, it must of course also pass the Senate and be signed by the President. Most anticipate that those two things will not happen this legislative cycle. The version of ENDA that was voted out of the House is one that many advocates object to because it excluded gender identity language, which would have provided workplace protections to transgender people.

There has been an entire brouhaha surrounding ENDA that’s been mostly documented in the blogosphere though The New York Times article provided a good summary of it as well. I’ve watched these events unfold with astonishment. First, I am incredibly proud of the GLBT movement for standing on principle. The actions of United ENDA and the nearly four hundred organizations that worked to preserve gender identity in the bill are awe inspiring to me. I have never in my twenty years of being a participant / observer seen the queer community speak with such a united and clear voice. I am inspired by the number of organizations who have taken a stand in support of a transgender inclusive ENDA and called on their members to do the same. This is the movement about which I dreamed; I am proud to be a part of it.

I was amazed and slightly baffled by Representative Barney Frank’s actions. It seems that he had the opportunity to demonstrate the perfect “object lesson” about the value of Democrats to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, but that it has now been botched. Generally, yes, queers vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Lately, however, people like me—and others—question that loyalty in light of the waffling of Democrats on marriage. The script that could have played out is this: ENDA passes in the Senate and the House and then is vetoed by the President. The House and Senate are run by Democrats; the President is a Republican. Who will you vote for in 2008? The answer would have been obvious.

Instead, we were embroiled in wrangling with politicians about pragmatism and principle. It seems to me that politics should be about both, and politicians should find ways to hold onto both pragmatism and principle at all times. Ironically, one of the politicians who first introduced the law to protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination, in 1974 on the fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, was Representative Bella Abzug, the gentlewoman from New York. She was a politician with vision able to be both pragmatic and rooted in principle.

Instead of a transcendent political moment, or even an instructive political moment, the passage of ENDA was a divisive political moment. Certainly, the opposition to excluding gender identity from the bill was inspiring, to me and others, but the outcome was disheartening.

An important “object lesson” could still emerge from ENDA in 2007. That lesson may be more enlightening and may, in the long run, catapult queer liberation forward. I don’t think that it is going to be one that strengthens or stabilizes queer support for a Democratic candidate for President. Rather the lesson may be about unity, loyalty, and commitment. I hope that we are able to see it and learn it.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet. She lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #15 dated November 13, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 552

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