The “bathroom bill” bigots
To win passage of ENDA, says, activists need to be ready to counter the bigots' lies.
A CULTURAL storm is brewing on the horizon over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would finally provide workplace rights currently denied to most LGBT people. Right now, only 21 states and the District of Columbia mandate workplace protections for sexual orientation, a mere 12 states provide legal protection for gender identity.
ENDA would extend federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity. It is urgently needed.
As a transgender-inclusive ENDA makes its way through Congress in coming weeks, the good money is on it passing easily through the House and being stonewalled in the Senate.
While polls show that 89 percent of the population support workplace equality for LGBT people, fear-mongering and transphobic stupidities are being spread and echoed by right-wingers. Now that it is less palatable to openly discriminate against lesbians and gays, transgender people have become the primary targets of the cultural cretins.
One central excuse for denying LGBT people--in particular, transgender people--their workplace rights is that this legislation is, in the words of right-wingers, a "bathroom bill." In other words, a diabolical plan for men in drag to slip into women's restrooms, feigning femininity.
One widely circulated form letter to congresspeople on Congress.org states, "The thought of my child or grandchild in a bathroom with a transgender (sic) is repugnant to me." Tellingly, this note doesn't even modify the adjective transgender to refer to an actual person--as if "a transgender" is some alien species and not a human being who deserves respect and equal treatment.
In a whiff of scapegoating to come on the federal level, Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial contender Charles D. Baker attacked a current statewide bill that would prohibit anti-trans discrimination in Massachusetts, likewise dubbing it the "bathroom bill."
Aside from the obvious ignorance about transgender people, it's worth noting that trans people are using public toilets now. What's more, there are no recorded incidents of male-to-female transgender people harassing other women in bathrooms. Quite the contrary, some biological females have resorted to verbal invective or violence to stop transwomen from sharing restrooms.
It's insulting and dehumanizing to reduce the legitimate demands of untold numbers of people who are transgender to a petty potty squabble.
THE FACT that people in positions of power have been hemming and hawing for years against the inclusion of gender identity to any bill involving workplace equality is evidence not only of politicians' transphobia, but of activists' need to know the facts and to use them to mobilize broad forces to finally win workplace equality for all.
The statistics on transgender people's lives are stunning. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 97 percent have experienced mistreatment, harassment or discrimination on the job.
Try and imagine what it would feel like to have perfect strangers ask you about your genitalia on a regular basis. How it might affect you if going into a public toilet were an experience you had to mentally and physically gear up for because co-workers and employers often harassed and pilloried you for trying to relieve yourself. If simply living in your own skin in the only way you could imagine surviving was not only cause for emotional, physical and verbal abuse, but could cost you your job.
That's a snippet of life for most gender variant people, according to this first-ever survey of 6,450 transgender people in the United States.
Of those surveyed, 47 percent were denied a job, a promotion or were fired because of their gender identity. Despite higher levels of education than the population at large, 15 percent of transgender people earn less than $10,000 per year, twice the national average for that income level. Twenty-seven percent reported incomes of $20,000 or less.
According to the survey, hostile employers forced 32 percent of transgender people to present themselves in the wrong gender in order to keep their jobs. While 62 percent of the overall population has access to health care at work, only 40 percent of transgender people do.
Unequal and inhumane treatment wouldn't end overnight with the passage of a transgender-inclusive ENDA. But so long as politicians turn a blind eye--or worse, echo the bigots' fear-mongering of transgender people--discrimination and violence will be given a pass.
There are many flaws to ENDA. Workplaces with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt, along with religious institutions. So would the nation's largest workplace, the U.S. military. The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would still be required before lesbians, gays and bisexuals could serve openly in the military. There are no quotas, affirmative action or clauses to allow for the correction of past discrimination on the job.
Yet ENDA would be an undeniable step forward in the march toward LGBT civil equality.
LGBT activists in many cities are building contingents for this year's May Day protests--both in solidarity with immigrants marching for their workplace rights and to advance the struggle for ENDA. In cities across the country, activists are heeding Equality Across America's call to action on Harvey Milk Day on May 22 to press for full equality for all LGBT people, including passage of ENDA.
The Obama administration has signaled that it has good intentions on LGBT civil rights, but action is clearly needed to pressure Congress and the White House to pass ENDA this year. Countering the bigots' lies and inanities must be part of activists' strategy in months to come if we are to win rights for all sexual minorities, including those who are gender variant.