By all accounts, the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is moving towards a vote in the House. As it does so, the battle lines are becoming clearer, and once again it looks like the issue of transgender inclusion in ENDA is going to be front and center.
Certainly, the right wing is throttling transgender inclusion for all it's worth. The so-called Traditional Values Coalition has been on a tear about it since Congress returned from recess a few weeks ago. They've even gotten CBS News to legitimize the debate on their terms, using the usual types of anti-LGBT scare tactics to warn parents about the dangers ENDA allegedly poses to the health and well being of children.
So far, our side is sticking together on the issue of transgender inclusion in the face of these attacks. But there are worrisome signs. Barney Frank, ENDA's sponsor, has ominously stated that there may be problems with transgender inclusion. It's not hard to imagine a scenario of backroom wheeling and dealing that leads to transgender inclusion being dropped because it's politically expedient to do so. And it's also not hard to imagine the justification: that it's better to get something than nothing.
Well, not in this case. The price is just too high. Our integrity as a community is on the line, and we betray ourselves and all that our movement stands for by throwing the most vulnerable members of our community overboard when the seas get choppy.
Transgender people face tremendous discrimination in the workplace. One recent survey found that 47% of transgender people report being fired, or denied a job or promotion, just because of who they are.
Few protections exist for transgender people who experience employment discrimination. In 38 states there is no law protecting transgender people from being fired because of who they are. Of course, in 29 states, there is also no law protecting lesbians and gay men from being fired because of who they are.
The crazy thing is, while we're gnashing our teeth over transgender inclusion, the other side is laughing. They'll fight this bill tooth and nail either way. Because at the end of the day, the distinctions we make in our community are distinctions with no difference to those who hate us. Take Zikerria Bellamy's case which is currently pending in Florida. 17-year-old Zikerria, who is transgender, applied for a job at a McDonald’s restaurant in Orlando. The manager she talked to about the job knew her only as Zikerria, the name she uses in everyday life. At 17, though, she had not yet made it her legal name. When the time came to fill out a paper application for the job, Zikerria listed her legal male name for tax and payroll purposes. When the manager saw her male name and realized that she’s transgender, he refused to hire her. He later left her a voicemail message telling her, “We do not hire fa**ots.”
If teens in our community can't even get jobs at places like McDonald's - on the first rung of the economic ladder - where can they? Is there really someone among us who is prepared to say that what happened to Zikerria should be illegal when it comes to lesbian, gay and bisexual teens, but okay when it happens to a transgender teen?
When we're faced with the choice to stand together in unity and to raise our voices as one, or to unburden ourselves of the most marginalized members of our community, let's choose unity. Not just for ourselves, but for the youth in our movement - Zikerria and the hundreds of thousands of other LGBT teens out there. They're watching what we do. Our integrity is at stake. We must not surrender it
Michael Silverman (photograph) is Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund located in New York City. Go to www.transgenderlegal.org for further information.