There’s a glaring snag in the landmark civil rights bill that was passed in Congress yesterday. Though it purports to protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, it doesn’t cover the transgendered.
First, a little background. When the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in April, it did include gender identity. But the version put forth by the House Education and Labor Committee had wiped clean mention of gender identity.
According to the Washington Post, Representative Barney Frank, he of the gravelly voice and the gay street cred, added language to protect transgendered workers, who suffer some of the most serious discrimination at work. But when another influential congressman—Education and Labor Chairman George Miller, a Democrat of California—objected, Frank backed down in order to get the bill passed. He told the Post:
“In general, in the legislative context, if you can pass a bill that improves things for a large number of people, then take it,” Frank said. “The notion that you don’t protect most people if you don’t protect them all — that’s never worked.”
Gay and lesbian activists have been fighting hard for these rights for decades. Now they’re faced with a devil’s bargain: protection for some gay workers, but not others. Frank added that transgendered workers might bring up their rights in another bill. But come on. Think a bill specifically purporting to give transgendered workers has any chance of surviving in Congress? As much a chance as a ham sandwich in a den of lions.
But perhaps all this is moot. Says the San Francisco Chronicle:
The House vote was largely symbolic, however, because the legislation stands little chance of enactment in this Congress. It faces daunting odds in the Senate, where it has not even been introduced, and President Bush has promised a veto.
The New York Times was more optimistic:
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and a longtime supporter of gay rights legislation, said he would move swiftly to introduce a similar measure in the Senate. Some Senate Republicans said that, if worded carefully, it would have a good chance of passing, perhaps early next year.
I don’t know, but I’m weirdly hopeful. Maybe Bush, in his lame-duck costume, will see fit to extend basic civil rights to a large segment of the population. Who cares if Pat Robertson excoriates him; he’s backing Giuliani, after all.
But maybe it’s best if the bill fails this round. Its advocates are surely preparing a contingency bill for the next prez. And she’s not likely to leave out the transgendered. I hope.