New federal non-discrimination bill excludes transgenders

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by Marisa Richmond, Ph.D.
Contributor

Activists in the transgender community across the nation have, once again, expressed outrage at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The motivation was the introduction of a federal employee non-discrimination bill which did not cover transgender employees, and HRC’s endorsement of the bill.

On June 30, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), along with 10 co-sponsors (none from Tennessee), introduced H.R.3128, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal employment The language does not include "gender identity" which would cover transgender employees.

Joe Solmonese, President of HRC, issued a statement saying "this legislation…is supported by the Human Rights Campaign." That statement set off a firestorm of protest from Transgender activists. Phyllis Frye, an attorney in Houston, who organized the first Transgender Congressional Lobby Days in 1995 after being denied the right to speak by HRC on the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), declared "HRC has abandoned transgenders to get gay-only protections! To HRC, I say shame!"

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) based in Washington, noted that both HRC and Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed the bill which, she maintains, is not a good bill, but she reserved her anger for Scott Bloch, Special Counsel to President Bush, who said he has no intention of investigating claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Keisling called for Congress to adopt a transgender-inclusive ENDA while also urging the White House to insist on the resignation of Bloch.

Adding to the crescendo of opposition is Gwen Smith of San Francisco. Smith, the coordinator of the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance for victims of hate crimes, was also an organizer of the protest at HRC Headquarters in May 2004. In criticizing H.R.3128, Smith said "there are likely no good reasons for not including gender expression and identity." Smith continued, "I actually believe that HRC doesn’t understand why this continues to be a sore spot for transgender people. Certainly, HRC has come a long way on transgender issues over the last decade and even has managed to say the word more than a few times now. While they seem to have the best intentions in mind, they also seem to fail at understanding how important it is to see action: If one wants to be an ally to the transgender community, then one has to act like one. Even though HRC wants us to believe they have our needs in mind, they also seem more than willing to toss out transgender-specific language in just about any bill." Smith concluded, "It seems as if HRC is, after a decade plus, unwilling to change. They remain full of good intentions, but are simply unable to really, honestly turn those into the sort of actions that will help everyone within the community."

In the midst of this controversy, the delegates at the National Conference of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Nashville adopted a resolution announcing they will actively oppose any legislation that is not transgender inclusive.

The resolution reads, in part, "NOW must continue its efforts to advocate for full inclusion of the transgender community in Federal Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act as well as other pieces of legislation."

The contrast between the positions adopted by NOW and HRC have only added to the frustration felt by Transgender activists.

In response to the growing criticism from Transgender activists, David Smith, Vice President of Policy and Strategy for HRC, issued a statement claiming "We’re not happy about it (the bill). Congress should be focused on enacting protections for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, not renovating a law that’s in perfectly good shape already."

It remains to be seen if Smith’s response will be enough to ameliorate the transgender community.