Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reactions to ENDA

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2007 Los Angeles, CA
What ENDA Meant To Me, by Kalil Cohen

While ENDA was being debated and it was becoming clearer and clearer that we were going to lose, I was feeling really depressed and hurt and scared, and sad, for myself and my friends and the security of our communities. I was also feeling really alienated from "LGBT" politics and the political players that I felt were rejecting me, leaving me behind, and overlooking the significant contributions trans people have made to gay and lesbian civil rights struggles. Now that I've had a little time to calm down and detach myself somewhat, I'm realizing that this is not the case at all. There was only one major "LGBT" organization that didn't stand up for what was right. It was the HRC, which I already knew not to trust and I already knew that I didn't agree with their politics, tactics, or even the personal beliefs of many of their members. ENDA was framed as divisive, both by trans people rallying to keep gender identity protections in the bill, and by assimilationist gay people rallying to drop trans people from "their" civil rights bill. But it is important to understand why things turned out the way they did, namely because those in power don't have a desire to protect oppressed people, and why should that surprise any of us, really? The ENDA that got passed is really about protecting gender conforming, white, gay men. And that is about dividing our community, and giving the most powerful among us a little bit of extra privilege so they'll leave the rest of us behind. And really, is that so surprising or disheartening?
We already know that lesbians aren't adequately protected as women, and gender-variant lesbians even less so. Queer brown and black people aren't protected because we all know how economics works for people of color as well, with gender-variant people of color even more affected by these daily realities. So is it really so surprising, and how much do these recent political developments really have to say about our queer communities and our ability to stand together in unity? Since the ENDA debate began, I have been contacted by a significant number of gay and lesbian individuals and organizations wanting to know how to be better trans allies, wanting to know about the struggles we're facing right now, and wanting to stand with us. These include Soulforce Q and Downtown Magnets High School's GSA. My point is, let's make sure we're honoring those in diverse queer communities who are standing with us, reaching out to us, and doing the work of inclusion, just as we make sure to point out those who aren't.
When ENDA was being debated, I started talking to all my trans friends about our experiences in the work world and how these experiences had affected or were affecting our decisions about transitioning. Through these conversations, I realized how few of my friends knew the details of my work life and my thought process, and how little I knew about theirs. It turns out I am not alone, but one of several friends who is totally out and open about being trans at work, only to have my identity ignored and disrespected by my employer because I don't look male enough to them. Just knowing others share this experience, and being understood by them was empowering. For me, organizing trans people around ENDA was partially about motivating people toward political action to create change, and partially about making sure we were speaking up for ourselves for our own mental health, and to internalize the fact that we are fully human and do truly deserve human rights. Even though I already understood and cared about ENDA in theory, these conversations helped me gain a new sense of understanding my community, how my own decisions have been affected by economic realities, and why it is so important to speak up for ourselves, and with each other, even when it looks like a losing battle. Also, let's remember that ENDA isn't the only federal legislation to focus on today. This year the U.S. Congress passed transgender inclusive legislation at the federal level for the first time, with the Matthew Shepard Act, which added violence related to one's gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability to federal hate crimes laws. This is truly significant, especially today when we remember those we've lost to violence and hate.
The tradition of Transgender Day of Remembrance is significant for our community because we all need the support and understanding that community provides. Sometimes it is hard to remember this in a country that so discourages community, and in a culture where we must seek out trans communities for ourselves. Today is about a communal day of remembering, mourning, and moving forward together. So please, take this opportunity to reach out, and speak openly and honestly with the people you're sitting with about your struggles, your hopes, your fears, and your ideals. In this way, we can all gain from one another's strength.

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