It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date in which the letter “T” for transgender was added to the GLB or LGB to form the now familiar LGBT. All indications are that it occurred during the 1990’s with no ceremony or official announcement that I can recall. It just showed up, and became a regular part of the acronym as activists seemed to accept it.
There wasn’t a major pushback from purists who wanted to keep the gay rights movement restricted on the basis of sexual orientation. Some did argue, however, that there should be separate movements as transgender individuals have different issues from those who are gay or lesbian. Or that this addition was another example of unnecessary political correctness.
While transgender folks and gays/lesbians are distinct (one is sexual identity while the other is sexual orientation), these arguments did not signal a demand to separate. And over the past two decades the groups kind of melded into a broader force to achieve equality. The umbrella was large enough to make our case for equality to the masses for all the letters represented in the LGBT acronym.
This unique coalition did not have its first flair-up nationally until 2007. That is when another attempt to secure passage of the perennial Employment Nondiscrimination Act or ENDA was brought up again in Congress. However, head counters, such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who is gay, noted that passage of the law would not have a chance if “transgender” was included in the bill.
The House ultimately passed the non-inclusive ENDA but it died in the Senate. To no one’s surprise, then President George W. Bush had threatened to veto the measure had it passed both chambers.
The failure to enact an all-inclusive ENDA generated a lot of heat. Transgender individuals felt betrayed by their being thrown under the bus so that the LGB portion gets their protections. Many gays and lesbians believed that having to incorporate the ‘T’ part of the bill was a drag on their progress.
Following the defeat in 2007, an all-inclusive ENDA had been introduced in the House 2009 and 2011—both times by Barney Frank and in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The bills currently sit in committee.
Earlier this year in Maryland, an attempt to add gender identity and expression to the current statute that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit appeared to have traction. However, a decision was made by the legislation’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk that the bill be stripped of the “public accommodations” provision to help ensure passage.
This triggered a very heated, often ugly debate within Maryland’s transgender community. Some wanted to achieve at least job protections; others saw the bill as meaningless if “public accommodations” was absent. There were transgender folks who actually testified against the bill because of the elimination of this key provision.
Regardless, the bill made it out of committee and passed the House in its current form sans “public accommodations.” A similar measure was advanced to the floor of the Senate for the first time, but it was killed in a procedural vote. The marriage bill had suffered the same fate but died in the opposite chamber, also without an up and down vote.
There had been considerable finger-pointing and recriminations from the gay and lesbian component regarding the marriage bill’s failure as well as the transgender community’s anguish over the failure of the gender identity legislation. Those who sought the “public accommodations” language rejoiced at the failure.
Transgender activists continued their expressions of displeasure over the tactical decisions made and have taken steps to carry the fight next year on their own. The divisions within that community remain palpable and could jeopardize any chance of success in 2012 unless there is more unity with a singular effort to pass comprehensive non-discrimination legislation on the basis of gender identity and expression that includes “public accommodations.”
Unfortunately, the acrimony on the part of transgender activists resulting from the failed attempt in the 2011 General Assembly began to spread beyond the confines of the trans community, Equality Maryland and others to the LGB portion of the LGBT family. Some have opined on blogs and social media that if there hadn’t been so much attention to the marriage bill, there could have been more resources devoted to the gender identity measure.
They have also discounted the significance of marriage equality as opposed to housing and job and public accommodations protections for transgender individuals since, they feel, most gays and lesbians will not opt for marriage. And the memory of failing to include gender identity protections in the 2001 nondiscrimination law on the basis of sexual orientation is still raw.
Having this fissure in the LGBT community is not productive. I am certain that most transgender activists understand there is a tremendous amount of support among gays and lesbians in their quest for trans protections.
The upcoming effort may have received a boost as a result of the brutal beating of Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans-woman, in a Rosedale McDonald’s on April 18—a horrible incident that received worldwide notoriety thanks to a video of the attack that went viral. The rally emanating from the Chrissy Polis assault, which took place just days afterward, was well-attended despite short notice, and galvanized all letters of LGBT as well as allies.
And that turnout for support should not be ignored. To our transgender friends—please don’t fault gays and lesbians and the goal for marriage equality for the failure up to this point to achieve comprehensive protections. The legislature can handle more than one issue at a time as each chamber considered the separate bills.
I can’t speak for everyone, but essentially we are on your side. Most of us believe in the LGBT umbrella and your fight is our fight. The anger, understandable as it is, must be channeled towards the real opponents of transgender rights and not the LGB folks.