[Edit – 4/4/2013: after digging more into this topic, doing a bit more research, and learning of even more recent events, my opinion previously expressed in this post has changed fairly dramatically. Until HRC makes a true commitment to trans rights – which they still have not done – I cannot, in good faith, trust them as an organization]
It’s important to remember that trans rights in the United States are still in an abysmal state. Only 16 states provide protection against employment discrimination on the basis of being transgender. This means that in 34 states, it is completely legal to fire someone based on their gender identity. The piece of legislation that would eliminate this legalized discrimination, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has drawn still opposition from conservatives, leaving the legislation stalled in Congress for the foreseeable future. Every session of Congress since 1994 has seen ENDA introduced (though gender identity protections were only added in 2007), only to see it repeatedly shot down. One would think that the question of, “should everyone have equal employment rights?” would be on the same plane as, “do you like sunny days?” in terms of unanimous support; unfortunately, this is not the world we live in.
This prompts me to raise the question of what can be done to better promote universal trans rights. First things, first, though: we need to realize who our allies are (even if they’re not putting the resources into trans rights that we think is necessary), and who our opponents are. To whose credit do we owe the stalled progress of trans rights in the United States? From what I read, posted by some trans individuals, you’d think that the “enemies” are LGB organizations that don’t do enough to support trans issues, that groups like the Human Rights Campaign were single-handedly responsible for the dismal state of trans rights.
While I realize that some LGB organizations have had a rough relationship with the trans community, it’s important to judge these groups based on their current positions, and not on mistakes they’ve made in the past (since 2009, HRC has vocally supported a trans-inclusive version of ENDA). The true battle is not with advocacy groups (that are on our side, mind you), but rather, with organizations like Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Traditional Values Coalition, and other religiously-themed groups (rule of thumb: if an organization has the words “family,” “values,” or “traditional” in their name, they’re probably not on our side). Those are the groups responsible for this stall in legislative action. We should focus our anger and our frustration on those groups, the ones that truly keep us legally second-class citizens.
Is the best way to win over true support from groups like HRC to attack them? I mean, to me, it’s that whole, “you’ll attract more bees with honey than vinegar,” line of thinking. Help them improve on their checkered past performance through positive advocacy, not lash out at them. And really, let’s not forget some of the more positive things HRC has advocated for that led (or would lead) to improvement in trans lives:
- HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) measures hospitals’ policies and practices that affect LGBT patients and their families, and examines whether non-discrimination policies and cultural competency training include gender identity.
- HRC recommended fair housing for LGBT people to the Obama Administration which was enacted when the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) announced new policies in June 2010 that required groups receiving HUD grants to abide by state and local laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
- For the last 10 years, HRC has published the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which rates U.S. employers on their policies impacting LGBT employees. In 2009, HRC raised the bar on its criteria for healthcare coverage to transgender employees, including coverage for reconstructive surgical procedures related to sexual reassignment, and including the extension of benefits available to other employees to cover transgender transition, such as mental health benefits and pharmaceutical coverage. This new criteria for a perfect score on the CEI was implemented in 2011 and, as a result, companies offering comprehensive healthcare coverage to their transgender workers has increased to 206 in 2011 (from 85 in 2010 and 49 in 2009).
Why is that group so often the target of our anger? At worst, they don’t do enough for us. At best, they’ve helped lobby for positive policy improvements for all LGBT individuals. Attacking them, blaming them, none of it will help us. Turning a spotlight on the anti-equality groups, though? That’s where I believe we can harness anger and frustration to our benefit.
To win allies, use honey, not vinegar.