Equal SignHere is the new, hard to find (well, at least I found the statement hard to find), Human Rights Campaign (HRC) policy statement on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for this congress:

HRC Board ENDA Policy

It’s the policy of HRC that the organization will only support an inclusive ENDA. In 2007 House leadership informed us that there were insufficient votes to pass an inclusive bill, so they decided to vote on a sexual orientation only bill. We made a one time exception to our policy in 2007 because we strongly believed that supporting this vote would do more to advance inclusive legislation. We will not support such a strategy again. We look forward to Congress sending President Obama a fully inclusive ENDA for his signature.

The policy, as described by then HRC Executive Director Cheryl Jacques, is as follows (emphasis added):

In early August [2004], HRC’s Board of Directors took the historic step of adopting a policy that HRC would not support a version of ENDA that doesn’t include gender identity or expression.

This isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s the pragmatic thing to do. We’re supporting a modernized and comprehensive bill that gives full protection to all of our community.

Well, the return to the HRC’s 2004-to-2007 ENDA policy, verses their 2007/2008 ENDA policy, certainly is an improvement, but going back to the 2004-to-2007 policy really isn’t going to satisfy very many lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people at all. It’s going back to their previous policy when their previous policy was weak when compared to other LGBT and ally civil rights organizations’ statements.

What makes the HRC’s policy statement weak compared to the statements of other civil rights organizations on ENDA? It’s because other civil rights organizations stated they’d oppose ENDA without the inclusion of gender identity or expression language. Not support means that the HRC will theoretically be neutral on any ENDA that doesn’t include gender identity and expression language, as opposed to the language of actually opposing any version of ENDA that isn’t fully inclusive.

Why, in 2009, would the HRC believe that their 2004-to-2007 ENDA policy position be enough for trans people and activists, other supportive LGB people and activists, and especially the new Stonewall 2.0 activists? Even though I find their ‘new’ policy of not supporting any version of ENDA without gender identity or expression is a vastly improved policy position that the one the HRC embraced in late 2007, it’s a little mind boggling that the organization believes this position is a satisfactory position.

And secondly, this statement by the HRC doesn’t ring as credible when Joe Solmonese is still the executive director of the HRC. Simply put, he expressed a wider commitment to transgender civil rights and protections to a trans-speific audience at the 2007 Southern Comfort Conference, but then he completely reneged on his commitment to trans civil rights not two months later. That the HRC would believe that their latest pronouncement would be percieved as credible by the LGBT community when Mr. Solmonese — a person who has zero credibility with the T portion of the LGBT community — is still the executive director of their organization is perhaps a little bit mind boggling too.

But, with that all said, I do believe the HRC won’t backtrack on gender identity or expression in ENDA again. The reason I believe this is that the organization probably couldn’t recover from backtracking a second time. Neither those in community who are for — or are even against — a fully inclusive version of ENDA would ever again trust the HRC’s pronouncements if they backtracked on full inclusion yet again.

As it is now, the organization perhaps already has an insurmountable credibility problem.

But, if they’re trying to send an inclusive message to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community members, they’re coming up a bit short. The civil rights of gay and lesbian people are still apparently viewed differently by the HRC than those of trans people. Divide By SignLet’s put it this way: the HRC would no doubt oppose an ENDA that didn’t include sexual orientation protections, but under their “new” policy the HRC will only not support an ENDA that doesn’t include gender identity or expression protections. The organization clearly doesn’t treat the T as being equal in value to the L or the G when it comes to employment protections. In my opinion, this policy position of the HRC is still making a mockery of their equal sign logo.

So, I believe that most trans people and their allies will look at this latest pronouncement from the HRC with a jaundiced eye. It’s a half step when the HRC needed to make a full step, and it’s going to be perceived as a less than fully credible half-step at that.

I personally believe that this half step by the HRC is enough of a step for Mara Keisling and the National Center For Transgender Equality (NCTE) to again work with the HRC for a fully inclusive ENDA though. It’s naive to believe the HRC couldn’t be helpful in seeing an inclusive ENDA become law this congressional session. However, Ms. Keisling should work with the HRC while being on constant vigil against getting another metaphorical knife thrust into her back — getting backstabbed for a second time by the HRC would be just a bit too painful for the entire T subcommunity of the LGBT community to endure…

…Let alone for all the supportive LGB people, T allies, and Stonewall 2.0 activists who actually believe equality really means equality.

So, the pronouncement by the HRC leaves me feeling both optomistic and skeptical. A half step is better than no step, but it’s still a just a half step.

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Further reading:

* Monica Roberts at Transgriot: Why The Transgender Community Hates HRC (written October 8th, 2007)

[Below the fold: Garden State Equality's Statement on release of the HRC Board ENDA Policy.]  

Garden State Equality’s statement on the Human Rights Campaign’s revised ENDA policy

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From Steven Goldstein, Garden State Equality chair, cell (917) 449-8918:

As a national leader in winning equality for the transgender community, Garden State Equality is pleased by today’s announcement by the Human Rights Campaign’s Board of Directors that HRC will not support any version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that excludes the transgender community.  The decision paves the way for Garden State Equality to work more closely with HRC than has been the case since 2007, when HRC supported the version of ENDA that excluded gender identity.

Immediately upon that decision by HRC, Garden State Equality had publicly declared that no ENDA is better than a non-inclusive ENDA.   We continue to hold that position emphatically.  

We would be remiss were we not to appreciate any skepticism over HRC’s action today.   HRC had  broken a previous promise to support only an inclusive ENDA.   Garden State Equality therefore extends to HRC, which has been helpful in battles for equality in New Jersey, both an outstretched hand and watchful eye.

We also take this opportunity to underscore that transgender equality is second to no other issue on Garden State Equality’s agenda, including winning marriage equality.  

Working with the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, Garden State Equality led the successful campaigns that produced a statewide anti-discrimination law encompassing gender identity or expression, and a combined statewide anti-hate crimes and anti-school bullying law encompassing gender identity or expression.

The margins of victory were historic.  The New Jersey legislature passed the transgender anti-discrimination law in 2006 by a vote of 102 to 8; and the combined transgender anti-hate crimes and anti-school bullying law in 2008 by a vote of 110 to 10.  

At Garden State Equality’s annual Legends Dinner last month, Governor Jon Corzine announced an executive order mandating that gender on New Jersey drivers’ licenses be based on a driver’s self-declared gender – a milestone that recognizes gender identity or expression as being more than about surgery.  

Garden State Equality will now fight to make sure that insurance companies cover the costs of transgender-related health coverage in compliance with state law.  Because a number of insurance companies make discriminatory and heartless coverage decisions, too many of our transgender citizens are deprived of necessary medical treatment in accordance with their gender identity or expression.

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