Column: Color Me Skeptical

My idealism is gone, pounded into unconsciousness by our current government and political system

Recently, I was talking to some folks I know who are pretty well-known and well-respected LGBT activists and journalists about the ruling of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination against trans Americans as a violation of its prohibition of discrimination based on sex.

The folks who I was speaking with seemed confused as to why I wasn’t comfortable with accepting this ruling as the new permanent status quo and why I wasn’t as confident as they are that this is the law of the land now.

The truth is that when I came out in 1997, I’d have probably been just as enthusiastic and confident in a ruling like this as they seem to be. Yes, it’s true, as a newly out trans woman and baby activist I was as much of an idealist as anyone.

I was a believer, and I was confident that our government would eventually do the right thing by us, even if it took a while.

My idealism didn’t go down easily either. I had to have it beaten out of me.

My idealism was battered by a Human Rights Campaign president who said that people like me would be included in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act over her dead body.

It was staggered by the discovery in 2004 that HRC representatives had encouraged members of Congress to support a bill that would protect only gays and lesbians against discrimination and leave trans people like me unprotected.

It was knocked down and bloodied in 2007 by a Democratically-controlled House of Representatives that eagerly caved to wealthy and well-connected gay elites and passed a version of ENDA which extended “equal” rights only to the most politically popular and left the rest of us out in the cold to fend for ourselves.

More recently, in 2009 it was newly-elected President Obama and the fully Democratically-controlled 111th Congress who delivered the knockout blow to my idealism when they chose to renege on the promises they’d made to LGBT working families to see ENDA passed into law and instead chose to pass a hate crimes law that may have made some statisticians in Washington happy, but did nothing at all to help LGBT working families live better lives.

This, we were told, was progress. We should be happy, they said, that LGBT people were included as a protected category in federal law for the first time. We should laud President Obama and the Democrats for leading on LGBT inclusion and respect. In essence, we were told that we should be eternally grateful and thankful these people had bothered to make any real effort on our behalf at all.

And so, my idealism is gone, pounded into unconsciousness by a government and a political system that has repeatedly made clear that it considers helping to raise up the poorest and most victimized minority in America a low priority, only to be addressed at all when it’s politically profitable for politicians and even then only as much as is absolutely necessary to maintain the fiction that the people running our country care about us at all.

Skeptical? Oh you bet. With this kind of history I have little reason to believe our political leaders will do anything to try to defend this ruling if it comes under fire from the right and every reason to believe they’ll run the other way the second we become politically inconvenient again.

It’ll take some pretty strong smelling salts to get my idealism off the mat and back into the ring.

 


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