In November 2007, a young presidential candidate named Barack Obama released an op-ed to LGBT media in which he made this promise:
“I will…place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes and a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
As a Contributing Editor for The Bilerico Project at the time it was released, like many working class LGBT Americans I was excited to see Obama make this promise to our community, and as it did for many of us, it cemented my support for him to become our next president.
When candidate Obama did in fact become President Obama, though, things changed. While the fully Democratic-controlled Congress Obama brought with him did eventually pass the hate crimes bill and he signed it into law, President Obama never lifted a finger to honor the promise he’d made to our community to protect our right to work.
Without Obama’s promised public support, neither chamber even brought ENDA up for a vote during the 111th Congress. Democrats were trounced in the 2010 elections, and the window closed, perhaps for another generation or more, on full federal civil rights protections for LGBT workers.
In 2011, trans man and former senior aide to Congressman Barney Frank, Diego Sanchez, told LGBT Weekly:
“Number one, the thing that breaks my heart the most is that we did have the votes this time. ENDA didn’t come up because of two things, primarily. One is Healthcare, which took so much longer, and number two is the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – the thinking that it needed to go up on the Defense Bill, and so that when it came up, it went.
“… [B]oth Congressman Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin do believe – and we know, because we counted – we believe we had the votes this last congress. And, we ran out of time. So the short answer is the calendar.
“But this time we had the votes, even with some Republican surprises to pass a fully inclusive ENDA bill.”
Yes, you read that right. The Democratic Party leadership knew they had the votes they needed to protect all LGBT Americans from discrimination in the workplace for the first time in American history almost seven years ago, but they were too busy with other things to be bothered to actually vote on it.
And they wonder why it’s become so much more difficult to rally the LGBT community in support of their candidates today.
Working class LGBT people who have been around and fighting this fight as long as I have know the truth: We’re not just angry, we’re tired.
We’re tired of Democrats de-prioritizing our interests in favor of the wish list of wealthy donors.
We’re tired of self-centered so-called “progressive” politicians making promises that don’t survive past the election.
We’re tired of “leaders” who prioritize maximizing campaign contributions above maximizing equal rights and fair treatment for all.
We’re tired of giving our time, money, and attention to elected officials who forget we exist once safely elected to office for another two to six years.
We’re tired of politicians who talk a good game but fold in the clutch when it’s time to deliver on their election season rhetoric.
I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter. I believe he’s the best choice to be our next president. At the same time, however, I’m also a realist. I follow the polls. I know that the GOP has no one who can secure the majority of the national vote, and I know that Bernie Sanders, as good a candidate as he is, almost certainly isn’t going to be able to overcome his lack of support among minority voters and gun control supporters to secure the nomination. I know, barring some unforeseen major disaster, Hillary Clinton can start picking out Oval Office furnishings right now.
So the question becomes not which candidate is the best choice to lead our country, but how do we ensure that President Hillary Clinton makes protecting LGBT working families against discrimination a priority for her administration, and perhaps most importantly, how do we ensure that she won’t be willing to throw transgender people under the bus (again) to facilitate securing those rights exclusively for cisgender Queers?
The short answer is also the most obvious: We can’t. What we can do, however, is get her on the record on what she supports and for whom. We know she supports the Equality Act, but will she insist on transgender inclusion or would she be willing to trade away our rights to protect the wealthiest groups?
Getting these answers is our challenge, and the time is now. LGBT working families can’t wait any longer for justice.