On our daily conference call about ENDA today, one of the members of our community expressed a frustration that I’ve been feeling for some time. We hear from members of Congress that transgender people have not yet done as much work educating them and their colleagues on issues of gender identity as gay and lesbian people have around sexual orientation. Therefore, they argue, they just aren’t ready to vote for civil rights for transgender people. This seems to me to be a way of passing the buck, of blaming the disenfranchised for their lack of rights.
Those of us who have called our legislators, who have met with them and who have worked hard on educating them are rightfully frustrated. It may feel like our best efforts have been in vain. We’ve told our stories of friends and loved ones killed, of jobs we didn’t get or being fired for no other reason than who we are. It is incredibly painful to think it hasn’t been enough. Yet.
However, we need to remember that our work to educate members of Congress—and members of the LGBT community—have actually made an enormous difference. I truly believe that we would not be having this conversation at all, that we wouldn’t be on anyone’s agenda, if we had not been diligent in the work we have done so far. Nor would the House of Representatives passed a transgender inclusive hate crimes bill this session without the work we’ve done to educate them.
Thinking about this today has led to two conclusions. First, we absolutely must continue to do the work we are doing. We need to redouble our efforts to get people to Washington for our annual lobby day. We must continue to visit our legislators when they are in the home offices, sharing our stories, letting them know exactly why we need civil rights protections and what the stakes are for transgender people, our loved ones and families. We have to encourage each other to come out and speak up for our rights. We need each and every voice to be heard.
Second, we also need to remember that role of Congress isn’t to award rights to those who make the most noise, have the largest cadre of lobbyists or are the biggest group. Their job is to enact laws in keeping with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For transgender people, that means working for a country where we too have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In order to achieve that, we need to be free of violence and discrimination. Passing a transgender-inclusive ENDA wouldn’t fix that overnight, but it would be a step along the way.