In April, I led a team of trans and trans-supportive activists in a meeting that included the GLBT Outreach team leaders of both the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Kerry campaign.
We knew the political realities and our requests were quite reasonable. We didn’t go into this meeting asking for public declarations from John Kerry or the DNC of support for the inclusion of gender identity and expression protections in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the hate crimes bill. We didn’t even ask the Kerry campaign people to have the senator declare his support for transgender rights.
We went into this meeting asking not for what would have amounted to miracles, but for one simple, basic concession: acknowledgment of transgendered Americans as a valid minority constituency of the Democratic Party, simple respect for the fact that we’re law-abiding, hardworking citizens, and we deserve a voice in the political process of our country, just like every other American minority group.
While the Kerry folks were less than enthusiastic, the DNC was different. They made it clear that they considered us part of the team and they were ready to work with us. They even appointed one of our team members, Mara Keisling, who is the executive director of the National Center on Transgender Equality, to the DNC Steering Committee. We made plans, we believed, we looked forward to the future.
Then, about a week before the Democratic Platform Committee meeting in Hollywood, Florida on July 10, the transgender-identified delegation of five delegates and two committee members to the 2004 Democratic National Convention found out the truth.
Platform committee member Scott Safier of Pennsylvania informed Keisling that he would present a one-minute speech at the meeting in support of a transgender rights platform plank, and then withdraw it from consideration. If the delegation agreed to this, they would be able to meet with top-level party officials in Boston, earn the party leadership’s “undying gratitude,” and be viewed as team players. In the alternative, the issue could be brought up at the meeting, and if supporters were unwilling to drop it, could be debated for about 20 minutes, annoying a lot of influential party players in the process. They were told it was likely that the amendment would still be voted down in the end.
By waiting until just a week before the meeting to present this ultimatum to the transgender delegation, the party leadership responsible for the civil rights portion of the platform could feel assured that there would not be enough time for the delegation to negotiate and gather substantial support for a plank supporting transgender rights.
The delegation chose not to press the issue, in the hope of gaining some goodwill from the party leadership that could serve the community well in the future. With the battle for the inclusion of gender identity and expression protections in ENDA and the federal hate crimes bill still raging, the ability to have direct access to Democratic Party officials and potentially do an end run around the Human Rights Campaign, which typically plays a conservative gatekeeper role regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues on Capitol Hill, seemed particularly attractive.
And so, the 2004 Democratic Party platform includes a call to extend civil rights to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity or expression.
Watching the meeting on C-Span the other day, after the Democratic Dirty Tricks Squad had successfully accomplished its goal, I saw a Democratic member of Congress from Ohio describe the platform from the podium as “all-inclusive.” I wondered if she were lying outright, or simply repeating a lie she’d been told by others.
As elitism and discrimination won the day once more in American politics, I watched speaker after speaker congratulate themselves and the committee about how wonderfully inclusive their new platform was, and how they’d demonstrated their firm commitment to the equality of all Americans.
I wondered when my rights and those of my transgendered sisters and brothers would rate more than a mere one-minute commentary before we were thrust once more into political invisibility as others returned to working to gain rights and advantages for themselves.
I wondered how many more transpeople would have to be found murdered in shallow graves before the Democrats came around to the idea that it might be a good idea to cover us in federal hate crimes legislation.
I wondered how many more transpeople would be thrown out of their homes, denied basic social services, fired from their jobs, or denied employment altogether, before the Democratic Party came to the conclusion that our right to live and work free from bigotry and discrimination might be worth protecting, too.
A press release issued by the DNC two days later described the new platform as “the most inclusive in American history.”
Politics is a dirty business; deals and concessions are part of the game. Yet, if we are willing to betray our core values by sacrificing the rights of some to gain advantage for others, what right have we to proclaim ourselves better than those we rail against and oppose politically for doing the very same thing?
Yes, politics is the art of compromise, but it’s also the fashioning of ideals, belief systems, and the art of creating a better tomorrow for all of us. Once we lose sight of that simple truth, we have surely lost all that really matters in the higher purpose of politics and government.
If transgendered Americans have no justice, then there is no justice. If civil rights don’t protect us, then they are not civil rights at all, but every bit the special rights our opponents claim them to be.
If government does not represent all of the people, then it fails in its purpose and its intent. If it’s bigotry and discrimination when Republicans seek to ban same-sex marriage, then it’s every bit as much the same when Democrats willfully exclude a different group of persecuted citizens from equal treatment under the law.
Rebecca Juro is a columnist and political activist living in Central New Jersey. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.