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  WINDY CITY TIMES

VIEWS: THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY & ENDA
by Elizabeth Birch
2003-06-18

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In the past few years, the movement to include transgender and gender-identity issues within the mainstream gay and lesbian movement has achieved remarkable speed. From Chicago to Washington, D.C., activists have managed to change the hearts and minds of activists, gay organizations, and politicians. While the Human Rights Campaign was once picketed in Chicago for not pushing for trans-inclusive national legislation, some of those same picketers are now joining forces with HRC for major activism on gender issues.

Following is an op-ed by HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch, released during a week expected to include historic announcements on gender rights. See next week's Windy City Times and the Web site www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com for more breaking trans news.

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BY ELIZABETH BIRCH

One of the most intricate, important and challenging issues to ever face the Human Rights Campaign is how to grapple both legally and authentically with the issue of 'gender identity and expression.'

Transgender people have always been part of our community. We have marched together, been brutalized together and embraced each other in the hardest of times. Usually it is transgender people—both transitioning individuals and gender nonconforming gay and lesbian folks—who are on the front lines. They are the first to be fired, the first to be rolled into a ditch for kicks, the first to be humiliated in ways large and small each day.

For years transgender leaders have been adamant that protection based on 'gender identity and expression' be incorporated into the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). There have been a number of challenges in this regard. First, many of us actually believed there was a better and faster way to achieve protection for gender identity and expression under gender protection laws. The challenge on that front stems from concern about opening up Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—which some feel is the logical route to achieve such protection.

Second, with the near passage of ENDA in the Senate in 1996, we hoped against all odds we could pull it through before President Clinton left office. That was then, this is now.

Two years ago our Board voted to include transgender Americans in our mission. In December of 2002, the HRC Board of Directors voted to support inclusion of protection based on gender identity and expression in ENDA. They reaffirmed that vote unequivocally just two weeks ago.

Since December our team of professional lobbyists has done yeoman's work, advocating with everything they've got to make this specific change to ENDA. This work has been done passionately, using every imaginable moral and legal argument that was developed by a working group of transgender leaders, community litigators and HRC staff.

Make no mistake, in our hearts and minds, the boards and staff of HRC are committed to including and protecting the transgender community. We will leave no one behind. As we continue on this odyssey, we are searching for a pragmatic, just and timely key that will unlock the door for transgender civil rights and protections.

It took decades to educate the country on gay issues, and we must now educate America about the bias and discrimination facing our transgender brothers and sisters. HRC—working with transgender and community leaders—is opting to work with members of Congress to educate them and to develop a new strategy for a fresh unified bill that will address the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. In this way, we will have an opportunity to reposition the issues, and redouble our efforts to provide the extensive education that will be required to make progress.

A dual track will not satisfy the hearts of those who have focused on ENDA only as a solution. Some will be angry, and we respect that anger. But, the reality of the current situation is clear: at this point, we cannot get where we need to through that one narrow tunnel.

This new bill approach may not feel as pure, or as noble, or as emotionally satisfying to some, but we believe that the broader path we are pursuing is the best course of action for our entire community.

The simple truth is that this is not an ideal solution, but it is the best and brightest work of a group of idealists working within an imperfect system. HRC is committed, heart and soul, to achieving equality for the entire GLBT community. It will take time and hard work—and we will have to bring our nation along slowly. But make no mistake, history is unfolding before us, faster than ever before, and we will not stop our pursuit of equality for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans until victory has been won.


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