Friday, June 20, 2008

Real Hearing or Red Herring?

Historic Congressional Hearing Coming

You'll have to forgive me if I'm not all that excited about this. I do recognize the significance of the hearing and it is nice to be witness to history, especially transgender history. But I'm also of the mind of "big deal" and I'm not completely certain from where I'm having that feeling.

Is it a lingering, stuporous mistrust of the whole system following last fall's ENDA debacle? Probably some of that. Is it because I've seen too many Congressional hearings and had nothing ever come of them? Probably some of that, too. Is it because in my little "middle of nowhere" city - Kansas City - we passed without any rancor, division or dissent (note to Montgomery County) inclusion of Gender Identity into our local anti-discrimination ordinances and I've developed a case of "I've got mine, to heck with yours"? I hope not.

Here's a story from Bay Windows in Massachusetts (which is going through its own conniptions over gender inclusive laws):

Bay Windows, MA, USA

Congress to hold first-ever hearing on transgender discrimination

by Ethan Jacobs
staff reporter

Wednesday Jun 18, 2008

The House Committee on Education and Labor is tentatively scheduled
to
hold a hearing on employment discrimination against transgender
people
on June 26 -- the first congressional hearing to focus primarily on
transgender issues. The committee's subcommittee on Health,
Education,
Labor and Pensions (HELP) will hear testimony on the issue.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for
Transgender Equality (NCTE), said the historic hearing will give
Congress its first serious look at discrimination around gender
identity and expression. She credited subcommittee chairman Rep.
Robert Andrews (D-New Jersey) and Congressman Barney Frank
(D-Massachusetts) with pushing for the hearing.

"I think for years [Congress] thought about gender identity as sexual
orientation's little brother, and I think Congressman Andrews and
Congressman Frank are right in wanting to focus more on transgender
people," said Keisling.

The hearing marks Congress' first major look at LGBT employment
discrimination since last November, when the House passed a
version of
the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that did
not include
protections based on gender identity. The decision by
House leadership
to strip gender identity language from the bill
prompted a schism
within the LGBT advocacy movement, with
the Human Rights Campaign
(HRC) supporting the
sexual-orientation-only bill and nearly every
other national
LGBT rights organization, including NCTE, actively
opposing it.

Alison Herwitt, legislative director for HRC, said the hearing is
designed to help educate Congress in the hopes of passing a fully
inclusive ENDA bill next year.

"The hearing, while not on any piece of legislation, is part of the
education process to move us forward," said Herwitt.

She said the subcommittee has not yet sent out formal invitations for
the hearing, but she expects that Massachusetts' Diego Sanchez, a
member of HRC's Business Council and director of public relations and
external affairs for AIDS Action Committee, will be among those
testifying. She said other people on the panel to testify will likely
include people who can talk about anti-transgender job discrimination
firsthand, legal experts, and representatives from the business
community.

Herwitt said a coalition of LGBT and civil rights organizations,
including HRC, NCTE, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,
the ACLU
and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, have been
coordinating
strategy for the hearing and have been meeting and
talking regularly.
She said HRC's differences with those organizations
over ENDA have not
impeded that collaboration.

"I think we're all professionals and we're all working towards the
same goal, and we're working together to educate members of Congress
on why we need a fully inclusive bill, and this hearing is part of
that process," said Herwitt.

When asked to characterize the relationship between HRC and the other
LGBT groups in preparing for the hearing Keisling responded, "I don't
think I would characterize it. I don't think it's particularly
relevant to the hearing."

Copyright (c) 2007 Bay Windows Inc.

So to that "hangover" of mine. Yeah, I no longer trust the system. I was born and raised in Oregon and it will forever be my home and foundation. But now I live in Missouri and I've embraced the parochial attitude of "Show Me". If the hearing produces movement on legislation. If the hearing put us back into ENDA as originally introduced. If the hearing produces significant understanding of transgender issues - at least in employment - that results in the "education" that Barney Frank declared necessary and a certain major lobbying organization apparently failed to accomplish on its own. Then maaaaaaybe, I'll feel better about this.

As for Congressional hearings, some are genuine efforts to become more informed about certain issues - I truly hope that is the case here. But the sad truth is many are simply show pieces - either for a member of the subcommittee involved - usually the chair as they can dictate the agenda - or as a token offering to a constituency or power broker. What result came from all those hearings regarding the tobacco industry? Or the oil companies? Or baseball? Not much. There's an old aphorism about killing an idea by forming a study group that produces a Report, which then collects dust for eternity.

One thing not mentioned in the story, which make me wonder a bit, is that this hearing has been rescheduled four times (plus or minus one or two) in the last month or so. The uncertainty has made it next to impossible for people outside of the Beltway to attend. I realize that space is limited and things like that, but given a firm date - enough in advance - many of us might have been able to arrive in solidarity of the issue. Maybe even me!

Also not mentioned is that testimony will be limited to just four people. Donna Rose reports on her blog that the four will be Diego Sanchez now a member of HRC's Business Council (replacing Donna who resigned in protest), Diane Schroer who is suing the Library of Congress in a case that is now three years old, Sabrina Marquez who was fired from NASA and someone who was fired from Dow Chemical. Now, I have no doubt each will provide compelling, authoritative testimony. But why only four? Why isn't written testimony sought from the thousands of others? How can the gravity of the situation be ascertained without a least an attempt at determining the totality of the damage?

No, I'm not gonna play "I've got mine, to heck with yours". Though I am frustrated that what happened here, and the next week in Detroit (with only one dissenting vote) isn't trumpeted and triumphed more. How was it done so well, so easily in The Heartland when more liberal areas are embroiled in nasty fights?

They say the hearing may be shown on C-SPAN. I hope it is, perhaps the rest of the world will learn something. But I won't watch. I watched the Matthew Shepard Act pass the Senate, only to get fouled up in the House by jelly-kneed Democrats afraid to vote for the Act which was embedded in the Defense Authorization bill. They said they didn't want to vote for the war in order to vote for the Shepard Act. So they tossed it out. Then voted for the war anyway. I watched the horrible mess surrounding the ENDA vote - HRC's failure to keep the entire constituency intact, Rep. Tammy Baldwin's "amendment" that was then withdrawn, the continued revisionist history from Rep. Barney Frank. So I'll either close my eyes on June 26th or put on the helmet and take a long ride on my motorcycle.

1 comment:

Philomela said...

myself and a friend set up a blog carnival for progressive christians the first one will be hosted on the first of july.

the theme for this one is Community. I was wondering if you wanted to submit one of your posts?