Kerry Eleveld takes on the false choice between ENDA and marriage

Very thoughtful piece from Kerry taking on the idea that we can’t move forward on ENDA and marriage at that same time:

A potentially divisive debate is emerging among some LGBT activists that sets up a false choice between pushing for employment nondiscrimination protections or marriage equality at the federal level. I roundly reject the notion that this is an either-or proposition. As a community, we can and should work on both issues over the next two years. But it’s fair to say that while I personally believe these two issues are equally as important, they are not equally situated, and therefore the strategies we must employ to advance them are distinctly different.

She also addresses a key point. We still don’t know really know why there wasn’t even a vote in committee on ENDA:

Of course, some discussions are beginning to happen now, but I don’t believe we have really illuminated the problem yet. I have heard people suggest that we had enough votes to pass the legislation in the House but never got that vote because the clock ran out. Some have also hypothesized that DADT repeal and health care sucked up too much time in the schedule to leave room for ENDA.

From my perspective, this cannot possibly be the whole story. If we truly had the votes in the House and yet failed to move the bill through committee to the floor, then that was a serious strategic misstep even if it would have stalled in the Senate. Bills live and die by momentum. They get a chief sponsor and then more sponsors and then a committee vote and then a floor vote. And maybe they don’t pass both chambers one Congress, but if they make it through one, they are better poised to pass through both next time around.

So if we did have the votes and our advocates (lawmakers and groups included) didn’t press the issue, that was a critical error. And the idea that there just wasn’t room in the calendar because of DADT and health care seems like a red herring as well. Health care was completed in the House in March of 2010. Attaching “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal to the Defense authorization bill took place two months later in May, but that was it — the House had the votes and was ready to go, they were mostly waiting on the Senate Armed Services Committee to line up the votes. So something doesn’t add up.

Rather than pointing fingers here, I am simply pointing out that we are miles away from having the full story about ENDA’s demise and I don’t see how we can possibly expect to develop a strategy around an issue that we can’t seem to discuss in full candor.

Something went wrong. Our so-called advocates aren’t being frank.

It is completely realistic — even for those sophisticated advocates who are “realistic” — to move forward on both ENDA and marriage. We have to — and can. Both ENDA and marriage equality are needed to make sure we are truly equal.




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Kerry Whybrow’s Trans-Continental, Transgender Happily Ever After

A hearty congratulations to 66-year-old Kerry Whybrow, a retired British firefighter, and her new wife Alcia Evans, a Jamaican chef and mother of one (and thirty years Kerry's junior), who wed in a civil partnership ceremony in Britain. The pair met on an international dating site. For Kerry, it is her fourth wedding: Back when she was Roger Steed, Kerry managed to marry and divorce three women. And while Kerry's only child, a daughter from her first marriage, refused to attend the wedding after breaking off ties following Kerry's coming out as trans, Kerry's third wife Cindy Steed, whom she married in 1989, was there to celebrate. They split in 2003 after Kerry (then Roger) told Cindy she felt trapped in the wrong body; Roger began wearing women's clothes before the two officially divorced. Under Britain's curious discriminatory laws, Kerry and Alcia were eligible for only a civil partnership, but not marriage, because theirs is a same-sex relationship; had Kerry remained a man, they would have been only able to be married, and not have a civil partnership.


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Guest column by Kerry Eleveld – The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

I asked Kerry Eleveld, editor at Equality Matters, if I could repost this excellent piece because it’s chock full of tasty and timely points for us to chat about in the coffeehouse, so many thanks to EM’s Richard Socarides for letting me share it here.  –Pam

The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

By Kerry Eleveld

A potentially divisive debate is emerging among some LGBT activists that sets up a false choice between pushing for employment nondiscrimination protections or marriage equality at the federal level. I roundly reject the notion that this is an either-or proposition. As a community, we can and should work on both issues over the next two years. But it’s fair to say that while I personally believe these two issues are equally as important, they are not equally situated, and therefore the strategies we must employ to advance them are distinctly different.

Let’s start with a brief overview of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) — which would prohibit employers from firing people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity — from my perspective as a reporter who covered the issue closely over the last two years.

First, regardless of why we failed to pass ENDA in the 111th Congress, the fact is that we didn’t even get a committee vote in either chamber on the bill in one of the most heavily weighted Democratic Congresses in recent memory. Many people underestimate just how devastating that looks to legislative operatives and lawmakers outside our community. They don’t care about the panoply of explanations for why the vote didn’t happen, they only know that it didn’t and that means that either we couldn’t muster the votes or the Democratic leadership did not want to see this bill debated on the floor.

Second, although I have asked a good number of questions about ENDA and its prospects for a vote, I still can’t tell you why it never happened. Meanwhile, I can recall with decent clarity nearly every twist and turn of the battle to pass “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) repeal. This is not due to a bias on my part, but is rather indicative of the fact that no one seemed willing to talk with any specificity about what was or wasn’t happening with ENDA.

And here is where our community’s analysis must begin — we need to have an honest conversation about our inability to discuss ENDA and transgender issues. Last year, when I asked people in our advocacy groups, staffers on the Hill, and lawmakers about the prospects for passing ENDA, I most commonly got no information or misinformation.  As the bill continued to languish and the House committee vote was continually delayed, my questions were increasingly met with indignation and wholesale assurances that all was going according to plan. But ultimately, all I found was a brick wall when it came to identifying the hurdles.

Meanwhile, many in our activist community leveled hostility at any entity that relayed bad news about the legislation’s progress. When the Washington Blade reported a story in January 2010 entitled “Filibuster Threat Makes ENDA Unlikely In 2010″ in which several anonymous sources sounded the alarm bells about ENDA’s chances, it immediately drew shoot-the-messenger recriminations from people who criticized the story for using unnamed sources. This illustrates just what a lighting-rod issue this has become for LGBT activists — instead of holding the powerbrokers in charge of the legislation accountable, activists were vilifying reporters who were trying to disseminate intelligence about the bill’s state of play. And this is precisely why journalists were often forced to use anonymous sources on the topic — no one seemed willing to speak on the record with any real candor about the topic.

More below the fold.

This has grave implications for our ability to develop a strategy around ENDA and successfully move the bill. If members of the LGBT community are incapable of having a forthright conversation about the obstacles to passing this bill, what does that mean for lawmakers and their ability to discuss the issue?

This is a problem, folks. Not just for our elected officials, not just for our groups, but for our community as a whole. We all have a stake in ENDA — it would provide critical protections for the full breadth of the queer community — but the battle over transgender inclusion in 2007 has left us with so many scars that people are afraid to speak up for fear of the backlash.

Of course, some discussions are beginning to happen now, but I don’t believe we have really illuminated the problem yet. I have heard people suggest that we had enough votes to pass the legislation in the House but never got that vote because the clock ran out. Some have also hypothesized that DADT repeal and health care sucked up too much time in the schedule to leave room for ENDA.

From my perspective, this cannot possibly be the whole story. If we truly had the votes in the House and yet failed to move the bill through committee to the floor, then that was a serious strategic misstep even if it would have stalled in the Senate. Bills live and die by momentum. They get a chief sponsor and then more sponsors and then a committee vote and then a floor vote. And maybe they don’t pass both chambers one Congress, but if they make it through one, they are better poised to pass through both next time around.

So if we did have the votes and our advocates (lawmakers and groups included) didn’t press the issue, that was a critical error. And the idea that there just wasn’t room in the calendar because of DADT and health care seems like a red herring as well. Health care was completed in the House in March of 2010. Attaching “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal to the Defense authorization bill took place two months later in May, but that was it — the House had the votes and was ready to go, they were mostly waiting on the Senate Armed Services Committee to line up the votes. So something doesn’t add up.

Rather than pointing fingers here, I am simply pointing out that we are miles away from having the full story about ENDA’s demise and I don’t see how we can possibly expect to develop a strategy around an issue that we can’t seem to discuss in full candor.

I said at the outset of this piece that ENDA and marriage equality were not equally situated. Though both issues are about creating safety nets for people who need to protect themselves and their families, they are not as equally ingrained in the public consciousness. Similar to the issue of DADT, same-sex marriage has been percolating as part of a national debate since the early ’90s when a Hawaii court ruled that gay couples might have the right to marry. Marriage is a concept everyone understands and the American public has watched the marriage equality battle rip through nearly every state in the country — some fights being more high-profile than others.

If you asked the vast majority of Americans right now whether same-sex couples can get married, most of them would have a frame of reference for the question, regardless of whether they answered the question correctly. But if you asked them whether LGBT people can be legally fired, my guess is that few of them would have ever even considered the question. My own personal experience of talking to reasonably well-informed straight allies is that many have no idea people can still be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation in 29 states or that transgender individuals can be fired in 38 states.

Although the marriage issue has been painted by some as an elitist concern pushed by wealthy donors, a New York Times article last month revealed new Census Bureau data showing that cities like San Antonio, TX and Jacksonville, FL have the highest concentration of gay couples raising children in the country. Demographers also found that black or Latino gay couples were twice as likely as whites to be raising children. While we cannot definitively say all those couples want to get married, it is undeniably true that they and their families could benefit significantly from the protections provided by marriage.

And they could also benefit from the protections provided by ENDA.

This is exactly why we must work on both issues simultaneously. But ENDA requires a serious two-year lobbying strategy at the very least. My sense from talking to Hill staffers and, in some cases, members of Congress is that many lawmakers still don’t know how to broach transgender issues and, quite frankly, have more questions than answers on the matter. The House is undoubtedly further along than the Senate, but work is badly needed in both chambers.

Meanwhile, high profile court cases regarding both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry will continue to provide opportunities for advocates to advance the conversation around equal marriage rights. It would be an absolute mistake for our community not to capitalize on stories that will already be making mainstream headlines in order to sway public opinion and push our political allies. We must strive to frame this issue to our advantage because antigay forces are already redoubling their efforts against us.

ENDA and marriage equality are simply not an either-or proposition. Fortunately, the resources required to advance each of these issues at the federal level share similarities but don’t infringe on each other. And choosing between them is not an option.

Kerry Eleveld is editor at Equality Matters, a campaign for full LGBT equality. Eleveld previously served as Washington Correspondent for The Advocate for the first two years of the Obama Administration.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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Kerry Eleveld interviews Hillary Clinton

The Obama administration floodgates seem to have opened wide, in terms of press availabilities with the gay media.

Feeling your way through an interview with one of the world’s most powerful women is more art than science. Marriage seemed like the place to start, since Clinton had been caught off guard by a recent inquiry on the issue while visiting Australia. Her husband has said that he now supports full marriage equality: Many of his gay friends are in committed relationships, former president Bill Clinton said in 2009. As far as marriage goes, he said, he had just been “hung up about the word.”

Did she share his experience? I wondered. Was she at odds with President Barack Obama’s stated position in support of civil unions but against marriage equality?

But on the phone, Clinton is circumspect about her husband’s comments. “Well, I share his experience because we obviously share a lot of the same friends, but I have not changed my position,” she says without elaborating. The secretary wasn’t taking any political bait, nor was she going to tangle with anything that could figure negatively for her boss.




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Marriage next on ‘gay agenda,’ NYT reports

Richard Socarides

According to a report in the New York Times, marriage, rather than employment non-discrimination, is the next item on the official “Gay Agenda” now that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is on its way to being repealed.

A new group called Equality Matters grew out of a group called Media Matters. Bill Clinton adviser Richard Socarides will head the group. Advocate writer Kerry Eleveld will edit the group’s website.

The Times points out that marriage discrimination means discrimination in taxes, social security benefits and other programs run by the federal government even if a couple is legally married.

While many more rights flow from marriage equality, it is interesting that the group has chosen that as the next fight. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was, in many ways, an employment non-discrimination issue. The next logical win would be again in the employment area. Most people understand that someone shouldn’t be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, even among people who base their marriage-equality views on religion.

And Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he welcomed the new group and hoped they would help change opinions. But who gave this new group the authority to decide the next battle? Or is the New York Times bestowing a title on the group prematurely? Either way, we weren’t consulted and haven’t even received a press release from Equality Matters.

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Tweet Of The Day – Kerry Eleveld

Joe. My. God.

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Pro-Repeal Veteran Thanks Kerry for Support

Earlier this week, Senator John Kerry joined a group of 40 Senators to co-sponsor a new bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Travis Hengen, a veteran working with us toward the repeal of DADT who was discharged under the law, thanked Senator Kerry personally at an event celebrating the Senator’s 45 years of public service.  Senator Kerry, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam before being elected to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, was one of the few Senators to stood against the flawed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in 1993.

Hengen, who was discharged from the Army in 2003 for being gay after 12 years as a counterintelligence agent, said last night:

“It was great to be able to thank Senator Kerry for co-sponsoring the bill that will repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’  It makes me proud to be represented by someone with such a distinguished military background and who values the service of all the men and women in uniform.  With timing running out in the post election session of Congress, I also hope that Senator Scott Brown follows through on his commitment to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year.”

You can read more about the work of our team in Massachusetts here.

I hope that you will join us on Thursday in Boston as gay and straight veterans call on Senator Scott Brown to make repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” his top priority this year.  At 11am on Thursday, December 16 veterans will deliver petitions to Senator Brown’s office in Boston at the JFK Federal Building (right next to City Hall Plaza).


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Kerry Eleveld’s takes ‘A View from the Hill’ to the air, discussing DADT

The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld writes a weekly column, A View from the Hill, to which we often link. This week, The Advocate started a tv show by that same name. Yes, Kerry is on the air. The shows first segments are online now. The full video is here. I appeared on a panel to discuss DADT with SLDN’s Aubrey Sarvis and Mike Sozan, the Chief of Staff to Senator Mark Udall. We talked about the prospects, the pitfalls and the politics.

Here’s the full clip of our panel. It sets the stage for what will unfold next week:




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Kerry Eleveld’s ‘A View from the Hill’ goes broadcast

In this feature, “The Death of DADT?”, The Advocate’s Eleveld, our eyes and ears on the Hill, discusses DADT repeal before the end of the year with insiders.

The inaugural episode of A View From the Hill With Kerry Eleveld examines the prospect of repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy before year’s end. Eleveld first sits down for a one-on-one with Richard Socarides, former aide to President Clinton. That segment is followed by a panel discussion with Washington insiders, including AmericaBlog’s Joe Sudbay, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Aubrey Sarvis, and Mike Sozan, chief of staff to Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo).

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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Kerry Eleveld’s take on Obama and the elections

From Kerry Eleveld in the Advocate:

The turnout and voting patterns were a symptom of the fact that during his first two years in office, President Barack Obama and his White House delivered nothing short of a true progressive’s most fiendish nightmare: He governed from the middle but failed to enlist enough GOP help to tag them with partial responsibility. Then he simultaneously left the substance of his centrist policies to be framed by the right, who naturally painted his initiatives as dangerously liberal and even socialist in nature.

The result of that toxic formula is that progressives didn’t get much of they wanted and yet the population as a whole has been left to believe that America has jumped off the liberal deep end.

In short, Obama didn’t govern as a progressive but was painted as one. Therefore, progressives didn’t get what they voted for and yet the rest of the country was led to believe the “progressive” agenda had pushed us down a dark path to nowhere.

Here’s lesson 1: If you’re going to let yourself be characterized as a liberal, you damn well better be one; otherwise the base that elected you won’t turn up at the polls to get your back once you’ve given a bad name to everything they believed in but never actually got.

Now, one could argue that getting military leaders on board with repeal was a smart idea, but one would be hard-pressed to find the genius in letting the top brass set their own time line when everybody knew there would only be two years to pound this through with unprecedented Democratic majorities. (Remember, with the White House’s blessing, the Pentagon arbitrarily chose the date for release of its study to be December 1, comfortably after the midterms yet close enough to year’s end to almost surely doom a vote. How different would this look, for instance, if they had taken six months to study repeal and released their report in August?)

If you have been listening closely, President Barack Obama is already laying the groundwork for dropping blame at the feet of Republicans if the National Defense Authorization Act fails (let’s keep in mind that charming and arm-twisting politicians from across the aisle is part of the legislative process and, so far, the White House and Senate Democratic leadership have expended almost no political capital to advance the NDAA bill with DADT attached).
Also, when outlining his priorities this week for the lame-duck session, the president made no mention of the defense funding bill, nor did press secretary Robert Gibbs. Any chance this sounds familiar? Gibbs was having the same issue last month. When left to his own devices to list lame-duck priorities, guess what never came up: the NDAA.

Now that House control has switched hands, it’s perhaps a positive that our national progressive organizations can go back to demonizing the GOP — it’s really the only thing they know how to do. But while they are busy doing that, let’s remember that Democrats had full run of Washington for two years and their only LGBT accomplishment looks to be the hate-crimes law.




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