Transgender activist ponders political setback

Posted on 21 Dec 2007 at 12:09am
By John Wright Staff Writer

Director of National Center for Transgender Equality advises LGBT people to ‘take stock of movement recalculate, recalibrate’


Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality told a Dallas audience that she feels "lied to and betrayed" by the leaders of the Human Rights Campaign, but she urged continued lobbying.

The House’s recent passage of a version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes sexual orientation but not gender identity represented a major setback for the LGBT community, according to Mara Keisling.

But Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, is making the best of it.

Keisling spoke to about 30 people Monday, Dec. 17 at the Resource Center of Dallas during the first stop on her three-month, 37-city tour titled “Life After ENDA.” The House passed the trans-less version of the bill despite opposition from more than 300 LGBT groups, including NCTE.
“It provides a great opportunity for all LGBT people whether they’re trans or not to take stock of the movement,” Keisling said. “We as a movement need to recalculate and recalibrate, because we as a movement clearly failed this year.”

Although Keisling said she believes the Human Rights Campaign is largely to blame for passage of the non-inclusive ENDA, she added that the trans community must not write off the nation’s most powerful LGBT political advocacy group. After failing to oppose the transless ENDA, HRC eventually threw its support behind the sexual-orientation-only version of the bill.

“I feel personally lied to and betrayed, but it can’t be about that,” Keisling said. “We’ve got to figure out how to win them [HRC] over. It would be a real shame if the trans movement became an “‘I hate HRC’ movement. There is so much important work to do.”

Keisling also blamed lawmakers including openly gay Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank who opted to remove gender identity because they said ENDA otherwise wouldn’t have enough votes to pass.

“The real shame of what happened is the people who were against the bill didn’t have to lift a finger,” Keisling said. “The Democrats have been just kind of spineless about getting things done.”

In addition to job discrimination, Keisling said, NCTE is focused on issues like hate crimes, identification documentation and partner benefits.

She said the LGBT movement has benefited from gaining insider status in Washington, but must also maintain a presence on the outside.

“It means we’re not screaming in the streets anymore, but it also means we’re not screaming in the streets anymore,” she said. “That’s a plus and a minus. Relationships in Congress are absolutely worthless unless they protect and further LGBT people. We better respect and facilitate the grassroots or get out of the way, because we’re going to get flattened.”

Keisling encouraged audience members the majority of whom appeared to be transgendered to become active in their workplaces and share their views with HRC’s local steering committee as well as members of Texas’ congressional delegation.

“Let’s get in there together,” she said. “Let’s be powerful.
“We can kick everybody’s ass.”

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 21, 2007.

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