Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Breeze at Dawn (don't go back to sleep)

The signs are all around us that we are in the midst of something big. A social movement that has grown out of a response to oppression and one that contains in its pedigree the battles fought by women during their suffrage movement of a hundred years ago and by racial minorities in the civil rights movement of forty years ago. The climate has changed in such a way that everyone who falls outside the gender binary can soon gain legal legitimacy if we continue to press forward and do not settle for incremental progress. Full social legitimacy will take years longer, but it will follow, except in hearts filled with hate and bigotry. Equality will not stop hate crimes but it will make them much less socially acceptable. It will by it’s very existence increase education and familiarity, and that may make the crucial difference.

Although caged at the moment as being about same-sex marriage, the current fight is for full gender equality. It is the fight to prohibit discrimination against anyone regardless of gender expression, and without regard to the gender they find attractive. This fight has been sidetracked and strung along for a decade or more by the likes of the HRC, Joe Solmonese, Barney Frank and others; politicians that made a nice living and a career off of speaking for the most mainstream of GLBT folks, those that can fully blend in. They made progress within that very limited arena and that was a good first step. One which laid the groundwork by inoffensively suggesting to primarily white collar corporate executives that they make their non-discrimination policies more inclusive. However, at some point in recent history that set of politicians not only began to outlive their usefulness but ramped up their efforts to intentionally hold everyone back by not wanting to push any limits, by taking an incremental tact that in the end would help only those most like themselves. And starting with the ENDA fiasco a year ago, large numbers of LGBTQ people started noticing that the group that proclaimed it represented them did not in fact do so. Prop 8 in California followed this same path: it wasn't until Election Day and afterward that most of us realized that we'd been duped again by the same people. It was beginning to feel like we were Charlie Brown and they were Lucy, always pulling the football away and leaving us flat on our backs. Google HRC and Joe and the rest if you want the full messy history, but suffice it to say that a small group of professional politicians have been harming the entire community for thirty years while proclaiming themselves our mouthpiece and our connection to Washington. Literally since the early gay rights movement circa-1973, they have been working within the American political system to promote the rights of white gay men, while largely holding back anyone that is different from themselves. It started with the exclusion of drag queens and lesbians and over two decades became so privileged that the Prop 8 campaign did not even realize that there was anyone to convince outside of themselves. But now people have noticed and are saying very loudly that the Good Old Boys Club does NOT represent us or our fight. That is the essence of the grassroots swell that we have been witnessing and that is the spirit that will carry us through to full equality.

California’s Prop 8 is just one little battle and will likely be decided fairly soon by the state Supreme Court, and that is probably how it should be. Cries of "the will of the people" ring hollow against the oppression of a minority by a theocratic bare majority. The larger social movement has begun, and is helped by the election of a President who has stated that he is for equal rights not just for Gays and Lesbians, but for Gender Identity as well. He has also stated publicly that he will push for a Fully Inclusive ENDA. The conditions cannot get much better for us to move forward and we must do so, without hesitation.

Trans people have largely flown under the radar in all of this, yet we keep finding ourselves included by everyone other than the "professionals". Could it be because we are less offensive somehow? You would not think so, in fact the idea seems laughable. Yet, we have recently enjoyed a greater expansion of protections than gays and lesbians. My thought on this is that it is because we do not have a huge, affluent political machine fighting for us. We have our friends and families, loved ones speaking heartfelt testimonials. We have bloggers, and the likes of Barbara Walters, attempting to gently educate the general public. Ironically, we have been incrementalists of a different sort working from the bottom up because we have had little other choice.

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