Transmissions: A legislative lesson

By |2018-01-16T12:56:48-05:00October 13th, 2005|Opinions|

By Gwendolyn Ann Smith

An amazing thing happened in Washington, D.C. lately. Here, in the fifth year of a Republican-controlled congress serving under a Republican President, a piece of LGBT-friendly legislation made it through the United States House of Representatives. This is novel, given that this administration — and its allies in congress — has been largely negative, even outright hostile towards the civil rights of LGBT people.
Of course, in my eyes one of the more notable things about this particular bill was that unlike any other LGBT-positive legislation to have made it to vote, this one included gender identity as well as sexual orientation.
Certainly it didn’t hurt this bill that it passed during a time when the nation’s attention was focused firmly on the Gulf Coast, and where the passage of legislation in a branch of Congress would be lucky to receive little more than a passing mention on a cable news “ticker.” It also could do nothing but help that the bill was attached to a larger bill aimed at sexual predators — a bill which, even with flaws big enough to float an oil tanker through, would seem to be political poison to vote against.
That the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act included gender identity was no surprise addition. Such was included in the house version since earlier this year. It was not hidden, it was not spoken of in only hushed tones: those sponsoring the bill did not shy away from the word “transgender.”
This is important. Over the last several years, there have been many who have made the point that a bill that includes transgender protections would simply be “too much” for legislators to bear, and they would simply have to vote against such. Indeed, the argument has been that it would be better to get a partial set of protections — focused on sexual orientation, of course — and “come back” for transgender protections at some future, undetermined time. Perhaps after the next ice age.
While it is not a perfect answer to that argument, I will still hold up this bill as proof that legislation can pass while including trans-related protections. Even with all the caveats I laid out above — that it was tacked onto another bill, that it happened during a time when we were focused on a National crises — that the issue of transgender inclusion is largely an issue only coming out after the fact — and even then, only by the more rabid conservatives have latched onto such — is indicative to me that having that transgender-friendly language in the bill proved to not be the stumbling block that many thought it was.
The thing is, an assailant does not stop to ask their intended victim about their self-identity, nor do they feel any need to differentiate between, say, a butch-identified lesbian woman or a female to male transsexual.
A savvy lawyer will be happy to claim that their client was not being prejudiced against, say, gays or lesbians when he or she killed a transperson. They’ll use whichever loophole they can, and that’s why it’s key that both sexual orientation and transgender language should be included in such a bill.
This is also why such language needs to be included in all bills that included sexual orientation. If you do not include both gender expression or identity and sexual orientation within legislation, then you protect neither. In the workplace, those who might discriminate don’t make the same distinctions those of us immersed in the community might make.
The thing is, not one of us is dispensable, and we should not look at our rights as a trade-off. I’m not asking that the rights of gay or lesbian people be sacrificed in the name of transgender rights — I’m simply asking that we all be protected together.
Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a hate crimes bill become law. Not soon, I suspect — but when we do, and when we get other civil protections through our federal government — I want us to be able to enjoy them together. Because all I want is equality, and you don’t get that by excluding.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.