In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). If it passes the Senate and becomes law, it will protect employment rights of lesbians, gay men and bisexual persons. Though the bill originally included transgender persons, that language was stripped from the bill because supporters in the House felt it would not pass with the gender identity inclusive language intact. Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin fought to the end to keep the bill inclusive; Human rights Campaign (HRC) said it would not support the less-inclusive bill, but it did not actively oppose the new version of the bill, either.
ENDA is a promising development and, in a way, a monumental step forward. For all of us, the possibility of having workplaces that don't discriminate based on sexual orientation means more openness, more honesty and less fear. Many more people will be able to do their work free of the fear that they may lose their jobs if someone finds out they are gay. Individuals will have some protection against discrimination in hiring.
But for our transgender sisters and brothers, the passage of this less inclusive version of ENDA must feel like being left behind. The door to the party has been slammed in their face before the party even got started. Jamison Green and Donna Rose, two transgender members of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Business Council, resigned in protest, saying they cannot continue working with HRC, citing the organization's "apparent lack of commitment to healing the breach it has caused." (see Two Transgender HRC Members Quit over ENDA) HRC, on the other hand, argues that this was a politically necessary compromise and that passage of ENDA, even without the gender identity protections, will move us closer than defeat would have to full inclusion in the long run.
It's interesting that this disappointment is being felt so acutely now, during the season Christians celebrate as Advent. Advent is a time when we remember how God breaks into our world and brings the unexpected, the transformative. The nativity of Jesus, as told in Luke, describes the birth of a baby that seems to be nothing but a poor child living under the occupation of the Roman empire, experiencing the mess of birth in a really inconvenient place and situation. But in some mysterious way, the writers proclaim, this child is breaking into the world, into normality, and bringing something new and radical. The gospel stories that describe Jesus' life and teaching portray him as always on the side of the outsider, extending a radical welcome to those who made other people uncomfortable. He welcomed all and he did not hesitate to challenge the oppressive systems that had seemed ordinary in a brutal world. What the followers of Jesus discovered was a powerful, creative and transforming reality brought about when Jesus kept opening doors, broadening boundaries, making room at the table and building communities that could live free even in the face of the brutality.
We could spend a lot of time discussing the vulnerability of the trans community. In our mainstream culture, there are few allies for this group of God's children. While it's hard enough being, say, a gay man, there are layers and layers of privilege that separate my experience from that of my transgender sisters and brothers. But it's also true that the workplaces will be the poorer. I don't mean to exoticize transgender persons. Transgender individuals are who they are, from odd to ordinary, like the rest of us. But each time I meet a trans person, my life is enriched through a new connection to someone without whom I would know less about the reality of the richness of God's world.
For the transgender community and their supporters, it is a time to cry and rage and critique. This is a wrong-headed and mean-spirited act of exclusion, a door slammed in the face of people who should be invited in. And workplaces will be less diverse than they could be, less authentic, less rich, less expressive of the true diversity of God's people.
Is there anything of the Advent experience in this? Perhaps not, since Advent will bring us the gifts of the very outsiders that would help us correct our myopic and limited vision. (Remember the Kings from the East?)
Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, believes that the unprecedented solidarity of organizations that joined forces in a strong effort to keep gender identity in the ENDA House Bill will not be wasted. Though the end result was disappointing, Davis believes that the critique that will now follow, the solidarity that was built throughout that fight, and the educational efforts that were made will eventually make a difference as people keep working, speaking out, and strategizing. Masen Davis on ENDA
Transgender Law Center Disappointed by ENDA Passage
And Advent is like that, too. Always opening a door where another has been shut. Always calling us to look to the future, hoping, working, building the radically inclusive kin-dom of God, a God who is too big and too holy to be limited by the lines we humans draw so insistently between the genders.
See Trans-cendental, the Website of my seminary classmate, Cindi Knox