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Aravosis Gets It Wrong on Trans Inclusion and ENDA

Posted by libhom Thursday, October 11, 2007

Proud Progressive found an excellent piece in Fa Blog that debunks John Aravosis' efforts to exclude trans people from the queer community. David Ehrenstein does an excellent job of this from a moral, political, and ideological perspective.

Two things that are left to be done are to debunk some of the factual errors Aravosis made in his transphobic screed on the Salon website and discuss the political culture that helps to generate them.

Let's start with a whopper of a factual error.

ENDA was first introduced 30 years ago. In all that time, it only protected sexual orientation and never included gender identity.

Was ENDA introduced around the time of 1977?

Not even close. ENDA was introduced in 1994. The civil rights legislation from the late 70s was significantly stronger, including housing as well as employment. The employment protections were stronger in the previous bill as well.

The later addition of trans specific protections represented an important improvement in a compromised piece of legislation. It should have started a process of strengthening ENDA, not producing endless transphobic whining by the queer right.

This is especially relevant given Aravosis' main argument against trans inclusion.
Their main argument, which I support: practical politics. Civil rights legislation -- hell, all legislation -- is a series of compromises. You rarely get everything you want, nor do you get it all at once.

If Avarosis understood the fact that ENDA already is a heavily compromised piece of legislation, even including trans queers, then he might see the practical problem with his approach.

There also is another ugly fact that Aravosis ignores. Bush will veto ENDA no matter what form it is in. The only thing that can be accomplished in this Congressional session by excluding part of the queer community is to assist the ongoing process of continually weakening the bill so that it is merely symbolic by the time there is a Congress and a White House willing to allow any lgbt civil rights legislation to go into law.

Aravosis also errs when he assumes that the only reasons that trans inclusion has so much political support in the queer community are moral and ethical. Leaving out gender identity gives homophobic bigots a loophole to try to exploit.

Lambda Legal points out in its legal analysis:
In addition to the missing vital protections for transgender people on the job, this new bill also leaves out a key element to protect any employee, including lesbians, gay men and bisexuals who may not conform to their employer's idea of how a man or woman should look and act. This is a huge loophole through which employers sued for sexual orientation discrimination can claim that their conduct was actually based on gender expression, a type of discrimination that the new bill does not prohibit.

But, it's even worse for at least two reasons.

1) Separating out gender identity suggests that Congress intended to allow this loophole, and courts often give deference to congressional intent.

2) No human being behaves in a "masculine" or "feminine" manner all the time. A homophobic employer's lawyers are given the opportunity to cherry-pick behavior in order to take advantage of the loophole. (Note: being "straight acting" won't protect people, since even hetero men occasionally engage in behavior that could be described as "feminine" in the eyes of an opportunistic corporate lawyer.)

Lawyers fighting sexual orientation discrimination in the courts often already face heterosexist judges and jurors. Why make their jobs even more difficult?

Aravosis' naive logic of compromise and his lack of understanding of our legal system are not the only aspects of his rantings that suffer from an ahistorical perspective. His general premise is downright bizarre.
I have a sense that over the past decade the trans revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least above, and thus it never stuck with a large number of gays who weren't running national organizations, weren't activists, or weren't living in liberal gay enclaves like San Francisco and New York. Sure, many of the rest of us accepted de facto that transgendered people were members of the community, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so.

If Aravosis knew and understood queer history, he would know that trans people always have been part of the queer community. The irony is that, if not for the trans people who played the largest role in starting the Stonewall Riots, we wouldn't be seriously discussing passing ENDA or anything like ENDA. Certainly, Aravosis would not have a blog where he regularly speaks out on lgbt issues.

One might wonder why Aravosis is sticking to positions that make no logical or historical sense.

There is a section from his Salon piece that provides a clue into the political culture that produces the mentality of Aravosis.
Then an odd thing happened. I started asking friends and colleagues, ranging from senior members of the gay political/journalistic establishment to apolitical friends around the country to the tens of thousands of daily readers of my blog, if they thought we should pass ENDA this year even without gender identity. Everyone felt bad about taking gender identity out of ENDA, everyone supported transgender rights, and everyone told me "pass it anyway."

Aravosis may have talked to a few people outside of the DC metro area, but his views are steeped in the DC queer social and political culture which is vastly different than queer culture in other parts of the country.

After living in DC for a couple of years, I had realized that the lgbt culture in DC was oddly and strongly conservative, something vastly out of touch with the rest of the country. In fact, the District of Columbia is probably the only large political jurisdiction in the US where the queer community, on average, is more conservative than the hetero community.

And, the conservatism is not limited to politics. The culture that produced Aravosis' comments values blandness, conformity, personal income, and social status above all else. It is no wonder that anti-trans sentiment is pervasive among many queers in DC - it gives them another group of people to look down on.

The point of view in Aravosis' blog is that of this conservative DC queer culture that often chokes on the word queer. He does have a faithful following of people in his blog, but one can create a highly successful blog with only a small segment of the queer community. A large blog audience is a small audience in the larger society.

The blog's tone leaves me bored and unrepresented, so I seldom visit it. That's fine. No blog is for everyone. The problem is that Aravosis sees his self-reinforcing blog audience and the DC queer culture as somehow representative of people who aren't "living in liberal gay enclaves like San Francisco and New York." He fails to recognize that he is the one who is out of touch, not his critics.


  1. Christopher Says:
  2. Thank goodness for Proud Porgressive, you and few others.

    I took on the increasingly deranged John Aravosis over at Bloggernista's blog a few days ago on this very topic.

    Aravosis, as a DC insider and self-annointed gay rights leader, enthusiastically tossed transgendered folks under the ENDA bus and did it with glee.

    I don't get it. It's as if once people like him get a tiny taste of stardom, they forget how many people in the LGBT community remain marginalized.

  3. Have i told you all lately i adore you ?

    And guess what game ON - see my comment please here under GLH post how did A.get into the lgbt movement...HRC has grown a spine ..and at my humble site..i got a link to that leads to the Barney Frank speech press conference on ENDA - stockholm syndrome anyone ? Some of it will make you gasp actually !

    I have called ALL my reps. And here in NM we have the T incuded and guess what the world did not come to and end...hope you read my lastest post..

    I am singing out louise as Dave would say...and we all need for we have NOT lost our moral compass..and besides it fun to talk to thugs offices nowadays..i like to beg them to get back to their better days..and value the constituton and go beyond playing the fundie card...and for the Dems..please,enough capitulation to the lowest common demoninator of haters.war mongers, terror and fear peddlers..sheesh we lgbts know swift boating like since the 50's they need to take a lesson form us. i do declare !

    hit the latest HRC link in my post..hit the phones..and after you hear Franks entire speech - you will be reaching for the phones,emails , fax machines. garenteed...

    never ever underestimate as Christopher says the seductivity of power..and the ability to remain insulated once you annoint yourself a leader - newsflash we here where the rubber meets the road are the leaders..we have not lost our moral compass. And if we waited to march, and protest and push the envelope till we were popular and fully understood by the willfully ignorant....no progress would have been made..it is no time to back down..oh and email your posts and posts you like..its tsumani time !



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