Response to BuzzFeed Article
I have gotten many questions from people about a BuzzFeed article published earlier this week that focused on transgender public policy and legislative strategy. I have spent the last two days talking with lots of people individually, but I wanted to share my thoughts more broadly and clearly in a public forum. I am thankful for our community’s vigilance about monitoring what is going on in our movement and giving us feedback on it. To me, policy is among the most important ways we are making trans lives better, and I’m thankful that it matters to all of you too.
Before explaining NCTE’s policy positions and why they were incorrectly represented in the Buzzfeed article, I want to first apologize for something I said to BuzzFeed. When I first read the article, even I thought that my statement about incrementalism sounded dismissive. What I meant to say was: as frustrating as it is for all of us who need our rights so desperately—and need all of them now—every policy we win has some hole we will need to fill later. I do not believe that people who disagree with me are “whiners,” and I am deeply sorry for saying that.
Now, here are the facts.
The National Center for Transgender Equality has always fought with conviction and will continue to fight for full nondiscrimination protections for trans people—and that includes public accommodations. We recognize that protections in all public accommodations are important for trans people, and that’s why we have not and never will agree to remove public accommodations from future legislation as a general strategy.
NCTE has in no way given up on the “bathroom fight.” In fact, the opposite is true—it’s a large part of our current work. We have been—and will continue to be—engaged in multiple state battles over the last three years, including helping to defeat dozens of anti-trans bathroom bills this year alone, and dedicating enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources to the fight against HB2 in North Carolina. We are fully engaged in this fight and will stay that way until the final victory has been won.
Also, NCTE never has and never will let another organization, including any funder, dictate our policy positions. We work for trans people, not funders and not large LGBT organizations. I can understand why the false impression that we make decisions based on the demands of funders is of deep concern to members of our community, but it is false.
It is important, however, to remember that in any movement, there will be disagreements on strategies and tactics. Every movement has had them and we will continue to have them in the trans movement too. On some topics, even staff members within NCTE don’t start at consensus. But NCTE always takes positions that we believe will do the most good for trans people in the context in which we are making these decisions.
The context of Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination bills this year was unique and arose without any precedent. In this instance, in one particular state, a bill that had been introduced repeatedly for 15 years died without any chance of passing, and a one-of-a-kind circumstance arose to which we responded, as I noted in June, when I wrote this blog post. You can read the full story there, but here is the short version of what happened:
I have personally worked on the Fairness Act in Pennsylvania for almost 15 years on and off. Pennsylvania is my home state, as many readers know, and is also one of the few states that had a realistic chance of passing a bill protecting trans people from discrimination this year. This summer, the Pennsylvania House and Senate leadership killed the Fairness Act because it included public accommodations—just as the national public bathroom conversation was heating up. A high-ranking committee chairperson decided that he wanted to pass an LGBT housing nondiscrimination bill since the Fairness Act was dead. Some organizations, including NCTE, decided to try to win housing protections in Pennsylvania.
Our thinking was simple. We have tried for years to pass the whole bill, but it was clearly going to need even more time before it could pass, given opposition from leaders of both houses of the legislature. In the meantime, we had an opportunity to win statewide housing protections for trans people. The chairperson wrote the housing bill and planned a committee hearing. The bill’s author was subsequently convinced to add employment protections, but not public accommodations protections, back into the legislation. Eventually, that bill died too, after obstruction from Senate leadership.
The reason NCTE supported the housing only bill, and then the combined housing and employment bill was that it seemed possible that it could pass and become law—and there are so many trans people in Pennsylvania who really need those protections, desperately, and can’t wait any longer. The alternative seemed to only be to wait for many years to pass a complete bill or to wait for a new Congress to pass the federal Equality Act—none of which could be counted on in the near future, and would leave real trans people without clear statewide protections in employment and housing in the meantime. We all know how life-altering it is to have a job or a home—or to not have them.
After the bill died, many state and national organizations convened a conference call to talk about how we should handle any such situations in the future. Some groups took the position that we should never pass a bill again without public accommodations. Some thought it might depend on the circumstances, as in Pennsylvania. No one thought we should stop fighting to win public accommodations. The question was only about strategy in specific situations where comprehensive bills have already failed repeatedly. Of course, we respect the fact that some people will disagree with us, and we acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree respectfully. Moreover, a healthy debate about what is the best way to go is good for everyone. However, it was not a situation where some individuals and organizations were selling trans people out and others were fighting for the rights of trans people. Both sides clearly care about the lives of trans people and were taking the position they thought best.
In short, deciding to support this one effort without public accommodations in Pennsylvania was not a decision we arrived at lightly, but we thought it was the right thing to do at that moment in that one specific circumstance in an attempt to win some protections for trans people knowing that it would likely take years to pass a bill which includes public accommodations. I know that many of you disagree. So let me say this: while I cannot promise that NCTE will always agree with your position, I do promise that we will always listen respectfully, solicit your feedback and take your opinions seriously. We will always fight for trans people in the way that makes the most sense to us given all of the information we have at that time. And we commit to you that we will never bow to another group or to any funder.