Buck Angel, A Man With a Pussy: LGB Without the T

As transgenders push for respect, a rift grows with traditional gay leadership

A highly contentious debate over the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act most clearly exposed the fault lines between the transgendered and the rest of the LGBT coalition. The bill was first introduced back in 1974 as a proposed amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that would add sexual orientation to the federal non-discrimination statutes. As it turned out, gender identity and expression was only added to ENDA in the late 1990s.

Openly gay Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank introduced two versions of the bill last September—one that included gender identity and expression, and another that didn't—because he feared the inclusive bill did not have enough votes to withstand a challenge on the House floor. This tactic sparked the creation of a coalition of more than 370 local, statewide, and national LGBT organizations, largely spearheaded by Foreman, to support the inclusive bill.

However, the Human Rights Campaign remained conspicuously on the sidelines, even though the nation's largest gay-rights organization had endorsed Frank's bill. HRC has long faced criticism from activists for its perceived bowing and scraping to the D.C. status quo, but this latest maneuver caused Donna Rose, the only transgender member of its board, to resign. Activists staged boisterous and embarrassing protests outside the organization's annual black-tie dinners at the Hilton in midtown and in other cities around the country. The group Radical Homosexual Agenda unfurled a sign that read: "Can't Spell LGBT with HRC! Trans Power Now!"

Activists also unfurled a banner inside the hotel during HRC president Joe Solmonese's speech. Security guards quickly whisked them out, but the absence of two of the city's most prominent openly gay politicians, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane, who cited "scheduling conflicts," spoke even louder about HRC's freeze-out. "There was consensus and one rogue organization," Keisling drily notes.

An HRC spokesperson declined repeated requests to comment for this story. Solmonese, however, has gone on record saying that HRC had changed its policy and would only support a trans-inclusive ENDA. This declaration, however, arrived less than a month before Frank introduced his bill. Pauline Park is speaking for most transgender activists when she complains that HRC "values relationships with people in power and access to power more than people in the community."


New York congressman and mayoral contender Anthony Weiner spoke passionately in favor of a transgender-inclusive ENDA on the House floor: "We should also make it clear to those who are watching this discussion: We're not going to negotiate against ourselves," he warned. "Some things are immutable—there are some civil rights that are immutable—and this is one of them."

For his part, Frank tells the Voice that transphobia had nothing to do with his decision to remove gender identity and expression from ENDA; the votes simply didn't add up. But Frank concedes that the "ick factor" among many members of Congress presents a significant impediment to passing an inclusive ENDA.

"Sexuality is a tricky question," he says. "You get into transgender—it embraces all of that—and you have people's fear and dislike of things that are different. Nobody is more different to an average person than a transgender person, and that makes them nervous."

Frank also believes that transgender activists have relied too heavily on mainstream LGBT groups to push the issue. "They haven't done any lobbying yet," he complained. "They insist the gay community will do it, and they are wrong to say the gay community will do it. They have done a very bad job."

Keisling categorically denies Frank's claim. She says that Frank had given her and other organizations their marching orders before last fall's controversy erupted. These included increasing their grassroots efforts outside the Beltway and focusing on specific members of Congress, whom Frank himself identified. "The LGBT movement and our lobbyists, to a large extent, followed Congressman Frank's lead on education around ENDA," she says. "It was his bill."

Keisling also bristles at the suggestion that transgender activists are riding on their gay counterparts' coattails: "Gay activists and organizations were and are, in fact, a very important and effective part of the lobbying for the inclusive ENDA."

Foreman also blasts Frank's criticisms as a way to cover his tracks: "Contrary to Mr. Frank's assertion, all gay activists, including HRC, had been lobbying hard for the inclusive ENDA—not just last year, but for many years before that," he says. "When Mr. Frank and other House leaders turned tail, every single major national and statewide organization—with the exception of HRC and the Log Cabin Republicans—mounted an all-out effort to get the inclusive ENDA back on the table. The scope and depth of this effort surprised the House leadership, and must have embarrassed Mr. Frank."

If anything, the ENDA debacle has emboldened Keisling and her cohorts to lobby Congress even harder. Tammy Baldwin, an openly lesbian Democratic congresswoman from Wisconsin, described her colleagues on the Hill as receptive to their efforts: "People were getting calls in their district offices and in their D.C. offices saying, 'Support a trans-inclusive ENDA,' " Baldwin tells the Voice.

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