Monday, June 7, 2010
Two kinds of incrementalism in advocating job protections
First, let me say that incrementalism has become a bad word in the GLBT blogosphere. I don't say that's necessarily a universally shared view. But it's important to acknowledge at the outset that incrementalism with much justification is a bad word. Perhaps the most progressive president and Congress ever were elected in 2008, and the GLBT community's expectations were high after the election. Incrementalism was swept away as a necessary evil, a relic of the Bush-II years. Impatience is the order of the day.
TYPE 1--One meaning of incrementalism from the Bush years is particularly onerous--the effort in 2007 to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) without gender identity. Saying it that way is too clinical, though. What it meant was that transgender people, a sector of the population most susceptible to job discrimination and violence, would be left behind. The transgender community and allies have every reason to be on the lookout for this kind of incrementalism in current discussions of ENDA. Some voices in the GLBT community, not many of them saying so in public, continue to think that it would be sensible to go for ENDA with sexual orientation only and come back for gender identity later. As ENDA continues to be delayed, it may be that more of those voices will emerge from the shadows in an attempt to get something passed.
My first reaction is a philosophical NO. I can't see the justification for leaving behind a class of people who need these protections. I don't think that statement needs an elaborate "proof." I know it's not self-evident to everyone, but it is for me. It's probably not too persuasive, though, to certain kinds of incrementalists. They see themselves as practical people who want to move the ball forward...granted it's usually for themselves. But they see themselves that way nonetheless.
The most persuasive argument against that type of incrementalism is that it wouldn't move enough people to matter. The same people who are screaming about the imagined dangers of transgender people in restrooms (where's the evidence on this?) are completely opposed to any job protections based on sexual orientation. They are onto and completely opposed to ANY incremental approach. The Traditional Values Coalition is just one example. The fire fueling the opposition to ENDA in any form burns just as hot no matter how much of our community is included. I assure you that the Religious Right will not back down against a truncated ENDA.
So I say we just need to stand and fight.
TYPE 2--Despite my opposition to that type of incrementalism, there is another type that I completely support. The closest example I can draw on is the 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance. I don't believe we could have gotten half the support for an ordinance that would have applied to the private sector. Since no law (although there was a resolution in Shelby County and a Metro Schools policy) had ever been passed granting job protections in TN based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the territory was just too new. That's a sad statement on the state of equality in Tennessee, but it's where we are. Although the ordinance only applies to Metro government employees, it includes both sexual orientation AND gender identity. We wouldn't compromise on that point. There was an attempt to run a bill without gender identity, but it got amended to be inclusive. We were clear on this point from the beginning and our Council allies stood firm. No one was left behind. There was no question about coming back for anyone. Everyone took that small but important step together. It's a gain we can let sink in and build upon.
So until ENDA passes, TEP and others will continue to advance non-discrimination measures at the state and local levels in Tennessee. I believe we have an obligation to protect as many people as we can, protect them inclusively, and protect them with measures that can actually get the votes.
Maybe that's not philosophically consistent. I don't know. But from a practical point of view I would respond to the naysayers with this argument. My guess is that most of the members of Congress who support ENDA represent districts with at least one city that has some kind of non-discrimination ordinance. I believe that passing local ordinances makes it safer for members of Congress to support ENDA. I wouldn't say it's the definitive factor in their support, but it's a part of the puzzle. So I don't see that kind of incrementalism as a hindrance to achieving the larger goal of passing ENDA. If anything, it's a boost because it educates people in that congressional district about the issue of job discrimination.