By Melanie Nathan, December 11, 2014
United States Senator Jeff Merkley formally announced at the Center for American Progress that he plans to introduce a comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill in the next Congress. This is excellent news. The LGBT community in the United States America must include a full compliment of stakeholders working together and no one organization should hijack the drafting – advocacy process.
The Oregon Democrat said he will spearhead efforts to pass federal legislation that would protect LGBT people in nearly every aspect of American life, including employment, housing, public accommodations, housing and credit. However we have seen what these Senators come up with. They are well meaning, but the relationships forged with certain groups like HRC often yield token victories fraught with onerous caveats. This is a fantastic opportunity and we cannot afford to accept anything less than true full equality. I believe that unless we form a unified coalition of LGBTI groups, we risk onerous exemptions, which will diminish our chances for full equality in the future. Often to be seen to have accomplished “something” our leadership leads us to accept less than what we are entitled to.
Now it is time for the LGBT community to ensure we are not saddled with unacceptable religious exemptions and a not too uncommon self-marginalization.
And so to this end, the entire LGBTQI movement of voices must be heard, and the advocacy process, toward drafting such legislation, and its introduction, cannot be hijacked by one or two groups who happen to have a front row seat in D.C. All our voices count and there is only one way to have all our voices heard.
We need 2 things:
- A coalition of LGBTI Stakeholders from across the country, with each organization represented, and the inclusion of individuals who may not have organizational backing, but who have made their mark as activists or lawyers representing LGBTI interests; and
- Town hall meetings in major centers across the country.
Hence, I am calling on our LGBT organizations and community to form a movement – a true movement – with one coalition organization/committee with as many stakeholders as possible, in the hope that we can all work together, to ensure the power of one strong movement voice, as opposed to separate piece meal interest voices, on this piece of legislation.
We are at great risk if we allow any one organization to dominate this conversation and the advocacy, and may again risk extensive marginalization as evidenced by the metamorphosis of ENDA. Certain groups continued to advocate for a Bill that had severely onerous religious exemptions. Grassroots activists revolted against the Bill, and it took a very long time and wasted millions, before some organizations finally stopped promoting the horribly flawed legislation. Many of us have lost trust as a result of how this played out. The ENDA journey makes the case for why forming such a coalition of voices is absolutely imperative.
We all know that a seriously onerous ENDA made its way through a Senate vote, and many in our community, with seemingly smaller voices on the national stage, were drowned out in D.C., when we begged that the ENDA containing the unacceptable religious exemptions be dropped. It took a scary long time for groups such as NCLR and HRC to join groups like Queer Nation in standing against the flawed ENDA. While HRC seemed to change its tune, it is still messing around with that onerous Bill.
Again many of us fear that our voices will not be heard when it comes to Senator Merkley’s legislation and as we stand to suffer further marginalization for an unacceptable bill, it is best if we unify to present one voice. We do not want our movement to fall into the trap of being “used” for a political purpose only – where flawed legislation goes far, just to make certain groups and politicians look good, and where fund raising serves as the impetus for the advocacy.
Here is my suggested list of who I think should be included in the coalition and consensus building process toward an appropriate draft bill:
FREEDOM TO WORK
Marriage Groups: e.g. 2 representatives from a coalition of state marriage equality groups – to Include Freedom to Marry, MEUSA, and others;
Pride Groups: e.g.1 representative from a coalition of Pride organizations
LGBT Centers: e.g. 1 representative from a coalition of national LGBT Centers
Chambers of Commerce: e.g. 1 representative from a national coalition of Chambers of Commerce
LGBT attorneys/ individuals /grassroots (tbd) who have legislative / court experience such as Robbie Kaplan,
Please add other stakeholders as you may deem fit. No one is less equal than another – regardless of membership size or annual budget. Every voice is critical and we all must pull together to ensure a uniformed non renegade platform.
My choice to spearhead this initiative and take the lead – The Williams Institute or LAMBDA.
Due to the many schisms in our community, some may be tickled by this suggestion; my hope is that we have the courage and sense to set aside egos to try and make sure we are all represented in this process. To be fully represented we need a movement, not separate piecemeal Gay Inc. interests. We have seen how self serving and dangerous that is – now lets see full inclusion in this process.