Jaclyn joins us from her blog:

Despite its high profile, the cause of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights continues to stand out as the one major area of civil rights in which relatively little progress has been made. Fanatical opposition on the part of the religious right and uneasy apathy on the part of much of the liberal left play a major role in this, but I believe the root cause is a deplorable lack of solidarity among the members of the LGBT community.

This was made painfully clear during the ENDA fiasco last year. When passage of a critical federal anti-discrimination law (H.R. 2015, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) appeared to be in jeopardy due to strong conservative opposition, Representative Barney Frank substituted a stripped-down version (H.R. 3685, "ENDA Lite" or "SplENDA") which banned discrimination against gays but permitted discrimination against transexuals. Ignoring the unanimous opposition of a broad coalition of over 150 LGBT advocacy groups, Frank argued that transexuals have no right to hold back gay rights and need to wait -- "maybe in fifty years" -- before seeking legal protection. He also claimed that it was important to allow the House to stand for gay rights alone because forcing the issue might damage the image of the Democratic Party or jeopardize the positions of moderate Democrats in swing states.

All of the arguments which I have heard from both Frank himself and from those who support his "Great ENDA Backstab" can be summed up in three basic lines of thought:

1. Gay rights should take priority over trans rights because there are more gays than transexuals.
2. Gay rights should take priority over trans rights because gays are more socially accepted than transexuals are.
3. Gay rights should take priority over trans rights because transexuals have not been involved in the LGBT movement as long as homosexuals have. A more extreme variation of this argument is that transexuals are unwelcome interlopers who have "hijacked" the gay rights movement.

Whether or not they are honestly offered (I have my doubts, but I am not a neutral party in this matter), all three of these arguments fail to stand up to even the most basic logical and philosophical scrutiny. Let us consider them one at a time:

The first argument is rooted in an oversimplistic application of the principle of maximum utility -- that the most ethical course of action is the one which benefits the greatest number of people. The overlooked point is that this only holds true when benefits to the majority are not achieved through harm to the minority; if it was ethical to harm a minority in order to benefit a majority, things like slavery and gang-rape would be perfectly ethical. In this case, the "gay rights first" argument fails to consider the fact that the passage of gay-only antidiscrimination laws is actively detrimental to transgender rights. It not only provokes backlash which is guaranteed to increase discrimination and violence against transgendered people but also strips existing protection from transgenders by setting a precedent legalizing discrimination against us.

My counterargument that failing to include transgender persons in anti-discrimination legislation effectively endorses discrimination against them may seem far-fetched, but it has in fact already come to pass. Even though it has not yet passed into law (and probably never will, given the lack of Senatorial support), H.R. 3685 has already been accepted by federal courts as proof that Congress never intended to include transgendered persons in existing anti-discrimination laws. The existing case law supporting transgender rights has been thrown out, and discrimination against transgender persons has effectively been legalized except in states which have anti-discrimination laws of their own.

The second argument is based on the same blatant misapplication of the principle of maximum utility. It is basically saying that because gays are more accepted by mainstream socity, the same investment of political capital would create more benefit for gays than it would for transgendered people; hence it is more "profitable" to invest primarily or even exclusively in gay rights. Again, this argument from utility can only be validly applied when you can make one group better off without making any other group worse off. As convenient as it would be, that hidden assumption simply does not hold up in the case of LGBT rights.

The third argument is both fundamentally juvenile ("I was in line first!") and demonstrates a profound ignorance of the history of the LGBT movement. Transgender persons have been part of the civil rights movement since its birth at Stonewall; indeed, it was transgender persons rather than gays per se who bore the brunt of the police brutality at Stonewall. The accusation that transexuals are "Johnny-come-lately" interlopers only seems valid because the involvement of transexuals in the movement is often made invisible; transgender persons who are "passable" are assumed to be cisgender, and transgender persons who are not passable are assumed to be genderqueer. These misconceptions minimize the visibility of transexuals within the movement; it's not that we're not there, but that people don't recognize us.

As much as I generally dislike conspiracy theories, I am forced to conclude that the LGBT movement's willingness to throw transgender people overboard at the slightest hint of trouble is based on a combination of selfish greed and personal transphobia rather than any sort of logic. It is unlikely that such hypocritical sentiments are pervasive among lesbians and gays -- only among the "nobility" of highly influential upper class heteronormative gay white males who control the major LGBT advocacy groups through their network of political and social connections. These already tremendously privileged few apparently feel entitled to make their personal welfare the sole objective of the entire LGBT movement.

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