Autobiography: Congress, Part 2.

Wait, yesterday’s post was wrong. I didn’t speak first; Representative Barney Frank did:

(You can see me sitting behind Frank’s right shoulder; my attorney, Cole, is to my left.)

He went first because he had somewhere else to be. He spoke, then left. He wasn’t a member of the committee, anyway.

Frank’s testimony was much anticipated and scrutinized, because the last time ENDA had come before Congress, in 2007, he had allowed transgender protections to be stripped from the language of the bill. He justified this change by saying the bill couldn’t have passed the House of Representatives if the transgender language remained in it.

This was a bullshit argument. In 2007, the Senate was in the hands of a Republican majority that would not have passed any version of ENDA, and living in the White House was a bigoted Republican President who would not have signed any version of ENDA. So there was no reason not to swing for the fences with the House’s wording of the bill. Compromising on a bill that had no chance of passage anyway served no purpose other than pissing off almost every national LGBT rights group (except the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); its director at the time, Joe Solmonese, was always ready to throw transgender people under the bus) and changing the perception of Barney Frank from that of an ally to a villain.

As you can hear if you listen to the video above, in 2009 Frank’s remarks had an unmistakable “transgender employees, yay!” quality to them.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin also spoke. At the time, she and Frank were two of only three gays in Congress at the time; the third, Jared Polis of Colorado, didn’t speak, but I think he was there as a committee member.rsz_enda_hearing1

Then it was my turn. Cole had written my testimony, as I’ve noted. Most people assume I wrote them myself, but I try to remember to give Cole the credit he’s due. Sure, I’m also a writer, but for this purpose Cole brought certain skills to the task that I didn’t have. With only five minutes to work with, my words had to have maximum information content, yet still tickle the committee’s compassion bones in a way that convinced them that passing ENDA would help people like me.

The words were all accurate and true to my experiences, and the break in my voice was all me.

Several of my coaches at NGLTF the day before had wanted some mention of my Navy experience in my testimony, because letting it drop that you’re a veteran always plays well in the cheap seats. I successfully argued against that, on several grounds.

For one, my Navy service was a pretty important and formative time in my life, but it was still only four years out of my life, and they didn’t have anything to do with my case or with ENDA.

Secondly, I wasn’t a very good officer, so it felt wrong to try to make hay out of that experience.

Third, and most of all, it feels like a cliché to me to mention a transgender woman’s military service. The media loves to find the irony in a story, and since serving in the military is often characterized as the epitome of masculinity, they can’t resist contrasting it apparently going to the other extreme. This angle goes back at least as far as Christine Jorgensen in the 1950s, with “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty!” and similar headlines. I wanted no part of it.

ExGIBlondeBeauty

Thank you, but no.

My testimony did its job nonetheless. Chairman George Miller of California (not the director of the Mad Max films) seemed genuinely stunned that anyone could be as callous and closed-minded as Sewell Brumby had been. Several other committee members also seemed moved. They didn’t ask me many questions, though. Beyond my testimony, there wasn’t much else to say.

After I spoke, the other witnesses took their turns. One was a pro-equality rabbi; another was Stuart J. Ishimaru of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Craig Parshall of the National Religious Broadcasters predictably spoke against the passage of ENDA. I didn’t know of him, but his wife was asshole radio host Janet Parshall.

The committee spent most of its time talking with Ishimaru about the nuts and bolts of implementing ENDA: how it would affect American workplaces, what accommodations would need to be made, how many people would stand to benefit from it, etc.

They were pretty much done with me now. Mara Keisling of NCTE had encouraged me to insert myself into the conversation wherever possible, to help focus the attention on the specific needs of transgender people and to remind everyone just what’s at stake. But I wasn’t able to; the hearing became very technical, very quickly. I had neither the credentials nor the knowledge to contribute anything further.

And then it was all over. The hearing adjourned. The aftermath is all a blur. I remember shaking the hand of Dennis Kucinich, who praised my bravery (in 2009, everyone I met praised my bravery). David snagged my notes and grabbed my nameplate off the witnesses’ bench. “For history,” he said. I think he may still have them.

Back at … somewhere, I was handed a phone and told a reporter from the ABC News website, Devin Dwyer, wanted to interview me. He’d been watching the committee’s feed in some

This was the guy with all the answers.

This was the guy with all the answers.

Capitol press room. This is the story he wrote. Like all journalists who’ve ever interviewed me, he got several of his facts wrong, but since one of his errors was to say I was 30 years old, I’m overall pleased with his reportage.

Then David, Cole, and I found ourselves in the office of Rep. John Lewis, chatting with Lewis and his chief of staff (whose name I’ve forgotten; sorry!). Cole and I both lived in Lewis’s Congressional district, which we were proud to tell him. He hadn’t been able to attend the hearing, but he was, and is, and always has been a strong ally. In his mind, he told us, the fight for civil rights for LGBT people is exactly the same as the fight for equality for African-Americans and every other minority.

He gets it. He has always gotten it. We spent half an hour chatting with him, and it was the only time that day I felt star struck.

No time for sightseeing. After we left the Capitol, Mara ordered up a Zip car and drove us all back to the airport. We boarded our plane and I went almost immediately to sleep. I don’t even remember takeoff.

And why shouldn’t I sleep? I’d helped convince a Congressional committee that ENDA was necessary, and it enjoyed support among the majority in both houses of Congress and the sitting President. I still didn’t know whether I’d win my lawsuit, but I could rest easy knowing that, by the end of 2009, the discrimination I’d endured would be illegal.

Yeah, I was an idiot.


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