Saturday, February 24, 2007

In Which I Pump You Up, Only to Bring You Back Down Again

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports today that two breakthrough bills for gays and lesbians are likely to be passed by the new Democratic Congress. Both possibilities have me on the brink of tears of joy, they are so overdue and yet still seem so implausible. The first is an employment discrimination ban. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) projects that the bill will even include gender identity—which, to have any teeth, it must, lest employers say “it wasn’t that Cameron sleeps with women that bothered us, it’s that Cameron stomps around acting like a man!” (Let's translate this argument: "It's not that Cameron is a dyke that bothers us, it's that Cameron acts like a dyke!") A gender identity clause would also stop harassment of men who are perceived as effeminate whether or not they are actually gay.

The only problem with this bill—and it’s a major one—is that churches and small businesses would be exempt. Churches: Feh—I don't have the energy to wade into the constitutionally murky waters of whether they should be exempt or not. But small businesses, which is to say most businesses? Why should they be exempt? No one is talking about a quota; the issue is whether GLBT people are turned away from positions for which they are qualified.

The other bill would include GLBT identity among those covered by hate-crimes legislation. That's right, nearly 10 years after Matthew Shephard was executed there is no national hate-crimes protection for GLBT people, who make up 14 percent of all victims of hate crimes. If that's not reason enough to support it, here's what Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has to say: "It's taking us to the point where anyone who opposes the sexual behavior of homosexuals will be silenced." Now, he's probably exaggerating (he also claimed that gay-rights groups exaggerate the extent of discrimination as a means of accomplishing their broader political not be discriminated against), but just for a moment imagine the utopia of slapping lawsuits on groups like Perkins' who invent slanderous anecdotes and statistics about GLBTs and spend millions lobbying against their civil rights. The sweet, sweet silence of it.

But, before you get too hopeful dear reader, remember in whose hand the veto pen rests.

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