Saturday, May 16, 2009

NTAC Hits Capitol Hill On Its Tenth Anniversary

The last couple weeks have been jam-packed so much that it's hard to find time to sit and write! This week has been nothing but back to back board meetings and homework for those organizations.

The prior week, though, was Transgender Lobby Days in Washington DC with NTAC – the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition. As I write, NTAC is now celebrating 10 year anniversary! A full decade of working on advocacy at the federal level, it's hard to believe we're still in it. With GenderPAC now morphed into another organization name and vision at the beginning of the year, it leaves NTAC as the longest running federal-level advocate for transgender or gender variant issues.

Anniversary aside, this was the smallest group we've had to date thanks to the crushing economy and competition from other newer interests in the game. However we still managed to pull in people from every section of the country except for the Northeast, ironically enough. We blanketed the entire Senate and hit over 100 offices in our day on the House side as well.

While we're dealing with a much friendlier congressional environ with inclusive bills (concerns with hate crimes' definitions aside), it was still a good year to make it up there for other reasons.

Due to the Obama victory, I was facing the loss of my fourth, solid staff contact on the Hill. I was starting to panic a bit! While LGB and T groups will obfuscate or keep us collectively in the dark, it's always been our staff contacts who have kept us enlightened. Certainly for NTAC, they've been a godsend. Without them, we'd have been buying into the oft-repeated Barney Frank or Human Rights Campaign-concocted story lines: e.g. "gender includes the trans community" [2003], "Christopher Shays is holding back trans inclusion" [2004], "Barney Frank and HRC have been our champions in fighting for inclusion" [2004 & 2005]. "ENDA won't be submitted this session" [2006], "Rep. George Miller is keeping trans inclusion from ENDA" [2007] and of course "HRC has promised and is committed to supporting nothing but an inclusive ENDA" [2007]. While others were encouraged to disbelieve us for what we heard from our Congress friends, we weren't wrong.

Clearly you can see why we'd not want to lose some of our contacts on the Hill!

Those contacts, plus three new ones we gained (including one of our best contacts from the past who's now on the Senate side!) proved incisive again. The only item of concern on legislation was from only one office, but did allude to the possibility of "different language" coming on ENDA regarding how they deal with gender identity. So far, it's the only one and was very basic – nothing urgent. All other offices are still in the dark on ENDA and its status.

We even managed a few face-to-face visits with our drop-in, buttonholing method – including very good meetings with both Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), as well as personal visits with both Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and Rep. Anh 'Joseph' Cao (R-LA).

That said, the ENDA debacle has changed the game slightly. A number of offices in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) who were opposing trans inclusion in the previous session are now back on board this time. That said, there are at least a couple like Sanford Bishop and James Clyburn who are outright opposed even still. We're not going to be able to count on a bloc vote of CBC with us in the equation, which could still prove problematic for us. This has potential to be used by the incrementalists to "fan the flames" smoldering on the lifeline we're dangling from.

Most of our information this time wasn't so much about the legislation though. This time we got quite a bit of information about how others felt about the last session. Many House offices felt they were jerked around sincerely by the various parties who were heavily involved in last session's ENDA "debacle." As one of our office visits noted, "Congressmembers don't like being played for fools. They're not likely to forget [last session.]"

There's now no uniform view of the inside and outside players in GLBT civil rights!

The primary members of the LGBT Coalition are still very much on board with HRC, and their word is still golden. To them, NTAC is still nothing but trash, and it's obvious they just want to hurry up and be done with our meeting to get us out of there. But the big surprise this session is that the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has now lost favor with them, almost to a person. Whatever lustre they had, after what occurred earlier this session, has now disappeared.

Now the second tier supporters of GLBT rights are the big find. HRC is now persona non grata, as they have major trust issues with them (having been jerked around in the previous session). Again, Mara and NCTE are also quite out of favor, and their handout of nothing beyond two sheets of talking points was "too thin – there's nothing that those of us not familiar (with trans issues) can use beyond repeating someone's scripted soundbites." In short, they felt they were not being given info to use and learn from but rather being directed to stick to talking points.

These same folks were quite eager to work with us, and also happy with the data and specific stories to be referred to, both for counterpoints and also to help edify themselves on the full range of what "transgender" is. Many of them know us, but as one Senate staffer reminded, they don't "fully know" us yet. That was sweet sounds to sore ears!

What really surprised me was the Senate side having issues with both HRC and Mara. As one Senate office noted, they have to play with HRC (alluding that they were the only game around on GLBT), but they'd rather not. However, noting that all the hijinx on ENDA in 2007, and the Hate Crimes language early this year occurred in the House, it's important (and surprising) to note they have issues with these two parties.

As for Barney Frank, he's the Teflon Don. They know what he did, but they all have to work with him. Considering his Banking Committee position and the clout that holds, they don't want to rock the boat.

So in a nutshell, NCTE has credibility with the trans community, HRC and NTAC have very little. NTAC has credibility with the supportive, non-prime LGBT coalition congress-critters, NCTE and HRC have none. HRC has credibility with the prime LGBT Coalition critters in Congress, especially Barney Frank, NTAC and NCTE have none. It's quite an odd predicament.

Nevertheless, it doesn't change the game on the Hill too much. While the second-tier supporters feel burned by Ol' Barn' and especially HRC, they're also not going to circumvent the LGBT Coalition on an LGBT bill. It's tantamount to passing a bill on issues for the black community without the support of the CBC. They must deal with them, and as expected, HRC is in the catbird seat with the all important folks who will decide legislation, language and set the agenda on issues LGBT.

As always, we're still going to have to watch this from the outside and monitor it very closely.

But the good news is, especially with our new contacts, Ol' Barn' and HRC are officially on notice. Any funny business they pull will be discovered quickly (on both sides of the Hill). We will not take their manipulations lightly!

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