Two weeks after Connecticut passed a landmark anti-discrimination bill, CT Equality and Planned Parenthood Votes — the co-sponsors of the bill — has invited all Connecticut residents over the age of 21 to celebrate their victory. The celebration will take place June 23 at a local bar.
The Connecticut Senate banned discrimination against transgender persons on the job on June 7, making it the 15th state to offer such protection to transgender individuals. The bill prohibits discrimination on the grounds of both gender identity and gender expression, and grants transgender individuals equal access to public accommodations. In the two weeks since the bill was signed, it has gained very little attention in most media, which is focused on the gay marriage issue in New York.
The relative quiet in which the Connecticut bill was passed, as well as the lack of publicity surrounding the celebration, underscore the tension between gay rights groups and trans rights groups as each works on its own cause. The comparative attention that many LGBT advocacy groups appear to pay to gay marriage and employment non-discrimination laws suggests that gay marriage is more of a priority for many LGBT advocates and allies than ending discrimination in employment. This position makes little sense — while all Americans certainly should enjoy equal access to legal marriage, regardless of the gender of their partner, gay and lesbian individuals will not be able to build a decent life together post-marriage without equal access to jobs. Furthermore, since some civil rights leaders are willing to sacrifice equal rights for transgender individuals to further the cause of non-discrimination against gays and lesbians, the emphasis on gay marriage suggests that transgender people are no more than a token addition to the LGBT acronym and that civil rights advocates do not really care about their interests.
At the same time, those who criticize the LGBT movement for its over-emphasis on gay marriage are often seen as being anti-marriage, which angers those who have been waiting years to marry their loved one and further divides the community. This division and alienation causes gay advocates and trans advocates to often work against each other, promoting one cause over the other and sometimes being unwilling to help the other cause because of perceived indifference or hostility.
If the LGBT community is to be successful at securing rights, it must focus on both gay marriage and employment non-discrimination. Ideally, both of these issues should be settled at the federal level; in any case, legislation should be aimed at helping protect the rights of all members of the community, and one population’s rights should never be sacrificed for another’s. Civil rights leaders must stop asking, “What should we do first?” and instead concentrate their efforts on securing equal rights for all on several fronts.
The recent legislation in Connecticut was co-sponsored by CT Equality, rather than a trans-specific group, sending the message that trans rights do matter to the larger LGBT community in Connecticut. Those interested in participating in the celebration can get more information on its Facebook page.