Metro Weekly

Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality

We Won, We Lost. What's Next for 2009? (Online Extra)

METRO WEEKLY: From your — or your organization’s — perspective, what is the most immediate effect of the presidential election on the LGBT community?

MARA KEISLING: Clearly, we are excited that we are likely to see fewer proactive attacks against all LGBT people from an Obama administration. We have all spent the last eight years fending off very hurtful and unproductive policies, and knowing that meaningful advances in federal policy required difficult uphill battles. We are hopeful for the next four years.

Mara Keisling
Mara Keisling [file photo]

MW: Since the 1990s, a small number of LGBT issues have consistently emerged at federal legislative level: gays in the military, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, partner immigration, hate crimes and marriage equality. With a Democratic congress and president, which of those issues do you believe should be prioritized?

KEISLING: Prioritization of policy issues is complex business involving far more than what we in the advocacy community wants. Obviously members of Congress and the administration also play important roles. What is prioritized is also to some extent impacted by what is most likely to pass.

In this case, most see the federal hate crimes bill as being maybe the ripest of the bills we are working on. During the past 18 months it has passed through both the Senate and the House of Representatives, held up only by a veto threat from the White House. We are very unlikely to see such a threat from the incoming president, so most of us are hopeful that the hate crimes bill can pass. Beyond that, I think that we’ll wait and see what ripens when, but internally at NCTE priorities include ENDA legislatively and ending unfair federal documentation requirements for transgender people, as well as stopping a Social Security Administration practice called ”gender no-match letters” that needlessly out transgender people at their jobs.

MW: Will Congress be able to pass a trans-inclusive ENDA?

KEISLING: Absolutely. We were so close last fall. Now, there are a lot of people doing a lot of work around ENDA and I am confident that if we all get the grassroots and DC work done that has to be done, we will have sufficient votes to pass ENDA and even overcome any possible parliamentary maneuver from our opponents. That being said, most of us do not expect ENDA to come up right away in this Congress though I wouldn’t want to venture a guess more specific than that.

MW: Protections for and recognition of LGBT federal employees have often been attacked under the Bush administration. How do you believe the landscape will change for LGBT federal workers under the new administration? Will Obama’s pledge to extend domestic partner benefits come through?

KEISLING: We are very hopeful that federal employee partner benefits are possible for this upcoming Congress.

MW: What does the loss on same-sex marriage in California — as well as Arizona and Florida — plus the barring of adoption rights in Arkansas say about the state of GLBT issues in America?

KEISLING: I think all of us can be so proud of all of the education that we have done with the American public. The results were much more favorable to us than the last time and that is progress. Still, it is obvious that we haven’t yet finished that job. Consider Congress: While clearly education of Congress around transgender issues and especially gay issues has been strong, there are still quite a few closeted gay members of Congress. There may even be closeted trans members of Congress though we are not aware of any or even any rumors.

MW: A number of rationales have emerged for the California loss — minority voters supporting both Obama and Prop. 8, low turnout in some areas such as San Francisco, ”No on 8” messages that avoided being too ”gay,” etc. — what do you think needs to be addressed among those in order to move forward in that state?

KEISLING: We need to continue doing the public education that has taken us this far. I am very optimistic that we are winning and will ultimately prevail, but it means LGBT people and allies everywhere need to step out and step up even more.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.