When wanting to discuss and debate the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would make it illegal for employers to hire, fire, demote or make other employment related decisions based on a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity, it seems natural to want opposing view points. Most, however, would agree that providing a platform for extremist groups is a step too far.
Well this is what CBS has been charged with by some LGBT rights advocates after a recent segment on ENDA where CBS’ Nancy Cordes spoke to the Human Rights Campaign’s Allyson Robinson (pictured on the left) and the Traditional Values Coalition’s Andrea Lafferty (pictured center). The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the Traditional Values Coalition as a hate group due to its long running campaign against the LGBT community.
As you can see below, the segment’s discussion quickly becomes one sided:
Why CBS thought it was appropriate to pick Andrea Lafferty for the opposing side of this argument remains a pressing question, especially when, just last week, she spuriously claimed that ENDA would result in disabled war veterans possibly being assaulted by “stump fetishists.”
Regardless, I think it’s important to examine the segment and what Lafferty said about ENDA because this seems typical of the kind of rhetoric we will no doubt see over the next few weeks as Congress takes up the legislation.
Lafferty starts with her main talking point, which is that ENDA’s federal protections will mean that a “teacher can not be reassigned out of the classroom” if they are transgender.
The fact that she has zeroed in on this one issue out of the many that ENDA encompasses demonstrates her tactics very clearly: ENDA opponents are mindful that it is unlikely that they can mount substantial opposition to ENDA on the issue of sexual orientation alone, but maligning transgender people through intentional misdirection, especially when it involves children, has been a powerful tool against statewide ordinances in the past.
Nevertheless, Dr. Jillian Weiss over at Bilerico has already demonstrated that Lafferty’s statement isn’t completely true. I recommend you take a look at Weiss’ entire article, but a small excerpt on this matter reads:
While it is true that school districts will not be able to discriminate based on gender identity under ENDA, there is nothing in the bill about not being able to reassign teachers if that is an appropriate move. As a consultant to human resources departments of many organizations on transgender workplace issues, I have certainly seen reassignment of employees from one position to another. I have also specifically seen situations in which transgender teachers moved to a new school in order to keep a low profile and to avoid controversy. While each situation is different, requiring different solutions, the blanket statement that school districts will not be able to reassign teachers is simply a lie.
Lafferty pushes her argument further by throwing in this little anti-trans nugget: “Children need a safe environment in which to learn.” The implication? That transgender people are a danger to kids. She goes further on this, saying that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) classifies transgender people as having a mental disorder. Such a broad classification is a relic, it is being challenged and may even soon be altered in the latest version of the DSM. The fact that Lafferty then has the front to turn to Allyson Robinson and call her mentally disordered to her face – in spite of all evidence to the contrary – both shocks and saddens (but does not surprise) me.
The next piece of Lafferty’s argument is that transgender teachers are “very confusing” to children. At no point does she provide any evidence to qualify this statement.
Allyson Robinson replies by asking, “What about my children?” This is a pertinent question that Lafferty tries to dodge. Robinson develops this counter-point further, asking about the children in states where transgender protections already exist. No harm has been evidenced there, she offers.
Lafferty largely ignores this and returns to her Anita Bryant style scaremongering, repeating her “think of the children” line later on with, “focus on how children will be effected.”
Later, Robinson counters this by attempting to get Lafferty to recognize how small an issue this is when she asks the rhetorical question of how many transgender people are currently teaching children today? The answer being, of course, not many. Lafferty brushes this off, but this exposes the central pillar to her manipulative assertions- she is arguing from a point of absurdity that it is fair and right for people to be fired for no more than their gender identity or sexual orientation and is attempting to justify it by creating imaginary scenarios that have little to no basis in reality and that she can provide no evidence for.
One particular part of the clip that is very telling, is where she says: “We know that most people who have sex changes don’t physically change their sex. So we know they are female from the waist up and male from the waist down. That’s very confusing to children.”
Here we have the sexualization of male to female transgender people, a common tactic, and, given the context, the inference that this will be brought into the classroom. CBS’ Nancy Cordes immediately questions her on this and how it is relevant in the classroom question. Being unable to support that statement, Lafferty then switches to a personal reminiscence about transgender people entering a bathroom that she was in.
However, it has been reported that ENDA’s gender identity provisions have already been amended so as to address concerns regarding shared bathroom facilities in the work place. You can read more here.
The benefits or detriments of these changes aside, the fact that these concessions have been made is undeniable, and Lafferty even concedes this herself before trying to play it down, and then continuing with her various bits of political theater on child welfare.
In this segment Lafferty also attempts to create a polarization of views, putting LGBT rights advocates on one side and then playing the victimized “traditional values” card on the other, as though the bill has no support from religious quarters.
This is not true. Many faith groups have previously voiced their support and some religious leaders even testified during congressional hearings on the bill, noting, for instance, the fact that the bill exempts all religious institutions and businesses with fewer than fifteen employees.
Similarly, she contends that ENDA gives LGBTs an “elevated status” in civil rights law, which is a nice way of saying she thinks ENDA confers special rights. It does not. It would grant LGBTs the same rights in employment that Lafferty enjoys wherein she is protected from being fired solely on the basis of her religiosity.
Perhaps what is most worrying is that CBS has framed Lafferty’s extreme anti-trans agenda here as a mainstream viewpoint that is reflective of wider conservative concerns regarding ENDA. Hopefully, Lafferty’s somewhat rabid performance may backfire, but there is a real danger that, without opposition, this kind of rhetoric will reach people who do not know the facts about the bill and will then mistake these as legitimate concerns and pass them on to lawmakers in Congress who are undecided on ENDA. Every vote will count if the legislation is to succeed, so media coverage like this can not be taken lightly.
To find out how many possible votes ENDA currently has in the House and the Senate, and what work there is to be done, please click here.
Further Information and Resources:
Photo taken from the CBS news segment under Fair Use terms, no infringement intended.
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