On Incrementalism




The fight for equality rights has come a long, long way in the past decade or so, but opinions on how to gain those rights differ within the LGBT community. Some folks want all (rights for gays, lesbians, and transgender people) or nothing. Others (most notably the Human Rights Campaign) are willing to take baby steps.

Tennessee Equality Project president Chris Sanders takes a balanced look at incrementalism in his post on the Grand Divisions: News and Comment on TN Politics blog (read the whole post here). He opposes baby steps when it comes to the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, meaning he wants job protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity added at the same time. Some gay rights advocates support the idea of leaving out gender identity for now to help move the bill along. Transgender issues tend to be a sticking point for some more conservative lawmakers.

But Sanders points out that incrementalism worked in the case of Nashville's 2009 ordinance protecting metro government employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The original ordinance would have extended protections to the private sector (just as Shelby County's original non-discrimination ordinance was intended to do), but before passage, the metro ordinance was scaled back to only protect government employees. The following passage from Sanders' Grand Divisions post illustrates the difference between the two types of incrementalism:

I don't believe we could have gotten half the support for an ordinance that would have applied to the private sector. Since no law (although there was a resolution in Shelby County and a Metro Schools policy) had ever been passed granting job protections in TN based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the territory was just too new. That's a sad statement on the state of equality in Tennessee, but it's where we are. Although the ordinance only applies to Metro government employees, it includes both sexual orientation AND gender identity. We wouldn't compromise on that point.


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