I am a member of the Democratic Party’s Standing Committee on the Platform. I am also the person who sponsored the only amendment to include transgender people in that document. I would like to offer my perspective on what happened at the Platform Committee meeting on July 10, 2004.
The Democratic Party’s platform is a consensus document that outlines the general goals and ideals that the party holds. When drafting the platform, there was consensus to oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment, provide funding for HIV/AIDS and to end workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was no consensus on banning discrimination based on gender identity. Understandably, the omission of transgender issues has caused much frustration and anger in the trans community.
I am not transgendered. In a speech I made before the Platform Committee, I said, “As a gay man, I can only be a surrogate for this distinct community, speaking second-hand in telling their stories and discussing their issues.” I urged the Democratic Party to “do more to make certain that transgendered people are included at the table.” I believe that the trans community should have been included in the language of the platform.
The platform is written by two committees. The Drafting Committee does most of the work, meeting several times, holding hearings, taking testimony and then writing a proposal for consideration by the full Platform Committee. The Platform Committee meets once, reviews the draft platform, proposes and debates amendments, then approves a final platform.
People are appointed to these committees from the national and state committees of the party. Openly gay men and lesbians were appointed to both the Drafting Committee and the Platform Committee. Unfortunately, no openly transgendered person was appointed to either committee. Instead, transgendered people were appointed as delegates and alternate delegates to the Democratic Convention. While both delegates and committee members attend the convention, delegate appointments have no role in formulating the platform. If having representation when writing the platform was important to the trans community, working with the state parties to gain these appointments should have been a priority.
Having no committee members did not mean that the trans community had no input. During the months-long drafting process, transgender activists did lobby members of the committee for inclusive language. Members sympathetic to their position worked for a draft that was inclusive of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people. They failed.
Five days before the meeting of the Platform Committee, other committee members and I received the draft platform. Prior to this, most of us had no knowledge of what would be in that draft. When I read the document, I immediately noticed the exclusion of transgendered people.
I knew of several openly transgendered delegates to the convention and I contacted them to offer my help. I suggested changing the language dealing with same-sex families to “We support full inclusion of gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people and their families in the life of our nation.” The trans delegates discussed my proposal and rejected it. Instead, they asked that I submit a single amendment on workplace nondiscrimination, adding “and gender identity” after “sexual orientation.” I agreed without any reservations.
My amendment was one of more than 200 amendments proposed to the platform, and the only one dealing with transgender inclusion. Like other amendment sponsors, I was contacted by one of the vice chairs of the committee. This is not unusual. It would have been unruly to try and deal with 200 amendments during a meeting scheduled to last less than seven hours.
The vice chair presented his proposition. He believed that my amendment did not have the votes to pass. Instead, he offered that I, as a committee member, would be given a chance to make an extended speech before withdrawing my amendment. He also offered to arrange a meeting between people in the transgender community and policy makers in the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party.
When I was asked to withdraw my amendment, I could have struck a deal on my own, but I did not. It has always been my position that any negotiations must include representatives of the trans community, and that they alone agree to any compromises. Without hesitation, the vice chair agreed. We set up a conference call with Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality and member of the Kerry Campaign’s LGBT Steering Committee. Like me, Mara did not want to make a unilateral decision. She agreed to discuss the offer with the transgendered delegates.
Neither she nor I made any promises. It was their decision. There were no ultimatums, and no unilateral decision-making. Instead, the delegation was asked to make a difficult choice. They could pursue the amendment, force a vote, and more than likely lose, or they could withdraw the amendment and open new lines of communication to the policy makers within the Democratic Party. In either case, there would be no trans-inclusive language in the platform.
I informed the delegation that I would abide by their decision. I would press the amendment if they wanted, or withdraw it. The delegation deliberated privately for over an hour. Afterward, I received a phone call telling me that the delegates had agreed to the proposed compromise. I informed the committee’s vice-chair.
The issue for all of us on involved in this process was how to advance transgender rights. Given a situation where we could not achieve our ultimate goal of inclusive language, we had to accept something less. By accepting the compromise, the community identified new allies, has further opportunities for dialogue and fostered good will and party unity. I believe that these things would not have happened had we pressed forward with the amendment. By accepting the compromise, I hope we have helped lay the foundation for future progress.
Scott Safier is the founder of Pittsburgh’s Steel City Stonewall Democrats and is a board member of the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition. He is also on the Pennsylvania board of the American Civil Liberties Union.