Monday, April 08, 2013
Why The Trans Community Loathes HRC
Back in 2007 I wrote a post entitled 'Why The Transgender Community Hates HRC' that chronicles the history of the animosity between HRC and the transgender community that I've had a ringside seat for.
It's been one of the most widely read and popular posts that I've ever written on TransGriot since I started the blog back in 2006.
I realized we are now past the five year anniversary of the time when trans community anger over Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), on September 28, 2007 cutting us out of an inclusive ENDA (Employment and Non Discrimination Act) and HRC's deafening silence about it blew up in mushroom cloud fashion.
It happened in the wake of Joe Solmonese's Big ENDA Lie and HRC walking away from the ATL and the Southern Comfort Conference with $20,000 of the trans community fraudulently obtained money in their coffers. Solmonese stated during his 2007 SCC speech HRC wouldn't support any ENDA bill unless it was absolutely inclusive, then afterwards claimed he 'misspoke'.
You can also see that anger seep into the posts I wrote about the issue and the controversy that blew up in the wake of it if you peruse my TransGriot post archives starting in late September 2007 and continuing through early 2008.
At the time I ended the 'Hates HRC' post the subsequent drama over the ENDA betrayal was starting. Now that it's five years since that watershed event, I thought it was past time for me to move forward from September 2007 and continue the story to where we are in the second decade of the 21st century. My goal at the conclusion of this post is to give a snapshot look at where the trans community is now concerning their feelings for HRC and the overall TBLG rights movement.
But I need to start this sequel to the original post by going back to the November 2006 midterms and the overwhelming November 7 Democratic victory in which they picked up 31 seats to regain control of the US House. It not only resulted in a 233-202 Democratic House majority but the Democrats regaining control of the Senate with the help of two independents who joined their caucus for a 51-49 edge after they picked up 6 senate seats. More importantly, it resulted in Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose congressional district covers San Francisco, becoming the first female Speaker of the House.
Optimism was high in the LGB and trans community during that historic moment on January 4, 2007 when Nancy Pelosi was handed the speakers gavel by John Boehner for the start of the 110th Congress and when HR 2015, that session's version of ENDA was introduced with gender identity protections for the first time on April 24, 2007 by Rep. Frank (D-MA), Rep Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Shays (R-CT) and Deborah Pryce (R-OH).
The trans community's stratospheric level optimism was fueled by the knowledge that HRC became in 2004 the last civil rights organization to endorse a fully inclusive ENDA. The HRC Board unanimously voted as policy at the time that they would not support any version of ENDA that didn’t include gender identity as a protected class.
When the TransGriot and my NTAC (National Transgender Advocacy Coalition) cohorts showed up on Capitol Hill to lobby for HR 2015 from May 15-17, we started hearing the first ominous signs that something shady was about to happen inside I-495 concerning trans inclusion in ENDA. First we were hearing that Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-MA) S.717 version of the bill didn't include us. Mine and Dawn Wilson's continued forays into Congressional Black Caucus offices in the House and Senate (remember Barack Obama was the junior senator from Illinois at the time) began to confirm the ugly picture that was developing, and I wrote this July 2007 TransGriot print column sounding the alarm to the trans community that we weren't included in ENDA
And what was the National Center for Trans Equality (NCTE) and its founding Executive Director Mara Keisling's reaction to it? Calling those of us who sounded the alarm 'crazy' at a Seattle trans conference and claiming that trans inclusion in ENDA was a 'slam dunk' Well, that slam dunk as Keisling characterized it clanked off the rim and the trans inclusion basketball dribbled out of bounds on the civil rights basketball court on September 27.
Bear in mind that this is the same Mara Keisling (of the same NCTE) which a few years earlier had magically appeared out of nowhere, fully funded, to provide a Gay, Inc.-approved alternative to the willing-to-critique-Gay, Inc. and make trans rights a reality NTAC.
Barely three months before the ENDA betrayal, she had played apologist for Gay, Inc., in a serious discussion of the egregious disparity between the numbers of gainfully-employed trans men and trans women within even those portions of Gay, Inc. that will hire any trans people at all.
Defending the employment practices of Gay, Inc, which were then (as now) resulting in, for all practical purposes, no trans women being employed by Gay, Inc.organizations while plenty of trans men were getting paid to do trans advocacy work, Keisling asserted that such discrimination is "mostly not overt or conscious."
Those who are best able to get away with discrimination know how to avoid doing it overtly.
And putting HRC aside for a second, what does it say about the purported 'national trans organization' when its founding ED refuses to stand up and call out the disparity and acts as an apologist for those who consciously and continually piss on trans women when we seek employment, by telling us that the piss is just unconscious rain?
Rant over, back to the rest of the story.
Based on a questionable whip count conference call that was conducted while much of the Congressional Black Caucus and several congressmembers including Sen. Ted Kennedy and Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) were occupied at the Walter E. Williams Convention Center for the 2007 edition of the CBCF-Annual Legislative Conference that ran from September 26-29, it was claimed there were not enough votes to pass a trans inclusive ENDA.
No credible activist believes that George W. Bush would have signed ENDA into law had either version of the bill passed Congress and hit his Oval Office desk. Since the gay-only ones failed in 1994, 1995 and 1996, why not run the trans inclusive ENDA one and see what happens?
Instead Frank used that whip count excuse to split the inclusive HR 2015 into two separate bills that had the effect of throwing the trans community under the ENDA civil rights bus. HR 3685, the gay-only bill the Democratic majority began legislatively moving forward at his behest, triggered the nuclear explosion of anger from the trans community which, in turn, was backed up by our allies. The only group in favor of Frank's action? You guessed it- HRC.
The betrayal triggered an unprecedented reaction in the trans community. Donna Rose, the first trans person on the HRC Board of Directors resigned from it on October 8, 2007. She was replaced by Meghan Stabler in 2008. In addition to the formation of a progressive coalition of over 300 LGBT organizations entitled United ENDA calling on the Democratic congressional majority to pass the inclusive HR 2015, the trans community resumed an old strategy of picketing HRC leaders and dinners around the nation, starting with their October 2007 one in Washington DC. The HRC dinner pickets continued well into 2008.
The lone organization that wasn't part of United ENDA? Can you say HRC? I knew you could..
HRC tried to mend fences during this period of white hot anti-HRC sentiment with the trans community by flying Joe Solmonese to San Francisco for a tense two hour January 5, 2008 meeting with 30-40 Bay Area trans leaders over ENDA and apologize for 'misspeaking' at SCC. But those Bay Area trans leaders, like just about every transperson in the country at the time were still angry at HRC and extremely pissed about being legislatively left behind. .
At that contentious meeting, Theresa Sparks, the president of the San Francisco Police Commission returned the 2004 Equality Award she received from the Human Rights Campaign.
Sparks stated she could no longer stand to even look at the etched glass award when it was on her credenza. 'It no longer symbolized equality to me," she told the Bay Area Reporter's Cynthia Laird as she exited the meeting at the time. "It's a matter of their integrity and not following through and my own integrity."
The dawn of 2008 also meant that it was a presidential election year. HRC endorsed then Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) who was one of the three front runners for the nomination. The trans community, still majorly pissed at HRC, was split at the time about who to support in the upcoming presidential election. Many trans people backed Sen. Clinton, but because of the early HRC endorsement of her and his support of an inclusive ENDA elements of the community (myself included) decided to support then Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in the Democratic presidential primary.
The trans community also did something else politically unprecedented with the help of Helen Boyd and the Stonewall Democrats in that 2008 election cycle. They publicly put their t-bills behind a presidential candidate and set up an ActBlue page that raised over $10,000 for the Obama campaign.
The trans community moves once again validated their savvy national political instincts as Sen. Obama not only went on to become the first African-American to win the Democratic presidential nomination, he and his running mate Sen. Joe Biden went on to claim the presidency later that year over Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin in an 365-173 electoral landslide.
While we've had some issues with him on a few subjects like DADT repeal not covering the trans community and ENDA, for the most part President Obama has validated the wisdom of the trans community supporting him in 2008 and his re-election in 2012 by becoming one of the most trans friendly presidents ever in US history.
For a large inside the Beltway based organization, HRC can be politically tone deaf at times. HRC's tendency to back Republicans in political campaigns over qualified gay and lesbian candidates or GLBT friendly allies has caused embarrassing problems for them. In 1998 during the 'Angry Black Vote' midterm election they backed controversial New York GOP incumbent senator Al D'Amato over Democratic nominee Chuck Schumer despite protests from a broad spectrum of local NY gay organizations and Richard Socarides, the Clinton administration White House liaison to the gay community.
HRC compounded their D'Amato endorsement fiasco when then HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch tried to justify it via The New York Times by arrogantly asserting New Yorkers “didn’t know D’Amato’s record.” It was the opposite that was true. HRC overlooked D'Amato's history of gay-bashing that was part of that record while New York's gay community didn't. They voted in 4 to 1 numbers to send the incumbent senator packing as Schumer won the seat.
Just two years later HRC pissed off the African-American LGBT community by backing Rep. Mary Bono over telegenic openly gay African-American Palm Springs, CA councilmember Ron Oden despite the fact that Bono had a '25' rating on HRC's congressional scorecards during the 105th Congress. Oden lost that race, but became in 2003 the first African-American mayor of Palm Springs, CA.
HRC stubbed its toe in Palm Springs again last year. They pissed off gay and lesbian peeps in the area when they declined to endorse either candidate in the redrawn California 36th Congressional District race between Democratic candidate Dr. Raul Ruiz and their longtime favorite GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack despite Ruiz's repeated support of marriage equality and Mack's refusing to take a stand on it.
Latinos make up a quarter of the new 36th Congressional District's voters and 47% of its population. That fact alone should have pushed them in the direction of endorsing Ruiz along with his solidifying support in polling data in the months before the election. A 2006 e-mail that surfaced in which Bono Mack agreed with a conservative talk show radio host that the heavily Latino part of the district was a 'Third World toilet' along with her voting for Rep. Paul Ryan's Social Security killing budget also contributed mightily to Ruiz going on to beat Bono Mack 52.9%-47.1% on election night and HRC being on the wrong side of an election result.
In the wake of the 2004 presidential election and 11 states passing same gender marriage bans after being warned by trans community leaders like NTAC chair Vanessa Edwards Foster not to push for marriage equality in advance of those elections, in December 2004 HRC considered selling out seniors and uncoupled people in the community. They considered striking a deal with the George W. Bush administration to support Social Security privatization in return for allowing domestic partners to receive Social Security benefits.
Even when they tried to do something right for the trans community, it got messed up by their diversity blind spot. HRC trumpeted the fact they helped set up the historic first ever June 26, 2008 all-trans panel for a House subcommittee hearing discussing trans unemployment issues.
Unfortunately it was a trans panel that had no African-American representation on it. Since the African-American trans community suffers with a 26% unemployment rate double the overall trans unemployment rate they were justifiably pissed off about the erasure and the lost opportunity to tell congressional reps their stories.
There was the head spinning 2011 HRC decision to honor Goldman Sachs with a 2011 Workplace Equality Innovation Award followed up in February 2012 with an HRC Workplace Equality Award.
Never mind that Goldman Sachs is the same investment banking firm that has outraged Americans inside and outside the LGBT community for being one of the securities firms at the epicenter of the October 2008 economic meltdown that wrecked the economies of the United States and several other nations.
The pattern of backing Republicans over Democrats was shifting slowly as the GOP got more intolerant on LGBT issues, but old habits die hard.
In 2010 HRC was slow in taking Best Buy and Target to task over a $250,000 donation made to anti-gay Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer who lost to former Democratic Senator Mark Dayton..
They didn't join the DADT repeal effort until it appeared it was well on its way to becoming a reality thanks to Dan Choi giving the issue a recognizable face along with transwoman Autumn Sandeen, Choi publicly calling out HRC in the process and cadres of grassroots activists and organizations such as GetEqual doing the grunt work to push the Obama administration into getting behind the repeal effort.
The 2011 Road To Equality Bus Tour is another glaring example of the political tone deafness, cluelessness and arrogance they operate with at times. The folks in Louisville and Lexington, KY. have longstanding animus with HRC over being called a 'civil rights backwater' before the cities passed the trans inclusive Fairness laws in 1999.
They were shocked and angered to discover by press release they were on the bus tour's list of 17 cities in 11 states and D.C. to visit on September 23-25. HRC not only didn't bother to ask the Kentucky LGBT community if they wanted to be a stop on the tour, long time activists still haven't forgiven or forgotten the insulting comment hurled in their direction. They reacted accordingly to not roll out the welcome mat for it.
The Kentucky activists threatened to picket the bus if they went ahead with their planned stops in Louisville and Lexington. A meeting HRC arranged in Louisville led to their finding out firsthand how viscerally negative the reaction was to HRC's bus making a stop there. They were also shocked to discover the broad diversity of Louisville's LGBT community leaders included trans people in powerful and influential positions and trans and same gender loving people of color.
If they had bothered to ask the Kentucky activist community before they set up the bus tour schedule, HRC would have discovered the Kentuckians were dealing with a contentious gubernatorial election between incumbent Democratic governor Steve Beshear and longtime anti-LGBT rights foe and Republican Senate President David L. Williams.
While Gov. Beshear at the time had a healthy 52%-30% lead in the opinion polls at the time the tour was announced in late June, the last thing Kentucky activists wanted was HRC's yellow and blue bus rolling into the two largest LGBT friendly cities in the state less than five weeks before the November 8 election.
The Kentucky TBLG leaders didn't want that visual galvanizing the Tea Party haters to bumrush the polls and potentially cause electoral problems for a GLBT community friendly Democratic governor and friendly legislators in the Kentucky House and Senate they would need to pass a statewide pro-BTLG Fairness bill.
So now we come to the latest incident in a long sorry history of HRC disrespecting trans people with the March 27 SCOTUS rally in Washington DC.
An HRC staffer later identified as Karin Quimby demanded the trans pride flag be taken down. She is also alleged to have stated 'marriage equality isn't a transgender issue'.
HRC resorted to an old public relations tactic to try to quell the growing online media firestorm that occurs when they get caught disrespecting transpeople in terms of circling the wagons, denying it happened and demonizing the messenger.
“It is not true to suggest that any person or organization was told their flag was less important than another – this did not occur and no HRC staff member would ever tolerate such behavior. To be clear, it is the position of the Human Rights Campaign that marriage is an issue that affects everyone in the LGBT community. Michael Cole-Schwartz HRC Communications Director
But after National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jerame Davis blew up that spin coming from Cole-Schwartz by verifying the incident did occur along with another incident during that same rally in which a queer undocumented Latino activist was silenced, the simmering anger the trans community has had since September 2007 for the Human Rights Campaign exploded. It blew up on the Net, in LGBT media and in social media circles until HRC Vice President of Communications and Marketing Fred Sainz apologized on April 1.
An apology that came on April Fool's Day.
While Sainz's apology may have been heartfelt, it certainly has the appearance and stench based on the date it was done of being insincere. Karin Quimby surfaced at a San Antonio Gender Alliance (SAGA) meeting April 5 to do a mea culpa amidst increasingly loud calls from people in the trans community for her resignation or termination.
So in conclusion, things not only haven't changed since 2007 in terms of the tense, contentious relationship between HRC and the trans community, in many people's opinions it's gotten worse despite the work of many people at the local levels of HRC, trans community activists and Diego Sanchez's (who sat on their Business Council with Stabler for a year until hired by Frank) and Meghan Stabler's attempts at the board level to change that transphobic paradigm.
The self-proclaimed largest LGBT rights organization at this moment still has the same number of out and proud trans employees working at its Rhode Island Ave headquarters as it did in 2007 (zero) and that needed to change a long time ago. The HRC penchant (when you deign to do so) to hire transpeople who have no trans grassroots organizing experience or background, are newly out or aren't familiar with the history of the trans rights movement is troubling to the trans community and plays into the perception they aren't serious about advancing trans human rights.
In the wake of the 2007 ENDA debacle HRC should have immediately started hiring (and cultivating in its ranks) a large, ethnically diverse group of trans masculine and trans feminine employees in policy making areas that cut their activist teeth in trans human rights grassroots organizing to address their glaring shortcomings in that area.
The lack of a critical mass of trans people in the policy formation and lobbying areas combined with the failure to root out and eliminate the historic anti-trans attitudes embedded in the organizational DNA hamstrings your ability to actually advance trans rights issues on The Hill and in state legislatures.
Or is that part of the HRC 'all marriage all the time' advocacy plan?
HRC excels at the illusion of inclusion. They'll show up with a representative for a Trans Day of Remembrance, sponsor a trans-related conference here or there, or even tinker with their Corporate Equality Index to have trans specific issues reflected in it and trumpet it in a press release. But when it's time to put their money where their civil rights mouths are and actually use their Equal Sign bully pulpit, fiscal resources, political clout and influence to help push legislation that will result in human rights for trans people, they are MIA.
Not only did HRC fail to assist in helping push for GENDA's (the statewide trans rights bill) passage in New York as forcefully as they did when marriage equality was pending in the State Assembly and passed in 2011, they repeated the pattern last year in Maryland.
This press release highlighting the support mustered and the millions spent to get marriage equality passed in Maryland stands in stark contrast to what they wouldn't do to support an effort to pass a statewide trans rights bill that was pending in the Maryland state legislature at the same time.
It lends credence to the widely held view in the trans community that HRC pays lip service to trans human rights, doesn't really care about us or our issues. Even if there is change genuinely happening at Rhode Island Avenue, it's occurring on trans issues at a superficial level.
Don't even get me started about what non-white trans people think about HRC, that's another post. And the sad part is it doesn't have to be this way.
It's a disservice to the dedicated people who work for HRC, want to see it succeed and want it to have a reputation in the trans and GLB community they can be proud of. I too, would love to see HRC live up to what it posts on its blog as working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights. I would be thrilled to see it get past its ugly history of being more of a trans oppressor organization than a trans ally.
But sadly, it keeps making the same stupid mistakes repeatedly with trans people and it's why the trans community loathes HRC.