This was originally going to be a column defending the Human Rights Campaign. I had grown tired of people taking cheap potshots at them over inclusion (or not) of transgender Americans in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The gratuitous, invective-laced attacks appeared vicious, personal, counterproductive and designed to damage the organization - and hence the overall interests of GLBT people.
Further aggravating me were churlish remarks on Internet chat rooms where supposedly professional activists would say things like, "HRC has no right to speak for me and does not represent the gay community." Well, the truth is, they do speak for you, by virtue of the fact they are the largest membership organization and have a $30 million dollar budget. This affords them a unique platform and by claiming their voice is irrelevant, it only hurts the status of the entire GLBT cause on Capitol Hill.
Whether you like it or not, HRC has built the best - or at least most financially viable - mousetrap. America is a free country, and if HRC detractors think they can do better - there is nothing stopping them from marching up to Capitol Hill and making it happen.
Now that I have taken a swipe at the irrational HRC haters, the organization has earned some legitimate criticism on their handling of the ENDA debate. They have made an absolute mess of the situation and damaged their reputation and credibility as an honest powerbroker.
For starters, Executive Director Joe Solmonese told a packed room of transgender people at the Southern Comfort Conference in September that HRC would oppose any version of ENDA that doesn't include protection for transgender people. This was followed by an Oct. 2, 2007 press release - posted on the blog Pam's House Blend:
"Since 2004, HRC has had in place a policy that supports only a fully inclusive version of ENDA and the Board of Directors voted to reaffirm that position," wrote Solmonese. "Therefore, we are not able to support, nor will we encourage Members of Congress to vote against, the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill."
Yet - today we come to find that HRC circulated a letter on Capitol Hill - along with other civil rights groups - asking members of Congress to support a non-trans inclusive bill. The letter said, "we urge you to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and to oppose any floor amendments or motions that would undermine its protections."
Reasonable people can disagree on whether HRC should take this incremental approach or wait for a more inclusive bill. I sided with a more inclusive bill for three reasons:
We owe transgender Americans much for their activism and it is the right thing to do
The transgender community is too small and does not have the money or votes to gain protections on their own.
Bush is going to veto ENDA anyway, so we should use this as an opportunity to educate America on transgender Americans.
The other side, led by Rep. Barney Frank, believes that we should seize the moment and pass a bill that has been stymied for thirty years. This, of course, is a difficult debate, and Frank's position is not without merit.
What is unacceptable, is for HRC to tell a packed house of transgender people that they will stand up for them - and then pull the rug out when the going gets tough. The promise of inclusion should never have been made unless HRC intended to keep its word.
In full spin mode, HRC is claiming that they are simply adjusting their position to new facts on the ground - meaning they polled Congress and they won't pass a trans-inclusive bill. This explanation is alarming, in that one would think HRC would have taken a "whip" count on their signature piece of legislation before they ended up getting whipped. Had they no idea of where Congress stood before making such flowery promises at the Southern Comfort conference? And, if they were aware of the vote count, why did they offer promises they did not intend on delivering?
It was sad to listen to Solmonese dissemble on Mike Signorile's Sirius satellite radio show about how he was for a trans-inclusive bill before he was against it - and unable to answer the simple question: "Why should we believe any of your future grandiose statements about equality?"
HRC needs to learn to take a position and stick to it - or they can expect chronic detractors to stick it to HRC. A little honesty will go a long way in defusing battles that damage the entire community and divide our collective energies. There are those - like myself - who appreciate HRC as our voice in Washington. However, the organization is at its best when this voice is not coming from both sides of its mouth.
I totally disagree. We need to get our victories where we can get them. The right-wingers know that chipping away at women's reproductive rights eventually makes changes. We aren't forgetting transgendered persons and will work for their inclusion. But we need to chip away and get our rights where we can take them. HRC made the correct decision. We try to be soo inclusive that no one gets anything. Life isn't absolutes, so this is a great victory. Sorry Wayne
posted by denise, at
11/07/2007 7:25 PM
I've been disappointed at the bickering between "incrementalists" and "includers," especially the accusations that either side is dividing the community.
I don't believe there was much unity on T issues prior to this dispute, and those of us who support equality for T folks need to do a lot more grassroots education among politicians and ordinary people -- both gay and straight.
I wouldn't blame HRC for adopting a pragmatic political approach, if they had done this from the start and maintained that strategy. Instead, HRC flip-flopped.
As one of th admittedly irrational folks (hee hee), I will say this:
1 - Those exceedingly few of you who can claim this as a victory, celebrate.
2 - For you, my faith was sacrificed.
3 - The status of the HRC as the leading organization is forever damaged, and it is absolutely certain that this time there will be no third chance without them earning it first -- and almost certainly without making sacrifices they won't want to make.
4 - Is it good that *something* got though? Yes. Was the price we had to pay for it too high? Yes.
5 - Mike, you are right. Had the HRC been far less duplicitous from the start -- with staffers deceiving even Board members -- things would have turned out quite different.
But remember, they acted specifically and intentionally to remove GID stuff the last time, so they didn't dare say anything else.
Because last time, it cost them too much.
They have no integrity left, and cannot be trusted. Fool me once...
posted by Dyssonance, at
11/08/2007 1:11 AM
It's a great step forward, I believe. And I can say, without apologies, that getting a "sexual orientation only" workplace anti-discrimination bill through the Senate would be great, too.
Yet I completely agree with much of your commentary about the HRC. I still support them, and I still support Joe, but I think it was badly handled.
I believe Barney Frank is a friend to the trans community, though most of them may not. I'd like to believe the same thing about Joe and the HRC. I understand why the trans community would feel like they've been lied to, and it didn't have to happen that way.
posted by adamblast, at
11/08/2007 10:22 PM
This is the reply I recived from Dana of the HRC in rosponse to a message I lft for them. Below her reply is my response to to her and the HRC again:
We understand your concern and anger at the situation; the email you received was meant to acknowledge this important first step to fight workplace discrimination and not in anyway celebratory of the fact that our transgender brothers and sisters were not included in this bill. We want you to know that we will not stop fighting for the inclusion of gender identity in ENDA.
Although we decided to support this version of ENDA in the final hour, throughout the entire process our goal was to have a fully inclusive bill go to the floor. The disagreement on strategies by advocates for equality should not make us question each other’s commitment to the common goal of getting protection for all members of our community. The truth is our real enemies will stop at nothing to prevent equality from moving forward for GLBT people. That the extreme right wing is doing all they can to lobby for the defeat of ENDA, but it has nothing to do with whether or not it includes gender identity. Their goal is to simply have our movement fail and for ENDA to die in Congress, which would severely hinder any chance of protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
While the bill Congress passed this week was not the bill we wanted, the Human Rights Campaign decided to stay at the table with Congress to ensure that millions of Americans receive the protections they deserve, and because passage of this bill is a first and absolutely necessary step toward preventing discrimination based on gender identity. Very soon, HRC will launch a new initiative to ramp up efforts on educating Congress on the importance of including gender identity in ENDA and protecting the entire gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. HRC continues to break down barriers in the corporate world through our Workplace Project. This year a record 195 major U.S. businesses earned the top rating of 100 percent on our Corporate Equality Index, and for the first time, a majority of rated firms — 58 percent — provide employment protections on the basis of gender identity.
The bottom line: The commitment of HRC’s Board of Directors for a fully inclusive bill has not changed. Because HRC stayed at the table, something we will continue to do, we were able to secure an unprecedented commitment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Without a doubt, the only path to achieving a bill protecting our whole community was by securing passage on this historic vote.
After twelve years of hostile leadership, we have come so far and changed so many hearts and minds. Only a year ago, it never seemed possible that we could pass any GLBT legislation. For the first time in history, both houses of Congress passed a hate crimes bill, and for the first time ever a workplace antidiscrimination law passed in the House. Even a year ago, we could not imagine this coming to fruition. Our fight will not be won overnight; it will be won one step at a time.
Whether or not you stand with HRC, we hope that you will continue to take action in the fight for equality for the entire GLBT community.
Dana L. Campbell
Member Services Coordinator Human Rights Campaign 1640 Rhode Island Ave, NW Washington, DC 20036
202.216.1500 (p) 202.216.1505 (f) ********************************** Here's my reply. Yes I'm still bothered HRC took their stand:
Dana, what will we have won if BUSH vetoes the bill? You think our Senators will vote to override it? It's the principal of the situation, to Have the original or nothing especially if the bill in it's original form gets vetoed, at least all of, ALL, of us would be included in it.
One of the largest components of our move up the ladder was with our Trans sisters and brothers. They stood with us from the very beginning, at Stonewall, and have stood with us for decades. We just discriminated against a group of our own to gain something we just might not get when not if Bush Vetoes it! Don't you get it?
All the rest you write below is rhetoric! The Religious Right didn't make YOU or anyone else accept the "new" bill, you did that on your own!
Millions of Americans Won't be getting the protection they deserve because they have been left OUT!
If it were the Gays or the Bis being left out there would have been a HOWL like no one would've ever heard before. It was suppose to be glb T....