Monday, May 05, 2008

The “Belly of the Beast” – The Atlanta HRC Dinner

By Monica F. Helms

At the last minute, I didn’t know if I could attend the Atlanta HRC Dinner protest in front of the Hyatt Regency, May 3, 2008. Work had me signed up to do 2 hours of overtime right in the middle of when the protest was scheduled. Luckily, I was able to trade the hours to a co-worker.

On Saturday, I had to formulate a plan to talk with the most people I could at the dinner. But in order to do that, I needed to go inside the “Belly of the Beast.” Being a former submariner, I was familiar with submarine war tactics, which have helped me as an activist in the past. You sneak into an enemy’s port, lay a few torpedoes in the sides of their ships, then slip silently away. They never know what hit them.

For this dinner, I needed a disguise, in other words, a “duck blind.” When hunting ducks, the hunters have to blend into the environment, so they build a camouflage enclosure where they can see the ducks, but the ducks cannot see them. For this, I would wear my long evening gown that had no back. It’s also how spies blend into a fancy party. “My name is Bond. Jane Bond.” I was ready to do some shaking AND stirring. Of course, I probably blew my cover when I wore my “Trans and Proud” and “TAVA” buttons.

I knew that I would not get into the dinner without a ticket and I had no intention of buying one. However, they always had their Silent Auction before the dinner and you didn’t have to have a dinner ticket to go in there.

When I arrived at the Hyatt, two people were already handing out flyers and holding signs. Sir Jesse was outside and Anneliese was just inside the hotel door, handing out flyers as people came in. Others who arrived later were Jamie, Jae, Marisa, Dante, Betty and a friend of hers, Ghetto Gospel.

I heard earlier from Betty that on Thursday, May 1st, Joe Solmonese had a meeting with a half dozen transgender people here in Georgia. I wasn’t invited, nor was a few other transgender people who have worked at the national level, such as Dana Owings, Kristin Reichman and Cole Thaler from Lambda Legal. I’m willing to bet it was not accidental.

I was told that Joe “. . . apologized for misspeaking at Southern Comfort . . .” and that “. . . had he known what was going to have happen, he wouldn’t have said what he had said.” To me that translates to “HRC has no integrity when it comes to speaking to transgender people and I have the backbone of a jelly fish.” George Orwell would be so proud.

Once inside, I strolled into the Silent Auction like I belonged there. In reality, if HRC was more supportive of transgender people and their needs, then I would have indeed belonged there. But, I was nothing more than an interloper in the game of intrigue. Okay, so I’m getting a bit melodramatic.

The first thing that I noticed was that in a city that has a large population of African Americans, the crowd looked distinctly white and distinctly male. There were some attendees who were People of Color and there were attendees who were female, but where I saw the most diversity was with the “hired help” and the volunteers. Interesting enough, one of the dinner’s co-chairs was an African American woman.

The theme for the evening was a Las Vegas casino, complete with the bright lights, Vegas showgirls and an Elvis impersonator. I mingled with the crowd, talking to various people there, some who openly admitted they were part of HRC’s organization. I spoke with one woman who touted HRC’s “wonderful” Corporate Equality Index, having no idea I would be the wrong person to try and convince their CEI was so “perfect.” I proceeded to point out that my 100% company screwed me over simply because I’m trans when I needed a medically necessary operation that others in the company can get.

I told the woman the bar for transgender medical issues was set so low that an ant could jump over it. HRC does that to falsely inflate the numbers on the 100% list and to placate the corporations by allowing them to medically mistreat their transgender employees, just as long as their gay and lesbian employees are treated fairly. Transgender people don’t need to be treated fairly, by HRC’s standards.

During my journey through “Never-Never Land,” I had a chance to speak to the Beast Master himself, Joe Solmonese. I was nice and I complimented him on how appropriate the casino theme for the dinner was. “This is such a perfect theme you have here, Joe. It’s all about gambling . . . and you’re gambling with people’s lives.” I suspect he didn’t appreciate that.

Of course, I wasn’t going to stop there. I informed him about the Transgender Veterans Survey, conducted by TAVA that had just ended and it had 827 responses to it. Besides the military and VA-related questions in the survey, we had a great deal of general questions. I said he needs to see how many of our transgender veterans were unemployed and under-employed, and how many have been discriminated on the job. It didn’t seem to faze him. Ask me if I’m surprised.

Interesting, the number of transgender veterans who took our survey far surpasses the number of responses on the questionable survey HRC conducted to see if transgender people should be in ENDA. Also, you have to factor in the small population our respondents came from to really get the impact.

Then I asked Solmonese why I didn’t get an E-mail inviting me to the meeting on Thursday. He said, “I don’t know who put that together.” Ah, really? Does he expect me to believe he’s that clueless on something as important as a meeting? He then asked me, “What did you hear of the meeting?” I responded by saying, “That it took place and I wasn’t invited.” Also, the media wasn’t invited. I guess he doesn’t want to take a chance of going on record with what he says to transgender people. I wonder why.

The one thing that really set me off was when I had a chance to speak with a person I thought was a friend. He is an effeminate gay man who is the partner of a lawyer who I know through SLDN and the American Veterans for Equal Rights. He proceeded to tell me about his four-hour session at the spa to get ready for the event. I told him I was there to educate people on the need for a fully inclusive ENDA.

He said, “Oh, I don’t support that at all. They said there aren’t enough votes with transgender people in the bill. Besides, we need a win.”

I was pissed. “So, you want a win on the backs of millions of transgender people?” He tried to say something, but I continued. “You are an effeminate gay man and without Gender Identity and Gender Expression in ENDA, you’re just as fucked as transgender people. You and butch lesbians will be screwed, just like me.” He didn’t respond to that. Besides, he had his sugar daddy, so to hell with everyone else. I walked away.

The best thing I found out was when I went back outside to join the protest. Betty, a member of the Atlanta Pride Committee, informed me that they just had a vote that day to turn down HRC’s offer to be a sponsor for this year’s Pride. In a year where the expenses have increased in putting on Atlanta Pride, they turned down $5000 from HRC because of their stance on ENDA. I always knew I loved the people on the Atlanta Pride Committee, but this made me love them even more. I hope others will take that stance with HRC at their pride events. Betty also informed me that a trans man will be the Grand Marshall for the Pride Parade.

So much for the Atlanta HRC Dinner. I may not have made an impact on many people, but a friend reminded me that every little bit helps. I want to express my appreciation to Jamie Roberts and Sir Jesse McNulty for putting this together. It’s people like them and the Atlanta Pride Copmmittee who make me proud to live in Georgia.


proudprogressive said...

oh wow, hell yes Monica every little bit does help..and i am actually experience vicarious pleasure from your comments to not only joe the smoe to the spa queen..well done Sister. And YAY for the Atlantic Pride Committee ! Thanks for the recon.

Vickie Davis said...

I am proud of you Monica. I do my activism around the edges and you dive right into he “Belly of the Beast” as you say it.

Keep up the the good fight.



caprice said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Nerissa said...

I agree with everything Monica wrote. But, you may have noticed that immigrants who don't speak English can come to the USA and be working within days of their arrival. Yet many TSs can't find work.

This is because their cultures support one another in finding work and ours doesn't. We can do much better even without ENDA if we were willing to.

Perhaps before our activists take their next trip to Washington they can take a moment to recommend an un/underemployed trans person for a job they know them to be qualified for. The rest of us can do the same.