Monday, June 30, 2008

HRC once again tries to put ENDA down the memory hole

At Sunday's Pride I was hit up for donations by the inevitable swarm of HRC (Human Rights Campaign) supporters. With the first one I was angry, but polite -- pointing out I'd support HRC when they've proven they actually mean it when they say they support trans rights and won't sell us out again, like they did with ENDA last year. The second one tried to sooth me by saying that HRC wouldn't stop working for an inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). And that's when I lost it.

Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off drag queen. While I made clear to the volunteer that I wasn't angry at her personally, I let her know loudly and in no uncertain terms that HRC's president, Joe Solmonese, made a promise at the nation's largest trans conference that HRC would only back ENDA with protections for gender identity and expression (which I might add also protects anyone -- gay or hetero -- who's not straight-acting) just a few weeks before HRC broke its word and backed a version of ENDA without these protections. So after being lied to like that, why exactly should I believe them now?

Both supporters looked embarrassed and couldn't really give me a good answer, other than asking to "express my concerns" to the folks at the main HRC booth. HRC apparently must have anticipated folks like me -- their recent beatdown by local LGBT groups and the nationwide boycotts of their annual fundraising dinner by many local LGBT (and non-LGBT) leaders and the fact that San Francisco Pride nominated HRC for a Pink Brick (for people or institutions that have "done significant harm to the interests of LGBT people") might have clued them in that a lot of other people are still furious with them. In fact, the volunteers had been given special fliers to hand out to folks like me.

It's really good thing for the folks at the HRC booth that because I was volunteering to work the gates to the Pride Celebration (collecting donations for various LGBT groups) that I didn't get a chance to read the flier until I got home. Because once again, HRC is rewriting history. The letter from Solmonese and two HRC board members says they're sorry, oh so sorry, that political expediencies exigencies left them no choice to support an neutered ENDA because the House was going to vote on it anyway and that "all of the LGBT groups involved agreed that a losing vote on gender identity would set back progress for the future."

The problem is the letter fails to mention a few teensy, tiny little things:

The thing is, I'd actually had some hope that HRC was beginning to learn from their debacle. I was heartened that they were quick to speak in the case of Duanna Johnson (a trans woman who's beating by police in custody was captured on video) and that they provided extensive coverage on their website of the first-ever Congressional hearing on trans employment rights. It's really no different than if you've felt betrayed by a friend or lover. Actions speak louder than words. But part of those actions is owning what you did. HRC's fend-mending tour has been a series of a non-apology apologies. In its letter, HRC insisted that "our time to unite as community is long since overdue." I agree. But continuing to spin the issue to look blameless and hope people forget what actually happens only flames that divisiveness.

That's not say I won't work along side HRC when our interests overlap. The point of alliances is that you're joining forces toward a common goal with folks that you may not like, nor may not agree with on other issues. Protecting marriage equality is an important issue -- one that affects trans people too -- so I'll be putting my time and money into fighting California's marriage discrimination initiative this fall. Plus the reality is that HRC is the 800-pound gorilla of LGBT lobbying groups on Capitol Hill (and seemingly works just as hard at crowding out other LGBT groups as it does lobbying Congress). So any future lobbying efforts on ENDA or hate crime protections will have to take them into account.

But as long as HRC continues to piss on me and then tell me that it's raining lemonade, they shouldn't expect me to trust them -- let alone donate time or money to them.


Nancy Nangeroni said...

Hate to rain on your parade, Lena, but we're not going to get anywhere by repeating the same old attacks against HRC. We all know the score, and don't really need another retelling. More valuable to our community would be some more positive strategizing - how are we going to win the hearts and minds of our elected representatives, so that they vote for us? What will it take to swing their vote - my guess: stories from constituents, solid debunking of objections, and studies showing public support for our protection.

Making friends while educating about why trans folk need protections is how we got this far. It's how progress is best made, if we want to avoid a nasty backlash later.

helen_boyd said...

Nancy, I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. With the limited resources & funds of the trans community, I think it's important for upcoming trans people & their allies to support orgs that are very clear about being trans inclusive & being aggressive about pushing for legislation for gender identity as well as sexual orientation.

The Task Force does. PFLAG does. There are other nationals, & plenty of local LGBT orgs that mean what they say.

But that we need strategizing for winning hearts & minds as well? Of course.

Lena Dahlstrom said...

What helen said.

There's plenty of other organizations that trans people can -- and should -- get behind.

I'm definitely not one of those people who obsess over HRC. I think we should better spent that time and energy moving forward on strategies to succeed.

But I think it's also important for people -- including HRC -- to understand actions have consequences. I doubt HRC would be bothered to put together the letter if it weren't for the fact that the continued backlash is costing them PR and money. Likewise, it's educating HRC's volunteers about what's been done in their name. For the record, both of the HRC volunteers I spoke to clearly were quite uncomfortable when I laid out what had happened (And not because I was angry.)

We're no different than any other group who hold accountable people who profess to lobby on their behalf.