Friday, August 01, 2008

HRC and the lessons from the Cold War

The other day I was listening to a "Fresh Air" interview with an author of book on Cold War politics and I think there's a number of lessons to be learned from that in the current tensions between much of the trans communities and the Human Rights Campaign. Especially in light of discussions about a potential meeting between HRC senior staff and director and trans activists.

The author talked about how through the Cold War there was an on-going tension between some conservatives, whose POV was that the Soviet Union was inherently evil, so any negotiations with them were pointless (Barry Goldwater even opposed negotiations during the Cuban Missile Crisis!); vs. other conservatives who thought that while the Soviets were untrustworthy adversaries with goals that differed and even conflicted with ours, engagement still made sense, as well as negotiations in areas where there were shared interests.

In a related vein, American diplomacy has had a weakness in assuming that one is either fighting or talking, whereas other countries have no problem with simultaneously fighting and talking.

What does this have to do with HRC and a possible meeting? I don't think HRC is an axis of evil, though I do think they've got their own agenda and proven that they're promises can be broken. Nonetheless, I think is still makes sense to engage them.

The meeting is a bit of a no-win situation. Refusing to meet only plays into HRC's hand because they can say that they tried to bridge things and the trans communities refused. OTOH, HRC wants to meet privately with only a handful of people, leading to concerns that they'll stack the deck with the few trans activists who are supporting HRC, which isn't ideal either.

But given the Hobson's choice, the former is the worse outcome. If trans leaders do meet with HRC they can make the list of attendees an issue, i.e. meeting with friendlies isn't exactly getting feedback from the people who are pissed off. They can also make clear that any discussions will be on the record and they will share publicly what's discussed.

I also think it's perfectly reasonable for trans activists to demand moving the purposed date of the meeting -- which is in the middle of the Southern Comfort Conference, one of the largest trans conferences in the country, which many trans leaders will be attending. After all we wouldn't expect Joe and company to meet during one of their fundraising dinners. If HRC refuses, then raise hell about that. Frankly, flexibility about the date is no different that the sort of "trust building" over minor points that's a routine step in many difficult negotiation settings. I.e. if HRC isn't willing move the date out of respect to the trans community, then that casts into doubt sincerity of the whole meeting itself.

As far as any promises HRC might make this meeting, I'll refer to one of the few points where I agree with Ronald Reagan: "trust but verify." I.e. hold HRC's feet to the fire to provide detailed criteria about how they plan to fulfill those promises -- criteria that is specific enough that they can be held accountable. (FWIW, I think it's only fair for HRC to ask the same of the trans communities.)

On a related note, we shouldn't demonize people who choose to attend this meeting, nor folks like Diego Sanchez who cross the picket lines to address HRC events, merely for doing so. Diplomacy means meeting with your enemies as well as your friends. Talking to one's enemies may not convince them to change their positions, but not talking to them is almost certain to fail to do so. That said, we can certainly hold these individuals accountable for the positions they espouse. If we don't feel like they're representing our POV, we should let them and others know.

None of this precludes the trans communities from also continuing to urge boycotts of HRC's fundraisers etc. until HRC's actions demonstrate that they've changed in ways that are satisfactory. But as part of that, I think it's important for trans activists not just say "don't support HRC" but also to provide alternatives. The "Left Out Party" protest outside HRC's recent fundraising dinner in San Francisco did a good job of this. Sure there was a protest, including the traditional picket line, but we also presented Human Rights Hero awards and had our own party -- which we pointedly noted was inclusive of everyone, including any HRC members who choose to cross the street. That said, there's been some criticism about the protest hurting fundraising efforts to fight Prop. 8. Which could have easily been countered by the "Left Out" organizers pointing out where else people could donate money that they would've otherwise given at the dinner.

We also need to be able to present a clear, concise story to the vast majority of LGB people who aren't familiar with the ENDA debacle. As well as why gender identity/expression affects everyone, not just trans people. When I've done so, I've generally found people understand why we're pissed off and are supportive. Likewise, being about to provide the 60-second education about how T people have been involved in LGBT activism for decades. My quickest version of that is pointing out that California gays and lesbians are enjoying marriage equality thanks to the efforts of trans man Shannon Minter, the lead attorney in the case -- and what if he'd decided not to get involved because of the LG (OK mostly gay men) activists who argue T issues have nothing to do with LGB issues?

(FWIW, I think there's also a story to be presented about how HRC's attitude and actions on ENDA are reflective of similar issues with the larger LGB communities, i.e. their treatment of local LGBT organizations, their focus on presenting LGB people as "virtually normal" and shying away from LGB people who aren't straight-acting, etc. Again, it's a matter of making people realize our fight has things in common as their fight.)

The fact of the matter is that the PR war does matter. HRC has proven itself to be pretty inept at it -- at least among those who know the full story (and what does that suggest about the effectiveness of their lobbying efforts?) -- we don't want to be equally inept.


SeaMonica said...

The meeting will be in Feb of next year, if it is to take place. Would you want to be at the meeting?

Janice Covington said...

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Graphic Transgender Commentary on HRC

by Janice Covington Allison
(As edited by Nancy-Jo Morris)

HRC, the self-proclaimed (but unfortunately quite bogus) representatives of the Transgender Community is now definitely WAY into the pursuit of the Trans dollar. With their so-called "Win Back" program, HRC tacitly screams out loud that they cannot operate without our Green Backs. It’s just a plain fact of economics. After ditching us last Fall, they have come to realize that they’ve created a nightmare that they did not initially foresee. By this cavalier, exclusionary act, they grossly underestimated the strength and determination of the Transgender Community. While at the table of negotiations they willingly failed to represent us. To them we must be just a Society of uneducated, expendable individuals - fit only for exploitation at their convenience!

In the Fall of 2007, HRC dashed our hopes of equality yet again. Their "fearless leader", Joe Solmonese, even made a Big Ass of himself in Atlanta with his promises and reassurances that HRC would not leave the Transgender Community behind. His speech at the Southern Comfort Convention was nothing more than a HRC crowd-pleaser which he set forth only to tell us much later on that it was merely a negotiation strategy slip-up. "Don't worry, we will come back for you...", goes the damage control spin line from "Judas" Joe. Uh-huh - sure! Now that is a classic crock of shit. Kind of like snipe hunting, huh? Here - hold this bag...

HRC cares nothing about you or anyone else - especially if you’re Transgender. It’s job security for Joe and his staff at HRC Headquarters in Washington DC. Your money is the source of survival to them. Without Trans dollars it’s a death sentence for HRC. No money - No pay. Think about it. With our support from the LGB community we are finally being taken seriously. It has been evident at the recent HRC Galas. We are now causing damage to the HRC's war chest. Lack of attendance at their fundraisers is blatantly apparent- and HRC is in a state of panic. They are scared of losing their "Big Kid on the Block" status in DC. lol! (In my opinion, they should be).

Look at it like this, Many of you have been in sales meetings or have worked with companies that are service oriented. One day you lose a key customer, like in this case of HRC losing transgender financial support. What just happened? Your company and you face a future of uncertainty because sales just went to Hell. Without money to function, the company starts to die. The desperation sets in. Your company tries to rebound with promises, but fails. Well HRC - look out! You are about to see your Dissipation light.

HRC is so arrogant that they forgot the basics of business. Like the old saying, "The customer is always right". Well in this case HRC (as you did in years past) - you ripped our clothes off and fucked us. Well HRC - no more! I, for one, like to be kissed before I get fucked. I must have been asleep... wake me when you’re done. Does HRC think we are their harem of whores? Well never again - you ran out of chances! Now they have resorted to beating us up and having us arrested. Next thing you know they will be shaving our heads and gassing us.

HRC has brought this on itself. Not Congress. Not the Transphobic Barney Frank. The incompetence of the HRC Board of Directors did. It was HRC's job to educate the Congressional committee about the importance of a Trans-inclusive ENDA. Instead, they botched it like a six year old trying to jack off for the first time. The millions of dollars wasted by HRC is a crime. Joe should be butt Fucked without lubrication!

The Transgender Community can come together and excel forward. It just takes guidance from the right leadership. We must come together and trust each other again. This is our only salvation. We must not wither. If we do, we are dead in the water. I say let’s move on and forget about wasting our energy on HRC. Either we should seek out another organization or form our own. But let’s move on.

In closing, the one of many things that scares me about HRC is their desperation. Desperation to survive can hurt us and rip us apart from within. HRC recruits our up-coming young transgender advocates for an easy lay. They think by doing this they can discredit our elders. Not a chance! With age and experience comes wisdom. We will never let them gain a foothold on us again. Three chances is enough!

Janice Covington Allison....Chair of