Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Diego Sanchez Named As Senior Advisor To Barney Frank

Today is reporting that FTM transgender activist and business leader Diego Sanchez has been named to replace Joe Racalto as Congressman Barney Frank's senior policy advisor.

As you would expect, this news is receiving mixed reaction from many in the transgender community. A quote in Marti Abernathey's TA piece from transgender activist leader and blogger Vanessa Edwards Foster no doubt reflects the reaction of many LGBT's and especially the trans community:

“It’s great to have a transgender employee in staff in Congress, and extremely rare. But I worry that this will be Barney Frank strategizing that he can bring a trans person in and use them as a shield to deflect future trans criticism for what legislation he’s likely to push forth.”

Given the history here, Vanessa's concerns are certainly justified, especially since thus far Congressman Frank has flatly refused to speak directly with transgender-relevant media about this or any other issue of importance to Transgender-Americans (and no, appearances on the softball-pitching, gay-male-focused, transgender-caller-quota-enforcing Michelangelo Signorile Show on Sirius Satellite Radio don't count) Transgender-Americans haven't been offered the opportunity for a serious and public discussion with Congressman Frank about the issues which directly impact our lives since before the turn of the century.

In addition, we've seen exactly this sort of thing in the past from the Human Rights Campaign in their failed attempts to promote transpeople as spokespeople who are willing to promote HRC and its selfish and exclusive political agenda. One need only remember the Susan Stanton debacle to understand how attempts to proffer "celebrity" transpeople to our community as opinion leaders have been seen by the rank-and-file transactivist community in the past. Congressman Frank and Mr. Sanchez will have their work cut out for them if they are to convince the majority of American transfolks that things will be different now, and it'll never happen to any real extent until Congressman Frank is ready and willing to speak with us instead of just at us.

It's hard to be enthusiastic about what should be (and hopefully will be) a major step in transgender acceptance and involvement in this country and in our government when we're talking about a man who frequently promotes and defends his views on a variety of social and political issues all over mainstream media, even up to and including getting into an on-air shouting match with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, but won't take even a few minutes to seriously and productively discuss legislation he wrote, introduced, and advocates in Congress with those Americans whom it would most directly impact.

Personally, despite these concerns, I choose to have hope. I choose to hope, at least until proven wrong, that Diego Sanchez's appointment signals a readying by Frank and Congressional Democrats to renew the fight to protect all Americans from discrimination in earnest in light of the election of a new and fully supportive incoming President. I choose to hope that in addition to hiring a highly-qualified transperson to a senior policy position on his staff, Frank is sending us a message that he's finally ready to stand with us and be as adamant about refusing to take "No" for an answer on the equal rights and treatment of Transgender-Americans as he is when advocating for same-sex marriage.

Of course, like many Transgender-Americans, I cannot evolve my hope into actual trust and belief in Congressman Frank's intentions my own mind if I don't hear it from him in his own words. There's been just too much water under the bridge, too many disappointments, too many hopes dashed at the last minute, for me to have actual faith that my hopes will be justified unless and until I see and hear it from the man himself.

I want to believe. Honestly, I do. Nothing would please me more than to be able to know with certainty that Barney Frank, who many call the smartest man in Congress, is genuinely and solidly on our side now, on the side of justice and equality for all Americans, with no conditions and no equivocations. I think most of us would be thrilled to be able to take Frank's support of full equality for all Americans at face value and not feel the need constantly look over our shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Unfortunately, we're not quite there yet. Diego's appointment can certainly be seen as a very positive step in that direction, but we can only reach that place if Barney Frank is willing to step up and lead us to that place with his words as well as his actions. The question, of course, is will he? I, for one, am looking forward, with hope, to learning the answer.


Jennifer Finney Boylan said...

I see no reason not to celebrate Diego's ascendancy. He's got a goood head on his shoulders, and I can't imagine him being pushed around. I think we need to get away from seeing Barney Frank solely in black and white terms, seeing him as the enemy. HE'S HIRED DIEGO SANCHEZ FOR HIS STAFF. Instead of seeing this as evidence that Diego is selling out, and Frank is trying to hoodwink us, isn't it possible to see this as a good thing? An articulate transman on the congressman's staff has to be a good thing for us. I think Diego is well placed to advocate for us, and may well make the congressman wiser concerning our issues. I say good for the both of them. Hope and change!

Unknown said...

I completely agree that this is a good, no, a great thing, but it's not Diego's credibility I have reason to question.

We've been down this road with Barney Frank before, and each time it has ended with disappointment and resentment. Let's not forget that it wasn't so long ago that Frank told his colleagues on the floor of the House that transpeople who expected to be protected under the law as equals in this country were "living in Oz".

Diego's hiring, Frank's recent positive statements in the media, and the confidence in Frank Diego expressed when I interviewed him on my radio show recently give all of us reason to hope. Even so, that's not the same as having trust...that has to be earned.

I do not see Diego as selling out in any way. It's Frank himself who has a track record of doing precisely that. Therefore, I'll remain hopeful but not trusting and with my eyes open. As far as I'm concerned, Barney Frank has long since given up the right to expect the benefit of the doubt from any of us.