Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is It Justice Yet?

Nope, not yet.

So here we are, as of this writing just over one week into the Obama Administration. While it would be insane to expect anything to get done legislatively on much other than the economy at this point, what's reasonable to expect on LGBT rights in at least the semi-near future?

By Barney Frank's estimate, it's pretty fair to expect that by this time next year we should be protected from discrimination in the workplace and covered by a federal hate crimes law. Yet, we all know it's just not that simple, don't we? How many times have we heard such promises before only to discover the truth later on? And yet, despite the history here, we also know that the cards are now stacked in our favor like never before. For the first time since Bill Clinton's first couple of years in office, we've got a significant Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress and a supportive President...but we also know how it turned out last time.

So, it's quite fair to ask: What do we do now? Do we blindly give Democrats the benefit of the doubt once again when their record of standing up for us is so downright abysmal? But if we do withhold that overt support would it negatively impact the reception in Congress of any attempt to actually get anything done on our issues this year?

What to do, what to do...

Don't expect any help from our friends in DC on this one. They're much too busy trying to rescue the economy at the moment, as well they should be. I'd bet we're not going to hear more than the barest peep about action on our issues until at least April or May at the earliest. In the meantime, we need to figure out our own next moves. As you might imagine, I've got a few ideas in that regard.

1. HRC Needs To Put Up Or Shut Up

It's really no more complex than that. Since the "Great Sellout of '07", the Human Rights Campaign has been for the most part notably silent on ENDA and hate crimes, aside from the occasional lukewarm expression of support for inclusion once it became clear that Barack Obama (and not the candidate they threw their support behind, Hillary Clinton) was likely to become our next President. At the same time, HRC still has not yet publicly withdrawn their support for a non-inclusive version of ENDA.

Clearly, one of two things needs to happen: HRC must publicly come out firmly in favor of inclusion and only inclusion as well as openly demonstrate their commitment to that ideal in a concrete way, or the rest of us, the vast majority who believe wholeheartedly in inclusion and in acting inclusively, must from now on actively exclude HRC from our greater movement's political efforts. As an organization that has repeatedly proven it cannot be trusted to interact honestly or reliably with the greater community, without a public commitment there is no valid reason to consider this organization to be one working on behalf of the interests of anyone other than extremely wealthy, white, non-gender-variant gays and lesbians.

According to Donna Rose
, we shouldn't expect much. She writes on her blog:

"...HRC really isn’t interested in rebuilding the relationship with the broader trans community. Sure, they’ll take it if they can get it but they’re not willing to do anything to earn it. Rather, they’ve got a small group of transpeople who provide the illusion of inclusion and that’s as far as they’ll go."

Assuming Donna's right (and in my experience, she usually is), trying to work with HRC now is just a waste of our time. We know who our true allies are and it's in our own best interests to keep the protests going. What's more, since HRC is clearly trying to convince others that they are inclusive without being willing to make any real effort to actually act inclusively, it's important for the rest of us to counter that message publicly with the truth. Just as the right has been extremely successful in using LGBT's as boogeymen to generate support and donations, so too are we using our own self-defined black sheep to strengthen our own side. The more public and active we are about pointing out the inherent unfairness of exclusion, which we can illustrate extremely well using the behavior of HRC as an example through protesting their events and speaking out against them, the more progressive grassroots support we'll gain.

As a community, it's time for all of us to say to HRC, once and for all, "You're either with us or you're against us.", that they need to pick a lane and stay in it. And if they are against us, then they don't get to credibly call themselves or be seen as LGBT activist leaders because in the end they're really leading no one but themselves anymore.

Enough with these people and their petty political games. It's time to move on.

2. Build More And Stronger Bridges

We've made amazing strides in this over the last couple of years, but there's more work to do. Let's grow those budding relationships with progressives and organized labor into solid working alliances. Let's bring them and their influence with us when we go to lobby Congress, and let's continue including them as we continue protesting HRC dinners and events. We need to make it clear to Congress, in no uncertain terms, that when a Democrat turns his or her back on treating transpeople fairly, they're also turning their back on a lot more than simply a relative handful of minority votes. There's a reason why the Mayor of Los Angeles refused to cross that union picket line in San Francisco and we should not hesitate to capitalize on it. Our new alliances with liberal and progressive activists and causes are powerful tools we've just recently been handed. Let's use them to best effect to benefit ourselves, and let's also not forget to return the favor when the opportunity arises.

3. Lobby, Lobby, Lobby

As things seem to be getting better politically for us and money starts getting tighter, it's easy to come up with good reasons for not going to DC to lobby. After all, for some of us (like me) a trip to Washington is simply unaffordable right now. While I'd argue it's probably better in terms of impact to make the trip to DC if possible, if for no other reasons than networking and to be able to show up at a Congressman's office with more than just oneself, visits to a Congressman's local office and appearances can and will help immensely as well. The more Congress sees our faces, hears our stories, and truly understands who we are, what we need from them, and why we need it, the harder it will be for them to say "No" again.

4. Get Out There

Not just to Congressional offices, but everywhere. If your local LGBT or transgender organization has an event or happening, make sure your local community newspapers, websites, and other media know about it. If you're contacted for a media interview and you believe it won't portray yourself and the rest of us in an exploitive way, go for it. Publicly challenge media which fails that standard. Blog, write letters to the editor, protest...you know the drill. Help keep us and our issues in the public as well as the political eye. Don't be afraid to speak up, even if you feel you must do so anonymously.

5. Don't Give Up

Remember, the election of Barack Obama brought with it probably the single greatest political slap-down in the history of of our movement, the stripping of basic civil rights from California citizens through the passage of Prop 8. Obama can't save us, nor do should we really expect he'll make any effort to try. As he's demonstrated by his repeated flip-flops on marriage equality over the years, Obama is not above turning his back on his publicly-touted principles in order to score political points. Obama has also taught us, through his promotion of anti-LGBT hatemongers Rick Warren and Donnie McClurkin, that when push comes to shove supporting LGBT rights and fair treatment under the law ranks pretty low overall on his agenda, especially now that he's President.

If there's anything that's abundantly clear, it's that if we are to finally gain full rights as citizens of this country we must continue to demand them relentlessly until we succeed because if we don't we can be damn sure that no one else will. The many supportive members of Congress notwithstanding, if we are to win this we will have to ensure that the political price that might be paid by some members of Congress for supporting us and giving us what we deserve will be nowhere near as steep as it would be for them to continue taking the coward's way out. Yes, we need to force the issue, and we need to follow-up if we don't get what we want. If we need to actively and publicly shame reluctant members of Congress into doing the right thing, then we must not hesitate to do so.

The way I see it, what we must do now is not as much about waging war on those who may oppose us as it is about showing Congress and straight America in general that we've grown up as a movement and as an American minority constituency. Congress needs to understand that we will not consider it a win unless all LGBT Americans can share in the victory. Those not fully on board with that ideal must be disempowered and left behind as the majority of our movement charts a new inclusive course for all of us.

There can be no more equivocation, no more excuses for cowardice or failure to act. The time to stand up and demand our proper place as full and equal citizens of this country is upon us and we must not shirk that responsibility. The political stars are as aligned as they are ever likely to be in our lifetimes. It's now or quite possibly never. We've got about three months or so, more than enough time to do what needs to be done.

The time is now. Let's bring it home.


Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

Excellent, excellent post, Becky.

Unknown said...

Well thought out post! I keep wondering, in this time of economic crisis whether it could be the good economics of catering to the transgendered that help us.

It may be difficult to get focus on human rights in the midst of the crisis, but perhaps we can use the desperation of businesses to drive a deeper respect for those in the transgender community.