...and it's just oh-so-familiar, isn't it?
Of course, by now you've heard that House Democrats are expected to strip protections for Transgender-American citizens from ENDA. You've probably also heard that the Human Rights Campaign and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights have chosen to not sign onto a letter supporting the inclusion of those protections. Once again, we in the transgender community find ourselves in the same place we did in 2004, having our basic civil rights sold out from under us by these organizations, our right to make a living free of bigotry and discrimination in the workplace being used as a poker chip by those claiming to be our allies and representatives, those who pay lip service to transgender rights but quickly and eagerly retreat the moment even the slightest resistance is met. How such people can be credibly considered actual community leaders is beyond me.
Back in 2004, I wrote and published an expose of the Human Rights Campaign's advocacy of ENDA called "In Through The Out Door". In this piece, I not only called out HRC and Barney Frank for this lack of leadership, but I also told the story of how we discovered the truth of what was going on: We (meaning the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition) went to Washington, lobbied our representatives in Congress, and heard, right from the source, that they didn't believe that the HRC was on our side.
We protested HRC twice that year, and they finally did relent and vote to only support a trans-inclusive ENDA in August of that year, but they also refused to sign onto a letter in support of transgender inclusion in the hate crimes bill that year as well.
Bear in mind, I'm not saying that HRC or LCCR is necessarily to blame to for the cowardice of House Democrats here, but they were offered the opportunity to speak out on the issue with nine other major LGBT civil rights organizations and they opted not to do so. To me, that, along with numerous other ignored opportunities for HRC and LCCR to speak up and speak out on the equality of Transgender-Americans and our equality indicates that for all the public spin and political posturing, for these people the fight for truly equal American civil rights protections begins and ends on their own doorsteps. It's not really a surprise, but it is a disappointment. Despite all the hopes we had that these people had finally learned their lesson, we now see that in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
The Task Force and the other organizations who did sign onto this letter have the right idea here. Even if ENDA were to pass without protections for the gender-variant (let's not forget that gender identity protections would not only cover the transgendered, but also gender-variant gays and lesbians such as butch lesbians and effeminate gay men), these organizations will be on record as opposing it. Essentially, it's not as much myself or any other individual in our community expressing an opinion on the topic, but rather this public letter which calls out those who refuse to get behind the notion that if we're just as likely to succeed together as we are to fail together, the only real difference being in how long it takes to happen.
We know this because we've been here before. 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry first declared his opposition to treating transgender workers fairly in the workplace by opposing gender identity and expression protections in ENDA in HRC's Presidential Candidate Questionnaire, but this received little attention from non-transgender-specific GLBT community media, with the exception of the infamous "trans-jack" editorials of then-Washington Blade Editor-In-Chief Chris Crain.
Given how easily Kerry was able to throw the rights of transpeople over the side to suit his own political convenience with HRC not only remaining silent on the issue but even endorsing his candidacy with a 100% rating, it was no surprise that soon afterward he also came out in favor of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. After all, we made it easy for him, just as HRC and LCCR are helping to do for the next Democratic Presidential nominee. These organizations are once again giving cowardly Democrats a pass on ignoring anti-transgender bigotry and discrimination, and are once again setting the stage for yet another Democratic bailout from the ideal of standing up for the rights of all American citizens.
The last time they pulled this crap, we went after them, and, as they usually do when seriously confronted, HRC backed down. It's that time again. While I'll admit that because of my current financial situation, I'm not a paid member of any of these organizations, I'll also say that of the national LGBT orgs, it's The Task Force that has consistently demonstrated it's worthiness to replace HRC as the leading advocacy org of this movement.
Despite Matt Foreman's history as the Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda when they barred transgender community representatives, including NY State Representative Tom Duane, from even participating in the negotiations for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), and that battle's continuing legacy of depriving transgender New Yorkers of fair treatment under the law in that state to this day, he has since become one of the transgender community's most vocal advocates on the national stage. No, it doesn't excuse the past, and The Task Force itself is far from perfect, but they do set a standard for LGBT advocacy at the federal level which I personally don't believe HRC will ever come close to, much less meet. To me, they've earned the right to be considered the primary LGBT org advocating our interests in Washington. It's not only because they've advocated for fully trans-inclusive civil rights laws for far longer than HRC and most of the others, but also because they've shown they have the backbone for really effective grassroots, street-level LGBT political advocacy, the kind of real staunch commitment to equality for all of us which the wealthy white gay male elitists who make up most of HRC's self-involved, wishy-washy, and oh-so-conservative Executive Board will never be willing to offer us.
In 2004, the trans community had finally had enough and we spoke out, loudly and proudly. We told the rest of our community that HRC's brand of sellout politics was unacceptable to us and we asked them to join with us in making the point. The response we got was as stunning as it was positive. I don't have exact numbers to share, but I do know that HRC took a major hit in both support and credibility because of it, and their seemingly almost continuous subsequent public gaffs they've made that have angered even those who used to form the core of their base of support to the point where many have now gotten wise and moved past their antiquated, lukewarm advocacy style. In addition, Queer youth are coming into the movement with the understanding that HRC isn't going to represent their interests any more than they're going to represent transfolks when the chips are down.
The signs are all there, just as they were in 2004. The silence on the exclusion of transpeople in critical legislation, the declining to add their endorsement to a letter in support of transgender equality, their support and lauding of politicians who refuse to publicly stand up for all of us, their avoidance of substantive discussions with trans-relevant media (I plan to try yet again to get an HRC rep on my show to talk issues...my last invitation, offered publicly to Hilary Rosen on OurChart, apparently wasn't felt worthy of even a response), it's all happening again. Personally, I think should have the same result as it did three years ago.
It's not like these people don't get it, they're too well-informed not to. HRC and LCCR are proactively choosing not to participate in standing up for real equality for all Americans, just as they did in 2004. The result of their refusal to advocate fairly for all us now should have the same result.
What's most disappointing to me personally is how much of "In Through The Out Door" is apparently still accurate and relevant today, more than three years after I published it. The piece did help to inspire the kind of change I hoped it might when I wrote it, but it seems that in the case of HRC, the change is only skin-deep. Fortunately, much of the community has grown wise to their games, but it seems at least some of their pet politicians either still don't get it or just don't want to.
It's time to get pissed off again and start calling out people and organizations out when they deserve it. It's time finish the job that we started in 2004 and knock HRC from its undeserved perch as the leading LGBT civil rights organization and replace them with an organization which understands that civil rights are for everyone, even when they interfere with the interests of rich white gay guys. NGLTF isn't perfect, but they're far closer to that ideal than HRC has ever come or ever will. The fact that even the Empire State Pride Agenda has signed onto this letter as HRC and LCCR remain silent speaks volumes, both about how far some in this movement have come in being willing to support and work for truly inclusive civil rights laws, and how for others the only thing that's really changed in any substantive ways is the rhetoric.
It's time to take our movement back, gang...let's go out there and make it happen. No delays, no excuses. The time to have an impact, for all of us, is right now. If we fail in this we only have ourselves to blame.
One, two, three, four, one, two, three...DON'T support the HRC!