Marti Abernathey

Transgender HRC Board Member Resigns

Filed By Marti Abernathey | October 03, 2007 2:51 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Donna Rose, ENDA, HRC

The only transgender person on HRC's Board of Directors resigned today.

The current situation regarding ENDA is nothing short of a politically misguided tragedy. A tool that could and should be a unifying beacon on the heels of the historic passage of fully inclusive Hate Crime legislation has been split. Transgender brothers and sisters again find themselves separated, isolated, and disempowered. People in positions of power have decided that their personal legacy and the promise of political expediency are more important than protecting our entire beautiful community. The time is here to make a strong statement to demonstrate to them that they are wrong.

In 2004 the HRC Board voted to support only fully-inclusive Federal legislation. That decision paved the way to my participation with the organization, and was a significant step in the healing process. Since that time we have worked together tirelessly towards a goal of Equality for all. Less than a month ago HRC President Joe Solmonese stood before almost 900 transgender people at the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta to pledge ongoing support and solidarity. In his keynote address he indicated that not only would HRC support only a fully inclusive ENDA, but that it would actively oppose anything less. That single pledge changed hearts and minds that day, and the ripple affect throughout the transgender community was that we finally were one single GLBT community working together. Sadly, recent events indicate that those promises were hollow.


An impressive coalition of local and national organizations has lined up to actively oppose the divisive strategy that would leave some of our brothers and sisters without workplace protections. This effort has galvanized community spirit and commitment in ways few could have imagined, and it has demonstrated to those who would divide us that anything less than full inclusion is unacceptable Organization after organization has seized the moral high ground knowing that this is a historic opportunity that cannot be squandered, and that it is our moral obligation to ourselves and to generations that will follow to make a loud, clear, unmistakable statement that we are a community and we will not be divided. There is a single significant organization glaringly missing from that list. The Human Rights Campaign has chosen not to be there.

It is impossible to remove passion and emotion from what has happened. Indeed, those are the fuels that propel us. That being said please know that this entire situation has affected me deeply and profoundly. Still, I will not sling mud at the organization to who I have given my heart, my energies, and my trust. I will not give in to my frustration and disappointment that Joe's words of less than a month ago have proven to be hollow promises. This unfortunate turn of events has forced me to make some very difficult personal decisions about integrity, character, community, and leadership. Although I can find any number of logical and personal reasons to continue in my capacity as a board member, I cannot escape the moral implications of the decision before me. Using that as my guide, as difficult as it is for me to make, the decision is an obvious one.

I hereby submit my resignation from my post on the Board of the Human Rights Campaign effective Monday Oct. 8, 2007. I call on other like-minded board members, steering committee leaders, donors, corporate sponsors, and volunteers to think long and hard about whether this organization still stands for your values and to take decisive action as well. More than simply a question of organization policy, this is a test of principle and integrity and although it pains me greatly to see what has happened it is clear to me that there can only be one path. Character is not for compromise. I cannot align myself with an organization that I can't trust to stand-up for all of us. More than that, I cannot give half-hearted support to an organization that has now chosen to forsake the tenets that have guided my efforts from day one.

You can read the rest of her statement here.


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Much has been written about the political strategy behind HRC's handling of the ENDA split. While I am deeply skeptical about the strategy espoused by Frank and Pelosi and critical of the HRC's tacit support of that strategy, there is another issue that ought to be discussed.

Joe Solmonese, simply put, is a liar.

Within the last several weeks, Joe has twice - on camera - either heavily implied or explicitly stated that the HRC endorses a "leave no one behind" policy and will oppose legislation that is not broadly inclusive.

At SCC, speaking to almost 1000 transgender individuals, Joe said: "What I would say is that we try to walk a thin line in terms of keeping everything in play and making sure that we move forward, but always being clear that we absolutely do not support - and in fact oppose - any legislation that is not absolutely inclusive, and we have sent that message loud and clear to the Hill."

At the rally in Jena, he said: "Remember when George Bush was governor of Texas? Well, Governor Bush had a hate crimes bill on his desk. There was a lot of pressure to sign the bill because of what they did to James Byrd. So, George Bush said he'd sign that bill, but they had to take the gays out.

And here's what happened. Stella Byrd, who has just buried her beaten, broken, gentle James said, If some of us are left out, then all of us are. Valuing one life and not valuing another is not right. And the Byrd family said No. They said No. And they walked away. "

So, I stand here today with solidarity. I stand here for social justice. I stand here to free those young men. To say this will not stand. It cannot stand. I stand here for the Jena 6. I stand here today for James Byrd.

We will not forget. We will never walk away."

Now, I think Joe brings a huge amount of passion and experience to LGBT activism, and I think the HRC needs his continued participation. However, the HRC - ostensibly one of our greatest LGBT rights organizations - needs to be credible if it hopes to accomplish anything. Having a President who publicly says one thing, turns around and does exactly the opposite and pretends nothing is wrong... that is a stain on the HRC that cannot be lifted until the organization has a credibly public face.

If Joe can't honestly and ethically represent the HRC's policies to the community, if he is willing to make commitments to the community and then turn right around and break them, then he does not belong at the head of the HRC. We need ethics and integrity at the helm, and whether you agree with his political strategy or not, Joe apparently lacks those traits.

The only way I see to really let HRC know how we feel is to withdraw our support, just as Donna has done. If all those in the T community and their allies stop sending their funding to HRC maybe then they will listen to what we have to say....just a thought.

Just a quick note to let the producers of this blog know that I am very impressed that you allow this open dialogue about Joe Solomese while maintaining him as a blogger/contributor.

If you search the gay blogs as I have you will find very little support for Mr. Solomese. I have yet to meet anyone who is involved in GLBTQ activism that sees him as anything other than someone who takes the money and has dinner parties.

So, I am serious when I say that I think it is cool he is part of this blog and you guys allow critique.

That said, I wonder if he would be willing to ask some questions that seem to be floating around the internet?

Jack Jett

I agree with withdrawing support for HRC not that i ever supported them in the first place.
They are just political whores.

I would carry it one step further.
I am not supporting ENDA and will be calling my congressmen and the ones that represented me in Texas and will urge them to not support ENDA.

Thanks Jack, we try. We try. :)

I'm not sure how soon Joe will be posting again, but he rarely participates in the comments threads. He is, after all, running a major organization and I'd much prefer that he spend his time salvaging ENDA than reading comments on a blog - even my blog! *grins* Rest assured though, that several HRCers read the blog regularly.