Don't blink or you'll miss it. Whether you've been a part of this community for fifty years or five minutes, understand that we're in the midst of a moment in our collective history as a community significant enough that it will eventually end up being discussed and debated in Queer History classes twenty years from now. This is the time when our true community, the lower-class, middle-class, working-class, everyday, rank-and-file, Average Joe and Jane American Queers, finally stand up as one and say "Enough!". It's been a long time coming, too.
When you get right down to it, in essence what's really happening here is that those who have set themselves up as leaders of our community have spun themselves so enthusiastically in one direction and one direction only that what they've actually accomplished is effectively removing all trace of spin from the public perception of what's been really going on and where all the players really are in regards to ENDA.
Just consider the revelations we've witnessed over the last several days:
Congressman Barney Frank going to the floor of the House and the media to advocate passing a federal employment civil rights bill that would exclude the most violently oppressed groups of American citizens from its protections, calling those speaking out for an inclusive bill "idealists", "unrealistic", and "living in Oz".
The Human Rights Campaign finally revealing its true priorities and agenda once and for all, turning its back on the will of the community with Frank and Pelosi, and using everything, up to and including misdirection and even outright lies, to do its very best to try to sell a non-inclusive bill to an LGBT activist community firmly united behind inclusion which just isn't buying.
Tammy Baldwin, Rush Holt, Jerry Nadler, and other members of Congress standing out by standing firm against the naysayers and leading the charge for an inclusive ENDA in Congress.
Congress, paying attention...to us!
Every movement, no matter what its goals, has moments, flashpoints along its history line, that help to define, alter, and shape its course. Just as it's by now considered indisputable fact by most Americans that George Bush is a failure as a President and led us into a failed foreign policy in the Middle East, so too has it now become equally unquestionable by most paying attention in this community that it's Barney Frank, HRC, and those who think like they do about the equal rights and treatment under the law of transgender Americans who are the real villains of this drama, not the gender-variant citizens they seek to throw under the wheels of the ENDA bus to smooth the road toward their own exclusive civil rights agenda.
Suddenly, they get it...they all get it. Everyone's a transgender activist, everyone wants to know more. While some might reasonably complain that it should have happened a long time ago, it has, in fact, finally happened, it's no less a great thing, and it couldn't have happened at a better time. Let's see what kind of questions Hillary Clinton has to answer the next time the debate topic turns to LGBT civil rights.
The best thing about all this is that unlike 2004, when we were shouting the truth and no one was listening, this time we're shouting, everyone's listening, and what's more the LGBT community, almost as a whole, has banded together and drawn the proverbial line in the sand. We've said together, with one clear, resonant voice, "We are HERE, and we are not moving. If you are willing to sacrifice any part of our family for the sake of political convenience, we will NOT stand with you.".
Yes, boys, girls, and everyone else, this is how history is made.
If you'd asked me a month ago, I'd have told you I didn't believe a public reaction of this scale over transgender rights was even conceivable, much less possible. Then again, despite my many misgivings about Barney Frank as an advocate on trans issues, I'd have also never believed I'd actually witness him take to the floor of the US House of Representatives to trash us and our efforts at inclusion in ENDA. Honestly, while I never for a moment doubted that Frank really didn't care about trans rights, I also never expected him to become quite so blatantly open with his biases.
I'd also have told you that never in a million years would I have expected to see HRC eventually just pretty much drop all pretense of even pretending to advocate equitably on behalf of the transgender community and just start spewing lie after lie after misrepresentation, hemorrhaging credibility like a sieve, hoping at least some people might still take them seriously. Regardless of the outcome of this and future political battles for this community, I believe that one of the most significant and lasting changes as a result of this particular skirmish will be that the leadership lines in our activism community are being redrawn as we speak. As more of Congress chooses to look toward the will of the majority of a constituency the Democrats are looking to capture, they're looking toward Tammy Baldwin, Rush Holt, Jerry Nadler, and around 300 different national, state, and local civil rights organizations demanding an inclusive ENDA. At the same time, they're also looking away from Barney Frank and HRC.
For a long time now, I've said I believe that our community, the greater American LGBT community, has moved past the kind of ivory tower political advocacy practiced by HRC, and now, the bulk of our community has proven that to be the case by refusing to be a part of a strategy that offers protection against employment discrimination to some while denying it to those most desperately in need of it. HRC had been putting on a pretty good show of trying to appear trans-inclusive for a while there, but over the last several months had begun displaying more and more open arrogance when publicly promoting their own agenda.
I believe that this is the core of what has really happened here. HRC, Barney Frank, and Nancy Pelosi probably figured they'd feed the community a line of spin about why the trannys were kicked off the bus, there would be a brief hubbub which would die down quickly, and then they'd just go ahead with the non-inclusive bill they'd planned on passing all along anyway. I seriously doubt that they ever imagined, for even a moment, that when they came to dish out the platitudes and say "Get the votes and we'll introduce it." that we'd take them seriously and actually have a real impact. I'm also quite certain they never considered that all of a sudden two million American Queers would stand up and say "No!". Clearly, the American LGBT activist community has fractured, exactly along what lines and how complete of a break remains to be seen, but there's now most definitely a new Sheriff in town, and it sure as hell ain't the HRC.
Our interaction with and level of access to Congress is clearly redefining itself to some extent as well. Lucky for us, politicians aren't stupid. It's their job to know which way the wind is blowing on any given issue, and to represent the will of the people who put them in office. Best of all, it's all going on right in front of them. For the very first time in the history of our country, transgender issues are not only on the front burner in Congress, but on any burner at all, really. The bluster of Barney Frank is no longer the last word on the topic, either. The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a special meeting today to discuss strategy on ENDA, with a vote scheduled for Thursday. While I can only speculate, of course, with both Dennis Kucinich and Rush Holt (my Congressman) on the Committee I doubt they'd be holding a special meeting to discuss strategy if they'd decided to go along quietly with Frank and Pelosi.
No matter what happens here, though, things will be different now. The deference formerly given to HRC and Barney Frank by members of Congress on LGBT issues as a matter of course will no longer be automatic in many quarters. More than anything else, the reality that there is now more than one clear line of thinking on LGBT rights advocacy, that the vast majority of this community are of one mind and just a tiny elite self-involved minority are of another. Right now, the implications this has for HRC as an organization remain to be seen, but they've botched this one so badly that I have to believe that their credibility both within the LGBT activist community and in Congress is now virtually nonexistent.
When the smoke clears here, the leaders of our activist community need to get together, gather up all the pieces, and recreate the LGBT civil rights advocacy movement in a way that reflects the will of the community, and with the power and support of the nearly two million who make up their collective memberships. The power void must be filled quickly, and by people we can trust. If we act quickly and decisively, we can force a change for the better in terms of the political philosophy leading this movement.
HRC itself must be shunned by the greater community for what it has done here. There must be long-term follow-through consequences for their betrayal to send the message to the politicians that if they vote against us now, we will remember later. Now that Congress understands that Barney Frank and HRC are not the last word on our issues, we have to teach them that we, the majority, will not take "No." for an answer, that we have chosen our leaders and our representatives for ourselves, and most importantly, that it is we, and not the Human Rights Campaign, who represent the will and the interests of the American LGBT community.
Three hundred to one. That's a powerful figure. It's a ratio that sends a message that tells the truth about who we are as a community, and most importantly, who we're not. It also speaks volumes about who has the right to represent our interests and who doesn't. Personally, I think it makes the most sense for the Task Force to assume the lead role here. Not only have they proven themselves to transpeople and the rest of the community as staunch friends and allies, but they also have the willingness, the toughness, to do the kind of real down-and-dirty street-level activism this community needs more of. They can lead the way in doing the job we as a community want done, advocating for a better future for all LGBT people together, with no one left behind.
While no one organization can match HRC in terms of sheer cash-on-hand, the combined financial might of 300 organizations and their memberships would certainly match and probably even exceed HRC in both size and donation dollars. HRC, of course, will now no longer be able to credibly claim that it represents the interests of the American LGBT community to Congress in any case, since every member of Congress who's paying even the slightest attention to this battle knows full well that that just isn't true anymore.
This is our moment, our chance to reclaim this movement from the wealthy dilettantes and make it truly, irrevocably ours. Let's seize it.