I promised myself that the next thing I wrote wouldn't have anything to do with ENDA or the Human Rights Campaign. Really I did. I'm about to sort of keep half of that promise, even as I fail miserably to uphold the the other half. In the aftermath of this latest skirmish, two things in particular have jumped out at me that I feel the need to say something about.
The first is a story about a protest planned for Tuesday at the legendary Stonewall Bar in the West Village in NYC while an HRC networking event is taking place at the bar. The organizer, Democratic activist and National Stonewall Democrats board member Jon Winkleman, has apparently organized this protest to demand that HRC President Joe Solmonese step down and that the HRC Executive Board begin to include at least 10% transgender representation.
While I can certainly understand, sympathize, and support Winkleman's motives, at the same time I think his method needs a bit of work. Calling for Joe Solmonese's ouster is like calling for the banning of a particular type or brand of handgun or assault rifle while others are allowed to remain legal. Lobbyists, like guns, can be easily replaced when they're no longer useful...just ask Cheryl Jacques.
And 10% minimum transgender representation on the HRC Board? A nice idea, I suppose, but really, how much of an influence is that supposed to make in the organization's actual agenda even if it was agreed to? If HRC would still be 9/10 exactly what it is now, how is that really a significant improvement, anymore than having three transgender-identified members on Hillary Clinton's list of prominent LGBT supporters is really any better than just one when that group numbers almost ninety people total? Having Donna Rose on HRC's Board clearly didn't stop them from screwing over transfolks (not that she didn't try), so why would a few more transpeople on that Board make a difference? And how many transpeople are really willing to or capable of meeting HRC's astronomically high yearly donation requirements to get on and stay on that Board anyway?
The fact is, HRC doesn't really want our participation at that level. They've demonstrated it in the way they cut Donna Rose out of the loop during this latest ENDA battle, and they've demonstrated it in the way they've set up their organization in a way that allows only the very wealthiest of HRC's donors to have a determining voice in its agenda. The deck is stacked all the way up and down the line with a strict hierarchy based on wealth and influence, and the only way to make a real difference there would be a complete restructuring of their leadership and decision-making process. If the last several weeks have taught us anything, it's that such a radical change in this organization and in the way it operates is highly unlikely to occur anytime soon.
My other issue is with the whole idea of protesting the Human Rights Campaign in general at this point. Obviously, as the veteran of two protests in front of HRC's headquarters building in Washington, DC in 2004, the author of numerous articles, and the host of many radio shows covering these issues, I strongly believe in speaking out against this organization and the way they do business. At the same time, though, at this point I have to wonder if protesting HRC directly over their lack of inclusion at this point isn't playing right into their hands, ceding them the moral and political high ground and acknowledging them as the leading LGBT civil rights organization.
When we protest these people and demand they change to suit us, we are also signaling that we still consider them credible leaders and ourselves in need of their support. If we really want Congress and the rest of the country to see HRC for the discredited hypocrites they actually are, we have to act in concert with what we know to be true and instead send the message that both HRC and its sellout advocacy style are antiquated relics of the past that the majority of our activists and our greater community are moving beyond, working together inclusively toward a better future for all of us.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good opportunities to make our points through protest coming up. Personally, I'm hoping Barney Frank's going to see some not-so-friendly faces on the campaign trail this season, even if it's only enough to publicly embarrass him, not cause his defeat. I'm especially looking forward to seeing some action in Nancy Pelosi's district. It is, after all, in the city with the single largest transgender-identified population in the country. Wouldn't it be an especially powerful message to send, for example, if the San Francisco transgender community would work in concert with those who are incensed with Pelosi's refusal to initiate impeachment proceedings again Bush and Cheney and the Democrats insistence on continuing to fund the war in Iraq to run their own truly progressive candidate and unseat the Speaker of the House?
Personally, I think that's pretty much exactly the tack we need to take here. These people think they're invulnerable, that the trans community, the war resistance, racially and ethnically-based civil rights efforts, and other progressive factions can't hurt them in any real way. We need to teach them that we've learned that while we may be too small to have the necessary impact on our own, we can unite with other progressive political factions which don't feel their needs are being served by the current Congress to accomplish what we can't by ourselves or even with the backing of most of our LGBT brothers and sisters. We need to demonstrate that we can and will work in coalition with others to change the course of elections, that we can and will be heard, and that there will a steep price to be paid for not heeding the increasingly progressive will of the majority.
It's unlikely we'll get a better opportunity to do exactly that for some time if we don't take advantage of it in this upcoming election . With a strong Democratic majority popularly expected to be the result of next year's election, we can afford ourselves the luxury of holding the Democrats to account for their failures. We can go after people like Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi because we know that in the districts which they represent, the anti-Republican sentiment is likely more than sufficient to prevent any GOP'er from having any real chance of winning it for his party.
There's more to it than simply the message we'd be sending by successfully helping to boot Democrats we don't like out of office, though. By forming coalitions with other strongly progressive factions like the anti-war movement, we are laying the groundwork and establishing the relationships needed for calling upon their strength to add to our own in fighting for our own political goals when the time comes.
This is probably the one thing you won't see me criticize the Human Rights Campaign for. Choosing to have a presence at the Jena 6 protests was inspired, and the kind of thing those of us who truly are progressive should strive to emulate (yes, you heard me). It is of key importance to publicly draw the connection that discrimination is discrimination and bigotry is bigotry, no matter what the root cause and no matter who it happens to. In order to truly unite progressive Americans behind us and our equality under the law, we must reach out and take advantage of opportunities to work in coalition with other efforts like the one we have now.
At the same time we are sending out these strong messages, however, we must make sure they are the right messages. If and when we do choose to protest the Human Rights Campaign in the future, either directly or indirectly, we must do so in ways which are both effective in making our point and which don't imply our acceptance of the notion of this organization as playing a leadership role in our community's political activism.
As a community, both in the smaller transgender sense and the larger LGBT sense, we have to look for and take advantage of opportunities to make ourselves a part of the greater movement for equality and justice in America. We have to take our own struggle and use it as a starting point to reach out and make ourselves part of the greater progressive political agenda and movement of this country. It's the only way to get ensure that when the next opportunity for progress presents itself there will not be even a question as to whether or not it should include us. Being able to depend on our loyal friends and supporters in the LGBT community has been of great benefit for gender-variant Americans and has gotten us to where we are now, an issue, a topic of much discussion and debate in the civil rights movement in this country, but as we have so clearly seen over these last several weeks, there's still plenty of work ahead of us.
If we're to finally take the next step, to truly be considered players and participants in the greater American civil rights movement, ready, willing, and capable of speaking for ourselves, then it's about time we finally started acting like it.