Alex Blaze

Veteran queer activists protest HRC at Stonewall

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 26, 2007 7:40 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Bill Dobbs, ENDA, HRC, money, politcs, power, protest, Southern Comfort, Stonewall

hrc protest.jpgAt an HRC function this weekend, several dozen of the "who's who" of LGBTQ activists showed up to protest HRC's actions following the ENDA split. Their main concern, according to them, wasn't HRC's support for a noninclusive ENDA, but HRC's "deceit":

"HRC and its executive director Joe Solmonese repeatedly told the community they were fighting for an inclusive ENDA when they were secretly lobbying Congress to pass the more expedient lesbian-and-gay-only version." [National Stonewall Democrat board member Jon] Winkleman said.

Indeed, the feeling of betrayal is palpable not only because of the incredible amount of work and sacrifice gender-variant and transgender people have put into issues important to resolving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (like couplehood issues), but also because of Joe Solmonese's direct statements that he and HRC would oppose any non-inclusive legislation.

The protesters' specific demands were:

The demonstrators demanded that HRC give a perfect legislative score to the seven members of the House, including five from New York City, who voted no on the stripped-down version of ENDA. They also want Solmonese to resign "for his lies and duplicity," according to a flier, and for HRC to set aside ten percent of its national and local boards for people of transgender experience.

HRC's decision to penalize those who voted against the sexual orientation only ENDA is a major part of this fall-out:

HRC told members they would score their votes on ENDA. Suddenly Democrats were faced with the prospect of having their no vote on ENDA listed alongside right wingers who have consistently opposed the gay community.

"I think it also scared people that HRC said they were going to score it," a Capitol Hill insider told Gay City News.

And in our reduce-everything-to-a-soundbite political system, getting some points knocked off on the HRC score can hurt these representatives' chance at getting gay votes amongst those who don't know anything about politics and just visit the HRC webpage to read about their representative's HRC-sponsored record. While many of us are living and breathing this controversy to the point that we get tired of hearing about it, there are still lots of gays who don't even know that the ENDA is moving its way through the Congress... and they vote.

***

The big question, though, is "What next?" And does this protest do anything to move us towards a trans-inclusive ENDA in 2009 passing the House and Senate and getting signed into law by the Democratic president?

I doubt HRC will change the way they operate based on protesters. HRC isn’t a stable actor that, once eliminated or disempowered, will disappear and a good actor will take its place. HRC is a product of current political, cultural, and economic climates and any organization that takes its place is going to either have to do the same things HRC does (maybe it’ll put a prom dress on it) or it won’t survive. The protest doesn't answer the question of what we're going to do to change the context that created HRC-style politics in the first place.

Until that context changes, this is pretty much what we can expect. Those protesters outside the Stonewall aren't likely to donate the $50K necessary to have a voice at HRC, and HRC's survival is dependent on money, not people marching in the street. And as long as politics requires money for access, those people who identify as queer with money are going to be the ones calling the shots for us.

Bill Dobbs of United for Peace & Justice was also at the Stonewall protesting:

Bill Dobbs, an independent gay activist if there ever was one, said, "The ENDA vote was part charade to shore up HRC's donor base and gay votes for the Democrats."

Yes, but that's basically defining his protest out of power. If they acted to get votes to Democrats and dollars to HRC, then protesting isn't going to change anything since it won't taking away votes or money.

This situation has to be handled right at the legislators. When 65% of Americans support job protections for transgender people (almost the same percentage that support LGBT hate crimes legislation), we should be able to get the entire Democratic Party behind such legislation. They need to know that they won't lose their jobs over protecting the T-folk and that such votes will have to happen, whether they're nervous or not. That'll require time, money, and energy, and those resources can't be spent fighting an organization that won't oppose trans legislation if it's painless for them.

The other option would be to change the context that caused this debacle in the first place, working to decrease the income gap in America, increase awareness around issues of gender identity and expression, and separating money and politics. Those are larger projects that would definitely help out, but an inclusive ENDA is a fine short-term goal.

(Photo unattributed from Gay City News)


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I don't think the protest will do too much. A small percentage of the LGBT community even knows it happened. You can only apply a public shaming if the public knows about it.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 26, 2007 10:54 AM

You can only apply a public shaming if the public knows about it.

But isn't publicizing the issue part of what the protest was about?

I dunno Bil, it did get coverage on one of the top rated GLBTQ blogs in the country. Not bad for 25 people with giant pink 'fuck you' signs.

At the very least the threat of protests like this one forced HRC to shutdown their TDOR vigils in cities like DC where a coalition of local organizations were already planning their own. And that alone is something I am excited about.

I dunno Bil, it did get coverage on one of the top rated GLBTQ blogs in the country.

Awww! Thanks Nick!

I've found that publicizing the issue is best done before the event though, Brynn. How many times have you seen a protest happen and then the media reshapes it according to the spin they want to put on it or because they thought they "knew" the story when they actually didn't. Living in Middle America I can't tell you the number of well-meaning reporters that still use "lifestyle" or "sexual preference."

Nick, I think we're back to Eric Leven's post about TDOR now. Is it necessarily a good thing that HRC's TDOR ceremony got shut down? Isn't it better to have as many groups as possible recognizing the day? Granted, HRC joined other orgs in DC to honor the dead, but what about those of us in Middle America that don't have big trans groups or even big LGBT groups? In a lot of our cities, HRC is the big group via their local chapters.

Here in Indiana, for example, the Equality group has pissed off so many volunteers and activists that HRC regularly gets out more volunteers than they do. Did the Equality group do anything for TDOR? Nope. Did HRC? Nope. Thankfully, Indiana has one of the best trans groups in the country headquartered here that always holds a beautiful ceremony. But what about some of the other states? Montana? Wyoming? Iowa? In some of these states HRC is just about the only presence...

I guess I'm just not sure that shaming HRC into dropping TDOR ceremonies is the ultimate goal for our movement. That seems as if we're telling them "You're not good enough to be part of our remembrance." Because once we start distinguishing who can and can't honor our dead we've started down a slippery slope.

What about drag queens high on drugs who pick up a straight trick? Do they deserve to die and not be remembered for putting themselves at risk? What about members of the LGBT community who aren't too hip on the T. If they decide to attend should we bar them for not supporting the community beforehand?

I just think the whole thing was a bad idea. Any other day of the year? Fine. Do your pre-event publicity and make it a media circus. But on TDOR? Not so much. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Alex-
You're welcome!

Bil-
Oh no, I don't know if I can handle returning to Eric's post. Ha! Anyway, all I said was it's a good thing that HRC cancelled vigils specifically in cities where local organizations, particularly trans organizations, were planning their own. That may not be the "ultimate goal for our movement" but I do believe it's an important step in recognizing the importance of grassroots, community-driven organizing over national nonprofit lobbying.

I can understand why the protest on TDOR left a bad taste in your mouth, and that is fine. But arguing that protests in general are ineffective tools for publicizing an issue is silly. You know as well as anyone else that the queer liberation movement is filled with protests, direct action, and civil disobedience specifically designed to gain public attention. That’s certainly not a new idea being tried out by the Joe Must Go crew. So hate on them for disrupting TDOR, but don’t hate on them because they chose to protest under the flimsy argument that they’ll have to face the possibility that a reporter might refer to them as members of the gay “lifestyle” instead of just completely ignoring them altogether.

I think we're agreeing here Nick and just missing each other in the night. :) Two ships and whatnot...

Getting HRC involved with other groups isn't a bad thing at all. That's not the point. I just wonder how this will play out in the future though. After all, they didn't just drop sponsoring TDOR in cities that had other events planned - they canceled all of them. Why? They didn't want to be embarrassed by trans activists protesting outside.

But arguing that protests in general are ineffective tools for publicizing an issue is silly. You know as well as anyone else that the queer liberation movement is filled with protests, direct action, and civil disobedience specifically designed to gain public attention.

I'm not saying that protests in general are silly or ineffective. I meant this protest specifically.

My history with the movement began with ACT UP protests. I protested outside the Republican Convention the year Clinton was elected. I almost got stepped on by a cop on a horse when Bush Sr. was burned in effigy. :) Here in Indiana I think I hold the record for most direct action protest involvement - whether here in Indy or other cities around the state. (I could be wrong - contributor Marla Stevens lived here for a while and she's a real hard-core activist! LOL)

I was just trying to say that this protest in particular wasn't well planned out or implemented. That's all. :)

The anger behind protesting HRC's involvement in the TGDOR stems from the fact that this organization is actively involved in working against transgender employment rights that would help to reduce the number of these hate crimes. The feeling is that such an organization is unworthy of sponsoring a memorial for the victims of anti-trangender hate crimes while their own political actions help to exacerbate the problem, and I have to agree.

Add to that the fact that it is expected that HRC would use the opportunity to fundraise, as they always do when sponsoring events like this, and I can totally support and endorse refusing to to let such shameful hypocrisy go unchallenged.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | November 26, 2007 4:26 PM

I'm with Rebecca on this one -- it is hypocritical and there's nothing wrong with pointing that out.

The HRC has written itself out of the picture. They might be able to write themselves back in if they offer up Solomonese as a sacrificial lamb and, more importantly, slog through the long, consistency-and-truth-as-minimum swamp-trot necessary to earn our collective trust -- walking the talk of being an LGBT rights organization instead of a Democratic Party/DLC front group/money and power conduit for certain individuals. I'm not holding my breath on that happening any time soon, though.

They are not going to earn anything but my contempt by putting on faux chest-beating piety stunts like their little TDOR activities. Those don't pull the knife out of our collective backs, they just serve as sneeringly cynical reminders that it's still in there and that they're busy in some back room somewhere just twisting away at it.

Right now, I can say unequivocally that the HRC and I are not part of the same movement. There may be some occasional overlap but we're not in the same circles on the Venn diagram of LGBT politics. I'd be perfectly happy if they simply ceased to exist.

Iowa would certainly be the better for them being kaput. It would provide a temporary small void that could easily be filled with something infinitely better. In Iowa, they're just doing what they always do: being a giant vacuum cleaner of time, money, and human talent -- a repository for incompetence and skanky ethics to the tune of much talk and flash with pretty much nada to show for it -- and worse. In Iowa, they've been guilty of the "worse" part by taking a page from the Rove playbook and killing the gay rights organization that actually was doing the work, setting up a do-nothing front group/shell operation in its place. The new group is literally obstructive, just like their national puppetmasters.

P.S. Anyone who pays any attention to their Congressional voters' guide is an ignorant fool. The thing has been a laughingstock for years -- regularly used as an example of how NOT to do it and of blitheringly idiotic, pathetically obviously (just watch how bent out of shape they get in defense of it) unaware of how accurate-but-anything-but-truthful and misleading a document it regularly is -- and, utterly bwa-ha-ha-ha-worthy, they're actually proud of it!!

Right now, I can say unequivocally that the HRC and I are not part of the same movement [...] I'd be perfectly happy if they simply ceased to exist.

Fuck yeah!!!

"Until that context changes, this is pretty much what we can expect. Those protesters outside the Stonewall aren't likely to donate the $50K necessary to have a voice at HRC, and HRC's survival is dependent on money, not people marching in the street. And as long as politics requires money for access, those people who identify as queer with money are going to be the ones calling the shots for us."

Ain't that the truth?