Marti Abernathey

What Next?

Filed By Marti Abernathey | November 09, 2007 11:22 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: ENDA, gender identity, HRC, strategy

Last night I wrote a friend a rant that was full of expletives and frustration. Most of my disgruntlement was from the Wednesday's passage in the House of Representatives of the sexual orientation only Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

It was a historic day for gays and lesbians (if only symbolically), but it was a setback for the GLBT movement as a whole. It will now be much harder to pass a gender inclusive bill, now that one has passed with sexual orientation only.

Another worrisome aspect of this vote has been the reaction from some parts of the transgender community. Since passage of ENDA, I've heard various transgender people call for the protesting of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). I have to wonder, is that really the wisest move? What does that accomplish? How does that move transgender people closer to inclusion in the 2009 bill?

I don't like the duplicitous nature of the HRC over the past two months. Dealing with them on any level feels like a Charlie Brown nightmare. But an honest assessment of the facts shows that HRC is the largest GLBT political machine there is. Do we create or elevate another organization to that level in a years time? I don't think that could be done in ten years time, much less one. The HRC owns the keys to access our politicians. How do we fight for an inclusive ENDA in 2009 and fight the HRC at the same time?

Wednesday did have its bright spots. When was the last time you saw any US Representative stand up on the floor of the House and talk about transgender people in a positive light? When was the last time any politician stood up for us and voted against legislation that didn't include us? Never. In that light, the debate over ENDA was positive and historic. A big thanks needs to go out to Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Michael Michaud (D-Maine), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) for standing strong with us.

I'm not sure what needs to be done next. But I do know that kicking sand on HRC isn't going to move us any closer to an ENDA with gender identity inclusion. Almost everyone I've talked to in the GLB movement wants gender identity included in the 2009 ENDA. Initially, it seems like the most rational thing to do is to support the folks of United ENDA. Strengthening the groups within United ENDA by having more transgender participation and dollars would seem like a safe bet.


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Since passage of ENDA, I've heard various transgender people call for the protesting of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). I have to wonder, is that really the wisest move? What does that accomplish? How does that move transgender people closer to inclusion in the 2009 bill?

Sure, if your only goal is to get trans inclusion in a 2009 ENDA then maybe (and that is a big maybe) protesting HRC might not move you in that direction. But overall that is a pretty sad and shortsighted goal that does nothing to challenge the underlying oppression that organizations like HRC make the world safe for.

You say that it would take 10 years to build an organization equivalent to HRC, but instead you should be asking why we need an HRC at all. You ask what is next? I suggest following the groundwork laid out by grassroots activists, organizers and groups like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence who are questioning and confronting the role of the non-profit industrial complex as a tool for maintaining the status quo.

> But overall that is a pretty sad and shortsighted goal

Why do people always assume that a current focus on a particular issue represents the "only" thing important to an individual or group? The trans community has many people working on many goals.

> INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence who are questioning and confronting the role of the non-profit industrial complex as a tool for maintaining the status quo.

Ah, that explains it. A dreamer. Dreams are good. Keep them close, and follow them where you will. But some people will always need to get closer to where the power is, and risk getting burned.

Why do people always assume that a current focus on a particular issue represents the "only" thing important to an individual or group? The trans community has many people working on many goals.

Good question, Val. I definitely am not arguing an individual, group, or movement that focuses on a particular issue is only interested in that single issue. The problem comes when the sacrifices made to achieve short term goals are ultimately counterproductive to achieving longer term goals. My complaint is not that Marti is focusing on a short term goal that will serve as a stepping stone that leads to achieving longer term goals, but rather that she is focusing on a short term goal that will actually hurt the movement against queer oppression.

And that is my argument against a non-inclusive ENDA as well.

At this point in time, I'm no longer in favor of protesting HRC. It's progressed far beyond that now. To protest HRC, you must concede control of the situation to them, and acknowledge that it is they, and not ourselves, who control our community's activist and lobbying influence.

The reality is that if we've gained anything we didn't have before through this process, it's the attention of Congress. I think we need to use it to best effect to change the way our community's leaders are perceived by elected officials.

I also think, however, that HRC should no longer be considered a credible representative of the community, and that we take advantage of the doors that have opened to transpeople more in the last several weeks than ever before in history to make sure that when this thing does come again in '09, it'll pass in an intact form.

Well, this is a confusing development. I really didn't expect trans-activists to want to lay off HRC. That certainly wasn't the case before today.

The thinking seems to breakdown into a couple of categories. 1) If we deal with HRC, we are giving/acknowledging their power over us, so therefore they should be ignored. 2) They're so big, we can't take them down. 3) We shouldn't try to establish our own political institution because it will take too long, and cost too much.

I don't think HRC's power is derived from perception; so whether or not we deal with them, they will be a force. It's emotionally empowering to think that our acknowledgment is the key to their power, but not too realistic.

If they are too big to be taken down, which seems to be a fair assessment, then it would seem incumbent upon us to redirect their thinking. I don't know how that would happen without engagement.

And if we aren't in a position to create our own "HRC", then what choice is there but to work with the current institutions?

I read something that I believe Marla wrote, although I can't remember where, talking about 'upgrading' NGLTF to becoming a lobbying organization, and/or further developing United ENDA as one. That seems to make sense, but are we able to do that as well as deal with HRC?

This may not provide any solutions, but thinking about what others have written is a start.

marti, I have no evidence that the HRC as currently run is any better than neutral when it comes to transgendered people, at least when it comes to political activities. If we are in the slightest bit inconvenient to them, if our existence gets in the way of the GLB-only agenda, then they will squash us like bugs.

In the meantime, they will pay lip service, while their PAC does the backstabbing. As long as including us might be seen as advantageous - for example, the Matthew Shepard bill could hardly exclude the transgendered - then we will be allowed to exist.

Their Trans Outreach program is now a dead duck because of their duplicity, before it got off the ground. When push comes to shove, we're under the bus. Just read Donna Rose's blog, as she gets more and more evidence of just how badly she's been misled for so long.

I'd appreciate a counterexample showing where I'm wrong.

Right now, I'm changing their classification from "Friend" to "Assumed Hostile". Now given that, and given they are the 800lb Gorilla, where do we go from here? Undermine and white-ant them financially, certainly, but otherwise try not to irritate them too much. But even that might not be needed, for it's difficult to see at this stage how they can keep up the GLB-plus-T facade while doing any more damage than they already have done.

The reality is that if we've gained anything we didn't have before through this process, it's the attention of Congress. I think we need to use it to best effect to change the way our community's leaders are perceived by elected officials.

If that was the case, an inclusive version of the bill would have passed. HRC is still the gatekeeper. They have the cash, and the influence. That's what walks and talks in Washington D.C.

marti, I have no evidence that the HRC as currently run is any better than neutral when it comes to transgendered people, at least when it comes to political activities. If we are in the slightest bit inconvenient to them, if our existence gets in the way of the GLB-only agenda, then they will squash us like bugs.

That's my point. We need to become less of an inconvenience for them. There is much support and sympathy for transgender people in the community right now. We need to capitalize on that.

In the meantime, they will pay lip service, while their PAC does the backstabbing. As long as including us might be seen as advantageous - for example, the Matthew Shepard bill could hardly exclude the transgendered - then we will be allowed to exist.

That's incorrect. There was talk of removing us. Ask Mara Keisling and Peter Rosenstein. The reason we weren't is because they had the votes to pass it. Had they fell short, I most certainly assure you we would have been removed.

Their Trans Outreach program is now a dead duck because of their duplicity, before it got off the ground. When push comes to shove, we're under the bus. Just read Donna Rose's blog, as she gets more and more evidence of just how badly she's been misled for so long.

Do you hear Donna Rose calling for protests? No. There's a reason for that.

Right now, I'm changing their classification from "Friend" to "Assumed Hostile". Now given that, and given they are the 800lb Gorilla, where do we go from here? Undermine and white-ant them financially, certainly, but otherwise try not to irritate them too much. But even that might not be needed, for it's difficult to see at this stage how they can keep up the GLB-plus-T facade while doing any more damage than they already have done.

Sure they can. They can assure that the bill that matters, in 2009 is not inclusive.They aren't our enemy, but they're not really a friend either. They're more like an acquaintance now.. which ever way the wind blows, they'll go with.

If there are the votes there, they will push it. That is our job, to make sure we have the votes when it really counts. Anything else will bring us sure defeat and no employment rights for decades to come. It is VITAL that we are protected in the 2009 ENDA.

The problem comes when the sacrifices made to achieve short term goals are ultimately counterproductive to achieving longer term goals. My complaint is not that Marti is focusing on a short term goal that will serve as a stepping stone that leads to achieving longer term goals, but rather that she is focusing on a short term goal that will actually hurt the movement against queer oppression.

And that is my argument against a non-inclusive ENDA as well.

Wait, then why are you supporting an ENDA at all, Nick? Sitting around and expecting the government (the same one that oppressed/s us w/ sodomy laws and police brutality and public sex stings) to prevent employment discrimination seems to be relying on the same institution of power for a short-sighted goal as well.

And, no, I'm not arguing that, but just saying that that line of argumentation is infinitely regressive. There's always a bigger picture, a longer term goal, but I'm not going to put off effective solutions in hopes of a perfect one.

Which is way different from the reasons to be against a non-inclusive ENDA, which were more related to how it'd divide our activist community (which it did), how it makes the ENDA itself useless, and how it just a sign of laziness on the part of Congressional Democrats when 65% of people support trans protections. And as an elementary school teacher/former jr. high teacher, I'm not about to condone laziness. :)

They can assure that the bill that matters, in 2009 is not inclusive.

And they will, if they think it would hurt the chances of passing it by a single iota. Which, of course, they think it will. As will Rep. Frank.

Next time, we won't have the Barbara Walters and Oprah interviews, the Susan Stanton and Christine Daniels cases fresh in public memory. Our position won't be better, and will possibly be worse.

What we do to help them won't matter one little bit. And we don't have enough clout to hurt them either. All we can do is work around, not through, them. Fortunately, there are alternatives that have little love for the HRC (a wholly owned subsidiary of the DNC). Unfortunately, the alternatives don't have the clout - yet. In my analysis, and I may be wrong, the HRC by showing that its words can never be trusted has lost political power too.

Politicians who may have had scruples about backstabbing them will now treat them as just another untrustworthy player, to be lied to whenever convenient. They've lost an asset - their credibility. Not just to supporters, but to politicians as well. They've lost their political virginity, so will be treated as just another political whore.

It was only a bad day for the "GLBT movement," if one concedes that there IS a "GLBT" movement, which many of us gays and lesbians do not. If there is no alphabet soup "community," then it becomes perfectly reasonable for gays and lesbians to advocate for our own civil rights agenda, and for transgender people to concern themselves with their own.

Now, I support trans rights, and as trans people work to build up the support for their civil rights issues, I'll be there to call Congress, educate and encourage my friends on their behalf, etc. But I do not have some special moral obligation on behalf of trans people simply because I am a lesbian; my obligation is no more or less than any straight person's. Nor is HRC's.

I agree with trans people that HRC should not talk out of both sides of its mouth about whether its mission includes trans people. My view is that HRC's actions speak louder than its words, and it should now change its words to match: it is a gay and lesbian advocacy organization. It does not prioritize the needs or interests of trans people, nor should it have to. But it is legitimate for transpeople to demand that it be honest about this so that they can donate their time and volunteer efforts elsewhere.

As for me, I support HRC in its efforts and strategy to secure rights for gays and lesbians nationwide. Next week, I'll be joining HRC's Federal Club, which is for those who contribute $1200 or more per year to HRC. Here's the reality: there are far more people (with money) who share my viewpoint than yours. And we will continue to strengthen HRC financially. So really, it's your call - if y'all want to contribute to a bunch of fledgling grassroots organizations, that's cute but won't generate political muscle in DC. The reality is that you need HRC as an ally, even if not as your champion. And that is best done by not demanding that HRC sacrifice the rights of gays and lesbians that are within reach on the altar of political correctness and "principled" transgender inclusion (that leads to real rights for no one, so long as trans people still have work to do to educate the rest of America about who they are.) Rather, support HRC's efforts to secure the rights of gays and lesbians as trans allies, and then ask for HRC's support for your efforts to secure trans rights as gay and lesbian allies.