Marti Abernathey

Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition Accepts HRC Grant

Filed By Marti Abernathey | January 10, 2008 10:48 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: HRC, MTPC, NCTE, Susan Stanton

The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTCP) announced today:

MTPC is buttressed by milestone grants, including a $25,000 Civic Engagement Grant from Boston Foundation and $25,000 total in four phases from Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), including $10,000 immediately as a challenge grant to urge other organizations to follow suit. Other contributions are being made by MTPC's legislative partners MassEquality, Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association (MLGBA), Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. (AAC).

Considering the gap that has been created by the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) support of a non-inclusive ENDA, the timing of such an acceptance of funds seems ill timed.

The fissure between the transgender community and HRC is so expansive that long time activist, California Assembly's 2003 "Woman of the Year", and San Francisco Police Commissioner, Theresa Sparks recently returned the HRC Equality Award that she received in 2004. According to the Bay Area Reporter, Sparks said:

'It no longer symbolized equality to me,' Commission President Theresa Sparks told the Bay Area Reporter upon exiting the two-hour meeting, held January 5 at the LGBT Community Center. 'It's a matter of their integrity and not following through and my own integrity.' Sparks said that she could no longer stand to even look at the etched glass award when it was on her credenza. She received the award in 2004.

Anger from the transgender community burned white hot against ex-Largo city manager, Susan Stanton after she was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times:

Eventually, she decided it was too early for transgender people to be federally protected. People need more time, more education, she says. 'The transgender groups boo me, now, when I speak. Isn't that ironic?'

'But I don't blame the human rights groups from separating the transgender people from the protected groups. Most Americans aren't ready for us yet,' Susan says.

Her presence at the HRC Logo debates in August and her recent speaking engagement at an HRC sponsored event in Chicago raised many eyebrows of transgender activists. But it was her comments in the St. Petersburg Times article that caused the community to see Stanton as an agent of the HRC.

The anger against the HRC has even reached the National Center For Transgender Equality's Board of Directors. According to the Washington Blade, the usually dispassionate Meredith Bacon was quoted saying:

'[A]s the chair of the NCTE Board of Directors, I can assure all who read this blog that NCTE will not work with HRC in the foreseeable future, until the current leadership is completely purged, and until we are convinced that, unlike its predecessors, any new HRC leadership is totally committed to working for transgender rights,' Bacon wrote. 'As long as HRC is controlled by and is dependent upon white, rich, professional gay men, such collaboration may never occur,' she wrote.

Is today's announcement by MTPC a sign that the community's anger against HRC is lessening, or will the transgender community see this as a "deal with the devil"?

Cross posted from Transadvocate.com


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First, I think it's quite interesting how HRC gave MTPC 25 grand. In '04 the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey (GRAANJ) received a mere $3500 grant from HRC, most of which was returned to the org unused becuase of dissatisfaction with their "advocacy" of trans rights.

Second, I'll admit to being somewhat torn here. If that $25K will help Mass. transfolks get basic civil rights under the law, that's something that not only I support, but that I think HRC should be pouring money into. If Mass. transfolks stood on principle and MTPC were to return that money, who does it really help?

While I don't like the idea of a trans org taking money from HRC on an emotional level, at the same time I also think HRC should pony up bigtime to help undo the damage it has done to the national fight for transgender rights, and Mass., where the gay and lesbian orgs are turning their backs on us, is an excellent place to start.

HRC obviously thinks they can just write a check
to fix the damage they have done to the TG/TS communities.

I also think MTPC should take the high road and
return the money with a short note

Thanks but no thinks; you people have already done enough damage, take your money and don't come back until you stop being hypocrites .

Take care
Sue

While I don't like the idea of a trans org taking money from HRC on an emotional level, at the same time I also think HRC should pony up bigtime to help undo the damage it has done to the national fight for transgender rights, and Mass., where the gay and lesbian orgs are turning their backs on us, is an excellent place to start.

Well said, Rebecca.

Fuck no!

Do you honestly think that with the $25K grant the MTPC is going to do something like hold a town hall meeting that openly challenges and explores HRC's transphobic practices? Will it talk openly about transphobia within the mainstream GLBT movement? Will they feel comfortable joining a grassroots coalition that protests against its own sponsor? Will they confront transphobic employers or politicians that have saddled up with HRC? No. They will effectively be silenced, and the direction of their work will be shaped by HRC, which is the last organization we want determining how we organize.

I think Suzanne Pharr really addresses this well in her brief piece, Funding Our Radical Work. I highly recommend it as a quick introduction to some of her thinking and some of the critiques of a privatized social justice movement that are being made by activists around the world. In her article, Suzanne mentions the NCADV's rejection of a $600,000 grant from the Department of Justice because it restricted references to lesbianism, development of an analysis racism, etc. Clearly there is precedent for rejecting grants that would radically alter or undermine your work.

Now I can’t say for sure whether this grant to MTPC will come with any restrictions, although an educated guess says that it will, but the power dynamic alone that rises from being funded by HRC is enough to effectively stop true radical work from being done by MTPC. The simple fact is that HRC will never, ever fund work that will challenge the status quo and it’s position at the top.

Nick I think if MTPC heard from enough of us they would think twice about using those funds and would most likely send them back.

If we were to apply enough pressure to any group that accepts money from HRC we could make them awfully lonely and give them pause to re-think their position. If MTPC takes the money it is at the very least a symbolic turning of the cheek and implies the TG/TS community in part is for sale and at a low price.

Nick,

On that, I agree completely. The money should be given with no restrictions whatsoever, other than that it be must used to further the cause of trans rights in Massachusetts.

Should there be any other restrictions, especially in regards to confronting HRC itself or in regards to any specific politicians, agendas (other than the general requirement to use it to further trans rights in Mass.), or anything else, the money should be refused.

HRC's paying $25K for silence? That sounds pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things, and honestly I'd never expect trans people ever to shut up just for some cash. At least not the ones I know.

Could we consider the possibility that HRC's board genuinely wants to help out a local effort related to LGBT equality? Just askin'.

I don't know if anyone ever advanced the idea that HRC is actually transphobic - just opportunistic and lazy and'll turn their backs on someone as the wind changes directions. If someone did, then I missed it.

I told Becky last night on her show that maybe I'm just more cynical than she. Maybe I'm more naive now. Funny how the world works!

Nick~ I think it's kosher if the money's like sex at a bathhouse - NSA. Even if they're trying to buy silence, that's all they're being: trying.

OK, I need to get rid of that QAF joke-writer I have chained up over here....

I don't trust the HRC as far as I can throw them. With one hand, uphill, against a strong wind.

The only way they can rehabilitate is not by words, but by deeds, and not just over weeks or months, but years.

If I was in the HRC Politburo, and genuinely wanted to reform, I'd start with something like this. No words, no strings, just find who can do the most good and fund them. Keep a low profile, saying nothing, asking for nothing, just helping.

And if I was in the MTPC, I'd take the money, and continue to criticise the HRC's past actions, while hoping - though not expecting - that in 4-5 years, if they keep this kind of thing up, we might be able to work together. But until there is a long track record of deeds, not words, I won't be holding my breath that that is possible.

I don't know if anyone ever advanced the idea that HRC is actually transphobic - just opportunistic and lazy and'll turn their backs on someone as the wind changes directions. If someone did, then I missed it.

Yes, HRC is transphobic. They are not just lazy or opportunistic. Consider that idea officially advanced, although I’m certainly not the first one to do so.

And if I was in the MTPC, I'd take the money, and continue to criticise the HRC's past actions…

That’s assuming that MTPC ever criticized HRC’s actions. I don’t know anything about them so I can’t say with confidence that the work they are currently doing challenges the queer power hierarchy in any way.

I’m glad that everyone agrees the grant should be NSA, but I think it’s a little naïve to think that just because a grant does not come with written restrictions that it is coming completely NSA. In fact, I’m a little shocked that anyone who has worked in the nonprofit world would even suggest otherwise. Grants are cyclical, which means that MTPC is going to want to stay in HRC’s favor and continue to bring in the big dollars. And HRC’s influence can be very subtle. I know of specific cases where HRC has threatened to withdraw funding from organizations if they did not drop the ‘queer’ from LGBTQ in their literature. That’s just one small example of the kind of behind the scenes work that HRC is doing to manipulate and undermine queer liberation through its funding.

Not only have I dealt with HRC in this situation before, but I was one of the members of GRAANJ who voted to return their grant in '04.

I can also tell you that grant came with mucho strings attached, such as having to submit regular reports on how the money was being used (which, honestly, is not an unreasonable requirement in and of itself, IMHO), and certain restrictions as to the specific ways the money was to be used. I don't remember there being any specific requirements as to not speaking out against HRC, and I certainly didn't feel myself constrained by any since I published an expose on their "advocacy" of transgender inclusion in Congress that May.

The reason most of us chose to return our grant was that we didn't feel comfortable taking money from an organization which was actively working against our interests. The membership of MTPC will have to decide for themselves what their values are here, but I'll also say that it was far easier to weather the loss of $3500 (I believe it was quickly and easily replaced other supporters who felt as we did) as it would have been if it were $25K. That kind of money can do a lot of good, and MTPC will have to decide for themselves what action will best serve the needs of their organization and their community.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | January 11, 2008 11:39 AM

This is not the first time that HRC has given funding to help support local/state level. For a number of years HRC has provided funds and staff support to help advance state level issues in a variety of states including MA, PA, CA, IA, MI, AZ, OR, DE, ME, LA, NM etc. So I don't really understand the brouhaha around the grant to MTPC.

What good would it do for MTPC to refuse funding that it obviously needs in order to continue its work?

It may make some people feel good to say "screw you" to HRC, but then MTPC would be out $25,000. That $25,000 would go much further in advancing trans rights than the feeling of political smugness that would come from telling HRC no.

Sorry to keep driving this point home, but this is NOT about political smugness, Michael. It's about who gets to control our radical work (assuming MTPC is doing radical work), and how they control it.

I find it insulting that you would trivialize my arguements (or anyone else's) by suggesting this is a nothing more than a petty matter of pride. If you're not going to approach the conversation by at least trying to understand the REAL reasons some of us are hesitant about this grant, then what's the point??

Sidenote: It'd be pretty cool to have someone from MTPC guest blog about the topic. I mean it'd be pretty interesting I think. I imagine they had at least some internal dialogue about the whole thing.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | January 11, 2008 2:24 PM

Nick,

For me, its not all that important to be seen as radical. I am more interested in answering the question at the end of the day, what steps forward have been made in advancing LGBT civil rights. I am not involved in MTPC's work so I am in no way attempting to speak for them or tell them how they should operate.

If its more important for you to get the emotional payoff that will result from telling HRC to shove their $25,000 grant, that's fine. But, that would do nothing to provide MTPC with some of the resources that they need to grow and become more effective.

I did not trivialize anyone's arguments or reasons for asking questions about MTPC's acceptance of the grant from HRC. And, you can't deny that there are serious egos on display on all sides.

I am sure that there was much conversation among the stakeholders in MTPC about accepting a grant from HRC and we should respect the result of that conversation.

HRC is not perfect no is any other LGBT organization. They did the right thing by helping MTPC.

Let me hit you with this one, Michael, something I don't think I've seen you address here as yet:

In your opinion, did HRC do the right thing by the community in the way they have advocated ENDA this past year? Why or why not? If not, what should they have done differently?

You are right -- there are lots of egos coming into play, and I want to acknowledge that. However, you are continuing to trivialize valid arguments for rejecting such grants when you say:

If its more important for you to get the emotional payoff that will result from telling HRC to shove their $25,000 grant, that's fine.

This statement still positions my argument as one of emotions or pride, and I’ve made it clear that is NOT why I think MTPC should reject funding from HRC.

In fact, all of your wording is entirely dismissive. When you say that you have no interest in being seen as radical you are implying that I am only interested in appearing radical. As if I was nothing more than a child going through a rebel phase. Notice that you didn’t say that you have no interest in being radical.

When I say ‘radical work' I am talking about the work of ending trans/queer oppression and overturning the systems that keep it in place. In my opinion that is radical work. And I do think that HRC is oppositional to this radical work, because it will never challenge the underlying cause of such violence. It will always reinforce, and be reinforced by, the status quo.

It's easy to cast this an issue of pride, much harder to actually address the real issues here, apparently.

Since Michael didn't respond last time, I'll ask him once again:

In your opinion, did HRC do the right thing by the community in the way they have advocated ENDA this past year? Why or why not? If not, what should they have done differently?

C'mon, Michael, speak to the real issues here. Inquiring minds want to know.