Marti Abernathey

Parsing of Words and The Projection of Dishonesty

Filed By Marti Abernathey | May 09, 2008 5:34 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ENDA, HRC, Joe Solmonese, Monica Lewinsky, parsing words

One of the things that really bothered me about Bill Clinton during his presidency was how he parsed words. Every single dot and tittle was accounted for and packed with hidden meanings. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky" meant, "I didn't have sex with that woman, if you mean vaginal intercourse."

It seems that the Human Rights Campaign's president, Joe Solmonese took a page out of the Clinton parsing workbook. According to the Southern Voice:

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese met with a handful of transgender activists in Atlanta last week and apologized for 'misspeaking' at last year's Southern Comfort conference, where he promised HRC would only support an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that included gender identity, according to people attending the meeting.

Misspoke - To speak mistakenly, inappropriately, or rashly.

Within the definition of the word misspoke, there is an implication of innocence. The organizations that work the Hill for GLBT issues knew as early as April of 2007 that gender identity would most likely be removed from ENDA. I reported on this development in May when I lobbied with the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC). At the time I spoke with Christopher Johnson from the HRC about what had happened when we lobbied. With all the talk between the Hill and the HRC, how are we supposed to believe that Solmonese went down to the largest transgender conference and said this:


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Those words sound very scripted, measured, and well thought out. They don't come off to me as a misstatement. It doesn't seem like he just made a slip of the tongue.

The failings of HRC shouldn't be seen as a failure on the part of the transgender community, but as a failure on part of the GLBT community. Sir Jesse McNulty said:

'They're called the Human Rights Campaign, and that's more than just gays and lesbians,' he said. 'Butch lesbians and feminine men face the same discrimination we do. It's not OK what they did.'

That's what needs to be hammered home. The language of the fully GLBT inclusive HR 2015 protected gender variant (diesel dykes, sissy boys, genderqueers, etc.) people of ANY sexual orientation. The definition of gender identity in the inclusive bill is as follows:

The term `gender identity' means the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual's designated sex at birth.

Removal of this language ENDA effectively stripped away any protections based on a person's variant gender identity. ENDA, as written in HR 3685, will only protect those gays and lesbians fired because of who they have sexual relations with, not their appearance. If you're fired because you're too nelly or you're too butch, you're out of luck.

One quote from Jamie Roberts stood out to me.

It looks like [HRC] is working toward [a trans-inclusive bill] for 2011, assuming a friendly Democrat got into the White House,

That's just isn't going to happen. 2011 will be the start of an election cycle. There is no way that a GENDA type bill (like HR 3686) will be voted on during an election cycle. The best time to pass any GLBT related legislation is in the the first or second year of a Democratic administration (or directly after the second term, which would be 2013, at the earliest).

During Barack Obama's visits to Indianapolis, I thought about what I'd say if I was able to speak with him. I planned on saying "when the topic of ENDA comes up, please keep in mind that for gender variant people, losing a job is very often a death sentence." It was for Alice Johnston, and many other unnamed gender variant people.

I personally don't care if Joe Solmonese is sorry for his dishonesty at Southern Comfort. I'm not looking for a friend, a pal, or a bowling buddy. I don't want parsed words. I don't want empty rhetoric. What I want is to be able to trust an organization that says in its mission statement that it will work to protect me, actually follows through with that advocacy. What I want is to be able to trust in what the leader of such an organization says. I'm not sure how I or any other gender variant person can do that with Joe Solmonese. When I hear him parse words, I hear the old favorites ringing in my head, "the check is in the mail", "I'm from the government and I'm here to help", or "I'll still respect you in the morning"....


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Marti, thank you. This was a well written piece. And, as always, I cried when I saw Alice's name. I have been thinking a lot about her lately. Now, if we can only get her headstone to be changed to her legal name instead of her male name.

My Pastor, Paul Turner says I didn't act Christian-like when I went to the Atlanta HRC dinner. He's right. I didn't. He says I'm taking it personal. He's right on that, too. Every time I hear of a person losing their job, or take their life because they became so depressed trying to find a job, I take it personal. I can't help it. When does it stop being personal?

He's also right when he says that I am a more affective activist when I do something out of love for the community instead of anger toward people like Joe. Not only did Joe lie to all of us that day at SCC, but he changed me into an angry trannie. I don't like it. I'm still crying. I don't like it. I don't.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 9, 2008 7:37 AM

Marti, read it all, read the link, twice. You are both right and remarkable. (as in worth of notice)

He just makes me feel tired all over. As he does so many people in the community. Which is just what we need going into November - a divided, unmotivated community.

They're following a short term strategy of "triangulation" - when the "50 state strategy" has been shown to be the way to develop the movement for the future.

His board should consider whether going into November having local groups both unmotivated or unwilling to work with HRC reflects the pragmatism they say they adhere to. Having HRC's duplicity on enda and inclusion in general be a topic continually raised with those running for office and the community; is it really the most practical strategy they can imagine to foster the organizations mission & continuation? One hopes they can put this to rest by the end of June.

"human rights" says it all. transgender and gender variant individuals are very much human beings...probably even more so...if you attach the concept of human to the concept of basic humanity.

individuals like solomnese do not deserve the honor of representing us, in any fashion. and an organization that fails to represent us should not be named the "human rights" campaign. they need to re-evaluate their mission, or find a new name.

Joe lied, our inclusion in ENDA died

Your pastor is 110% correct, Monica. Anger is a powerful force, but love is even larger.

Monica H, actually, you did do what Christ would have done. He would have called HRC out many times by now for their many misdeeds over the past 15 years, much as he called out the moneylenders in the temple. Christ was an activist. He probably would have been less sarcastic, but I think it was probably time for Solmonese to hear what people really think, for someone to break through the bubble that surrounds him. You did what needed to be done, by the sound of it.

It would be nice to find a way to not need HRC, and we should work to find reliable allies, but they will continue to give the impression on the Hill that they speak for us, while they fight our inclusion.

I have heard recently from a Hill source that the 2011 reference is due to the fact that ENDA may be back burnered entirely until 2011 - G & L as well as T - due to the massive accumulation of economic, budgetary, war, tax, and repealing the more odious parts of Bushism that a new Administration and Congress will be grappling with in 2009-2010. Hate crimes will be on the 2009 agenda.