Guest Blogger

Diego Sanchez's speech at the HRC San Francisco dinner

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 31, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ENDA, HRC, HRC gala dinner, Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese, LGBT, Oakland As, San Francisco, transgender

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Diego M. Sanchez is the Director of Public Relations & External Affairs for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. Deigo was a featured speaker at HRC's San Francisco gala dinner. This is a copy of those remarks. Video of the live speech is at the end of the post.

Diego-Sanchez.jpgThank you for that gracious introduction. Thank you to the Steering Committee for inviting me to address my LGBT friends, family and allies. Ladies, Gentlemen and everyone else who doesn't identify that way ... You are dedicated to a common goal - equality, and you are clearly committed to keeping marriage for same-sex couples a reality in California. Equal marriage is a national priority, and we transgender people hope that you will help us be seen as equal and as a national priority as well.

Tonight, I hope to accomplish three things. First, I want to intensify your commitment to transgender inclusion, and to affirm that our lives matter. Our need is urgent. Our employment is at risk, our healthcare is at risk and our lives are at risk. You only have to look right here in California where the lives of Gwen Araujo and Lawrence King were taken simply because of who they were. I urge YOU to help change that landscape.

Second, I want to explain a little of the frustration my trans brothers, sisters and ally colleagues and compadres in California are talking about, what they're singing about, what they're chanting about and what they're standing about .. across the street.

Third, I want to talk about what HRC is doing and what more HRC and we all have to do to show our commitment to the full inclusion of trans people into our community.

It's always a pleasure to be at the Westin St. Francis. My first professional hotel stay was here for the Coca-Cola National Bottlers Convention in 1979.

Ten years later, I was on the Holiday Inn corporate jet returning to Memphis after a Mexico City business trip with the company president. He had arranged for us to listen to the World Series, which, as you know, that year featured the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants.

The rivalry was hot, the language fierce and the energy electric. But in 15 seconds, baseball became a second priority because on Oct. 17, 1989 Game 3 was interrupted by the Quake of '89.

I was immediately diverted to San Francisco for the next six months to help house and feed people from all of the neighborhoods affected by the earthquake.

People with A's baseball caps worked alongside others in Giants caps because they recognized their common need and realized no one was as dedicated to getting the work done as people with skin in the game, no matter what cap they wore. Let us use that example in our own community, starting now, regardless of whether we are LGBT people or allies.

I'd like to focus on the letter T in LGBT. Why? For one thing, we are excluded from the first wave of ENDA legislation while our rate of job demotions or loss is documentable and rising. Congress tells us that we are less than human when they tell us to let a bill for employment non-discrimination ride only with sexual orientation. We feel left behind because we are left behind, but fingers are too often pointed at influencers, not decision-makers. There's no reason for anyone to feel good about that. HRC wishes it wasn't so. We wish it were different. But we need to play the hand we were dealt to move forward.

Until there's an ENDA that protects us all, there is still the desperate need to work. And that's where people like you who contribute to HRC get to see multiple arenas in which money supports programs that help us navigate reality ... until our dreams of inclusion can be true. And we all want that to be true as soon as it can be.

We have greater opportunities ahead with a new President and hopefully a more pro-equality Senate and House, come January 2009. HRC has endorsed Senator Obama who, if elected, has already expressed his support for a fully inclusive ENDA... one bill with everybody. That is how we get to an appropriate ENDA, leaving no one behind. Not me, not you and not my friends, brothers and sisters across the street.

That is the message of my family members across the street, and I am saddened that I have to be in once place and not another. This commitment is to you and to my community, all of us in this community.

Just last month, I was honored to testify before Congress in an historic hearing about the need for gender identity and expression inclusion in federal non-discrimination employment laws. When I testified, I needed the whole team - ACLU, HRC, NCLR, NCTE, and The Task Force, - to be connected, prepared, rehearsed and successful.

In my testimony, I talked about my friend and brother Ethan St. Pierre, an extremely qualified employee whose lost his job for no other reason than because he identified as transgender and was brave and honest enough to disclose it. There are countless other stories of transgender people like my brother, Ethan. These people are real. Their lives matter. And yet, transgender people have to negotiate for inclusion while our lives are at highest risk in our community.

If that reality is going to change, it's going to take every one of us. And that is why in an op-ed in this week's Bay Area Reporter, I asked readers who have jobs to donate one quarter of vacation time to contacting members of Congress about gender identity and expression in ENDA. I'm asking you to do that, too. And I'm asking you to ask your friends in other states across the country to do that. If we all help, we can have ENDA and other fairness protections that recognize gender identity and expression sooner.

Despite what you might see sometimes, Joe Solmonese is helping do his part to pass a fully inclusive ENDA. He is dedicating his expertise and mobilizing his staff to help us in every way that HRC can. For example, The Corporate Equality Index today is not a tool for trans people like me to know if an employer will provide full medical and health benefits. That has to change, too.

I know that Joe has taken some licks, and I want to make clear that all of the gains I just cited have been on his watch. Things mentioned as needing improvement are things already on Joe's radar. And it's under his command that HRC recently hired Allyson Robinson, a transgender woman, as Associate Director of Diversity to focus on trans issues for HRC. She has already had key meetings and involvement in trans issues and with transpeople nationally and in local markets, and she just completed her second week. That is real progress thanks to Joe's leadership.

It's not just about the public leadership, but it is also in whom I know Joe to be. He's a person, not just a president. He the kind of person who participated here in the AIDSLifeCycle from San Fran to LA, and took a break to participate on the LGBT conference call for Obama with 100 miles left to ride. I would have needed a nap - but not Joe. And that is the kind of determination we need leading the fight for our community, for all of us in this community.


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Good words.

But we've had good words from the HRC before.

So, let's get down to brass tacks. What actual, concrete plans has the HRC for changing its equality index? This is something they have full control over. We've heard the nebulous statement of intent, the assurance that they're "looking into it". But we've heard that before, so pardon my scepticism.

Can they give us at least a plan, with dates and milestones? Or at least a date by which they'll give us a date? Until we get a concrete commitment, this will be seen as no more than the same old smoke-blowing as in the past.

That task should be easy.

A harder one would be a plan, and some dates, for a trans-inclusive ENDA. But at least they should be able to give us the priority they put on it.

Is it higher or lower than repeal of DADT? Lower, I think, DADT is on its last legs. Is it higher or lower than repeal of DOMA, a much harder task? Lower, I think. The Matthew Shepard Act? Lower, though that one's pretty darned low. Actually, I think it's lower than any other task on their list, and a reasonable timeframe might be 20-30 years time, assuming nothing even more important comes up in the meantime to delay it yet further.

If so, so. But at least tell us what it is, and give a commitment to it.

Oh wait, they already did that, and 10 days later, said "that was then, this is now", followed by the dodgiest poll ever conducted to show that really, the majority was on their side.

The problem is that those who would like to be pragmatic, and "move on", can't possibly trust anything they say now. Their words are meaningless.

Their record of actions, such as the aid they gave to the recent Congressional hearings, are what they must be judged on now. And that record is looking better, I hope the improvement continues. The words are mere sounds, meaningless, bafflegab and worthless.

I trust Mr Sanchez. I found his performance at the hearings most impressive, and most effective. But how much power does he have to enact his intent? As much as Donna Rose had? When push comes to shove, will he be as isolated and ex-communicated as she was?

Unlike the rabid HRC critics, who think the HRC can do nothing right, I really will believe it when I see it, and give credit for it. Unlike those who are trying to mend fences though, I view the HRC's words - and worse, their sworn word - as mere noise.

Diego,
It is best you listen to Zoe's words. She is not even an American citizen and yet, she understands HRC and its history better than you do.

"None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see." - Mathew Henry -

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana -

You failed to learn from history and you do not listen to those who have come before you. Your fate will be no better than those who have tried before you.

I have a motto that goes, "There is no shame in failure, but there is in failure to try." The exception to that is trying for something out of the realm possibility. These are things like exploring Mars, traveling through time and thinking I can change HRC. To do any of those, I would have to break the laws of physics.

In HRC's case, Newton's First Law of Motion is in play. The First Law says, "Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it." Basically, in order to move an immovable object (HRC,) it has to be acted upon by a force that can not only overcome the friction of its stationary state, but have enough force to also place that object in motion. You don't have enough force to move the immovable HRC. Brush up on your physics.

Now that I made my statement to you, I'll go talk to the nearest brick wall. It hears better than most, and responds better.

Unless Joe Solmonese publicly states that HRC will ONLY support a single ENDA bill which includes both sexual orientation and Gender Identity, there is NOTHING else anyone can say. No matter who HRC hires, no matter which transgender person they get to speak at their dinner party, fund-raisers.
Until that happens, I'm not listening.

Heather W. | July 31, 2008 5:50 PM

Wow, Diego. It sounds like you're one of those people who would be stabbed in the back by someone and then claim that they just tripped.

Sure seems like you're being used to me.

How sad.


Thank you for posting. After reading your speech, the question that came to me was the question of leadership. You talk about Joe's leadership, and while I definitely disagree, its not what I take from your speech.

The question I have for you Diego, is where is your leadership?

In situations like this, we need those who will work on the inside and those who will work on the outside. You've obviously taken the inside track, and I applaud you on taking that route.

But that route takes leadership, and in my opinion, your speech doesn't show that. It is obvious to me that you are playing a role. You are playing the role of the acceptable tranny who comes in and quiets the crowd and lets them be comfortable that what is going on around them is not a big deal, and that they really shouldn't feel uncomfortable. Nothing to see here people, move along.

I would encourage you to consider the role you are playing and if you can not use that opportunity to make people uncomfortable.

You could have talked about how Joe, who you called a leader, failed the community when he lied, and that that is why the people outside and the community at large hold much of their anger directly at HRC.

Instead you took the easy, non-confrontational way out. For people and groups to change, they have to be made uncomfortable. How did your speech accomplish that?

To me, it looks like it just gave the people on the stage and in the room the space to feel as if there is nothing they did that contributed to the situation in Congress and outside the hotel. No one was held to account.

Where was the challenge?

Instead, you praised people that need to be challenged.

And so, I challenge you, Diego. I challenge you to think about what role you are playing. Are you in control or are the people that are directing you in control?

Who are you accountable to? Is HRC accountable to you?

Leadership means making people uncomfortable and I wish you had done more of that in your speech.

After reading it, to me as an audience member it makes me think that HRC's hands are clean and there is nothing to be done.

I hope you contemplate my thoughts, they are sent with the most sincerity possible.

Gerri Ladene | July 31, 2008 7:57 PM

The way I see it, G.Bush a.k.a. “The Shrub” would have vetoed any ENDA legislation that came along. He always stated he would veto it, so why bother to try and go forward with it while the Faith-based spouting Emperor still holds office? Obviously, the Democratic leadership in Congress is more concerned with their positions than the safety and well being of all Americans. Seems they may have a problem with reality when it comes to actually helping people rather than using their office for self serving opportunistic ventures in self wealth. Sadly our Congress is laden with to many individuals of this selfish character and this to must change!

As for HRC's handling of it, they couldn't have created a bigger mess for themselves if they paid someone to (maybe they got paid in favor to create failure)! The good thing that came out of the way it was handled, unfortunately for the outcome, was in the form knowledge of who in Congress is supportive of the Inclusive (mental) legislation and who was in favor of the non-inclusive (crotch) version which in reality is nothing more than castrated impotent legislation which essentially would only serve to help a segment of the LGBT community. The HRC was also shown how unity in the American LGBT community is stronger than they realized. Even still as mentioned by so many, time and time again, the HRC has yet to apologize for its misconceived turn on the gender in ENDA and its hesitation to publicly commit to helping all that inclusive legislation would provide for safer fuller lives! The HRC's holding to the excuse of inclusive failure due to gender just screams prejudice!

I was sent a flyer asking for a monetary donation to the HRC after the initial shockwave and my response though not supportive was neither derogatory and I responded of my own disappointment in their not supporting me or any others who would benefit from an inclusive ENDA! It would appear the HRC want us on board for appearances sake but will a true vision of unity emerge from HRC? Not till they speak truth and commit to all who need help and stand behind their commitments, hiring negotiators in the form of Transgender to show willingness to that end could just as well be another ruse for appearances sake! I personally will need more commitment from the HRC before they regain my trust.

To be honest Diego I found your speech pretty weak and avoiding of not placing blame but accountability.You said that Congress thinks of us as less than human.Is that the Republican Congress or the Democratic Congress or both? I vaguely remember something about the Republican side wanting to push the T back into enda.Politics or guilty conscience one can only speculate.But why endorse a candidate from either party didn't Clinton sign dadt and doma?As for a meeting between the T leadership and HRC I'd rather see them issue a statement to the greater T community.Not an apology but an explanation of how they think relations might of soured.What issues they would recomend the T community address to help make a better relationship with hrc possible.Also a statement of willingness to try to address reasonable issues the T community might have with them.Just my two cents