One thing clearly evident everywhere in San Francisco for PRIDE this past weekend: In many ways, it is a world unto itself. From the moment I landed at the airport (when someone greeted his boyfriend with a big hug and a deep kiss) to the moment I left (sitting next to two women with PRIDE stickers all over themselves on the flight home) it was never more apparent to me than it was this past weekend.
Contrary to those who may have hoped otherwise, time has not dulled the memory of last fall's ENDA debacle. It hasn't gone away and it's not going away any time soon. If anything, the passage of time (and, perhaps, the failure to do anything substantive to heal the wounds) has made things particularly acute in and around the Bay area. The community there feels the wound that this has caused in a very deep, personal way. The resentment, anger, frustration, and betrayal that many of us felt and continue to experience seems compounded there - not simply in the trans community but across the entire GLBT spectrum and allies.
The political power in San Francisco certainly has reason to celebrate right now. Marriage Equality is a reality in there and loving, committed couples are having their relationships legally recognized every single day. It is truly a historic time. However, the political base and the considerable community spirit that it represents is not simply resting on that achievement. They have now cast their gaze on the upcoming HRC gala dinner there, scheduled for July 26. It represents an opportunity to send a loud, clear, very public message to HRC and to anyone else who doubts our commitment to One Community Undivided.
Not surprisingly, the HRC/ENDA situation was featured prominently at the Transgender March at Delores Park on Friday. With a theme of "Marching for a Gender Inclusive ENDA" it was the largest Transgender March ever, and was a celebration of the broad spectrum of gender expressions that comprise our communities. Although there was certainly a diverse crowd there the message they delivered was unified:
Several Bay area political and community leaders held a press conference last week to focus attention on the situation (There's No ENDA To The Cowardice). The "Left Out Party" being planned for across the street from the HRC gala will eventually grow to thousands of people - mark my words. There will be speakers, entertainment, and lots of people. It'll be significantly larger than the event itself. There's a petition going around of people and groups who are publicly boycotting the event.
Some organizations at PRIDE made an effort to distance themselves from HRC. I've heard from several people that there were some spirited discussions at their booth. Particularly interesting is the fact that the HRC contingent that had been slated to march in position 106 of the parade (according to the staging map) did not show up. What does all this mean? Perhaps nothing. But the more that all this hubub affects the bottom line the louder it will be heard.
I find very little comfort in all of this. At the HRC Board call early last October where we made the decision that prompted me to resign I had an opportunity to speak to the entire board. Joe Solmonese had already explained that he felt a middle-ground strategy of neither supporting nor opposing the non-inclusive version of ENDA was the strategy that would most quickly lead to passage of a fully-inclusive version of the bill. While I respected his opinion, I could not disagree more.
I reminded them that we had worked very hard over the past several years to build the organization into something that was relevant to GLBT lives in ways that far exceeded mere politics. All of the Foundation programs (Workplace, Religion and Faith, Coming Out, Youth, etc.) had transformed the organization into something more, and the decision that we were facing wasn't simply about political strategy - it was to confirm whether we were in fact something more or whether we were simply a political organization with lots of showy extra clothes.
I reminded my fellow board members that the community had aligned solidly behind a message of solidarity indicating that we would not allow ourselves to be divided, and that if we considered ourselves leaders we absolutely needed to lead. As a Human Rights organization we would be held to higher ideals, and to support anything less than full inclusion would inflict a wound in the community that WE caused and for which the entire organization would be held accountable. Although there was considerable support on that board for taking the high ground, the ultimate decision was a disappointing one.
In the final entry on my ENDABlog last November I wrote the following:
In a very short span of time, HRC has become drunk on its perception of it's own power. The problem with getting drunk is that there will eventually be a time to become sober again. I think that time is right around the corner.
Very soon, all the promise of a year ago may very likely hit the wall of reality and turn to dust. And where does that leave HRC? No legislation. No credibility. Embattled staff. No other GLBT organization wants to work with them. Transgender community considers them a pariah, abandoning ship faster than you can say "Betrayal". Hopefully, there will be a financial cost to all of this as well. That said, it gives me no joy to say that I hope they're enjoying the sweet taste of "Victory" on ENDA. It could turn out to be very bitter very quickly - there are often consequences for burning bridges.
The part I find saddest is that it didn't have to happen this way. But then again, maybe it did. Maybe this is all part of some big plan somewhere and this is just how things were supposed to unfold. I guess only time will tell.
The HRC board meeting will be in Washington DC next week. It's their second face-to-face meeting since ENDA. I sincerely hope that the message being sent in San Francisco is being heard loudly and clearly there. What can be done to help this mess heal? I really don't know. It's a lot harder to heal a wound than to cause one.