After I posted about the older lesbian who was pitched out of the San Francisco Human Rights Campaign dinner this weekend, the comments section and mailing lists lit up. Several readers accused me of sensationalism and simply attacking HRC for kicks.
Before I published the story yesterday, I contacted two different HRC communications staffers asking for a comment. I got no response. I also put the story lead onto a private mailing list asking for anyone who attended to step forward and give me their version of events. Shortly after I did so, HRC released the following statement:
"The woman, now identifying herself as Catherine Cusic, was removed by security from the San Francisco dinner after disrupting the event. As with every dinner, it is our policy that if a person is being disruptive they'll be escorted from the room. The series of events as described by Cusic differ greatly than what was witnessed by guests. Cusic stood up, walked from her table to the front of the ballroom while the event was in progress and began yelling and disrupting guests. She was asked to stop and leave the ballroom by security personnel. After she refused to follow instruction, she was escorted from the room and continued yelling all the way to the hotel exit."
I've now read accounts from some other witnesses that attended the dinner. All of them dispute Catherine Cusic's version of events. Ms. Cusic has responded to both comments left here and HRC's statement. All of it after the jump with my opinion on the dustup.
Please note: I have edited some of these statements for length. If it wasn't important to the actual disruption, I've removed it (and indicate where I have). I did the same thing with Ms. Cusic's first statement. This issue has sparked quite a bit of emotion and opinion, so I've tried to keep this as factual and concise as possible.
Diego Sanchez disputes Ms. Cusic's version of events
Diego Sanchez was a speaker at the HRC gala and was directly mentioned in Ms. Cusic's version of events. He responded to my e-mail seeking witnesses and has granted permission for me to print this here.
How the brief disruption is reported in the blog I read isn't accurate to my observation or recollection. She listened to my remarks, as she reported, without incident. That part is true.
But when Joe was speaking, she started yelling something and tossed stacks of paper to the center of a few tables. That's when I turned around, and she was alone.
Only then did Security approach her that I saw as she kept moving toward the stage. She reached the second row of tables at the room's center. I saw her toss flyers over people's heads. She was escorted out, invited to walk out herself and kept saying something that I could not hear clearly. Then the program resumed. I fought my instincts to approach her to ask her not to move more forward, but she was already being guided. She wasn't quietly passing flyers. If the camera in the room reached there, the facts will be clear. It was over quickly.
I realized that I had met her when she started yelling one-line slogans and that is why and when I turned around from hearing Joe.
Her statement of being quiet isn't accurate, nor is how she was distributing flyers accurate or I would not have seen it with reaching only the table near mine.
The disruptive yelling and working her way quickly to the stage is what I think caused her to be challenged, not distributing flyers, although the tossing isn't ideal, either.
I heard her voice over Joe's, turned around, saw her coming toward the stage (doesn't mean TO the stage, just from the back of the room toward the front, where I was, where the stage was) as she continued saying one-line things I couldn't hear clearly (one line, not one word) and security was NOT with her. But I'm sure that people along the row that she walked more toward the back of the room would know precisely where she and Security met.
On Donna Rose's blog, one of her commenters responded to the original claim. One of our Projectors, Frank, also claimed to be present at the dinner and contradicted Ms. Cusic's version of events. Since I can't verify the identity of either commenter, I'm not quoting their statements.
Catherine Cusic responds
Ms. Cusic has responded to HRC's statement and a few of the comments on my previous post. I'm including the basics here, but you can go to the original post to read the entire comment.
I don't mind that some are questioning although I do feel that since we are all in the same community there could be a different approach to questions. I think when someone reports an incident like this it would be helpful if skepticism were tempered with some compassion.
Everyone has a tendency to believe what they want to believe which is why eye witness accounts are notoriously poor and which is why we sometimes have ridiculous arguments with family/lovers.
So let's try to give each other benefit of doubt and try to hear what is saying before brin[g]ing out the knives...
HRC disputes my account of the evening (which could possibly have some inaccuracies, I haven't been physically attacked like that in some 15 years).
Some people who were there also dispute my account. Fair enough - the room was very dark to allow for the screen and speakers, there were 700 or more people in a large room and when I was approached by "security" we had our backs to the back 2/3 or so of the room.
I did get up and proceed to the front of the room, since I expected to be asked to stop and would rather be able to reach as many people as possible. I was "approached" by 2-3 men (not certain how many, they were initially behind me ). Shortly thereafter my leaflets were on the ground and these men had me in an arm lock and wrist lock... At some point I yelled-when or what may be in dispute. Eventually these men removed me from the room. Did they call the police force? NO. Did they search me for weapons? NO. Did they even look in the bag I was carrying? NO. That makes it a bit difficult to believe that anyone in HRC or the Security Company considered me a threat to anyone's physical health.
After being ejected out the side door of the hotel, I re-entered the front door, went to the front desk and asked to file an "incident report." I was told by hotel security that they had no such reports. Now I have worked in hospitals, non-profits and for a major union. Every workplace has "incident" or accident reports. When I was told I could not fill out any report, I then displayed what were then already visible bruises to the manager and security. These are facts-the bruises were witnessed by the manager.
I went home an hour or so later and my roommate took pictures of those same bruises which were beginning to turn black and blue. The next day my physician took the pictures you saw...
I legally entered an event that was open to the paying public. I had leaflets, I was physically removed and I was yelling. These are facts we can probably agree on? What we may not agree upon is the order of these events.
Another fact, I was video taped and televised on local TV being physically removed with my right arm in a position known by law enforcement officials to be one to cause excruciating pain. Photos taken soon after confirm significant injury, as did the examination of my physician.
What is in dispute is the sequence of events, my exact actions and the exact actions of security. What is not in doubt is that security did not treat me as a physical threat. They did not search my bag, or me they did not call the police, they did not even ask for ID...
So we can look at the tapes (if they still exist) and they may or may not shed light on what exactly happened. I don't think interviewing people who were there will be particularly useful. I tried to get witness afterward and they "didn't want to be involved."
So now what happens?
Short answer? Nothing.
Long answer? The more things change, the more they stay the same. This story, no matter who's view you sympathize with, is a mosquito bite for Human Rights Campaign. It's not a deadly blow and shouldn't be.
While I'd like to see the video just out of curiosity, I'm pretty confident that it'll show a protester getting the hustle. I've been the protester; I've gotten the hustle. I've even had bruises on my arm from a particularly big guy's grip. A few bumps and bruises while participating in civil disobedience is to be expected.
No one decides to play football and doesn't expect to get tackled. A firefighter doesn't go to work never expecting to get burnt. A protester should never think they can do any action without the possibility of getting hurt.
I've said it before and I'll say it again- HRC is not the anti-Christ. We can be angry at the organization over ENDA without condemning them to eternal suffering and gnashing of teeth. The Human Rights Campaign has done good things for our community in the past.
Assuming that Joe Solmonese has never put a hit out on any other activists, I'm willing to believe HRC's explanation of how things happened. I know when I've been the protester my adrenaline is pumping and I'm not concentrating on remembering all the details. Ms. Cusic has admitted to the same basically in her post and comment.
As other diners have told what they saw, all have fallen closer to HRC's version than Ms. Cusic's. Granted, all of them would have been at a fundraiser for the organization, but I severely doubt this is some sort of cover up worthy of a TV detective.
So now what? Nothing. The story will blow over. Trans complaints didn't have a huge surge of resolution after the dinner or the anti-dinner protest. No problems were solved, no one's job was safer, and the larger LGB community still didn't pay attention. Instead, it'll look like the trans community called "Wolf!" when, in fact, no trans person was involved. No one's mind was swayed.
HRC's communications department is still lacking in anything remotely smelling like crisis management skills. A statement of denial and a friendly phone call would have made me investigate further before publishing. Circling the wagons is never a good strategy for not looking guilty.
When you have two opposing camps never talking with each other and only to the other side, you never get anything accomplished. Exaggeration and clamming up are both unhealthy reactions to a difficult situation. Nothing happens.
Can we get past this attitude soon and move towards a resolution?