Rebecca Juro

Just A Couple More Things...

Filed By Rebecca Juro | November 19, 2007 6:58 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Politics, Politics, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Democrats, gender, HRC, LGBT, Pelosi, politics, progressive, queer, transgender

I promised myself that the next thing I wrote wouldn't have anything to do with ENDA or the Human Rights Campaign. Really I did. I'm about to sort of keep half of that promise, even as I fail miserably to uphold the the other half. In the aftermath of this latest skirmish, two things in particular have jumped out at me that I feel the need to say something about.

The first is a story about a protest planned for Tuesday at the legendary Stonewall Bar in the West Village in NYC while an HRC networking event is taking place at the bar. The organizer, Democratic activist and National Stonewall Democrats board member Jon Winkleman, has apparently organized this protest to demand that HRC President Joe Solmonese step down and that the HRC Executive Board begin to include at least 10% transgender representation.

While I can certainly understand, sympathize, and support Winkleman's motives, at the same time I think his method needs a bit of work. Calling for Joe Solmonese's ouster is like calling for the banning of a particular type or brand of handgun or assault rifle while others are allowed to remain legal. Lobbyists, like guns, can be easily replaced when they're no longer useful...just ask Cheryl Jacques.

And 10% minimum transgender representation on the HRC Board? A nice idea, I suppose, but really, how much of an influence is that supposed to make in the organization's actual agenda even if it was agreed to? If HRC would still be 9/10 exactly what it is now, how is that really a significant improvement, anymore than having three transgender-identified members on Hillary Clinton's list of prominent LGBT supporters is really any better than just one when that group numbers almost ninety people total? Having Donna Rose on HRC's Board clearly didn't stop them from screwing over transfolks (not that she didn't try), so why would a few more transpeople on that Board make a difference? And how many transpeople are really willing to or capable of meeting HRC's astronomically high yearly donation requirements to get on and stay on that Board anyway?

The fact is, HRC doesn't really want our participation at that level. They've demonstrated it in the way they cut Donna Rose out of the loop during this latest ENDA battle, and they've demonstrated it in the way they've set up their organization in a way that allows only the very wealthiest of HRC's donors to have a determining voice in its agenda. The deck is stacked all the way up and down the line with a strict hierarchy based on wealth and influence, and the only way to make a real difference there would be a complete restructuring of their leadership and decision-making process. If the last several weeks have taught us anything, it's that such a radical change in this organization and in the way it operates is highly unlikely to occur anytime soon.

My other issue is with the whole idea of protesting the Human Rights Campaign in general at this point. Obviously, as the veteran of two protests in front of HRC's headquarters building in Washington, DC in 2004, the author of numerous articles, and the host of many radio shows covering these issues, I strongly believe in speaking out against this organization and the way they do business. At the same time, though, at this point I have to wonder if protesting HRC directly over their lack of inclusion at this point isn't playing right into their hands, ceding them the moral and political high ground and acknowledging them as the leading LGBT civil rights organization.

When we protest these people and demand they change to suit us, we are also signaling that we still consider them credible leaders and ourselves in need of their support. If we really want Congress and the rest of the country to see HRC for the discredited hypocrites they actually are, we have to act in concert with what we know to be true and instead send the message that both HRC and its sellout advocacy style are antiquated relics of the past that the majority of our activists and our greater community are moving beyond, working together inclusively toward a better future for all of us.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good opportunities to make our points through protest coming up. Personally, I'm hoping Barney Frank's going to see some not-so-friendly faces on the campaign trail this season, even if it's only enough to publicly embarrass him, not cause his defeat. I'm especially looking forward to seeing some action in Nancy Pelosi's district. It is, after all, in the city with the single largest transgender-identified population in the country. Wouldn't it be an especially powerful message to send, for example, if the San Francisco transgender community would work in concert with those who are incensed with Pelosi's refusal to initiate impeachment proceedings again Bush and Cheney and the Democrats insistence on continuing to fund the war in Iraq to run their own truly progressive candidate and unseat the Speaker of the House?

Personally, I think that's pretty much exactly the tack we need to take here. These people think they're invulnerable, that the trans community, the war resistance, racially and ethnically-based civil rights efforts, and other progressive factions can't hurt them in any real way. We need to teach them that we've learned that while we may be too small to have the necessary impact on our own, we can unite with other progressive political factions which don't feel their needs are being served by the current Congress to accomplish what we can't by ourselves or even with the backing of most of our LGBT brothers and sisters. We need to demonstrate that we can and will work in coalition with others to change the course of elections, that we can and will be heard, and that there will a steep price to be paid for not heeding the increasingly progressive will of the majority.

It's unlikely we'll get a better opportunity to do exactly that for some time if we don't take advantage of it in this upcoming election . With a strong Democratic majority popularly expected to be the result of next year's election, we can afford ourselves the luxury of holding the Democrats to account for their failures. We can go after people like Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi because we know that in the districts which they represent, the anti-Republican sentiment is likely more than sufficient to prevent any GOP'er from having any real chance of winning it for his party.

There's more to it than simply the message we'd be sending by successfully helping to boot Democrats we don't like out of office, though. By forming coalitions with other strongly progressive factions like the anti-war movement, we are laying the groundwork and establishing the relationships needed for calling upon their strength to add to our own in fighting for our own political goals when the time comes.

This is probably the one thing you won't see me criticize the Human Rights Campaign for. Choosing to have a presence at the Jena 6 protests was inspired, and the kind of thing those of us who truly are progressive should strive to emulate (yes, you heard me). It is of key importance to publicly draw the connection that discrimination is discrimination and bigotry is bigotry, no matter what the root cause and no matter who it happens to. In order to truly unite progressive Americans behind us and our equality under the law, we must reach out and take advantage of opportunities to work in coalition with other efforts like the one we have now.

At the same time we are sending out these strong messages, however, we must make sure they are the right messages. If and when we do choose to protest the Human Rights Campaign in the future, either directly or indirectly, we must do so in ways which are both effective in making our point and which don't imply our acceptance of the notion of this organization as playing a leadership role in our community's political activism.

As a community, both in the smaller transgender sense and the larger LGBT sense, we have to look for and take advantage of opportunities to make ourselves a part of the greater movement for equality and justice in America. We have to take our own struggle and use it as a starting point to reach out and make ourselves part of the greater progressive political agenda and movement of this country. It's the only way to get ensure that when the next opportunity for progress presents itself there will not be even a question as to whether or not it should include us. Being able to depend on our loyal friends and supporters in the LGBT community has been of great benefit for gender-variant Americans and has gotten us to where we are now, an issue, a topic of much discussion and debate in the civil rights movement in this country, but as we have so clearly seen over these last several weeks, there's still plenty of work ahead of us.

If we're to finally take the next step, to truly be considered players and participants in the greater American civil rights movement, ready, willing, and capable of speaking for ourselves, then it's about time we finally started acting like it.

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Rebecca, first let me say that I respect your viewpoint, even if I disagree with it somewhat.

Next, let me say that I agree with you about demanding that Joe S. step down --- that is like chopping off Hydra's head, the next person is as likely as not to be twice as bad --- and Joe personally is not a total jerk, he has some good leadership skills to his credit.

Next, I'm just as unhappy with HRC as anyone. They are financially elitist, they are 75% a donation collection machine that sucks our blood mostly just to keep itself alive, and if they want to horde a $20+ million warchest during one political crisis after another, they should call themselves a foundation and quit calling themselves a PAC.

Ten percent T-representation is not an idea that I would oppose --- whether it solves anything is a good question, as you point out.

But finally, I will repeat my previous stance: This "swirmish" was originally precipitated by the fact that some US Reps were willing to vote for GLB protections but not T-protections. Those Reps, and others, need to be educated and lobbied like Hell so that their position is better next time around. Whether HRC, NGLTF, or specifically transgender lobbying group(s) do this is moot --- we need for all such groups to put a full-court press into place.

There is only a certain amount of our anger that is appropriate to target toward those who made some very difficult, and possibly wrong, decisions. As I have said before, I think they did the best they could with a bad situation, because if Bush gets ENDA on his desk and vetoes it, that is something that the GOP will be taken to task for, for the rest of the presidential campaign. And the exclusion of T-protections in the bill that comes out of the House in itself totally legitimizes questions to all the presidential candidates about whether they would support T-rights or not.

Again, I do not believe that anyone in the GLB power structure would choose to exclude transpersons if we had the political clout to include them this time around. I feel so strongly about this that I consider it nearly a non-issue.

P.S. I am not sure about the assumption that there are no wealthy transpeople. I expect that Renee Richards is possibly financially comfortable, and if you consider RuPaul to be a genuine transperson, she has achieved a level of noticeable celebrity, and probably wealth, relative to the rest of us. There are probably many other substantially successful transpersons that I don't know about, because just statistically speaking, every population of significant size demonstrates some type of Bell curve that always has an upper shoulder.

Correction: Sixth paragraph, first sentence should have said: "... appropriate to target toward those within the power structures of pro-GLBT support who made some very difficult, and possibly wrong, decisions."

I guess the good news is neither bill is going anywhere. they both the hate crimes bill and the I am whiter they you dark colored T folk civil rights bill is not going to see Law.

I am most certainly thankful for that.

I am not sorry in the least i feel that way.

Susan Robins

Rebecca – I'm so excited about your posting!

It’s a joke that someone from the National Stonewall Democrats would be calling for a protest of HRC. How superficial can you get? Of course they are only going to challenge Joe Solmonese as an individual and not the systemic and institutional problems with HRC, the nonprofit industry in general and electoral politics as they stand. Why? Because to challenge those things the Stonewall Democrats would have to examine their own role in maintaining the status quo and keeping the world safe for violence and oppression to flourish.

You are absolutely right; changes to the surface of HRC are meaningless and lobbying for those changes only serve to validate what lies beneath. The goal should be to shut HRC down, immobilize them, dismantle the framework in which they are allowed to exist, return collective power to the queer people rather than privatizing it through nonprofit and grant-funded foundation work.

This is probably the one thing you won't see me criticize the Human Rights Campaign for. Choosing to have a presence at the Jena 6 protests was inspired, and the kind of thing those of us who truly are progressive should strive to emulate (yes, you heard me).

Yes, it was inspired -- inspired by the work of thousands of activist and community organizers who have been working to build intentional bridges of understanding and connection across oppression for decades. Truly progressive people don’t need to emulate HRC because they are already doing that work.

It is specifically organizations like HRC that have crushed this work because it actually has the radical potential to challenge the system from which they benefit. What kind of coalition-based movement would accept a world where the leaders make enough excess wealth to afford a $50,000 donation to the HRC, all while the people are struggling simply to feed their families, get healthcare coverage, or find the money to pay the phone bills incurred from staying in contact with their incarcerated loved ones.

Of course what companies are battling to secure the state contracts necessary to charge prisoners 600x the actual cost to make a phone call? Why that would be Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. Which if you think about it means that these companies are exploiting our racist and classist criminal justice system to line their pockets. And all this serves to further divide poor and people of color communities who can’t afford to speak with their family members.

Yet Sprint and AT&T still receive a score of 100 percent on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, while Verizon comes in somewhere along the 80-90 range. Is Jon Winkleman starting to get the picture??

AJ, yes, there certainly are some transpeople with money, but Renee Richards, who has publicly defined her own transition as a mistake, is not exactly who I'd expect to be out front on this, or, for that matter, any trans or LGBT political issue. RuPaul...I dunno. Given that virtually all the drag queens I know ID as gay men doing drag rather than trans, I guess the real question would be Ru's personal politics and willingness to participate.

Also, it's not just about having the money, it's also about the willingness to use it in this way and be an active participant in the process. For me, it still comes down to the reality that transpeople or any other group other than the ultra-wealthy will likely never have anything even approaching an influential voice in HRC's agenda because that's the way they've intentionally set up their organization and decision-making process. The only way really affect change here is to tear it all down and rebuild from the bottom up in an inclusive manner. Personally, I'm not holding my breath.

I completely agree with you Nick, but I also think that HRC isn't always wrong, just almost always wrong, especially when there's real progress in the offing. Like most profit-making corporate entities, HRC is always long on flash and pretty words but woefully short on substance and real commitment. Hopefully, this latest battle will have taught them a valuable lesson, but as history teaches us, there's absolutely no reason to except them to really take it to heart.

YOu know Rebecca i have read a lot of your writings and while I don't agree with you all the time I have to say that you would make a good leader if you had the money behind you. Unlike some i know here in SanDiego and one who posts here you are honest in your views. That builds credibility not saying what people want to hear like a certain TAVA advocate here in SanDiego does. Finally at least you don't borrow other's work and call it your own like this person in SanDiego does twice now.

There is a big credibility problem in the TG community leadership perhaps it's time for a house cleaning and an honest attempt at building a strong national coalition that could have a chance at accomplishing something.

Take care
Susan Robins


Thanks for the kind words, and I really appreciate the sentiment, but to be honest with you, I really don't want to be a leader. I'm a loudmouth community commentator, not an Executive Director. People who are good leaders have a passion for it, the same way many of us have a passion for what we do best or enjoy most.

I'm always happy to help and do whatever I can to support the effort as foot soldier as well as in my media work, but being an activist leader myself outside the context of the media I make is just not something I consider myself suited or qualified for. The few times I've operated in that role I've eventually come to regret it, so these days I stick to what I do best and enjoy most.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 20, 2007 5:01 PM

any better than just one when that group numbers almost ninety people total?

Rebecca, while I totally agree in principle with what you’re saying here (great post, too, btw!) especially regarding the HRC, I think having more than one minority person always makes a difference on a board or in an organization because it offers the potential of an (albeit small) alliance and a reality check for the otherwise sole member. Your further points about the donation requirement, freezing out Donna Rose, shunning trans issues, and needing to rebuild the structure of organizations like the HRC from the ground up are absolutely solid.

And sad.


Thanks for the kind words, and I really appreciate the sentiment, but to be honest with you, I really don't want to be a leader. I'm a loudmouth community commentator, not an Executive Director. People who are good leaders have a passion for it, the same way many of us have a passion for what we do best or enjoy most.

Most of the really good leaders i have known saw the need and filled it. Passion can be motivated by ego and a hunger for the spotlight. Being a leader takes more then passion it takes an unselfish desire to help others, an ability to with with what you have and the kindness to tell people how well they are doing for the cause.