HRC’s president Chad Griffin’s apology at the Southern Comfort conference has been met with much cynicism, skepticism and rightfully so. For decades WE carried on despite and in spite of HRC. It was a war of attrition. We stomped around outside the Gala dinners, waving our little signs, cranking our boom boxes, protesting but in our hearts was dispair. In our stomaches hunger. In our souls fear and destitution. We were a tiny band of brothers and sisters united in our desperate cause bound by trans commonality.
We looked on as one after another luxury automobile passed by with occupants eyes averted after catching a quick glance at us. Austin. Houston. New Orléans. And in Dallas where a room we rented allowed us to hold a ‘conversation with Bishop Robinson’ a young woman approached me and said I looked familiar.
- Her eyes brightened as she said ‘Oh you’re one of the street people’..
I was among those who physically challenged HRC’s monolithic trans-misogynistic exclusionary capitalistic greedy revisionism. And from that lived experience I claim the right to say, step off.
We need to step off from our of the past and into the future. Most of us who protested are now senior members of our community. We have to give those who follow us a fair chance. We have to let go of this anger and for good reason.
We are winning. Simple as that.
With or without HRC in our corner we would have eventually achieved our goals but why cast off a potential ally like HRC? Pragmatically speaking the HRC has good reason to embrace our agenda wholeheartedly. Marriage Equality is about a done deal. HRC needs a cause that will keep them relevant.
Judging by the comments on the HRC blog post many in the room still distrust them and for a good reason. Joe Solmonese received a standing ovation when he announced HRC’s commitment to a fully incisive ENDA in 2007 at that year’s Conference. All of us remember what happened next.
Our hearts were broken. Our LGBT community began rupturing, fracturing any common ground that we once shared.
Then there was the Donna Rose debacle. Most of us truly believed that Donna was a viable force within HRC, but we were stripped of that illusion as HRC summarily dismissed her.
Then again why didn’t HRC engage in conversation this legislative session when nearly every other LGBT org dropped their support of the ENDA bill saying it gave away too much to the religious right? That’s the sort of thing that HRC needs to work at. That’s the sort of thing that Chad Griffin wants us to hold him accountable for.
I have spoken with HRC’s new Deputy Chief of Staff Hayden Mora, who President Chad Griffin spoke of during his speech illustrating their brand new trans inclusivity at the Southern Comfort Conference.
Hayden is a trans advocate working at the highest levels of the HRC power structure. And no, I am not a HRC apologist and yes, times have changed.
See, I have a unique relationship with Hayden. I met Hayden before he publicly transitioned at the 2013 LGBT journalist convention in Philadelphia. Hayden so impressed me with his sincerity, intelligence and passion presenting I interviewed him and wrote a article the same day . It’s with this sense of respect, I’d like to introduce him as he has graciously agreed to discuss some of our concerns.
I’ve spent the last twelve months at HRC and I can tell you – honestly – that my own direct experience with Chad and the leadership team has convinced me that there is a real and deep commitment to the transgender community. The truth is that HRC already does important work that impacts the transgender community – the corporate equality index, for example, has made a truly dramatic impact on the number of corporations that provide protection against transgender discrimination and transgender-inclusive healthcare policies. This has made a huge impact on trans people’s lives and that is just one example. We also have a welcoming schools program that helps create safer spaces for trans and gender non-conforming youth, and the Municipal Equality Index, which is pushing for trans equality at the local level, and that’s just naming a few relevant programs.
Yet despite these gains, trans people – in particular trans woman of color – remain unsafe in their own communities. Seven trans women of color have been murdered – just this year – and that is morally impermissible. If we’re going to live our mission, that means prioritizing issues like poverty, racism and violence that folks on the margins of our community face. In order to do that work with excellence, it means we need to work in real and deep partnership with the community. I’m honored to be a part of the team – and I’m not alone – there are six other transgender identified employees at HRC including my colleague Jay Brown, Director of Foundation Strategy, and Alison Gill, Senior Legislative Counsel. We need to continue to increase the diversity of trans voices represented at HRC in terms of staff, volunteers and board members as well as deepen our relationships with community led organizations.
All of us believed that the Southern Comfort speech was an important step in the process of proving that commitment, and all of us understand that it will take hard work and time to build real trust. I understand that some people will meet our words with skepticism, and I welcome that skepticism. I also believe that the stakes are simply too high for us to continue to remain as divided as we have been as a movement – I am excited about what we can achieve together.”
For many of us one of the sticking points is The Elizabeth Birch Equality Award which is presented by The Black Tie Dinner an entity separate from HRC.
The Elizabeth Birch Equality Award is presented at the Black Tie Dinner, the largest LGBT fund-raising dinner in the Nation. The award is given annually to an individual, organization, or company that has made a significant contribution of national scope to the LGBT community. Elizabeth Birch was the first recipient of the award in 2004, and later returned to the dinner in 2009 to present the award to Judy Shepard. Black Tie Dinner is held annually in Dallas, Texas.
Elizabeth Birch, a former HRC president is best remembered by the trans community for saying that transgender people would be made a legislative priority “over her dead body”.
HRC is the biggest beneficiary of the Black Tie dinner, a private fund-raising enterprise, receiving over a half a million dollars yearly. Do I belive that HRC could hold sway over the name of that award? Indeed I do. Will it be changed? One thing for certain it would be substantial if it does.
But the reality is changing the awards name would feel gratifying but is it something that would have an immediate impact? If we gather our voices into a collective, the same powerful one we once used to protest, and begin working to get HRC to fund trans initiatives, particularly ones benefiting trans people of color, getting them to better work with us as opposed to trying to take over local efforts, what would happen? If we could work without worries of assimilation, if we could learn to trust HRC that would have an impact we could see. Right away. But to do that we would have to take a bold step forward.
We’d have to step off.