Wednesday, 14 November 2007

ENDA the line: Part Two

In which we meet the 800lb Gorilla, the Human Rights Campaign. Not to be confused with the Human Rights Commission, as I did the other day.

From Wikipedia :
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equal rights organization in the United States, with more than 700,000 members and supporters.
The Human Rights Campaign is a visible entity in U.S. politics. It lobbies Congress for support of LGBT-positive bills, works to build an LGBT-friendly Congress by funding those politicians that support the LGBT community, mobilizes grassroots action amongst its members, and encourages members to employ their right to vote in every election.
The Human Rights Campaign Fund was established in 1980 by Steve Endean to raise money for gay-supportive congressional candidates. Within three months time, the HRC was registered with the Federal Election Commission as an independent political action committee.
In January 1989 ... the HRC reorganized from serving mainly as a PAC to becoming a lobbying and political organization.
From January 1995 until January 2004, Elizabeth Birch served as the executive director of the HRC. Under her leadership, the institution more than quadrupled its membership to 500,000 members and purchased an office building for its Washington, DC headquarters.

The headquarters building was purchased from B'nai B'rith International in 2002 for $9.8 million. A large national capital campaign raised over $28 million for the project. After extensive renovations of the mid-century modern structure, the building is currently valued at over $18 million.
Birch's successor, Cheryl Jacques, resigned in November 2004 after only 11 months as executive director. In a statement released by the organization, Jacques resigned over "a difference in management philosophy". Incidentally, Birch's partner, Hilary Rosen, former chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, was named as interim replacement.

On March 9, 2005, the HRC announced the appointment of Joe Solmonese as the president, describing him as one of the "nation's most accomplished and respected progressive leaders".

As an unreconstructed RWDB, "progressive" for me is not necessarily a compliment. I agree with the assessment of Mr Solomonese, and not to his credit. But I get ahead of myself.

As can be seen, the HRC is rich, well-connected, powerful, and did I mention rich?

But saying they have campaigned for GLBT rights might be just a teeny bit inaccurate. GLB certainly, T not so much.

From TransGRiot:
In 1979 Janice Raymond poured more gasoline on the fire with her virulently anti-transgender book The Transsexual Empire. Raymond also took it a step further in 1981 and penned a quasi-scientific looking report that was responsible for not only ending federal and state aid for indigent transpeople, but led to the insurance company prohibitions on gender reassignment related claims. Germaine Greer’s anti-transgender writing combined with Raymond’s led to involuntary outing and harassment of transwomen in lesbian community settings. It also sowed the seeds for the anti-transgender attitudes in the lesbian community that persisted through the late 90’s.

So what does this have to do with HRC since it didn’t get founded until 1980?

The problem is that the senior gay leadership is still influenced by the Fouratt-Raymond-Greer negative attitudes towards transpeople. That sentiment is concentrated disproportionately in California and the Northeast Corridor. The early gay and lesbian leadership also sprang up from those areas as well.

The transgender community around the late 80’s renewed its organizing efforts to fight for its rights. The early leadership was also concentrated in the Northeast Corridor and California as well and regarded the gay community as natural allies.

One thing they didn’t take into account was how deeply entrenched the anti-transgender attitudes and doctrines were amongst gay and lesbian leaders. Barney Frank (D-MA) is a prominent example of it. They still persisted in holding the view that transgender people were ‘crazy queens’ who would cost them their rights.
According to legal scholar Kat Rose, such laws have the effect of creating a regime in which the same gays and lesbians who fought to prevent trans-inclusion have the de facto right under the resultant non-inclusive law to discriminate against trans people. It also allowed them to keep their leadership ranks and employee populations in these organizations transgender-free without fear of facing discrimination lawsuits.

When transgender leaders would balk at those demands or point out the hypocrisy of leaving us behind, they would state they would ‘come back for us’.

So far the only states in which the gay and lesbian community has ‘come back’ for transgender people are Rhode Island (2001), California (2003), New Jersey (2006) and Vermont (2007). In New York they are still having a difficult time passing GENDA after transgender people were cut out of SONDA by gay rights advocating the same 'we'll come back for you' incremental rights spin.

The first gay only rights bill, passed in Wisconsin in 1982 has been that way for 25 years now. There's no indication by the GLB leadership in that state if they'll move to rectify the omission of their transgender brothers and sisters or if they'll assign it a priority as high as the one they place on marriage equality.
One of the people most responsible for excluding transpeople from an attempt to pass a gay rights law in Minnesota in 1975 was a gentleman by the name of Steve Endean, who in 1980 would leave Minnesota to help found the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the proto organization that later became HRC. Some Minnnesotans assert that it's not a conicidence that the same year HRCF was born in DC, Minnnesota's gay rights proposals became T-inclusive and eventually lead to the first T-inclusive law in 1993.

In 1995 Elizabeth Birch took over as Executive Director of HRC at a time when there was an epidemic of gays and lesbians cutting transpeople out of civil rights legislation.

In many cases gay people who sat on various HRC boards either nationally or regionally led the efforts. In 1999 Dianne Hardy-Garcia, who was the executive director of the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby (now Equality Texas) at the time and an HRC board member, led the successful effort to cut transpeople out of the James Byrd Hate Crime Bill
Elizabeth Birch for a while eclipsed Janice Raymond as Transgender Public Enemy Number One when she was quoted at a Chicago GLBT event as stating that transinclusion in ENDA (the Employment and Non Discrimination Act) a top legislative priority of transgender leaders would happen ‘over her dead body’.
But wait, it gets worse:
During a meeting that lasted several hours, we presented the transgender community's case. Rep. McKinney was very familiar with our struggles with HRC and the GLB community. As the meeting came to a close Dawn and I ended up with invitations to the approaching Congressional Black Caucus ALC (Annual Legislative Conference) in Washington DC. The major purpose of me and Dawn's trip was going to be teaching Transgender 101 to CBC congressmembers.

Being that we were only a few months from the 2002 midterm elections, and the ALC was happening in late September, one of the provisos for our invite was that we keep it secret until after the event concluded.

The meeting concludes on a high note, we go back to Marietta to do the post mortem debriefing, cross check our notes, and we go back to Louisville to begin working on the most important Transgender 101 presentation in U.S. history.

But that Power Point presentation Dawn and I created for that Transgender 101 session is still on my computer because a caucasian transgender leader leaked the details to her paymasters at HRC.

Once those details got leaked, HRC lobbyists barged into CBC offices demanding to know why the trannies got an opportunity to make that type of presentation and the CBC had shied away from allowing them to do the same thing. The CBC offices were pissed at the HRC lobbyist's arrogance, and told them in no uncertain terms that THEY would decide who they talked to as the elected representatives for African-Americans.

Dawn and I got a shocking phone call a few hours later that our CBC presentation had been cancelled. I spent the next hour after hanging up the phone crying about it because I knew what the cancellation meant.
Now for a quick commercial break, as we go to the state of New York in 2002, and the rough passage of SONDA, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. From GayCityNews:
Senate Minority Leader David Paterson (D-Harlem), in a shift, said that despite his deep desire to include the category of “gender identity,” if the bill comes to the floor without that category, “I will vote for it as I would vote for any bill that extends protection.” He said that up until the vote, he will be talking to Bruno and his Senate colleagues about transgender inclusion.
“Once they realize it is a vote about rights and not about liking people or approving of the way people conduct their lives, perhaps we can get some people who are going to vote for SONDA to take the extra step to include transgender people,” Paterson said, but added, “I''m not feeling a very good spirit in the air about tolerance and sensitivity.”
Duane was attacked by Jonathan Capehart, the out gay deputy editorial page editor of the Daily News, this week for what he called Duane’s efforts to “kill” SONDA by raising the transgender issue.
Capehart wrote, “Let’s be honest: Transgender issues are difficult for most people to understand.”
The New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy continues not to support a non-inclusive SONDA, but not to oppose it either
Remember those words. They'll come in handy again shortly.

Now back to our original program, and a happy ending? Except that Transgendered people never did get covered by a companion bill, they've been waiting for 5 years now, but I digress.

From HRC's own website :
October 2 2007 WASHINGTON – Last night, the Human Rights Campaign’s Board of Directors voted to reaffirm the 2004 policy supporting a fully inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Therefore, HRC will not support the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill. The board’s position articulates a process for continued dialogue with House leaders about strategies that have been put forth to, in the end, achieve passage of a fully inclusive ENDA.

“We are now faced with definitive Congressional action to move forward a version of the bill stripping gender identity. Though we support a fully inclusive ENDA, we acknowledge the legislative strategy put forth by Congressman Frank and the Democratic leadership to obtain a clear path towards an inclusive bill in the future,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “We look forward to working with them to accomplish the goal all of us share – ending workplace discrimination against the entire GLBT community.”

“Since 2004, HRC has had in place a policy that supports only a fully inclusive version of ENDA and the Board of Directors voted to reaffirm that position,” Solmonese continued. “Therefore, we are not able to support, nor will we encourage Members of Congress to vote against, the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill. And will continue working with our allies in Congress to support a comprehensive, legislative strategy to achieve passage of a fully inclusive ENDA as quickly as possible.”

Told you those words would come in handy.

In 2004, during the sort-lived tenure of HRC President Cheryl Jacques, the HRC decided that they really had better do something about the perception that they were GLB-without-the-T. So there was an official policy change, in writing, at the highest level. And there was much rejoicing. Well, not exactly much rejoicing, because of the 20 year record of sabotage and betrayal beforehand. Frankly, they weren't trusted by many Transgendered people.

All that mistrust vanished at the Southern Comfort Conference just 2 weeks before the Employment Non Discrimination Act was introduced by Representative Barney Frank. Because of the clear and unequivocal commitment to hundreds of Transgender people present, many of whom had finally put aside their doubts to donate heavily to the HRC, by HRC President Joe Solmonese.

Here it is, you can see for yourself:

"We absolutely do not support, and in fact oppose, any legislation that is not absolutely inclusive. And we have sent that message Loud and Clear to the Hill".

But wait, what was that in the October Press Release - that said "we are not able to support, nor will we encourage Members of Congress to vote against, the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill." Isn't that a complete volte-farce in just 3 weeks? But for that story, we'll have to wait till I've finished writing "ENDA the line : Part 3 - The Debacle".

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