December 12, 2007
How HRC spent winter break
Posted by: Chris
Now we know what the Human Rights Campaign was doing when it wasn't marshaling its considerable resources to save the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act from being stripped from the Defense Department bill. It was busy strategizing how to make nice with transgender activists still fuming that HRC backed out on its promise to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when trans protections were removed.
My old friend Marti Abernarthy blogging at Trans Advocate, somehow got hold of an internal memo by HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse that summarizes a conference call HRC recently had with trans leaders. In the memo, Rouse also strategizes how to mend fences and "redouble" efforts to pass federal trans rights legislation.
The Rouse memo, the authenticity of which is not yet confirmed, is remarkably humble and proposes a laundry list of concrete actions HRC should take on behalf of its trans constituents. First, the crow eating:
- We recognize that HRC’s decision to follow a different strategy to secure a fully-inclusive bill was hurtful to some members of our community and we regret that.
- The first step in rebuilding our trust in HRC must be for HRC to own up to the fact that we were promised one thing and the promise, for whatever reason, was broken. Members of the transgender community I’ve spoken to want an apology and an explanation, and the explanation must be sincere and convincing. They want to see a stop to public announcements that contradict private activity which many believe is still going on. Until that is done, it will be near impossible to get increased participation from the transgender community.
But beyond that, Rouse suggests a long list of concrete actions HRC is prepared to take not just to "win back" trans support but move forward with the case for passing a trans-inclusive ENDA:
- immediately launch a new public education campaign designed to continue the mainstreaming of transgender issues;
- conduct the state of the art professional survey to teach us just what the American people understand about trans and what they don’t;
- research the 110+ jurisdictions with protections and characterize what was done right and what was done wrong;
- work with NCTE to find trans persons to target those 50 or so Congresspersons, and give them the data to help them lobby;
- work with GLAAD to develop video and PSAs for the targeted states and Congresspersons;
- redouble the corporate work — they’ve been doing a great job;
- complete a health insurance survey to increase coverage for medical and surgical transition;
- offer to assist NCTE for psychiatric members and those who would have contacts that could help us remove GID from the DSM;
- engage with an organization-wide effort to redouble our educational efforts around gender identity and expression;
- reposition all of HRC’s messaging to be more inclusive of transgender people, and more humble/apologetic about HRC’s past exclusion of the transgender community;
- recognize that transgender people are not “new” – that they were present at Stonewall and other early uprisings;
- encourage transgender people to come out and tell their stories, perhaps providing forums where they can do so safely;
- require each HRC Regional Steering Committee to undergo transgender awareness training, and to actively work to increase transgender participation on the Committee;
- hold “lunch and learn” sessions at HRC headquarters, where staffers can hear from transgender people directly on topics such as trans law, history, insurance, healthcare issues etc.;
- urge HRC staffers to consider transgender people for job openings.
You would think that however trans activists feel about the ENDA debacle, they would be pleased to see HRC doing what it can to say it's sorry and move forward. But then you would be underestimating the level of acrimony and bitterness that pervades transgender rights activism generally. Those of us who have dared to disagree with them in the past know firsthand just how mean-spirited they can be.
Still, it's a bit breathtaking to read Marti Abernathy's point by point dismissal of everything Rouse wrote, no matter how supportive of trans views; not to mention the "hang 'em high" amen chorus of comments to Abernathy's post. I have a great deal of respect for Rouse, ever since his productive work on gay health issues during the Clinton administration. Considering how far he bends over backward to mollify trans concerns, it's distressing to see him get stepped on so.
Abernathy and I can at least agree on one thing, however. She writes:
I’ve been told by multiple sources that David Smith has said that HRC will NEVER oppose a gay rights bill (even if it’s not transinclusive). This seems to be the place where the rubber meets the road.
I don't know if the citation to Smith, HRC's vice president of policy, is accurate, but I certainly agree that "the rubber meets the road" on this question. It ought to be a no-brainer that HRC (or any group that claims to work on behalf of gay and lesbian Americans, will never oppose a gay rights bill, whether or not it's trans-inclusive.
Hands down the most depressing thing about HRC's "Project Win Back," if such exists, is the last line from Rouse's memo:
HRC has the political and financial clout to do all this. We have two years to prepare for the next volley in Congress. I think this would be a good start.
That sounds very much like HRC has (once again) drank the Democrat kool-aid and will make no effort to push ENDA through the Senate early next year. If this was all HRC expected or demanded this entire time, then its long past time for heads to roll -- starting at the top.
We need a gay rights lobby that spends its resources on forcing the hand of feckless politicians on the Hill; not a coterie of lobbyists so immersed in Beltway minutiae that they accept whatever table scraps -- like late-coming symbolic votes -- offered by our so-called political friends.
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