At an HRC function this weekend, several dozen of the "who's who" of LGBTQ activists showed up to protest HRC's actions following the ENDA split. Their main concern, according to them, wasn't HRC's support for a noninclusive ENDA, but HRC's "deceit":
"HRC and its executive director Joe Solmonese repeatedly told the community they were fighting for an inclusive ENDA when they were secretly lobbying Congress to pass the more expedient lesbian-and-gay-only version." [National Stonewall Democrat board member Jon] Winkleman said.
Indeed, the feeling of betrayal is palpable not only because of the incredible amount of work and sacrifice gender-variant and transgender people have put into issues important to resolving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (like couplehood issues), but also because of Joe Solmonese's direct statements that he and HRC would oppose any non-inclusive legislation.
The protesters' specific demands were:
The demonstrators demanded that HRC give a perfect legislative score to the seven members of the House, including five from New York City, who voted no on the stripped-down version of ENDA. They also want Solmonese to resign "for his lies and duplicity," according to a flier, and for HRC to set aside ten percent of its national and local boards for people of transgender experience.
HRC's decision to penalize those who voted against the sexual orientation only ENDA is a major part of this fall-out:
HRC told members they would score their votes on ENDA. Suddenly Democrats were faced with the prospect of having their no vote on ENDA listed alongside right wingers who have consistently opposed the gay community.
"I think it also scared people that HRC said they were going to score it," a Capitol Hill insider told Gay City News.
And in our reduce-everything-to-a-soundbite political system, getting some points knocked off on the HRC score can hurt these representatives' chance at getting gay votes amongst those who don't know anything about politics and just visit the HRC webpage to read about their representative's HRC-sponsored record. While many of us are living and breathing this controversy to the point that we get tired of hearing about it, there are still lots of gays who don't even know that the ENDA is moving its way through the Congress... and they vote.
The big question, though, is "What next?" And does this protest do anything to move us towards a trans-inclusive ENDA in 2009 passing the House and Senate and getting signed into law by the Democratic president?
I doubt HRC will change the way they operate based on protesters. HRC isn’t a stable actor that, once eliminated or disempowered, will disappear and a good actor will take its place. HRC is a product of current political, cultural, and economic climates and any organization that takes its place is going to either have to do the same things HRC does (maybe it’ll put a prom dress on it) or it won’t survive. The protest doesn't answer the question of what we're going to do to change the context that created HRC-style politics in the first place.
Until that context changes, this is pretty much what we can expect. Those protesters outside the Stonewall aren't likely to donate the $50K necessary to have a voice at HRC, and HRC's survival is dependent on money, not people marching in the street. And as long as politics requires money for access, those people who identify as queer with money are going to be the ones calling the shots for us.
Bill Dobbs of United for Peace & Justice was also at the Stonewall protesting:
Bill Dobbs, an independent gay activist if there ever was one, said, "The ENDA vote was part charade to shore up HRC's donor base and gay votes for the Democrats."
Yes, but that's basically defining his protest out of power. If they acted to get votes to Democrats and dollars to HRC, then protesting isn't going to change anything since it won't taking away votes or money.
This situation has to be handled right at the legislators. When 65% of Americans support job protections for transgender people (almost the same percentage that support LGBT hate crimes legislation), we should be able to get the entire Democratic Party behind such legislation. They need to know that they won't lose their jobs over protecting the T-folk and that such votes will have to happen, whether they're nervous or not. That'll require time, money, and energy, and those resources can't be spent fighting an organization that won't oppose trans legislation if it's painless for them.
The other option would be to change the context that caused this debacle in the first place, working to decrease the income gap in America, increase awareness around issues of gender identity and expression, and separating money and politics. Those are larger projects that would definitely help out, but an inclusive ENDA is a fine short-term goal.
(Photo unattributed from Gay City News)