Protesting the Exclusivity of the Human Rights Campaign
August 15, 2008
by Jamie Tyroler
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which has more than 700,000 members and describes itself as the largest LGBT civil rights organization, contends that it is “working to achieve equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans.” Quite a few people feel that HRC isn’t living up to that claim.
Members of the transgender community have been protesting HRC’s offices and its various events for some time now because of the group’s willingness to accept a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that does not include protections for gender identity and expression. When ENDA came to a vote last year, HRC supported the non-inclusive version, even as more than 300 organizations refused to do so.
Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said in an October statement: “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 [Barney"> Frank and the Democratic leadership to obtain a clear path towards an inclusive bill in the future,
“We look forward to working with them to accomplish the goal all of us share – ending workplace discrimination against the entire GLBT community.”
An umbrella organization, United ENDA, was formed in 2007 to work toward a non-discrimination bill that includes gender identity. According to United ENDA’s Web site (www.equalityfederation.org/enda), there are 373 signatories, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Association of LGBT Community Centers and PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). The Human Rights Campaign is conspicuously missing from this list.
Efforts are underway to protest HRC’s annual dinner on Oct. 25 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. QueerToday activists and allies are trying to build a coalition of trans and queer activists, anti-war activists and women’s rights activists to protest HRC’s support of a non-inclusive ENDA, its support of pro-war and anti-choice candidates, and its lack of grassroots coalition building.
In July, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa withdrew as the keynote speaker for the HRC’s gala dinner and fund-raiser in San Francisco, refusing to cross picket lines. Several San Francisco city officials and gay rights leaders had agreed not to attend the event, and the San Francisco Labor Council urged its members to “boy/girlcott” the dinner.
Brad Luna, a spokesman for HRC, said in a statement that the protest “has nothing to do with organized labor.” Apparently Luna didn’t appreciate his accidental irony in stating that an employment anti-discrimination law has nothing to do with labor issues.
The San Francisco protest did not happen without incident. According to the Bilerico Project (http://www.bilerico.com), Catherine Cusic, a 63-year old San Francisco lesbian, was forcibly evicted from the event by hired security. Accounts conflict about what exactly happened.
According to the Bilerico report, Cusic stood up during Solmonese’s speech with leaflets about HRC’s problems with ENDA. She was grabbed by the arms, dragged from the room, down a flight of stairs and then thrown into the street. Several Web sites have a photo of Cusic’s bruising from being physically removed from the event. Cusic was incorrectly identified at one point as a transwoman.
HRC’s statement about the incident said that Cusic was being disruptive and that she walked to the front of the ballroom and was yelling until she was finally removed from the hotel.
There is quite a bit of conflict, too, within the queer communities about the role of the Human Rights Campaign. Many transgender activists do not trust HRC. Some transgender activists feel that in order to make any progress for transgender rights, ironically, HRC has to be included.
I have to admit, I really don’t know what HRC does besides raise money. Somehow owning an office building in Washington, D.C., is supposed to be “a visible symbol of HRC’s drive to achieve full equality for GLBT Americans.” Part of HRC’s mission statement includes its vision for an America where members of the LGBT community are ensured equality at home and at work. Unfortunately, they seem to have blinders on and ignore many of the people they claim to be fighting for.
As I’ve said before, protection for “gender identity and expression” is important and protection for only “sexual orientation” is pretty much worthless because employers or potential employers are going to make assumptions about one’s sexual orientation based on how a person acts and dresses. For an employer to just come out (no pun intended) and ask someone whether he or she is gay potentially sets the employer up for lawsuits based on hostile work environments.
If HRC wants these protests to end, the group not only will have to state that it will not endorse a non-inclusive version of ENDA, but it will have to be a leading force in trying to get an inclusive version passed.