“Don't you know you're talking about a revolution, sounds like a whisper” — “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman
Well, finally woke up from a nap after a tough weekend protesting the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) National Banquet in Washington DC. On one hand, I hate these last-minute actions where you have to travel halfway across the country.
· They’re obviously quite expensive (not to mention no planning or chance for budgeting).
· They’re physically taxing as sleep is minimal (you sleep on the road wherever you may find place (again, not easy at the last minute), and the events themselves can be draining if not injurious (not at this one, but at one in New York).
· They’re stressful trying to get everything coordinated and plotted out while (in my case) getting out press, dealing with press calls and individuals’ calls wanting information.
· They’re also a bit of a concern: you wonder how turnout will be, whether it will be effective, and even concerns over your personal safety or arrests.
* The last item above I had some concerns about as I was singled out by two of DC’s finest and also a couple of the Convention Center security for some uneven treatment. (Note to self: leave the red beret at home next time.)
On the other hand, there’s nothing like being completely incensed and having such a task ahead of you with all odds working against you. It compels the fight in you. It also certainly lets you know you’re alive.
The HRC protest was a rousing success – and the first of an ongoing campaign that will not relent, so a wrap-up is in order. We had folks from Atlanta, Raleigh, the SF Bay Area, Boston, Louisville, Knoxville and myself from Houston. The effort, coordinated by the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC), drew approximately 100 protesters out to line the front entrance, replete with signs and UnEqual stickers (the newest trend: speaking truth to power) from all of the unequally disparate portions of this GLBT alphabet soup.
My personal disappointment was the lack of music (I need to fix this for next time) for setting the mood. This required the yelling and cheers through duration, which went well. The only problem is sometimes these can get out of hand, but blessedly there were no serious breaches.
“While they're standing in the welfare lines,
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation,
Wasting time in unemployment lines.” — “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman
While I’ve not always agreed with my NTAC-alum Angela Brightfeather Sheedy who came up from NC, I gotta give her some serious high-fives. In protests, Angela is fully in her element! Singularly, Angela was an MVP here. She was mobile, was persistent, and had her message down pat (focusing on the stats of unemployed and underemployed T folk). Way to kick butt Ange!
We didn’t get Jamison Green, but we did have fellow Texan, now bi-coastal DC-Californian, Shannon Minter of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)! I’ve watched him grow up from 1996, and I gotta say I’m proud! Yeehaw, Bubba … thanks for showing, and for wearing the unequal and being a very vocal part of this!
Donna Cartwright came out, representing both Pride At Work and NCTE, and was another star – especially with getting the crowd energized and generating the cheers for the phalanx at the steps to the entrance.
Monica Roberts (formerly of Houston) and Anne Casebeer made the drive from Louisville and were more than willing to vent the stored-up frustration, though both were on best behavior during the protest vocals. Props for keeping the eyes on the prize!
Even the Co-Chair of NCTE, Meredith Bacon, with UnEqual sign prominently displayed, was there for what may have been her first trans protest! Meredith was an active part of the gauntlet of protest cheering crew at the front steps, along with NTAC’s Chair, Ethan St. Pierre, and Transgender American Veterans Assn.’s Exec. Dir, Monica Helms.
Danielle Clarke traveled in for the effort as well. She’s been hampered by a bad rep based on past experiences, but I will say that she was much more focused and lucid for this effort. For a brief few seconds I listened in on her response to the local Fox News channel, and she did (for a layperson) a decent job. There was nothing to add to it.
Mara Keisling, Exec. Dir. of NCTE showed up to visually support the protest. Not part of the chants, or those with posters or UnEqual stickers, she was there to speak with press. From what this writer observed, she appears to be keeping her powder dry in hopes of an HRC change-of-heart.
One thing that did stick out: we had a number of signers and verbal supporters throughout this week, but only had NTAC, IFGE, NTCE, Pride At Work, NCLR and the Equality Federation folks (passing out EQUALI_Y stickers) at the protest. We also had folks joining us from the Green Fest attendees, the radical and activist segments of the unaffiliated GL community, as well as the IndyMedia activists. Conspicuously absent (from those I observed) were NGLTF, PFLAG, GenderPAC and other signers onto the newly formed United ENDA group (www.unitedenda.org). One wonders if they’re similarly keeping their powder dry, looking to get back in HRC’s good graces.
Another conspicuous absence was Donna Rose, though hers was in solidarity with the trans community. Principle is a precious asset, and Donna is keenly aware of that.
Message to Mara, any of the fence-sitting GL organizations, or any other hold-outs for an HRC “come-to-Jesus” moment: this game is already over. We went through this in 2000, 2002 and 2004, there is no hope here, and the trans community – certainly those of us not of the privileged few looking for personal opportunity – is moving on. Stick a fork in it.
There were two other events going on at the convention center simultaneously. The Green Fest had one of the events, and also ended up joining in solidarity. Once they got windfall of what happened on the ENDA bill. These young adults (anathema to the Bush/Reagan conservative paradigm) believe in egalitarian ideals. There’s no judgmental predisposition to transgenders– they’re just openly curious.
That we enjoy eager support from them shouldn’t come as a surprise. One thing I’ve noted over the years is that we have much more baggage and work to do within GLBT, but there’s a refreshing lack of that with progressive straight America! If we take the time to explain it to them, they get it! And it’s plainly obvious who’s on the inside and who’s left outside! This is one of the ready benefits of the protests: opportunity to reach out to the curious potential allies in the straight community.
The AUSA convention was also going on, and we got a couple of the military folks walking through asking questions as well. In fact, one retired gentleman walking with cane asked about the protest and was legitimately curious about why we were doing this. I gave him a brief overview and steered him towards TAVA’s Monica Helms.
We also had plenty of press coverage. Metro Weekly and the Advocate were both there covering for the GLBT community. Better yet, we had straight press coverage (finally). Both CNN (yes, Cable News Network) and the local Fox channel in DC had TV crews out to film and interview. As event coordinator, NTAC Chair, Ethan St. Pierre had his hands full with press to get our message out (save for the one I worked with CNN at the end of the evening.)
We even got major dispersal in the Indymedia press (and a big thanks to Isis for the assist!)
Having Ethan and Mara working press most of the protest allowed me and others such as Angela, Danielle and Andrea B. to be a bit more mobile, catching protesters away from the protest cheers to get a message out.
We did see two transgenders attending the event: Dana Beyer of suburban MD, and Amanda Simpson of Tucson. While most of the trans committee members, board of governors and directors have resigned, Beyer is still holding on with HRC. Both of the two recently ran for political office and enlisted help from the Victory Fund, which could explain the calculus behind their attending. At this writing, it’s unknown if there was any type of visual or verbal protest on the inside of the banquet from either of the two.
Of the GL attendees, we did have a few supporters who signaled to us while braving the picket lines, and almost the same number who were saying the words but weren’t giving a very convincing case. Even the latter, though, were better than the rest.
There were some who did the trendy keep-a-cell-phone-to-the-ear busy thing to shut out the protests. One even walked by me, intently focused on his blackberry, and after passing me I noted he had a video game of some type on! That was probably the evening’s most clever method of avoiding “having to look at the protesting trannies.”
Most however didn’t use the props to avoid confrontation. Most were either eye-rollers or the avoid-eye-contact types. A number of them engaged in more overt response. One attendee who walked up near the edge of the building saw me and decided to give a hearty thumbs down to me, then Angela and then the entire crowd assembled near the entrance. His elitist childishness was very caricatural.
One lesbian walking up the steps responded to me “you don’t understand. We’ve been at this for many years. You haven’t.” I guess she’s never heard of Sylvia Rivera or Marsha P. Johnson – either that or believes they’re confused gay men!
Yet another couple walked up, and in tones dripping icy cold, chastised me that we “don’t’ even know what they (HRC) are doing for [us]. Being that there’s few if any trans people ever in groups like HRC, it kinda stands to reason that we wouldn’t know what they’re doing that isn’t publicized. We do know what they’re doing to us, and how much they’re keen on fundraising and even using trans examples of discrimination or hate crimes for their own legislation which many times has not included the very community they cull money or anecdotal support from. How often do you see trans people raising serious money at the largest GL events, or using examples of sexual orientation discrimination to help pass a gender identity only bill?
While we’ve got some support on the inside, we’ve got about twice to three times as many of these attendees that either have no problem leaving us out, if not emotionally opposing inclusion of gender identity if it hurts their chances.
I guess none of them had thought about what the past few years worth of G&L marriage push has done to the trans community’s marriages, even in states that previously allowed post-operative transsexuals to marry – though that’s a subject for another time.
The only other observation of any note was a few of the cops who peeled off and followed me to the far end of the convention center building. At the time, I thought Officer McClain instructed them to follow me to monitor and (when they desired) limit my protests. According to Angela Brightfeather Sheedy, that wasn’t it at all.
It turns out they were (not so subtly) wondering aloud about me. “Is that one of them [trans]? Is that still a man? Or is that really a woman?”
At one point Angela added her take on their questions: “If you can’t tell and have to ask, does it really matter?” Perhaps these next few years’ of protests are going to be kinda fun after all!
“Poor people are gonna rise up and get their share
Poor people are gonna rise up and take what's theirs” — “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman