Sunday, November 25, 2007

Whither Now NCTE?

“I don't like defining myself. I just am.” — Britney Spears

Beyond dealing with my own issues this month (family crap, work insanity and a computer virus with its residual problems), it’s been a memorably weird month, this November.

To begin the month, one of my NTAC-mates, TransAdvocate’s Marti Abernathey mentioned to me that the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) was dead, which I’d heard from my Hill contacts was the opposite. In short order, they showed once again to be remarkably accurate – again! Faith was reaffirmed.

Next came the initial indignation from Mara Keisling of National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) where – astonishingly – she did her “liar, liar, pants on fire” routine with Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Joe Solmonese in the press.

At first glance it doesn’t seem shocking – NCTE being upset about lack of transgender inclusion in ENDA. However, NCTE’s entire raison d’etre is to be the antithesis of the group who preceded them, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC), who publicly (and consistently) noted distrust of HRC. Ms. Keisling and company derided NTAC as “crazy”, “loony” and intransigent towards Barney Frank and HRC in order to distinguish herself and her upstart organization. For the record though, even NTAC never came out in public and explicitly called HRC and company liars.

And yet … here was NCTE’s Keisling sidling up to the outsider “crazy” tranny element. Or was she?

“'In that direction,' the Cat said, waving its right paw round, 'lives a Hatter: and in that direction,' waving the other paw, 'lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad.'
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice
'You must be' said the Cat 'or you wouldn't have come here'” — Lewis Carroll, from Alice in Wonderland

A scant week later, Keisling was a guest on CSPAN. During the call-in segment of the interview, Mara took great pains to avoid any critique of HRC or of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), deferring in all her responses to HRC or to Barney Frank. Nary a cross word said she, playing the part of the good “company girl.”

So where is Mara on the political map? The Mara of lo these many years, chiding us while trumpeting our heroes HRC and Barney Frank? Or the frustrated Mara fresh from a stinging rebuke of Barney Frank, cutting ties and showing her trans colors? Or the mutable Mara looking for the sweet-spot such as at the HRC protest, where she showed in support but didn’t protest, did lots of press showing solidarity and even raising funds while privately edging away from the protester element? And Mara aside, where does the group itself stand?

As mentioned, NCTE was the politically diametric counterpart to the non-trusting transgender groups. She and (later) her group were the New Turks, with “collaboration” and “collegiality” with Barney, HRC and in fact all Gay/Lesbian organizations as the new mantra. They also made no secret of distinctly shutting out the trans non-believers, drawing a bright line between the trans segment flying on faith alone and those of us who (thanks to our congressional contacts) knew better than the hype du jour and kept a safe distance.

Traditionally, NCTE has been an HRC-devoted bunch, working numerous times in conjunction and even receiving rewards no other trans members had been deigned with before. HRC helped funnel press in NCTE’s direction, in hopes of supplanting the “old voices” of trans America. HRC even assisted in funding the new bunch, knowing this was their 'inside' with the trans community as well as very effective marketing for them with a segment that had historically been a tough sell. They ensured they received their money’s worth.

Their coup de grace was the keynote, center-stage at the Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) this past September. HRC had finally arrived, smack in the middle of trans America at their largest, most renowned event no less. It was briefly what appeared to shut the door and permanently dispense with the non-HRC transgenders personified by the likes of NTAC, ICTLEP, NAATCP and so many other individuals and local organizations over the years. HRC and the gang were in, disbelieving naysayers were out.

Yet a short two weeks later came what to many in the transgender community – even leaders like Donna Rose, Jameson Green and Mara Keisling – felt was a huge shock. When push came to shove from Barney Frank, HRC buckled, caved and became contras in the battle for rights.

We “crazies” knew about this potential “shock” for some time – as early as February for some of us. The news was disappointing and infuriating, but it was anything but surprising. If you examine HRC’s history, it’s quite consistent – most recently back in 2004 (not exactly ancient history).

So now we have Mara Keisling who was all over the press on the NTAC protest at HRC (commanding all but one line of quotes in the Advocate), and who was very uncharacteristically critical of HRC in her recent press with Gay City News and Michelangelo Signorile’s radio show. Even though she’s making a faint overture, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see any stampede by the outsider bunch to embrace her. When you crunch toes on your climb to the top, those toes tend to remember you when you’re on your way back down.

To be sure, HRC has taken note of Mara’s public criticisms. Another not-so-unknown fact is that HRC is notably vindictive, and they never forget or forgive a sleight. No longer their “golden tranny”, Mara has now self-tarnished herself to HRC. Personally Mara’s wedged herself between the rock and a hard place. It also certainly impacts NCTE’s “insider” status with HRC and company.

Meanwhile, HRC is aware of how much ground they’ve captured using a handpicked “insider” to build their image within the tough confines of Transgender-land. It’s certain that HRC would seek out another similar trans person with the same singular ambition of Keisling or Riki Wilchins before her, one who is easily separable from ground-level trans politics.

Quite likely Mara was reminded of this before going on CSPAN and dancing a deft pirouette of avoiding controversy with HRC on national television. Indeed, NCTE took great pains to send notice of the interview to their trans community mailing list. It’s backpedaling time.

So folks from the trans community may now be asking: which direction will NCTE take? I’m reminded of what Yogi Berra once said: “when you see a fork in the road, take it!” Mara would do backflips for such an oversimplified solution. Reality won’t be so simple. She can’t be both insider with the elite few and outsider with all the rest of us. The choice must be made.

That said, her performance as an HRC critic makes zero sense. It’s like watching a cigarette boat zooming ahead in a race when suddenly the rudder snaps, and the boat does a quick 180 headlong into the oncoming race boats. The outsiders weren’t buying the “sudden critic” routine.

"Well, if I eat it, and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I'll get into the garden, and I don't care which happens!" — from Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 1 by Lewis Carroll

Meanwhile the momentary zag off course likely caught a lot of the NCTE membership by surprise. The members of the organization she created signed on to be the insiders, the collegial allies with HRC, Barney Frank and others. They certainly did not sign on to be the very people they’d worked so hard to distinguish and distance themselves from. Where would the hopeful trans insiders go if Mara decides to play outsider critic again? It jeopardizes their seat at the inside table, understandably a concern for them.

While it’s possible for them to vote to terminate Keisling and bring in a new director to get back to their original goal, it’s unlikely to the extreme. Mara single-handedly created the organization months before even choosing the board, much less opening the group to membership. When it comes to NCTE, Mara is inextricable and integral. It’s like trying to imagine GenderPAC without Riki Wilchins – it’s not going to happen.

If Mara stays and decides to move NCTE towards being more like the outsiders, she alienates the base of her own original membership. That in itself could cause yet another schism, with the splinter forming the new HRC “insider” faction. Anyone who knows Mara knows she won’t give up insider privilege without a fight.

The CSPAN interview was merely the first in a series of attempts to right the good ship NCTE and understandably put it back on its original course. They were built to be the insiders, or (as some may call it in the parlance) the “house trannies.” This track will lead them back to more convivial relations, and reestablish a measure of the benefits HRC has favored (and presumably will continue to favor) them with. HRC, of course remembering the earlier transgressions, will shorten their leash, will tighten up their grip on funding and will keep the relationship distinctly more tenuous.

One downside for NCTE is that Mara will at some point have to eat a heaping portion of HRC’s humble pie while expecting a now-reduced share. Another downside will be the duplicity the trans community will see once they go back to playing nicey-nicey with HRC again. It’s one they won’t be able to avoid. It’s either that or HRC searches for a new “golden tranny” – a new insider. Certainly Mara will never settle for being a second-fiddle, so the choice is pretty clear.

Chalk it up to putting all one’s eggs in the HRC basket: there’s a likelihood that your eggs, as well as your hopes and dreams, may end up broken. How hard is it to break a promise?

“If you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.” — Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day of Remembrance or Day of Opportunism?

“How dare you think you can take advantage of our community’s tragedy! Who do you think you are? You think you can waltz in and capitalize on this? This is our community’s issue not yours! In case you haven’t figure [sic] it out yet, Matthew Shepard is not transgendered, he’s gay!” — Mario H, formerly of a Houston HIV charity organization.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea! … Actually, I foresee a day when our movement starts achieving its goals of equal rights, and it’s very possible the voice leading that charge could be transgendered.” — Harry Livesay, of a different wing of the same organization in response to Mario.

The two quotes above at first glance a non sequitur on an article about the upcoming International Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’ll be explained more later in this entry.

For now, the ninth DOR celebration (tenth if you count the initial ones in San Francisco and Boston) is upon us tomorrow night, November 20. The first ones in Boston and San Francisco were an initial response to a tragedy within the transgender community – again in a tragedy-overflowing community in seemingly liberal Boston, MA. Some of the highest profile murders, indeed both of the murders determining the initial and subsequent date of Day of Remembrance were both Boston-area transgender hate murders.

After the commencement memorial, cities across the nation began observing Day of Remembrance the following year – cities like New York, Philadelphia, Columbus, Atlanta and Houston. Many of these cities were locales that had their own ignominy as being cities with inordinate numbers or high profile cases of bias-based murders on trans people.

Today, cities across the globe observe the now international Transgender Day of Remembrance. Many localities even have more than one observance in different locations. One such locale is Washington DC, where the transgender community will be meeting with Earline Budd and Us Helping Us in Washington’s near southeast side, and another coordinated by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) at their headquarters in trendy DuPont Circle. Last year, Mara Keisling and Dana Beyer of NCTE helped them coordinate their event, though it’s unknown if they will attend this year.

I reside in the latter of those first cities involved in DOR after going national: Houston. Our only awareness of hate victims has been in recent years. But of all cities involved in DOR, Houston alone has had at least one if not two victims in every DOR except for two. Some cities have had more in one year – Rio De Janeiro and Washington DC both had four in one year. But none have had the notorious consistency of Houston – something that continues to bedevil us.

We’re also a city whose homegrown state senator was the author of the nationally noted James Byrd Hate Crimes Bill passed in 2001. It’s a bill that has no coverage for transgenders. It seems that presidential aspirations in 1999 of our then-governor George W. Bush, and claims of subsequent usage of transgender inclusion sinking any future bill killed any hope with the author in 2001’s bill and eventual enactment into law.

Houston’s a great town to live in if you’re transgendered, with an active community and even an inordinate number of national-level activists and community leaders. But along with this we have an ever-present backdrop of violence. It was reported to me that two of Houston Transgender Unity Committee members were attacked this year, one beaten so bad that according to HTUC’s Cristan Williams her face appeared shredded afterwards. It’s sad, but not surprising. Think of an industrial, blue-collar version of Dallas with lots of smog. Or perhaps, more appropriately, a Texas version of Los Angeles: that’s Houston.

We’d like to play up Houston’s better aspects – community pride and all. Ultimately it is Texas, with all its revelry in its own mystique, and it’s underlying culture of brutality as machismo. Violence is. You live with that the same way people living next to the refineries live with the fact it will either take their lives in a spectacular catastrophe, or at least lead to a gradual shortening of their lives due to the toxicity belched forth daily.

One of this year’s victims, Bret Turner, was a crossdresser who’d moved from Houston a year earlier to what would seem more friendly environs: Madison, WI. College town, seemingly more progressive – what would seem a nice place to escape? Bret was found stabbed fourteen times in her own home in Madison – not Houston. Perhaps there is no easy escape from this problem.

Ultimately, we need to find a fix to the problem that can only come from legal protection (or a uniformly understood, codified deterrent). One disagreement I’d had with Cristan earlier about DOR was about politicizing the event – this immediately before they brought in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as a co-sponsor. Last year, I quietly but firmly boycotted the Transgender Day of Remembrance in my own town.

Meanwhile, HRC continues to do what it can to sponsor, and finagle its way into Transgender Day of Remembrances around the country. Why, you may ask? It’s one of the precious few things the transgender community has done for itself that has struck a chord with straight America, as well as gay and obviously transgender America. Most of the folks in straight America who have gotten this message and participated have been youth – high school and especially college youth.

And HRC, being the professional organization it is with an eye always to both fundraising and getting active volunteers to be their extra foot soldiers and help magnify their voice, sees this as a good thing. A good thing for HRC – a gay and lesbian created, fed, led and staffed organization.

Notice that there’s nothing in the above paragraph about transgender. We trans folk weren’t there to help create the HRC. We weren’t there to staff it over the vast majority of their history. We were never part of their legislative push until the last couple of congressional session. In fact we weren’t part of their mission statement until it was made clear to them that the trans community was going to demand its own voice (something they felt was out of their control and which they needed to stay ahead of). Even their mission expansion didn’t occur until 2001.

However, HRC has long known the trans community is cash-poor, intently non-opportunistic on our community issues – especially tragedies such as hate crimes – and they can’t let good opportunities go to waste! We saw this rather blatantly in 2001 with then-HRC Exec. Dir. Elizabeth Birch’s speech at a vigil for transgender hate crime victims Stephanie Thomas and Ukea Davis when she took the opportunity to use that most evocative of tragedies to push for passage of the pending Hate Crimes Bill in Congress. What wasn’t said was that Birch, HRC and others (including the majority of the trans community) were well aware of the exclusion of coverage for transgender.

To try to draw a correlation, think of a trans person pushing for passage of trans only legislation while speaking at a vigil for Matthew Shepard – a victim of an anti-gay hate crime.

Maybe individual HRC members would have no problem with that approach. “Hey, take whatever opportunity you can, and if you can cash in, even better” – or something to that effect. Somehow though, I doubt that.

Somehow I think some segment of the gay and lesbian community would take umbrage at the exploitation of their own community for the benefit of another segment that treats them as lesser beings, that perpetuates the aforementioned perceptions and that mines their tragedies as fundraising tools for much less needy organizations such as Concerned Women for America or Focus on the Family.

Which all brings me back to the quotes I prefaced this with. The first quote I withheld the last name of the first and organization of both individuals, as I did not have their permission of either of the two, much less their current contact information.

What inspired the first quote was my outrage at the beating of Matthew Shepard and my initial reaction upon reading the details. An ad-hoc list of Houston activists and leaders sprung up in the wake of the initial news of the attack in Wyoming. To the list I proposed a march on Austin to push for a Hate Crimes Bill in Texas in light of the Shepard beating a few days before his death. (This was October 1998 – three years before Texas would enact an actionable law punishing for hate crime enhancement.)

In response, there were (if memory serves) nineteen Emails in favor of the proposal and two opposed. One of those was the visceral first quote from Mario, who began his rather rambling post with the words “I hope you fall flat on your face! I hope you fail miserably. How dare you ….” It was pure invective and pain.

That, of course, drew Harry Livesay’s response (surprisingly someone affiliated with the same organization) to my defense.

I learned something from both posts actually. From Harry I learned there is hope in some circles out there, and even some who have confidence in our abilities, even allowing us a voice of our own.

Mario’s response, however, was a sudden direction-change from being a community tragedy to being one that was undeniably an attack directly on the gay community. What initially infuriated me was Mario’s snap presumption that this was my attempt to opportunistically seize upon the tragedy for my own gain. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth – no more than, say, the people who sparked the makeshift altar and vigil in the median of Montrose Blvd. after Princess Diana’s death initiated by members of Houston’s Gay and Lesbian community.

As I tend to do often, I walked away from the initial post and re-read it twice more before replying. Ultimately I decided not to respond at all. Yes, I could defend my motives and explain myself adequately – but would that necessarily change his perception? Would it instead come across as appearing defensive?

When I dug into Mario’s response, there was something more key that was overlooked. It wasn’t simply about ownership or proprietorship of a tragedy. This was a community that was at the time still struggling for acceptance in society and had just suffered the most brutal of symbolic crimes, one that needed to be vented and made public. However, it didn’t need just anyone drawing the public’s attention. It needed to be their community’s voice expressing the anguish, the pain, the outrage. It needed to be their energy leading to doing something proactive for their own.

As a transgender my organizing or leading on this issue would’ve been viewed by some as interloping or co-opting, regardless of my motives.

A few days after my comment, Matthew Shepard died in a Wyoming hospital. After his death, a natural vigil sprung forth and I volunteered to help. Indeed, I made effort not to lead but to assist, and not to take a prominent role. The vigil was beautiful, well-attended, and everything came off without a hitch.

In recent years, I wish I would’ve met Mario personally and to be able to speak with him today. One thing I’d like to point out is the coming to fruition of transgender issues. I’d also like to point out the faces and the organizations that are that are leading this charge, that are reaping the lion’s share of the press for themselves and that are even prominently noting their involvement in their transgender community events in fundraising efforts.

I’d like to ask Mario his opinion of these unfolding of events. I’d also like to point out that I haven’t similarly eviscerated these individuals or organizations for capitalizing on this sudden awareness of transgender issues. In my mind, I wonder if Mario would be interested in responding to these of his own community with such vitriol he reserved for me? Or would he be okay with such a personal double standard?

Ultimately, we all need to be our own heroes and experience our own victories. When the time comes that we suffer such heinous loss, we need to suffer our own tragedies as well with our own words and our own sentiment. The last thing any community needs – especially the neediest among us – is to have what voice we should have ripped away from us and used as a megaphone for an outside individual or organization’s grandstanding and profiteering. This not only does not help, it steals from those who already suffer.

Yes, HRC will be holding a Transgender Day of Remembrance this year, with or without NCTE, at their national headquarters. Many in the transgender community see it as a clever way for them to make more money for themselves. Meanwhile, a number of national level transgender members will be going in to Washington and observing the Day of Remembrance with Earline Budd and UHU in the gritty and tragedy-wrack southeast side of the nation’s capital.

As a post-script, I attended this year’s weekend event for the Day of Remembrance in Houston – not the one I’ll be organizing tomorrow night on City Hall steps, but the HTUC version at the Holocaust Museum. Contentious as the discussion may have been, they’ve decided it best to remove HRC as a sponsor of their event. Until the day that we in the Transgender community considered equals to HRC, may it ever remain that way. Amen.

“[Y]e whose hearts are moving with a power that ye know not, arise, wash your hands of this innocent blood! Lift your voices, chosen ones; cry aloud…” — from the Gentle Boy, Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they're wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. … Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you're letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.” — Jim Morrison of the Doors

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day Thoughts, 2007

“Throughout America's adventure in free government, such basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people.
Any failure traceable to arrogance or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us a grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.” farewell address of Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jan. 17, 1961

“Because America can and America can’t say no.
And America does if Americas says it’s so.” — 16 Military Wives, the Decemberists

A hearty thank you to all veterans on this, Veterans Day. Today it’s a bit more poignant for me as my nephew shipped out to Iraq a week ago. Another foot soldier for the Army’s front lines, another inconspicuous soul from a small town in South Carolina, heading with pride, honor, certainly some private trepidation and the hopes and prayers of the family and girlfriend he leaves behind.

Trey (or fatboy as I used to call him in his infancy when I used to babysit him and his sister when they lived here in his birthplace, Houston) is like many in today’s young America: independent, respectful, considerate and not without his rebellious troubled spots. He’s proud of his tats. And he’s clearly in love with his fiancée. That much we got from the photos he sent along when he made a rare contact to his mom, my younger sister, informing her of his leaving.

You see, his mom lost custody many years back when he was barely approaching school age. My sister, as with many in my family tree, had – has – chronic problems with alcohol. My siblings and I lived through this with my parents; my mom and dad lived with it with one or both of their parents, and so it went probably going back as far as Manifest Destiny or before. My mom used to toss out the hackneyed “injuns and fire water are a bad mix” line. It served as warning to us, yet also demonstrated before our eyes the powerful pull the “fire water” had for us as even my mom succumbed to its draw in time.

Trey grew up with that in his early childhood years before being detached from his mother completely and immersed into his dad and step-mom’s nuclear family. It wasn’t without kinks in the road (thus the troubled teen years).

The photos we have of him show a wiry sandy-haired young man – a hopeful, outwardly brave young man with only the slightest hint of pain and fear if you look into the eyes deep enough. Others have him showing his body artwork, including a series of Chinese letters spanning the length of one forearm. Another is a more disturbing display, possibly showing some insight into his internal pain. It displays a bottle of wine or liquor (?), and from the bottle pours and splashes out a red liquid – possibly blood? I can only speculate at the symbolism of this one. The others show him and his now fiancée in what may be their final shots in their apartment before he ships out, both with the smiles and appearances of happiness – and only the slightest detectable traces of fear of the unknown ….

Yet through it all, with all the private pain and frustration life tossed him, he still managed to make it out the other end without ending up in prison, on the run or dead. He’s pulled it together to make something of his life, joined the Army, met a girl he wishes to settle down with and is entering what he hopes will be an avenue to pull out of the morass that ensnares most of the very country for whose honor and protection he fights. That morass is hopelessness and vanishing opportunity.

We live in a society where aggressive self-interest and a hoarding of wealth, resources and access to them are the only measures of success. We’ve even exported this elitist attitude to other similar elites in countries spanning the globe – even China imitates our examples. In this scenario the power-players call the shots, massage the media, influence the markets for profit-taking, and hegemonically decide who the leaders of the various nations are – and who gets taken out.

In a clever fashion, they structure it in reports to be seen as protecting their nations’ citizens. But ultimately, we’re seeing less concern for citizens than we do for the business interests actively serving in this game as well as the ulterior motives of clearing the way for the ultimate business interests to move in and set up shop, laying claim to the resources.

Sadly, it means all working under this sway become mere pawns in a larger game of real-world Stratego. The worker-level folks, the soldiers in the wargame, all the hopeful watching from the sidelines – regardless of which side – all are part of the overall game to “capture your battle flag!” as the 60’s and early 70’s era TV commercials used to blare during Saturday morning cartoon time.

Perhaps this is where most of the folks now running this real-world Stratego got their inspiration – the innocuous little board game. In my youth, I remember a couple friends on the block who frequently played Stratego and another similar war-fantasy game, Luftwaffe. Both were mostly indoor kids, odd birds and relatively frail – not like the rest of us rough-and-tumble types out playing football.

Their fixation on these games seemed vaguely ominous: the cold calculation of killing in the Cold War era or glorifying the gruesome pursuit of victory of the WWII Nazis. Sometimes I wonder if the two of them ended up with jobs in the Bush Administration or the New American Century Project … perhaps a senior-managerial level position at Halliburton or Blackwater.

To be certain, the power-connected families appreciate the service these military men and women do for them. Yet these power-connected families will never know what it’s like for the families at ground level as they rarely ever worry about their own children being part of the sacrifices made. As super-hawk Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) blithely replied when asked if his children are in the military: "my sons are showing support for our nation … helping to get me elected, because they think I'd be a great president."

That’s the difference between “sacrifice” and sacrifice.

While the power-players play their Stratego with global geopolitics, we in all countries around the world now have concerns for safety and sanctity within our own borders. The byproduct of such displacement and upheaval is the ripples that emanate out from it afterward. Violence and terrorism are real, and unfortunately not abating but spreading.

As a result of geopolitical uncertainty, we have more need than ever for the very military that many of us wish we didn’t have to resort to.

The folks back home at the ground level know the difference between “sacrifice” and sacrifice, and hopefully will see the safe return of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents or grandparents or siblings. And certainly the soldiers themselves wish for the same, and then some! Perhaps they hope for some humanity from the leaders who send them forth to the jobs they’re tasked with; some sincere recognition of what they’re doing for the good of the country and for those real windfall winners in the game of geopolitics and self-opportunism.

Let’s give a sincere “thank you” to those who’ve fought before in all wars, as well as those who fight today. They really deserve a lot more than we give them for the harrowing jobs they do and the sacrifices they make for us. They have someone here back home who care and worry for their safety as they undertake this most mortal job of all. They’re real people. People like “fatboy” Trey.

Hopefully, they can come home to a world where a dream for a better tomorrow for themselves is real, and not just back home to the usual dead ends and absence of opportunity.

“Seventeen company men,
Out of which only twelve will make it back again.
Sergeant sends a letter to five
Milit’ry wives as tears drip down from ten little eyes.” 16 Military Wives, the Decemberists

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” farewell address of Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Duplicity By Any Other Name Would Smell As Foul

“My oh my, you sure know how to arrange things.
You set it up so well, so carefully.
Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things?
You’re still the same old girl you used to be.” — Lyin’ Eyes, the Eagles

Duplicity is duplicity, no matter how you slice (or parse) it. Or as we like to say in these parts (the parts being South Texas): “you can’t polish a turd.”

We’ve had plenty of duplicity to kick off the 21st Century – well beyond our share! It didn’t originate post-millennium, but it’s certainly found welcome environs here these days. Lord knows we’ve had more than our fill from the Bush Administration. The Democrats pledged to be the party of change with their ushering in a year ago – and now status quo seems to be the battle cry amongst Congressional majority on the Hill.

Even in GLBT politics we’ve dealt with it blatantly. Numerous folks have pointed out any number of Mara Keisling’s promises vs. the actions that later belie them. Even Matt Foreman repented post SONDA (Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act) in New York state, and promised of trans non-discrimination being the next priority #1 (nope, gay marriage) and then only supporting inclusive legislative language thereafter until Henry Waxman’s FEPA (Fed. Employment Protection Act) came along in 2004.

However, all of the above wrapped together would find serious competition in the duplicity game with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Those of us in the Transgender Community may well remember the HRC board of directors’ vote in Aug. 2004 to support only inclusive language in the Employment Non Discrimination. It was ballyhooed widely as a watershed moment in GLBT history.

When word started leaking early this year about yet another push by HRC to equivocate on this board mandated “unequivocal” support, those of us who dared utter it were called “crazy” and written off as bitter lunatics. Later in mid September, HRC’s Exec. Dir, Joe Solmonese was a keynote speaker at the largest trans event in America and possibly the world. At the conference, he was video transcripted as saying he and his organization not only would settle for nothing less than an inclusive ENDA, they would also “oppose a non-inclusive” ENDA. It was quite the coup, triumphantly served on a silver platter to an organization long beleaguered by the transgender community.

Yet in late September, less than two weeks after the HRC triumph at SCC, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) pulled a bait-and-switch with existing legislation on ENDA (HR 2015), and did a quick-change – replacing the previously inclusive ENDA language with sexual orientation only language (HR 3685).

Instantaneously virtually every GLBT group seized upon the travesty, circulated a letter to Congress signed by virtually every organization and formed an ad-hoc coalition. Every organization … save for HRC.

To control the damage, HRC did explain their situation via the media. Later they began visiting key states and locales to shore up support and to quell the rancor of those supporting transgender-inclusive legislation – as well as whatever transgender stragglers they could still rope in to hear them out.

In Philadelphia, they visited with the leadership of the statewide GLBT group SPARC (Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition) and others to elaborate on the HRC approach to ENDA. SPARC was a bit harder of a sale for HRC than they initially figured, and expressed great concern with HRC’s lack of signing on to the coalition and how that translated into perceived non-support of transgender inclusion.

Even though it’s long, I post the letter in its entirety to the claims of being selective and attempting to skew the intent of the letter by taking things out of context. Exhibit #1 from HRC below:

From: Joe Solmonese
Date: Oct 4, 2007 3:18 PM
Subject: My response to your letter

Dear Philadelphia Allies:

The following letter has two purposes: first, to encourage you to discuss ENDA with me, and second, to put to rest the inaccuracies and misperceptions contained in your letter dated Wednesday, October 3.

When I read your letter, it became clear to me that you are not familiar with the events that took place following leadership's decision to pursue its two-bill strategy, nor confident in HRC's good will in responding to them. We need to address that, and the best way to do so is not through heated rhetoric but person-to-person conversation. As such, I propose that we have a conference call on Monday, October 8th to discuss what has happened, what HRC is doing now, and the path that we see going forward.

I hope, however, that in the meantime you will read this letter in the interest of clearing the air about matters that are obviously of great importance to all of us. I will provide greater details below, but the bottom line is this: turning our backs on our relationships with Congress is not an acceptable strategy for HRC. It would completely incapacitate us in the fight for an inclusive bill. Everything that has transpired in the past week, and everything that we will do going forward, reflects this basic understanding: if we remain outside of the legislative process, we have no hope of influencing it.

In your letter, you state that the Human Rights Campaign did not oppose leadership's decision and reaffirm our support for the entire community. That is simply not true. HRC stated unequivocally that (a) we only support transgender-inclusive employment bills; and (b) that we did not support the removal of gender identity from ENDA.

I would also like to clear the air regarding HRC's work with LCCR to respond to the two-bill strategy. When the announcement about the bill being dropped came to us, HRC immediately went to congressional offices in order to persuade leaders to change course. While many other groups were issuing formal statements on what they apparently believed was a foregone conclusion, we were knocking on every door we could, stating our commitment to an inclusive bill and doing what we could to change the course on which leadership had embarked. At a late afternoon meeting on Friday, September 28th, LCCR asked HRC to join with them in requesting the markup be canceled and on Saturday, September 29, it became clear that we would be unable to move the Speaker or Representative Frank off of their two-bill strategy.

Therefore on Saturday, HRC drafted a letter that was circulated to the coalition and sent to the Hill on Monday October 1st. HRC was key to securing the delay in the markup. Now the ENDA coalition – including HRC—is lobbying the target members, both on the Hill and with in-district grassroots work, to support a fully-inclusive bill.

It seems that the most controversial issue here is our board's position on H.R. 3685, the stripped-down bill that Rep. Frank introduced last week. We will neither support the bill nor ask members to vote against it. Let me be clear: this does not amount to approving of a non-inclusive bill; it does not set up a situation where a non-inclusive bill will pass without gender identity, and it most certainly does not give Congress a "pass." I will explain in detail below.

First, we do not "support" the non-inclusive bill. HRC is not lobbying in favor of H.R. 3685. We have not mobilized our members in support of it, nor expended resources to secure a vote on it. HRC cannot throw our resources behind it, because it leaves transgender people behind. Plain and simple.

A likely outcome would be a negative vote about gender identity. We have been told in no uncertain terms that, a motion to recommit stripping gender identity would easily pass, meaning that members of Congress would be on record opposing transgender equality. Worse yet, leadership informed us that this motion to recommit could be even more vile and degrading to transgender people, excluding jobs involving contact with children. Sadly, such a motion was also likely to pass. Think of it—Congress formally declaring, even in the context of a civil rights bill, that members of our community are unfit to work around children. Despicable, but a realistic problem. Rightly or wrongly, our congressional allies—and make no mistake, they are allies— decided to deny anti-GLBT leaders the chance to do this damage.

Anger at this course of events is understandable. We are angry too, but there is no course of logic that can lead one to the conclusion that HRC is the problem. This is not the position that we wanted to be in. The fact is, this is where we are in October 2007—many votes shy of our goal.

As a result, the 110th Congress will be about education. We will work to secure approximately 40 additional votes needed to pass the bill we want: one that covers the whole community. We participate in the hearings on transgender equality that Rep. Frank has promised to hold. Rather than being outsiders to this process, we will have a voice in favor of equality, and make sure that GLBT-rights advocates are at the table when those hearings are planned. And of course we will redouble our efforts with employers, whom we've persuaded not only to adopt inclusive policies, but also to formally support an inclusive ENDA. Without them, getting as far as we have thus far would not have been possible.

As I have stated previously, we have ramped up our lobby presence on the Hill, helped coordinate broad coalition efforts, and deployed our field team to more than 40 key congressional districts to mobilize unprecedented support for an inclusive ENDA. We secured the active support of corporate America, with more than 50 major companies joining our Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness. Our Religion and Faith Program was instrumental as well, giving voice to thousands of faith leaders across the country. We secured supportive editorials from a record number of newspapers, and with your help we generated hundreds of thousands of constituent contacts to members of Congress, through emails, phone calls, postcards, and thousands of hand-written letters. We acknowledge that there is further to go and we have not let up in that fight.

Our community can work with the people who want to help us, or we can walk out on them. We can fight to move the ball from where it is, or simply go home. HRC chose the former course. In a community facing such fierce opposition from the outside, it is disheartening to see blame and anger hurled at the people on our own side. I know in my heart that HRC's course of action not only supports the goal of transgender equality, but is the best and most expedient way to promote it.

The fact is, our position and our actions have remained consistent throughout this process. We resolved only to support passage of an inclusive bill. We remain resolved to pass only an inclusive bill. And we remain resolved to stay in the legislative process, making it both possible and necessary for Congress to do the right thing. By staying at the table, we will prevent precisely what concerns you—that they take the easier course and leave transgender people behind.

I think that further dialogue would be useful, and I invite you once again to join me on a conference call.

Joe Solmonese

This is doubtless the same message they’re putting forth at their HRC Town Hall blitzkrieg across the nation, seeking to soothe our allies, and rope in any transgendered Barnum Babies they can locate. It’s all a wonderfully deft bit of marketing. It’s just too damn bad the sales pitch isn’t consistent with the service.

Next is the latest letter to regarding Barney Frank’s ENDA bill (HR.3685) asking for support from Congress. Take special note of the wording, and then read the signatories onto the letter at the bottom. Before anyone defends it, HRC was fully aware of the letter’s text before it went out. This is not yet another coincidental case of benign ignorance. Below, Exhibit #2:

A footnote of the two contacts offered forth by LCCR at the end of the letter: Nancy Zirkin was formerly of American Assn. of University Women (AAUW), and was a reliably staunch ally of the old-line HRC approach to non-inclusion of transgenders. Rob Randhava was formerly an out staffer in Rep. Barney Frank’s office, one whom both Monica Roberts and I myself visited with back during NTAC’s Lobby Days in 2001. Six years ago, his stance was quite coincidentally the spitting image of the very same legislative strategy being pursued by Frank, HRC, et. al. in 2007.

November 6, 2007

Dear Representative:

We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our support for H.R. 3685, the "Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007" (ENDA). ENDA would prevent most employers from firing, refusing to hire, or denying a promotion to any worker on the basis of sexual orientation. In doing so, this legislation represents a major step forward in the advancement of civil rights protections for all Americans, and would bring federal law closer in line with highly-successful policies that already exist in a number of states and corporate environments.

Arriving at a position in support of H.R. 3685 has been extraordinarily difficult for our organizations. As you may know, earlier this year, Congress introduced - with our enthusiastic support - H.R. 2015, a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of not only sexual orientation, but also gender identity. Out of concern that Congress as a whole may not yet have the political will to pass the fully-inclusive version of ENDA, the House leadership reluctantly decided to pursue a narrower bill, one that would advance protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees, but would not include employees whose gender identity leaves them especially vulnerable to employment discrimination.

We continue to believe that H.R. 2015 is a far better approach. While it is beyond dispute that H.R. 3685 would improve protections for employees who might otherwise face unjust discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it is also beyond dispute that transgender employees are particularly in need of those protections. They face far more pervasive and severe bias in the workplace and society as a whole. While transgender employees may in some cases be protected under Title VII, they otherwise have little relief under existing state laws, municipal ordinances, or private employment policies.

As civil rights organizations, however, we are no strangers to painful compromise in the quest for equal protection of the law for all Americans. From the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through the almost-passed District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007, legislative progress in the area of civil and human rights has almost always been incremental in nature. With each significant step toward progress, the civil rights community has also faced difficult and sometimes even agonizing tradeoffs. We have always recognized, however, that each legislative breakthrough has paved the way for additional progress in the future. With respect to ENDA, we take the same view.

While we are greatly disappointed that the current version of ENDA is not fully-inclusive, our sense of frustration in this case is directed at those who would clearly prefer to see no one from the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender community protected at all. We know the decision to pursue a narrower strategy was a very difficult one, and we appreciate the steadfast efforts of our Congressional allies over the years to advance the rights of all Americans - even when they are forced at times to make progress that is measured by inches rather than yards.

As such, we urge you to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and to oppose any floor amendments or motions that would undermine its protections. If you have any questions, or need any further information please feel free to contact LCCR Vice President and Director of Public Policy Nancy Zirkin at (202) 263-2880 or Rob Randhava, LCCR Counsel, at 202-466-6058. Thank you for your consideration of our views.


American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees
Human Rights Campaign
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Education Association
National Employment Lawyers Association
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Interesting that the same HRC that supports the sentiment of being no “stranger” to painful compromise is the same one that reaffirmed their resolve “to pass only an inclusive bill” a scant month earlier. Not only are they now supporting the non-inclusive bill for the record, they will also ask for no amendments or motions as well. How consistent is that? “Do not support the non-inclusive bill” to “urge you to support” and “oppose any … amendments or motions.”

Folks, when you say one thing with such passionate conviction, then turn around and defy that with your own actions to the contrary, it’s duplicity. Intently misleading. Deception. Lies.

This exercise shows how stupid we in the transgender community are perceived to be. They say there’s no fool like an old fool, and we’ve been fooled quite a bit over the decades. So we’re nothing but a bunch of tranny dummies, eh?

Well, even dumb animals can pick up on patterns.

And these are pretty consistent, and pretty damn blatant patterns.

“Your smile is a thin disguise.
Thought by now you’d realize

There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes.” — Lyin’ Eyes, the Eagles