Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reeling in the Years: Reflecting Changes And What Remains The Same

“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” — Benjamin Disraeli

“[T]o take away from horrors of losing your job, you're meant to feel happy because "change is good". Not only that... you're meant to believe that questioning change is for losers – as if change just comes magically from above, and not as a result of corporate incompetence and greed at the highest levels.” — Larry Fignon

“Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste
was not so sweet.
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker.
I'm much too fast to take that test.” — Changes, David Bowie

Being the New Year, it’s perhaps a time of reflection. Rather than reflecting over the whole of one year, I figured I’d reflect over the years plural, especially as it relates to transgenders striving for egalitarianism.

From the How Times Change department:

In Spring 1999, a number of transgenders who had heard of the collaboration of GenderPAC with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for a third year, and noted the new push for “gender” by itself being deemed adequate legislative wording, bolted and formed a new organization: the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC).

NTAC’s founders, and those who populated the group had anything from a measure of skepticism to a healthy mistrust of HRC. Wide mistrust of Rep. Barney Frank existed. We didn’t want to work the inside and have our message restricted or squelched. Staying outside of it meant we could always keep track of trans rights without potential obligatory compromises.

During the course of that year and throughout a portion of 2000, NTAC was cited by the GenderPAC trans segment as being divisive.

In Spring 2000 a few NTAC board members had a meeting with staffers at HRC’s home turf. It was stated that there was no big deal that HRC didn’t have us in their mission statement, and that the trans community needed our own voice, just as the gay community needed focus on their own voice.

In late 2000, GenderPAC began trying to ease transgenders out of the “gender” movement there, and in early 2001 purged it’s trans board members. Shortly thereafter, NTAC began challenging HRC for claiming work with “trans leaders” by using GPAC. They never worked with NTAC.

Shortly thereafter, HRC changed their mission statement to include transgenders, oddly not the doing of either NTAC nor GPAC and well before Mara Keisling and the ad-hoc groups began working with HRC.

About that same time, the ex-GPAC folks, including Mara Keisling, began the first of their list-serves to now begin discussing creating a new group themselves. There were no more claims of NTAC being divisive now, with the new message being “horizontal hostility” by NTAC talking about GPAC and HRC. Their goal was to try to forge a movement incorporating HRC and GenderPAC with the NTAC element.

Later in 2001 HRC included trans in the mission statement, NTAC’s fears came to fruition as it was nothing more than mission change – legislation would still be without “gender identity.”

As 2002 progressed, and Mara Keisling and an ad-hoc group worked in conjunction with HRC on a study, she gained prominence with HRC and the community and planned on opening an office as a single lobbyist, working with HRC and others.

At SCC in 2002, NTAC noted the approach to forge alliances with all other groups and isolate and conquer HRC, and hopefully work around Barney Frank. This was dismissed by Keisling as being “adversarial,” and that we needed to be “congenial” and “collaborative” and bring HRC into the community to work with us all, as well as Barney Frank.

Indeed, as 2003 and 2004 passed, NCTE formed and it became NTAC that was being isolated while all other groups began working with new allies, HRC. Indeed both they and Barney Frank were now trumpeted as trusted allies, and indeed being proficient voices for trans issues in Congress and to the public.

Meanwhile, NTAC’s contacts on the Hill were providing us a different story. Who to believe? NTAC remained skeptics, and for that began being tagged as “HRC-haters” (friends who were members, employees and board notwithstanding, apparently).

In 2004, after the first crack in the HRC happened at a visit with Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) when they noted Barney Frank and HRC being the only ones not on board. In attendance at the meeting were Mara Keisling of NCTE, Rachel Goldberg (pres. of GPAC board), myself (pres. of NTAC board) and Dana Beyer. Keisling and HRC made a presentation at HRC’s annual board, and they voted through support for “only inclusive language” in legislation.

In Summer 2005, Donna Schroer was offered a job in the Library Congress, but the next day denied due to her declared desire to transition on the job from male to female. NCTE introduced her to HRC who prominently noted her discrimination in the press. A couple weeks later, HRC pushed a bill for federal employment non-discrimination that was non-inclusive. Per reports to this author from three individual leaders (two trans, one gay/lesbian) Keisling phone privately asking them for their support of the same bill, without trans inclusion.

After the 2005 flap, 2006 looked up with bills being submitted initially with inclusive language. Barney Frank and HRC are now strongly proffered as heroes. 2007 ostensibly started the same way, but NTAC’s Hill contacts were now sounding rather urgent alarms to the contrary, speaking of bills being stripped of gender identity.

Later, after NTAC’s lobby event but before anyone made it back home, preemptive damage control was already being done, noting “attacks” of referring to NCTE as “Mara’s group, and NTAC “rumors” on HRC and alleged non-support.” We’d heard those claims, but the “damage” had been “pre-controlled” so we watched and waited.

Sept. 2007, HRC’s Exec. Dir, Joe Solmonese speaks at SCC, joining Dave Noble of NGLTF and Mara Keisling of NCTE. Solmonese noted that HRC would “not support non-inclusive legislation.” Keisling reportedly claimed credit for “single-handedly changing the course of transgender history.”

A week later, word came out of attempts to strip gender identity from ENDA. The minute it becomes apparent that Barney Frank is intransigent, the United ENDA Coalition forms with HRC being the only partner not willing to sign on. Eventually HRC decides it cannot support the inclusive ENDA, and Barney Frank later claims this will be the exact bill submitted in 2009 with intentions to pass.

Once this occurs, NCTE’s Keisling goes in gay print and radio claiming HRC and Joe Solmonese are liars (something even NTAC never uttered in press). While the CSPAN interview was tame, the next radio show again noted HRC as being “immoral” trying to speak for the trans community.

NCTE Board Chair Meredith Bacon even came out stating it “only takes one time being stabbed in the back” and demanding resignations of all HRC staff leadership and board of directors before they ever work with HRC again.

To date, Keisling has not responded to the chair’s comments, stating only that it would be “inappropriate to comment at this time.”

Meanwhile NTAC? None of this surprised us. Though it was disappointing, we resigned ourselves to what we’d heard was coming. We’re still being skeptics, even though we’ve also avoided such strong public wording in the press. And we’re still on the outside, still lobby on the odd years and doing what groups like NCTE, now … want to be like as well – at least if you listen to their board chair.

I’m reminded of that old saw: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Sort of no … and sort of yes, too.

“Just gonna have to be a different man.
Time may change me,
But I can't trace time.” — Changes, David Bowie

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