As I’ve already had a couple ask, requiring explanation, I figured I’d just make it a uniform notification: No Southern Comfort for me this year. Comfort may be what some folks feel there, but personally I don’t.
As we’ve noted in the trans community over the past six years or so, there’s developed a notable philosophical bifurcation in the transgender community: those who support and have faith in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and those who cannot trust them. For sake of disclosure, since the late 90’s I have been solidly in the latter group.
It was just over a year ago this week that the last Southern Comfort Conference was going on, prominently featuring HRC. Being a member of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC), and knowing HRC as I have over the years, I wasn’t going to allow this to go without notice. While I’m not into what many of my activist predecessors were into – yelling confrontations, loud protestations and the like – it protest needed to be shown, even if not in-your-face. I brought along my Un-Equal and displayed it openly.
Over the years I’d been to the conference, I’d never such prominent featuring of HRC. They sponsored a mini job fair with a number of corporations (including Hewlett-Packard Company – who for the record changed their EEO policy for gender identity due to NTAC’s efforts, not HRC). HRC’s Joe Solmonese even gave a prominent keynote luncheon speech, flanked by Lisa Mottet of NGLTF and Mara Keisling of NCTE. The speeches were mostly self-congratulatory and reassuringly supportive to the transgender audience.
JoeSo, as we all know now, uttered the now infamous phrase promising to support only (transgender) inclusive legislation. It was a hero’s welcome. The crowd overwhelmingly ate it up – with few exceptions (mostly those few of us who knew better from our visits to Congress four months prior).
Sure, both Ethan St. Pierre and I were there, and more than willing to speak with folks about the truth on what we’d heard on HRC’s “supportive” efforts. Then again, who was going to listen to us? We’re trannies. Not only that, NTAC! HRC non-supporters!
I didn’t push the issue with folks, only wore the sticker and answered fully when those few asked. One girl who walked up to the IFGE booth while I was there and questioned me on it, noted pithily that she “believed them” and that I “didn’t hear Joe’s speech,” informed me she had already written a check to HRC and after speaking with me said she was going to “go in and write him another check.” Ethan spoke with her afterwards, and noted that she’d kept his contact and admitted she was duped.
Even a good friend, Ken Dollarhide, long one of the biggest critics of gay and lesbian activist leaders and their agendas which never seemed to remember transgenders, mentioned he believed the speech. He thought they were going to come around and support us finally. I attempted to tell him what happened in May, but it wasn’t to be.
Others, close friends, old friends, prominent community members most all seemed to share the same reactions: big smiles and hugs, the eyes would drop down to spot the Un-Equal sticker, then quickly dart away while they nervously struck up conversations with others and politely moved on. As Denise LeClair of IFGE noted on one of the list-serves, I was “about as welcome as a skunk at a garden party.”
Nobody wanted to hear it. This was HRC’s day in the sun, Mara Keisling’s day in the sun, and time for all the collected to celebrate. When reality’s successfully hidden under wraps, it’s easy to ignore (unless you’re like those of us troublemakers who don’t trust, and look under the wraps).
As for we NTACers, we were always the ugly, red-headed step-kids there. It was clear to me that was not our community any more. This was the pro-HRC set and anyone not on board, such as NTAC, were to be isolated in a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy (or as Mara would phrase it: “the cheese stands alone” strategy.) Ironically, when I explained to Mara about NTAC’s ‘divide and conquer’ approach, I was told that was “adversarial.” I guess we shouldn’t have listened to her.
Well as we now know, it didn’t take long before reality reared its head. Ken wrote sometime back apologizing (I don’t seek those things out). Ethan had spoken with the other transwoman who’d spoken with me (the check-writer), and she’d apparently admitted to him she was wrong.
Maybe we wouldn’t be so ostracized if we returned … but then again, maybe so. Southern Comfort folks have not been much inclined to listen to us before, and I don’t know that that would change.
They will listen to HRC, or at least it’s more likely them than us. They’ll listen to Mara Keisling or Lisa Mottet. And there’s always the chance, like in 2004, that HRC might come back and pull another marketing coup de grace and speak to the conferees of their support and the pending victory, and hopes and dreams ….
And frankly I just can’t watch that stuff again. It’s like viewing a train wreck in slow motion on an endless tape loop. If our community would take the time (and yes, expense) learn to lobby and develop contacts on the Hill, they would know what we discover and how to read the patterns. Then they wouldn’t have to hear it from us. Short of that, though, they’ll have to learn on their own in time.
Ultimately, HRC and others have played our community as fools for years, but it’s become much more blatant now. They talk down to us, feed us what lines they want us to swallow, cleverly set the scenery, enlist a few of our own to help sell it, then raise their money off us and go on their merry way. If we find out later, who cares? What are we gonna do about it? They got their money, they’re keeping it, and they’ll come back later for more.
HRC’s fully aware that a year or two later, those of us who know or remember this will either burnout in utter outrage and frustration, or end up being marginalized and tuned out by the other, newer folks who don’t want to hear about stuff that occurred B.T.O. (before they were out).
And the pattern repeats.
HRC realizes they have money (trannies love money). HRC realizes they know a lot of stars (trannies are easily bedazzled, and many have star-lust). And HRC realizes that while we tend to be skeptical of our own, we tend to believe others outside of the trans community (cumulative low socialized self-worth makes trannies skeptical of trannies). And if they stay low for a while and come back again, even if it takes a new shill to front for them, they can. They’ll pull in some funding – not much in their world, a gold-strike for cash-starved trans organizations.
And they can raise the money and end up not even having to do a damn thing for transgenders!
In short, to HRC these events are a promenade of fools. We’re “easy pickings.” On top of it all, after they make their speech and reap their money, they may just get a standing O as icing on the cake!
I can’t relate, nor do I want to. Standing true or standing on principle can often make one a pariah, and I become furious when I get fed a line of bullshit when it comes to our rights. Others may have the luxury of being or not being concerned over whether we have rights or ability to land employment. I don’t, nor do many others in the community – those typically not at Southern Comfort either.
So, I suppose a pariah I must be. But at least I didn’t lie or deceive! Let’s see these heroes swear that!
“Back on the bottom line
Diggin’ for a lousy dime
If I hit a mother lode
I’d cover anything that showed
Oh-h-h, I don’t care
What you do
I wouldn’t want to be like you!” — I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You, Alan Parsons Project