Monday, November 24, 2008

Transgenders Protest HRC's Big D (As In Big Donations)

..................[The street protester and the preacher]

“You can’t be here on our sidewalk. This is our sidewalk, you’re gonna have to leave.” Unidentified security guard for the Sheraton Dallas Hotel.

It was the grandest of the grand, the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) largest annual fundraising opportunity in the nation, there in Dallas. And as has occurred in cities around the country, we conducted another protest of HRC in Big D (as in big donations!) While it was mostly just Courtney Sharp and myself holding it down, we still made our presence known and obvious, educating a number of folks (mostly straights) who inquired and ensuring the gay and lesbian crowd attending that night understood we were not going to be swept under the rug.

In case anyone hadn’t clued in on this previously, Dallas has always been – and still is – HRC territory. It may be Cowboy country, but it’s also wealthy gay country. The volume of well-heeled party-goers was quite impressive – easily doubling Houston’s. And these aren’t chump-change tickets as they’re going for $300 a pop!

Courtney and I walked over to where the banquet’s silent auction was located. I was stunned. It was as if we’d walked into a very high-end department store, with vases, sumptuous solid wood entertainment centers and tables, numerous bedroom suites ranging from the very tastefully classic to the cutting edge contemporary, tuxes and Hollywood styled gowns (enough to make a tranny drool!), vacations to places such as Tahiti estimated at $25,000 and even a BMW at $100 per bid with a list price at $39,000! Ostentatious didn’t even come close to describing most of the eye-catching items on the block.

"Man has a body that is both his burden and his temptation. He ought to watch over it. Keep it in bounds, repress it, and obey it only as a last resort. It may be wrong to obey even then, but if so, the fault is venial.” From Les Miserables, Book 1 by Victor Hugo

Just in a quick estimation, the list price of the goods on auction were likely as much as $2 million, maybe more. Easily this could fetch half of this in good times. Of course, these aren’t “good times” – and even the wealthy wall street investors are hording their money in fear of the economic abyss. Wondering aloud to Courtney, I questioned how anyone could afford this opulence. This truly felt like I was wandering through an alternate universe somewhere, far removed from reality: Planet Earth.

We’d conducted a panel discussion earlier that afternoon with one of HRC’s honorees at the chi-chi event: Bishop Eugene Robinson of the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese. After the panel, we were all invited up to his suite and further interviewed by a documentary group that has been following the good Reverend around for much of the past year.

At one point early in the evening when banquet-goers first began streaming in, I was standing and chatting with Bishop Robinson and Michael Robinson of Dallas (no relation) in the entry drive of the Sheraton where the banquet took place. It didn’t occur to me until minutes later that the folks in black tie and gown walking in and the folks in the lobby areas on both floors were the black tie banquet attendees.

It explained the looks I got from the folks walking in!

As we walked back out at dark to begin the protest, we again had to maneuver through “the gauntlet” of banquet goers collected around the door to the dinner room. Watching the attendees looking at me decked out in my Un-Equal shirt was just like watching conservative Republicans bedecked in white tie eye a swarthy homeless man stumbling through their midst. Studied aversion of gaze. Stark-eyed stares forward with quick glances down at my shirt, before relocking eyes straight ahead. An occasional full once-over of the shirt with putrid expression. A few horrified glances (mostly from women) with a look communicating “what are you doing here?” Also a few of the mutual glances to partners with the “eye roll” and sideways smiles or quiet snickers.

It’s the dichotomy of GLBT personified: the stray undesirables walking in the midst of the entitled.

“It’s good to be king.” — Mel Brooks as Louie XVI from the movie, History of the World, Part I

As Kelli Busey and Tina Seitz had both dressed professionally for the panel, we bid them goodbye until they changed and returned at the protest’s end. While it wasn’t a well-attended demonstration, it was nonetheless effective. We caught hordes of drivers trying to make their way under the circular drive, not wanting to bear the blustery cold winds. (As temperatures dipped into the upper 30’s, I rued my decision to wear only my long-sleeved t-shirt under my short-sleeved tee – not wise.)

With signs in each arms clutched to my body, the winds were strong enough at their high point to actually hold me up against the gusts! I felt I could fly, kinda Flying Nun-style. Hey, it kept my mind off of my lips and fingers going numb in the cold!

We had a few encounters of note out in the street. To begin, I attempted to set up my boombox to play music (and had some unknown malfunction that was preventing it), but at the first sounds coming out, I had one of Sheraton’s security right at my shoulder asking “is this really necessary?”

When I explained that this kept us from yelling and screaming at those going in, the man (with a Nordic or Germanic accent) tried to convince me that we couldn’t have the music and could not speak either. I replied that we could absolutely do those things and reminded him that there is free speech in America, to which he sardonically shot back, “yeah, I know! It’s one of the things I don’t like about this country!”

I shot back “well, there are still countries which don’t value free speech! You could always go there….”

Later he came back out with a tall African American man (maybe a supervisor?) who said we couldn’t be there and claimed the sidewalk was the Hotel’s property (as I noted in the opening quote). He made it look convincing too, looming over me and acting as if he knew the hotel owned it – even threatening to have us “removed.” He received my answer: we were fine as long as we didn’t block the sidewalk, and I knew if I marched in the street I could be arrested for obstructing traffic. Looking over and seeing Dallas cops in the street directing traffic, I challenged the towering security man to call the Police and see what they say, and I even challenged him to a bet that I was going to be right. He got on his cell phone, looked seriously involved in his conversation with whomever, but he walked away and didn’t come back.

They’ll pull out any stop to intimidate us into not getting our story out.

One thought that struck me as Courtney and I marveled at the never-ending line of expensive autos was how Dickensian it all appeared. As we watched the long-lined limos easing by with TV screens and flashing lights blinking, or as I looked up at the skywalk between the hotel and the auction area as passers-by looking down on us, it seemed appropriately emblematic. They eyed us from inside with shock and disgust, and us in the cold breezes, laughing at them watching. We’re on the right side of history, something their money can never buy.

We did have about a dozen folks stop, curiously inquiring what we were protesting – mostly straight folks driving by or unconnected hotel guests. One man asked, and when I informed him we transgenders were protesting “the largest gay and lesbian rights group in the nation,” his face brightened (apparently he’s a conservative) and he smiled, gave a thumbs up and said “Good! Keep it up!” The enemy of your enemy is your ally ….

Another couple, gay, stopped an inquired as well. Obviously I gave them a brief rundown of HRC’s history with trans people, the brief ‘bait-before-switch’ of this session’s ENDA bill before breaking it into two bills, and Joe Solmonese’s promise to the largest transgender conference who invited him as a keynote (Southern Comfort). I then summed up their waffles on both supporting the inclusive bill only, and finally the report card scoring threats and follow through with folks like Anthony Weiner and Edolphus Towns having their 100% rating attaining their first black marks. The man inquiring thanked me (I think perhaps skeptical of me) and said he was going to look it up on the net. Good!

Out of the negative comments I got, the best was one gay man who walked up with the sour look as he read my signs, then walked around and looked at the back of them (I make two-sided signs with different messages). Upon looking at them, he declared, “Oh no, no honey! We don’t need you here! We don’t want you here – you need to go home! Take yourself back to Waxahachie, or wherever it is you’re from!”

Waxahachie is a town of about 28,000, about 28 miles south of Dallas, perhaps inferring I was trailer trash as well as being tranny trash. Regardless, the tranny trailer trash was well represented in high-falutin’, rootin’-tootin’ Dallas.

Now I wonder how much that pink Dallas Cowboys’ Star pennant went for …?

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied...but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” – John Berger

No comments: