"There's no way out of here, when you come in you're in for good
There was no promise made, the part you've played, the chance you took
There are no boundaries set, the time and yet you waste it still
So it slips through your hands like grains of sand, you watch it go." — There's No Way Out Of Here, Unicorn
There was none of the controversy or the hype this year. There were no protest barricades, no crowd control police on horseback, no show of force whatsoever by the Houston Police Dept. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Gala in Houston went off with little fanfare on both sides.
As for the protesters, we only had two show: Courtney Sharp from New Orleans and myself.
In that sense, being honest, this was a big victory for HRC. You may also surmise it was seen as a big loss for the transgender community. Certainly from a visual perspective, HRC has to be happy in breaking the trans community down further, winnowing the small numbers further, and looking forward to the day when we give up completely and our voices silence.
Of course, there are still a number of folks who gave Courtney and I the moral support. One Gala goer admitted he hates the organization, and only does it for business and "for visibility reasons." He even came out to apologize to us and was honest about "being a quisling and going back in" to the party.
Another couple drove by, spotted us and asked us which organization we were from. When I told her I was from NTAC, the passenger whooped and called me out into the street to their car to shake her hand. As it turns out, she was visiting from out of town and was coordinating San Diego's protest of the Hyatt Hotel for their owner's contributions to California's Prop 8. She also commented that we needed "a lot more people out here!"
I agree with her. Sadly, the community's tired and doesn't want to be bothered. Being principled and consistent is a laudable thing – or at least we were raised on that being the case. These days, though, it's also what gets you punished. You're written off as the crazy dingbats, too stubborn to realize you've lost.
And of course, to the victor go the spoils. HRC will de facto own the trans community's voice, regardless of their spotty and shady history. We've allowed them to divide us and easily conquer.
However, as long as there's a few of us left with history, and a decided need for something to trust in, something more principled, there will always be a few of us showing to speak truth to power. We'll let them laugh at us and duck in to their well-heeled parties. It please them, so at least we can make someone happy! And meanwhile, we'll rare few will still walk it like we talk it!
Nevertheless, it got Courtney and I discussing when the trans community and the trans movement totally implodes and becomes annexed into the gay and lesbian community holdings, as it were. They have the money and the power. That alone allows them to take whatever they want. And as we've learned in politics, you don't have to be in the right. You only have to have the money and pull to buy whatever you choose to be reality.
We reminisced about the 2007 Southern Comfort Conference, with Courtney recalling Ethan St. Pierre's call to her concerned that he'd have to "walk home" to Massachusetts. Ethan and I were the only two visible folks giving a silent protest of the HRC presence, and the exalted position they and NCTE's Mara Keisling were afforded, celebrating the 'staunch alliance' and HRC's commitment to support only a trans-inclusive ENDA.
Of course, Ethan and I and the NTAC crew knew better. While Ethan was exhorted by IFGE's E.D. Denise LeClair to remove his "UnEqual" sticker, we both – me especially – did everything we could to warn of the impending betrayal. No one wanted to hear it. It was "negative" news. It sullied the dream. It was a direct threat to the illusory bubble that nobody wanted burst.
In the end, we actually generated a couple extra donations to HRC due to our warnings. I actually had one trans woman finish her argument with me by stating she believed Mara and Joe Solmonese, and just for what I'd said, she wrote out another $100 check to HRC right in front of me which she then took to give to Joe.
In the end, we were right ... and we were also the big losers! Lesson: don't do "the right thing." It's something I suppose I'm too stubborn to learn.
As Courtney mused, it was at that moment that she said we were done. HRC had won, and no matter what we did and what was accurate, our own community was not going to believe its own. We weren't going to support our own.
In short, we'd lost our community.
Since then we've been working, especially after the grand betrayal, to bring things back. But as HRC has already discovered, the trans community appears to have a very short memory. Additionally, there's any number of available (and desperate) folks willing to be HRC's wedge, to keep us divided into pro-HRC vs. pro-trans camps. Time is on their side, and if they wait long enough, we'll die off and give them the defacto victory by attrition in a death-of-a-thousand-cuts style. They have the money and security to wait us out.
At the same time, take notice how the gay and lesbian community remembers everything. They have a full knowledge of their community's long history of being left out of the civil rights movement a la Bayard Rustin. They rally around their community in uniform outrage when they've been denied. They rally their troops and are aggressive in courting allies from other communities (even trans people!) to support their protests for their current causes. They know how to maximize their numbers, their echo chamber and thus their impact in making change for their own, even on marriage (the most sticky issue of all).
It's something trans folks should envy. But knowing how easy it is to divide us and break our will, it's not something I see us replicating in the short term. Only once the gay and lesbian community has won its entire slate of issues, and once the trans community realizes we're getting nothing of the like will we finally start realizing this – although many years too late.
To be sure, we'll have more losses. More New Hampshires, etc. Of course, knowing our community tendency, they realize in a year the trans folks will be saying "Who Hampshire?" We'll be worrying about the next new outfit we can buy, or maybe snaking a free ticket to an HRC banquet.
"Have We Lost Our Voice?" — Sen. Robert Byrd