Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Leaves The Race: My Winter of Discontent

“Waiting for the winds of change to sweep the clouds away.
Waiting for the rainbow’s end to cast its gold your way.” — Something For Nothing, Rush

This has really been a tough couple of week and a half. Maybe it’s just the season for sour moods. My beloved and unfortunately hobbled and injured Chargers went on the road to New England, and against the odds played a competitive and inspired game against an unbeaten juggernaut. They lost, though. About that same time we lost the last of the bright red, orange and gold foliage leaving nothing but bare ugly trees. We also began a series of mostly gray, cold and rainy days.

It’s debatable whether winter may or may not cause depression, but it certainly magnifies it.

There’s not been a lot of encouraging signs this year. Yet I was hoping for spring and a chance to finally have a primary vote in Texas that – for once – we might be able to have some influence as to whom might be our next President.

If there was ever a time for distinct change and an overhaul of the disparities that have become the reality of America, it was now. Poverty, bankruptcy, dispossession, under- and unemployment, economic stagnation and decaying dreams are blithely accepted with no true urgency. Any seeming attention these problems get is cosmetic and ephemeral. Any action proposed or taken is only a buttress for the façade of concern.

And yes, like a disproportionate percentage of the transgender community, hit home hard with me as well.

For the record, I’ve been a John Edwards backer throughout. He’s not only been the primary and distinctive voice pushing for comprehensive revamping of this “winner take all, losers die” attitude in 21st century America, he was doing so in the last presidential campaign of 2004. His voice has been the strongest and most unequivocal on poverty – a bright ray of hope for those of us at the bottom rungs of society – someone actually took notice and even concern!

Today I read the headlines that John Edwards ended his campaign for the presidency.

There are other candidates in the Democratic race, and certainly there’s a good chance that we can finally end the reign of unbridled conservatism gone amok. A vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton is tantamount to a vote for Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – if you’re gay or lesbian it’s great, if you’re transgendered it’s devastating. Sen. Barack Obama is a better choice, except Sen. Ted Kennedy (head of the senate’s anti-trans coalition) is now sidling up to Obama hoping to influence who he perceives as the next Prez.

Both candidates have been for the troubling notion of “working with corporate America” to negotiate change for the rest of us in need. If we know nothing else, we know corporations exist for their gains – not losses. They’ll take every compromise you’re willing to give them.

For those of us in the lower socioeconomic strata – those of us perpetually disempowered, we’re now back in the darkness and likely to be forgotten again. Status quo.

“Well, I might as well go to bed … at least I can dream ….” — Charlie-in-the-Box from the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer © by Rankin-Bass

“I don’t want to sleep. I have nothing left to dream.” — Suzy the Doll from the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer © by Rankin-Bass

Jack Cafferty from CNN mused about this ‘change that isn’t’ in his 1/30/08 blog:
“Ask anyone what they think of our government and most people will be happy to tell you. They are angry. I get thousands of letters a week from people angry about health care, immigration, the war, the economy, you name it. The consensus is our government is broken and our country is in trouble.

“The problems they complain about exist solely because of the actions of the Democrats and Republicans in Washington. The political establishment, if you will, that is in bed with the lobbyists and the corporations and, quite frankly, couldn’t care less about you.

Except now, at election time, when they need you. They travel the country spewing the same tired rhetoric we have heard for years. And like lemmings, we appear to be on the brink of continuing to send one of them to the White House.” Cafferty then asks the question “When it comes right down to it, why won’t we vote to really change things?”

Good question, though not entirely a true question. Corporate wealthy types voted for change in 2000 with Bush-Cheney and the coattail electees making their efforts a reality that paid like a busted slot machine. For the rest of us – collectively the overwhelming majority of this country – we haven’t been able to get it together to effect change.

Unless we can download John Edwards’ populism into Barack Obama and pull off a victory for the voiceless, powerless and despondent, it appears change isn’t in the forecast.

And just in time for this economic downturn and recent trend of hiring freezes, I’ll be rejoining the ranks of the unemployed myself. Yes … plenty of dark, gloomy cold to look forward to.

It’s my winter of discontent.

“Vows begin when hope dies.” — Leonardo DaVinci

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Activism Leaders Leading Towards the Door

“We're setting sail to the place on the map
from which no one has ever returned ….” — Ship of Fools, World Party

It was just Tuesday that I read in the press that Gay/Lesbian/Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) founding executive director Kevin Jennings was stepping down. He announced he will be back from his current sabbatical as planned on Feb. 1, but will step down on August 1, 2008 after thirteen years. According to another organization source, he isn’t taking a different job or even discussing future directions – it’s merely an open-ended departure.

Now on Wednesday, 24 hours later, I read about another leader stepping down. The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman announced he will be stepping down in April, the month of his fifth anniversary with NGLTF. He will be moving from a very highly visible NGLTF position to chair the gay and lesbian program at the Evelyn & Walter Haas Fund. It’s almost like moving from Manhattan, New York City to Manhattan, Kansas.

To lay population there’s no connection in these announcements at all. Coincidental, to be sure – even though it comes on the threshold of what could be the biggest sea change politically that’s been seen for nearly 15 years. We’re literally on the threshold of going from the gloom of conservative guilt-mongering and repression to the brightness of progressive and more socially conscious times. There’s a perfect storm brewing in favor of humans of all walks, and especially favorable to the gay and lesbian, perhaps even the transgender community.

So with that stated, why would leaders of two very prominent, egalitarian-minded GLBT organizations decide to leave before the game is won?

Burn out is a possibility, but not likely – especially in Matt Foreman’s case. The position Foreman carved in media gave him plenty of soundbite prominence, to which both the camera seemed to like and he appeared to mutually enjoy. It’s odd that he would leave that at such a key point in the coming bell curve of visibility.

There are no apparent health or aging issues that would predicate the departure. And unlike post 9/11 when there was a watershed of leadership changes due to a general demoralizing pall and sense of hopelessness in the country, we’re seeing an opposite sociopolitical climate now.

To the lay population there’s no connection, and it’s mere coincidence. To those involved heavily in GLBT sociopolitics, especially in the transgender-specific portion, there’s much more to read into these changes. The going theory is that the United ENDA coalition will break up when it becomes evident that the non-inclusive ENDA passage becomes imminent.

When the truth about Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Rep. Barney Frank finally became unavoidably evident beginning in late September of last year, an ad-hoc coalition of more than 300 national, state and local organizations sprung up to combat the abandonment of the original transgender-inclusive Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). This coalition – United ENDA coalition – was spearheaded by NGLTF under Foreman’s leadership and contained virtually every major gay and lesbian led organization in the country (including GLSEN) outside of HRC.

It was a lightning swift, awesome show of force in unity – with much of the credit for that organizational coalition effort going to transman legal wunderkind, Shannon Minter with National Center for Lesbian Rights for the footwork, and Mara Keisling at NCTE for being the trans face and ad-hoc representative spokesperson within the coalition itself.

The outsiders had finally taken a stand of their own and drew in all in their vicinity to support this new effort, and it brought a lot of attention in the media. However, it also drew HRC and Barney Frank’s attention as well. Almost as quickly as Keisling’s 180-degree turn from collaborator to blatant critic of HRC, if not necessarily Frank, she then turned back again in self-restraint on public comments.

It turned out HRC was actively seeking replacement for the “insider” trans person / organization that Mara had just left void. Rep. Barney Frank was rather openly (as an ad-hoc organizer) trying to find another replacement to speak to the transgender community about the benefits of an employment bill that leaves trans out. Moreover, Barney – the bellwether of where politics sides in much of Gay/Lesbian America – levied some blistering criticism at Mara Keisling herself, calling her a “stupid ass” for coordinating this effort, and affixing the same name to all the new ad-hoc coalition of outsiders who followed her.

It was pretty serious name-calling, and all parties on the receiving end of the epithet remained strangely silent. Obviously the barbs had found their target and the stings were felt.

In the past month, the board of NCTE has been very pointed about their sentiments towards HRC, if not necessarily Barney Frank. However Mara Keisling has been notably tempered in any speech for the record – much more so than her board. Rumor, though unsubstantiated, has it that she’s especially over concerned about being supplanted by another go-to transgender selection from Frank and HRC and hopes to find a way to put her group back to the collaborative, “go-to” status with HRC. Even her own words noted in Becky Juro’s radio show stated they will “have to work in the same space” in Washington.

Some of the parties contacted by both Frank and HRC about a new entity are helping NCTE by not taking the bait. But a few obstacles stand in Keisling’s way. Now that the trans community has come around to a united front in opposition to HRC and Frank – flames that she’s been actively involved in fanning – she will find it at the very least nearly impossible to go back to HRC without divorcing herself from the community she represents. Also, history has shown HRC to be a hypersensitive suitor, and any show of disloyalty from their favor is repaid by distinct reduction in trust that is never forgotten (to wit: GenderPAC). They’re unforgiving.

Lastly, any move back into collaboration with HRC while the United ENDA Coalition holding the bag, especially by someone viewed as the linchpin to the very effort, would be viewed very dimly.

And on the United ENDA coalition, it’s been openly wondered in the trans community what would occur if a non-inclusive ENDA is imminent to pass. Would all the GLBT orgs stand in opposition even up to and after the new president’s signing the bill into law? If so, how would these gay and lesbian created, led, fed and staffed organizations appear to the gay and lesbian community when they stood on record opposing legislation that helps their own? It’s not simply a casual dilemma.

“Friends run like rats from a sinking ship
Leaving you naked to the night.
Now you're known as the last resort.” — Ugly Head, Marc Almond

Speculation among trans community “non-insider” leaders is that this coalition will last for the time, at least until a new president (a hoped-for Democratic president) is in office. Once that occurs, especially if it’s Hillary Clinton, conventional wisdom has it that the 2009 ENDA will fly through both houses of Congress and the president will gladly sign it into law. The United ENDA Coalition members, those especially in the large gay / lesbian led groups, will start seriously considering if they really want to be left off of that bandwagon and victory parade.

The prediction is that the United ENDA coalition will collapse at the beginning of, or even before the 2009 legislative session. Particularly, if these groups have any sense that Mara Keisling herself wanted back on the inside with HRC or Barney, you can bet this whole coalition will collapse and disappear quicker than a house of cards. After all their efforts, they want to be heroes in gay and lesbian history. If HRC of all groups is up there, why wouldn’t they want to have their day in that spotlight too?

One thing to keep in mind, how do we think their respective large donors and boards of directors – prominently and overwhelmingly gay and lesbian – are going to view these organizations after such an abandonment of what could be the largest gay and lesbian victory in the nation’s history? Principled stands are heroic, but faced with absolute intransigence by Rep. Barney Frank, and most importantly Sen. Ted Kennedy (whose seat Barney longs to inherit someday soon), heroism can get them killed.

So what we may be seeing here are organizational leaders who are looking into their crystal ball and seeing their future. For prominent organizations, especially someone like Matt Foreman with the coalition leader NGLTF, would they even want any remote involvement in what would well be a breakneck 180 by a United ENDA leader? Would they be able to face what will predictably be a transgender hue and cry that will blister the paint off of walls in China over such a stunning act? Clearly no.

They’re rather smartly stepping out of the way of what will likely be a very bipolar period of euphoria and tumult. Being a coastal resident next to the Gulf, and especially considering what hard choices are coming down the chute at them, I can’t blame them for leaving well in advance of the storm. It could be a monster.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” — President Abraham Lincoln

For those of us involved in activism over the years, these aren’t surprises. They’re pieces of the puzzle fitting snugly into place.

True, these are outside speculations, some of these issues are unsubstantiated at this time and there’s no way for anyone to have the complete picture except for the primary parties themselves from their specific perspectives – and they certainly will not allow that information to be public. Those of us truly on the outside must take the few clues that are given and determine the pattern. After a decade or more of this, we’ve become adept at discerning patterns – thus, our lack of surprise.

Hopefully some of this will change the original direction of these things in order to avoid self-fulfilling the prophecy. Meanwhile, feel free to consider this nothing more than conspiracy theory – that’s understandable. Just keep in mind the some “theories” are only that until the truths that are currently unknown become truths that are known. Come back in 2009 and we’ll compare notes then about this wild conspiracy theory. I hope that it turns out to be dead wrong, but I fear that it won’t.

“Using all the good people for your galley slaves
as you're little boat struggles through the warning waves, but you don't pay
You will pay tomorrow.
You're gonna pay tomorrow ….
Save me! Save me from tomorrow.
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools” — Ship of Fools, World Party

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It’s About The Economy, Stupid … And No One Cares!

“Hard times in the land of plenty:
Some got it all and the rest … ain’t got any.” — Hard Times in the Land of Plenty, Omar & the Howlers

After a full week of the American Stock Market tanking, it’s finally drawn attention of politicos in Washington that the economy’s not doing so well! My first response to these folks is “Welcome to America in the 21st century! So where’d you fly in from?”

It nonplusses me to no end how our elected officials and the over-accommodating media have managed to overlook this for so long with so many warning signs practically shoving themselves in their faces. The home loan crisis didn’t just materialize last night. The high fuel costs and accompanying rise in utilities didn’t arrive in the mail this morning. The record number of individual bankruptcies, especially among middle and working classes, didn’t weren’t the byproduct of last week. It took a tremendous effort to keep their eyes averted from this subject for so long – and now to act surprised!

So all of a sudden, now that it’s worked its way up the chain far enough to start affecting the wealthy by the slumping sales figures and downtick in profits, the evaporating consumer confidence and the plunging stocks, we see them all take notice! How quaint!

Why is it that economic hardships are never even noticed until it affects the rich?

Does anyone in DC realize how long it takes for a recession to work up to the point that the wealth class takes heed? (So far, about six years as it currently stands). Did it ever occur to them what’s happened to the middle class, the working class, the working poor and homeless who’ve been submerged in this long enough for the water level of hard times to rise its way to the point where it finally starts wetting the tootsies of these upper level folks? Apparently not.

The insular elite are just now recognizing the gathering clouds moving inland over their Shangri-la, so now it’s a pressing issue. For years, the rest of us out on the coast have weathered this storm and have been battered by wave after wave of layoffs, outsourcing, offshoring, stagnant or declining wages, disappearing benefits, smaller businesses withering and dying from “flat-earth” economic competition, the shrinking dollar, and rising costs on everything from health care to insurance to gasoline to food.

And what relief did we coastal “lowlanders” receive?: Rhetoric about how great the economy is and, as recent as a few weeks ago, how the economy is “fundamentally sound.” No one could hear us over the howls of the ravaging storm.

Now that this gradual redistribution of wealth from bottom-to-top has taken seed and dampened their sales and thus their market futures, Wall Street and the investors “demand the Fed take action now!”

“Show me the money! Show me the money!” — Cuba Gooding Jr. & Tom Cruise from the movie “Jerry Maguire”

They want bailouts for the investors who are bleeding from their vicious losses in the speculative sub-prime loan market. These investors were more than happy to rake in money hand-over-fist while the sun shone, and now that it’s finally begun to rain on their parade, they want a government bailout. So much for the “free market economy” and accepting risk when investing! Whatever happened to that aversion to the welfare state and irresponsible freeloaders trying to make a buck off of “Uncle Sugar”? Ah, maybe it’s only the “little people” who should accept the losses from risky commitments, not the high-dollar types. That’s a nice little dual standard, to say the least.

Some want the Feds to continue aggressively slashing interest rates. Of course, this raises the specter of attendant inflation – which we’re already experiencing, mind you – as interest continues to be slashed simply to prop up job growth, meager as it is. If we look at the last period of stagflation, the inflation eventually climbed to the point to where there had to be draconian choices resulting in layoffs and unemployment in the Reagan years that climbed well into the double-digits. Sure, that’s what the lower-90% of this nation’s economy needs to boost confidence: either scarce jobs, or continued stagnation of wages with even higher prices. Businesses? Eh, they’ll keep raising their prices to keep pace with inflation or simply cut loose the workforce when needed.

Fed. Reserve Chair, Ben Bernanke and President Bush seem to believe that providing a tax break for everyone will help “get money into the hands of the consumers” immediately, in the hopes that we’ll turn around and spend it on consumer items. So for the lower levels of the economy, we’ll see a couple hundred dollars. Considering the increasing difficulty in just making the basic bills, chances are that will help catch up with some of those and perhaps a precious little for some small-ticket items. That’s a “Band-Aid” per Michael Niemira, chief retail economist with the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). “It won't get consumers out of the woods," Niemira noted, adding that “the rebates will also add to the national debt.” That’s a solution as sound as giving a crack-head a twenty because the dope-dealers are standing around idle and need to drum up business. As a country we don’t save money, we pile on more debt, and yet Bush wants to put money into indebted hands to go out and spend on our consumer fix. They can’t be serious.

Then there’s a solution proffered by Glenn Beck of CNN, and conservative business types everywhere: make the tax-cuts – especially corporate tax cuts – permanent. Surely he couches his argument with a neat enough cover – the needs of small businesses to expand, to compete and to hire. That part sounds fine. But Beck slickly slides in corporate tax breaks under the guise of “helping the little guy.” Therein lies the true issue that’s gotten us to this situation we’re in currently. Over the course of the past quarter century, the gap between haves and have-nots have grown beyond mere fissures to the size of the Grand Canyon, especially since the millennium. As a result of Bush/Cheney tax policies and big business giveaways, corporate profits reached stratospheric profit levels even just over a year ago. Yet even with all of this unprecedented profit, we still saw bankruptcies rise, foreclosures rise and consumption drop. Oh, don’t forget – there was also a mass increase in high-end consumer products and a very robust spike in multi-million dollar home sales. Business profited specifically due to Americans losing jobs to cheaper foreign labor and domestic demands to produce to offset any possible consideration of moving jobs overseas. How very Republican.

The result of this Capitol Hill / Media sensitivity to corporations and wealthy along with their tone-deafness to the American workforce results in everyone from middle management on down learning to fear their own career free-fall and attendant loss of income. That causes cutbacks and downscaling in spending. As this trend continues, and as costs continue rising, the entire lower 90-percentile learn that hard times are here to stay and that there may be no help in sight. Obviously folks like us plan on as little spending as possible, regardless of whatever little tax rebates occur. Lowering interest rates provide nothing to the most impacted, nor do bailouts of investors in mortgage banks.

Glenn Beck and the corporate set’s hopes to provide a market boost by making permanent the very same tax breaks and incentives that have created this chasm of disparity are laughable. It’ll be great for the upper 5% who will reap the lion’s share of the tax breaks – bully for them. But if you want spending to perk up again to make up for the lower 90-percentile’s economic anorexia, well … you need to go bother these upper 5% to pony up and get out there to buy enough to make up for this shortfall. If they can be gluttons for income, then they should be gluttonous consumers for the market.

I may be a layman with no economics schooling, but I’m not stupid enough to buy a polished turd.

Personally, if I got a couple hundred dollars in tax breaks, maybe I’ll begin using a little bit of heat or air conditioning or perhaps fill some of the prescriptions I’ve let lapse or go dormant thanks to the austerity of “Economic Recovery.” No real marketplace impact there.

Then again, it’s probably smarter to just continue doing without … and save the money for the foreboding possibilities in the oncoming storm. There’s a distinct feel that it’s time to hunker down and hang on for dear life. Welcome to America in the 21st Century.

“Breathe deep the gathering gloom.
Watch lights fade from every room.
Pensive people look back and lament,
Another day's useless energy's spent.” — Nights In White Satin, Moody Blues

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?” — Mark 8:36, Jesus Christ

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Being Hypocritical About Hypocrisy

“Facta Non Verba”, Latin phrase translated to “Deeds Not Words”

A good friend of mine, longtime national trans activist Courtney Sharp sent me something amusing she got in her Email box from the Human Rights Campaign. It was an Action Alert letter with a title at the top saying “2008, the Year To Win”:

“Should a leading presidential candidate get away with ignoring the facts and going back on his word? Not on our watch.

Last month, Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mike Huckabee stood by his absurd 1992 comments that AIDS patients should have been "isolated" (it was common knowledge in 1992 that AIDS couldn't be spread by casual contact).

After a public outcry erupted, he agreed to meet with the mother of Ryan White, who died of AIDS in 1990. Now, more than a MONTH later, Huckabee is blatantly ignoring Ryan's mother, along with HRC and The AIDS Institute.

If we back down, he gets off scot-free. Make sure Huckabee knows Americans won't accept empty promises ….”

The letter goes on in incredulity over the prospect of having a presidential candidate who wishes to quarantine and ostracize those suffering from HIV, how he’s not only ignoring science but moving turning back the clock to an era of phobia, ignorance and discrimination. He even asks for support to coerce Huckabee to “honor his word.”

“You can believe it man its true.
Somewhere [Joe Solmonese] is laughing till he wets his pants ….” paraphrased from The Dirty Blvd, Lou Reed

Yes, to the transgender community this sounds like someone’s idea of a joke or maybe very clever satire. But lo and behold, it’s a legitimate letter even down to the signature from … HRC Exec. Director, Joe Solmonese.

Indeed, they sent this to a prominent transgender activist exactly four months to the day after Joe Solmonese’s now-infamous speech as keynote at Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) 2007 where he promised to not only support inclusive legislation but oppose legislation non-inclusive of gender identity.

Even less than four months ago, he reversed course and said he misspoke at SCC, but was still only going to actively support an inclusive bill, but not hold a position on a non-inclusive bill offered by Rep. Barney Frank.

And a little more than three months ago, HRC began actively lobbying for support for the non-inclusive bill (apparently divorcing Solmonese’s earlier comment about misspeaking-but-not-supporting).

This culminated in a House vote about two months ago in which HRC assisted Barney Frank on the “No” votes lining up against the sexual orientation bill by reminding the congress-critters that HRC will be noting their vote on their scorecard (which is used and widely disseminated before election season to their membership). So vote “No” out of principle because transgenders are left out – you get a black mark. Vote “Yes” for the bill – which intently leaves transgenders out and may offend some folks’ principles – and you get a gold star.

And all of this coming from HRC – an organization that even still to this day, even in the face of their recent legislative chutzpah, has the audacity to end the letter with a post-script “HRC has been working for months to put GLBT issues at the center of the presidential primaries.” They still refer to themselves as T – as in “inclusive of transgender.”

Indeed the congress-critters who voted for “inclusive” in principle are the ones who will suffer the risk of opposing HRC when they publish their “scorecard”. I swear I’m not making this up: it’s true.

Now HIV / AIDS is no laughing matter, and deserves respectful consideration from all candidates, and not cruel apathy towards those who contract and suffer from it. That Huckabee or any candidate would treat AIDS sufferers or any other segment of society as not worth any consideration and made to feel as worthless human beings is outrageous.

And yet, Rep. Barney Frank and HRC have no problems doing the same: dismissing the concerns, going back on their word or their board votes, treating the transgender community as not worth the trouble … worthless.

“’Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor … I’ll piss on ‘em’
That’s what the statue of bigotry says.
… Let’s club ‘em to death and get it over with
and just dump ‘em on the boulevard.” — The Dirty Blvd, Lou Reed

Hypocrites calling others’ hypocrisy hypocritical. I’m reminded of a quote Mara Keisling used to use frequently: “Isn’t life amazing?” Actually, amazing isn’t even the right word.

Astonishing! It’s truly astonishing that HRC believes memories are that ephemeral – at least transgender memories. They truly believe transgender are collectively dumber than a box of rocks.

Personally, I have no problems that they treat me that way. However, I’ll guaran-damn-tee you one thing! No matter what they do, no matter how cunningly they market, no matter whom in our community they decide to throw money at, I will never forget. Dumb as a box of rocks or not – their deeds, their legacy is indelibly etched in stone.

“Hypocrisy, arrogance, pride, anger, harshness, and ignorance; these are the marks of those who are born with demonic qualities.” — Bhagavad Gita

“The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.” — author, William Hazlitt

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Using Us To Beat Us

Always obtain things honestly; never use crooked means. — Chinese proverb

Another buzz has arisen surrounding an interview by Susan Stanton. She did an interview with the Washington Blade, and the reception it’s getting is as welcome as an outhouse breeze in the trans community. Déjà vu all over again, right Yogi? “Right you are, Boo-Boo boy!”

Wrong Yogi, I know. Berra notwithstanding, we could probably use Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a tips on transcendental meditation techniques. Lord knows we’re stressed and at odds just as much as we’ve ever been.

One of the respondents (a friend) who read my previous blog on Susan Stanton (Desperately Seeking Susan, from openly questioned that Stanton’s comments reflect, “folks like you and me” and added that she hopes Stanton “learns how to zip it.” Monica Helms, Exec. Dir. of the Transgender American Veterans Assn. (TAVA) also did an editorial in much more bruising fashion, comparing Stanton to “Uncle Tom” (the fictional character in the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe).

Helms and other similar comments aren’t intended as circumspect as much as they’re counterbalances, intended to grab attention and pull in the opposite direction.

It’s agreed that Stanton, for all the high-visibility that HRC and Barney Frank wish to afford to her, has very parochial worldview of the trans community and its issues. She also appears blithely unaware of the history of trans and GLBT politics, and of the role she fulfills for those who wish to place her views prominently for mass consumption. She, as others before her and others who will follow, are tools. These tools are to be used to keep us distracted, divided and at odds with each other even to the point of comprehensive community fracture.

So why would Barney Frank, HRC and any other pertinent players in GLB politics foment such fractiousness? It helps provide political cover to achieve their incremental goals, it keeps us from focusing publicly on them (thus not disrupting the fundraising activities nor causing questions from aware politicos), and … once they have all on their agenda, they can come back and begin the cottage industry all over again by retooling it to focus on our issues.

So who cares if they aren’t us and don’t know our issues? That’s just more time to learn, more funds to raises, more paychecks until they can get it right …. They’re not in a hurry, and I’m sure they wonder “why the big rush from these transgenders?”

“I think we need to do a whole lot more educating before we’re going to be able to realistically have the support on the national level to get this passed.” That was Susan Stanton during the Blade interview that published Jan. 12, 2008. Clearly with as little time and exposure to trans people as she’s had, she wouldn’t be aware of much of any previous “educating” we’ve done in political offices.

Actually, I said virtually the same thing she said in the office of HRC in early March of 2000. NTAC’s early board members had a sit down with HRC staffers Nancy Buermeyer, Tony Varona and Kevin Layton. One thing I’d noticed from the previous lobby days in DC with both ICTLEP and GenderPAC is that there wasn’t a consistent approach to educated legislators, there was no comprehensive handout material left (most everything at that point was more organizationally autobiographical and thin on basic Trans 101) and we were in constant need of retraining every year.

Additionally, I explained that I didn’t care that they didn’t have transgender in their mission statement (this was before addition of transgender into the HRC mission statement) – it was unimportant. Just as gays and lesbians experientially knew their issues and needed their voice, we also knew our issues first-hand, could speak to them, and we also needed our voice as well. If you ask Buermeyer, Varona or Layton today, I believe they will still recall and agree that the concept was right.

With history, we know now they went in a different direction. HRC and NTAC stopped communication, HRC added transgender to their mission, decided on their own agenda and hired folks their own to be “our” voice, and advertised prominently as the eminent voice for gay and lesbian as well as transgender issues. Now we find ourselves eight years later, with a trans person of HRC’s own choosing, saying the same thing.

One needs to ask HRC: so what the hell’s happened all these past seven years where “your” educational efforts should’ve been taking place? Lots of money goes to HRC, lots of flash, lots of glitz … why so little educational result? We did better than that, even without any money – and did it with much less self-promotion!

Later in the Blade interview, Stanton almost reverses course with the quote, “I personally don’t feel denying the rights of one group should be perpetuated unless everybody has those rights.” That’s a quote I can agree with. The problem is Barney Frank and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have been using Stanton’s quote, where she believed the sexual orientation only version of ENDA would be a helpful “first step” to open the way for passing a trans-inclusive bill.

Stanton also notes the following: “The politics changed,” she said. “I know people want to take their ball and bat off the ball field. I think that’s a mistake. I do understand the anger with the Human Rights Campaign. But I also understand that, as someone who used to have to be responsible for making those types of decisions, sometimes you’ve got to be pragmatic and sometimes the importance of being at the table is in conflict with the need to have a sense of community.”

This wouldn’t be so difficult to agree to had the gay and lesbian community been similarly pragmatic about marriage. As we’ve seen since the Massachusetts court ruling, they’re more than willing to throw incremental approaches and pragmatism out the window when it’s an issue they crave. If gay and lesbian America were so concerned with pragmatism, you’d see nothing but intersexed and trans people staffed and leading all of the marriage equality organizations as you see in major GLBT organizations.

Stanton noted that the St. Petersburg Times article “is not an accurate representation of my beliefs … or my experiences as a transgender person.” On the statement that brought the biggest heat for Stanton, she claimed the quote was “I do feel there is a fundamental misunderstanding by the general public that being transgender is simply a matter of men wanting to ‘dress up as women.’” Admittedly her restatement has a much different meaning than the same statement in the article. The Times stands by their version of the quote, however I will say that it’s conceivable they could’ve well misquoted her.

“Since the publication of this story, I have received hundreds of e-mails from people all over the nation expressing their disappointment and anger for the hurtful and insensitive statements that have been attributed to me,” Stanton wrote. Even though she showed her relative naiveté, I still feel Stanton is taking an unfair burden of the blame.

Again, who is placing such a brand-new, fresh-out-of-the-box transgender as a celebrity, leader and savior for transgender rights? The very people who wish to exploit her for their own political cover and to protect their own fundraising without questions about “leaving transgenders out of legislation.” Sure, they’ll get their plausible deniability on the cheap. They’ll also get some great PR face time in front of a media cameras and possibly even a bit of fundraising out of her name and story.

The Susan Stanton is just the latest, most blatant example of the same pattern of exploitation of a cash-poor and opportunity-bereft transgender community. All the while, these opportunists hold nothing but contemptible dispassion for the very same community they capitalize on.

Stanton finished up by saying “it’s up to us and our supporters to educate the people about who we really are. Until that happens, it will be difficult to persuade Congress to pass a transgender rights bill.”

If only there was a way to reach out to Susan and let her know I agree with the last statement, as well as the first. The problem she will never know as long as HRC insulates her is that we’ve been trying to do this for a decade and more, but the very same HRC and Rep. Barney Frank have been our biggest obstacles.

At some point Susan Stanton must understand what’s behind the sentiment she sees only on a surface level. After more than a decade, we’re tired. We’re tired of being undermined. We’re tired of being diminished. We’re tired of all our efforts and those we hold as devoted leaders in our community being dismissed. We’re tired of being silenced via either social intimidation or outright censorship. We’re tired of being seen as nothing more than a boost to their statistical numbers and to their fundraising numbers, and realizing we’re never going to be part of their peer set or their contemporaries. We’re tired of not even having chance to enjoy what they take for granted.

There’s no hate for Susan Stanton here – just disappointment. But I do hold some very extreme animus towards those manipulators who put her up to this.

“I might as well go up and talk to a wall
'cause all the words are having no effect at all
It's a funny thing am I all alone” — What Are Words For, Missing Persons

Friday, January 11, 2008

Activism Vaudeville: The Traveling Road Shows Hit the Circuit

“Come inside, the show's about to start,
Guaranteed to blow your head apart.
Rest assured you'll get your money's worth.
The greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth –
You've got to see the show” — Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part 2), Emerson, Lake & Palmer

“Every crowd has a silver lining” — P. T. Barnum

Recently we’ve been hearing about the traveling presentations by both the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), though not appearing in conjunction this time. They’re on Public Relations Repair Campaigns, trying to shore up the transgender base and conceivably also trying to get in a bit of money for their coffers while they’re at it.

NCTE still at times mouths the words of anger, but also accommodation – oddly mixed signals. However, while Mara Keisling has been much more mum on the subject, two of her other board members have also blasted the Washington Blade’s Kevin Naff for his take on Meredith Bacon’s letter.

In a letter to the Editor, out Jan. 11, the text read:

“Many in our [TG] community told us that we shouldn't trust HRC, but we [NCTE] believed in reconciliation and acted on that belief. We worked closely with HRC for several years, despite the lack of any substantial transgender presence on either its staff or its governing bodies. We hoped that their practices would evolve to match their inclusive statements.

And what was the result? When the going got tough this fall as ENDA advanced in the House, trans people were thrown overboard….”

After noting Joe Solmonese’s speech at Southern Comfort last year, and the sudden shift almost immediately after to support the non-inclusive, but also push for an inclusive one, the letter finished on how “HRC's leadership dropped even the pretense that it wouldn't support exclusionary legislation, vigorously lobbying and even threatening [sic] House members to get them to support the gay-only ENDA.

“HRC's treatment of those few trans people who had publicly committed their energy and reputations to it was no better. Donna Rose, the sole trans-identified HRC board member, resigned after Solmonese ignored her pleas for a meeting or phone call to discuss what the organization was doing. Later, Rose and Jamison Green resigned from their positions on HRC's Business Council after they were similarly snubbed [by Solmonese].

“Perhaps Naff was offended by what he saw as an overstepping of organizational boundaries in Bacon's blog. But organizations like HRC that lie to and betray their allies are not worthy of such consideration. Solmonese and his staff seem incapable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, respect and disrespect, when it comes to dealing with the trans community."

The letter to the Blade was signed by Donna Cartwright and Stephen Glassman, and the bracketed comments above were mine. While there was nothing officially stating it was from NCTE board in the letter text nor signature, it must be noted that Cartwright and Glassman are long-tenured and part of the inaugural board of directors of NCTE.

Perhaps the position on whether on not NCTE will work back on the inside with HRC in the future will be elaborated upon in some of these future stops around the country. Nothing of has come from any of the in-person stops yet, it’s still vague as to where they want to settle – inside or out, HRC or not.

“What you say about his company is what you say about society” — Tom Sawyer, Rush

But more troubling is the HRC road show. It appears that Joe Solmonese and David Smith are making the rounds, trying to put the smiley face on their organization … and still letting the trans community know that they’re not changing their game plan. It's unsurprising, and consistent.

Out in San Francisco, one of the reports of the meeting came from the LoboLance blog. The author (Lance?), an FTM from the San Francisco South Bay area, attended a recent meeting between HRC and trans leadership there. His journal of the meeting was quite even-handed, and copiously noted – a good report. Of the meeting he mentions,
“I am not feeling any better about the HRC than when I went up there. I had a pretty open mind, meaning ready to listen. Not 'joyful' as some folks said they were….”

Joyful?!? Hearing someone from the trans community utter that about HRC sounds about as likely as an HRC federal club gay or lesbian member expressing the same sentiment about NTAC speaking to them – even more pertinent, the Republican National Committee! I’m baffled how someone could be “joyful” about it.

He later reports on the excuse given by HRC about the recent ENDA reversal of position: (per HRC) “HRC thought they had the votes initially” for an inclusive ENDA, but “as the couple of weeks to the vote neared, there was conversation with the whips” about revising the legislation to remove gender identity, and that when they “suddenly found” it had insufficient support “a lot of people backed up.” That includes HRC.

“What kind of snake oil did I need for that?” — Am I A Hag or Is It Just The Lighting?, Angela Djurklou

The above statement bothers me to no end. This was no sudden development. HRC was lobbying for ENDA all right, and it was to be submitted with inclusive language, but they were also key to ensure the legislators’ support for the bill even without the inclusive language (even noting possibility of it being non-inclusive) as early as the beginning of March. Does this sound “sudden”? In fact I’ll drop another bombshell, even Mara Keisling of NCTE was aware something of this nature was afoot before mid-April.

In a response to an independent trans activist to concerns about Sen. Kennedy supporting inclusion this session, she wrote reported that,
“I talked to a certain well known trans activist in DC yesterday and I told her about my "anonymous" tip about Kennedy. She said she received a call from an anonymous staffer on the Hill who said, mysteriously, "Watch your friends carefully on ENDA, especially your friends." Interesting, eh?”

The time this was sent was Date: Apr 12, 2007 7:15 AM.

This hasn’t been a “sudden development” to any of us, going back even before the week of Transgender Groups Lobby Days in mid-May, last year. For HRC to try to cover their tracks so disingenuously, thinking we’ll remain silent on this forever, is beyond ridiculous. Why such an aversion to being truthful?

Furthermore, consider HRC managed to conduct a poll with the gay and lesbian community immediately before the bill was voted on in committee, about a week after Rep. Barney Frank resubmitted new bills, and they presumably submitted it as a scientifically derived poll to bolster the support for a sexual orientation-only ENDA. Does that sound like something sudden? Y’all can buy those horse nuggets all day if you want, I’m not buying it.

This is nothing more than a public relations cosmetology tour for HRC. They might as well name this “Project: Patch up the holes! Or Project: Cover our ass!” As LoboLance noted in his blog report, there was no remorse or desire to change. It was simply a case of “all apologies, but we’re going ahead with our incremental strategy.”

“Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!” — P. T. Barnum

In Donna Rose’s blog, she noted how “Jamison Green explained to Joe that the transgender activists there don't do activism as a "hobby" - that it's life or death. They said that HRC hasn't taken any time to get to "know" the transgender community and that's part of why we're so upset at being treated in such a patronizing, disrespectful way.”

“Trans activists explained some of the far-reaching impacts of the ENDA debacle.” Rose reported in her blog. “It has come to light that the number of complaints of discrimination by transgender people against gay/lesbian business owners in the Castro has increased substantially since ENDA. It seems to have enabled people to discriminate.”

LoboLance’s report agreed with Donna Rose, adding “Politicians are talking less with trans activists (who they had previously had conversations with). The LGBT community is far more schism-ed now.” That’s a possibly ominous trend, especially coming from San Francisco.

LoboLance also noted HRC’s lobbyist on transgender issues, per their reply, was a “natal woman” (i.e. lesbian, not trans). I must admit, I was amused that attendees suddenly became aware of that fact, and reacted to it. It’s HRC we’re talking about, and it’s always been this way. In fact, to my knowledge, none of any non-trans organizations have transgender lobbyists for their transgender initiatives – never have. Surprise.

So why would HRC not have a transgender staff lobbyist on transgender issues? In real-speak, “we don’t trust that responsibility with you because you’re just not good enough.” Frankly, with HRC’s history – past and recent – who would want to step into that buzz-saw of a reputation-killer?

Many in attendance did key in on Joe Solmonese’s phrasing of the why they were moving toward incrementalism with the new buzzword: expeditious. In real-speak, “it’s too hard for us to lobby effectively enough to include you, we don’t know how to do it adequately enough.”

So what’s the general reaction to the San Fran HRC grandstand? Well, besides being blasted by Jamison Green, they also had local trans activist, Theresa Sparks give back her HRC Community Service Award.

Donna Rose had this to say about the HRC presentation: “It depends on how open HRC is to what comes out of them. If this is simply going through the motions then they won't help at all and I'd suggest that they stop them right now. If, however, there is room for discussion and opportunity for some level of engagement then it's a positive move….”

“We would like it to be known the exhibits that were shown
Were exclusively our own, all our own, all our own.
Come and see the show!” — Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part 2), Emerson, Lake & Palmer

“Joe could have sent anyone on his staff to this but he attended himself and I hope that the observation above that he didn't learn anything from it is wrong. Someone else who attended was more positive about the outcome.” Rose concluded that “maybe it will just take a little time to sink in.”

I can see how she took that hopeful note – I had the same sense back in 1997. By the end of the 90’s I was over hopefulness completely, I’d seen far too much already. This is all about going through the motions. We went through these same motions in 2004, and in 2002 and in 2000 and in 1997.

What depresses me most is that it’s becoming apparent that 2007 is just the latest iteration in a continuing string of pointless play-acts. If I’d have known then what I know now, I’d have run like hell away from all these activist hucksters back in the mid 90’s (and unfortunately Houston was a hotbed for them) and I’d have taken care of my own needs.

“How many more times,
Treat me the way you wanna do?” — How Many More Times, Led Zeppelin

Instead, this whole exercise has been a pretty cruel hoax. It’s a traveling road show with lots of fancy sideboards seducing your interest. You pay your money, step inside, watch a show with no boffo ending, and in fact a rather pointless story that leaves you feeling sad, cheated and with a sense that you’ve been “took”. And every successive road show that rolls into town, you learn to eye with increasing suspicion and animosity. What to you hope to get from a sideshow like that?

There’s a sublime undercurrent I feel in motion, a seemingly precursory mindset that makes the “bygones be bygones” moment a logical next step. And for this … we’re still being left out? Offered nothing in return? While the gay and lesbian community never call it quits and never give up their vision, we’re giving in that easily? This flat stupefies me.

We must find some catalyst at some point to bring some hope to the Transgender Community. For me hope died years ago. Hope is nothing more than a small nondescript town in southwestern Arkansas, and that’s it. It ain’t pretty but it’s real.

“This way to the Egress.” — sign conceived by P. T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus to help draw the curious through the sideshows quicker by pointing them to the exit.

Thanks for the show, HRC.

On an unrelated note, I got this today from Ethan St. Pierre.

----- Original Message -----
From: Alexander Pangborn
Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2008 8:44 PM
Subject: Loss of a Community Member

It is with a heavy heart that I send this. A member of our local trans community, Lars (Larin) Watson, of Northampton, MA, took his own life this past weekend. Lars relocated to Northampton from CA with his wife Ereka about a year ago. I had the privilege of meeting them both a few months ago when they stopped by the youth center to see how they might be able to help support the local queer youth. Both Lars and Ereka were passionate about their community activism.

Lars/Larin's MySpace page is being maintained as it was left, and will eventually become a memorial page. Ereka says that either pronoun or name worked fine for Lars' last few months (and Lars had changed the designation on the page to read 'female'). Lar's page is located at

Ereka's MySpace page, with blog entries about Lars, is located at:

The online obituary can be found here:

Several community members will be attending Lars' wake and service this Friday afternoon. Flowers have been donated from 17 states and 9 countries- the funeral home is actually having to turn some flowers away. The local community is being asked to consider donating financially to Ereka to help with the costs she is facing. Lars' mother lives in San Diego and cannot make it out here, and she is insistent that Ereka bring Lars' ashes to her by hand. She doesn't want her child to be sent UPS, understandably.

Just to clarify, Ereka is not asking for money. As the obituary says, Ereka is suggesting that people do random acts of kindness in Lars' memory, which I think is a wonderful idea.

This news is also a reminder to me, coming just one day after the anniversary of Paul's death, to always reach out to those you love and make sure they know how much they mean to you. Each day with the people we love is something to be cherished.

Please keep Ereka in your thoughts and/or prayers.


May you rest in peace, Lars.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Is Another War Inevitable?

News Headlines 1/7/08: “Iranian Warships Menace Naval Ships”
News Headlines 1/9/08 “Bush calls Iran 'threat to world peace'”

After the way this millennium has begun, I’ve been increasingly relieved as we’re finally reaching the end of this “war presidency.” Nothing could be quite this bad, though there are a few on the GOP side of the ticket that could try to keep the war times rolling.

Out of the entire GOP presidential field, about the only one I could say had a chance at election is Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Not only is he not quite the firebrand of social discrimination as some of the others, but he at least has a firm understanding of the costs of war. Sadly, it was very disappointing to see how he buckled to the RNC party line during the 2004 election season by being a poster boy for the reelection campaign of George W. Bush (someone who knows nothing of war other than to start them).

Some pundits are even referring to him as the Republicans’ “candidate for change.”

However, with the distance from Bush/Cheney, and the impending end of their term in the White House rolling down the pike, I was hoping we’d find more independence, more sanity and more candor from McCain. This past Sunday McCain was on NBC’s Meet the Press with Tim Russert and had this to say when asked about the Iraq invasion given faulty intelligence. Below is the transcript of this exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: If you had known then, if the intelligence came out and said, "We know that Saddam Hussein does not have biological or, or chemical or a nuclear program,” would you still have voted to authorize the war?”

SEN. McCAIN: Well, obviously, given information that we have changes your decision-making process. But Saddam Hussein was still a threat. The sanctions were breaking down. There was a multibillion dollar Oil for Food scandal in the United Nations. The – every day American airplanes were being shot at. Saddam Hussein had used and acquired weapons of mass destruction in the past, and there was no doubt there was going to be in the future. The problem in Iraq, my friend, was not whether we went in or not, it's the way it was mishandled after the initial invasion.

MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, but, Senator, it's an important question because President Bush... has said, "Even if I knew he did not have biological, chemical or nuclear program I still would go into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein." Would you have?

SEN. McCAIN: I – yes. But the point is that if we had done it right, it's been well chronicled in many, in many books, you and I wouldn't be even discussing that now. The mishandling after the war. Look, I met with a high-ranking former al-Qaeda operative in Iraq recently. And I asked him, "How did you succeed?" He said, "The lawlessness after the initial invasion and Abu Ghraib." And so they were able to recruit people because of the disorder and the mishandling. So you would not be asking me if it hadn't been mishandled, you would've said because we succeeded in an established and stable Iraq, you would've said, "Aren't you glad we went in? Because Saddam Hussein, one of the most brutal, most terrible dictators in history, who fought in several wars, used weapons of mass destruction, invaded his neighbor, is now gone from the world scene." That's what you'd be saying.

MR. RUSSERT: But I think there'd be a real debate with the, with the--amongst the American people if we were told he did not have biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

SEN. McCAIN: If frogs had wings--look, Tim, we can talk about lots of hypotheticals. Would we have, would we have stopped Saddam Hussein from going into Kuwait back in '91 when, when he went in? Would we have, would we have said that the Chinese aren't going to cross--would we have known--if we had known that the Chinese were going to cross the Yalu in the Korean War, would we have done it differently? I'd love to get into thousands of historical hypotheticals with us, but what we knew at the time and the information we had at the time that every single intelligence agency in the world believed he had weapons of mass destruction. So...

MR. RUSSERT: So bottom line, the war was not a mistake?

SEN. McCAIN: The war, the invasion was not a mistake.

There we have it, "if frogs had wings...." After a major attack on two of America’s most important cities by a terrorist group holed up in a completely different country, we were right to take down a totally unconnected player in that whole scenario just because we didn’t like him. America, without any needed act of clear aggression worthy of war, may simply invade and overthrow a leader because we believe he’s corrupt, contemptible and not compatible to our own leaders’ tastes.

"'My country, right or wrong' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.'" — author, G. K. Chesterton

I’m reminded of the military slogan “My country, right or wrong” which has been an unspoken but unmistakable driving force behind a lot of the political fervor behind the recent move by conservatives towards embracing and validating hegemony. In 1881 it was Gen. Carl Schurz (who later became a senator) who uttered the quote: "Our country right or wrong,” but then followed up with “When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."

Somehow or another, the last part of this phrase got mired in the swamps of ancient history and never made the trip with the first half. Standing alone as it does in modern America, it’s a very jingoistic phrase with a not-so-sublime connotation: “We’ve got the power to do whatever we damn well please – who cares if it’s wrong, or if we’re being hypocritical. We’ll just cover it up and keep going. Try to stop us!”

“Dogs of war won't negotiate.
Dogs of war don't capitulate.
They will take and you will give,
And you must die so that they may live” — Dogs of War, Pink Floyd

As America has long been the exemplary nation, an arbiter of human rights, a beacon of civil justice, and a shining demonstration of democracy to all other hopeful nations around the world, what message does this send? It’s not as if nobody else has seen this. In the age of information, revisionism of history becomes ever more difficult if not fully impossible.

It’s my worry that Russia or China will someday decide “if America can do this in such fashion, so can we!” How do we counter that, or try to convince them otherwise given our track record?

Sen. McCain has been distinguishing himself from the rest of the GOP field as a distinct choice, an independent choice that isn’t a tool of the neo-con RNC. And yet we see him laying cover for the neo-con Bush/Cheney doctrine. Keep in mind that administration is still seated and still trying everything possible to rattle the sabers and attempt to draw Iran offsides, just to give any reason. And Iran stupidly seems to be doing the same. Will Sen. McCain be the next to grab the saber and brandish?

Osama bin Laden is still on the loose more than six years later and terrorist groups are growing and continuing to plot against the “Imperialist Satans” or whatever name-calling they choose these days. Meanwhile the conservative set is more than willing to keep driving straight on down this road into the pitch black, afraid to look to either side to see the crumbling edges or the steep drops beside the precarious road they’ve taken. And the rest of the country’s along for Mr. Toad’s wild ride – uh, make that Mr. Frog-with-Wings’ wild ride, beating on the back window to stop it. Still, it’s eyes fixed forward, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

So much for change.

“With no cause, we don't discriminate.
Discovery is to be disowned.
Our currency is flesh and bone” — Dogs of War, Pink Floyd

Monday, January 7, 2008

Religiopolitics Coming Into Its Own: The Rove Revolution Revolts

"America has begun a spiritual reawakening. Faith and hope are being restored. Americans are turning back to God. Church attendance is up. Audiences for religious books and broadcasts are growing.” — Ronald Reagan

We’re heading into the New Hampshire primary vote tomorrow. However in the Iowa Caucus, an unusual thing occurred. The Republican Party candidate with all of the money, the corporate approach and the slick look and glib tongue to complete the package lost the primary. In addition, he lost it to someone who had little funding, no big money bankrolling the campaign, and a message that had socially conservative positions, but also a lot of populist messages: taking care of the poor, concerns for working families health care, funding for the arts, even humanitarian concerns for children of illegal immigrants.

How did this happen? Some chalk it up simply as grassroots, but it was more precisely evangelical grassroots that pulled it off. Yes, the mechanism that the Neo-con mastermind Karl Rove begat has now developed a life of its own and is indeed on the loose. This of course is to the chagrin of the corporate and military-complex set who don’t particularly ken to some of the ideas – especially the social ones – that the evangelical side supports. It seems Rove has created a monster that may well be soon out of the control of the very same creators of this religiopolitical phenomenon.

Reaganite Special Asst. Peggy Noonan lamented the rise of this fundamentalism in the GOP, musing how old “Dutch” himself wouldn’t have been elected today as he wasn’t religious enough for the evangelical wing. Pity, because it was conservative hero Ronald Reagan, the divorced Hollywood actor and union president, who gave this segment their first taste of political power. And those evangelicals Reagan brought in tasted it and said “it was good” — and never looked back.

In this Bush administration, evangelicals hold more power than ever, and are even beneficiaries of government money and programs as never before in our history. More people go to church than ever before, more people identify as evangelical than ever before, and more people home school their children than at any time since perhaps the beginning of the previous century. Yet with church now being in vogue and a popularity that is so vibrant that mega-churches begin resembling mall / nightclubs and even populate sports arenas, you still hear the fundamentalist set decry the “moral decay” and sounding the “alarm bells” of “losing our moral compass.” The message almost appears to be “the more that are religious, the worse things are getting.” Why?

And when it comes down to it, even though there are other religions and others who are similarly devout with their spiritual beliefs, and church attendance with many of their congregations are rising, it seems – especially with those fundamentalist types surrounding American power these days – that no one is comfortable with anyone else’s beliefs unless they’re just like their own.

“If Jesus came back today, I think he’d throw up.” Fmr. Gov. Jesse Ventura (I-MN)

Basically what elections are boiling down to, at least on the Republican side for now, is that whatever religion is predominant will be those who choose the President, and a majority of Congress presumably as well. So what’s a Romney to think? Sure he’s conservative, and very devoutly religious. But he’s Mormon.

Look at the evangelicals who voted in Iowa and see how they voted. Romney got 14% of their vote per entrance polls. Devout religion or not, to fundamentalists it’s a “different religion.”

America was founded on freedom of religion. We hear this often to help make the argument for including religious influence in every aspect of government. However, this freedom was set up to promote a pluralism of various beliefs, not a state-sanctioned uniform religion.

What’s then followed up with is the next claim that America was founded as a Christian nation. It’s funny, the indigenous forebears never had a say in any of this “founding” of us, nor any input of our spirituality – even though our folk have been here for millennia, not just centuries. Even if you wish to define that as being the government, again this is fine – for the original thirteen colonies. What about the other parts of the country that were simply taken over by “manifest destiny”? Again, no real input from Native Americans when it came to this “founding” based on religion.

Another thing that America likes to advertise from it’s constitution is “all men are created equal.” (Yes there are gender problems with that statement, but for sake of argument, let’s take this on the spirit of it – all are created equal.) We trumpet the opportunity that America provides and proudly claim that anyone can be whatever they dream of being.

And we also now find how much of all of this is nothing more than … lip service! African American scholar, Alvin Poussaint, PhD. mentioned this in a recent column about Romney running into this ugly reality. Yes, one may achieve and do all the right things to make it to that next level when suddenly the “glass ceiling” comes into play. We then realize that it’s not all about being equal. It’s about retaining the status quo, and feeling better about it by proclaiming “we’re all equal” … with fingers figuratively crossed behind the back.

It’s the same thing with racism, and the same thing with inequality for women, and on and on through every category outside of the “Good Ol’ Boys,” ad nauseum. The upshot is you’re expected to do all of what the “deciders” (to use a Bushism) believe is equal to their efforts, and then, well, that’s it. You did the right things to the appropriate level – but they still can’t offer you trust. They still don’t have it in their heart to consider you equally.

"On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind." — Thomas Jefferson

Gays and lesbians get this same treatment from society the minute they’re out of the closet. Transgenders do as well – and from both straight society and gay and lesbian society. Even though the various classes of religious minorities, ethnic minorities, women and gender minorities, sexual minorities and disable minorities far outnumber the whole of “The Good Ol’ Boy Club”, the bottom line is none of us get that shot to prove ourselves.

If ever we were to have had a Mormon president, it would’ve been Mitt’s Dad George. In this day and age, fundamentalism is too rigid. And as time goes on, the harsh lines will continue being emphasized, and the rigidity will become like a rock, and feelings will continue being bruised and understanding and tolerance will fade away like a newspaper left out in the sunlight.

If religiopolitics rules, you won’t see Romney as president. Or Bloomberg, or probably not Giuliani either. It’d be nice to think this doesn’t happen, but I’ve personally lobbied a couple of folks in the Texas State Legislature who are openly brazen about their disdain for other people’s religious beliefs that differ from their own. One of these ‘phobes is downright frightening in his pridefully, hateful zeal.

Now, I’m not voting for Romney. No sirree! For me, I can’t trust him due to his ever-mutating viewpoints on anything from gay and lesbian rights to women’s choice, his support of pro-elite, tax-burden-shifting to the lower segments, his hawkishness without ever knowing personal sacrifice (not to mention his comments of his sons “service” to country by working his presidential campaign!), and his support of enlarging the Guantanamo facility (for what, one may ask?) In fact, I couldn’t really vote for anyone with a dogmatic “R” after their name. But their religion really never factors into it for me.

If you want to vote against Romney for being a weasel, be my guest. But don’t vote against “the Mormon.”

It’ll be a sad day in this nation if it boils down to predominant religions choosing their own government. Basically it means the other religions ever want to see a president of their beliefs, they just need to get a numerical advantage and just take over by sheer numbers in order to elect one of their own.

Until then, we live in a country where folks may well continue saying “we value all religions,” and then blanch at the concept of accepting as an equal someone who’s Jewish, a Mormon, Catholic, or Buddhist, or Hindi or especially in the post 9-11 era, anyone Shia or Muslim.

It’s nice thoughts, that “equality” stuff … but don’t get your hopes up, y’know? It’s just lip service.

"I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue.” — Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Unfortunate Comments, Unfortunate Volleys and Unfortunate Silence

“Words in papers, words in books,
Words on TV, words for crooks …
Eat your words but don’t go hungry.
Words have always nearly hung me.” — Wordy Rappinghood, Tom Tom Club

"I'd rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I'm not." — rapper Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys

For the record, I was one of the folks Meredith Bacon wrote to regarding National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) ever working with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) again. It’s apparently making the rounds of the GLBT community and inspiring a bit of controversy due to some of the comments contained within.

Additionally I personally believe Meredith when she states her feelings about the organization she co-chairs and her feelings on working with HRC. Meredith has shown herself to be very true-blue, devoted to the transgender community, its advancement and the attainment of civil rights for all (including the trans community.) There’s no question on that point.

That said, her comments seemed contrary to NCTE’s historical position on HRC and Barney Frank. They also seemed at odds with a more tempered and at times unclear, and seemingly noncommittal position by at least one of their other board members and mostly keenly, their Executive Director/Founder. I didn’t disbelieve Meredith as much as I was skeptical of it being shared by NCTE.

I decided to cut to the chase and ask the founder, Mara Keisling, directly. As it turns out, the Email address I sent to must be only for outgoing mail and she reportedly did not receive it. (I haven’t received communication other than press blurbs from her since 2003, I had no other NCTE Email addresses from her in my Email address book.)

However, Mara was asked of this Email independently via a question from a radio interview with Becky Juro on Dec. 27. After hearing the comment, Keisling said it “would be inappropriate for [her] to comment at this time.”

“Words are like a certain person who
Can’t say what they mean,
Don’t mean what they say.” — Wordy Rappinghood, Tom Tom Club

Ironically, publications such as Chris Crain’s Windows Media Groups (home to the Washington Blade) have now picked up on Meredith’s comments, both in news reports and their editor’s blog. It was a broad shot across the bow by the Blade as NCTE is the only group in Washington they have enjoyed good working relations with.

Rather than anyone addressing whether NCTE will work with HRC in the future, the Blade chose to zero in on the demands for resignation from HRC’s board and leadership and a sentence from Meredith’s post that observed HRC being controlled and dependent upon “white, rich, professional gay men.” They’re using this as a cudgel to beat home their point that NCTE needed to demand retraction and repudiation – or remove Bacon from office.

Admittedly, Meredith’s wording is emotional and imprudent coming from a board chair. Even we in NTAC never even ventured such raw sentiment. Just a comment from one NTAC board member verbally requesting (as an individual) the resignation from then Exec.Dir. Elizabeth Birch was roundly used to dismiss and discredit the entire group. (Ironically it was NCTE making hay of that comment circa 2002, even absent any official imprimatur).

Personally, one thing I’ve felt strongly about, and that NTAC officially chose to do, is to stay out of any consideration of whom groups such as NGLTF, HRC, et. al. choose as leaders. It’s their community, their organizations, they need free reign to choose their leaders without our meddling or pressure – whomever that may be. Even in my case, when I was asked for my opinion on it (tempting as it was, being HRC) I refrained.

Similarly, asking for resignations is pointless. You never know who they’ll choose next (it could be worse!), and only serves to make the targeted group resentful. Blast the choices these leaders make that negatively impact us – that’s fair game. But leave their community to have their own leadership for their groups. It hasn’t gone unnoticed though how HRC and others in the gay and lesbian community don’t return that favor.

Certainly what Meredith publicly opined on behalf of NCTE would’ve never been tolerated in any official capacity from NTAC. We’d have been publicly pilloried and vilified – even by our own community.

“Words can put you on the run ….”— Wordy Rappinghood, Tom Tom Club

Meanwhile the comments the Washington Blade chose to zero in on (rich, gay white men), was a typically Crain-like attempt at creating tabloidesque controversy, and with the only trans organization they like, no less! Regarding the comment though, other than adding the words “and women” at the end of that statement, I’d like to ask Kevin Naff where he’s seen anything contrary to that resemblance in the organizational leadership or staffing hierarchy by these national groups or the agenda direction chosen by HRC?

How often do you see people of color represented in those “high-profile” positions? How often are there folks of less-than-moneyed means, the working class or the impoverished? How about anyone from any of the other alphabets in the amalgamated acronym affixed to every group’s mission (but seldom seen beyond the lettering)? When hired, are these segments there in representative numbers, or simply there as an individual whose sole function is plausible deniability when the calls come in about lack of voice or inclusion?

You may take umbrage at the statement’s blunt wording, but the point she uncomfortably breached about who controls isn’t inaccurate. It’s just not mentioned in “polite company.” When you look around the GLBT community, and most especially the GLBT movement you see raw, unbridled classism.

When you look back at the African American Civil Rights movement, you saw nowhere near the level of it. And yet looking at the GLBT movement in its history and especially more recently, it’s a classist movement rivaling the Republican Revolution a la Gingrich and the Marie Antoinette era in France.

Why is it that this movement starts off and gains traction with a Sylvia Rivera or Bob Kohler or Ray Hill or Marsha P. Johnson, and ends up with well-paid heroes taking the bows on stage and screen such as a Harry Hay, an Elizabeth Birch, a Matt Foreman or a Joe Solmonese? Why, you simply kick those in between – Jessica Xavier, Kerry Lobel, Sarah DePalma, Yoseñio Lewis or Dawn Wilson – to the curb, marginalize them as radical loose cannons and just take it and run with it. Who’s going to remember, right?

Moreover, why is it those in the most need are the least heard and the last considered?

You may adopt the mantle of victimization over Meredith Bacon’s not-so-choice wording, Messrs. Naff and Crain. Privilege aside, you were victims. Happy?

However you will also do so in full defense of trying to silence the subject and perpetuating what Bacon was pointing out: a movement that’s indeed ruled by and fully in control of the elite. The comments weren’t decorous, and expecting resignations is unrealistic (from either side), but Bacon was more gutsy than inaccurate in breaching the subject. Lord knows the Washington Blade would never address the subject of their volition.

In the meantime, we still have no idea whether NCTE does or does not intend to work with HRC in the foreseeable future. It’s a point the Blade skillfully chose to overlook, especially in light of the recent ENDA affair. From NCTE there has been nothing but silence on their relations with HRC or on Bacon’s comments. Even after the Blade contacted her on the comments, Exec. Dir. Mara Keisling has continued to refuse comment. The silence is deafening, and one can only surmise from the outside what’s taking place within the walls of NCTE. Only “one source familiar with” NCTE, in the Lou Chibbaro column in the Blade, said that Bacon “was only speaking for herself.”

On a different subject, another “source familiar with” NCTE also relayed that Rep. Barney Frank in anger was reported to have called Mara Keisling “a stupid ass” and added that all the organizations rallying with her on the United ENDA Coalition were “stupid asses” as well during their rush to coalesce and isolate HRC and Frank on their ENDA stunt. Again, not-so-choice wording said in extreme emotion.

Does anyone reading this believe that Kevin Naff, Chris Crain and the Washington Blade will be publicly calling for repudiation of Rep. Frank’s comments, or requesting a resignation? How about any other individual or organization? Yep, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that one.

It’s just so much easier to thrash NCTE co-chair Bacon’s indiscretion, and simply sidestep any lack of decorum from Barney Frank.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“What is courage? … The courage to speak our mind and not stay silent, simply because we are afraid that other people might not agree with us. Of course, there will be conflicting views. And of course, conflict is unpleasant. But not speaking your mind can lead to much worse unpleasantness.” — from the website,

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Desperately Seeking Susan (Stanton)

“I traveled round the world looking for a home.
I found myself in crowded rooms feeling so alone.” — Substitute For Love, Madonna

“Baby, although I chose this lonely life it seems it's stranglin' me now.
All the wild men, big cigars, gigantic cars; they're all laughin' at the lie.
Oh, I've been used Ooo-ooh. I've been a fool – oh, what a fool!
I broke all the rules – oh, yeah! But I must let the show go on” — The Show Must Go On, Three Dog Night

There’s been a rather loud and angry din that been dogging the instantaneous prominence and similarly instantaneous departure of Susan Stanton from the Transgender Community. Some of this had been going on for the past month as trans folk were upset with Rep. Barney Frank’s attempts at creating an ad-hoc group (maybe a replacement for an NCTE?) from a “short list” of transgenders who were less “critical” toward the recent ENDA maneuvers than even NCTE.

In one of my previous blogs on this subject (“Looking for Mr. Or Ms. Goodbar”), I didn’t intend to foist blame on the transgender players in this scenario – witting or unwitting as they may be. More to the point, I was concerned primarily with the manipulation that these non-trans kingmakers were attempting to pull on our community.

Most of the latest blares on Stanton, though, were concerning comments published in a new article from the St. Petersburg Times (, which admittedly were not comments that were helpful towards the trans community in the least. In fact, much of what I’d read in the article was almost right out of a Human Rights Campaign playbook. Stanton’s quote, “most Americans aren't ready for [transgenders] yet” were virtually word for word what I’d heard from the likes of Elizabeth Birch and Winnie Stachelberg (former HRC policy director) at the turn of the millennium.

“Baby, there's an enormous crowd of people, they're all after my blood.
I wish maybe they'd tear down the walls of this theater, let me out, let me out!” — The Show Must Go On, Three Dog Night

Perhaps it’s just coincidence … considering how she’s been recently courted by the likes of the same HRC to speak and re-validate (at least in HRC’s mind) that they are transgender-inclusive, especially in the absence of NCTE from their fold.

Again, it gets back to what I’d written earlier on the subject from the above-mentioned blog. Somehow, folks such as Rep. Barney Frank and HRC have assumed countenance over decisions for the transgender community. Where did they presume this conservatorship? When one looks at their track record on trans issues, on trans inclusion, on even taking any consideration of trans sentiment, trans history or its own leaders (as viewed and chosen by our own community) into account, we’d have been flat out of our minds to appoint that responsibility to them.

As for Susan Stanton, in some senses I truly feel sorry for her. She’s had a meteoric transition and rise to being tapped as a leader, through no real effort of her own. Stanton was a high-profile discrimination, not unlike some others such as Peter Oiler, J’Noel Gardiner, Christie Lee Littleton or Dana Rivers. Incidents such as this shove their discriminated prey into the harsh glare of media, which oftentimes is not as sympathetic as they initially present themselves to be.

In fact, occasionally the media gets it wrong. There’s a possibility of author’s bias, though more likely a culprit might be time constraints and an inattentiveness to detail, or even “literary license” to create more of a story than was there initially. It’s possible the St. Petersburg Times could’ve taken the quotes out of context. Indeed, I myself have been misquoted by the same paper (though a different writer) in response to one of NTAC’s press releases. It happens.

Some of the quotes from Stanton though showed a lack of depth of understanding of the trans community on the whole. True, for someone in a position of leadership or responsibility, this is bad.

However, we have to keep one thing in mind: how long has Susan Stanton been “out” and part of the transgender community? Not even a year yet! Her story hit just this past Spring. A scant month later, she was speaking and lobbying with NCTE (National Center for Transgender Equality) on Capitol Hill. Is this enough time for Trans America to groom a leader?

Fast-forward another four months: HRC and Barney Frank have announced their decision to pursue ENDA without gender identity and the entire trans community – including NCTE and Mara Keisling are publicly up in arms critical of the hypocrisy. Not only that, but the movement is gaining ground to isolate and erode the prominence of both Frank and HRC.

So HRC decides to conceive “Project Win-Back” and find new trans leaders to help validate themselves once again. Additionally, to help keep their hands clean, they turn the coordination of this effort over to Rep. Frank. As mentioned in my “Ms. Goodbar” blog, they needed someone with little or no knowledge of HRC and Barney, and with an unawareness or disdain for history.

Even at the National Banquet protest in DC, trans attorney Shannon Minter of Natl. Center for Lesbian Rights mentioned to me that HRC was already “sniffing around” and attempting to wrangle Susan Stanton. Well, they corralled their girl, and managed to have her speak at a few of their engagements (Angela Brightfeather would be proud). Then they introduced her to the venerable Barney Frank.

After all their bedazzling star-power, their proficient salesmanship, the message that Susan could be doing ‘important work’ for the trans community – ‘heroic work’ – and even attain instant ‘leadership’ for the trans community. Their pitch appeals to both selflessness and ego, to ambitions and worries of an uncertain future, to an exciting challenge and even to an avenue for income again. Remember Susan’s recent job-loss and concerns for future income? If the quotes attributed to her in the article: “If I have no more professional existence, I will end it. I couldn't live like that," are accurate, that’s troubling. It should be easy to see how one from her perspective would agree with such a proposition, especially if they didn’t know better.

For the trans community at large who’ve never been similarly wooed by the HRC machine, the Stanton example is the same thing they’ve been playing with different players for the past decade plus. They’ve seduced many, and left the same number at the altar. And always, it’s HRC, Barney Frank and their ilk that strut proudly, while the transgender community always ends up batter, bruised and beguiled.

It’s quite likely, even with her brief appearance at NCTE in May that Stanton was completely unaware of what HRC and Frank were about. In fact, in such a short time “out”, she truly hasn’t had exposure to much of any of the transgender community – certainly not enough to be considered a well-versed trans community leader. Yet, here she found herself, offered up as potential trans community “leader” by the likes of a professional organization such as the Human Rights Campaign, and an experienced veteran politician such as Rep. Barney Frank. Who would dare argue with that?

On Pam’s House Blend Blog, one of the respondents who went simply by the name of “Zeke,” reported on some of the pre-transition background of then City Manager, Steve Stanton (

“They [City of Largo FL] weren't firing Steve because of poor job performance but simply because he had revealed that he was a transgender person. I spoke on the record, on behalf of my United Church of Christ congregation in support of transgender rights and fairness. This IN SPITE of the fact that I knew for a fact that Steve was a COMPLETE asshole, right-wing conservative and homophobe. I have two very close personal friends, who are openly gay, who had the misfortune of working under him. Gay people were denied advancement opportunities and were treated very poorly as were others who didn't fit into his very narrow world view.”

At this writing, I have no way to ascertain and thus can’t support his opinion personally. If indeed there was veracity to this, it’s quite telling of HRC and Barney Frank’s desperation to grasp at whatever they can for political cover while they seek a convenient way to steer transgenders right down the primrose path to Hell. If there’s fallout from it? “Let the trannies eat their own! We’re free and clear from that piranha pool!”

One must ask: is this desperation grasp to save face the type of professionalism expected from an organization such as this; one that readily pans trans activists’ lack of same, thus inferring wiser decision-making capability? For that matter, is this what we should expect from a long-tenured politician such as Rep. Barney Frank who’s eagerly willing to display his own intelligence while dismissively belittling any who would dare question his acuity? Would they sit tight with similar disconnectedly “wise” decisions made for them?

Apparently the St. Petersburg Times expedited the plan a bit too fast for them to take advantage. The net result is the same for Susan Stanton, though: discredited, reviled and savaged by her own community. Doubtlessly, some of those friends she’s made in gay and lesbian circles will tell her the typical: “this is what your community does to itself – it eats its own.”

However, I’ve also noted a number of the same incidents where the gay and lesbian community has eaten its own as well when they haven’t toed the loyalists’ party line. The only difference is that the Trans Community doesn’t have a star-powered, flush-with-cash organization flashing green and promising dreams to a cash-poor, opportunity-bereft gay and lesbian community in search of separable types to play wedge games. The playing fields aren’t exactly level.

Nevertheless, Stanton will go back to tending to her own life and career. She was surely not someone sufficiently ready for leadership on transgender civil rights. Could she have ever been a good leader? Perhaps she’d have overcome her past, maybe she possibly could’ve decided to contact the trans community and learn about the history of our movement and HRC’s place in this. Or maybe not. Either way, we’ll never know now.

Baby, I wish you'd help me escape. Help me get away.
Leave me outside my address, far away from this masquerade.
'Cause I've been blind – oh, so blind.
I wasted time – wasted, wasted, all too much time
Walkin' on the wire – high wire.
But I must let the show go on.” — The Show Must Go On, Three Dog Night

One thing is certain: the marionette show will continue. The handlers will continue searching for candidates to places their strings upon, and pull to their whims and (hopefully for them) to the entertainment of the transgender audience. And after the trans spectators tire of the show, and in anger cut the strings, dismantle and shred the marionettes into splinters, sawdust and bits of cloth, then what? The handlers, untouched by the ravaging horde inconspicuously slip behind the curtain and drop down another marionette.

Yeah, the marionettes mock and aggravate us. But if we’re tired of this show, shouldn’t we be going after the puppeteers and dismantling and shredding their hands and limbs? Maybe it’s just my Texas take on things, but it seems to make more sense to me.

“If one is not willing to invest psychic energy in the internal reality of consciousness, and instead squanders it in chasing external rewards, one loses mastery of one's life, and ends up becoming a puppet of circumstances.” — Author and professor of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“I tried to be a boy,
I tried to be a girl
I tried to be a mess,
I tried to be the best
I tried to find a friend,
I tried to stay ahead
I tried to stay on top...
Fuck it.…” — American Life, Madonna

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