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.


HRC Watch said...

It is very much related. All you have to do is read between the lines.
We are losing more and more people to suicide.

Unknown said...

What's that old saying? Oh yes 'Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me' Well I was fooled once when the HRC said they would be good after the NTAC picketed them. They lied then and they lie now. AS I said in my blog the HRC just wants to be assimilated into the white middle class life style. They'll throw any one who does not advance their cause under the bus. We have to fight for our rights ourselves.

Stellewriter said...


Since ENDA what are we doing???? The Transgender community has run amuck! What we are now doing stinks! What we as the Trans-community have now ended up doing is no less than acting out the strife that HRC and the greater GLBt wants us to portray. By our infighting and tearing apart of our bonds they become strong. Their self-absorbed and elitist vision for power and control is what drives HRC and the militant gay community. Please, understand that I am not talking about the loving and kind gay community, rather, the Sturmabteilung and backroom body grabbers the likes of Barney Frank and ilk. It is all about diverting the public's attention from their moving into power positions within corporate America and its wealth for strictly self-serving means. It is not about equality. One cannot proclaim equality and ignore others who should share in the rights of common wellbeing. When B. Frank spoke on the floor, he literally was speaking treason and against the very fabric of our constitution and Bill of Rights. It can be said no other way, as the courts have already defined that stance, and, as in the days of Gov. George Wallace, a matter of unconstitutional and discriminatory practice. HRC and the thugs surrounding Joe Solmonese are telling us that we are not welcome to use the public toilets and that we cannot drink from the public fountain.

They are telling us that we are not fit to hold meaningful jobs; that we are freaks who are not acceptable to society. They did this publically, and in the backroom worked up a plan to keep us divisive so as to be seen as freaks by society. There is no way around the matter. We are the propaganda tool for the "New Elite" or "pan-Aryan" mentality. We are the ones chosen to be maligned and abused so the money - and power-laden gay aristocracy can go unchallenged and unnoticed. While they slide into more and more of the fabric of society carefully showing themselves as relative conservatives in middle-of-the-road family living. We on the other hand are daily sliding into the realm of the bizarre and perceived danger zone. A gay Boy Scout leader is almost now acceptable, but a GID father is to be literally sent to the concentration camps of despair and sure death. It is bigotry, inequality, intolerance, unfairness, chauvinism, sexism, racism, bias, insularity, prejudice…. it is "Discrimination" – Do You Get It?

The very organization that claims the throne for equality is the single most active force in denying the Transgender simple subsistence. It is the new gay sectarian snobbery, which has worked to control other gay and lesbian enclaves and subordinate them. Worse, they have actively separated and divided the Trans-community so as to use us as a diversion. We are HRC millions behind in ability, and legislatively separated (segregated), and we are ripping each others clothes off exposing our weaknesses. History is repeating itself in an awful way.

Everyone may see this as radical, but it follows history in great detail. It is a political strategy that has worked. It is working now! I remember clearly the comments of a child of the Holocaust; he said he was dumbfounded to discover that his own father, a minister in 30's Germany, was duped by the propaganda of the era. First it was the Transgender / Effeminates who were singled out, followed by spurious fringe groups, then political threats and press, educators, the church and finally the Jews. I have no doubt that we are duped, and so is the public. No doubt at all.


Unknown said...

Thank you for leaving these kind words for my Spouse Lars. I am sure he is smiling from above. I am having another memorial service for family and friends on the west coast on the 3rd of February from 1-2pm at the San Diego LGBT Center on Centre St. Lars has been cremated and sent home. Thank you all for your love and support.

~Ereka Watson

Alexei said...

Odd to run across my own words on your blog. I can only imagine how many people that message traveled through before reaching you...

But I'm glad that people were able to pay tribute to Lars in whatever way they found fitting. Thanks for passing it on!

-Alexander Pangborn