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,

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