IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR
For years now, we've been hearing the same thing from the Human Rights
Campaign, Barney Frank, and their political bedfellows over and over:
“You're not ready...there aren't enough votes in Congress to support a
transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act or hate crimes
protection bill. No one understands you, more education is needed. Just
wait, be patient, we'll fight for you when the time is right. ”
We always suspected it, and now we know it for a certainty. They've been
lying through their teeth, and not just to us.
It all started in the last week of April, when transgender activists of all
stripes descended on Washington, DC. I was there, as both a journalist and
a participant. The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition's Lobby Days
event, where the organization spent two days lobbying Congress for the
inclusion of gender identity and gender expression protections in the
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the hate crimes bill, boasted
an active and committed group of transgender activists. GenderPAC (GPAC)
was there, holding its National Conference on Gender, the Transgender
American Veterans Association (TAVA) was gathering for its March to the
Wall, and a team of transgender activists drawn mainly from the membership
of Out For Democracy –Transgender met with the GLBT Outreach leaders of
both the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee, the first
time such a meeting has ever taken place.
Literally hundreds of politically-active Transgender Americans had come to
our nation's capital to be seen, be heard, and to send a clear message to
our country's leaders that we will no longer be invisible, ignored, or
silent. The history books will record these days as the moment our
community truly came out of the closet, as a valid minority constituency,
as a political force, and as a community, with a social, political, and
cultural identity all our own.
As is so often the case with breaking news stories, this one started with
just a small kernel of information, but grew and grew, spiraling ever
upward and outward...
The kernel was the stunning tidbit NTAC lobbyists heard when visiting the
office of a major Republican co-sponsor of ENDA. When asked if the
congressman would be willing to support a version of ENDA that is inclusive
of gender identity and expression protections, a closely-placed source
responded, “If HRC would just get on board with this, it would be so much
easier. ”Those in many other congressional offices, while generally
supportive of protecting Transgender Americans in civil rights legislation,
were curious as to why HRC isn't supporting a trans-inclusive ENDA.
The seed expands and bursts, takes root, and begins to sprout...
More information began to trickle in. We learned that HRC has been
pressuring GLBT advocacy organizations that have historically been very
supportive and proactive in fighting for civil rights legislation that
includes gender identity and gender expression protections to abandon their
support of our community and support the non-inclusive “gay and lesbian
only ”bills HRC has been promoting. We also learned that most of these
organizations are resisting HRC's efforts to curtail their support of
Transgender Americans...most, but not all.
The sprout grows, its leaves unfurl and expand. The stalk lengthens,
raising the still tightly wrapped bud toward the sun...
At about 2:30pm DC time on Friday, April 30th, a group of about 15
protesters, some wearing Transsexual Menace t-shirts, along with documentary
filmmaker Tim Watts and his cameraman Kwan, there to record the protest for
inclusion in their upcoming documentary film about Lobby Days and
transgender activism, arrived at HRC headquarters and began picketing on
the sidewalk outside the lavishly appointed building. We held signs with
slogans proclaiming “These T's Are Not Silent! ”, “Separate and Unequal! ”,
“GLB...Where's the T? ”, “HRC...Where Are We? ”, and “Ten Years of
Exclusion ”. We stood, we marched, we chanted our slogans, and waved our
signs at the shiny floor-to-ceiling HRC office windows for about half an
hour, until an HRC representative came outside to invite us all into the
building to talk.
Some of us immediately realized that what they were trying to do by
inviting us all inside was to take the protest off of their sidewalk and
out of public view, so we sent Gwen Smith, the well-read community
columnist and webmistress of the Remembering Our Dead website, and Ethan
St.Pierre, host of the Internet radio show Trans-FM, into the building with
the HRC rep while I and the rest of our group remained outside and
continued the protest.
A few of those entering or leaving the building and passers-by stopped to
ask us what was going on, and we told them. It was street-level education
at its most effective, if perhaps not at its most efficient. We let these
folks see the faces and hear the voices of a community HRC has been doing
everything it can to marginalize and disempower in the interests of
exclusively promoting the equal treatment and civil rights of its mostly
wealthy, mostly white, mostly straight-looking, mostly gay male major donor
base while, at the same time, publicly proclaiming itself an advocate of
Transgender Americans, and supportive of our equality and our civil rights.
Inside the building, Gwen and Ethan met with several HRC folks, who offered
them cold water (which they refused), soothing, inclusive platitudes of
“open door ”policies and tales of tearful meetings discussing trans
inclusion, and the promise of yet another upcoming discussion of a
trans-inclusive ENDA to take place sometime this summer, all with Tim and
Kwan keeping the microphone hot and the camera rolling despite the
objections of the HRC reps.
When Gwen and Ethan emerged from the building, we wrapped up the protest
and headed back toward the Dupont Circle Metro station, where we went our
separate ways, most heading back to the train to reunite with the groups
they'd come from to join us.
Finally, the bud blossoms into fullness, spreading its petals and revealing
the true colors of its face to meet the light of day...
It wasn't until after we'd all returned to our respective homes days later
that we learned the true impact of what we'd done. Our little protest,
small in number though we were, hadn't gone unnoticed. Soon, Gwen and Ethan
began receiving messages from other segments of the GLBT community that HRC
has failed to support and represent fairly and honestly because they don't
fit the organization's conservative public image. Drag queens, leather
community members, and gay groups from as far away as Louisiana all checked
in with statements of solidarity and support for the protest and its message.
We also learned that we'd just happened to show up to protest on a day when
HRC was holding a fund-raising event for some of its major donors.
Apparently, the event had to be quickly moved to another location, no doubt
to avoid having to answer inconvenient questions from these folks about why
we were out there. Yes, boys, girls, and everyone else, the Goddess is
trans-inclusive, even though some of Her children aren't.
So, you might ask, what happens now?
This, my friends, is just the beginning. The first step is this, the column
you are reading right now, and what you'll soon be seeing, hearing, and
reading from a variety of media resources about what happened and what we
learned in DC, what we're going to do about it, and how you can help make
There will be more columns and more protests. You'll hear about it on
community radio shows, you'll read about it in GLBT newspapers and on
websites, and your community needs you to do your part. Call your
Congressman, call your Pride Center, call your friends and neighbors. Tell
them you're not going to support HRC or their elitist political games and
ask them not to do it, either. If you're a member of HRC, rip up your
membership card, send it back to them in pieces, and tell them why you're
doing it. Don't buy another t-shirt or donate another nickel to these
people until they're willing to truly honor the words emblazoned on the
wall of their obscenely opulent office building:
Working for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality
At long last, our time has come. We've grown up as a community, as a
political force, and as a culture. We've seen through the lies, the
misrepresentations, the double-dealing, and the thinly-veiled bigotries. No
longer will we sit quietly and idly by as others promote themselves and
their own fair and equal treatment at our expense. We are speaking out, and
our voices are being heard, on the street, in the media, and in the halls
of Congress. And as we are speaking, so are we listening.
We know the truth now.
The time of lies is over.
These T's are NOT silent!