Ending The New Cold War

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. – Winston Churchill

Ever since September 2007, the T community and a good part of the GL community, most notably the political side of HRC, as well as some of the GL bloggers like Aravosis and Chris Crain, have been in a state of cold war. We do not communicate, and HRC feels they can choose our leaders, pick our representatives for us, listen to those they want and not listen to those who’d tell the truth, no matter how brutal. Joe Solmonese’ Southern Comfort speech, and his effort to characterize the lie he told during it as “misspeaking”, shows the unbelievable corporate contempt HRC has for the T community. As a result of that speech, and HRC’s deceitful lobbying techniques used in the passage of H.R. 3685, nearly all T activists have sworn to never speak or do business with HRC ever again. I’ve advocated that approach, myself. It’s pretty hard to do business with an organization that has such a history, going back to the 1990s, of deceit, conceit, and deception in their business practices, not to mention the fact that their words cannot be believed. As a result, among transgender activists, not to mention many GL activists, an iron curtain has descended between them and HRC.

While we should never give up our principles, we must also realize that we cannot maintain our principles unless we survive. – Henry A. Kissinger

HRC, in its rare town hall meetings, ostensibly held to explain their ENDA strategy and actions of Fall 2007, has taken the position that “Joe misspoke himself” at Southern Comfort. The manner in which they say this points out the difference between people who live “inside the DC Beltway”, and people who don’t live in the seat of government. Joe Solmonese believes he misspoke, most likely. To those of us who are more plainspoken, he told a baldfaced lie. And, nobody wants to do business with, or trust, a liar, do they? Of course not.

In reality, we all do business with liars all the time. Politicians at all levels, not just DC, lie and lie daily. Lawyers are paid to lie, to get their clients off. Shopkeepers lie about their products’ quality, preachers lie, and that’s before we get to the buying and selling of cars and trucks. The question is this: do we want to throw away the T community’s chances at passage of rights laws, in return for moral indignation and high principle, especially when the people we must do business with have the exact same (lack of) moral standards and level of innate dishonesty? I think that we need to consider the need for survival – and passing T-inclusive employment protections into Federal law could well mean survival for many T people.

The superpowers often behave like two heavily armed blind men feeling their way around a room, each believing himself in mortal peril from the other, whom he assumes to have perfect vision. – Henry A. Kissinger

There is no question that transgender leaders rarely share background, history, or culture with many GL leaders. In her TransGriot blog posting entitled ,”Why The Transgender Community Hates HRC,” Monica Roberts wrote In the 90’s the transgender leadership became more national in scope and more diverse by the end of the decade. In addition to the founding core leadership from California and the Northeast corridor, transleaders emerged in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois. The emergence of leaders from what was derisively called ‘flyover country’ by the peeps from Cali and the Northeast Corridor changed the dynamics of the transgender rights movement.The addition of leaders from these states brought people into the movement who not only believed in the principles of Kingian inclusion and non-violence, they practiced those values. The rise of the Internet gave them efficient communications links to exchange information and tactics, coordinate strategy and inexpensively talk to each other. They were also people of faith who had ringside seats to the Religious Right takeovers of the Republican parties in these regions. The Texans watched their state be used as a laboratory for the tactics that would be used in the South and later the rest of the country.As people of faith who were mostly Southerners, the new transleaders correctly perceived that the Religious Right was the same coalition of 60’s racist anti-progressive forces masquerading in ‘family values’ drag and urged coordinated efforts to defeat them.Unfortunately, while the Religious Right was using the 80’s and 90’s to organize for culture war and develop their Machiavellian playbook to power, transpeople were fighting a pitched battle with the gay and lesbian community just to be included. This civil war against the GLB transphobes sucked time, energy and money from the transgender community that could have been better spent combating the Religious Right.

The predominately white and bicoastal-based gay and lesbian leadership didn’t see the Religious Right as a threat because they not only didn’t have fundies in their backyards, they let their anti-transgender biases color their perceptions. They dismissed the threat because it was transpeople who were sounding the warning bells about it. At the same thime they were cavalierly dismissing their concerns about GLBT unity and the Religious Right threat, they arrogantly demanded that transpeople work to pass gay-only rights bills.”

Most transgender community leaders that I know have little knowledge, in turn, of gay culture. I admit that I don’t.  Drag shows bore me to tears, I prefer Midleton’s Irish whiskey, neat, to martinis, I dress like a slob most of the time, and I can’t dance. Literally, if men are from Mars and women from Venus, then gay men are from Uranus, lesbians are from Saturn, and transpeople from Neptune. A prime example is the popularity of gay entertainer Charles Knipp’s allegedly comic character “Shirley Q. Liquor” among gay audiences; Shirley Q. Liquor is universally abhorred by transpeople as an insulting and racist characterization harkening back to minstrel shows. Likewise, the popularity among lesbians of the writings of Germaine Greer and Janice Raymond, both abhorrent to transgender people, illustrates the cultural distance sometimes present. Transgender people know well the history of what HRC and others like Raymond and Greer have said and done; likewise, many GL people hold on to the belief that T issues are foreign to them, and some even oppose them outright. Clearly, we each believe the other is more of a threat to the other than we are; in reality, both of us are ineptly open, by dint of our lack of knowledge of the other, to attacks from the Religious Right and social conservatives.

The Cold War isn’t thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting. – Richard M. Nixon

HRC does not particularly care what we, as a community, think of them. Our hate for them is unrequited, not returned. They will continue to do what they are doing, regardless of whatever we may think of them or write about them. Neither does Barney Frank – Congressman Frank is widely rumored to be assembling a group of white, East Coast, non-critical transgender women to participate in hearings on H.R.3686, the separate gender-only bill that has no chance of being voted upon anytime soon. These hearings, along with HRC’s town hall meetings, are examples of the fact that HRC will follow their agenda, unabated. Transgender people are little more than an inconvenience or annoyance to them. For hatred and anger to bring them to heel, it will take a massive impact on fundraising, a massive dent in their membership rolls, or catastrophic failure in its legislative mission. The T community is limited in its ability to effect such things – it simply lacks the organization, money, and numbers of activists willing to do so.Worse, still, is the threat from the Religious Right. In November 2007, the Jefferson County, KY., school board considered employment protections for GLBT faculty and employees. Even though Louisville/Jefferson County is a jurisdiction that has had a T-inclusive employment/housing/ public accomodations law in place since 1999, then reaffirmed in 2004, the T was quickly jettisoned when push came to shove – and omission from H.R, 3685 was cited as a rationale for that omission.

The Religious Right does not differentiate between gay and trans. Even if employment laws omit transgender people, the “man in a dress using the women’s restroom” analogy is nearly always used as a reason to not pass such legislation, and will continue to be used. Gay and lesbian people, just as often as transgender people, are painted by Christian fundamentalist extremists as being pedophiles, even though the most likely type of person to engage in pedophilia is a straight married male Caucasian.

“Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.” Winston Churchill

I don’t trust HRC, and most transgender activists don’t, either, but eventually transgender activists will have to sit across a table and speak to them. We know they will, probably, lie to us, because they’ve done so many times before, including very recently. Yet, sooner or later, transgender people will have to do business with HRC, if we want to be included in legislation in 2009, or even in the years beyond that. We need, then, as a community, to decide who should do the talking for us, and decide to let them do so without conducting the sort of on-line questioning of motive and integrity that so far has occurred, whether that questioning may have been warranted or not.What do we ask for, in a negotiation? First of all, a public apology for the SCC lie. A return in kind of the monies fundraised from the transgender community at SCC, spread among the major transgender lobbying organizations (IFGE, NTAC, TAVA, and NCTE). A pledge to never again lobby against the interests of the transgender community to expediently pass a GL-only bill. A commitment to hire transgender people to work for HRC in varying capacities, including on the various boards and in the Federal Club – and not just the “nice trannies”, but transgender activists that have actually carried picket signs outside HRC galas and events, transgender people of all ages, gender identities (including intersexed), and transgender people of color.

Unfettered access to Congressional and Senate offices, with HRC-affiliated aides being involved only long enough to get the transgender lobbyists in the office with the actual Members of Congress, must be one of the demands in the negotiations. Many Congressional aides have served internships with, or have worked for, HRC. In fact, part of our problem in Congress last year was due to, I feel, our lobbyists’ongoing inability to meet with actual Congressmen and Senators. We are giving our knowledge and stories to aides, when it it the actual Members who need to hear them. This is a logjam that must be broken through, if this community is to ever be included in employment rights legislation. When Barney Frank said in September 2007 that not enough education had been done, this is what he was talking about – and, yes, you can bet that HRC meant for the education to not take place, or wanted it to come from their lobbyists’ mouths, not the mouths of transgender people, for some reason. Knowing that reason, beyond doubt, should be a priority. However, to break this logjam, we must get past the aides and through to the Members – and HRC will have to be induced to let us do that.

Others, I’m sure, can add to this list of demands – and I encourage comments to that effect.

We also need to decide to whom we should speak – and that needs to be our community’s decision. HRC will, very likely, expect this community to negotiate with people who lack the authority to deliver on matters of question. We must stand firmly on the need to speak with the person who’s set HRC’s political strategies for the past 10 years or so. Hint: that’s not Joe Solmonese. No, that’s David Smith, the long-time power behind the throne, and a man long known to be unenthusiastic about the transgender rights movement. Solmonese, as seen at SCC and the weeks thereafter, can promise much, but if Smith doesn’t agree, it isn’t happening, and they have no compulsion about leaving ol’ Joe twisting in the wind. In short, talking to Solmonese won’t do the job – he’s just the monkey. Smith is the organ grinder.

A Time For Detente

The feelings of the transgender community are still very raw, where HRC is concerned. We must remember that the violation does not get us closer to achieving the passage of legislation. We must accept that HRC IS the 10,000 pound gorilla on the Hill. They know they have a big problem among transgender people, as well as with right-thinking GLBT organizations who support full transgender inclusion, and no amount of hatred or invective vented via the Internet will affect that one bit – although some effective protests, like the October 1997 protest at the national dinner in DC, may. Playing upon their desire to mend fences may help this process. At the same time, we must guard that all segments of the community have a say, that it is not a one-way negotiation, and that all organizations have a say in the questions and terms. In fact, I suspect that this community isn’t going to be able to agree on who to negotiate, let alone what to negotiate, and that Barney Frank and HRC will simply impose their will. I fully expect to be vilified in print, even by people I respect and consider friends, for daring to suggest that we should negotiate with the monolithic Gibraltar on Rhode Island Ave.. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not willing to let them have their say, without getting a word in edgewise. The time to start getting that word in edgewise, is now. Otherwise, we’re going to be reduced to writing letters to Congressmen’s office that will never be read by Congressmen, and bitching to each other on the Internet. That simply isn’t good enough for me, and people are quite literally starving and being killed for being transgender.  What harm is there in talking?  Unless hatred is the best we can do………

 Look at ya
Yeah, take a look in the mirror now tell me what you see
Another satisfied customer in the front of the line for the American dream
I remember when we was both out on the boulevard Talkin’ revolution and singin’ the blues
Nowadays it’s letters to the editor and cheatin’ on our taxes
Is the best that we can do
Come on”Amerika, Version 2.0″ – Steve Earle

Present Book: “The Gonzo Way”, by Anita Thompson

On the turntable: “There Goes The Neighborhood”, by Joe Walsh

Explore posts in the same categories: philosophy & politics, politics, Transgender

3 Comments on “Ending The New Cold War”

  1. Jill Says:

    It’s hard to think when I’m so angry. I’m mad at being left out in the cold. I have some friends at HRC, and they disagree with the organization’s politics, too. The organization is so big ($35 million budget) that the right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing. It’s a whole nother world.

    And HRC is way more than a conduit to politics: it’s also *the* conduit to the business world. That, in my opinion, is just as important, and maybe more, because law on the books doesn’t automatically translate into jobs. So if we refuse all contact, it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    Yet we can’t just act like nothing is happening. If they can be for us and against us at the same time, perhaps we can learn do the same. Perhaps that is how the big leagues work. I *know* that’s how the big leagues work, from my years in the practice of law, working with big companies. They have factions, just like countries do. If you try to face down their army, you can lose big and a lot of your people die. Even if you win a lot of your people die. If you send in the CIA, you win and no one dies. Maybe we need to call Langley.

  2. The idea that Joe “misspoke” is the biggest crock of shit I’ve heard
    in a long time. Joe knew exactly what HRC’s policy was when he gave
    that speech at SCC and he knowingly, lied right to our faces, period.

    He knew we would be removed from ENDA, he just didn’t know that
    Barney was going to do it the way he did.

    The way I see it is that tried to work with HRC for more than a decade and
    it has got us absolutely nowhere, if not caused us more harm than good.

    Sit across from Joe if you think it will help but it’s not HRC we have to convince
    that we should be included in ENDA, it’s Congress.
    Barney keeps complaining that we haven’t done enough work to educate Congress.
    So, lets do that and we can call Barney’s office each and every time we aren’t allowed access to our own Congress men and woman.
    HRC could have helped us with that issue, say, over the last ten years or more but they haven’t. They wanted to speak for us and they shut us out of pertinent meetings with our Congress members, then blamed us for not being there to do the work.

    We need to stand up, take responsibility for our own movement, stop whining about HRC and never again allow them to speak (or pretend to speak) on our behalf.
    That job is reserved for transgender people and our allies.

  3. Allyson Says:

    Lots for me to think about here. Thank you for expressing your thoughts and feelings so clearly and eloquently.

    I recently had the opportunity to meet the director of HRC’s Religion and Faith program, Harry Knox, at the Transgender Religious Summit in Berkeley. I was very impressed with his generosity of spirit and his candor concerning the ENDA debacle. In spite of the fact that he was occasionally the “whipping boy” as a representative of HRC at the conference, he accepted criticism of the organization magnanimously and without any attempt to justify HRC’s actions. One-on-one, I perceived him to be genuinely concerned for trans people and issues.

    My point, I suppose, is simply that HRC is not a monolithic organization.

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