All Politics is Loco
This past weekend I attended my first-ever Human Rights Campaign National Dinner. They were kind enough to give a complimentary table to members of the Equality Federation who were in D.C. strategizing for the 2008 elections. Nearly every member (if not all) of the Federation has signed a national letter to Congressional leaders insisting that we will only support a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes protections for transgender people. HRC is the only major GLBT player in policy work that has not signed the letter. As the main lobbying organization for GLBT equality, they have been noticeably absent. Over 220 organizations joined in the near unanimous call for inclusion.
Back to the Dinner. Guest speakers and award recipients included Nancy Pelosi, Matthew Broderick, Tim Gunn, Cheryl Swoopes, the Rebecca Romijn, John Amaechi, James Hormel, and others. I was impressed. There were 3100 attendees and a waiting list to get in. They must be doing something right. Triangle and other supporters of an inclusive ENDA were in DC and heading to the dinner (many of whom for the first time) and were committed to using the opportunity of being in our nation’s capital to speak directly to HRC members. We didn’t want to protest the dinner or do anything disrespectful, but we needed to engage HRC members, at their own annual dinner because we only had a week left before a committee vote on ENDA.
About eight of us went to Staples and purchased neon colored computer labels and printed the following message on 1800 stickers: “EQUALI Y: It’s not equality without the T.” The goal was to ask as many HRC guests as possible to wear the stickers so that all throughout the dinner the message was clear. Remember, HRC supports the trans-inclusive version of the bill, but no one is certain of a vote count and if Republicans try to water it down, HRC says they would still support it – leaving valuable protections in the dust.
Over a quarter, if not a third, of the guests agreed to wear our stickers and they kept them on most of the night. Some guests actually said “I won’t wear your sticker. I disagree with you. Trans activists are being selfish by not letting us get some of our rights now.” Some guests sympathized but claimed they looked to fabulous to put stickers on. Others just didn’t want to bother or be seen doing anything remotely controversial.
Trans activists were also protesting outside the DC Convention Center but because we were wearing dresses and tuxedos we may have been seen as more reasonable. Scores of passersbys wanted to know what was going on. Most of the guests didn’t ask at all. They knew.
The stickers and protesters provoked quite a bit of discussion throughout the night. When Joe Solomonese, the HRC Executive Director, took the stage he opened with “OK, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. There are protesters outside and there are protesters inside,” and he made some bold proclamations about trans inclusion and insisted that every guest at the dinner urge their member of congress to pass the most inclusive version of ENDA possible. I truly believe that HRC wants that slam dunk.
Later Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made the same declaration. She received strong applause from the crowd when she pledged support for the “strongest ENDA” possible. But nowhere did we hear a slam dunk for trans inclusion. Nowhere did we hear a promise that they would find the necessary votes for a trans inclusive ENDA. Democrats have control of both chambers of Congress and there are numerous Republican supporters of the bill. I am a firm believer that the votes do exist for an inclusive ENDA, but our movement (including HRC and Congressman Barney Frank) started too late trying to find them.
Most legislators will opt for weaker legislation if given the chance. Pelosi and HRC should insist that anything less than a fully inclusive ENDA is not ENDA at all. There are only a few days left to take action. For more information on what you can do visit www.unitedenda.org.
Sean Kosofsky is the Director of Policy for Triangle Foundation, Michigan’s leading civil rights, advocacy and anti-violence organization for GLBT people.