by Erin Riordan
Last week, as the Supreme Court began hearing cases on Prop 8 and DOMA, Facebook turned red. 2.8 million more users than average changed their profile pictures last Tuesday, to HRC’s image of a red quality sign. I began to have mixed feelings that day about the sea of red (some of which I will explain next week, in another post), and after reading many of the articles discussing the HRC and the campaign for marriage equality I have concerns about the HRC and about the fight for marriage equality as a whole.
First I am concerned with the Human Rights Campaign itself, and it’s selective method of social justice. The Human Rights Campaign is the largest organization working for LGBT rights. Their mission statement reads, “HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.” However, despite their inclusion of the “T” in LGBT, the HRC has a very strained, adversarial relationship with the trans community. Many people in the trans community have long felt that the HRC has thrown trans rights under the bus in their fight for marriage equality, and in the functioning of the HRC as a whole.
The most prominent case is the HRC’s support in 2007 for a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination ACT (ENDA) that didn’t include antidiscrimination protections for gender identity. Despite their promise three years earlier to not support any version of the ENDA that didn’t include gender identity protections, the HRC reneged on this promise when they grew concerned that they would not be able to pass the bill otherwise. In this instance, and in others, they chose to prioritize the rights of some members of the LBGTQ community over others. Many people feel this effectively sent the message to the trans community that their rights were less important than those of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals.
The view that the HRC does not care about trans issues or the trans community was further enforced last Tuesday, when a trans person holding a transgender pride flag stood near the rally’s podium and was then asked by an HRC staff person three separate times to move to a less visible spot. The HRC contends that the incident did not transpire this way, yet Bilerico blogger Jerame Davis’s account supports the trans individual’s, and indicates that the statement from the HRC was misleading and misrepresentative of what occurred.
Beyond these individual incidents, there is a distinct lack of transgender voices within the HRC. The HRC has 100+ staffers, but no trans staffers. An organization meant to fight for the advancement of transgender rights, along with the rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, does not have one employee who is actually a member of the trans community.
Others have brought up questions of economic and racial justice in the HRC’s work. People within the LGBTQ community argue that the HRC is not interested in the issues of poor LGBTQ individuals, and a Duke student wrote about the HRC’s problematic corporate affiliations. There is also evidence that the HRC has tried to quiet POC voices and organizations within the LGBTQ movement. These concerns matter, and they are worth listening to when talking about the HRC and it’s work.
A social justice movement, whatever it fights for, should not pick and choose which people and which voices and which issues matter most. By excluding the perspectives and priorities of trans people, people of color, and working class and poor people from the conversation, the HRC does itself a disservice, and does a disservice to the movement as a whole. It can be hard to adequately and equally represent all the voices that need to be at the table, and this is certainly an issue within feminism as well, but it is vitally important that these voices be heard and respected. When entire groups feel disconnected from a community, it is clear that something is wrong and that changes need to be made.
On a different, perhaps more strategic note, I am worried about all the focus that is being put on marriage equality by the LGBTQ community. I strongly support same-sex marriage, and believe that the legalization of same sex marriage will improve the lives of many people, and bring us closer to equality. However, I am concerned that other equally vital and important issues are being forgotten or abandoned in pursuit of this one goal. It is great that so many people support marriage equality, and that so many people feel safe and comfortable supporting this battle publically. But what about all the other issues that matter in the LGBTQ community?
The fight for LGBTQ rights needs to include addressing the issue of homelessness amongst LGBTQ youth. The fight needs to include combatting violence against LBGTQ individuals, and the right of gay men to donate blood. The fight for LGBTQ rights needs to include fighting for trans health rights, and legal protections against gender identity based discrimination. The fight needs to include fighting for queer undocumented immigrants. The fight for LGBTQ rights needs to be informed by considerations of race, class, gender, and ability. The fight for marriage equality does not reflect these considerations, and I am concerned that after the fight for marriage equality is won, most of the general public and mainstream media will think the job is done and that they can walk away.
There are so many more important issues and battles that I do not have room to list here, and it is important that we value and consider each of them. I am concerned that there is not enough visibility around these issues, nor enough resources or energy dedicated to them. I am afraid that in the mainstream media the LGBTQ community has been painted as one that is only concerned with marriage equality. I am concerned that once the battle for marriage equality is won, there will not be enough momentum, political or otherwise, to seriously push forward any real change on other issues of the LGBTQ community.
There are many amazing groups doing great work organizing other elements of the LGBTQ community, and that are working to encompass everyone’s voices and issues. This radical and progressive LGBTQ movement needs a seat at the table, and needs to be heard when the conversation begins about where do we go from here.