The GLBT community has been all a twitter, deservedly so, over some behind the scenes movement on the Employee Non-Descrimination Act (ENDA), which would prevent employers from firing queers. The day the hate crimes bill passed last week we found out that the leadership, including high profile gays Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Tammy Baldwin were taking the T out. Transgenders, the T in GLBT, covered by “gender identity and expression” in the were not going to be included in this version of the bill. The argument went that they did a formal whip count and the votes were not there, so they decided to go for a partial victory, then go back and cover trans folks down the road.
Now keep in mind that Bush has promised to veto the bill and it is extremely unlikely that there will be the votes to override, with or without gender identity in the bill. Thus, the symbolism of what has been going on has taken much greater importance. Almost immediately, almost all of the GLBT groups signed on to a letter opposing the exclusion of transgenders. The HUGE gaping hole was the Human Rights Campaign. They have been twisting themselves in to knots over this. Back in 2004, their Board passed a resolution saying they would only support a trans-inclusive ENDA. Their president re-affirmed that earlier this year and took it a step further, pledging to oppose a non-inclusive bill. When push came to shove they took a neutral position on the bill. The infighting has been pretty spectacular, rumors flying and words hurled. Like any good fight, there is a good backstory.
HRC is simply distrusted by many GLBT activists for their overemphasis on big donor galas and limited grassroots organizing. Not to mention the fact that they have never had a major piece of legislation pass. Now, that is not absolutely their fault, given the fact that we pretty much need a Democratic Congress and President to advance queer rights.
Their neutral stance appears now to be attributable to Barney Frank and the Leadership. Activists have now confirmed that there was no official whip count. It looks like the Leadership did some informal polling of members on the issue, did not like what it saw and decided to strip the T. They totally underestimated the furvor of the community in its opposition to that move. Rumor has it that Frank asked HRC not to oppose the bill and in exchange they would pull the bill for a few weeks, while they figure out ways to make it inclusive. There are now taking the public hit for that move.
If indeed that was the case, was it the right move? Probably, but they should have communicated that down much earlier. They are used to having control of the message and not being challenged independently. They have still not learned how to operate in a world that includes the blogosphere and other GLBT groups with the ability to get their word out virally to activists.
This is ugly, and deeply inside political baseball. However, it is a crucial moment in the quest for legal equality. HRC is obligated to preserve its relationship with the legislators and activists outside their payroll. Thus far it has been way too much of the former and that continues to be a huge sore point within the community. Distrust continues to mount and HRC’s communication or lack there of is coming off as arrogant, thus building on the larger narrative about the organization.