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Necessary Evil?

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Civil society’s essential to the democratic process. It’s that nebulous, accessible space between the state and the people in which the masses can rally for or against particular issues. Nailing down a definitive meaning of “civil society” has proven to be a matter of political contention, so we’re going to settle on a fairly well-regarded and flexible definition from the London School of Economics: “Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values”.

The United States constitution reserves a special place for this special social space. Our first amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the [freedom] to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Our democratic process thrives on – and incorporates – a variety of civil organizations, including nonprofits such as Human Rights Campaign.

Arguably one of the most well-known and mainstream gay rights organizations, HRC has come under serious fire over what some activists perceive to be a soft stance on trans rights. As more than 300 activist groups coalesce to fight for a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, HRC refused to actively oppose an orientation-only act. Rather, the group says they’re not supporting it, but hesitates to come out for trans rights, despite the fact they’ve worked on this bill for over three years. So, why’s HRC rolling over? One Washington insider has a theory:

HRC can’t be trusted on this issue. They’re desperate for a legislative victory. They’re as desperate for the victory as the democratic leadership is, because they’re about to kick up their fundraising and they want the gay money.

While that may be true, such an accusation’s only part of the story. And, even if it were the whole truth, it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Not politically, at least.

HRC’s been fighting for an inclusive ENDA since 2004, when it joined other non-profits calling for nothing less than trans-inclusion. The “T” in LGBT would not be dropped, no way, no how. That position fell apart earlier this month when Barney Frank announced that he and his allies didn’t have the votes for the proposed bill.
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In an effort to save some scraps of freedom, Frank said that ENDA would be broken into two bills, one prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and another dealing with gender expression. Queer activists were furious and, under the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s leadership, launched the United ENDA campaign. Members of that coalition have rallied against the exclusionary bill. Frank, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Tammy Baldwin seemed to hear the calls, because they then said they’d mark up the bill and attempt to reunite ENDA and GENDA. That, of course, wasn’t the end of the story.

The shit really started hitting the fan when Frank told us that he can’t muster the votes for an inclusive bill. We should settle, he said. The situation got even stinkier when Speaker Pelosi reportedly told HRC and other organizations that she was going to push a vote on an orientation-only bill. HRC described this move as “unprecedented”. And they’re right. HRC president Joe Solmonese explains:

What the speaker was implying was that at anytime we’re in a position to [vote on an inclusive bill], she would do that.

Her point was that it will go to the floor whenever it’s ready. Now, you could read that as “nothing new” or as “an unprecedented gesture by the Speaker”. It depends on how closely you follow these sorts of legislative fights.

No doubt HRC’s been following Congressional patterns for years. They’re accustomed to legislative battles and putting a political spin on seemingly favorable developments.

Steve Endean founded Human Rights Campaign to explicitly lobby elected officials on gay-related policies. From its inception, about a decade after the formation of more militant non-profits, HRC has worked to build stable, efficient relationships with American politicians. And they’ve had excellent results. Over twenty-five years since its founding, the group’s become the most visible gay rights organization with a whopping budget and even more contacts. They are taking full advantage of our democracy’s civil society. The group spent $260,000 on contracted lobbyists last year, more than any other gay rights organization, many of which don’t even have outside representation. The group’s so ingrained in Washington, in fact, that their primary lobbyist group, the Raben Group – on which HRC spent $120,000 in 2006 – employs two former HRC staffers. What’s more, they share a building with HRC. And, what’s more, Raben Group founder Robert Raben once worked for Barney Frank. Through their massive – and expensive – efforts, HRC’s become the LGBT insider group in Washington. It’s this insider status that makes HRC so powerful – and so powerless.

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By:           Andrew Belonksy
On:           Oct 17, 2007
Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • 14 Comments
    • GranDiva
      GranDiva

      That’s putting things nicely. Frankly, I can’t help believing that HRC is nothing more than a self-aggrandizing figurehead organization, much like the entities that are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. A creature that exists purely to draw attention to itself, and is effective only when they wield that notoriety into shaming people with a big attention grab.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 2:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jonathan
      Jonathan

      I believe that HRC is doing the right thing. Not because I am against an inclusive ENDA, but because we have been trying to get an ENDA passed since 1976. We need to get some momentum and make it okay for folks to cross the aisle. As for it being a money grab by Democrats from the LGBT community, what else is new. They have been taking our money for years based on the fact that they are “better” on our issues. What have we got to show for it? Very little value for our money. You can be mad at HRC for their position, but bear in mind they operate some of the best programs like their Corporate Equality Index that have provided direct benefits to LGBT workers. A hell of alot more than the Democrats have ever delivered to our community.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 3:46 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dcposter
      dcposter

      GranDiva, you would be wrong. Many who are critical of HRC want to believe that our progress came from politicians suddenly waking up and realizing it’s wrong to discriminate against gay people. That’s not how it happened. Our modern political power is a direct result of organizations like HRC that built it. I think referring to HRC as a necessary “evil” is also misguided. That’s like saying allowing right-wing Christians to vote is a necessary evil. It isn’t. It’s Democracy. And in a political system you need politically smart players. Yes, you also need pressure groups who shout a lot, but those groups accomplish nothing but noise unless they have political players on the inside ready to leverage that pressure. In our movement, that’s HRC. And there is no substitute.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 3:52 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ggreen
      ggreen

      I can’t believe they posed for that picture. Nancy looks like a corpse and Joe looks like he works at the funeral parlor. Undertakers and headwaiters in tacky restaurants wear black suits.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 4:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      The civil tone of this essay, and its near [but not total] absence of the cheap cliches and hysteria that have been the ubiquitous symptoms of Mad Tranny Disease the last couple of weeks almost made one think he was visiting a different site. Thank you.

      Similarly your invocation, even knowledge of, the name of HRC[F]‘s founder, Steve Endean, is impressive. But knowing him as I did, I assure you he would not have been in the middle of this stampede over the political cliffs led by Kiesling and Matt “Rev. Jim Jones” Foreman who, as then head of Empire State Pride Agenda, attacked demanding trans-inclusion five years ago in New York’s state job protection legislation—not that you suggested he would.

      But the seriousness of your tone, and the practical truth of much of what you say, is undercut by two things. 1. your parroting the fiction that there are 300+ unique groups in United ENDA [as in not so heavily comprised of overlapping memberships, or counting the same heads multiple times under different organizational names, e.g, GLSEN national and Washington state’s GLSEN or Transgender American Veterans Association national and the Massachusetts Chapter of Transgender American Veterans Association. However, even an honest count would leave a significant number of unique organizations but honesty also demands noting that (a) many of these groups are microscopic in size, and (b) the inclusion of larger groups usually represents only the voice of their leaders not the membership at-large. [Did Foreman take a vote of NGLTF members before jumping on his lavender horse?] As such, we mustn’t confuse unprecedented participation with actual huge numbers. In reality, it is but the ACTIVE voices of but a couple of thousand people.

      Others would debate my math, but who, honestly, can accept the folly of your declaration that “United ENDA … has proven to be just as – if not more – effective as HRC”? Effective at exactly WHAT, pray tell? So far it is only sound and fury. Only time will tell if it signifies more than that.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 5:23 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Heather_L_James
      Heather_L_James

      Ggreen, Joe isn’t wearing a “black suit”, it’s called a tuxedo, the male attire of choice at formal functions, like annual dinners such as the one at which said photograph was taken. Generally tuxedos that aren’t black can only be worn by rappers and rock stars, not presidents of political lobbies.

      Leland, what planet are you on? The only name missing from UnitedENDA is HRC. Also, effective at what, you ask? Hmm, how about Tammy Baldwin’s proposed amendment? And as far as your assertion that these thousands of people are misrepresenting the rest of the LGB community, what about the poll over at washblade.com? I suppose the great purveyors of the transpiracy rigged that, too?

      The course is already set in motion. If Rep. Baldwin does have the support like she says she does, then the gender identity language will be returned to ENDA, if she doesn’t it wont. Either way you and your precious hollow victory will be intact. There is no excuse for inflammatory rhetoric like “mad tranny disease”, other than to demean a group of people. That, Leland, is known as bigotry.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 6:15 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • logical1
      logical1

      According to Leland Frances: “even an honest count would leave a significant number of unique organizations but honesty also demands noting that (a) many of these groups are microscopic in size, and (b) the inclusion of larger groups usually represents only the voice of their leaders not the membership at-large.” 2 points: 1. I would challenge you to show me when HRC ever polled its members to determine any course of action. 2. If an individual buys a bracelet or sticker, according to HRC that makes them a “Member” we are to believe that makes them fully supportive of all HRC actions and decisions? The 600k HRC member number is so over inflated that it begs the question of fundamental honesty. You cannot call these other organizations unrepresentative while attempting to defend HRC’s misrepresentation. You should practice honesty yourself Leland. What you will find from that list of 319 groups is a broad cross-section of every part of the American landscape: big, small, country, urban, metropolitan, etc. all united, all grassroots. HRC isn’t even united within its own ranks… and with their artful duplicity, what sound is that making?

      Oct 17, 2007 at 7:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      Congratulations, Heather, on your ability to distinguish between a black suit and a tuxedo. Alas, your political insight remains astigmatic and your perceptions dimmed by purposely squinting at the facts, even what I wrote.

      We repeat: the number of organizational names on the inflated and auto-fellated United ENDA list has only relative relevance. What matters, particularly in the long run, is how many actual people represented. Perhaps you’re speaking of another one, but “the poll over at washblade.com” that I’ve seen only indicates the PERCENTAGE of people who have voted, not the numbers that have voted. While a sizable majority PERCENTAGE say “stick together [AKA “all or nothing”],” we still know zero of its significance. 7800 out of 10,000 voting would be significant. But 78 out of 100 would be meaningless. And, as this is an online poll which can, at best, attempt to limit repeated voting via IP addresses, we could just as easily assume that, say, 77 of those votes were from you. I’ve seen other online polls on other subjects when, overnight, thousands of votes have been counted that defied logic of the number of people who would be interested in voting period. Online voting/head counting is notoriously unscientific. The myspace page of gay media whore Reichen Lehmkuhl currently claims 1,981,042 “friends.” Are we to believe that, too, just because it says it?

      Though there’s just as much argument that you’re demonstrating the logical fallacy, “post hoc ergo propter hoc”/”after this therefore because of this,” I have no problem giving credit to the clamoring horde for Baldwin’s amendment. Your most cogent point, however, is that words in proposed legislation, like wishful thinking, are, by themselves, powerless. It’s the votes, and, I don’t care whether you believe me, I hope she/we gets them. That this time a month from now or even a year from now we have a trans-inclusive LAW.

      But, no, ma petite Heather, what you call “inflammatory rhetoric” I call an attempt to check the flames of rhetorical arson on sanity and our allies that you, among many others, have resorted to. I demean no group but the actions and antics of same. That is not bigotry any more than calling a child childish.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 7:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      Fuck off and die IL-logical1. Where did I defend HRC’s numbers? If you Google “Leland Frances” and “HRC” you find that, with rare exception, I have denounced them acrpss the NET for any number of reasons. I agree with them about ENDA but a broken clock is right twice a day, too. In fact, I hope this controversy finally leads to their entire reorganization, with multiple overpaid heads rolling, but it would be the right thing for the WRONG reason.

      As for difference in their own ranks on ENDA, that is not unique nor all in the the way you’d prefer. The president of GLAA Washington led his group to sign onto United ENDA but has since editorialized that he thinks the “all or nothing” strategy is “nuts,” as has, effectively, the editor and former editor of the “Washington Blade,” further suggesting that any remotely valid poll pf tjeor readership appearing there is unlikely to be so lopsided in the direction of “all or nothing” AKA “we dont’ get jobs—NOBODY gets jobs.”

      Oct 17, 2007 at 7:24 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Bill Perdue
      Bill Perdue

      “The civil tone of this essay, and its near [but not total] absence of the cheap cliches and hysteria that have been the ubiquitous symptoms of Mad Tranny Disease the last couple of weeks almost made one think he was visiting a different site. Thank you.” Leland Frances Posted: Oct 17, 2007 at 5:23 pm

      “Fuck off and die IL-logical1″ Leland Frances Oct 17, 2007 at 7:24 pm

      Tourettes Syndrome. Take your antipsychotics Frances, and get some rest.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 9:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      Aren’t you late for a fellow Stalinists convention, Perdue? Like 50 years….

      Oct 17, 2007 at 9:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Matt
      Matt

      If the religious right had known that the question of including transgender persons in an ENDA would tear apart the gay community the way we’re watching on this site, the republicans would’ve introduced it back in the mid-90s. Sigh.

      Oct 17, 2007 at 9:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tara
      Tara

      Matt. You are absolutely correct. There is a lot of issues in the greater GLBT community. Rifts between each letter. Everyone has an agenda. It is very sad.

      Oct 18, 2007 at 7:27 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • drjillygirl
      drjillygirl

      I really enjoyed this article, and I think the analysis is quite keen. I have a lot of transgender friends who are pretty pissed off at HRC, and I think we have just cause to be critical. At the same time, I’m glad HRC and its donors have the time, effort and money to make the connections, and yet the author is right-on in saying they’ve been co-opted by the system. I think if they hadn’t encouraged Barney Frank, we wouldn’t be in this mess. One thing I’m thankful for though: I’m glad that they have the good graces enough to be embarassed when called on the duplicity that passes for pragmatism in Washington.

      And I wonder if the events that occurred aren’t for the best from my perspective. With the Baldwin Amendment, there will be discussion of transgender identity. I want members of Congress who ARE educated on these issues to stand up and say what gender identity is. I want them to define what transgender means. I want them to talk about the study that shows that most transgender people don’t have co-occuring mental illness. I want them to talk about the dozen or so transgender K-12 teachers in this country who haven’t caused shock and trauma among their pupils (and there are no reported cases of any who have). I want them to explain how a company can easily and comfortably accommodate a transgender employee, that there are thousands of such cases all over the country, and that 150 Fortune 500 companies have added gender identity to their company policies. They should talk about how the European Union countries, Canada, Australia, Spain and others have accommodated transgender people without the skies falling. I want to be seen and I want to be known.

      More discussion at my blog: http://transworkplace.blogspot.com/2007/10/do-i-want-baldwin-amendment.html

      Oct 22, 2007 at 8:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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