The headline says it all!
Last week we published three conversations with three of Barack Obama’s gay advocates, including business man and former HRC board member Stampp Corbin. The following ENDA-related excerpt didn’t make it because – well, it wasn’t pertinent at the time.
In light of this weekend’s HRC protest and the larger political context, we’d like to share Corbin’s ideas on the tensions between grassroots and institutionalized activism.
It’s definitely worth a read – for those of you who get off on DC’s back rooms, at least.
Andrew Belonsky: With regard to your past with the Human Rights Campaign – what’s your opinion on the role of such lobbying groups in Washington? Do you think that they become institutions?
Stampp Corbin: Of course they should become institutions!
AB: In becoming institutions, do they become too ingrained in the corridors of Washington to really speak for the people?
SC: That depends on the organizations. HRC has over 700,000 people who contribute to them and those people voice their opinions through emails or board meetings – there are vehicles for their voices to be heard. However, occasionally controversial issues comes about – ENDA, for example.
There are some people who think we should move in incrementally – get what you can get, save who you can save at this point – and there are others who say “It’s all or nothing.” Those two scenarios – and I’m not valuing either one, I’m just painting a picture of the issue – if you go for the all or nothing policy and say, “It has to be trans inclusive or nothing” and then the next year a woman gets fired from a restaurant for being a lesbian in Ohio and she goes to her representative… What does a liberal Senator or Congress person say to her when she asks, “Why didn’t you pass ENDA at any cost? Why did you have to wait for trans-inclusion? Now I have no job and I have no recourse”.
Conversely, if we pass a non-trans inclusive ENDA and a transgendered person who works in Cincinnati, Ohio and they go to their liberal politician and say, “How could you have done this to me: pass legislation that wasn’t trans-inclusive. I got fired from my job.” It’s a no win situation. It’s Sophie’s Choice and we’re setting up Sophie’s Choice. The leaders of our community are buying into all of that and it’s a no win. Which one do you send to the gas chambers? You’re never going to be happy with the choice.
AB: How do we get past that?
SC: Unfortunately, it’s a hard decision, but someone has to make it. And that’s what the leaders in our community need to be able to coalesce around and they need to paint it as Sophie’s Choice and have everyone understand it’s Sophie’s Choice, because a decision has to be made. If we do nothing, everyone gets hurt.
AB: So, as somebody who’s familiar with the way Washington works – how can make the politicians want to save both “children”?
SC: All the organizations across the nation working collectively to get supportive legislators elected and legislators elected. We need legislators who are going to support a trans-inclusive ENDA.
When people were throwing darts at HRC, I said, “Oh, so every single legislator in your state in Congress is voting for this? If the answer to that question is ‘Yes,’ you have every right to call out HRC.” If the answer to that question is ‘no,’ then you have plenty of work to do in your own state – if you got three or four more legislators in your state to agree, then nationally it would pass”. HRC does part of the work – it is a joint effort between local organizations and federal organizations.
We’re all the same page, we all have roles to play and executing those roles. These protests are foolish. I would no more try to bring down the NAACP than I would poke a hot poker in my eye. Yes, I disagree with some of these things that they do, but I know ultimately that that’s inside baseball between African-Americans and NAACP. I’m not going to play that out publicly and go protest an organization that is fighting for my rights, day in and day out. But, that said, I understand where those people are coming from.