Community. Integrity. Leadership. Vision. These are the foundational pillars of Equality. These are the values that draw many of us into advocacy roles. Those tenets provide a clear roadmap when things like politics, expediency, agenda, and power cloud the picture as they so often do. They pave the way to the moral high-ground, and those who follow them with trust and patience will ultimately find their efforts rewarded.
My name is Donna Rose, and I am the first and only openly transgender member of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Campaign. I am the national co-chair for Diversity. I am the co-chair appointee-elect for the Business Council. I have spoken at events around the country on behalf of the organization, and I am a respected advocate for the transgender community.
My participation on the HRC Board has been a heavy burden. The relationship between HRC and the transgender community is one scarred by betrayal, distrust, and anger. I have become a focal point for much of that frustration and I accepted that responsibility with the hope that I could help to change it. In some very real ways I think I have been able to do that, or at least to help make that happen, and am tremendously proud of all we have achieved.
HRC has done some wonderful work to support the transgender community. Workplaces around the country are recognizing the unique challenges faced by transgender employees and are moving in record numbers to protect them as valued members of an inclusive workforce. Educational tools to help demystify our lives and to provide a human perspective have paved to way to a better understanding of who we are and our challenges. We have set high standards and we have held others accountable to them. The question at hand is whether we, as an organization, hold ourselves accountable to those same high expectations.
Transgender is not simply the 'T' in GLBT. It is people who, for one reason or another, may not express their gender in ways that conform to traditional gender norms or expectations. That covers everyone from transsexuals, to queer youth, to feminine acting men, to masculine appearing women. It is a broad label that cannot be confined to a specific silo of people. It is anyone who chooses to live authentically. To think that the work that we are doing on behalf of the entire GLBT community simply benefits or protects part of us is to choose a simplistic view of a complex community. In a very real way, the T is anyone who expresses themselves differently. To some it is about gender. To me, it is about freedom.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a core piece of legislation. It would guarantee that GLBT people will not get fired from their jobs because of discrimination and prejudice. It makes a strong statement that discrimination of any kind is unacceptable, and it recognizes the critical role of employment and career as something more than simply a paycheck. It is a source of pride, of achievement, of belonging, of security, and in a very real way it is a validation of person-hood.
Unemployment and under-employment is the single most significant issue facing transgender people today. The high-profile case of Susan Stanton, city manager from Largo, FL who was fired early this year after an exemplary 17-year career there simply because she was outed as being transgender, demonstrates the continuing experience that many of us continue to face each and every day in workplaces around this country. Although workplaces have made tremendous strides in enacting supportive policy, bad things still happen and the overall message being sent is that we're somehow expendable. In years past these things happened quietly, going unnoticed. Those days are numbered.
That's why ENDA is so important. It is more than simply a statement that it's not ok to fire GLBT people for reasons unrelated to work performance. It's a statement that we are a community. It's recognition of people who may not express their gender in traditional ways does not affect a person's ability to contribute as simply another part of a diverse workforce. It's a validation of those foundational pillars that line the moral high ground. And, it's recognition that each of us has value, and none of us will be left behind.
The current situation regarding ENDA is nothing short of a politically misguided tragedy. A tool that could and should be a unifying beacon on the heels of the historic passage of fully inclusive Hate Crime legislation has been split. Transgender brothers and sisters again find themselves separated, isolated, and disempowered. People in positions of power have decided that their personal legacy and the promise of political expediency are more important than protecting our entire beautiful community. The time is here to make a strong statement to demonstrate to them that they are wrong.
In 2004 the HRC Board voted to support only fully-inclusive Federal legislation. That decision paved the way to my participation with the organization, and was a significant step in the healing process. Since that time we have worked together tirelessly towards a goal of Equality for all. Less than a month ago HRC President Joe Solmonese stood before almost 900 transgender people at the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta to pledge ongoing support and solidarity. In his keynote address he indicated that not only would HRC support only a fully inclusive ENDA, but that it would actively oppose anything less. That single pledge changed hearts and minds that day, and the ripple affect throughout the transgender community was that we finally were one single GLBT community working together. Sadly, recent events indicate that those promises were hollow.
An impressive coalition of local and national organizations has lined up to actively oppose the divisive strategy that would leave some of our brothers and sisters without workplace protections. This effort has galvanized community spirit and commitment in ways few could have imagined, and it has demonstrated to those who would divide us that anything less than full inclusion is unacceptable Organization after organization has seized the moral high ground knowing that this is a historic opportunity that cannot be squandered, and that it is our moral obligation to ourselves and to generations that will follow to make a loud, clear, unmistakable statement that we are a community and we will not be divided. There is a single significant organization glaringly missing from that list. The Human Rights Campaign has chosen not to be there.
It is impossible to remove passion and emotion from what has happened. Indeed, those are the fuels that propel us. That being said please know that this entire situation has affected me deeply and profoundly. Still, I will not sling mud at the organization to who I have given my heart, my energies, and my trust. I will not give in to my frustration and disappointment that Joe's words of less than a month ago have proven to be hollow promises. This unfortunate turn of events has forced me to make some very difficult personal decisions about integrity, character, community, and leadership. Although I can find any number of logical and personal reasons to continue in my capacity as a board member, I cannot escape the moral implications of the decision before me. Using that as my guide, as difficult as it is for me to make, the decision is an obvious one.
I hereby submit my resignation from my post on the Board of the Human Rights Campaign effective Monday Oct. 8, 2007. I call on other like-minded board members, steering committee leaders, donors, corporate sponsors, and volunteers to think long and hard about whether this organiz
ation still stands for your values and to take decisive action as well. More than simply a question of organization policy, this is a test of principle and integrity and although it pains me greatly to see what has happened it is clear to me that there can only be one path. Character is not for compromise. I cannot align myself with an organization that I can't trust to stand-up for all of us. More than that, I cannot give half-hearted support to an organization that has now chosen to forsake the tenets that have guided my efforts from day one.
I align myself and my energies with the groundswell of community sentiment that has universally stood to oppose this divisive strategy. I wish my friends and colleagues from the Human Rights Campaign the best, and I expect that time will prove their decision to take a neutral stance and to fracture our community to be short-sighted and misguided. I accept the notion that we all want the same thing. It's just that I couldn't disagree more with this destructive strategy to get there. I urge the board and the leadership to reconsider their position and the join a unified community that supports a single all-inclusive bill.
History teaches painful lessons. Any celebration of rights gained at the expense of others is not a celebration. It is a failure of effective leadership. It is to offer the promise of a tomorrow that you know in your heart will never come. It is to choose to turn your back on those who need you most, who do not have the voice or the stature to speak for themselves.
The time is here for leaders to lead, for those who say they stand for community to act forcefully and with purpose. Anything less is to forsake the pillars of Equality for the empty promise of something less. The word that we have for that in our language is “Courage”. It's the kind of courage it takes for GLBT people to show up for work each and every day, living authentically, wondering if that will be their last day. I call on my brothers and sisters at the Human Rights Campaign, for Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Frank, and for equality-minded leaders everywhere to lead by example and to do the right thing.
In Solidarity for Equality,
This painful wound must be healed. The real enemy is the right — have we forgotten this? Have the people on the Hill forgotten this?
To turn on one another advances nothing. HRC, no matter what opinion one holds of the org, these folks do the work on the Hill. Where did the gauging of ENDA as a do-able priority (say over DADT repeal, which seems much more do-able), gain traction?
In any case, this whole “family fight,” is undermining the long view of equality. There are no winners in this kind of a backstabbing event, where LGBs can be seen doling out horrible anti-T bigotry in the comments of blogs. I can only hope that Donna will reconsider this decision, but I have great respect for her efforts to represent the T perspective to the HRC board.
We’re at a where-do-we-go-from-here moment — everyone is pointing fingers.