What Next?
Post ENDA: Lessons Learned and Moving Forward...


My email in-box is an interesting place.  I wish people live in it for a day or two.  I sometimes joke that it has grown a life of its own that's far more interesting than my own life, but it is certainly a place of diverse people, diverse thought, and diverse expression.  More than anything, though, I think it's a place of diverse emotion.  People write to share their hopes and fears, their questions, their triumphs and losses, their sadness, and their joy.

There have been a couple of consistent themes in my email lately.  And although I am trying to keep my writing as HRC/ENDA Free Zones as best I can I'll have to put that effort aside for this discussion. I suppose I'll start by saying that the transgender community is not defined (or dependent) on any one organization, piece of political legislation, cause, person, issue, ally or enemy.  For some it might appear otherwise sometimes, but in the scheme of things - we're more than any one single thing.  It's important to remember that.


Where the Heck are we Now?

The first theme people write me about is one of ongoing bubbling anger and frustration towards the Human Rights Campaign.  I understand.  I'll try to keep this discussion focused on issues and questions rather than on emotions and reactions.  Really, there's nothing more to say about it that hasn't already been said by someone. There was a time when I would have done what I could to defend the organization by providing a different perspective but I don't have that other perspective anymore so there's nothing I can say.

At this point in time, where neither ENDA or Hate Crime legislation has yet been signed into law (and may not be if the President holds true to his threat to veto them) there are very real concerns about the working relationship between HRC and the rest of the GLBT advocacy community going forward.  They burned every bridge behind them on the march to be on the "winning" side of ENDA so there is no way to get back to where they were before.  More pertinent to this discussion is the relationship it will have with any group or individual who can speak with authority about transgender issues at a time when both are in need of leadership in that regard the most.  I'm sure they'll find somebody - they're very resourceful - but at a time when they need community support and direction there is none to be found.

The board policy decision from August 2004 to support only trans-inclusive legislation is pretty much roadkill at this point so it would be appropriate to ask where, exactly, do things stand with HRC?  Do they have an "official" board-supported policy with regards to the transgender community at this point other than to allow Joe to make whatever deals he feels he needs to make to seal the deal?  If so, what is it?  Or, have we reverted back to some pre-2004 position where, although we didn't like the position we at least knew what it was?  So, where does that leave things?  Beats me.

Policy.  That's a bit of a curious word right now.  What's the point in having one if it changes with the wind?  There's a world of difference between setting your policy and actually following it.  Somehow, I can't help but think of this Seinfeld clip about making a reservation for a rental car.

In a nutshell, that's how I'm feeling about this whole situation.  They took the reservation - they just didn't hold it which, as Jerry so effectively indicates, is really the most important part.  It's the holding that counts.

Many people are looking for ways to express their anger and I have seen any number of what I'd categorize as "destructive" strategies.  Many want to weaken or attack HRC as a punishment for what they've done, or for what others perceive they have done.  All I can say on this is that I support people expressing themselves but I'd caution them to carefully consider what they expect or hope the outcome will be.  Although it certainly provides an outlet for all the pent-up feelings of betrayal, to attack simply or the sake of attacking seems counter-productive to me.  There's a difference between disengaging and focusing energies elsewhere in the hopes we can find other avenues that will provide constructive results and pouring that energy into attacking part of our community. 

When it comes to non-profit advocacy your money is your vote.  To give money is to say that you approve of what the organization is doing and that you will continue to support it. The more money you give, the bigger your vote.  If people really want to make a difference they'll find the major donors in their area and try to meet with them - face to face - to have substantive, respectful, topic-based discussions.  Major donors need to call HRC leadership.  I assure you - if enough major donors express their concern or unhappiness about the lack of credibility and trust that recent events have caused and even threaten to withhold their financial support there will be a move to address it.  Or, if an entire HRC dinner gets cancelled because the planning committee takes a principled stand I assure you HRC will hear that.  On the flip side, however, if the money flow remains basically unaffected by all that has happened it will remain business as usual.

I also get a smattering of mail expressing a significant level of disenfranchisement from the entire GLB community.  One recent note was titled "Why do gays dislike TG's?".  I understand this, too.  And although I don't blame that ridiculous but harmful poll that HRC did that they said indicates 70% of GLBT Americans supported a non-inclusive ENDA over no ENDA for causing the fracture I do blame HRC for effectively exacerbating  it. 

For the record, I do not buy into the mentality that the GLB community as a whole believes this or supports this strategy.  I continue to believe a much as I ever did that our fates are inextricably intertwined and that we MUST move forward together.  If anything, the outpouring of concern and anger I've seen from my GLB brothers and sisters demonstrates to me a deeper understanding of what has happened than perhaps other get to see or that mere number-manipulating would indicate. 


Where Do we Go from Here?

The other consistent theme is, "What Next?"  That's a good question. Needless to say, I have some thoughts on the subject.  Part of my response involves HRC because it's unrealistic to think that anything involving GLBT legislation at the Federal Level can somehow bypass them.  That won't happen so if that's something we want or need we'll need to find a way to get past what has happened.  However, part of my response recognizes what has happened and calls for a different strategy - one that can be implemented without them.

1.  An Apology

2: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret <a public apology>

I recently did an interview with the Dallas Voice and they asked, so I shared (read it here).  I responded that, in terms of HRC, what needs to happen before significant healing can begin (in my opinion) is a personal apology to the entire community from HRC President Joe Solmonese.  Don't sell us on strategy, rationalizations, intentions, justification, spin, excuses, or anything could could be construed as propaganda.  Don't patronize us with more promises when you didn't keep the last ones.  Own up to the fact that promises that were made were broken.  Period.  End of story.  That necessarily requires an apology and refusal to own up to that indicates that they're not ready to heal yet.  In my world, it's that simple.

I'd go a step further by saying that the more time that passes without an apology the less impact one is likely to have as it implies that it was done out of duress, and not out of realization of the actual need for one.  If Joe needs to funnel this through his communications people, work on the wording, and sculpt it to a point where it loses any semblance of the personal nature it requires then he may as well just forget it.  It'll do more harm to him and to HRC than good.


2.  Find (or Build) Other Partnerships

The transgender community has been joining GLBT efforts around the country, and we've established personal relationships with people, organizations, and causes that transcend advocacy.  That's what makes this so difficult for so many of us - that the people we've met through these efforts have become more than simply acquaintances.  When people we have come to consider to be "friends" can justify what has happened, although they can sometimes sympathize, it's easy to construe support for this divisive strategy as a personal betrayal.  For those who find a significant portion of our social worlds are based upon relationships developed through an organization or a cause the thought of excising that from our lives leaves a huge hole.  That hole needs to be filled.

There are many ways to fill it, and in fact it's often a healthy process.  You're forced to broaden your scope and your sphere of interaction.  One place to look is a local Youth Center.  If you work with kids for very long you'll find all this political stuff to be so mundane - the courage of these kids is amazing.  PFLAG rocks and needs your support.  If you don't have a transgender group that's active as an advocacy organization it's good to start one that can then partner with other organizations in your area.  Join non-GLBT efforts: volunteer your time, take classes, share your story, find opportunities to speak about your journey.  There are many ways to fill that void that often involve moving outside of your comfort zone.

Efforts where HRC had been asked to engage as a partner in the past - Southern Comfort Career Expo, trans conferences, education efforts - are already looking for other partners and I will do what I can to make sure they find them.  Rightly or wrongly - that's reality right now and I expect it will provide opportunities for others that didn't exist 3 months ago.  The chill factor that has taken hold is very real and to choose to ignore that is to choose to live in a fantasy-land.  The good news is that there are, indeed, other partners waiting in the wings which is proof that when one door closes another opens is sometimes true.

I expect to have more to share on this in coming weeks.  My own personal learning from all of this is that we've allowed a single organization to own efforts that have a profound impact on our day-to-day well being.  We have empowered them - me included - to the point where failure to support us politically has much deeper and far-reaching implications in other aspects of our lives.  We can choose to accept that and continue as we have, or we can choose to change that dynamic by owning those efforts ourselves.


3.  Think Locally

Since we can't count on HRC or Congress to do it at the Federal level we need to own helping to make that happen at the local level.  We need to begin passing mini ENDA's in companies, cities, towns, counties, and states across the country.  The bulk of UnitedENDA is comprised of local organizations from around the country and we need to get engaged and to help them move the ball forward where we live.

How?  The most important name to know is Lisa Mottet.  Lisa is the attorney who heads the Transgender Civil Rights Project for the Task Force and is involved in most of these efforts around the country.  She can tell you what the wording is in legislation where you live, what it needs to be, what efforts may be underway to change it, and who you might be able to engage to get that to happen.  Lisa's email is lmottet@thetaskforce.org and she is truly a champion for us.  Write to her.  Engage her.  Work with her.  Come to the Creating Change Conference in February and meet her (and me).

This is the strategy that those opposing gay marriage have employed.  Since they couldn't get a Constitutional Amendment passed at the national level they embarked on a systematic effort to make it happen at the state and local level.  State after state has passed laws defining marriage and imposing even more odious restrictions on the rights of gay couples.  The take away is that if you can't get what you need at a national level you've still got more avenues - perhaps even better avenues - at the local level.

This just happened last week in Montgomery County in Maryland:

Mont. Co. approves trans bias bill
Bars discrimination in housing, employment, accommodations

November14, 2007 - Montgomery County has approved a law that bars discrimination against transgender residents and workers, overcoming objections raised by several conservative groups.

Council members voted 8-0 on Tuesday to “prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, cable television service and taxicab service on the basis of gender identity.”

The law becomes effective 90 days after being signed by County Executive Isiah Leggett, which he’s expected to do before month’s end.

Dana Beyer, who is transgender and works for Montgomery County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, praised the vote.

“I’m thrilled that it was unanimous,” she told the Blade moments after the measure passed. “It’s very touching.”

Beyer said the measure also would give new momentum to similar efforts elsewhere.

“I think it’s a day of celebration,” she said. “It’s another step toward getting these protections on the state level and on the national level.”

Read the article here - Washington Blade

And this is happening this week:

SCOTTSDALE - Scottsdale's Personnel Board on Monday unanimously voted to recommend that the city protect gays and transgender people from discrimination in City Hall.

The vote addressed the first of a three-part ordinance that includes a proposal to require Scottsdale businesses and contractors to offer protection for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

Of the handful of residents who attended the hearing, two said they opposed the plan. advertisement

Resident Roger A. Van Camp said that such "deviant behavior" was a "choice" that did not deserve legal protection.

"Where does it stop?" Van Camp said. "Then you would have to include pedophiles and sexual offenders. It's abominable to me."

Personnel Board chairwoman Eula Dean said she first struggled with the issue 20 years ago.

"I can recall when it was not popular to use people of color," she said. "I look to the policy to protect all people at all times in order to make a safe community for all people at all times."

Scottsdale already prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age and physical disability. If approved by the City Council on Dec. 4, the city will add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected classes of people.

Read the article here - Arizona Republic, Nov. 17 2007

As did this:

Palm Beach County Votes to End Transgender Discrimination

The Palm Beach County, Fla., board of commissioners voted Tuesday to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on gender identity or expression, according to a press release from the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Jeff Koons, board vice chairman, initiated the proposal to amend the county's Equal Employment Ordinance and Fair Housing Ordinance at the request of the Human Rights Council. In late May, council president Rand Hoch requested that Koons take the lead in urging the county commissioners to amend the two nondiscrimination ordinances. "No one should be fired, harassed, or denied promotion simply because they don't fit the stereotypes for masculinity or femininity," Hoch told Koons at the time, according to the release.

Read the article here - Advocate.com, Nov. 21 2007

These things don't happen by themselves.  They happen because local people approach their local advocacy groups and/or local politicians, they find champions, they provide the case to pass these protections, they educate, and they make it happen.  The people making it happen could be you or people you know. Often, it is ordinary people motivated to do extraordinary things and, in a very real sense these people are heroes.  The place it happens could be where you live, or where you work.  The fact of the matter is that we can't take the failure of being included at the national level kill efforts to make the right thing happen locally.  It may change the strategy a bit, but once all is said and done the cultural shift necessary to implement what ENDA represents won't happen through legislation.  It will happen through education and the work we do locally will be the catalyst.

I'm making it my mission to create a packet that people can use to begin the process where they live.  It's a packet similar to the one we used in Austin to make it happen.  And, it will arm you with what you need to get this going where you live, as well.

Think globally, act locally.  And, know that time is on our side.



I have stopped trying to guess what's going to happen.  Other than Death, there are no guarantees.

In my professional life I'm an IT project manager and one of the key skills in that role is to manage risk.  The goal is to limit dependencies as much as possible, especially if those dependencies have a potential for determining your ultimate success or failure.  If you rely on those dependencies, you lose control of your own destiny.  You give it away to someone who may not be as motivated as you are.  They may have other priorities, other agendas.  So, good project managers minimize risk by minimizing dependency.

For those who are inclined to be involved in advocacy efforts that's a key learning from recent ENDA history.  We need to own our future far more than we have in the past.  We have relied on organizations and people who, at the 11th hour, were not there for us.  They are promising to be there for us at some point in the future but frankly, I'm not going to make that same mistake twice.  Be there or don't be there, but either way the trust element is gone.  Instead, refocusing in other directions is the name of the game now.  Educate.  Continued advances in the workplace.  Thinking locally.  Creating new partnerships.  Own our success in ways we haven't in the past.  These are all positive, constructive things that needed to happen anyway.  And, outside of that - we can only control so much. 

I have not lost faith.  I refuse to become bitter.  I read the Serenity Prayer every day and I know that these are things we can change.  And we will.


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posted 11/21/2007