The HRC working on trans equalityBottom Highlights, Trans Progressive Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Commentary: Trans Progressive
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) bills itself as the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the U.S., but it has a reputation of not being trans friendly. In the 110th Congress (2007/2008), the HRC was the only LGBT civil rights organization that supported the non-trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) put forward in 2007 by congressional leadership. And recently there was an incident at the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) rally in Washington, D.C. involving a trans man holding a trans flag on the speaker stage and an HRC staffer asking the man three times to leave the stage with the flag because “marriage equality isn’t a transgender issue.” Marriage equality very much is a trans issue – a component of the discussion that hasn’t been messaged.
But the HRC has been recently working on trans issues in a way most trans people aren’t aware of, and if I could fault them on this aspect of their work is that they’re not highlighting it enough to the trans community. Being more vocal and transparent about their trans work is one of the ways that the HRC can build trust with trans people.
June 19 the governor of Delaware signed an anti-discrimination and hate crimes protection law based on gender identity. Field organizers Sarah Warbelow and Karl Bach were dispatched by the HRC to work on both that bill and the state’s marriage equality bill. Their strategy included working with local organizers, such as the Equality Delaware coalition (a coalition led by unpaid staffers Lisa Goodwin and Mark Purpura), and their tactics included keeping the gender identity bill as much as possible below the radar. They had trans people, such as trans men Jay and Matthew, who quietly organized community and allies to support the bill.
By quietly organizing on the gender identity bill, the opposition “heat” was almost exclusively directed at the marriage equality bill, and therefore representatives in both of their legislative branch houses were not deluged with anti-transgender emails, phone calls or snail mail.
The HRC raised money specifically to work on the gender identity bill, and hired six additional contract field organizers. The eight organizers began mobilizing on the ground in January. They used the human infrastructure for the marriage equality bill to go back to the same legislators, who were lobbied and voted for the marriage equality bill, to message that the gender equality bill was also an equality bill. And, 5,000 lobbying communications with legislators were logged for the gender identity bill; those included emails, postcards and in-person lobbying of Delaware legislators. The HRC field organizers also trained those in-person lobbyists prior to them visiting their legislators, and trained people how to write concise letters to the editor of local publications in support of the gender identity bill.
By staying low key, the coalition working on the gender identity bill didn’t have to deal with the “bathroom bill” meme. To sate the arguments by the concerns some legislators had about facilities with unavoidable nudity – such as locker rooms – the bill spelled out that trans people could not be required to use a facility that conflicted with their gender identities; however, reasonable accommodations could be made. So if a business, such as a gym, only had male and female facilities, then a trans person could be accommodated by being provided a curtain to change behind in the facility that corresponded to the trans person’s gender identity as a legal allowed public accommodation.
And it’s not like this is the first time the HRC has worked on trans anti-discrimination legislation. They provided field organizers and/or other resources to combat the Arizona “papers to pee” legislation, as well as providing field organizers and/or other resources toward passing anti-discrimination legislation in Maryland and New York – states where we haven’t as yet achieved antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity, but without a doubt will achieve in the future.
The HRC is actively working on achieving ordinary equality for trans people. Having the best funded, largest LGBT organization working for trans equality can’t be seen as anything but a great thing – especially when seen in the light of the big victory for trans equality in Delaware.
Frankly, I’m delighted to highlight the HRC’s efforts on transgender issues. These need to be highlighted for so many reasons, but especially because if the HRC is to build trust with the trans community, trans people need to know what the HRC is doing with and for them.
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