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WEEK OF ‘T’ RIGHTS: Trans protest, confront HRC in Chicago

by Amy Wooten

2007-11-21 Windy City Times - LINK

Last week there was a wide range of events calling attention to transgender issues, from a protest held at an HRC-Chicago event, to a vigil for victims of anti-trans violence, to a rousing trans celebration, and a forum following the screening of the film The Gendercator at the Reeling festival. Images here, of the vigil Sunday night, are by Kat Fitzgerald. Protesting outside the HRC Chicago event, and the HRC panel inside. Photos by Amy Wooten.

More at the link: www.wctimes.com/gayandlesbianimages/TransRemembrance11-2007 and at www.mysticimagesphotography.com

More coverage at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=16707

Following the controversy over Human Right Campaign’s ( HRC ) support of a trans-less Employment Non-Discrimination Act ( ENDA ) , an emotional dialogue took place during a recent Chicago Gender Society ( CGS ) business meeting in which local HRC representatives were guests.

On Nov. 13, CGS chose to have HRC Chicago’s steering committee speak at their regular business meeting. Former CGS president and Illinois Gender Advocate ( IGA ) Chair Stevie Conlon, as well as active members of CGS, IGA, Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) and others protested outside the venue. The peaceful protesters were invited inside to attend the meeting, where a heated and emotional forum took place. The protest was condoned by CGS in an attempt to begin a much-needed dialogue.

An ENDA that excluded gender-identity protections passed the U.S. House of Representatives 235-184 Nov. 7. While 360 state and national organizations joined United ENDA, a coalition calling for an inclusive bill, HRC backed out on its previous promises and supported Rep. Barney Frank’s new, trans-less version of ENDA.

“We are so disappointed,” Conlon told Windy City Times. “I don’t know if HRC is redeemable.”

Throughout the evening, nearly all present expressed extreme disappointment in HRC, saying the national organization has failed the transgender and gender-variant community.

“An ENDA without the inclusion of this community stinks,” said HRC Chicago’s Robert Berry during the meeting. “It’s not what we had in mind. It’s not what we wanted.”

He added that the decision to support ENDA was made above HRC Chicago’s level.

Conlon, who has lobbied with HRC in the past, is disappointed in the organization. “I don’t think they should represent our community anymore because they betrayed us,” she said.

“I was appalled when we had the rug pulled out from under us,” CGS’ Julie Johnson said. “Out of all the people that need ENDA the most, it’s the transgender community.”

Protesters, such as Conlon and IGA’s Cyndi Richards, went so far as to call for the resignation of HRC President Joe Solmonese.

When asked why local HRC representatives did not sign onto United ENDA, despite HRC National’s stance, HRC Chicago’s Dan McCurdy said “splitting off” simply wasn’t an option.

Many present were frustrated by what they perceive as HRC Chicago’s lack of power. “As individuals, you can call on Joe Solmonese to resign,” said GLN’s Andy Thayer. “It’s very simple.”

Despite their personal feelings, local HRC members disagreed. “We can’t make a decision as a Chicago board; we have to do it as a collective,” said HRC Chicago’s Catherine Smith, who personally disagreed with HRC’s decision. “If we want something to change, we have to have this dialogue.”

HRC Chicago’s John Barry said he feels the organization’s long-term goal is an inclusive ENDA. “I do think HRC wants to pass a trans-inclusive ENDA,” Barry said. He received negative feedback when he suggested the national organization backed the trans-less ENDA as part of a “tactical decision.”

Many feel deceived by HRC, and wondered what happened behind the scenes. “I wish I knew what happened in those meetings,” Smith said in response to questions regarding how informed HRC Chicago is. “We were just as surprised as you are. We don’t know, and we’re getting the same mixed messages you are.”

Chicago HRC representatives told the crowd that they have been kept in the dark. Robert Berry said the local steering committee had “no idea” HRC would support the trans-less bill until it was said and done.

However, McCurdy said that HRC National is “well aware” of their personal stances. Many HRC Chicago representatives voiced their disdain for the national organization’s actions. Berry added that state HRC representatives are having similar town hall meetings all across the country to start a dialogue, and that notes taken from the meeting will be delivered to HRC National.

CGS’ Carol Rodgers suggested that since HRC Chicago appears to be powerless, the trans community should cease supporting it. Rodgers proposed that those in the room sever all ties with HRC until it changes its stance. The room filled with wild applause, with nearly everyone standing up in support of her suggestion.

Towards the end of the meeting, Equality Illinois’ Rick Garcia made an appearance, and he was met with cheers and applause. He expressed disappointment in HRC, and mentioned that Illinois has fought to include gender equality in its laws since 1995.

“We were asked to drop certain legislation,” Garcia said. “It was never a discussion. We said ‘No.’ We dug our heels in. Many of us have been working to make sure everyone is protected.

“You stand with those who stand with you. Do not settle for second best. Anyone who doesn’t stand with you, you should never stand with them.”

Robert Berry told the crowd he hoped everyone would continue to work together, despite the frustration, disappointment and tension.

Johnson of CGS implored the steering committee to do everything in their power to demand HRC National to do everything in its power to get an inclusive ENDA passed. “Only when you do that will this community believe you,” Johnson said.


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