Sunday, July 06, 2008

HRC SF Protest

I was moving during Pride weekend, but this, I can do, any in SF, would love to see you there!

Officials announce HRC dinner boycott
Published 06/26/2008
by Zak Szymanski

A handful of San Francisco's LGBT elected and appointed officials – joined by more than a dozen gay, youth, housing, and labor activists – gathered at the LGBT Community Center on Tuesday, June 24 with a message that they said was in the spirit of unity and LGBT Pride: Boycott the Human Rights Campaign's fundraising dinner next month.

The news conference was held in part to announce that Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Bevan Dufty were introducing a resolution calling for a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes gender identity protections. An inclusive ENDA – the result of years of coalition work – was pulled from the U.S. House of Representatives last year in favor of a bill that protected sexual orientation only, reportedly due to a lack of congressional support for protecting transgender people in the workplace.

Over 350 LGBT organizations nationwide refused to endorse the non-inclusive ENDA. The groups emphasized that transgender people suffer from a high rate of unemployment, but they also noted that excluding gender identity put anyone who did not conform to gender norms at risk for discrimination. Only HRC supported a bill without gender identity protections, and it did so, according to many involved with the ENDA process, without consulting other community groups.

"I really do have a lot of bitterness and anger toward HRC's lack of vision and transparency," said Ammiano, who also distributed the recent IRS filings for HRC, which showed HRC President Joe Solmonese making $259,096, and several other directors earning over $120,000.

Ammiano added that HRC's support of a non-inclusive ENDA "really does reflect their uneasiness with this issue. And if they're so uneasy ... I'm not sure they should be making the decisions for our community."

Tuesday's press conference also served as an opportunity for Dufty, Ammiano, and other officials – including Police Commission President Theresa Sparks and state Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) to declare that they would be boycotting HRC's San Francisco dinner on July 26, and they encouraged other officials and community leaders to do the same.

Dufty, who noted that he has attended nearly every HRC dinner since the 1980s, said he objected to HRC's decision last year to proceed with a bill that did not reflect the work of the entire community. He also took issue with HRC characterizing the move as "strategic," because at a certain point it became clear that the bill would be vetoed by President Bush anyway, "and still the decision was made – for reasons I don't accept – to move forward without gender identity."

"On July 26 I'm going to be in my kitchen," said Dufty, announcing that he would be hosting an after-party for those attending the "Left Out" protest that night.

The Left Out protest – organized by Pride at Work and other groups – bills itself as "a large, fun alternative party outside of the Westin St Francis, with gender-bending spectacles, signs, entertainment, stickers, and our own awards and accolades."

HRC has responded to the San Francisco boycott by issuing an open letter running in the LGBT press. The letter expresses disappointment that not enough legislators would sign on to an inclusive ENDA. The letter also encourages the LGBT community to attend the HRC dinner in order to help defeat a gay marriage ban scheduled for the November ballot in California.

"At a time when our community is threatened, once again, with a cynical
election-year ploy that could hurt our families, we believe that it's time to set aside our differences and fight for what we all want," the HRC letter states.

But on Tuesday, activist John Newsome said such responses are similar to those that were directed at organizers of anti-racism efforts in the Castro in recent years.

"We heard a lot about how [anti-racism organizing] was divisive and wasn't timely, and that we couldn't both fight racism and advocate for marriage equality, though many of us somehow managed to do both," said Newsome, who added, "The original act of bigotry was the divisive act."

Newsome added that people can fight the November ballot initiative by donating directly to California groups working for marriage equality.

Sparks, who is transgender, agreed that boycotting the HRC dinner was a stand for unity, and she encouraged HRC to tap the community for help in educating members of Congress on the importance of an inclusive ENDA.

She pointed out that trans people like the National Center for Lesbian Right's Shannon Minter – an attorney who helped argued the recent California same-sex marriage case – have been at the forefront of securing gay and lesbian protections.

"It's not our intent to split the community," said Sparks. "We want to be inclusive – and we hope HRC will come around as well."

Those interested in attending or helping organize the protest can call (415) 848-3628.

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