Normally a solemn occasion to memorialize individuals killed because of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice, this year the National Transgender Day of Remembrance assumed an unusually acrimonious air on Nov 20. That day, transgender advocates and their allies in leading gay rights organizations protested the exclusion of gender identity protections from the Employee Non-Discrimination passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier in the month. Many directed anger at the Human Rights Campaign, the paramount LGBT rights organization, for its refusal to oppose the stripped down version of ENDA. Congressional leaders like openly gay Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) had argued that the removal of transgender protections was necessary in order to secure the votes of more cautious colleagues.
In New York City, some 25 people gathered outside the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, where in 1969 a transgender individual threw the first punch that helped to launch gay liberation. Inside, the New York chapter of HRC was holding a networking event. “The transgender community is always given the fuzzy end of the lollipop,” lamented transgender activist Diana Montford of the Upper East Side. She joined the assembled crowd in calling for the resignation of HRC President Joe Solmonese, and an increase in transgender representation on the national and local steering committees of the organization, which wields an annual budget of more than $30 million.
“He doesn’t have credibility anymore,” said community activist Jon Winkelman about Solmonese, who was appointed to lead HRC in 2005. He contended that HRC, which had previously promised to support only an inclusive ENDA, did not work for such legislation behind the scenes this fall. he charged that HRC quietly approved the removal of transgender protections from ENDA, to preserve hard-won relationships on Capitol Hill.
HRC’s position upholds the value of incremental legislation. In a press release on Nov 7, the day ENDA passed the House, Solmonese said, “Our fight for equality will not be won overnight. It will be won one step at a time, and we will not give up until we reach the finish line. This is a critical piece of legislation and a major step toward the finish line for all Americans.”