The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 08/26/2008 11:41:39 PM MDT
About three dozen demonstrators confronted people attending a Human
Rights Campaign concert at the Fillmore Auditorium Tuesday night.
The protesters, from the group Bashback! Denver as well as several
other groups, said the Human Rights Campaign, a liberal gay-rights
group, hasn’t done enough to extend those same protections to
transgender individuals. The protesters chanted, “Gender is an
illusion, stop trans exclusion,” as several dozen police officers
“They’re trying to appeal mainly to rich, gay, white men instead of
the entire constituency they represent,” protester Maurine Crouch, a
member of Bashback! from Washington, D.C, said of the Human Rights
Police arrested one demonstrator, though Steve Nash with Denver
CopWatch said the demonstrator may have been arrested for outstanding
On its website, Human Rights Campaign says it supported removing
transgender protections from a piece of federal legislation because
there wasn’t enough support to pass the bill with it included.
Copyright 2008 The Denver Post or other copyright holders. All rights reserved.
by Rachel Kossman
Bay Windows Contributor
Wednesday Aug 20, 2008
In response to Human Rights Campaign’s stance on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the activist group Queertoday.com, along with activists from Queers Without Borders, Pride at Work and KnowThyNeighbor.org are organizing a protest of the organization’s New England gala dinner, which will be held at the Sheraton in Boston on October 25th.
It’s no secret that these organizations are frustrated with HRC’s support last year for an ENDA bill that did not provide anti-discrimination protections to the transgender community, and they have made it clear that they do not support many other aspects of the organization.
“We hope to continue what they’ve ignited. Activists have been protesting the HRC dinner in every major city,” said Mark Snyder, founder of Queertoday.com.
According to Brad Luna, communications director for HRC, the organization is working alongside the National Center for Transgender Equality to fight for the rights of transgender individuals across the nation.
“There are a lot of different assets of the organization that are dedicated to working on this issue and the tough work of education is ongoing, especially with an election year facing us. There will be a new face in Congress and a new president,” he said. “There is no organization who is dedicating more resources to educating members of Congress and the public on the need for protections of our entire GLBT community than HRC.”
Queertoday hopes to recruit allies outside the LGBT community to join in the protest and is in conversation with a number of anti-war, civil rights and labor groups about participating. The group has yet to announce any official endorsements from non-LGBT groups.
“Locally, we hope to build a small coalition of diverse groups to really show HRC what a true coalition looks like and show them the value in organizing with our allies and with movements that are important to us,” said Snyder.
HRC is aware of the upcoming protests and has plans to deal with them accordingly.
“This is not the first dinner that we have had protestors at … There have been a handful of protestors who show up and have their voices heard,” acknowledged Luna.
“And at every dinner, we will be doing the same in Boston, we obviously respect and honor their right to have their voices heard and we make accommodations outside the venue so that they have a safe environment to exercise their freedom of speech.”
Snyder disagrees, and believes that the actions of HRC at previous events have been inappropriate. He hopes that these protests will force HRC to question their actions.
“We think it’s important for HRC to recognize the value of difference. To call in riot police for a few dozen trans activists is an overreaction, to say the least,” said Snyder, referring to allegations by Houston activists that HRC called in riot police last April to intimidate them during their protest of the Houston HRC gala. “We’re calling on them to ensure that they have a policy to treat protestors compassionately because we are concerned about the way they’ve been treating protestors at some of their past events.”
HRC Staff may say publicly that the protests of their Galas have “nothing to do with organized labor,” but Unite Here Local 26 just informed us that thanks to their months of lobbying, HRC has decided to move their event to the Sheraton – a unionized company. Not only does HRC fail to see how ENDA is related to labor (duh!), they have also historically chosen to ignore the fact that their caterer, Aramark, was anti-labor and anti-gay. Now that the pressure is on, and in the spotlight they had to take action.
This is what solidarity with allied movements can achieve. The momentum, again, is on our side.
Aramark was one of the 5 lowest scoring corporations on HRC’s “Equality Index” just a few years ago, but they have always catered the HRC Gala at the Hynes Convention Center. Aramark is the only company that caters events at the Hynes.
But Aramark hasn’t just received low marks for LGBT support, they have a longstanding history of protest from the labor rights movement.
Labor organizations nationwide have been trying to convince Aramark to treat their workers fairly, and things have escalated as of late. On June 21, 2008 hundreds of activists
Our Unite Here! Local 26 chapter has been protesting Aramark at the Hynes Convention center.
Their website reads:
“The 350 food service workers at the Hynes Convention Center and the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center have been in contract negotiations with their employer, ARAMARK since September 2007. Throughout these negotiations there has been an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Hynes and BCEC food proivder ARAMARK for:
* Interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights.
* Discriminating in regard to hiring, tenure or terms of employment of its employees, thereby discouraging membership in a labor organization.
* Failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith.”
So when HRC staff say that the protests of their Galas “have nothing to do with organized labor,” we can kindly remind them that not only does ENDA have everything to do with labor but so does everything right down to who caters their fancy meals.
by Matthew S. Bajko
Boycotted by most local politicians and many LGBT people, the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala
still raised an estimated $80,000 toward the fight against Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
That figure does not include a $1 million donation made by an HRC board member at the event. At press time, HRC was unable to tell the Bay Area Reporter the total amount of money it raised at the gala.
The labor-backed protest had some impact, as the audience numbered less than the 1,000 people HRC expected. According to HRC staff, 780 people attended the dinner held last Saturday, July 26 at the Westin St. Francis.
And less than 24 hours prior to the black-tie affair Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, billed as the evening’s keynote political speaker, dropped out due to the boycott. As the B.A.R. reported online Monday, a spokesman for the mayor said his no-show was not a “snub” of HRC but was due to the “controversy” surrounding the fundraiser.
Dinner co-chair Tom Floyd said he was “disappointed” by the mayor’s decision, but nonetheless, “I understand too, certainly, he has the right to do it.”
Transgender activists and allies, along with the union-affiliated Pride at Work, launched a boycott of this year’s dinner due to HRC’s decision last fall not to oppose a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act stripped of gender identity protections by congressional leaders. They encouraged most of San Francisco’s political leadership not to attend and held their own counterprotest and awards ceremony outside the host hotel Saturday night. [See story, page 1.]
For Floyd and his co-chair, Jill Federico, their first time overseeing the annual gala was a trial by fire. Both said while the boycott added a unique challenge to the planning for this year’s event, they felt the bigger challenge will be trying to unite the community.
“So much work needs to be done to bring the community together,” said Federico.
The disagreement over ENDA, said Floyd, shows “there is so much more education that needs to be done.”
In response to the boycott, HRC officials launched a two-prong strategy to promote this year’s dinner. They ran radio spots highlighting the agency’s work on transgender rights and offered ticket buyers the opportunity to designate the $225 cost of their tickets to the campaign to defeat Prop 8. HRC board member Bruce Bastian also made a surprise announcement at the dinner that he was donating $1 million to the Vote No on Prop 8 campaign. [See story at http://www.ebar.com.]
While Villaraigosa joined a long list of elected officials who opted out of the dinner, others chose to attend, most notably Marin Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D), who in an interview said she “honors” the protesters and sees the House’s vote on ENDA last fall as a “dress rehearsal” for passing a fully inclusive version once there is a new Democratic president and greater Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.
“Then we can bring an inclusive ENDA to the floor,” said Woolsey, who said she was disappointed in not being able to vote last year on an amendment adding transgender protections back into the bill.
During her speech Woolsey said that nothing that happened during the week had changed her mind about attending the dinner.
“That is because the people protesting outside have their hearts in the right place. They just don’t have the patience,” she said. “You’ve got to have people pushing that hard from the left. We got to make sure we don’t disappoint them.”
Joining Woolsey at the event were state Controller John Chiang, San Jose Supervisor Pierluigi Oliviero, San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, San Leandro Councilman Mike Gregory, and openly gay Campbell City Councilman Evan Low.
Low said he did express his “frustration and disappointment” about how HRC has handled ENDA but in thought it was important to “support the organization for the types of things they are working on … rather than just focusing on one particular aspect, I support the organization for the overall things that they do.”
He added that he does not believe “a boycott of HRC furthers our cause and in fact, it may take us a step back. We should focus our attention and activism on the real challenge and it takes one step at a time.”
Equal marriage rights and the ENDA debate each took center stage at the event, as speaker after speaker addressed both topics. In his keynote address Diego Sanchez, a transman on HRC’s business council, asked the attendees to make both a “national priority.” While he expressed disappointment in HRC’s actions on ENDA, Sanchez also praised the agency for the work it has done.
“I am here tonight to talk about what HRC is doing and what more HRC and we all need to do to show our commitment to transgender people,” said Sanchez, who asked the crowd to devote a portion of their vacation time to contacting members of Congress about the need to pass a trans-inclusive ENDA.
He also said he understands the frustrations of those who protested the event, some of whom are his friends.
“Congress tells us we are less than human to let a bill pass that only has sexual orientation in it. We feel left behind because we are left behind,” said Sanchez. “That is the message of my family members across the street. I am saddened. There is no reason for anyone to feel good about a bill that is not inclusive. But we need to play the hand we have been dealt and to move forward.”
Some attendees of the dinner said they felt the protesters’ anger was misdirected at HRC and should be more focused on openly gay Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who pushed to pass the gay-specific ENDA in the House after he said it was clear the votes were not there for a trans-inclusive version of the bill.
“HRC does great work. Barney Frank is the one who should take the hit for this divisiveness,” said Mirian Saez, an HRC Federal Club member and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s director of operations on Treasure Island.
Saez attended the dinner with her partner, Julian Potter, a former top aide in the mayor’s office. She said that the “T” in LGBT has always been a part of HRC.
“There is no reason to be divisive about HRC. We are all fighting the good fight,” she said.
Thom Murray, a local attorney, said he joined HRC’s Federal Club after the Pride Committee nominated the organization for a Pink Brick award this year. The dubious honor is given to a person or group that has worked against LGBT rights; it ultimately went to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
“HRC is our voice in Washington. I don’t agree with every stance they take. But the fact that they are there and have the voice they have is critical,” said Murray.
Waukeen McCoy, a gay man and an attorney who represented several couples in the marriage case, attended the dinner at the invitation of a friend. Unaware it was being boycotted, McCoy nonetheless said he was glad to be there “as someone who argued the case, even though they didn’t recognize me. I have mixed feelings about that.”
McCoy added that “it is really unfortunate gender identity was not in the bill” but expressed confidence an inclusive version would be passed. He also said he is optimistic about the No on Prop 8 campaign’s chances.
“I think we will win. The voters will vote Prop 8 down,” said McCoy.
Protester interrupts HRC prez speech
HRC President Joe Solmonese argued that both sides of the ENDA debate have the same end goal in sight – passage of a fully inclusive bill – but have diverged on how to achieve it.
“There have been occasions when different groups of people marched down different roads but those roads end in the same place. While I regret the pain and distance that sometimes comes from taking different paths, those of us inside this room want to arrive at the same place as those outside this room so that GLBT people have the same rights as every American,” he said. “We may differ on how we get there but get there together we will.”
Solmonese’s speech was briefly interrupted by 63-year-old lesbian Catherine Cusic, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club’s vice president of political action. Cusic had bought a ticket to the dinner at a discounted rate and began walking toward the stage while Solmonese was talking. Security, however, quickly approached her and dragged Cusic out of the room.
The following day Cusic circulated photos of her bruised arms and numerous LGBT Web sites ran her account of being roughed up by “security goons” at the event. She told the B.A.R. on Monday that she had filed charges of assault with the police and was demanding an apology from both HRC and Woolsey.
“I want both Woolsey and HRC to reconsider their position on ENDA, which is clearly discriminatory,” said Cusic. “She calls herself a feminist and just sat there. I want an apology from HRC for using goons and want an apology from Woolsey for letting them beat up an old woman in front of her.”
Once Cusic had left the room, Solmonese remarked that HRC has dinners across the country and that “each time it is different.” He also joked it helps to take the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
“I love the spirit of San Francisco,” he said.
Following the coverage of Cusic’s account Monday, HRC was not in a joking mood as it issued a statement defending how security handled Cusic and claimed her description of events was contradicted by its guests at the dinner.
“As with every dinner, it is our policy that if a person is being disruptive they’ll be escorted from the room … [Cusic] was asked to stop and leave the ballroom by security personnel. After she refused to follow instruction, she was escorted from the room and continued yelling all the way to the hotel exit,” read the statement.
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Hunter Hargraves, a co-founder of And Castro for All, an event sponsor, said the point of the event was to educate those attending the gala, people in Congress, and the national LGBT community about the importance of a trans-inclusive ENDA.
“Incrementalism doesn’t work if it means throwing transgender people under the bus,” said Hargraves, who wore a blond wig and leopard-print dress.
The Washington-based HRC had gone on record several years ago as supporting only an ENDA that included sexual orientation and gender identity protections. But after openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) and other lawmakers decided to drop transgender people from the bill last fall, HRC didn’t oppose the move.
The bill passed the House. It is stalled in the Senate and unlikely to move in this session of Congress.
The crowd at the protest danced, sang, and chanted. There also was a burlesque performance. Those who looked like they might be going to a gala were approached outside the hotel with invitations to the Left Out party. Many accepted them, others didn’t. One man stood on the steps and, according to people standing close to him, said, “We’ve been lobbying, what’ve you been doing?”
In front of Union Square after the picket, organizers presented the Human Rights Hero awards. Tiaras were handed out to recipients.
One of the first went to Theresa Sparks, the openly transgender president of the city’s Police Commission.
“If you leave one of us behind, you leave all of us behind,” she said. Sparks, who earlier this year returned the Equality Award she had received from HRC in 2004, reminded the crowd that transgender people had led the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco and the Stonewall riots in New York in the 1960s, pivotal events in the modern LGBT civil rights movement.
Another award recipient was Shannon Minter, a transgender man who, as legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, successfully argued for same-sex couples’ right to marry in the recent state Supreme Court case.
Minter wasn’t able to attend the protest, so Donna Ryu, an NCLR board member, accepted the award on his behalf. Ryu noted if Minter, who worked tirelessly for four years on the marriage case, were to move to a state that didn’t protect transgender people from employment discrimination, he could be fired from his job because of his transgender status.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who had filed a suit on behalf of the city in 2004 to seek marriage equality for same-sex couples, also received an award. HRC had promoted its gala as part of its effort to defeat Proposition 8, the ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but Herrera said marriage isn’t the only issue at stake.
“We cannot leave anybody behind,” he said. “Discrimination continues to exist in a helluva lot of forms.”
Other awards went to Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, another event sponsor; and Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Supervisor Bevan Dufty for their support of the transgender community.
Leno didn’t attend but a representative accepted his award for him. Dufty, who hosted a dinner at his house for the protesters after the event, also did not attend.
Supervisor Tom Ammiano who, along with Dufty, had introduced a city resolution calling for a trans-inclusive ENDA, told the crowd before joining the picketers, “Frankly, the HRC is wrong.”
Some at the rally spoke of being fired from jobs because of their transgender status. In conjunction with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Transgender Law Center surveyed 194 transgender people in 2006 and found that only 25 percent of transgender people were working full-time, and almost 60 percent of respondents were earning less than $15,300 a year.
Like others at the party, Jazzie Collins, a black transgender woman, acknowledged HRC has done good work, but she said the discrimination she and others felt from the organization was especially troubling because “our own group is doing this to us.”
HRC spokesman Brad Luna said that the organization’s message Saturday was one of “unity.”
“And as we have an open dialogue about the best way to move forward, let us never forget that we are still a community of brothers and sisters standing as one to advance equality for all GLBT people,” Luna said in a statement to the Bay Area Reporter.
Robert Haaland, a transgender man and co-chair of the San Francisco chapter of Pride at Work, another of the sponsoring organizations for Left Out, said a strong coalition of groups, including labor, will only support a “united” ENDA.