Fracas at HRC Gala: Two Views of Allegations of Brute Force
An altercation at the Human Rights Campaign's Bay Area Gala Dinner Saturday, July 26, has left one woman alleging abuse and threatening legal action and an organization scratching its proverbial head. And at the heart of the controversy are two very different sides of what happened that night.
Catherine Cusic, a vice-president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, claims she was bruised by security guards who assaulted her with allegedly excessive force soon after she rose from her seat during a presentation by HRC President Joe Solmonese at the event that evening. Her story was quickly distributed and picked up by various bloggers over the weekend and was repeated here on this Web site.
However, attendees of the dinner are speaking out and say that Cusic's account is a distorted perspective of what happened, and that by the time security guards touched her, they had exhausted their non-physical options.
Cusic claims she was walking silently toward the middle of the room with leaflets under her arm when she was approached from behind by three security guards. She says she was quiet and did not utter a single word or distribute a single flyer until the guards approached her.
"There was absolutely nothing quiet about what she did," event Co-chair Tom Floyd said. "She began by screaming 'Liar!' and was not quiet. She did not distribute flyers, she threw them at people. She then walked briskly with purpose toward the stage." Floyd said it was only when it looked as though she might try to approach and climb onto the stage that security stepped in front of her.
Cusic said a guard jerked her arm back violently and knocked the leaflets out of her possession, at which time they went flying into the air. She said her right arm was then raised over her and her wrist was crushed down, and only then did she yell.
When asked why security guards would grab her and forcefully remove her for silently walking through the crowd of seated tables, she said she had no explanation.
"[Her story] is a complete fabrication," Floyd said. "I read her statements, I was completely shocked. It was like she was at a completely different event. She was treated with complete dignity and respect."
Floyd said he has attended other HRC events at which there were protestors, including a national dinner in Washington, D.C. He said their treatment at each one is the same: They are asked to leave and they either leave or are escorted out, but he has never seen security at an HRC dinner use anywhere near the force that Cusic describes.
Floyd added that he's talked to at least seven different people who were at the dinner, and none of them corroborates any aspect of her story. All told, every person who was at the dinner who spoke has contradicted Cusic's version, including at what point she yelled and threw flyers. Diego Sanchez, a transgender member of HRC's business council and a speaker at the event whom Cusic said she wanted to "respect" during the dinner, told The Bilerico Project that Cusic's recollection was not accurate:
"When Joe [Solmonese] was speaking, she started yelling something and tossed stacks of paper to the center of a few tables," Sanchez said. "That's when I turned around, and she was alone. Only then did Security approach her that I saw, as she kept moving toward the stage."
Cusic said everyone remembers what they want to remember from an incident, and she acknowledged that she herself may have some of the facts wrong.
"People see what is consistent with their world view," she said. "I wouldn't be surprised if I saw a tape and there were minor differences [with what I remember]. Maybe I was closer to the stage, maybe I said something more offensive than I remember." However, she maintains that she did not speak or distribute any flyers until she was grabbed by security.
She said the point of the incident isn't whether she was disruptive but how she was, in her words, brutalized by security; something she said she hasn't experienced in many years of protesting and leafleting.
"What we're seeing is a new kind of security system being put in by large organizations, and HRC is one of them," Cusic said. "Even if I'd been disruptive, there is no reason for the violence that happened to me."
She laid part of the blame at the feet of the Bush Administration for creating an anti-terrorism atmosphere in American society that has created a crack-down mentality amongst security guards. "This is what I'm told by people who are experts in the new security program." Cusic said. "They are trained that any breach of security is to be treated as a terrorist attack."
While video cameras were rolling, they were from the back of the room and may not have caught any of the altercation between Cusic and the event's hired security. No one may ever know what really happened in those moments at the HRC dinner, but for the time being, Cusic has a very divergent perspective from every other attendee who has shared their perspective.