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HRC Trans Board Member Explains Why She Resigned

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Oct 5, 2007

The Human Rights Campaign's only transgender board member resigned from the HRC not because the gay equality group said it would not support the Barney Frank-backed plan to split ENDA into two bills, but rather because the HRC did not say that it would oppose the orientation-only version of ENDA.

The HRC did, however, co-sign a letter, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way, denouncing the plan to remove guarantees for transgender workers from ENDA and create separate legislation later on to address transgender workers' workplace issues.

The letter was sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and to two of the original version of ENDA's sponsors, members of Congress Barney Frank and Tammi Baldwin, according to The Caucus Blog.

Donna Rose, who resigned from the HRC's board Oct. 3, told the Advocate that, "I really believe that the board feels as though they have the best interest of the LGBT community in mind even though the end result doesn't appear that way."

Rose's comments were quoted in a story posted yesterday online at Advocate.com.

The HRC's decision not to support the two-bill version of ENDA - one bill to protect gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, and a second bill meant to provide non-discrimination protections to transgender workers - was arrived at following a "very emotional" four-hour-long meeting of the board, the Advocate article said, quoting Rose.

ENDA - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - would, if signed into law, extend federal anti-discrimination protections to gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers, making it illegal for employers to base hiring firing, wage, and promotion decisions on a person's sexual orientation.

Frank excised language from ENDA that would have extended federal anti-discrimination protections to transgender people, because a preliminary vote indicated that although a version focusing on sexual orientation would pass Congress, the original version sponsored by Frank, which included protections for transgender workers, would not.

It is thought that the version of ENDA specific to extending non-discrimination protections to transgender people would take year to pass Congress, if it ever did pass. Skeptics point to a similar tans-inclusive bill that has languished in New York's state government for five years, long after an orientation-only state law against workplace discrimination passed.

The passage of ENDA as an orientation-only bill may be largely symbolic in the end, assuming it actually happens. Following an outcry from LGBT organizations and a petition signed by 90 organizations, the vote on the orientation-only version of ENDA was delayed until later this month.

President Bush has already promised a veto.

The HRC issued a statement on Oct. 1 after the four-hour meeting, saying that the gay equality organization - the nation's largest - would not support the stripped-down version of ENDA proposed by Frank.

However, the HRC did not say that it would oppose the measure, and that was the reason Rose decided to leave the board.

Said Rose, "I could not fulfill my obligations as a board member to support that tepid stance."

The fact that the HRC did not take a more active role as 90 other organizations joined forces to protest the change was also a factor. The Advocate article quoted Rose as saying that she was "stranded" while others were protesting the decision.

The story outlined a sequence of events, starting with a phone call last Saturday, Sept. 29, in which Rose first heard that ENDA might be pared back.

That same day, Rose spoke with Solmonese about it, but, "He really didn't have a clear strategy at that point," according to Rose.

After that, Rose said, she heard nothing - until she found out that a board meeting originally scheduled for Sunday evening, Sep. 30, had been put back to the following Wednesday.

Said Rose, "It gave me the feeling that they were trying to put me on the sideline while all this was going down."

Rose contacted a co-chair of the board to express her concerns, leading to a meeting on Monday, Oct. 1.

"I felt like this was an emergency and we at least needed to have a discussion about what was going on, even if we weren't being asked to make a decision," Rose said.

Continued Rose, "I didn't feel that the board leadership felt the same sense of urgency and, in fact, that they felt it was important to wait for things to play out before we had a board meeting to discuss them."

Added Rose, "My point of contention was, and is, that this entire experience isn't simply about the political discussion or the pragmatism of passing a piece of legislation - it's about the way this has galvanized and united the community in ways we've never seen before."

Continued Rose, "And if we perceived ourselves as leaders in that community, it was our responsibility to align ourselves as a united community rather than to be the only organization to choose a position of neutrality on something so important."

Rose issued an announcement that she was leaving the HRC and posted her resignation letter online in which she wrote, "Transgender is not simply the 'T' in GLBT."

The letter went on, "It is people who, for one reason or another, may not express their gender in ways that conform to traditional gender norms or expectations."

Wrote Rose, "That covers everyone from transsexuals, to queer youth, to feminine-acting men, to masculine-appearing women. It is a broad label that cannot be confined to a specific silo of people. It is anyone who chooses to live authentically. To think that the work that we are doing on behalf of the entire GLBT community simply benefits or protects part of us is to choose a simplistic view of a complex community."

The letter continued, "In a very real way, the T is anyone who expresses themselves differently. To some it is about gender."

The letter concluded, "To me, it is about freedom."

Rose was careful to specify that she had not left out of anger, saying, "My resignation isn't so much out of anger toward anyone or anything. I truly care about the organization; I have put myself on the line on for it more times than I care to remember."

However, Rose also recollected how HRC President Joe Solmonese had "made a pledge that HRC would not only support only inclusive legislation, it would actually oppose anything less" to a crowd of about 900 transgender people at Atlanta's Southern Comfort conference.

Addressing the issue of whether is was the best course to leave the board, seeing as how she was the only transgender person on it, Rose allowed that, "Logic would tell me that I still have work to do there, that my voice on that board is far more effective than on the outside looking in."

Continued Rose, "But in the same sense that I expected the organization to take a principled stand on a very important issue, I couldn't hold myself to a lesser standard."

But while Rose says that her resignation was an action carried out in anger, others in the transgender community are not only angry, they are willing to show it. The Washington Blade reported yesterday that the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) is planning to protest the HRC at its Washington, D.C. National Dinner on Oct. 6, an event at which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is scheduled to be keynote speaker.

NTAC's board chair, Ethan St. Pierre, said, "We are very disappointed and angry that any civil rights organization claiming to advocate for our rights can turn their backs on us when the going gets tough."

Continued St. Pierre, "It amounts to a betrayal, since HRC earlier promised to support only an inclusive ENDA."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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