“So I get on my knees and pray … we won’t get fooled again!” — the Who
Fresh on the heels of Southern Comfort Conference (SCC), many of the transgender community reveled in what seemed a penultimate victory: HRC – yes, the Human Rights Campaign – was actually appearing to take the transgender community as equals. (Obviously the ultimate victory would be equal rights for us all, jobs and all.) All of the years of HRC’s historic missteps seemed to magically disappear. We’re now a welcome, if amnesiac community for the Equal Sign people.
During the speeches there was much congratulation and self-congratulation, and plenty of high spirits about the impending bills in Congress awaiting votes: Hate Crimes (already passed inclusively in the House) currently awaiting Senate approval, and the all-important Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) approaching the House vote. All seemed right with the world in Trans America’s focus point that weekend at SCC in Atlanta. All seemed eerily right to some of us long-timers with memories intact as well. Eerily too right.
After the speech, everyone clapped, ate, enjoyed the rest of SCC and went home. Most of us waited with baited anticipation. Myself, I couldn’t get over how this reminded me of 2002.
At the SCC in 2002, HRC came down and made the big presentation again, and ushered in the coming out of a brand new national activist on the scene, Mara Keisling formerly of then-disbanded WGTE – the group name under which a study in concert with HRC was conducted. She was planning to open shop with an org of her own. No more WGTE, now NATE or NOTE was the names she was hashing over at the time (later settling on NCTE).
HRC was not going to deal with the existing trans orgs — NTAC nor IFGE, while GenderPAC left the trans fold to focus on “gender.” So Mara’s sudden emergence fit them to a T, literally, and was welcomed in the HRC fold.
However, it wasn’t just HRC’s king or queen-making within the trans community that was the draw of this presentation. This was more about the study findings, ballyhooed as changing the minds of HRC about trans inclusion in legislation. Word went out, there at that conference, that HRC was behind transgender inclusion and would begin such a push immediately.
The question from the skeptical among us was posed as to what would happen if this ran up the HRC flagpole, and they instead decided “Nah!” and let Mara twist in the wind. Mara responded that they wouldn’t dare try, “and if they did, [she’d] rip them a new asshole for publicly trashing her political credibility.” I’ll never forget the look on David Smith’s face at her answer … curious.