When the subject of The Human Rights Campaign comes up among lesbians I often hear ENDA, rights, marriage, transgender, and the debate commences. Many people and organizations in the LGBTQ community are very supportive of HRC and the work they do, while others shut down at the mere reference to the organization citing the 2007 decision of HRC to support the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) legislation that did not include transgender protections. This article is not intended to discuss said debate and why HRC made such a choice while others so strongly opposed it, but it is necessary to highlight both sides of the fence. Some people still feel very strongly about this incident and choose not to support the work of HRC because of it.
It has now been six years since this highly controversial decision was made by The Human Rights Campaign, so the question begs to be asked…has HRC done enough to try to repair the relationship with those that were offended and hurt by the 2007 ENDA decision? Is HRC now an LGBT (with emphasis on the “T”) friend or foe? The answer to this question is obviously a personal one to some. There is not necessarily an easy answer and, although time is supposed to heal wounds, some wounds are so deep that it seems as though they will never be fully repaired.
But there is something I have learned in life. The best way to create change is to be change! When I first learned of HRC and looked into what they do in Chicago I was looking for a place to fit into the LGBTQ community. I had recently come out and didn’t yet have many LGBTQ friends. As I met other volunteers I began to feel like this may be a great way to meet new people, and decided to attend a local Steering Committee meeting and consider taking on a leadership role. When I attended that first meeting in 2011 I noticed a huge imbalance; there was only one woman on the Steering Committee! This didn’t seem right. How was it possible that such a large organization had such little female representation in a huge city like Chicago? I decided this needed to be changed! And that’s exactly what I set out to do. There are now six women on the Steering Committee; and the men on the committee welcomed and encouraged this change.
I realize this is my own personal story, and it doesn’t negate the past decisions made by HRC. Therefore I decided to ask the one other woman I saw at that first Steering Committee meeting why she has stuck by HRC. She is an inspiring transgender woman who is a long time advocate for HRC and is currently the Diversity Co-Chair for HRC Illinois. I presented her with the following question: “HRC is not always positively viewed in the transgender community. Why do you support HRC and choose to be a member of leadership for HRC Illinois as a member of the Steering Committee?” She responded, “I decided to remain on the Board [after the 2007 ENDA “debacle”] feeling that by resigning I would no longer have a voice. By staying on the Steering Committee I would have ears and a voice.” She added, “Subsequently HRC has tried to reach out to the transgender community but some within that community seem determined to continue to nurse this grudge despite the continued efforts of HRC to support the transgender community. This year HRC helped support the Transgender Day of Remembrance in twenty-five cities around the country. I invited HRC to speak at last year’s Be-All Transgender Convention here in Chicago and a fellow Steering Committee member did an excellent job of explaining the HRC Corporate Equality Index to a room full of skeptics.” Her response echoed my feelings; we must be a part of the change we wish to see.
My original intent of this article was to provide a factual list simply stating the two sides of the HRC debate, letting the readers take in the information and do with it what they wish. As I thought more about it I realized that doing so would mean not being true to myself. I believe that others can create change. And I believe that you can be happier by being a part of that change instead of holding on to negativity. For those that are wondering what HRC has done recently, and is currently doing, to be fully supportive of transgender rights I have listed below just some of the many ways they are doing so. Regardless of what side of the HRC debate you are on, empower yourself to be a part of change. As Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” And in the words or our current president Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
- HRC with civil rights allies successfully lobbied for the passage of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Subsequently, the FBI will begin releasing reports about hate crimes against the transgender community.
- HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) measures hospitals’ policies and practices that affect LGBT patients and their families, and examines whether non-discrimination policies and cultural competency training include gender identity.
- HRC recommended fair housing for LGBT people to the Obama Administration which was enacted when the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) announced new policies in June 2010 that required groups receiving HUD grants to abide by state and local laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
- In 34 states, it is legal to fire someone just for being transgender. HRC advocates for state and federal legislation that protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
- For the last 10 years, HRC has published the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which rates U.S. employers on their policies impacting LGBT employees. In 2009, HRC raised the bar on its criteria for healthcare coverage to transgender employees, including coverage for reconstructive surgical procedures related to sexual reassignment, and including the extension of benefits available to other employees to cover transgender transition, such as mental health benefits and pharmaceutical coverage. This new criteria for a perfect score on the CEI was implemented in 2011 and, as a result, companies offering comprehensive healthcare coverage to their transgender workers has increased to 206 in 2011 (from 85 in 2010 and 49 in 2009).
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Dawn is a Chicago area native and loves the city she calls home. With a strong passion for both the field of psychology and LGBT issues, she strives to combine the two through gender and sexuality research. As the Women’s Outreach Chair for the Illinois chapter of the Human Rights Campaign she reaches out to the lesbian community to further their involvement in the fight for equality. Whether putting on fundraisers or spreading the word about equality at local festivals, she is always thinking of new ways to serve the LGBT community. When not doing research or fighting for equal rights, she loves to take long walks around the city, enjoy the street festivals, go camping, and hunt for the best Persian food in Chicago!