Have you ever seen a bumper sticker that’s a yellow equals sign on a blue background? In 1980 an organization named the Human Rights Campaign Fund was founded. It started off small like most start up grassroots organizations. Eventually it snowballed into, according to their own website, “the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans … 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide.” The HRCF would later evolve into the organization that you may know today as The Human Rights Campaign, and in 1995 would adopt the famous equals sign logo that many people may be familiar with today. Due to a variant of this logo, this particular organization has been receiving a lot of attention lately.
As I’m sure most of you have seen, sometime over spring break the HRC deployed the newest method to demonstrate their “activism” via Facebook. This trendy flavor of activism manifested itself as follows: In order to show support for “marriage equality” (and the HRC) you should change your profile picture to an image of a pink equals sign on a red background (a recoloring of their own logo). By changing your default picture to this you’re showing your support for marriage equality — also an organization that claims to have, “diversity and inclusion … in our mission since we were founded in 1980.”
However, instead of campaigning for all humans as their name implies, the HRC has been actively excluding transgendered people and only advocating for the privileged members of the LGBTQ community. “Privileged” in the sense that the issue of marriage is the only “queer” issue that pertains to a queer individual. As you can imagine, the legalization of marriage does little to support those of the queer community who are single and poor, for instance. It is unacceptable that the HRC, a frontrunner organization in the LGBTQ community, is now being recognized as the “voice” for the queer community — they need to be held more accountable for their agenda.
Looking back, the executive directors of the HRC have had a long history of disregarding transgender people. Many cases have occurred where the founders and leadership of the HRC have made discriminatory remarks against the transgender community. One of the most notable times their discrimination was demonstrated was in 2007, when the “T” was dropped off of the HRC-championed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in an effort to facilitate the push of the bill through Congress. The common sentiment being that the HRC leaders felt that transgendered people would still have to “wait their turn” to receive these invaluable rights.
Despite these egregious actions, the bill didn’t receive enough votes to pass anyway. Now, transgendered people are included in the most recent draft of the ENDA bill, but that still neither changes nor excuses HRC’s previous actions. The “pragmatic” approach of “adding” and “dropping” peoples’ rights in order to form “viable” legislation is never acceptable.
Issues of the HRC don’t end here. The organization is primarily concerned with marriage as an issue — the issue. But there are plenty of other problems and concerns affecting members of the wider LGBTQ community that are blatantly disregarded (or at best given lip service to).
Regardless of the previously mentioned “commitment to diversity,” a quick scan of the HRC staff will reveal that mostly Caucasian males are running the show. Continuing to search through the website, under their “issues” tab there is absolutely no sign of “racial justice” or any synonyms present. Currently, the HRC is giving no regard to other major problems with governmental infrastructure that have “intersectionality” with issues that are being regarded as queer. Take youth homelessness or healthcare for example. The Williams Institute reports that up to 40 percent of this country’s unaccompanied homeless youth identify as being LGBTQ. Even in the face of this staggering statistic, the HRC has taken absolutely no stance on this issue, demonstrating HRC’s concerns for the “privileged” (racially, economically, educationally, etc) while neglecting and effectively turning a blind-eye to a number of non-privileged members and fringe members of the LGBTQ community. These members who are more presently concerned with being able to live (comfortably) than being able to get married.
We must remember that a majority of political movements and issues in this day and age need money to push their agendas. This makes corporate fundraising a necessary evil. But these HRC-hosted black tie dinners would be more palatable if the HRC had a more inclusive agenda — as securing the right to marry will not help the homeless queer youth starving on the street. The HRC is just scratching the surface of the social changes that need to take place in this country. They are utilizing all of their resources for primarily one tiny issue of the privileged, this has implications of its own.
I cannot even begin to express my frustration as a result of this extremely narrow point of view disenabling the HRC from making significant, complete and articulate statements on other pressing issues affecting an even broader, more comprehensive range of the LGBTQ community. Not that I’m saying marriage isn’t an important issue to the LGBTQ community.
We absolutely cannot settle at only achieving the right to marry and disregard our queer brethren in the streets, their exclusion from key pieces of legislation advocating infrastructural and social change, the needs for racial justice, and so forth.
There are many pro-queer organizations out there that are dissimilar to the HRC in terms of scope of agenda. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, and Lambda Legal are just amongst the many other voices, organizations, and educational networks that support more than just a few select issues only applicable to the privileged. The HRC may be the most “visible” to the public eye at present, but the voices of these other organizations are also at the very least equally as important. Although the HRC portrays themselves as the “gay voice”, the other organizations’ inclusion and the proper acknowledgment of their “alternative agendas” (of those beyond just marriage) is absolutely necessary to the true representation of the broad LGBTQ community.
A good example on the individual level of alternative and more inclusive agenda, Urvashi Vaid, will be coming to Oberlin on May 2 for Year of the Queer. Vaid has been a leader in LGBTQ and social justice for just thirty years and has worked for the NGLTF herself. She will be speaking in West Lecture Hall on May 2 at 7:30 p.m. to give a talk titled “Irresistible Revolution: Your Activism and the Future of LGBTQ Politics.”
In the wake of all these happenings on the LGBTQ scene recently, I thank my friends in showing their support for gay marriage, but I also hope the world will see that the LGBTQ community is a more extensive one. I hope that the leadership in all LGBTQ organizations will actively continue and strive to include a widespread range of voices in their own organizations as well.
However, I’m still not ready to forgive the HRC. They will need to work extremely hard to make up for their past mistakes. Naturally, this comes with the expectation that, as an organization, the HRC will be more proactive in honestly increasing the diversity in their own staff and look to invite more leaders of other pro-queer organizations to their figurative “table” in the spotlight of the media.
Most importantly, the HRC needs to recognize that they do indeed have privilege. Consequently, they need to recognize that queer can be poor, transgender, of color, homeless, without healthcare, etc. This organization needs to realize the intersectionality of infrastructural issues with the LGBTQ world. The HRC needs to desperately enlarge their perspective of the queer community if they truly want to “realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.”