This past week saw historic events at the Supreme Court of the United States, not only for gay and lesbian couples but for all Americans. And “all Americans” includes trans Americans. I and many of my trans colleagues have labored for years on the particular civil rights issue that is marriage equality. Sometimes that is recognized; many times it isn’t. But so many people work without recognition; that is not a real problem.
What continues to be a problem is the cold war that is ongoing between the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the trans community. I don’t remember a time when there was an absence of conflict, and having served as an HRC Governor during the last decade, I was present for some of the worst of the confrontations. It is true that HRC was late to the community’s acceptance of trans inclusion, adding the “T” to “LGB” only in 2004. The worst experience was the 2007 debacle over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), when virtually the entire LGBT community organized for trans inclusion, leaving HRC alone in support of an exclusive ENDA. HRC’s support for marriage equality has been robust and intense, but not so much its support for trans equality. Internally HRC has no trans staffers and only one trans board member. Worse, it has rarely been any better than that, and this is an organization with nearly 50 board members. Being tasked with increasing national trans board representation, I know that HRC does not stand alone as an outlier. But given that HRC is unofficially the national voice of the entire LGBT community, a role embraced by the organization, that lack of representation does stand out. This needn’t be the case.
This past week there was an event that reopened the scab of the past two decades of wounds. It was reported by Matt Comer that a trans flag was removed from an event at the steps of the Supreme Court by an HRC staffer. I don’t know the facts, though I lean toward supporting Jerame Davis, Executive Director of the National Stonewall Democrats, and his take on the incident. Maybe there were only American flags planted at the podium, in which case the trans flag would have been inappropriate. Maybe there were other rainbow flags, in which case the action would not have been appropriate. Regardless, this is just one more instance of institutional bad blood between the two communities.
It’s time to resolve this problem, and this is a very opportune time to do so. The trans community has scored many great victories recently, the most recent being the reconsideration by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of coverage for genital reconstruction surgeries. The gay community has also scored impressive victories, both last November, with the marriage referenda, and this week, with the oral arguments in the Supreme Court. We can come together in strength and equal standing.
It’s also an opportune time for a rapprochement because of the recent changes in senior staff at HRC. Regardless of where one wants to place blame, those changes with a new team in place allow for a fresh look and a fresh start. I know that President Chad Griffin is committed to better relations with the trans community, as is his newest hire, Jeff Krehely, formerly of the Center for American Progress.
This effort need not be only morally grounded, in that it’s the right thing to do for all of us. Yes, many trans persons are gay, and many gay persons are gender-nonconforming. There is so much overlap that it becomes silly at certain points to be arguing. Just as self-interest has propelled the gay community to focus primarily on gay issues, the increase in exposure of the trans community and the rise of our particular issues means that not only do we need the support of our gay friends and allies, but they also need us to remain relevant and a part of the ongoing civil rights discourse.