An Open Letter to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Communities:
On May 17, 1997, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) will host an awards dinner to honor local members of the gay and lesbian community for efforts in the pursuit of gay and lesbian equality. This is fitting and proper as we are blessed with some dynamic, hard working individuals who make great personal sacrifices to stand up and defend human rights-the rights of all human beings. I applaud and commend all the recipients. Well Done!
Many of the recipients, and others who will not be recognized at the dinner, have been instrumental in the recognition and inclusion of bisexuals and transgenders in various activities, events, and organizations. To these individuals and organizations I extend my heartfelt appreciation for your efforts on behalf of all human beings and your true commitment to equal human rights for all.
For many years, I was an active supporter of HRC and, frequently, assisted in letter writing campaigns and telephone calling to my congressional representatives. I was very glad to assist because, until recently, I thought that the Human Rights Campaign Fund, more recently renamed The Human Rights Campaign, was truly devoted to the cause of equal human rights. In 1995, upon learning of HRC's opposition to the rights of transgendered persons, I was dismayed that HRC would be opposed to the rights of fellow Americans and I withdrew my financial support and wrote to HRC to inform them about reasons for withdrawing support.
During the past two and a half years, the transgender leaders of several national organizations have met with HRC on two separate occasions to determine ways for HRC to become more inclusive of transgenders. On both occasions HRC national leaders have indicated that they cannot support transgenders for a variety of reasons. Several reasons are that major contributors will no longer support HRC if they include transgenders in ENDA and that ENDA supporters will not support an inclusive ENDA bill. HRC has also indicated that their mission includes only gays and lesbians and therefore, they can not be true to their mission and support transgenders. Instead of being supportive and inclusive, HRC has stated they will be "helpful" to transgenders.
Understandably, there were two factors which caused the confusion among the transgender population. The general public and congressional supporters of ENDA continue to be similarly confused. The first point of confusion is that ENDA was about employment non-discrimination rather than a bill promoting "special rights" for gays and lesbians. I quote directly from a fact sheet on ENDA published by HRC. "Employment discrimination strikes at a fundamental American value-the right of each individual to do his or her job and contribute to society-without facing unfair discrimination ... ENDA does not create any "special rights " for lesbians and gay men. It simply affords to all Americans basic employment protection from discrimination based on irrational prejudice." The transgender population has learned that ENDA is not about fair employment practices for all Americans, as HRC promotes in public discussions is certainly a "gay rights" bill. HRC played a significant role in excluding transgenders from ENDA and limiting the bill to protections for sexual orientation. HRC admits that ENDA is a gay rights bill which will grant special rights to some Americans. The emphasis is clearly on gay rights and not on fair employment opportunities for all Americans. I am sad that I was mistaken and am sad to see HRC continue to mislead the public.
The second item which led to my confusion is directly attributed to the name of the organization. I was mistaken in my belief that an organization which was named the Human Rights Campaign would be devoted to equal rights for all Americans. The mistake was an honest error on my part. HRC has clearly stated to transgenders that their mission is limited to promoting "equal rights" for gays and lesbians and, therefore, cannot openly support bisexuals or transgenders. I suggest that this point of confusion can be cleared up with another name change. The Homosexual Rights Campaign would be a more appropriate name and will clear up further confusion. It would allow HRC to be true to their mission and will eliminate other persons from approaching HRC to support their efforts to obtain equal human rights. Additionally, it would enable the public to readily understand that they have a very narrow mission... one which does not truly encompass human rights.
I suggest that prejudice, fear, and political expediency are among the chief reasons for HRC's exclusion of transgenders from ENDA and from their literature. Prejudice, fear , and political expediency are not exactly qualities which guide most human rights organizations. In order to save face, HRC offered transgenders the opportunity to introduce a separate ENDA bill and suggested they look to the courts for protections under existing Title VII legislation. Even novices to the ways of Washington can see through this tactic. These are hollow gestures; however, HRC's gesture of "helpfulness" allows them to demonstrate to transgenders that they no longer directly oppose them. The bottom line, though, is that HRC excludes transgenders and opposes their inclusion in the ENDA legislation.
Sadly, these tactics reveal that HRC's is shortsighted, and is even willing to sacrifice employment protections for gays and lesbians in an effort to pass ENDA. With ENDA in its current form, employment discrimination against gays and lesbians will continue to be legal and permissible. The only change employers will make is in the wording of their reasons for discrimination.
The "back door" to continued discrimination against gays and lesbians is open. HRC intentionally left it open! Just as the courts will rule that ENDA offers no protection for gender identity or gender expression for transgenders; the courts will rule that ENDA also does not offer protections for gender identity or gender expression for any Americans; heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Precedent court rulings already exist, so it will not require much effort to affirm that employment discrimination against gays and lesbians is still permissible and legal as long as they are discriminated not because of their "sexual orientation" but because of their non-conformity to "traditionally accepted" gender expressions, behaviors, dress or traits. Lesbians with "masculine, gender expressions and gay males with "feminine, expressions need to be concerned. Expressions of "masculinity" and "femininity" are in the domain of "gender identity and expression", not "sexual orientation." When one crosses over the barrier for permissible amounts of "masculinity" in females and "femininity" in males, one quickly finds himself on common ground with transgenders. Indeed, they are in the territory of "gender identity" and may be subject to the same type and forms of discrimination which is used to oppress transgendered persons. HRC has totally failed to acknowledge that some discrimination directed towards gays and lesbians is due to a failure or inability to conform to traditional codes of gender behaviors or conduct.
HRC's biggest problem is that the federal courts have not failed to acknowledge this fact!
If you do not believe that employers will continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians, just watch to determine how long it takes for Cracker Barrel Restaurants and Old Country Stores to determine how to legally continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
HRC National has to realize that their actions have a detrimental and divisive affect on the New Orleans gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community. It causes great pain to members of the community who have supported the community for so many years, to watch local dollars being raised to, in the end, further discrimination against bisexuals and transgenders. Because I refuse to support discrimination against transgenders and bisexuals, I cannot and will not send money to HRC National.
It is very sad indeed to think that local transgendered entertainers who have raised many dollars to support the local gay and lesbian community are being targeted by HRC as unworthy of equal rights. I cannot support, much less understand, a human rights organization that relegates my transgendered sisters, brothers, and me to second-class citizenship.
It is not my intent to criticize or condemn the New Orleans gay and lesbian community. As transgenders, we have found support, acceptance, and friendship with many of our gay and lesbian colleagues. This letter is an attempt to enlighten local gay and lesbian supporters of HRC of the true nature of the so-called human rights organization. Also, I hope to encourage gays and lesbians who have an interest in ENDA to investigate this matter further.
I look forward to the day when I can, in good conscience, again financially support HRC. However, the choice belongs to HRC. All they have to do is rededicate themselves to human rights and end their discriminatory policies and practices. This may be too much ask of the "largest national organization dedicated to obtaining civil rights for gays and lesbians," but it is not too much to ask of a true "human rights" organization.
-Elaine Quinn, Transgender
A few nights ago three men, all from New Orleans, were out partying. I would say partying is a common occurance here in New Orleans, wouldn't you? Anyway, one man was sober, one man was somewhat drunk; the other, somewhere in between.
When the party was over, they decided to find a place to eat which was the smartest thing to do at that point. So they started on a trek that found them in the Marigny at La Peniche for a late night/early morning dining experience. Sound familiar?
They walked in, were pointed to a table. The sober man assisted the somewhat drunk man to the table so as to assure little or no disturbnce.
As they were quietly seating themselves, the manager made his way over and in front of the whole restaurant announced, "professionally," they would not be serving the three gentlemen.
The one sober man quietly pleaded assuring the manager they were all under control. But, of course, to no avail.
They were escorted to the door and they left. I remember how embarrassed they were. I was the sober one.
I called the next day to discuss this with an "owner." She said the manager followed the owners' orders. They did not serve drunks. There have been too many problems in the past. I told the owner and manager that I was a bartender in a local bar and understood how they felt; however, we were safely at our table and very well behaved. She said they preferred not serving "bar type" people that come in all drunk.
So, New Orleans, French Quarter, Gay Community "bar types," I'm talking to the "handful" of you out there. When looking for a safe, gay friendly, food and beverage serving establishment after a night of partying, save the cab fare. La Peniche won't serve you!
[Letters and Comments should be sent to Ambush Letters, 828-A Bourbon St., New Orleans, LA 70116-3137]