From Southern Voice’s blog:
HRC president apologizes for ‘misspeaking’ at transgender conference
Solmonese talks with Atlanta activists in private meeting
By DYANA BAGBY, Southern Voice | May 6, 7:37 PM
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese met with a handful of transgender activists in Atlanta last week and apologized for “misspeaking” at last year’s Southern Comfort conference, where he promised HRC would only support an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that included gender identity, according to people attending the meeting.
Southern Voice was not allowed to attend the meeting, held May 1 at the Atlanta home of Charlie Frew, a member of HRC’s national board of governors.
Solmonese met for more than two hours with Atlanta transgender rights activists Tracee McDaniel, founder of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation; JCT board member and attorney Jamie Roberts; Dee Dee Chamblee, executive director of Lagender; Sir Jesse McNulty, educator and member of the Feminist Outlawz; and Shelley Emerson, a former HRC Federal Club member.
Roberts said Solmonese apologized for “misspeaking” at last year’s Southern Comfort Conference, where he promised HRC would only support an ENDA that included gender identity. Southern Comfort, the largest transgender conference in the nation, is held annually in Atlanta.
“He did apologize for misspeaking at Southern Comfort. But I think there was a lot of anger, disappointment and a lot of emotions for a lot of people,” Roberts said of HRC’s support of the sexual-orientation only ENDA. “It was very dehumanizing.”
After years of covering just “sexual orientation,” ENDA was introduced in the U.S. House last year with “gender identity” as well. But the category was dropped when the bill’s main backer, openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), said there were not enough votes to pass the broader measure. The U.S. House approved ENDA with just sexual orientation in November 2007; the Senate hasn’t voted.
HRC supports including gender identity in ENDA, but urged Congress members to vote in favor of Frank’s sexual orientation-only bill as an incremental strategy.
“I appreciated the opportunity to sit down with a few leaders of the Atlanta transgender community last week to discuss ways that we can move toward a fully inclusive ENDA together,” Solmonese said in a statement. “I believe this open line of communication allowed all of us to gain a greater understanding of each other’s perspectives and underscored the fact that we share the common goal of equality for all members of our community.”
Charlie Frew, who helped organize the meeting with McDaniel, said Solmonese talked about what was said at Southern Comfort.
“He addressed that right off the bat. He said he understands and felt the pain,” Frew said.
“We all thought the bill would never be picked apart in committee. We always thought it would be inclusive,” he said.
McDaniel said she accepted Solmonese’s apology.
“Basically Joe apologized for what was said at Southern Comfort. It takes a lot for someone to apologize. I personally can’t speak for the whole community, but I accepted the apology although I think it needs to be done to the broader community,” McDaniel said.
“I think it was a productive meeting that should have happened when this fiasco began. But he did make the effort to address what was said at Southern Comfort,” she added.
McDaniel said she will also remain supportive of HRC because helping the transgender community “is bigger than myself and HRC.”
“They are doing the work, but actions speak louder than words,” she said.
Frew said much of the meeting focused on how a bill becomes law, all the different twists and turns it can take in committees, and how HRC plays a role.
“Everyone expressed their feelings and told Joe what they went through and had the chance to ask questions. I think Joe did a great job of responding and he cleared up a lot of things and the sequence of events [the bill went through],” Frew said.
McNulty, however, said Solmonese’s apology wasn’t truly enough.
“He apologized for the ‘misspeak’, but never apologized for the action,” he said. “His rationale is that the vote was necessary and is still a victory.”
“They’re called the Human Rights Campaign, and that’s more than just gays and lesbians,” he said. “Butch lesbians and feminine men face the same discrimination we do. It’s not OK what they did.”
Roberts said she was glad HRC wanted to meet with Atlanta transgender activists and also praised the work HRC has done educating people on transgender issues, especially through its Corporate Equality Index. Today, companies can only score 100 percent on the index if they include gender identity in their non-discrimination statements.
HRC also recently published “Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace,” a guide for employers on issues including appropriate terminology surrounding gender identity and expression, creating policies to protect transgender workers from discrimination and expanding diversity programs to include gender identity and expression.
“At least they’re concerned enough to meet with us,” she said. “And I give [Joe] credit for that.”
But Roberts, who participated in the recent Trans Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., said the transgender community will not stop until it gets a favorable bill for Congress to vote on.
“It looks like [HRC] is working toward [a trans-inclusive bill] for 2011, assuming a friendly Democrat got into the White House,” she said. “I’m just adopting a wait-and-see attitude to see how serious they are about including gender identity in the bill.”
Frew said HRC plans to sponsor a job fair in Atlanta for transgender people sometime in the future and believes an inclusive bill will be passed.
“This is hard work,” he said, “but I’m optimistic we will end up in the right place with an inclusive bill.”
Discussion of the meeting will also take place tonight on Alternative Perspectives, a queer radio show on 89.3 WRFG FM, that airs from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.