Taking HRC’s Money

Thursday Jan 17, 2008

Once again, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) is
being called upon to respond to controversy. In the past, we’ve defended our
community against attack from outside. This time, we’re being criticized for
having accepted a grant of $25,000 from the Human Rights Campaign
(HRC) towards our work to pass H.B.1722, “An Act Relative to Gender-Based
Discrimination and Hate Crimes”.

We appreciate the concerns and sincerity of those who disagree with our
decision. It was not made lightly. We weighed the criticism we knew we’d
receive against the good that this money would do for our community, and,
after careful deliberation, chose to do what we feel is best for our

MTPC’s mission is, among other things, to obtain protections for transgender
and gender non-conforming people throughout the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts. Currently, we are fortunate to have won some respect in the
courts, but legislatively, we have legal protections only in Cambridge, Boston
and Northampton. The vast majority of our constituency lives every day at
relatively extreme risk of job loss, discrimination, harassment and violence.
History has shown that, more often than not, crimes can be committed
against us with near impunity — although, thankfully, this is changing.
Passage of H.B.1722 will be the most beneficial achievement for our
community that our organization has accomplished to date. But it is not a
done deal, not by a long shot. As the events of last fall with respect to
transgender inclusion in ENDA showed us, we have not yet won the hearts
and minds of most lawmakers. But we are winning them.

For years, the transgender community in Massachusetts has patiently waited
for the civil marriage rights issue to be resolved before embarking on a quest
for our most basic rights. We waited at the request of our GLB allies, and out
of our own sense of rightness. Now the issue is resolved, and with that
resolution, there are now resources available that were previously needed
elsewhere. MTPC is grateful that our work for the passage of H.B.1722 has
won some of these resources.

MTPC is well aware of the ongoing dispute between transgender activists and
HRC. We are not pleased with the actions of HRC with respect to ENDA, and
are a member of United ENDA and led the Massachusetts Coalition for a
United ENDA. We’ve strongly lobbied both HRC and Rep. Barney Frank for
transgender inclusion. We are continuing as a strong ally in the effort to
pressure HRC to include gender identity in ENDA, and will continue to do so.
Taking their money does not oblige us to overlook their bad behavior. This is
not lobbying money, where tit for tat is expected. This is a grant for the
passage of H.B.1722.

While some may fear that our acceptance of this money provides HRC with
bragging rights for how it is helping transgender folks, we’d like to see it set
a precedent for what HRC will do in other states. Surely Massachusetts is not
the only state whose transgender activist effort can benefit from a grant of
this nature. We challenge HRC to follow this grant with money to other
states, so that, in the absence of federal protections, more transgender
persons can look forward to statewide protections. But let us be clear: Some
states will not soon pass gender identity protections, and the only hope for
our community in those states is the federal ENDA. So this state-level money
is no substitute for transgender-inclusion in the federal ENDA.

The steering committee of MTPC was unanimous in our decision to accept
the HRC grant. It helps establish our legitimacy as an organization and
encourages others to donate to our efforts. It imposes no constraints upon us
and incurs no obligation on us. Most importantly, it enables us to engage our
first full-time employee to work on passage of H.B.1722, enhancing our
ability to secure passage of this legislation that will protect all members of
our community, most for the first time. The marriage equality fight in
Massachusetts required millions of dollars and many full-time staff persons to
win. We may win our rights with less, but we need every bit of help we can
get. We know that the opposition to same-sex marriage was fierce; we can
only hope that opposition to our rights will be less.
Bottom line: We don’t know what the future holds, but this money could well
save lives by helping pass H.B.1722 sooner rather than later. If this grant
saves the blood of one transgender person, then it will be blood money of
the best sort — lifeblood, that is. As for those who take exception to HRC’s
transgender-exclusive action on ENDA, we’re right there with you. But let’s
not cut off our nose to spite our face. Rather, let’s take their money, and
show them how to use it properly.

Gunner Scott is the director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political
Coalition. Holly Ryan is the chair of Massachusetts Transgender Political
Coalition. Nancy Nangeroni is a member of the Steering Committee of the
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.