This past day or so has been a little painful and plenty draining for me.
Yesterday, many of the people I know from all over the spectrum were eagerly awaiting the possibility of the Supreme Court rendering a landmark decision, as it heard arguments for and against upholding California’s Proposition 8, the narrowly passed 2008 referendum that banned gay marriage in the state. (And coming up today, arguments over the so-called “Defense of Marriage” Act.)
What pained me — sometimes angered me — is the way they showed their support for marriage equality on Facebook.
A great many people had changed their profile photos to a pink “equal” sign on a red background, a stylization of the logo of the Human Rights Campaign — or, as I call it, the so-called “Human Rights” Campaign. And it wasn’t just friends of mine; it was also big-name people and organizations that have long flown their liberal flags: Moveon.org, Daily Kos, George Takei, Jon Stewart’s fan page.
I know everyone who posted the image meant well. I get that. It was a convenient symbol, easy to find on the Web, and to many people, it simply represents equal rights.
But in reality, it doesn’t. Not by a longshot.
It represents an organization that has a history of being against transgender rights — and throwing transpeople under the bus when it’s convenient. And in spreading this logo virally, many people have been unwittingly spreading lots of free and positive publicity for a bigoted organization that certainly doesn’t deserve it.
I was able to convince some friends to use one of the many other wonderful images of support out there: the old tried-and-true rainbow flags (which I used), interlocked same-sex symbols, hearts with equal signs inside, even someone who turned the “HR”C logo into the Black Flag logo. But some dug in their heels with me about the matter. Made me feel as if I was screaming into a vacuum, for nothing. Also made me wonder how much some people actually have been in my corner if they were that adamant about using the symbol, even after they knew it represents something that discriminates against me and some of you.
I’m just drained. In what has been a rough week for personal reasons — one in which I’ve pretty much given up hope on life itself — I didn’t need the pushback. Especially from people I know — and some I’ve supported. Then again, truth and reality are good things, right?
What’s in a logo?
Many people see the ubiquitous equal-sign logo in a square and automatically think, “Equality! Human rights! Cool!” Again, I get that.
In 2007, about three months before my own little gender epiphany, I was cruising the Interwebs at work and was shocked to see a particular news item. Barney Frank, Democratic representative from Massachusetts and the first openly gay member of Congress, introduced what was supposed to be an LGBT-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the House. Except when it came time to introduce the bill, he lopped off the T part of the alphabet soup — and he did it with the full blessing of the “HR”C.
The rationale was, “Oh, we can always come back for those transpeople at some other time, but we can’t pass the bill with them attached to it.” Nevermind that it was transpeople who were at the forefront of Stonewall, and Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin three years before that. Nevermind that Ts were bound to the LGBs by the same sets of prejudice and ignorance and hatred and violence. Transpeople were casually thrown in the trash because it was politically expedient.
In short, a few influential so-called “liberals” were practicing the Animal Farm brand of so-called “liberalism”: All animals are born equal. But some are more equal than others.
Even though I hadn’t come out to myself yet, I was taken aback. Barney Frank? Of all people — the one person in Congress who knew chapter and verse about LGBT prejudice firsthand! And the organization whose blue square with the yellow equal sign was used by so many of my gay/lesbian friends to denote equal rights. To someone who believes in equal rights for all or none, this was a wow!
But what I didn’t know until last evening was the extent to which transpeople had been pushed aside by the “HR”C and its predecessors the past four decades. A newfound Facebook friend in San Francisco, Julia Lamont, posted a link to a post Monica Roberts wrote at the time of the ENDA fisaco in her TransGriot blog. I’ll let you go reading the post at length, at your leisure. But Wow! again.
Since then, the “HR”C has been about spin, about damage control, about trying to walk back a conscious decision it made to harm a group of people. It wants the public to believe it really, really, truly believes in equality for those icky transpeople, too! Honest! See? We’ve even hired some of those transgenders to work with us!
After all, this is a big-money organization, dedicated to making more money to perpetuate their own jobs and their status in Washington, and negative publicity is bad for the bottom line. I know there are dissenting, or even balanced, viewpoints on “HR”C, but all I know is that this organization gambled on inequality and lost — and forever forfeited its right to call itself a “human rights” organization.
And to add fuel to the ire and to the discussion, Julia also posted another eye-opening link last night from the Harvard Crimson — guess which organization recently gave its 2012 Corporate Equality Award to the thieves at Goldman Sachs?
The bottom line is: Using the equal-sign logo is almost as offensive as using the Confederate battle flag to say you’re all for civil rights. (And trans rights ARE civil rights, last I checked.)
Granted, I say almost — because the people who posted the “HR”C logo yesterday certainly didn’t mean it as a symbol of discrimination. Except the “HR”C logo is a lot more insidious than the Rebel battle flag; at least when someone flies the Rebel flag, you automatically know what it stands for and where most of the people who fly it stand. The “Human Rights” Campaign logo stands for the direct opposite of what it means — some animals are more equal than others. Except most of the people who flew the logo yesterday — and made the “HR”C look like a worthwhile cause — didn’t know it. Same as I didn’t know, or at least fully comprehend, the backstory of the Confederate flag when I was a kid and even early into my college years; I just thought it was a really cool flag.
I woke up yesterday to a veritable sea of those “HR”C logos on the Book of Faces. I did my damndest to explain why, even though I fully understood that it was there to show support for marriage equality, it wasn’t exactly the best thing in the world to use to display your support. And quite a few friends read what I posted and changed their profile photos to something else equally supportive. (Once I posted it last night, the Black Flag takeoff proved to be pretty popular. TG party tonight!)
Not all, though. I encountered some unexpected, and quite discouraging, resistance. No names or genders, of course, because they’re still friends, I think. Hope.
But one person who’s been deep in my corner, and has stuck up for me in the past, said something along the lines of “Jeez, I can’t post something without offending someone!” (And drew some “likes” from other folks I thought would be understanding,)
Another, who’s been a huge supporter of LGBT rights and who’s also been quite supportive of me personally, argued with me at length in private in support of the “HR”C before we finally agreed to disagree about this. (We were both very uncomfortable with the exchange, which never got personal.) But I did say that this person might have a different point of view if part of a group that “HR”C threw under the bus.
A couple of gay friends, including one who’s married, chose to keep the flag flying; the married one, while telling me “HR”C was indeed a joke, also said that the mass use of the equal-sign logo yesterday transcended “HR”C: “People saw an image that speaks to inclusiveness and decided to jump in and make a statement with it.” Point well taken, but as I told both of them, “HR”C doesn’t stand for inclusiveness, and that I would never knowingly use a symbol that represented discrimination against any of my friends.
Look — simple enough: I did not trade in my civil rights as an American when I traded teams. As a transwoman, I am not a victim, have never felt as if I was one, don’t project as one and my friends don’t treat me as one.
But I guess yesterday was a learning experience for a few of us. This is a week where I’ve encountered a few inconvenient truths. Things that impact my life, and my way of thinking, in negative ways. And some of yesterday’s reactions were ones I certainly didn’t expect.
And what I fear is that once the gay marriage laws are overturned — and I’m confident they will be, even if by 5-4 — transpeople will be left by the wayside. Essentially, “We got ours; fend for yourselves.” But after the gay rights questions are settled, there will still be transgender rights. The last frontier of civil rights. And we need help from the rest of you, same as we supported your causes. But I fear that help and support won’t be there. America moves slowly enough to correct its mistakes, and I hope the wheels are in motion to bring about the rights guaranteed to all of us as Americans.
And when the changes do come about, it won’t be because of the work of some big-money organization — especially one with a poor track record in regard to transpeople. It will be because people like me, and some of you, are out there fostering understanding and love and acceptance and winning over people one person or one small group at a time.
But after yesterday, I have a feeling it’s gonna be a much longer haul. And more and more, I have a feeling I won’t be around to see it.