It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of some of the decisions made by the Human Rights Campaign (“HRC”) and comments made by their spokespeople, but what should also be apparent is, like any organization, the HRC was developed with people power. Like me, all of those people are fallible. Mistakes can and do happen. It took me a long time to recognize that for myself. Sometimes, I speak for me, sometimes I speak for an organization – at no time is my speech necessarily correct.
About two months ago, I had an interesting conversation with Darrell Parsons. Mr. Parsons is a member of the Board of Governors for HRC and Chair of the San Antonio Gala Planning Committee. He suggested that I come to the Gala Planning meetings as media, putting on the record “the good, the bad and the ugly.” It was an offer that a queer blogger and grassroots activist like me could not pass up. For one, it would allow me to grow my understanding of the motivations of those involved with the HRC. It would also provide me with a method to hold the organizational process publicly accountable when I witnessed them going astray. While I saw the opportunity as a way to prove me wrong about some of my perceptions of HRC, I did not fully consider the very real possibility that I could be right. What could my “report” mean for the community? Will it build it up or further tear it down? Would an “ugly” moment divide us more than any “good” moment could possibly pull us together?
After two committee meetings and finding budding friendships with many of those participating, I now find myself reluctantly upholding my responsibility to report “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
One of the most obvious “good” scores was discussed in the preceding paragraphs. It’s the fact that I was even invited to attend these meetings on the record. This shows a willingness on the part of our local HRC chapter to be transparent to the community and to be held accountable publicly should they go astray.
Another “good” score was obtained by the HRC Gala committee developing a “Diversity and Outreach” sub-committee. As an enormous fan of radical inclusiveness, I would be candidate number one to be on such a committee; however, my purpose with the group is as a reporter, not as a committee chair. That position was filled by Kevin, who is also the faculty advisor for a college LGBT organization, “OUT.” While diversity should be a key factor of any organization rather than a sub-committee, this development at least shows that there is a willingness to try to solve the overall exclusion problem within the larger HRC organization – even if it is an afterthought.
The good didn’t stop there. This year, the committee decided to offer a significantly reduced student rate of $75.00. To further that, they have offered to allow members of the community to purchase a student ticket at that rate and have the ticket later donated to a worthy student. They’ve also allowed for payment plans – HRC Gala, on lay-a-way. The reason I put this in the “good” category isn’t because a $75.00 meal is affordable, but it is certainly a step in the right direction to bring less affluent members of our community to the table.
A less substantial “good” that deserves a mention is the social aspect of volunteering with the HRC. There are many wonderfully charming and intelligent people volunteering their time to promote the organization. When asked, many stated that they chose to work with the HRC because they believe that we are all deserving of equality. Whether we agree or disagree on the methods and inclusiveness of various organizations, we can agree that at the finish line, we will all celebrate the victories.
In the “good” section, I discussed the fact that the committee had a sub-committee devoted to “Diversity and Outreach.” A bad moment was when Mr. Parsons found himself stumbling for a way to explain the committee’s function, stating its purpose was to reach out to those that might not be familiar with HRC and try to get them to come to the Gala event. Examples of this outreach included approaching the black and Latino communities. This was “bad” to me as it seemed to solidify the perception of the organization as being a predominantly white, upper class group that is completely out of touch with the remainder of our community. It’s possible that it would make it into the “ugly” section as it seemed to focus more on race than full diversity; however, diversity is often difficult to explain and starting with race is often the easiest path for people to get to the whole picture.
Another bad revolves around the issue of giving credit where credit is due. I mentioned the Target debacle to Darrell Parsons and the recent interview in Billboard Magazine with Lady Gaga. I noted that it seems like the company may be making an effort in the near future to make amends with the LGBT community and Mr. Parsons quickly noted that HRC pressured them into it. While I would concur that HRC contributed to the pressure on Target with their petition campaign and removal of the company from their buyer’s guide, credit should also be given to grassroots organizers who took actions against the store – including, but certainly not limited to, a PFLAG mom who, on her own volition, returned a basket full of items purchased from Target and explained the rationale behind her return to management, and the group Queer Rising, who invaded Target stores in their “Target Ain’t People” campaign declaring, “Attention Target Shoppers” – know when you shop at Target, your money is going to fuel hate. Pressure on the company came from many avenues within our community without one direct action being planned by HRC directly. No one organization or group deserves full credit for any progress made.
This isn’t the first time HRC has ignored or outright taken credit for grassroots’ efforts. In fact, immediately following the National Equality March, HRC declared the event “big” and responsible for a “burst of momentum” in a fundraising email. At no point did they mention that they fought against the National Equality March tooth, nail, fist and high heel all the way to D.C.
Perhaps the thing that makes the “ugly” so very “ugly” was the fact that it directly affected one of the “good” items on my list, the reduced rate for student tickets. I heralded the more reasonable rate on Facebook, noting that San Antonio is trying to bring more people to the table. However, when a “Table Captain” and active member of the Steering Committee for HRC was asked about purchasing an entire table for students, the inquirer was quickly told that the problem with donating a table to students is that students won’t pay attention, won’t “bring anything to the table, will be drunk and won’t purchase silent action items.”
While this is ugly on its face for the “drunk” comment if for none other, it’s also terribly wrong. I have worked closely with the students and LGBT Youth organizations on many occasions as a volunteer to help them out and as an organizer looking for them to help me out. Each time, the students have brought a lot to my table, including: passion, energy, intelligence and hard work. While it may be this person’s experience that students aren’t worthy of a place at the HRC Gala, I wholeheartedly disagree and would like to refer this individual to their Diversity and Outreach committee for further training.
It isn’t the official policy of the Human Rights Campaign to disregard the value of students. According to Mr. Parsons, “Students are our future and bring a great deal to the table; which is why we have focused on supporting the student organizations over the past few years.” But actions speak louder than words. The San Antonio chapter of HRC has taken pro-student actions in the past, including assisting St. Mary’s University students in getting recognition for their GSA and speaking to the Alamo Community College District Board in support of a fully inclusive anti-discrimination policy; however, it is still “ugly” to call the students drunks and dismiss them for choosing to have a meal the next day instead of buying silent auction items.
Righting the Wrong.
I’ve always believed it’s never too late to right a wrong. Hopefully, the Gala planning committee, and more particularly the offending “Table Captain,” will make it up to the students by donating a table to the local student groups, free of charge as the benefactor had originally intended to do, and with no obligation for the purchase of a silent auction item. Of course, they may have to lock up the liquor cabinet before inviting all those pesky alcoholic students.