Transgender activists praised HRC President Chad Griffin for apologizing for the rift between HRC and the trans community — but at the same time they said they expect him to follow up his words with a concrete plan for action.
During an address in Atlanta on Friday at the annual transgender conference Southern Comfort, Griffin delivered a formal apology for what he said were times when the nation’s largest LGBT group distanced itself from transgender community.
“HRC has done wrong by the transgender community in the past, and I am here to formally apologize,” Griffin said. “I am sorry for the times when we stood apart when we should have been standing together. Even more than that, I am sorry for the times you have been underrepresented or unrepresented by this organization. What happens to trans people is absolutely central to the LGBT struggle. And as the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, HRC has a responsibility to do that struggle justice, or else we are failing at our fundamental mission.”
Griffin also reiterated HRC’s commitment to support in the upcoming Congress a comprehensive civil rights bill that aims to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in employment, public accommodations, federal funding, education and credit.
Dana Beyer, a Maryland-based transgender activist said Griffin’s speech was a “very important step” in addressing the tension between HRC and the transgender community.
“His words, his sincerity, his willingness to apologize for specifics was critical,” Beyer said. “We’re in a world where we’re overwhelmed with non-apology apologies. This was a real apology.”
The rift between HRC and transgender advocates exploded in 2007, when the organization under the leadership of Joe Solmonese declined to oppose a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that excluded protections based on gender identity.
Rebecca Juro, a New Jersey-based transgender activist who interviewed Griffin on her radio show after his speech, said Griffin’s words were “absolutely necessary” to heal the rift.
“Up until this point, it’s been a truism that HRC absolutely cannot be trusted,” Juro said. “That has basically been not only what the folks on my generation, the opinion we hold, but that’s what we’ve been teaching our younger activists.”
As the transgender community has evolved, Juro said those just coming into the movement have had to accept the notion that HRC isn’t a friend to the transgender community.
“I think they’ve become aware of that,” Juro said. “I think they kind of had to reset and say, ‘Look, we know we did what we did. We’re sorry and we’re not going to do it anymore.'”
A crucial factor bolstering Griffin’s speech, transgender advocates say, is that he had already in the two years since he was at the helm of HRC worked to increase transgender visibility within the organization.
One key appointment was that of Hayden Mora, HRC’s deputy chief of staff, who sits in on high-level policy meetings within the organization. Other senior staffers at the organization who identify as trans are Jay Brown, director of strategy for the HRC Foundation, and Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel.
Juro said those hires and other work made it especially appropriate for HRC to begin touting a renewed commitment to transgender issues.
“I think … HRC has finally decided it has enough of the people in place and enough of the programs ready to go that they’re finally ready to pull the shade back and say, ‘OK, check this out,'” Juro said.
Despite the praise for Griffin’s speech and HRC’s actions, transgender activists say the LGBT group should follow up with additional plans to continue to advocate for the community.
Jillian Weiss, a transgender activist and law professor at Ramapo College, said she spoke with Griffin prior to his speech and sensed a desire for him to connect with the transgender community — something she would like him to pursue with additional action.
“I greatly appreciated his commitment expressed in the speech,” Weiss said. “However, I will look to see how he moves the organization tangibly to empower the trans community, which continues to suffer greatly from prejudice, violence, and employment discrimination. He needs a plan in addition to a speech.”
As Griffin noted in his speech, HRC has provided money for transgender initiatives throughout the country, including Casa Ruby, a D.C.-based organization founded by transgender activist Ruby Corado that aims to support trans youth on their path to employment.
It’s that kind of support for local initiatives that Beyer said HRC should continue as it works to bolster its involvement with the transgender community. One such organization is TrueChild, a D.C.-based organization founded by Riki Wilchins that seeks to educate philanthropic officers and non-profits on the harm of gender norms.
Although Beyer said HRC has previously given TrueChild funding to the tune of $5,000, she said that group is an example of a program that HRC should be placing “front and center.”
“Not only is it dealing with trans people and gender non-conforming gay people, it’s dealing with people of color and it’s dealing with a local community where HRC sits and where HRC can make a huge difference,” Beyer said.