by Brian Ellicot
The United for Marriage Equality Rally held at the U.S. Supreme Court last month was supposed to be about bringing the LGBTQ community together in support of the Proposition 8 California plaintiffs and Edie Windsor, the principal plaintiff in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case that was being heard by the highest court in the land.
But that important gathering — one in which I enthusiastically joined as an American and a New Yorker, and as someone who openly identifies as a bisexual transman — was spoiled for me because of aggressive, transphobic comments and actions directed at me by a series of Human Rights Campaign (HRC) staff members during the rally that I had been so excited to join.
While standing with GetEQUAL activists, I became a target by HRC staff member Karin Quimby, who told me to remove the Trans Pride flag I was holding near the rally stage.
Interestingly, she did not initially know that the flag I was holding was a Trans Pride flag.
Ms. Quimby asked me, aggressively, “What flag is this?” When I told her it was the Trans Pride Flag she said, “This [rally] is about marriage equality, this is not about the trans community.”
Moments later she came back to where I was standing and continued, “You know what, you guys need to focus on what you need to do. We [HRC] are the organization that makes things happen.”
Two more times I was approached by HRC staff members who asked me to remove the flag.
I was shocked by these actions and comments and asked those around me if they could believe what had just been said to me. The reason for us being at the Supreme Court was to show our unity toward the ultimate goal of marriage equality for all people and certainly not to exclude Trans people.
I decided to remain resolute, to stand my ground and not take the flag down, and I stood there for the reminder of the rally.
After additional transphobic comments were uttered toward me by an unidentified videographer, who threatened to burn the Trans flag for reasons that were unclear to me, I decided to hand off the flag to C.d Kirven from GetEQUAL, because I felt threatened and was having considerable emotional difficulty handling such a hostile environment directed at me for being a Transman.
As a victim of a previous hate crime, I was very frightened about what could happen and I didn’t feel protected or safe in this situation.
Fortunately, United for Marriage Equality issued a statement apologizing for unidentified coalition partners who attacked trans people and asked undocumented queer speakers to not come out as “undocuemted” during their remarks at the rally.
Subsequently, I received a phone call “apology” from Karin Quimby the weekend after the rally and later received an email apology from HRC, after they had publicly denied that the Trans flag incident had occurred. I received a second communication on Facebook messenger from Karin Quimby who asked me if “I would make this all stop.”
Because of this wrenching experience, I want steps taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again, especially when we come back together as a community in June when the Supreme Court decisions on Proposition 8 and DOMA cases are expected to be announced.
Because of these events, and speaking for myself and for some other trans members of the LGBTQ community, we want the following steps taken by the HRC to show their commitment to trans issues:
An HRC pledge to support Trans related issues comprehensively throughout its organizational goals and objectives, including a commitment to hire trans staff members for a more diverse workforce at the country’s largest LGBT advocacy organization;
Commit to supporting anti-trans discrimination at the federal level and support passage of a gender identity inclusive ENDA bill in Congress;
HRC must support local efforts across the country to defeat anti-trans legislation including the Arizona Anti-Trans Bathroom bill and support efforts of the LGBTQ community of New York to pass the New York State Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA);
Invite the Trans community to be official participants in future rallies and be included in the planning of future organized rallies and related activities.