Donna Rose responds to ENDA controversy

As the ENDA debate and controversy continues, HRC’s only openly
transgender board member, Donna Rose, resigned. Though long, we are
reproducing her statement in its entirety. It’s important
that we all read her powerful words:

Community. Integrity. Leadership. Vision. These are the
foundational pillars of Equality. These are the values that draw
many of us into advocacy roles. Those tenets provide a clear
roadmap when things like politics, expediency, agenda, and power
cloud the picture as they so often do. They pave the way to the
moral high-ground, and those who follow them with trust and
patience will ultimately find their efforts rewarded.

My name is Donna Rose, and I am the first and only openly
transgender member of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights
Campaign. I am the national co-chair for Diversity. I am the
co-chair appointee-elect for the Business Council. I have spoken at
events around the country on behalf of the organization, and I am a
respected advocate for the transgender community.

My participation on the HRC Board has been a heavy burden. The
relationship between HRC and the transgender community is one
scarred by betrayal, distrust, and anger. I have become a focal
point for much of that frustration and I accepted that
responsibility with the hope that I could help to change it. In
some very real ways I think I have been able to do that, or at
least to help make that happen, and am tremendously proud of all we
have achieved.

HRC has done some wonderful work to support the transgender
community. Workplaces around the country are recognizing the unique
challenges faced by transgender employees and are moving in record
numbers to protect them as valued members of an inclusive
workforce. Educational tools to help demystify our lives and to
provide a human perspective have paved to way to a better
understanding of who we are and our challenges. We have set high
standards and we have held others accountable to them. The question
at hand is whether we, as an organization, hold ourselves
accountable to those same high expectations.

Transgender is not simply the ‘T’ in GLBT. It is people who,
for one reason or another, may not express their gender in ways
that conform to traditional gender norms or expectations. That
covers everyone from transsexuals, to queer youth, to feminine
acting men, to masculine appearing women. It is a broad label that
cannot be confined to a specific silo of people. It is anyone who
chooses to live authentically. To think that the work that we are
doing on behalf of the entire GLBT community simply benefits or
protects part of us is to choose a simplistic view of a complex
community. In a very real way, the T is anyone who expresses
themselves differently. To some it is about gender. To me, it is
about freedom.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a core piece of
legislation. It would guarantee that GLBT people will not get fired
from their jobs because of discrimination and prejudice. It makes a
strong statement that discrimination of any kind is unacceptable,
and it recognizes the critical role of employment and career as
something more than simply a paycheck. It is a source of pride, of
achievement, of belonging, of security, and in a very real way it
is a validation of person-hood.

Unemployment and under-employment is the single most significant
issue facing transgender people today. The high-profile case of
Susan Stanton, city manager from Largo, FL who was fired early this
year after an exemplary 17-year career there simply because she was
outed as being transgender, demonstrates the continuing experience
that many of us continue to face each and every day in workplaces
around this country. Although workplaces have made tremendous
strides in enacting supportive policy, bad things still happen and
the overall message being sent is that we’re somehow expendable.
In years past these things happened quietly, going unnoticed. Those
days are numbered.

That’s why ENDA is so important. It is more than simply a
statement that it’s not ok to fire GLBT people for reasons
unrelated to work performance. It’s a statement that we are a
community. It’s recognition of people who may not express their
gender in traditional ways does not affect a person’s ability to
contribute as simply another part of a diverse workforce. It’s a
validation of those foundational pillars that line the moral high
ground. And, it’s recognition that each of us has value, and none
of us will be left behind.

The current situation regarding ENDA is nothing short of a
politically misguided tragedy. A tool that could and should be a
unifying beacon on the heels of the historic passage of fully
inclusive Hate Crime legislation has been split. Transgender
brothers and sisters again find themselves separated, isolated, and
disempowered. People in positions of power have decided that their
personal legacy and the promise of political expediency are more
important than protecting our entire beautiful community. The time
is here to make a strong statement to demonstrate to them that they
are wrong.

In 2004 the HRC Board voted to support only fully-inclusive Federal
legislation. That decision paved the way to my participation with
the organization, and was a significant step in the healing
process. Since that time we have worked together tirelessly towards
a goal of Equality for all. Less than a month ago HRC President Joe
Solmonese stood before almost 900 transgender people at the
Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta to pledge ongoing support
and solidarity. In his keynote address he indicated that not only
would HRC support only a fully inclusive ENDA, but that it would
actively oppose anything less. That single pledge changed hearts
and minds that day, and the ripple affect throughout the
transgender community was that we finally were one single GLBT
community working together. Sadly, recent events indicate that
those promises were hollow.

An impressive coalition of local and national organizations has
lined up to actively oppose the divisive strategy that would leave
some of our brothers and sisters without workplace protections.
This effort has galvanized community spirit and commitment in ways
few could have imagined, and it has demonstrated to those who would
divide us that anything less than full inclusion is unacceptable.
Organization after organization has seized the moral high ground
knowing that this is a historic opportunity that cannot be
squandered, and that it is our moral obligation to ourselves and to
generations that will follow to make a loud, clear, unmistakable
statement that we are a community and we will not be divided. There
is a single significant organization glaringly missing from that
list. The Human Rights Campaign has chosen not to be there.

It is impossible to remove passion and emotion from what has
happened. Indeed, those are the fuels that propel us. That being
said please know that this entire situation has affected me deeply
and profoundly. Still, I will not sling mud at the organization to
who I have given my heart, my energies, and my trust. I will not
give in to my frustration and disappointment that Joe’s words of
less than a month ago have proven to be hollow promises. This
unfortunate turn of events has forced me to make some very
difficult personal decisions about integrity, character, community,
and leadership. Although I can find any number of logical and
personal reasons to continue in my capacity as a board member, I
cannot escape the moral implications of the decision before me.
Using that as my guide, as difficult as it is for me to make, the
decision is an obvious one.

I hereby submit my resignation from my post on the Board of the
Human Rights Campaign effective Monday Oct. 8, 2007. I call on
other like-minded board members, steering committee leaders,
donors, corporate sponsors, and volunteers to think long and hard
about whether this organization still stands for your values and to
take decisive action as well. More than simply a question of
organization policy, this is a test of principle and integrity and
although it pains me greatly to see what has happened it is clear
to me that there can only be one path. Character is not for
compromise. I cannot align myself with an organization that I
can’t trust to stand-up for all of us. More than that, I cannot
give half-hearted support to an organization that has now chosen to
forsake the tenets that have guided my efforts from day one.

I align myself and my energies with the groundswell of community
sentiment that has universally stood to oppose this divisive
strategy. I wish my friends and colleagues from the Human Rights
Campaign the best, and I expect that time will prove their decision
to take a neutral stance and to fracture our community to be
short-sighted and misguided. I accept the notion that we all want
the same thing. It’s just that I couldn’t disagree more with
this destructive strategy to get there. I urge the board and the
leadership to reconsider their position and the join a unified
community that supports a single all-inclusive bill.

History teaches painful lessons. Any celebration of rights gained
at the expense of others is not a celebration. It is a failure of
effective leadership. It is to offer the promise of a tomorrow that
you know in your heart will never come. It is to choose to turn
your back on those who need you most, who do not have the voice or
the stature to speak for themselves.

The time is here for leaders to lead, for those who say they stand
for community to act forcefully and with purpose. Anything less is
to forsake the pillars of Equality for the empty promise of
something less. The word that we have for that in our language is
“Courage”. It’s the kind of courage it takes for GLBT people
to show up for work each and every day, living authentically,
wondering if that will be their last day. I call on my brothers and
sisters at the Human Rights Campaign, for Speaker Pelosi and
Congressman Frank, and for equality-minded leaders everywhere to
lead by example and to do the right thing.

In Solidarity for Equality,
Donna Rose