Recently, I took a trip to Washington D.C., but I didn’t take that three-hour Amtrak ride south to look at monuments and statues. I went to talk.
Much of my time in Washington was spent inside a building I’d only been in once before, and not for the reason I’d been there last time. You see, the last time I visited this building a decade ago, I’d spent most of my time there standing in front of it holding a protest sign.
It was, in fact, a little surreal to walk in the front door of the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign as a welcomed visitor rather than as an adversary, but a decade is a long time. Like most trans people, particularly those of us who have been around long enough to remember when things were different, I’ve carried my own preconceived notions about HRC, its policies, and the people who work there for a very long time. What I discovered during this visit was that a lot of those notions just don’t hold up anymore.
It was no surprise to see trans people working at HRC. I’d known this to be the case for a while by then. What I got to see for myself was how the trans and gender-variant folks working for HRC are, to a person, top-notch activists, the right people in the right places.
Throughout my visit to HRC, visiting, talking with, and getting to know some of the people who work there, one thought continually rose unbidden in my mind:
There are no tokens here.
Even though I still haven’t reached a point where I can confidently say I trust the Human Rights Campaign as an organization, I can say that I absolutely do believe in the people on the ground, doing the work. If there’s anything I’ve gained from being a trans journalist and radio host and from publicly opposing the kind of politics HRC once employed as long as I have, it’s a finely tuned bullshit detector. Every good journalist knows that when something smells funny, there’s usually a good reason.
I approached this visit to HRC as an opportunity not only to talk but also to listen, to learn who and what this organization and the people involved with it are about today. What I found surprised me, at least a little.
Everyone I met and spoke with at HRC expressed not only a deep commitment to the goals we all share as a community, but to advancing trans people and issues in particular. What’s more, they made me believe it. My BS detector didn’t go off once.
It was easy tell that the trans folks working for HRC are well aware of the weight of the banner they’re carrying for both the trans community and for HRC, as well as the necessity that they do it well. These are the kind of people I’d choose if I wanted my organization to be able to have a real impact on the issues impacting trans people.
Having personally followed and reported on this organization for well over a decade, I remember how many times HRC tried to keep the truth from the trans community, but they were never particularly good at it. Whenever they behaved badly, we always busted them sooner or later, usually sooner. If this is some sort of political fake-out, as some have suggested, it’s the best-planned and best-executed fake-out I’ve ever seen.
Boys, girls, and everyone else, I do believe they’re for real this time.
If that sounds like an endorsement, then so be it. I saw and heard a lot during those couple of days at HRC, and I came away much more impressed than I expected to be. HRC hasn’t earned my confidence or my trust yet, though I do believe that could come in time. What I do think this organization has earned, from all of us, is a new look with fresh eyes, without the misbehavior of the past coloring our opinions.
If we’re to honestly call ourselves advocates and activists, we must believe that what we do can change the world, and just as importantly, we must also be able and willing to recognize when it finally does.