Equality for some: A critique of the Human Rights Campaign

Even if you have never heard of the Human Rights Campaign, you have more than likely seen them before. More commonly known as HRC, their notorious golden equal sign on a navy blue field is both aesthetically pleasing and indicative of their political ideology. Their simple square stickers make it easy to tell who supports LGBT equality, whether you are staring at a bumper in traffic or a binder in class. But what does it mean to support HRC? Here are a few things to consider before you slap those questionable bars onto the hood of your laptop.

1. They don’t want your help.

But they do want your money. A quick browse of the HRC website  will prove this. If you are an energized activist, this may not be the right place for you. Looking under their “Get Involved” tab will suggest that you “Donate” or find “Ways to Give.” If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities, you’re in luck. You can volunteer doing field organizing, where you will…ask people to donate to HRC.

Yes, every organization needs money in order to run and operate. HRC, however, has been widely criticized for the amount of money that they pull in on a yearly basis. In June of this year, a radical queer group vandalized the HRC gift shop in Washington D.C. and  released a statement  explaining their reasoning. In that statement, the group that calls themselves “The Right Honorable Wicked Stepmothers’ Traveling, Drinking and Debating Society and Men’s Auxiliary” mentioned that, “The HRC rakes in something approaching 50 million dollars a year in revenue.” While this number is not typical of a non-profit, one could commend them for being able to gather so much financial support, right?

It’s a bit stickier than that. The statement goes on to mention that, “D.C.’s only LGBT center is forced to go hat in hand to real estate developers and beg for space, only to face eviction a few years down the road.” Unfortunately, this is the case for many LGBT centers in the U.S. However, the D.C. center is right in HRC’s backyard. What was HRC created for if not to ensure that facilities such as these ones are maintained?

Where is the 50 million dollars a year going that the statement mentioned? While they did champion the win of marriage equality in New York this year (and patted themselves on the back for it), a gander at their website won’t generate any results on what the organization’s current projects are.

2. They are cisgenderist.

To this, some of you may be asking, “um, what?” To be cisgendered is to have one’s gender identity, gender presentation and biological sex correspond to one another. So, basically, not transgendered. This is precisely where the problem is.

In 2007, HRC came under massive scrutiny when they supported a version of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would prohibit discrimination of employees based on sexual orientation. In the hopes of passing the bill, HRC supported a version that excluded protections for employees facing discrimination based on gender identity. In order to justify their exclusion of transgender people from ENDA, they said that the passing of that version of the bill would ensure a later version of the bill which did include trans people. Simply put, trans people could wait their turn.

This is what we call, “yielding to the politics of respectability.” HRC’s unfortunate tactic in this instance was meant to essentially butter up the American political system by introducing a bill that protected the rights of innocuous gay and lesbian people who, for the most part, subscribed to gender norms, making them “respectable.” Separating the “T” from the “LGB” perpetuated the transphobia that has historically weakened the queer rights movement.

3. Okay, so they’re trying.

There are plenty of well-meaning, dedicated people who work for HRC. Their D.C. headquarters must harbor plenty of motivated young interns ready to make a difference. That being said, it is crucial that organizations that support LGBT rights focus on the progressive movement as a whole. According to Dr. Ian Barnard, associate professor in the CSUN English department and queer studies faculty member, focusing on single-issue politics is short-sighted. “For them gay is the only criterion,” said Barnard. HRC, which has previously endorsed pro-gay conservative candidates, overlooks the effects that these politics have on the queer community as a whole. “Being anti-homophobic is not enough,” said Barnard. “There are lots of anti-homophobic people who are racist, sexist and transphobic.”

It is great that HRC is committed to the U.S. adopting equal rights for gay and lesbian people. However, by segregating the trans community–and even if the 2007 version of ENDA did not pass and even if HRC did apologize later for its endorsement of it–transphobia, in the gay community and otherwise, is legitimized. “You end up reproducing the same kind of demonisation of trans people that the hegemonic political establishment is producing,” said Barnard.

Now, before you mar your car’s bumper with that idealistic sticker announcing your support for equality, think of who is actually being made equal.