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.

  • really?

    I’m sure the author could have come up with a better argument if they had the time or education. But only writing half truths, and not following up completely on data, is foolish. I thought, the HRC was simply a title. They are primarily for “Working for Lesbian, Gay,
    Bisexual and Transgender Equal Rights” that is quoted from their website. They are not there to push a LIBERAL agenda. Fine, they include the acronym LGBT, but only really mean LGB. Some LGB people actually do not want to be associated with the T. Not that they should have less rights than the rest, but if you think about it those are two different issues. What’s up with everyone generalizing and sticking different groups of people together when in reality we have nothing in common. When you start belittling the orgs that are actually gaining momentum in fighting for a cause you start to actually weaken your own side of the fight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a strong supporter of the HRC (although I STRONGLY support the LGBT cause), but it seems to me that you have not thought of no one better to aim at. Oh no, but you have HOPE for CHANGE, right? Why waste your time writing about an org that has actually helped (which you failed to mention) when you can write about the real issues? Like that there will be no candidate who fully supports gay rights in the next big election. Yes, there are people (like Fred Krager), but really, how far will they get? Instead of writing this, go out and DO SOMETHING! Don’t quote an anarchist group as that will get you no where. Unless you agree that the “It Gets Better” campaign did not help. If you chose to write and actually want to move people to stand up for certain things, then do not try to sway people to stand in front of a group who is actually getting us somewhere.

  • Hazumu Osaragi

    After the 2007 endorsement by HRC of the exclusion of transgenders from ENDA, I made my own HRC-like stickers:

    [÷]  <- square, gold DIVIDE sign on blue background   

  • Zaac

    Trackrackrabitt3, you should know that Karlee Johnson is not the first and only person to take this position. You said it yourself – The HRC stands for gay rights. Gay rights are different than transgender rights, and while we are all grouped together in the LGBT acronym, the HRC made this quite evident when they dropped the anti-discrimination clause based on gender from ENDA to get it pushed through. They have a limited focus, and often fail to see beyond the white, upper-middle class, assimilated gay and lesbian perspective of things. They often fail to take into account racism, cisgenderism, classism, ableism, and the like. Who gets invited to their events? People with money. Who gets to join their club? People with money. How do you join? Give your money. The HRC is doing some good thing, yes, but they are deserving of a critique as to what they’re doing with their money and how they’re addressing inequalities on multiple levels. Gay and lesbian soldiers can now serve, amazing. But it will be interesting to see if HRC takes up the cause for transgender soldiers, if they advocate for the depathologization of transgender identities in the DSM, if they address workplace, facility, housing, educational discrimination for transfolks and for people of color. The reality is that trans folk are an afterthought for the HRC. They throw the T in there to make themselves look inclusive, but I have to wonder. 

  • The Human Rights Campaign [HRC] is nothing but a complete joke.

    • Trakcrabbitt3

      Proof to back up that claim?

  • Trackrackrabitt3

    HRC stands for gay rights, as long as i have know their website has TRANSGENDERED on the very top in big letters.  For lack of a better word, IDIOT; have you even counted how much money NOM has mounted?  Also, money is the only thing that runs this political engine anymore. The number of civil liberty atrocities allowed to take place, simply because of one side having more money, is daunting.  Based on this logic it only stands to reason that HRC gather as much money as possible.  Do not sit there and demonize an organization for doing something all of them do.  ALSO, the last time I checked the only organization having national media difficulties disclosing how much money they have garnered, as well as how it is allocated, is NOM.  Another point, LGBT center, is maybe HRC was not aware; also, did the LGBT ask for help ( MAKE THEMSELVES KNOWN?). Oh, wait. It would seem you did not even bring that to mention. MERELY YOU FUCKING INFERRED IT; uggghhh, it is so irritating for people to take “x” amount of facts out of context and paint them as they see fit, so the laymen American will buy into it like a 1950’s commercial.  While you are at it, how about you put a guy smoking with girls all over him; so guys will think smoking makes them sexy.   I am not even a super HRC person, however,  it truly annoys me how you took such situational data and stretched them more than Joan Rivers face to suit some half-ass researched article you wrote.