Pride nominates HRC for Pink Brick
by Seth Hemmelgarn
For the first time, an LGBT organization has been nominated for San Francisco Pride's Pink Brick award â€“ an award meant to recognize groups and individuals who've run afoul of the community or pushed for antigay measures.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and its president, Joe Solmonese, are nominated this year for continuing to support a proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that does not include protections for transgender individuals.
While no other LGBT groups have been nominated since the award was created in 2002, at least one LGBT ally has won the dubious honor. The community awarded the Pink Brick to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) in 2005. The vote was prompted by Feinstein blaming the Democratsï¿½ failure to win the 2004 presidential race in part on Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to marry same-sex couples in February of that year.
The other Pink Brick nominees this year are Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, who's spoken out against same-sex marriage, frequently denounces San Francisco values, and has attacked the Folsom Street Fair, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who's said there are no homosexuals in his country.
The unprecedented decision to include one of the community's own on the list is a sign of the lingering hurt feelings HRC's decision on ENDA, and Solmonese's continued defense of HRC's position, have generated in the Bay Area.
"I recognize the HRC has done a lot of good work, but last year, they really turned their backs on and betrayed the transgender community," said Mikayla Connell, who's openly transgender and president of the board of directors of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee.
HRC had gone on record as supporting only a bill that included gender identity protection. But after openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) and other lawmakers decided to drop transgender people from the bill, HRC supported the move.
The policy switch was reportedly made because Frank and other House leaders could only ensure passage in the House of Representatives of a gay and lesbian-only ENDA. The bill has since been introduced in the Senate, but has yet to come up for a vote. President George W. Bush has said he will veto it.
In an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter , HRC communications director Brad Luna wrote, "We continue to work everyday to educate members of Congress and pave the way for a fully inclusive ENDA."
Luna also wrote that HRC has dedicated $100,000 and three full-time staff members to Equality for All, a coalition that's fighting a potential California ballot measure that would amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriages.
"This is in addition to $100,000 donated by HRC to the Equality California Institute last year," he wrote. "Pink Brick, or not, we will not stop doing this type of crucial work in the struggle for equality for our entire community."
HRC's stance on the stripped down version of ENDA angered many in the gay community, who felt betrayed by the nation's largest LGBT advocacy group. HRC initially remained quiet for several days on the matter before finally reaffirming its 2004 position of supporting gender identity protections in the bill but declaring it wouldn't lobby members of Congress against voting for the new version that excluded transgender people.
HRC's double speak on the bill did little to quiet the controversy that has dogged the agency since last fall. At its recent annual HRC gala dinner in New York City Saturday, February 23 none of the city's lesbian, gay, and bisexual elected officials â€“ and nearly every other prominent city Democrat â€“ attended this year, according to the local LGBT paper Gay City News. Those who did attend were met by "a boisterous picket line," according to the paper.
HRC's Pink Brick nomination has evoked mixed reactions among San Francisco's transgender community.
Transgender activist Cecilia Chung, deputy director of the Transgender Law Center, said the nomination sends a "loud and clear" message to HRC.
"The whole spirit about the Pink Brick is looking at individuals and groups that create unnecessary barriers for LGBT rights and the LGBT movement," she said.
But Theresa Sparks, the transgender president of the city's Police Commission, who recently returned the Equality Award she'd received from HRC in 2004, doesn't think the nomination is a good idea.
"I think it's too bad they were nominated for the Pink Brick award. The HRC has done a lot for the gay and lesbian community for many, many years," Sparks said.
At the same time, Sparks said, "I donï¿½t think they should expect any big award from the transgender community anytime soon, either."
Past Pink Brink honors have gone to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (2006), United States Attorney General John Ashcroft (2004), and Dr. Laura Schlessinger (2002). President George W. Bush has the distinction of being the only person to win the LGBT raspberry twice, first in 2003 and again last year.