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Op-Ed: My Supreme Court Marriage Rally Transphobic Experience From Hell

by Guest Author on April 8, 2013

in Marriage,News,Op-Ed

Post image for Op-Ed: My Supreme Court Marriage Rally Transphobic Experience From Hell

Last week during the United For Marriage rally at the Supreme Court, an HRC staffer attempted to remove a trans pride flag from being displayed, and another attempted to prohibit several undocumented speakers from identifying their status.

Guest author Bryan Ellicott, an openly identified transman, became a target of several Human Rights Campaign staff members who repeatedly asked him to remove the trans flag he was holding near the rally stage. Ellicott’s essay painfully outlines the deep animus broadly directed toward transgender people in America. 

The United for Marriage Equality Rally held at the U.S. Supreme Court last month was supposed to be about bringing the LGBTQ community together in support of the Proposition 8 California plaintiffs and Edie Windsor, the principal plaintiff in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case that was being heard by the highest court in the land.

But that important gathering — one in which I enthusiastically joined as an American and a New Yorker, and as someone who openly identifies as a bisexual transman — was spoiled for me because of aggressive, transphobic comments and actions directed at me by a series of Human Rights Campaign (HRC) staff members during the rally that I had been so excited to join.

While standing with GetEQUAL activists, I became a target by HRC staff member Karin Quimby, who told me to remove the Trans Pride flag I was holding near the rally stage.

Interestingly, she did not initially know that the flag I was holding was a Trans Pride flag.

Ms. Quimby asked me, aggressively, “What flag is this?” When I told her it was the Trans Pride Flag she said, “This [rally] is about marriage equality, this is not about the trans community.”

Moments later she came back to where I was standing and continued, “You know what, you guys need to focus on what you need to do. We [HRC] are the organization that makes things happen.”

Two more times I was approached by HRC staff members who asked me to remove the flag.

I was shocked by these actions and comments and asked those around me if they could believe what had just been said to me. The reason for us being at the Supreme Court was to show our unity toward the ultimate goal of marriage equality for all people and certainly not to exclude Trans people.

I decided to remain resolute, to stand my ground and not take the flag down, and I stood there for the reminder of the rally.

After additional transphobic comments were uttered toward me by an unidentified videographer, who threatened to burn the Trans flag for reasons that were unclear to me, I decided to hand off the flag to C.d Kirven from GetEQUAL, because I felt threatened and was having considerable emotional difficulty handling such a hostile environment directed at me for being a Transman.

As a victim of a previous hate crime, I was very frightened about what could happen and I didn’t feel protected or safe in this situation.

Fortunately, United for Marriage Equality issued a statement apologizing for unidentified coalition partners who attacked trans people and asked undocumented queer speakers to not come out as “undocuemted” during their remarks at the rally.

Subsequently, I received a phone call “apology” from Karin Quimby the weekend after the rally and later received an email apology from HRC, after they had publicly denied that the Trans flag incident had occurred. I received a second communication on Facebook messenger from Karin Quimby who asked me if “I would make this all stop.”

Because of this wrenching experience, I want steps taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again, especially when we come back together as a community in June when the Supreme Court decisions on Proposition 8 and DOMA cases are expected to be announced.

Because of these events, and speaking for myself and for some other trans members of the LGBTQ community, we want the following steps taken by the HRC to show their commitment to trans issues:

  • An HRC pledge to support Trans related issues comprehensively throughout its organizational goals and objectives, including a commitment to hire trans staff members for a more diverse workforce at the country’s largest LGBT advocacy organization;
  • Commit to supporting anti-trans discrimination at the federal level and support passage of a gender identity inclusive ENDA bill in Congress;
  • HRC must support local efforts across the country to defeat anti-trans legislation including the Arizona Anti-Trans Bathroom bill and support efforts of the LGBTQ community of New York to pass the New York State Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA);
  • Invite the Trans community to be official participants in future rallies and be included in the planning of future organized rallies and related activities.

Image of the Trans Pride flag is courtesy of Wikipedia.

bryanBryan Ellicott is an open and proud bisexual transman who was born and raised in New York City. He has been an activist since coming out in 2009 after participating in his first rally in Washington D.C. for Marriage Equality. Since 2009 he has been very actively involved in LGBT issues. Ellicott is a graduate of the College of Staten Island with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and philosophy. He has interned in the offices of Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the New York City Council and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. He worked for FEMA following Hurricane Sandy and to date is one of the few open trans employees in the agency. He is a member of the board of directors of Stonewall Democrats of New York City. He is also the LGBT Liaison for Mel Wymore 2013, a candidate  for the New York City Council, who is a transman. He also has been a very active with Marriage Equality USA and is working toward achieving Trans protections in all 50 states.

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drluccia April 8, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Sorry you were the target of the HRC's historic transphobia, no, anti-trans bigotry. HRC has been consistent in throwing out the, "T," in GLBTQQIA whenever it's, "inconvenient," or gets in the way of them, "getting things done." They only apologized after being shown by dozens, maybe hundreds of people that their people really did what they first denied.

The anti-trans attacks continue as Ms Quimby asks you to make it all go away. It's your fault, see, that HRC was anti-trans in word and deed that day. You're to blame for HRC's ongoing denial of the, "T," in GLBTQQIA. It's your fault that people stood up for you, for transfolk everywhere, and called HRC on their actions, lies, and prevaricating.

Ms Quimby? Asking a target of discrimination or bigotry to make the discrimination or bigotry against them to stop is, well, besides really stupid, it's really, really bigoted, ignorant, violent, and how many other adjectives can we muster to make this point. You are wrong. HRC remains consistently wrong. I hope you will try to make it right, but you've got one hell of a track record to overcome.

Once again, Bryan, I'm proud of you and stand with you in this.


LOrion April 8, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Thanks Bryan.. sharing your piece… and dr luccia .. agree. HRC has had this problem OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. It must be institutionalized!

jeromie April 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Great article – You took the high road, you told the story and you gave concrete and inclusive steps to remedy the situation moving forward. You couldn't have said it any better. Again, great job.

Shannon Drury April 8, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Thank you–for your activist work, for this piece, for your call for healing and unity. Thank you!

drmontassi April 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm

when an entity calling themselves the HUMAN Rights Campaign fails to recognize you as worthy of rights to fight for they are telling everyone they reach that you are not HUMAN enough to deserve rights. NO, we are not going to "make this all go away" YOU must make it stop.
If when fighting for equality you perpetuate inequality…hypocrisy much?
we MUST speak out about this if for no other reason than to hold HRC accountable to their mission statement and let their supporters know what and who exactly they are supporting.
silence is permission.

transmaryland April 8, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Thank you for sharing your story and articulating items you wish to be addresses.

The trans employment issue at HRC, and the work towards trans and gay non discrimination laws at the state and local level. I had another, which was a public apology (and it could be written) to the trans community. It can be made on in order to be considered a respected apology. Cristan Williams would be happy to post it for all to see.

thatsdrfreak April 9, 2013 at 10:58 am

Wow! The arrogance of the HRC! I'm really sorry that you were treated this way.

Keeblerninja April 9, 2013 at 11:02 am

I am so angry that you endured that kind of treatment where the recognition of human rights was supposed to be supported and celebrated. I don't understand how the mind can work that way, as having encountered some bigotry in the LGBTQ community due to being bisexual. I would think that though none of us are cookie cutter people, we would try to fight with tooth and nail for human rights, not just human rights that come in a certain package. It's almost as they were saying to you were not "legit" because you didn't fit their mold or that your equal rights weren't as important as their equal rights. Are you kidding me??? It is EXACTLY that kind of time wasting and stunted mentality that will keep the issue of human rights spinning its wheels in the LGBTQ community and beyond if something is not done about it. Please keep up your good work and thank you.

henryreynolds April 9, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Just to be clear: is there a progressive political movement that would *not* belong there? Immigration reform? Socialized medicine? Violence against women? Plural marriage? Election reform? Term limits?

LorrieFludd April 9, 2013 at 10:59 pm

So can we start protesting for socialized healthcare and legalized marijuana at marriage equality rallies now? Seriously, this is ridiculous. The Supreme Court cases are about marriage equality for same sex couples. It has nothing to do with transgendered issues or illegal immigration. Not that those issues aren't important, but it isn't what the current debate is about.

simplylivingsideburns April 10, 2013 at 3:44 am

Transgender people who want to get married face the same barriers that other couples do when marriage is restricted to two people of the opposite birth sex. There is a patchwork of inconsistent laws across every state in the country regarding changing birth sex on birth certificates, so no matter where you choose to reside, if your home state has conservative requirements, you may not be able to get your documentation changed. If you're a gay/bi trans person (and many, many exist) and want to marry someone of the same gender (but different birth sex), you have to choose between having documentation consistent with your gender identity OR being able to marry your partner. The list of scenarios goes on and on, but this is very much a trans fight.

Bekka Jai April 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm

The ignorance demonstrated here by Ms. Quimby is truly stunning. By asking Bryan to "make it go away", she shows that she somehow believes that it's all about Bryan, that he has some kind of magic wand to stop trans people from discussing this incident and what it represents to the trans community. What Ms. Quimby apparently doesn't understand is that it's not just about this one incident, it's about decades of HRC's misbehavior toward trans people and the way they themselves have cast their organization as not part of the solution but as one of the biggest parts of the problem.

It's clear that Ms. Quimby believes that this is a minor issue to be quietly swept under the rug, that this is just a PR problem that can be made to go away with an apology or two. She's wrong. The relationship between HRC and the trans community has been a powder keg for a long time, and Ms. Qumby's actions simply lit the fuse.

The truth is that trans people have been waiting, even expecting, for HRC to fuck up again, and they didn't disappoint. If HRC wants to make this go away, it won't happen with an apology. It'll only happen when HRC starts doing in deed what they claim to be doing in word, when they prove themselves a true trans ally and supporter in the ways that really count, openly and publicly, when they start advocating for trans people and the issues that matter in our lives in the same way they do for same-sex marriage.

Promises and apologies aren't going to cut it anymore, not that they ever really did. It's going to take real, significant, positive action on these issues to make trans people take notice and redefine the way HRC is seen in our community. If HRC is serious about changing hearts and minds, they know how to do it. It's going to cost money, time, and effort, but it's certainly doable if HRC decides they're willing to put the resources into making it happen.

HRC can, and should make this go away, but the way to make that happen is for HRC to take responsibility and dedicate themselves and their resources to becoming the change they say they want to see.

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