This past weekend was Andersonville Midsommarfest, one of Chicago’s 598206 annual summer street fests. For those of you who don’t know, Andersonville is a historically Swedish area that now has a reputation for being the queer women’s neighborhood. When my friend and I were there on Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining, the temperature was above 90, the music was blasting, and the beer was flowing. What did this mean?
Okay, what else? It means a brigade of HRC volunteers were out collecting money and signatures to support their ceaseless campaign for same-sex marriage. Now don’t get me wrong–I think marriage equality is an admirable goal. As long as marriage is the key to gaining tax breaks, healthcare, immigration aid, easier adoption, etc, I absolutely think it should be equally accessible. Marriage also means a great deal to many people, so yes, I support same-sex marriage. That sounds lovely, but it’s not my top priority.
My issue with the HRC is that it claims to represent and fight for the needs of all LGBT (where’s the Q?)** individuals and families, yet it’s really a one-issue party. Everything the HRC does or addresses miraculously gets tied to marriage equality. I was a member for several years, but finally gave up after receiving an email informing me that a right-wing politician who was campaigning for a governorship had ties to a white supremacist group that had publicly called for the murders of queer folks and people of color. This was a problem because if he won and if (hypothetically speaking) a marriage equality bill were to come to his desk, he might veto it. Excuse you…WHAT? No. That’s a problem because the guy is part of a hate group that wants to kill peeps. That’s not a marriage issue; that’s a HOLY SHIT WHITE SUPREMACY issue.
Besides that very extreme incident, I’d rather throw my (limited) money and (bountiful) support behind an organization that reps a full community of queer folks, not just white, class-privileged, gender-conforming ones.
So…I walked into Midsommarfest and was immediately stopped by an HRC rep. (Side note: why they gotta have so many hotties working for them? C’mon why can’t the hotties be more critical thinkers?) (Reminder to self: okay, okay, people just have different values when it comes to their political organizing. That’s fine I guess. Boo.) There was a petition for me to sign and oh I could donate too. I quickly and politely, but firmly, explained why I quit the HRC and that if their values aligned more with mine–addressing hate crimes, safety in schools, youth homelessness, inclusive and accessible healthcare; fewer black tie dinners–then they should talk to me again.
I found my friend and we continued walking through the fest. While giving her a brief rundown of what had just happened, we were stopped by another HRC rep. Another petition.
Me: When the HRC gives a shit about trans* people and people of color, come talk to me. [Walking away]
HRC volunteer: [Calling after me] We’re getting there!
Me: [Calling back] Very slowly!
Me in my head: “We’re getting there?” What does he think this is, 1970?
My friend, Elizabeth: I love you.
Later in the afternoon, we saw him again.
HRC volunteer: Can I talk to–oh, I saw you earlier.
Me: Yeah, you probably don’t wanna talk to me again.
HRC: I actually don’t know that much about the HRC. I’m a straight guy and I’ve just been volunteering for the last two years.
Me in my head: Thank you for clarifying your straightness. I might have misread you as a sneaky gay. The horror!
HRC: I’ve been hearing some criticism of the HRC–now some of that has been directed at our last president–some people have said we’re elitist and not in touch with “the common man”…
Me: You hear correctly. [Mini “marriage and rich white people aren’t the only issues” spiel]
HRC: Well, what I’m talking about today isn’t marriage. It’s about employment. Have you heard of ENDA?
Me in my head: I probably know more about ENDA than you do.
HRC: Ya know, there’s actually more state-by-state discrimination against transgender people than against gays and lesbians.
Me in my head:
He assured me that there were some trans* people working for the HRC– “I learned that there aren’t just men and women, there are people in between and all kinds of other ways”–and that he in fact knew a couple. He proceeded to tell me about his girlfriend’s friend’s birth name, her current name, and her medical history.
Me in my head: Please stop talking. I’m happy for you and I genuinely would like to talk with you about what you’re hearing about non-binary genders and how different people experience their transitions, but right now you’re outing your acquaintance. I’m sure she’s beautiful and yes, I’m she sure rocks that dress, but I DON’T NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS. This is not my business and you are outing her in your effort to demonstrate your own trans* friendliness.
The conversation kinda ended there, as he needed to get back to talking to people who wouldn’t problematize every word and might even donate some cash. Before we parted, he reiterated his hope that things at the HRC would get better (ie more inclusive) with time and that their new president, Chad Griffin, might push for that. We shall see…
In other news, I got to catch up with the lovely Elizabeth and share one of these:
Oh and I won a beer glass (I would) and a bottle of water (really?) at the Proud to Run tent. Good times.
**In this case, LGBT has been interpreted as big G, small L, tiny B, no T. Forget radical queer, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people.