10/31/2014 12:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Those Who Can, Do

This is my 100th HuffPost blog post and my second anniversary of blogging on The Huffington Post. It's particularly timely, as I've just received a lifetime achievement award by being inducted into my county's Human Rights Hall of Fame. It's been a pleasure to contribute to the civil-rights debate, and I've enjoyed the feedback I've received. I realize my analysis is one of many, and the debate has helped me refine my understanding. It has helped when the debate is civil, which it often is not, and that leads me to today's post.


When we advocate, we do a pretty good job of hiding the disputes and disputations that are ongoing within the activist community. We do that out of dire necessity, because when those conflicts become public, the targets of our activism get skittish and back off. "Why should I take risks to help you all when you can't even agree amongst yourselves?" they ask, and rightly so, as there are enough contentious issues with which government must deal, and our representatives have little time to become enmeshed in community argument.

The conflicts are exacerbated when there are multiple groups working toward the same goal, as has been the case in Maryland for the past three years. And it becomes unmanageable at times when there is no referee or umpire to maintain order, or no organization with political clout and/or financial resources that can take the lead and dictate terms The marriage campaigns in Maryland were led by Equality Maryland for many years, but when the marriage bill failed in 2011, the organization imploded and was relegated to the sidelines. Fortunately for the mission, HRC was willing to take control following its successful effort in New York the previous year, and the support of Gov. O'Malley and President Obama helped make marriage equality a reality in Maryland in 2012.

Gender Rights Maryland, created following the fallout of the marriage failure of 2011, took the lead on the gender-identity bill in 2012 and did its best to maintain order over the next two years. Our group, with a team that had been engaged in the Maryland gender-identity campaigns from the beginning, had the political connections and experience to move the bill forward, particularly through the committee, which had been a roadblock for almost every session to date. Many of us had worked for Equality Maryland when it was an effective organization, under the leadership of Dan Furmansky and Morgan Meneses-Sheets. It made sense for the gay community to support the nascent trans political organization, particularly when we made it clear we would support a refurbished Equality Maryland willing to do what it does best, which is grassroots activism. There shouldn't have been any conflict, since we had worked together for years.

But the new edition of Equality Maryland would not stand for it. Even though they had only a single trans board member, who was not politically engaged, and in spite of the fact that the needed committee votes had made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with them, they inserted themselves forcefully into the process. As a result, my team had to spend a great deal of time undoing their mistakes, which included pushing to the fore a gay man as sponsor who couldn't even define gender identity in a committee hearing, marginalizing the sponsor who sat on that very committee and had the skills and experience to get the bill passed, and promoting an offensive amendment to the public-accommodations section of the bill. This brings me to the dirty little secret in our state's LGBT community. My adversaries have gone public, so I will set the record straight (no pun intended).

I want to add that such communal infighting is not unique to the LGBT community. As an example, recently the issue of dissension on the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks was in the news, and the ever-entertaining Charles Barkley -- TV analyst, popular power forward and two-time inductee into the Naismith Hall of Fame -- spoke his truth. He referenced the "dirty, dark secret in the African-American community."

Our community's "dirty, dark secret" is that there are gay political activists who don't want trans persons speaking for themselves, who don't like trans persons and, as a result, make no effort to get to know us, who would rather we just do as we're told or go away. Some of this is based in prejudice, some in misogyny. Some gay men and women feel their own identities threatened by the existence of trans persons. Since the '70s there have been gay men who feel that trans women are really extremely gay men who are so afraid of their gay identity that they are willing to undergo genital reconstruction to be penetrated by men (Jim Fouratt). There have been gay women who believe trans women are the avant-garde of the patriarchy, chemically and surgically created by men to invade women's spaces (Janice Raymond). There was a vicious debate in the gay community in 2007 about the inclusion of trans people in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and there is a similarly vicious debate today about the acceptability of having trans women in women's spaces, such as the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

The problem has always been with us, occasionally rearing its ugly head. We've managed to control it to keep our eyes on the prize -- freedom and equality for all -- but it needs to be challenged, discussed and resolved. As former President Clinton said just last week at the HRC national dinner:

[S]ometimes the biggest threat to the future of our children and grandchildren is the poison of identity politics that preaches that our differences are far more important than our common humanity.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, complain.