Protesters Among the Gay Tuxedoed Crowd

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on July 28, 2008

“This is one for the history books,” said Robert Haaland, a longtime San Francisco transgender activist. He couldn’t be more on the money. A coalition of groups, including Pride at Work, And Castro 4 All, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, called a boycott and managed to get not only local politicians, but also the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) dinner’s keynote speaker to cancel at the last moment. In the end, HRC, the national gay group that last Fall dropped transgenders from coverage in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), learned the power of the queer and transgender communities in San Francisco.

The occasion was HRC’s annual dinner, a major fundraising event at a fancy hotel in the downtown area of San Francisco. Scheduled as featured speaker for the July 26 event was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. A ton of other politicians, gay and straight alike, were also slated to be there. Only California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey actually made an appearance.

Three local politicians who honored the boycott, Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi, marched outside the fancy St. Francis Westin Hotel with the 300 picketers who circled the front steps denouncing the exclusion of transgenders from ENDA.

Said Haaland: “It couldn’t have been successful without having built strong coalitions with the SF Labor Council around the boycott (of the dinner). I really want to thank Mike Casey (of the Labor Council) for assuring that the mayor of LA understood that this was a real picket line.” In true pro-union spirit, Villaraigosa refused to cross the picket line.

Protesters called their action a “left out party.” They gave out awards to people they feel have helped push transgender rights, including City Attorney Dennis Herrera, State Assemblymember Mark Leno and Police Commission President Theresa Sparks (a transgender woman). They listened to entertainers and speakers, and danced when it was all over.

Inside the hotel, the mood was not as joyous. Catherine Cusic, the 63-year-old vice president of the Milk Club, bought a ticket and sat at a table discussing the boycott with those around her. When HRC President Joe Solomonese spoke, Cusic started “very quietly to give out leaflets.” Then “the goons came,” she said, and they grabbed Cusic in an arm lock that made her scream. As they dragged her out, she yelled to the 1,000 or so people gathered in the room: “Can’t somebody help me? Can’t somebody stop them, they’re hurting me?” No one moved.

“It was like the upper class in Germany,” Cusic said. “They talked about how distasteful the Nazis were, but felt it had to be done.” Cusic said she sustained bruises on her arms and shoulder.

HRC spokesperson Trevor Thomas did not return a call to Beyondchron.

It’s hard to imagine that HRC can now proceed with business as usual. The message from Saturday’s boycott and protest was loud and clear: Transgenders and their allies are not going away.

HRC should be very worried.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical southern Italian atheist queer with a website:

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