Let me begin by saying that I WILL NOT be attending the “local” HRC gala this year.
While I attended the gala and participated on the “local” steering committee in the past, the actions of the both the national and “local” level HRC organizations in 2015 and 2016 continue to disappoint. (Note: The local organization’s fundraising is for the National Organization. While some of these funds are reinvested in the community, most of the funds raised support the National organization.) I want to share some of my reasons why I will not be attending this year’s gala. I was flipping through my photos from two years ago and stumbled on the photos from the 2015 MLK weekend events. As a black lesbian, I was all for helping HRC realize its goal of being more diverse and inclusive. Until December of 2016, I was a Federal Club member donating annually at the $1200 level. In 2015, I gladly spent roughly $3000 of my own money on HRC events to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That weekend, our local members participated in the annual MLK parade. In addition, we held a movie screening of “Selma” and participated in the day of service at the local Regional AIDS Interfaith Network office. I hosted a champagne breakfast at my office prior to the MLK March. Sunday, I rented out a theatre at Northlake Mall to screen “Selma,” and it was free to anyone who wanted to participate. Before the movie started, I intentionally and sincerely promoted HRC and their future.
Fast forward to the gala that year. I was focusing on being all-in in my service and promotion of HRC. I was a table captain who filled two tables or more. I recruited a few friends to be table captains. I invited people who were traditionally underrepresented to the event. The day of the gala I hosted a pre-gala toast in my suite at the Westin in order to facilitate a stronger sense of community at the event. (We had approximately 60 people show up for that.) I was excited about the promises that were made regarding the future of HRC. Gala organizers seemed genuinely excited about diversity, from the participants all the way up to the board. After the pre-dinner toast we all walked over to the event and were ready to see the new and improved HRC. Boy was I embarrassed that night. The gala was torturously long and did not provide any indication that HRC was on a trajectory of greater diversity and inclusion.
Anyway, I signed up to attend the HRC annual meeting in March or April in Washington, D.C. and was still prepared to be fully present and involved. As the weekend progressed, it was clear that the HRC quest for diversity was just a façade. While in D.C., it was apparent that HRC President Chad Griffin’s immediate staff did not represent the LGBTQ community in all of its diversity. It was then that I learned that they essentially failed their own equality index, the index that they have created to rate corporations’ LGBTQ policies and environment. In addition, each state has a local board responsible for engaging local communities. The North Carolina board is responsible for NC and SC, and it is an all white board. They don’t have any people of color, nor do they have any transgender people on their board. When they had the opportunity to diversify the local Board of Governors (which has been all white for years), they did not. There were openings, yet added another one of their friends. Still, I persisted in my participation. My patience ran out when I realized that they used rather arbitrary “rules” to maintain their all white organization. I was standing outside of a local restaurant one evening when I was introduced to a really sweet gentleman who happily shared with me that he just moved to Charlotte a few months ago and was just named Table Captain co-chair for the next HRC Gala. I was somewhat stunned. I as looked over at my partner (who also was in this exchange), we just laughed out loud. Why was this funny? Because when I was trying to understand how to help HRC integrate its board and steering committee, I was given the list of seemingly fixed requirements. In light of this recent appointment, I can only assume that these “requirements” were just for people of color and transgender people. This gentleman was new on the scene. He is white and likely a great fit within their homogenous social circle, and evidently did not need to go through the supposed application and vetting process. This bypass is all too familiar. Women and people of color are often denied participation because of this form of cronyism. At that point, I had enough. I reached out to HRC National. I received a what I believe was sincere phone call from the head of HR. I also wrote and met with the National Board co-chair. I was convinced that they would then take action. More than a year has passed since those conversations took place, and there has been no evidence of change. This can’t continue.
To explain why I am fed up I need to back up even further to 2014. HRC and other organizations did an incredible job helping to win marriage equality in 2014. I just knew this wasn’t going to happen in my lifetime. But it did! Coming off of this solid win, the state and national LGBTQ equality organizations were in need of a “next” platform. It seems they decided to take on transgender rights. This was quite a shock given HRC’s reputation among the transgender community. Many have felt that transgender issues were not even on the local organization’s radar. Their interest did not seem genuine to me and to others. HRC is a very efficient fund raising machine. Given that the local HRC has not been active on behalf of the transgender community ever before, I suspect they were simply in need of finding a new cause to arouse and engage their donor community. They jumped on the transgender rights bandwagon with uncharacteristic gusto. The irony of this is that there are no transgender people on the local board or steering committee. It presented like a Civil Rights movement for black people, only led exclusively by white people. A more harsh comparison would be like a Civil Rights movement for black people, led by an Alt-Right organization. I believe this accurately characterizes the existing relationship between HRC and the transgender community at that time. Anyway, with their ample resources and hunger for more, they descended on Charlotte. They set up meetings with city council members and with the Charlotte Chamber. They helped organize a group of like-minded organizations and called it Turn Out Charlotte. After the first ordinance failed to pass, what once was Turn Out Charlotte became Turnout NC. Unlike Turnout Charlotte, Turnout NC was more or less a merge of HRC and Equality North Carolina (ENC). In addition, the strategy for getting the ordinance reconsidered, was being set by people who work for HRC and do not even call Charlotte home. Those of us who have been a part of this community were not only NOT INCLUDED, we were not even informed about their plans. Yes, they were successful in getting the ordinance passed. However, nobody was prepared for the fallout.
HB2 propelled HRC’s and ENC’s fundraising to what may be one of their best years. They dominated the scene. As a small business owner, I saw my bottom line immediately impacted by HB2. Those who work in the hospitality industry were heavily impacted, many in our marginalized communities seeing their hours cut way back or eliminated. While I don’t blame HRC for HB2, I do blame them for their actions moving forward and for exploiting this opportunity as a fundraising event of sorts. People who depend on conventions and visitors have taken a major financial hit. I do believe it is hypocritical of HRC to have kept their annual dinner in Charlotte, all while working to ask others to refrain from doing business in NC. Their interactions with city leaders will have a lasting negative impact on the LGBTQ community. In trying to work with city leaders, they compromised good will in one relationship after another. They protested outside of the Charlotte Chamber. They gave out city council members’ phone numbers. We don’t need a national organization damaging relationships with key leaders in this city. We have to live here. HRC needs to answer to the local organizations and behave in a manner that allows us to feel safe and whole. We are moving on. We are in the process of creating change by creating a transparent LGBTQ steering committee. This organization will be made up of members of all of the LGBTQ organizations (and anyone who may be interested in leading) in Charlotte. We are requesting that city and state leaders who are interested in talking about LGBTQ people in Charlotte speak with members of this locally-led steering committee. The first steering committee meeting was held January 24th. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and about upcoming meeting locations. Once we are organized, we will be setting up meetings with local leaders. This group of people are interested in working together with city leaders to develop a plan to secure comprehensive and lasting rights for ALL Charlotteans.
I reiterate. I WILL NOT be attending the HRC gala this year because they are lacking in motivation and intention to be true community builders. Locally, they do not represent the diversity that they claim to represent. They are a PAC who needs to raise money and will seize any opportunity to do so. We need to make sure that they know that they must be the example of diversity and inclusion from the CEO on down. We need corporations who have diversity standards to hold HRC to the same diversity standards that are codified in their corporate non-discrimination policies. Until they demonstrating a desire to truly represent “human rights” in their delivery and organization as well as demonstrating the ability to take the lead from the local Charlotte LGBTQ community, donors should save their money and donate it to a local organization.