We’re From GenderPAC: We’re Here to Help You (2001)
©2001, 2013 by Dallas Denny
Source: Denny, Dallas. (2001, Spring). We’re from GenderPAC: We’re Here to Help You. Transgender Tapestry, 93, pp. 12-14.
See Related: GenderPAC’s Implosion
We’re From GenderPAC
We’re Here to Help You
By Dallas Denny
The Gender Public Advocacy Coalition was formed out of the excitement which followed the mid-1990s discovery by Karen Kerin and Phyllis Frye that it was possible for transgendered and transsexual people to advocate for themselves on Capitol Hill. At the 1995 Be-All, an impassioned speech by Transexual Menace co-founder Riki Anne Wilchins on the need for a transgender organization to press for political change at the national level resulted in the opening of many checkbooks, and GenderPAC was born.
In 1996, representatives from the community’s national educational nonprofits met at (appropriately enough) Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to charter the new organization. The paperwork was signed and Wilchins was named Executive Director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition. Notably absent was Phyllis Frye, whose leadership had been usurped by Wilchins at the 1995 Lobby Day.
From the beginning, GenderPAC was in trouble. Just hours after the signing, Wilchins defied the board of directors’ direction to change the name of the GPAC newsletter to anything other than “In Your Face.” “In Your Face” it remained. On a more fundamental level, however, there was a split in the GPAC board between those who desired to keep the organization’s efforts and membership transgender-specific, and those who agreed with Wilchins’ desire to build a broad-based coalition to address the rights to gender expression of everyone in the culture. Policy Advisor JoAnn Roberts and President Angela Gardner resigned over this issue; other directors, although concerned about Wilchins’ unwillingness to take direction from the Board, kept silent, content that however high-handed Wilchins might be, she was moving the organization merrily along.
In 1999, GenderPAC abruptly ceased being a political action group and was reinvented as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit— a complete reversal of the intent of its founders, which were themselves 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Suddenly, the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition was not a political organization, but an educational one.
Wilchins managed this sleight of hand by stealthily dissolving the original board of directors and constituting a new board more to her liking. Somehow, without benefit of a board meeting (I was vice-president of the GenderPAC board and was never contacted) she managed to get the representatives from all the founding transgender organizations off the board, save two: Carrie Davis, who represents IFGE, and Tony Barreto-Neto, who was Board Chair and TOPS representative— and Wilchins is reportedly putting pressure on both Davis and Barreto-Neto to resign. Wilchins’ new board will represent a much wider range of identities, and most of its members will be nontransgendered.
As the organization’s budget has increased, Wilchins has taken increasingly extreme steps to distance GenderPAC from the transgender community. A July GenderPAC press release signed by Wilchins promoted “the first national conference on gender,” disavowing the community’s very existence (see callout). Wilchins has told a number of audiences she no longer identifies as transsexual or transgendered, and reportedly holds the view that “GenderPAC is not the political arm of the transgender community” (meaning, of course, “GenderPAC is not an arm of the transgender community, period.”).
Wilchins’ most recent move came only days after NGLTF’s Creating Change 2000, when a 14 October press release let it be known GenderPAC is moving into grassroots organizing by recruiting state and campus coordinators and conducting “How to Be a Gender Activist” training. The first of these trainings, the release said, was a fait accompli, having been held at Creating Change. This move into the grassroots is another abrupt departure for GenderPAC, which was chartered to work on the national level— and a betrayal, for it violates agreements with grassroots transgender organizations like It’s Time, America!
In her career as a political activist, Wilchins has run roughshod over many people and any number of organizations, leaving— needlessly— a trail of hurt feelings and bruised egos in her wake. She has betrayed colleagues and those who thought they were her friends, reneged on promises, violated solemn agreements, and played person against person and organization against organization in reckless pursuit of her goals. She has sucked up to those she finds useful and blown off or ignored everyone else. She has obscured her actions with Orwellian double-talk, half-truths, and, when necessary, outright lies. When confronted with her misdeeds, she has used her not insignificant personal charm and linguistic talents to defuse potentially lethal situations and then continued blithely on her way. Time and again she has sprung surprises on the transgender community, each time using the community and its dollars to shape GenderPAC into something new and not at all like the organization she promised to build. Having achieved her goal of a broad-based coalition for gender rights, having turned GenderPAC into an educational organization, and having moved into grassroots organizing, Wilchins is still morphing GenderPAC, turning it into something— but what? She isn’t saying.
Over the years I’ve grown increasingly concerned about Wilchins’ behavior. Case in point: her 1999 and 2000 excursions to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival were needless and embarrassing; the trans community won a moral victory after the original Camp Trans, when festival organizers said any self-identified womyn-born-womyn would be allowed on the land without question. Wilchins’ recent antics were needlessly antagonistic and did harm to a delicate balance, especially when one of her party showered on the land, exposing his penis. Another case in point: after heartlessly wresting control of Lobby Day from its co-founder, Phyllis Frye, she managed— some say purposefully— to turn that once well-run and effective event into a confusing, disorganized turmoil with no overall strategy. Moreover, many in the community believe Wilchins and her cohorts, in concert with the Human Rights Campaign, pre-lobbied Capitol Hill, urging congressmembers to support a nontransgender-inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act (this supposedly in return for HRC’s promised help with the Hate Crimes Act). This seems improbable, but does serve to illustrate the amount of distrust Wilchins is generating. Ironically, Board GenderPAC members who are employees of HRC have grown uncomfortable with Wilchins’ abandonment of the transgender community, and one has already resigned in protest.
Through all this, I supported Wilchins’ vision of building a broad-based coalition for gender rights, and I support it today. What I don’t support, won’t support, and can’t support is a GenderPAC that relegates transgendered and transsexual people to “poor relations” status and hustles them out of sight before the influential new neighbors come over for dinner— and that is what is happening. Having read GPAC press releases that eliminate transgender language entirely and having spoken with a number of dissatisfied present and former GPAC board members who shared with me Wilchins’ ruthless and often brutal maneuvering to rid the board of those she considers undesirable, it has become clear that simultaneous with its move to new quarters in Washington, D,C,, Wilchins is taking GPAC to a new and previously unhinted-at phase which will largely excise transgendered and transsexual people from the organization’s management, board, and mission.
In August, Wilchins forced Tonye Barreto-Neto from his position as co-chair. In recent weeks, three GenderPAC board members have resigned— Meryl Hooker, Liz Seaton, and Donna Cartwright. I expect the coming months will bring a further exodus of transpeople from GenderPAC’s board, some voluntarily, and some forced, leaving the organization as Wilchins’ vehicle for self-glorification and a platform for her eccentric gender politics. Short of the board doing its job and putting a halt to her machinations, Wilchins will have her way.
My question, then, to the transgender community, is this: Why are we empowering Wilchins with our dollars? How is the new transgenderless GenderPAC relevant in any way to transgendered and transsexual people? As GPAC’s much ballyhooed employment, GID reform, and legislative projects die from lack of support while Wilchins focuses resources on speaking tours and celebrity fund-raisers, why should we support this strange new organization which considers us an embarrassment? Why respond to her impassioned speeches? Why give her our money? Why join GenderPAC? Why should we support GPAC with our donations when there are other, more relevant, and more needy organizations which exist solely to serve transpeople? Why should we allow Wilchins to raise money at our conventions— money which will be taken from the transgender community for use by Wilchins’ increasingly nontransgender organization?
Instead, why shouldn’t we give our money to our own community— to state and local political groups like It’s Time, Illinois, or NYAGRA, or FORGE, or, for that matter, to IFGE, Renaissance, or NTAC, or FTM International, or American Boyz, or our local support groups, or to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, or PFLAG, or GLAAD, which are in my judgement more sympathetic towards and supportive of transgendered and transsexual people than the new, non-improved GenderPAC.
We must stop GenderPAC’s siphoning of the transgender community’s limited resources and force it to look to its new, nontransgendered constituency to support its fancy new offices.
You can send your donations wherever you wish. I’m planning to send mine where they’ll benefit me and others like me— in other words, to anyone but GenderPAC.