HRC official discusses
trans flag controversy with SAGA
QSanAntonio.com, April 5, 2013
An official from the Human Rights Campaign who is at the center of a controversy
in which a man was asked to remove a transgender flag during a pro-gay
marriage rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke to the San Antonio
Gender Association at their meeting this week.
Karen Quimby, a regional field director for HRC, fought back tears as
she described the events of March 27. It was the first time Quimby had
addressed a transgender group since the controversy erupted last week.
She was accompanied by Chad Reumann, a local HRC governor who is also
a SAGA member.
Quimby, who's been in the city recently to help CAUSA with their efforts
to pass a Human Rights Ordinance in San Antonio, recalls she was asked
by HRC to return to Washington to help organize rallies outside the Supreme
Court building on March 26 and 27 when the Prop 8 and DOMA cases were
The rallies were sponsored by the United for Marriage Coalition which
includes, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task
Force, Family Equality Council, GetEqual, Marriage Equality USA, and the
New Organizing Institute.
At the Wednesday rally, Quimby says organizers had agreed to surround
the podium with American flags as a form of "message control"
-- reinforcing that marriage equality was an American issue.
At one point, Quimby asked a man to remove the trans flag from the stage
area. She admitted to the SAGA group that she did not know it was the
trans flag until she asked and she "might have told" the man
that marriage equality "is not specifically a transgender issue."
"It was wrong and I regret it," Quimby told the group. "I
hurt a lot of people and I'm sorry." She says she has been in contact
with the man who had the flag and apologized to him.
Incident goes viral
Quimby's interaction with that man went viral on social media and LGBT
blogs across the country. Jerame Davis, of The Bilerico Project (bilerico.com),
witnessed Quimby's exchange with the man and reported:
"Through the bustle and the crowd, I could discern that the HRC staffer
was discussing the transgender equality flag the young man was waving.
It was clear the staffer wanted him to move or to stop displaying the
flag. It was also clear that the young trans man holding the flag was
at the edge of his training (and his wits) in dealing with the situation
as was the staffer."
Davis continues: "The HRC staffer moved on just as we got within
speaking distance, so we asked the man with the flag what had happened.
He told us that the staffer had been harassing him about his flag and
that he wasn't going to move. He told us the staffer had stopped on three
occasions to ask him to move or stop displaying the flag. He also mentioned
that the staffer had denigrated trans issues in some manner . . ."
Bloggers eventually identified Quimby as the "HRC staffer" and
began to distribute her photo on Facebook with the caption: "This
HRC staffer asked us to remove the trans flag from the stage at the DOMA
Supreme Court Hearings, March 27, 2013 (after she asked us what this flag
According to the Advocate, "The Human Rights Campaign issued two
of its own statements regarding the alleged incident. The first statement,
which Davis cites in his report, arguably denied responsibility, and was
made to QNotes. Now, on HRC's blog, a brief statement from Fred Sainz,
HRC's vice president for communication and marketing, addresses the issue."
The statement by Sainz reads: "In the midst of a tremendously
historic week for our community, two unfortunate incidents at the United
for Marriage event at the Supreme Court last week have caused pain in
the community. In one case, a trans activist was asked to remove the trans
pride flag from behind the podium, and in another, a queer undocumented
speaker was asked to remove reference to his immigration status in his
"HRC joined in a coalition statement on Friday apologizing for these
incidents and the individuals involved have personally offered their apologies
to those affected. But to be perfectly clear, HRC regrets the incidents
and offers our apologies to those who were hurt by our actions. We failed
to live up to the high standard to which we hold ourselves accountable
and we will strive to do better in the future. Through both our legislative
and programmatic work, HRC remains committed to making transgender equality
Karen Quimby (center,
in light blue shirt) with members of the San Antonio Gender Association
at their meeting on April 4.
Many transgender activists are still mistrustful of HRC because in 2007
the group endorsed a federal employment non-discrimination act that excluded
transgender people. HRC eventually changed its position but not without
creating a lot of detractors in the transgender community.
In introducing Quimby at the SAGA meeting, president Lauryn Farris asked
the group to be civil and polite during the discussion and the question
and answer session that followed Quimby's remarks.
Most of the conversation during the meeting dealt not so much with the
flag controversy but with SAGA members wondering out loud: Does HRC staff
get transgender sensitivity training? Does the organization need more
transgender staff and board members? How can we fix this and move forward?
Both Quimby and Reumann reassured the group that HRC is dedicated to transgender
issues. Reumann added that he would like to make San Antonio a model of
cooperation between the transgender community and HRC. He was even able
to recruit volunteers for an upcoming HRC event.