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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 being heard.

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 represents)."

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 remarks.

"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 a reality."

Karen Quimby (center, in light blue shirt) with members of the San Antonio Gender Association at their meeting on April 4.

Regaining trust

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.