Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Security" goons oust older lesbian from HRC dinner

Last night the Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRC) held a fundraising dinner in San Francisco. Many local activists consider HRC a Washington Beltway outfit that rakes in liberal LGBT donations, but which betrayed part of its constituency last fall. HRC agreed then to exclude from proposed employment discrimination legislation (known as ENDA) protections for people whose gender presentation is not conventional. That is, HRC adopted the stance that it is fine to be gay -- but just don't be too queer. And certainly don't expect legal protection if you are transgender or gender-transgressive.

For more on the controversy, see this article by San Francisco Pride at Work, an LGBT labor organization.

Greatly to the credit of most San Francisco LGBT activists and even the city's progressive political establishment, civil rights for only some of the community does not win a lot of local friends. And so the HRC dinner was greeted with a boycott and, outside the hotel, a "Left Out Party: A Genderful Gala." The HRC's original keynote speaker, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa, withdrew on learning of the protest.

My friend Catherine Cusic, a 63 year old lesbian activist who is currently a vice-president of the Harvey Milk Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club, figured that some people attending the dinner might not know what the controversy was about. So she bought a ticket and attended the dinner. She describes what happened to her:

Around 7:00 I sat at table #72 (which was in the back row). My table had a few nice men who asked me what the issue was about ENDA. They really didn't know.

I listened to [speaker] Diego Sanchez’s speech. During [HRC Executive Director]Joe Solomonese’s talk I left my seat and walked towards the tables in front of me with the intent of distributing printed materials. At this point 2-3 large men accosted me. I don’t remember their exact words but I quietly said that I had bought a ticket and had the right to be there. I began to place printed material on a table when I was grabbed roughly by at least 2 men (who I think were behind me). One of them put my right arm in an armlock behind my back and up and bent my right wrist with tremendous force. I was also held by both arms (with force enough around both upper arms that I had bruises within 20 minutes).

At some point I was knocked to the ground and dragged out of the dining area into the outer room where they lifted me to my feet but did not let go. I then said to them: "let me go, I will leave." (We were walking to a stairwell). They did not let go and dragged me off my feet again and down the stairs to the exit on Post street.

I have huge bruises on my arms and a shoulder that feels like it was half pulled out of its socket. Years ago I was thrown out of the St Francis by SFPD and they didn't hurt me at all. These are a company of private goons hired by Human Rights Campaign to police their event.

Still in some shock from her treatment, Cusic is exploring whether private security guards can be charged with assault.


planet trans said...

Dear activist. You pure of heart, blessed of intentions and willing to place your well being at risk for us, Thank you.
We faced the terrible reality of 8 horse back officers, 2 bike cops, pictures being snapped as unmarked cars circled, foot patrolmen constantly reminding us where er could walk even though we were abiding all laws.
Sounds like we were protesting the Republican National Convention?
NO WE were 10 transgender people protesting a HRC "gala".
This is how transgender people are treated. Gay and Lesbian and think "poor trannies" and that won't happen to me?

janinsanfran said...

Kelli -- was that experience you describe in Atlanta? I think I read something about that somewhere.

The very reason that it is so important to include gender identity/presentation in ENDA is that otherwise they will do things like that to transsexual folks and other people who are different.

HRC sold all who care about human rights out on this, so naturally folks will protest.

Mark D. Snyder said...

HRC treated this protester like the Republicans treat us when we protest them. Why? Because HRC continues to endorse and support republicans, pro-war candidates, and anti-choice candidates. They continue to sell out the most oppressed in our community for the sake of marginal gains for the most privelaged. Pride At Work did a great job collaborating with labor to protest HRC. We need to keep making the connection between their anti-trans positions and their pro-war, pro corporation agenda. On I've posted just a few of the conservative nightmares HRC has endorsed.

Unknown said...

I was attending the SF dinner and the protester was far more disruptive than she is claiming. She actually threw her literature into the air and began screaming at Joe Solmonese.

HRC has and always will support and advocate for transgender rights. HRC worked very hard on the committee hearings on transgender issues and helped arrange witnesses and testimony. Lawmakers have even said that transgender issues wouldn't have any visibility at all if it wasn't for HRC.

Fact: HRC did not suggest this strategy. HRC did not write the non-inclusive bill. HRC endorses both versions. Lawmakers informed HRC of the decision to move in that direction and when HRC tried to convince them otherwise, they threatened to shut out HRC from all discussions.

What little clout the GLBT community has on Capitol Hill lies entirely with HRC. No other GLBT organization has a presence there or has relationships with lawmakers. HRC is doing the best they can with what they have. You shouldn't blame the one organization on the Hill trying to help transgender people. You should be trying to educate lawmakers on what transgender means and what the issues are. Dividing and arguing amongst ourselves serves no useful purpose.

Anonymous said...

To say this article shocked me, is an understatement.

I attended the gala this past Saturday, and as an attendee would like to recount my experience of what I witnessed, as her story is not at all accurate.

There was nothing peaceful or quiet about the actions this individual took.

During Joe Solmonese's speech, she/Catherine jumped up from her table and very loudly yelled "LIAR!"

She did not distribute flyers peacefully on tables, instead after yelling "LIAR!" she threw a large portion of them in the air, and walked quickly toward the stage, continuing to yell and toss flyers.

She was met by two security personnel who blocked her path. The entire room got quiet.

One of the security personnel explained she would have to leave, and motioned toward the back entrance.

She continued to scream, and tried to push her way through the two men, one of whom then took one of her arms, at which point she screamed "you're hurting me!!"

The security personnel let go. She tried to push forward again. Instead personnel turned her around, one went on each side of her, and they escorted her out of the room.

At no point did she stop screaming and throwing insults to the entire crowd, calling everyone attending "cowards."

At no point did she fall to the ground.

At no point was she dragged.

At every point was she quite intentionally loud and disruptive.

And from what I witnessed, she was treated with dignity and respect the entire time. I felt both the hotel and HRC handled the situation professionally, courteously, and the best they could.

It is upsetting to see a story twisted this way to get publicity. I hope other attendees Saturday night will respond with their recollections as well.

Anonymous said...

I too was at the dinner. I was working in the tech booth in the back, with a clear view of the whole room. Cusic is a liar, and a poor one at that. She was carefully escorted in a cival manner after her rude outbursts. Please note, she "distributed" her documents by throwing them AT people. How sad no one from the dinner was asked to give an account of the event in the above story. If they had been, your readers would learn that she was gently walked out of the room. She NEVER fell. The security, who you cheaply and unkindly call "goons," were professional.

hrcnewgirl said...

As much as I admire the moxie of anyone willing to stand up in front of others for what they believe in.....this story is so loaded with misrepresentations of the truth, that I cannot let this protestor's account of the evening go unchallenged. I sat at table 28 located in the front portion of the room.
She did not walk peacefully toward the stage during Mr. Salomonese's speech. Her method of distibuting documents was to fling them in the air while yelling disruptively. The room went silent. Impressivley, there was no verbal response to her aggressiveness. The room paused silently while two members of security escorted her out of the room. There was nothing rough about the actions taken by security. She was swiftly removed while continuing her outbursts. I understand that everyone has their own version of the truth when recounting an event. This was mine.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Cusic is a fool. A man just shot and killed two people and wounded several others in church just because it is gay-friendly! Do Ms. Cusic really think she can run through the room at a gay rights event, screaming and throwing objects, and think that security is not going to stop her? Shame on Ms. Cusic for frightening so many, and lying so much.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks for all the comments. HRC is simply not a believable source for many of us. An outfit that loads its website up with corporate sponsors can expect to be accused of having other priorities than those of LGBT people who are not elites. We do not trust. People who can't buy rights still need them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, janinsanfran, that you say "HRC is simply not a believable source." The story here, and Cusic's accounts, are lies. THIS is the unbelivable source. I guess spreading lies in a deperate attempt to make HRC into the bad guy is your only tactic left? Fox News is more trustworthy than this.

Anonymous said...

This is Catherine Cusic-if you care to you can read my response to comments made by "dinner attendees"

As we all know eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. Also people "see" what is consistent with their world view. Attendees reports range from I was nearly at the stage to I jumped up from my table and began screaming immediately.

I would guess that HRC has solicited many of these commentators-but maybe not..

It would be nice to see what security video tapes show, if they have audio and more than one angle (the camera i saw was at the back and would not have shown much).

Just in case, my attorney has requested that recoded material from the event not be altered or destroyed.

So let me clarify one thing-the leaflets were "thrown in the air" when both of my arms were grabbed and wrenched behind me. I did not throw them.

And yes i did yell at the speaker after my attempts to deliver quiet and peaceful messages (leaflets) were taken away from me and I was having my right arm clamped into a police"armlock/wrist hold." Something that many people saw on local television.

So if I was gently escorted from the room where did the bruises come from? I showed the beginning of them to the hotel manager and head of hotel security that night. My housemate took photos 2 hours later and my physician took more the next day.

To stop for one minute-I stand by my general account of what happened but be happy to review tapes with audio and good angles. You all have conflicting views from each other but they all echo the same line (have seen a few of suspiciously similar comments elsewhere. The party line seems to be. "it never happened and if it did she deserved it!"

If any you have read any of the latest work on the post 9/11 rise of the security industry, like Jeremy Scahill's book" Blackwater: The Shadow Army"
you will understand what went on the other night.
This is security work in the Bush world.

Some HRC supporters may approve of this world
but I suspect many did not. Be nice to hear from them-oops maybe they weren't there because of the ticket price.

The bottom line is this-whatever i did or said, i was no physical threat to anybody. If I were, the security
people would have had the SFPD back them up. Despite this I suffered significant bodily harm due to excessive force. Is this what our community supports? Or are we suppossed to accept that we are risking life and limb when we protest against issues we feel strongly about?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It saddens me to see our community fall into division. While I have supported HRC for many years I am challenged with the way in which it has chosen to move forward with ENDA. I did attend the dinner this year and was very concerned when I saw a screaming woman running towards the stage while the president of the organization was speaking. As in any situation like this the security officers pulled her out of the room forcefully. Yes, I beleive she may have been injurred in the removal as often is the case when someone resists. This woman screamed all the way out, insulting the speaker, the organization and the audience. I do not know her, however she presented herself as a ranting madwoman. while I agree with her concerns over ENDA her actions on the night in question were imature and disruptive and her account was to say the least... less than truthful

Anonymous said...

Catherine - it's funny how every poster who was at the event has a consistent perspective of your actions there that is grossly different than yours.

As an attendee, I agree with the others that you were disruptive and abusive and as a result, were removed from the event.

I'd be interested to see any video footage as well, as I'm certain it will show how much you are exaggerating your claim.

As you said, we often see what happens in a situation from within our own world view. You obviously were seeing what happened within your own world view.

And by the way, especially at your age, it doesn't take much to leave bruises. The fact that you were trying to push your way through the two security guards and at Joe up on stage when they tried to "un-forcefully" escort you out, left them no choice but to grab you and lead you out of the building.

And if you think this treatment only happens to Transgendered supporters of LGBT people who disrupt a private event like you did, and if you think it only happens at HRC events, then you obviously don't pay attention to protests on the news.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Cusic is unfortunately an alcoholic who is prone to obnoxious, sanctimonious and violent scenes such as this. Her account is undoubtedly a lie. I was not at the dinner, but I have seen her down 4 martinis at a dinner while seated next to me and proceeded to verbally attack a man about medicare. Put down the gin and walk away, stop humiliating yourself and everyone around you.

ccusic said...

Hi Catherine here-many of the comments posted here are scattered in thier sameness throughout queer blogs (oops did I say that word-I meant Human Rights blogs). They are all from people said to have been there and maybe they were-but someone got them and their stories lined up and online asap. Frank for example and "dinner attendee."

i do think that HRCnewgirl may think this is what happened initially (and much depends upon your angle of the event in a very dark room). But Seth who says he was there, says that I was pulled out forcefully. HRCnewgirl's story falls down when you see the photos of my arms and the photo recently released by our local queer paper (oops I said it again).

Dear anonymous collective-get your stories together...

Finally-to another courageous anonymous of July 31st.
if you are referring to a dinner for health workers when we had an unexpected appearance from a Drug company to explain Medicare D to us-I do remember that incident.
Many of us were upset at his unannounced presence, especially since Congress had just passed this disgusting bill written by the pharmaceutical companies so that patients like mine can't afford heart meds.

Perhaps you are the brave soul who stood up and threatened me and was sat down by other members.

Makes sense -support for HRC policies and Bush medicare go together. Shame on you...

Anonymous said...

Gahllie !!!!!!!

Lots of ink went into vilifying Cusic on Happenin'1

Funny that Ammiano, Sparks and Peskin are taking her complaint VERY seriously...