I am a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in social theory and practice. Social theory and practice is a build-your-own-major option where you are able to choose a focus within the social science field and take courses from different departments to fulfill distribution requirements. All students in the major are required to complete a senior thesis during their senior year that connects to their concentration and studies.
My senior thesis is on the conflict and tension that has existed between the Human Rights Campaign and the transgender community throughout the history of the organization, and more broadly throughout the history of the LGBTQ Rights Movement. Chad Griffin, the current Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, formally apologized to the transgender community at the Southern Comfort Conference in 2014. Through making this apology, he acknowledged the existence of this divide between the organization and the transgender community. My thesis aims to understand the origins of this tension and to analyze the implications of it.
While attending the Out for Work Conference in Dallas, Texas, I was able to make a big development on my thesis. I was at this conference because the Point Foundation paid for me, along with three other Point Scholars who are also seniors, to attend the conference. The purpose of the conference was to help LGBTQ college students develop their resumes and job training skills while also being able to network with LGBTQ friendly corporations from the STEM, non-profit, and government fields. The conference drew in representatives from corporations throughout the nation that were recruiting for employees. During the conference we were assigned Pod Leaders, who would help us debrief the conference. By a stroke of luck, my Pod Leader was Donna Rose.
Donna Rose was the first openly transgender member of the Human Rights Campaign Board of Directors. She eventually resigned in 2007 from her position after the Human Rights Campaign publically supported a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) legislation that did not include protections for the transgender community. This decision from the Human Rights Campaign in 2007 was a pivotal moment in the history of the Human Rights Campaign and in their relationship with the transgender community. For this reason, I had been reading about Donna Rose extensively in the weeks leading up to my trip to Dallas in October. Once I saw her at the conference, I told her about my thesis and asked her if she would be willing to answer some questions about her experience with the organization and her impression of the ENDA controversy in 2007, and she agreed to help.
After speaking to Donna, she recommended other people that I should reach out to who would know more about the transgender movement during this time period, and people within the Human Rights Campaign who would have a unique perspective. I have since conducted interviews with previous Executive Directors of the Human Rights Campaign and multiple transgender activists. As I interview more people, I get referenced to even more people who I should talk to about my thesis.
Since the interviews are going so well, I have decided to extend my thesis to a two-semester project, and am deeply considering making it an Honors Thesis. I have been overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised by how willing and open people have been to talk with me about their experiences and viewpoints. I am looking forward to learning more as I continue to interview people and as I continue to understand this important part of our community’s history.
This post was written by Point Scholar Ashley Burnside
Ashley was born with cerebral palsy, and much of her youth involved adapting to her disability and dealing with bullying because of her disability. She attends the University of Michigan where she is a chair on a branch of the Central Student Government, the LGBT Issues Commission, helping to solve LGBT issues on campus and creating an inclusive environment. Additionally, Ashley dedicates her time to Dance Marathon, raising money and awareness for children with disabilities, allowing them to receive therapies their families otherwise could not afford.
Read more about Ashley.