Center on Halsted transgender programming coordinator resigns in protest

LaTrobe at at COH event. Photo: Brynn Cassie West.

LaTrobe at at COH event. Photo: Brynn Cassie West.

Center on Halsted’s transgender programming coordinator resigned from her volunteer position Tuesday in protest of a decision by the Center to take money from the Human Rights Campaign for this Sunday’s observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

June LaTrobe said she chose to resign because the Center is putting money above principle by allowing HRC to “buy its way back into the trans community’s good graces.”

HRC donated $250 to the Center for the event. Brian Richardson, the Center’s director of public affairs, said the money would help defray some of the costs of hosting the event.

HRC’s relationship with the transgender community hit a low point in 2007, when the organization supported a push for a national workplace non-discrimination law, ENDA, that excluded protections based on gender identity and expression.

“Since then they have done little to nothing to reach out to the trans community,” LaTrobe said. “Locally they have never been supportive or involved in trans-based issues. They’ve been a non-entity, and now they’re trying to spend a few dollars to get some credit with the trans community.”

Marisa McCabe of the local HRC steering committee reached out to Center on Halsted to offer the money. She said she  knew HRC has had trouble in the past with some doubting their commitment to the “T” in LGBT but the local committee wanted to support the event.

“We are giving the money because we wanted to support this special day,” McCabe said. “I know our history. Our intention was just to help with this. Our intention was not to promote HRC but just to help out with the costs, not to take away from the meaning and the purpose of recognizing the two individuals this year that were murdered.”

Richardson acknowledged that HRC has had problems with the transgender community but said the Center hopes to work together with HRC moving forward.

“There’s no denying they have had challenges, but we’re hoping to work with their new leadership,” Richardson said.

Chad Griffin took over as HRC President in June.

LaTrobe, who is also vice chair and and public policy director at Illinois Gender Advocates, said the money was first described to her as a sponsorship a few weeks ago by a member of the Center’s executive team.

“I said that was kind of tacky. It was disrespectful to sponsor a memorial service,” LaTrobe said.

When LaTrobe learned it was HRC, she said she was stunned.

“It was only $250, which to me is even tackier than if it was $250,000,” LaTrobe said.

Richardson said at the $250 level, HRC is just a supporter – not a sponsor of the event. He said their name will not be printed on promotional materials.

“The Center takes a financial burden for putting this event together,” Richardson said.

McCabe reiterated that HRC is not getting any special billing, no extra signage.

HRC has not played a part in planning the event, which the Center co-hosts with the Broadway Youth Center.

Local HRC steering committees are participating in events in more than 20 cities across the country, according to a list provided to Chicago Phoenix by Michael Cole-Schwartz, HRC’s director of communications in D.C.

The Chicago remembrance will be held this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Center on Halsted. The two-part event begins with a vigil to honor the lives of transgender people who have died because of acts of bigotry due to their gender identification. The vigil is followed by a performance-based celebration of the transgender community.

Other events will be held in Joliet and Naperville on Monday and Tuesday. The other upcoming Chicago remembrance will be held Tuesday at aChurch4Me MCC at 7 p.m. in Rogers Park.

Calls to the Broadway Youth Center were not returned. This article will be updated as more details become available.