What Those Red Equal Signs Really Mean


By Write(H)ers participant Adrienne Harreveld, T'15


With the Supreme Court hearings on issues of marriage equality, my entire Facebook newsfeed has become a sea of red equal signs, a notorious symbol of the Human Rights Campaign. One friend jokingly made the comment the influx of HRC red equal signs is like the Facebook version of passover. While it’s great to see so many of my Facebook friends are on the side of marriage equality, there are two things I find slightly troubling: 1) how quickly my  friends seem to buy into facebook or social media activism trends, otherwise known as “slacktivism” (think KONY 2012) and 2) The Human Rights Campaign itself.

My guess is if my friends knew more about some of the executive decisions made by the HRC, they would be less likely to promote its social media kitsch.

I recognize that the Human Rights Campaign is an incredible force in achieving gay rights victories throughout the United States, but oftentimes these victories come at the expense of supporting groups and individuals that do little in the fight for equality.

My main problem with the HRC arose when Goldman Sachs was given the HRC’s 2012 Corporate Equality award. Although Goldman Sachs has a great LGBT diversity recruitment policy, there is more to a corporation than its hiring practices. Goldman Sachs, while a financial supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, was also one of Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s largest donors and donated to anti-LGBT candidates throughout the United States. Goldman Sachs’ financial practices also notoriously sustain inequality at many levels. They are responsible for innumerable wrongful home foreclosures which are three times more likely to affect black and latino families than white families. Not to mention the 2010 class action lawsuit after a woman was groped by a colleague after attending a Goldman Sachs sponsored Strip Club outing. Really, HRC? Of all of the corporations in the United States, Goldman Sachs was the most shining example of Corporate Equality?

Another common critique of the HRC is that they are cisgenderist or transphobic. The Transgender HIV/AIDS Info database defines cisgenderism as “a prejudice similar to racism and sexism. It denies, ignores, denigrates, or stigmatizes any stereotypically non-cisgender forms of expression, sexual activity, behavior, relationship, or community.” In 2007, the HRC supported a version of ENDA (the Executive Nondiscrimination Act) that prohibited the discrimination of hiring employees based on sexual orientation. The version the HRC supported did not include protection of those who were discriminated against in hiring practices because of gender identity. The HRC’s mission is to fight for the equality of all LGBTQ identifying people, not to prioritize the interests of some over others. Many gay rights activism groups seem to be primarily fighting for the rights of gay, white men. Could the HRC be included? Judging by their 2007 endorsement- definitely.

The two above are only choice examples in a slew of questionable decisions made by the HRC. In 2004, an HRC official reported saying “the group would consider supporting President Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program” and in 1998 they endorsed US Senate candidate D’Amato who openly opposed affirmative action and abortion rights.

By changing your profile picture to the HRC’s image of a red equal sign you are not just supporting marriage equality, but rather you are supporting the HRC’s version of marriage equality which prioritizes the interests of wealthy, white, gay, males. While I realize this is still a battle that needs to be fought, we need to continue to ensure we promote the agendas of all members of the LGBT community.