The Strange Logic Of Elizabeth Birch

The former head of the Human Rights Campaign has long been - along with the entire HRC board - cagey when it comes to her real opinions. Horrified by the movement for marriage equality in the 1990s, Birch helped pioneer the HRC strategy to punt on marriage equality and the military ban while pushing for hate crimes laws. That strategy is still in place and it's why the federal government is miles away from any recognition of gay couples, why DADT remains in force (and will remain in force throughout this Congress) and the attorney general has to say he isn't even aware of what the Maine referendum is even about.

I often wondered what the real motive for this strange fixation was. I thought it was fundraising: any direct-mailer will tell you that a pitch to save gay people from being murdered and left for dead on the streets is a good tool. HRC milked it for years and years ("You want to see more Matthew Shepards? Donate here if you don't.") It also asks for nothing from gay people. Under the hate crimes rubric, gays are asked to see themselves as sad, passive victims of hate, reaching out to government to protect them more than those just targeted for other reasons (having money, for example). But here is Birch's rationale, delivered in her much-postponed victory lap last evening:

"This was the moment that was required in order to have new laws follow."


You have to have a federal hate crime law in order to recognize the existence of gay married couples? Or in order to stop the government persecuting servicemembers? How on earth did the civil rights movement for African-American equality unfold all the way to inter-racial marriage without a single hate crimes provision? I think Birch was saying: this was the easiest get, and thereby gets the gays marked in federal law as a protected victim class. Once gays are turned legally into victims, more laws can be passed enshrining that status.

The trouble is: victims are not servicemembers or married couples. Marriage and military service do require real things from gay citizens, real responsibilties and real equality. Victim laws merely require things from government. And that's why the hate crimes fixation makes sense from the HRC point of view. The campaign was a brilliant decades-long marketing measure to provide HRC with funding, while giving Democratic party officials an alibi for not tackling the actual question of equality. It was a way to give lawmakers cover for saying they oppose actual equality. I predict that this congress will be up for re-election with this as the single legislative achievement for gay equality. Which is how HRC lives for another fundraising cycle. And how they get their Democratic paymasters off the hook from the community.

But we'll see, won't we? Once again, I'd dearly love to be proven wrong. So make a fool of me. Please.