Readers know I've long been highly critical of the Human Rights Campaign, because I believe they get nothing much done, and have been co-opted by the Democratic party establishment, and have sucked resources out of local gay groups and states who really are creating change, and because of their insufferable smugness, eagerness to take credit for work others do, and Rotary Club dinners that often form their only seriously organized activity. That's a little unfair because they do have good people working for them, they have made real strides in local organizing, they have trained gay people to lobby, and they do help eventually in Congress (such as on removing the HIV ban). I do not want to tar with one brush many well-intentioned people working for them or with them. But their leaders are just so passive, weak-kneed and apologetic, you could mistake their balls for a couple of peas.
This split in the gay movement is not new - if you saw the movie Milk, you could see the same tension between those who wanted to stand up and fight for equality and those who wanted to offer milquetoast, semi-closeted incrementalism with straight power. There's a place for both wings, of course, and most civil rights movements have included both.
This weekend, these two tendencies will collide together in DC. Thousands of gay, lesbian, transgender and straight allies will be descending on this town for a classic march to express anger, commitment and seriousness to equality. At the same time, one thousand wealthy, tuxedoed, Democratic party donors will be at the Washington Hilton for the HRC dinner of dinners (which tend to be fabulous and fucking endless). I don't fully feel a part of either camp, but I will not attend the dinner and I will march with my fellows and friends. Why? Because of letters like this from Joe Solmonese, head of HRC, that was sent out this week.
I was sent it last night and my first question back was: is this a hoax? It has to be a hoax, right? Joe Solmonese isn't that much of a tool, is he? I'll post the letter to HRC subscribers in full after the jump. But the bottom line is as follows:
[W]hat has he [Obama] done?
I've written that we have actually covered a good deal of ground so far. But I'm not going to trot out those advances right now because I have something more relevant to say: It's not January 19, 2017.
That matters for two reasons: first, the accomplishments that we've seen thus far are not the Obama Administration's record. They are the Administration's record so far....
I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will look back on the President's address to my community as an affirmation of his pledge to be our ally. I will remember it as the day when we all stood together and committed to finish what Senator Kennedy called our unfinished business. And I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will also look back on many other victories that President Barack Obama made possible.
Essentially, Solmonese is asking for patience and silence until the last day of Barack Obama's second term for any sort of movement on gay equality. Now I can understand how, say, Brian Bond, who is paid to defend the administration on these issues, might say that to mollify activists. I can understand Rahm Emanuel saying that behind closed doors. But what on earth is the head of the biggest gay lobby doing saying that? Can you imagine AIPAC's head or La Raza's head pre-emptively telling the administration that we won't mind very much if you do nothing for us until the end of your second term? They would be forced to resign, pronto.
What HRC have now done is give away any leverage or bargaining power the gay community has with the Obama administration. They are doing what they did with the Clintons: essentially apologize for being a burden and prostrate ourselves to the Democratic party in the hope that they will be kind to us in the very, very long run. And since at a federal level, almost everything is a Congressional act, there's absolutely no guarantee that Obama will even be able to fulfill any pledges past 2010, let alone 2017. And there's no guarantee that he will be re-elected in 2012.
This is why HRC drives me bonkers. And I'm joined by more and more gay people - check out John Aravosis, Andy Towle and and Dan Savage. I understand the need for an establishment broker as well as a grass roots movement as well as cultural and intellectual advocacy. But the establishment broker in this case is not a broker; it is a representative of other forces in the Democratic party that, while not wanting to hurt gays, are nonetheless hostile to expending an ounce of political capital on behalf of our equality. Solmonese was hired by these people (he had virtually no record of gay activism before he was placed in his position by Emily's List's Ellen Malcolm) and answers to these people. Barney Frank, whose good work always seems to end up with backing whatever his party leadership wants, is so embarrassed by this he has left town this weekend and slammed the march as "useless". So the gay movement's most prominent power-broker is deliberately absent from both the establishment and the grass roots' big weekend. What does that tell you?
Maybe Solmonese is right and on January 19, 2017, Obama will have become the best civil rights president the gays have ever had. I sure hope so and I will stand up and applaud till my hands are bleeding if he does.
But you don't fricking say that in public in 2009 when you head up the country's largest gay group.
The entire email reads like a battered wife's defense of her husband. It is without self-respect; it is riddled with the self-loathing of low expectations. It confirms every dark suspicion of HRC I have ever had and I have watched it closely now for twenty years. I really think this is the last straw.
If you do not really believe in your own equality, why should anyone else? I know it's difficult and I know the president has a lot on his plate. But you know who really have a lot on their plate? The servicemembers out there risking their lives for our security, enduring sacrifices Joe Solmonese cannot even imagine, serving their country day in day out - only to be treated as pariahs, and fired for the sole crime of being gay. This is wrong; it is unjust; it is cruel; it is ingratitude of the deepest kind; it is disrespect; and it is now sixteen years since we were promised it would end, as it has in every other civilized country, to no ill effects at all.
My first boyfriend was in the airforce and I saw firsthand the strain. I know and have met and am friends with many of the most admirable people I know in uniform who are rewarded for their service with contempt and the constant fear of exposure and losing their jobs, their pensions, and their self-respect. If anything is wrong, it is treating servicemembers this way. We must never tell Obama that continuing to persecute these people is in any way acceptable. It is an outrage. And it must end. Especially in a war like this, especially when their patriotism is so deep. It must end now - or as soon as practically possible.
That's why I will be marching this weekend, and I hope you will too. And that's why the Human Rights Campaign has become as much a hindrance to our advancement as a help. It is time to draw a line. Stop enabling this battered wife syndrome. If you belong to HRC, demand this syndrome end and withdraw your financial support until they start standing up for the powerless rather than constantly defending the powerful. No mas.
Solmonese's entire email is after the jump. I have a smidgen more respect for Obama's sincerity on this than Solmonese's so I will be live-blogging his speech tonight in some small hope he may have something substantive or constructive to offer. If Obama offers something real and new, I will be the first to cheer; if he offers nothing but words again, I will march with more fervor and determination tomorrow. But I will march tomorrow regardless because this is not about Obama; it is about a civil rights movement that should and must exist independently of any political party or president. And I will attend the AIDS vigil this evening to remind myself of those we lost. They are with me always and I know what they would want right now. We didn't lose 300,000 young people to sit around a decade later and make excuses. It's an insult to them as well.
Please join me and Cleve Jones and thousands of others to show we have the self-respect the Human Rights Campaign doesn't. At noon it starts tomorrow at 15th and I streets. Please come if you are straight. I know many more straight people who have more conviction on this than the Human Rights Campaign. God help me but Jon Stewart has more conviction on this than Joe Solmonese. To have the support of our straight friends and families is critical. This is not just a march for gays; it's a march for the profound American ideal of civil rights and civil equality.
Dear xxxxx,Joe Solmonese
Sometimes life moves so quickly that you can forget how much is changing around you. But this weekend we will have a powerful reminder: President Obama's appearance at HRC's national dinner. His joining us that night says that although last year, we were outsiders to our own government, this=2 0year, we are a part of its vision.
It shouldn't be difficult to see why the president of the United States speaking to the nation's largest LGBT rights group is a good development for LGBT people. But at this point in time, it is hard for many among us to see. The substance of the feeling is this: he promised us the world, and we gave everything we had to elect him. But what has he done?I've written that we have actually covered a good deal of ground so far. But I'm not going to trot out those advances right now because I have something more relevant to say: It's not January 19, 2017.
That matters for two reasons: first, the accomplishments that we've seen thus far are not the Obama Administration's record. They are the Administration's record so far. If you ask "is that all" my question to you is "is that all you think we're going to push for?" It isn't.
More importantly: today, and for the next seven years and three months, Barack Obama is the most powerful person in the world, with the largest bully pulpit, and the most power to effect change. To do the work, we have to work with our supporters in Congress and with the Administration. Whatever you think of the Administration's first nine months, you don't pass laws by sitting out. You pass laws by sitting at the table.
And you don't get to the table at the expense of your principles. You don't get the President's ear at the expense of your expectations. In June I wrote a letter to President Obama describing HRC's disagreement with his decision to defend DOMA in federal court, and with the offensive and inaccurate arguments the government put forth. It's hard to read such a lettera public onefrom an ally.
But when the President signed a memorandum providing family protections and an inclusive non-discrimination policy for federal employeespolicies for which HRC and our sister organizations had advocatedI was proud to be present. Our disagreement about DOMA did not require me to ignore a step forward for transgender federal workers and for same-sex partners. In turn, the President invited me because he recognized HRC's accomplishments in promoting those fair policies, and because he would not exclude a civil rights advocate for speaking up about our community's rights.Those protections were a good first step. Passing the hate crimes law is a monumental one. I continue to believe that with this president, we will do much more. As we prepare to dedicate HRC's Edward Kennedy award, I know that this president shares his mentor's commitment to promoting justice for LGBT people.
I predict great things coming out of our work with this President, but that does not mean that I am satisfied today. Our community cannot be satisfied so long as DOMA is on the books and an inclusive ENDA is not. This is something we share with all those who advocate for civil rights. No civil rights advocate can be satisfied as long as there are children who eat their only meals in their failing schools each day. No civil rights advocate should be satisfied until all of us have health care and no one has to declare bankruptcy because of a hospital bill. We are not satisfied until this country keeps its promise to everyone.
Advocates for health care, education, LGBT rights and other civil rights issues are getting used to this new landscape, where passing our legislation is possible, but still hard. We've learned that end of life counseling can be twisted into "death panels" and hate crimes into "pedophile protection." We've come to understand that we didn't win it all in November but that we can win now.I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will look back on the President's address to my community as an affirmation of his pledge to be our ally. I will remember it as the day when we all stood together and committed to finish what Senator Kennedy called our unfinished business. And I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will also look back on many other victories that President Barack Obama made possible.
President, Human Rights Campaign
PS: C-Span will cover President Obama's address live. Tune in on Saturday night at 7:55 p.m. And if you are travelling to DC to participate in the National Equality March, click here for details about the resources HRC will be providing, including the tools you need to become a citizen lobbyist, advocating for all of the rights that you came to march for.
You will notice, surely, no mention of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or the HIV travel ban. You will notice Solmonese's idea of taking a stand - writing a letter, and then being thrilled to be invited to the White House "because [Obama] would not exclude a civil rights advocate for speaking up about our community's rights." I mean: seriously.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.