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  • « A Clinton-Obama immorality tale | Main | I miss my Fourth Amendment, Part 2 »

    March 17, 2007

    The emperor wears thin skin

    Posted by: Chris

    Hrclogos The Boston gay paper Bay Windows published an excellent article by reporter Ethan Jacobs on Friday detailing recent criticism of the Human Rights Campaign from the gay blogosphere, your's truly included.

    Of greatest interest to me was how Joe Solmonese, HRC's president, said he decides which critics are worth listening to and which are "bad for the movement." Just what makes an HRC critic "bad" according to this joey-come-lately to the struggle? Well, either they are too partisan (allegedly Andrew Sullivan) or too personal (allegedly me) in their critiques.

    It's true, of course, that Andrew has been a vocal supporter at times of the Republican Party and George Bush. He has also been among their most strident critics. Can Solmonese or anyone else associated with HRC (or its supporters) demonstrate anything close to that level of partisan independence?

    Solmonese told Bay Windows that he regularly reads the "thoughtful" criticism of HRC by Pam Spaulding over at Pam's House Blend and appreciates it. Well of course he does. She is a proud progressive Democrat. Is that the only direction Joe's head will turn?

    It's unconscionable for Solmonese to dismiss criticism from someone like Sullivan, who has a far longer and more impressive record on gay rights than Solmonese himself, as (supposedly) "a conservative Republican." Agree or disagree with him on any given issue, Andrew Sullivan has already done more for the lives of gay people and those with HIV than Solmonese will if he stays on the job at HRC for another 10 years.

    On the substance of the charge that HRC is partisn, Solmonese points out to Bay Windows that HRC backed a few Republicans in congressional races last fall. That's like saying a bill is "bipartisan" if it has 125 Democrats and one Republican as sponsors. In reality, HRC endorsed fewer Republican congressional candidates this cycle than ever before and even abandoned gay-friendly GOP incumbents in favor of Democratic challengers.

    But my primary criticism of HRC under Solmonese has never been about not supporting Republicans enough. And neither Sullivan nor I has ever suggested that the two parties are equal on gay rights. Those are red herrings that HRC likes to use because so few gays are sympathetic to the GOP.

    To the contrary, I have stated the obvious time and time again: Democrats are far better at every level of government than Republicans on gay rights, and that difference is magnified when their party leaders are compared. With the exception of a couple of gay and gay-friendly Republicans in local D.C. races, I haven't voted in the GOP column in recent memory. 

    But all that says far more about just how bad the Republicans have been than it does about how good the Democrats are. My criticism is from the left, not the right, and it is that HRC does not stand up to Democrats enough when they are too weak-kneed to spend political capital on our issues.

    In the end, Solmonese's dismissal of me as having some sort of "personal fascination" with him is a bit ironic, since he admits (finally) to Bay Windows that he is the one who has taken things too personally:

    HRC has made several attempts to respond to the current wave of criticism from bloggers, but more often than not those efforts have only further alienated bloggers and, in one case, the LGBT media more broadly. Last month Crain wrote a column for the San Francisco Bay Times critical of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) and HRC’s response to a Snickers ad aired during the Super Bowl that the two organizations argued was homophobic. In response Solmonese wrote a letter to the paper accusing Crain of having a “fascination” with him and arguing that “[g]iving Chris Crain a platform to spout his misguided rhetoric sets back the work of the entire movement.” His response was criticized not only by Crain himself on his blog but by [blogger Michael] Petrelis, who accused Solmonese of being “thin-skinned” and of declining to answer legitimate criticism, and by the Bay Area Reporter, which published an editorial accusing HRC of acting like “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” by attacking its critics.

    Solmonese admitted that his letter to the Bay Times struck a sour note and said, “I think that that is a really good example of where it was the one and only time I let what I felt was a personal attack get under my skin.” He said he would never again “lose sight of who our real enemies are” in responding to criticism.

    I'm a bit shocked to think that Solmonese needed reminding I'm not "the real enemy." I have been involved and committed to the gay rights movement for far longer than he has, and I have sacrificed much more. After a half-decade of working as a pro bono lawyer and activist within the movement, I left a lucrative law career in 1997 to go into the gay press — all because of my commitment to that struggle. I'm not asking for a medal or sympathy, but to have that commitment questioned by someone making almost a quarter-million dollars annually in the very first year of his very first ever gay rights job is just beyond silly.

    What's most surprising is that Solmonese (and the communications department at HRC) still hasn't grasped the role the media (old and new) plays within any power structure, including non-profit political lobbies and civil rights movements. The Bay Windows story does an excellent job of highlighting how that tin ear has damaged HRC's image so much in recent weeks and months.

    We in the media are here to ask the tough questions and demand accountability. When we see things going astray, it's our job to say so. It's not (at all) personal; it's professional. It's also the kind of thing it would be nice to see HRC do more of on all of our behalf.

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    Comments

    1. Alan down in Florida on Mar 17, 2007 10:48:34 PM:

      The HRC has lost its way and become too cozy with Washington insiders who barely tolerate them. What they have done for the average working class/middle class GLBTQI community is minimal. Like all politicians all they care about is keeping the contributions coming in. $29.6 million to buy a building is offensive to those of us on fixed incomes or live from paycheck to paycheck.

    1. Mike in Houston on Mar 18, 2007 12:02:57 AM:

      It's too bad that your monomania against the HRC has led to ZERO gains for the gay rights movement.

      The only thing I've seen is that you've driven publications like the Houston Voice out of business.

    1. Max in Houston on Mar 18, 2007 10:47:17 AM:

      The Voice needed to be put out of its misery long before Crain came along. If anything, he improved it. I can't say the same for the guy at HRC.

    1. Tim C on Mar 18, 2007 1:44:20 PM:

      The HRC's response to most of its critics, that any criticism of it only helps our "enemies", is the standard line of any organization that cannot bear to be scrutinized.

    1. Mark Hertzog on Mar 18, 2007 7:48:59 PM:

      Howdy, Chris, and thank you for keeping on top of the HRC story from your current distant outpost. What concerns me about HRC rather more than Joe Salmonese's thin skin is two things the Blade and its sister papers have reported on previously:

      --First, HRC's continued overspending on administration and fundraising relative to direct programs. (The universally accepted, bare-minimum standard for direct programs is 80% of a nonprofit's budget; according to Charity Navigator, the HRC Foundation's in the mid-50s.)

      --Second, its continued claim that anyone who has ever given $1 to HRC or its predecessor organizations, at any time in the past, is an HRC "member," even though such claimed "members" have no voting rights for the organization's board.

      I hope you and your former colleagues will continue to keep HRC honest over this. In the meantime, other LGBT orgs will be getting my money--HRC, not a cent.

      Obrigado! (That's all the Portuguese I know!)

    1. Brian Miller on Mar 18, 2007 11:53:03 PM:

      I think it's pretty clear that the whole "enemies" language of the HRC is part of the problem.

      As long as it's an organization "at war" with an entire major political party, it will be beholden to the other by default (barring, of course, HRC support for Libertarians, something that's never happened though it probably should).

      Of course, once a major organization becomes beholden to Democrats, its usefulness as a gay issues lobby becomes pretty much zero. It spends more time putting window dressing on uninspiring Democratic campaigns than focusing on the real issues.

      A quick look at the last ten years is quite revealing. HRC pushed ENDA -- a bill that's not only symbolic (and useless to the average gay person, but also no longer necessary). Now that the vast majority of corporate America has non-discrimination policies as part of HR standards, ENDA has virtually no use.

      Meanwhile, marriage equality and gay families took HRC completely by surprise. It was the efforts of GLAD in New England, and brave everyday LGBT people in court and in the court of public opinion, who won those. Sans support from HRC until well after victory was assured (in fact, HRC and its political buddies like Barney Frank were all worried about "backlash" and encouraging a "change in direction.")

      Finally, HRC had millions of dollars for a new headquarters building in DC, but precious little cash to fight the anti-gay state laws in various "purple" states across the country that represented the real "enemies" of gay folks.

      Just what exactly is its utility then? It's behind the curve on the issues that matter to most gay people, not willing to spend cash to defend against the worst abuses, and in bed with the Clintons (who signed away gay equality with DOMA in 1996).

    1. Jake on Mar 18, 2007 11:59:49 PM:

      "I left a lucrative law career in 1997 to go into the gay press — all because of my commitment to that struggle."

      Are we to believe that you made the move against your own self interest? Or that you changed careers because it would give you the most satisfaction, rewards, happiness, etc? If so, then you didn't make any big sacrifice. Unless you are assuming that your highest priority is money.

    1. keith.d on Mar 19, 2007 3:05:15 AM:

      The kind of criticism that Chris and others are receiving is exactly what individuals who contact HRC personally with criticism and feedback are experiencing. HRC is lopping off whole segments of the LGBT community along the same lines that Solomnese has with Chris and Andrew.

      Of course, they still count those people as members.

    1. Brian Miller on Mar 19, 2007 1:37:23 PM:

      Exactly right, Keith. With their nasty, pointed personal attacks and "justifications" for isolating entire segments of the community from having their say in the public forum, HRC and its apologists are simply underscoring the earlier points made about their lack of inclusion and lack of diversity.

    1. RJP3 on Mar 19, 2007 3:40:52 PM:

      please - Chris Crane is a RICH WHITE CONSERVATIVE. He INVESTED in the GAY PRESS because he felt it was too liberal.

      Let us not shed a tear for Chris' sacrifice - he is far to busy with he new Brazillian Stud boyfriend living in Rio (after buying up a good deal of the national gay press - if your in New York and reading HX, Chris little empire owns it. So now he is blogging from Brazil keeping in line with fellow Conservative Andrew Sullivan fight for "power" and the liberal gay movement they both despise. I think it makes them feel to GAY. Just like the civil rights movement and affirmative action makes some people feel to BLACK. Calling Clarence Thomsas.

      In any event Chris is a Rich White Man looking to maintain a niche. Gay Conservative. Sacrifice my ass.

    1. USAnotanexception on Mar 20, 2007 9:51:19 AM:

      Support your state groups. Donate to your regional community centers. Come out of the closet. No national group in the USA can work wonders without people doing the unglamorous hardwork at the most grassroots level. There is a reason why 27 states voted to end democracy by breaking the heart of democracy - Equal Protection Under Law. Most Americans do not even know what is required to sustain democracy so they had no problem voting to end it when presented a chance to punish an unpopular minority. Democracies end all the time. Just ask gay South Americans, gay Africans and gay Asians. The USA just happens to be one of the ones near its end. And you just happen to be the gay North Americans experiencing it.

    1. Brian Miller on Mar 20, 2007 7:33:18 PM:

      Chris Crane is a RICH WHITE CONSERVATIVE

      Ah, yes, I suppose this is what goes for criticism from the defend-HRC-at-all-costs brigade.

      Of course, I guess it's more than a tad ironic, then, that HRC's board -- as well as the vast majority of its former directors -- have been rich white liberals.

      I utterly despise the racism and classicm endemic in arguments from the left wing when they start pointing out that someone's skin color, alleged economic conditions (I have seen no evidence suggesting Mr. Crain is "rich"), or nationality makes them unqualified to speak.

      It's totalitarianism of the highest order, and contemptible to boot.

      Democracies end all the time.

      I don't think the problem is democracy ending -- I think the problem is pure democracy itself.

      In any society where the rights of a minority are up for a popular vote, the minority is oppressed. What was supposed to make America unique was a Constitution that limited government -- at all levels -- from denying the universal rights of all people.

      Government couldn't create special rights for some and not others, nor could it take away rights from those who were popularly hated. All people had the right to free speech, equal protection under the law, etc.

      Those days are long gone now. Whether its Republicans who hate the fourth amendment's provisions against unreasonable search and seizure (because it "helps the terrorists"), or Democrats who seek to simply ignore the second amendment's provisions against confiscating firearms (because it "helps criminals"), our Constitution has become something to ignore and undermine.

      American society is in trouble because Americans have chosen to ignore what made us a society in the first place. Our founding values of limited government, self rule, and the nasty nature of the nanny state have been replaced by a bunch of moochers who want the government to make them "feel safe" from terrorism and economic cycles.

      Gays are just the latest group to blame all of society's ills on -- as Jews were for the Germans, or political opponents are for the regime of Robert Mugabe. Until gay people and their supporters refuse to allow this to continue -- and insist on protection and restoration of the Constitution that protects all Americans' rights equally -- we shall continue to suffer. Perhaps even worse than we do today.

    1. Daniel on Mar 21, 2007 3:24:32 PM:

      I would donate to the HRC if it were tax deductible. There are so many worthy organizations that need my disposable income. I am fed up with the both the Democrats and Republicans so I joined the Green Party.

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