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  • « From California with love | Main | Lowering standards for both HRCs »

    June 18, 2008

    HRC - thinking like George Bush

    Posted by: Andoni

    Bushhrcsolmonese

    President George W. Bush’s presidency has been marred by its rigid thinking with little ability to change when new circumstances on the ground dictate that new ideas, policies, or plans should be tried.

    I would argue that the Human Rights Campaign has been using the same modus operandi for the past 14 years. Their two prime priorities have been Hate Crimes legislation and the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). Neither has successfully become law despite year s of trying and literally millions of dollars spent.

    One would think that after 14 years of failure, some leaders of the gay movement would try to assess the situation on the ground and change priorities or strategy.

    I was on the Board of Governors of HRC when they came up with the ENDA idea in 1993. Prior to that time gays were pushing for a more comprehensive civil rights bill. In 1993 polling showed that a workplace only bill with a little education could garner the votes to pass. The philosophy was easy. Try something small and do-able, then build on that.

    The only problem with this approach was that Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and we never achieved the goal of passing that small carefully focused bill that was supposed to be easy. Here we are 14 years later pushing the very narrow rights bill, using the same strategy, unable to reassess things by looking at the bigger picture in our movement. Just like the Bush administration, we cannot admit failure and we cannot adjust and try something new.

    If ENDA had passed in 1994, it would have been noteworthy and a great step forward. In 2008, it would be laughable it that’s all we can get after all our hard work and how far the public has moved in our direction. ENDA and Hate Crimes are way too little, way too late. Yet you don’t hear anyone from our national leadership speaking about what is important today and changing direction.

    At some level I guess they realize how important it is to save and hold the marriage victory in California, but I don’t really hear the bugles sounding loudly on this to indicate what a crucial battle it is we face.

    On the federal legislative level, I would argue that we should temporarily shelve Hate Crimes and ENDA and concentrate on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) first. DADT and DOMA are two pieces of legislation written into the federal laws of the land that say that not only can the federal government discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens, but they must discriminate. What kind of logic says that we should pass legislation (ENDA) that tells private companies that they cannot discriminate against gays (ENDA), when the government itself continues to discriminate against gays in some very big ways – the military, marriage, and 1200 federal benefits? This is like telling your child they can’t bloody people up in fist fights, when you the parent, set the wrong example by doing it all the time. Doesn’t make sense, right?

    Similarly, this is as crazy as it would have been for black people ask for their Civil Rights Law of 1964 and Voting Rights Law of 1965 if it was still federal law that they could be slaves, were only 3/5 of a person, couldn’t serve into the military, and had to endure separate but equal schools. You have to get rid of the institutionalized discrimination in the federal government before you can pass federal legislation telling the public that it can not discriminate.

    You can’t force the private sector operating in the public area to give equal rights to gays (or blacks), when the government itself has laws to discriminate against gays (or blacks) and actively does so. This is so upside down, it's crazy, illogical and hypocritical.

    It’s time for Barney Barney and Tammy Baldwin and the leaders of HRC, NGLTF, Lambda Legal and the ACLU to sit down together to discuss a new strategy and new priorities. Things really need to be shuffled because we have not had any major re evaluation of our agenda and priorities since 1993 -94.

    Things have changed so much that it's a totally new battleground out there and our leaders don't realize it. Public opinion has changed dramatically, marriage is our most important issue, and we have a presidential candidate in Barack Obama who would like to give us more than what our organizations are asking for. One such example of the new situation on the ground is that Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to give gay couples those 1200 federal benefits of marriage. This is huge, but I have not heard any of our organization pick up on how they will be ready to do this legislatively. They are still thinking about ENDA and Hate Crimes.

    Wake up, leaders, it’s 2008, not 1994. Don’t be like Bush having set a plan in motion without ever re-evaluating it.

    It’s time to reassess and make some new goals and plan new strategies. 

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    Comments

    1. Kevin on Jun 18, 2008 11:49:14 AM:

      You've hit on something very, very true here. There is a hapless chaos and mission drift in our political leadership precisely because of the arrogant uselessness of its leaders at this vital moment in history. But I also think the table you envision is far too narrow, and unrepresentative of either the community it would serve or the political landscape it would have to navigate. And therein we hit obstacle number two, because the players you mention would never agree on a strategy either. Frankly - we need new players altogether.

    1. Hawyer on Jun 18, 2008 12:14:43 PM:

      Like the anecdotal Q - "How many gays does it take to screw in a light bulb; A - It can't be done. They could never agree on which way to turn it. .......

      ... HRC can never seem to break out of a huddle without getting injured. Why? While this is a three-beer conversation --- as an advertising professional, I'd have to say first and foremost is its utter inability to coherently define its client.

      While it prattles on about LGBT or GLBT (I can never remember which days you switch the L and G on) - mainstream America shrugs its shoulders and says: "L-G-B-what?"

    1. Colin on Jun 18, 2008 1:17:16 PM:

      Chris, good post, and I am in agreement that HRC needs to take a good long look at its priorities. I liked Sullivan's post on how the only thing HRC is good at is merchandising itself.

      One thing, you called Barney Frank, "Barney Barney." Is that like a cute pet name you have for the Congressman? :)

    1. Colin on Jun 18, 2008 1:18:24 PM:

      Once again, I mean Andoni and not Chris. Sorry, can't keep up... :)

    1. Kevin Norte on Jun 18, 2008 5:19:35 PM:

      http://www.metnews.com/articles/2008/legcomm061708.htm
      Chris,
      I agree with your views on this one.
      I am starting a book entitled, "GROOMS OF DOOM: The Politics of Manipulation--Greed & Power & The Gay Marraige Industrial Complex" and the above link leads you to a story that is the springboard for it.
      Whether I finish it or have it published, that is still to be determined. But I am watching what I see very carefully. Your insight into the HRC is provoking. Yes, the agenda must be re-set. The reality is that we are in the 21st Centruy with a 20th Century agenda.
      Keep posting.

    1. Kevin Norte on Jun 18, 2008 5:20:51 PM:

      i too mean "A" not "C"

    1. Milk for Free on Jun 18, 2008 6:42:34 PM:

      You can’t force the private sector operating in the public area to give equal rights to gays (or blacks), when the government itself has laws to discriminate against gays (or blacks) and actively does so.

      Do you mean that it can't as a matter of consistency or as a matter of law? Because only one of those affects whether my Baptist employer can fire me for being gay.

    1. Andy on Jun 18, 2008 7:13:41 PM:

      I think Lambda Legal, actually, is doing a tremendous and careful job. [Full disclosure, I was an employee there for two years, but in an inconsequential administrative function.] If you read last month's California marriage decision, you will note that the justices made repeated reference to recent Lambda Legal cases as precedent, especially Hernandez v. Robles, Andersen v. King County, Koebke vs. Bernardo Heights, Lewis v. Harris and of course Lawrence v. Texas. All of these cases laid the groundwork for a legal landscape in which the California marriage case (with NCLR as lead counsel) was even possible. They are doing invaluable work especially in the area of family law (custody, adoption, etc.) and are leaders in the effort to demonstrate that the "parallel legal structure" of civil unions devised by the NJ legislature fails to remedy the constitutional injury identified by the state supreme court in Lewis v. Harris. I think they are clearly the most effective and valuable gay rights advocacy organization we have, and they deserve far more credit than they get. I certainly wouldn't tar them with the same brush you rightly wave in HRC's direction.

    1. Billy on Jun 18, 2008 10:52:11 PM:

      I think there is a gray line between the political side and the legal side of our national leaders.
      It seems to me that we should WIN at the ballot box and secure a political win in the largest state (population) instead of removing the issue from the ballot box. Gosh, NCLR, Lambda and ACLU would just add fuel to the fire if they wanted to remove it prior to the election. But I get the revision argument. Come on, the "right to marry" is NOT in the CA Constitution but was read into it as a fundamental right. At least that is what the article states.
      The right claimsthat activist judges found a "right" and exceeded their duties. Heck, the court also found the right to marry there (years ago). I agree with the article that the court would not permit a revised Constitution because it takes out the right from seveal parts of the Constitution but I DISAGREE in that our leaders should try to get it taken off the ballot now instead of later.

    1. Strict Scrutiny on Jun 19, 2008 1:44:03 AM:

      I don't think the gay rights movement should abandon ENDA or Hate Crimes to focus on marriage and DOMA -- these are all important issues.

      As a California resident, I am, naturally, very focused on the marriage issue right now. But marriage is only a reality for residents of CA and MA. Repealing DOMA will not affect GLBT folks in Florida or Oregon or Tennessee or Texas or anywhere else. So, focusing on marriage is too narrow.

      However, ENDA will give workplace protections to GLBT people in every state. Same with hate crimes.

      So, yeah, I agree with there has been a real change, and that the gay rights movement is gaining momentum. But let's not take our eyes off the the other big-ticket legislation. It all needs to go forward, and the sooner, the better.

    1. Andy on Jun 19, 2008 10:23:02 AM:

      Come on, the "right to marry" is NOT in the CA Constitution but was read into it as a fundamental right. At least that is what the article states.

      That may be accurate in a pointlessly picayune way, but the real basis of the court's ruling was the 1948 Perez v. Lippold decision by the same court, which overturned the state ban on interracial marriage by concluding that "the right to marry the person of your choice is fundamental." So while "marriage" as a right may not be denoted in the Constitution, the new decision is firmly grounded in 60 year old landmark jurisprudence.

    1. Andoni on Jun 19, 2008 10:33:37 AM:

      The beauty of the CA decision was that is was about MORE than just marriage. Marriage was the immediate beneficiary. But note this paragraph from the decision, esp. after it says "and, more generally:"


      "Furthermore, in contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual’s sexual orientation—like a person’s race or gender—does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."

      This says that they believe you cannot discriminate on any legal rights that others have based on sexual orientation. This decision puts us in the same category as race and gender and puts the burden on the state to prove strict scrutiny if they wish to discriminate. It applies to all legal rights, not just marriage. This is a very broad and wonderful brush stroke. It was much broader than what we hoped or asked for.

      Somehow these Republican justices really got it and said so.

    1. Charles J. Mueller on Jun 20, 2008 1:20:49 AM:

      I agree with you, Andoni.

      There is an old expression. "If at first you don't succeed, try again."

      I disagree with that antiquated notion. How about, "If at first you don't succeed, how about backing up for a moment and taking a hard look at what it is that you're doing wrong?"

    1. Charles J. Mueller on Jun 20, 2008 1:21:14 AM:

      I agree with you, Andoni.

      There is an old expression. "If at first you don't succeed, try again."

      I disagree with that antiquated notion. How about, "If at first you don't succeed, how about backing up for a moment and taking a hard look at what it is that you're doing wrong?"

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