December 12, 2008
A new leader for HRC
Posted by: Chris
“This, for me, really is the highlight of my community activism,” says Britt, 59. “Serving the LGBT community at the national level is really, really important to me.”
For more than 20 years, Britt has epitomized gay success and gay service in Atlanta. He was one of the founders of the gay business group the Atlanta Executive Network, served as board chair of AID Atlanta and Georgia Equality, held other leadership positions at HRC, and donated generously to everything from YouthPride to Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund.
Most impressively, Britt has engaged in gay rights causes while serving as executive director of one of Atlanta’s most prestigious law firms, Alston & Bird, defying longstanding fears that being involved in gay activism jeopardizes career opportunities.
I met Ken when I was a newbie at Alston & Bird, waaaay back in early 1995, and was grateful that his years out of the closet made it easier for me as the firm's first openly gay lawyer. Well actually, another more senior attorney, Lawrie Demorest, had already been testing the waters, until she blew open the closet doors, referencing her work for HRC in her "partnership memorandum" -- the very document the firm would weigh in deciding whether to elevate her.
Lawrie made partner and went on to lead HRC as well, serving herself as co-chair a few years back. My years of criticism of HRC and its paid leadership -- Elizabeth Birch, Cheryl Jacques and now Joe Solmonese -- have put a strain on my friendship with Lawrie, but I have always had the greatest respect and appreciation for her personally and professionally.
It will be very interesting to see what impact Ken might have on HRC and Solmonese. Like Lawrie, Ken can be the good company man, and like Lawrie he is wicked smart. Ken also knows how to run a board, and do so agressively, through his tenure at AID Atlanta, Georgia Equality and AEN, a business networking group that gave me the start I needed to launch Window Media, lo these many years ago.
There are some early hopeful and less-than-hopeful signals in Ken's SoVo profile. Unfortunately, Ken seems to sing from the Solmonese Songbook of Minimal Expectations:
“We have got some real challenges and opportunities ahead of us, and HRC needs to keep up and be responsive,” Britt says. “But there has to be a balance between what really works in Congress, which is where we primarily lobby, and the sincere activism that is coming out of Prop. 8 and other initiatives this election.
“There’s a new generation of gay activists popping up, and they’re pushing the agenda further and faster, which I think is terrific,” he adds. “There has to be a balance between what we want, if we could wave a magic wand and accomplish everything overnight, and reality.”
Last time I got my reality check, it appeared Congress will soon be in the firm control -- 79 votes in the House and at least 17 in the Senate -- of Democrats whose leaders have pledged themselves to our equality.
Why do we still need "a magic wand" when our allies are finally -- finally! -- going to be in actual control, on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue? What we need is not a magic wand, but a national lobby that raises expectations and pushes the agenda, rather than the contrary.
Ken correctly notes the huge economic crisis -- not to mention two foreign wars -- that will occupy the new government come January, but as Andoni has pointed out, our equality is free -- it won't add a dime to the federal budget deficit, and in the case of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal, it will improve our national security and the effectiveness of our military as a fighting force.
On the more hopeful side, Ken does anticipate a more active and energetic role for the movement:
Recognizing many parallels between the gay rights struggle and the Civil Rights Movement, Britt believes it is time for gay organizations to begin adopting the more aggressive strategies that finally made equality for African Americans possible.
Here, here! -- especially when it comes to making clear to the Democratic leadership that the time has come to deliver on all those years of promises, which yielded all those years of donations and volunteers and votes -- to Democrats and to HRC.
One sidenote, however: Ken offers up HRC's response to Pat Boone's latest idiotic utterance as the kind of "aggressiveness" he's looking for. Fair enough, except we already have a Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and they tend to respond to ignorance like this with action, not with calls for donations...
(Photo of Ken Britt and Lawrie Demorest via Facebook.)
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