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    December 12, 2008

    A new leader for HRC

    Posted by: Chris

    Kenbritt_lawriedemorest There's hope for the Human Rights Campaign, after all. Yes, I just wrote that. The reason is Ken Britt, the newly elected co-chair of the group's national board. Southern Voice reports:

    “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...

    Patboonehrc

    (Photo of Ken Britt and Lawrie Demorest via Facebook.)

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    Comments

    1. Chuck on Dec 12, 2008 5:23:21 PM:

      Chris, I noted your your commentary at the bottom of your comments on HRC's response to the idiotic statements by Pat Boone. I thought you might enjoy reading the letter I just posted to HRC.

      December 11, 2008

      Mr. Joe Salmonese
      President
      Human Rights Campaign
      1640 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
      Washington DC, 20036-3278

      Dear Mr. Salmonese,

      Another in a long string of form-letter format, (insert name of current enemy) type HRC email arrived in my inbox today; a call-to-arms (read send more money) to yet another "Banana Republic War" against one lone, white shoe-shod, has-been gospel singer, Mr. Pat Boone, while millions of homophobic Christians and Mormons storm the castle walls, is but one of the many reasons I chose not to renew my membership with HRC this year.

      After the heinous miscarriage of Constitutional Justice that occurred at the polls in California last month, aided in large part by HRC's top-down management of No to Proposition 8, one would think that HRC would be dedicating itself to taking a good, hard look at where it failed the LGBT community, instead of looking to put a band-aid on a wound inflicted by an old man who could not warble God Bless America if he tried while bloviating and patting yourselves on the back on all the victories HRC has won for the GLBTcommunity.

      Hello. Mr. Boon is NOT our biggest problem at the moment. Fighting the people who took our rights away from us is. This latest hustle for yet more money, is just one more in a long string of "touches' HRC has put on the GLBT Community over the years. You people are so out of step with reality, that it boggles the imagination. No doubt, y'all have another black tux affair in the planning and need more money to finance that instead of looking a good hard look at the issues that are staring you in the face and addressing yourselves to them.

      Head. Ass.

      In case you haven't gotten wind of it yet, a rival organisation, Truth Wins Out, composed, paid for and sent a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, responding to the ad that ran Friday in the New York Times headlined, "No Mob Violence" that accused the LGBT protesters of attacking religious communities unfairly. Here is a link to Queerty with the full story. I suggest you take a look-see at it to bring yourself up to speed on current gay issues in America.

      http://www.queerty.com/the-gay-rights-ad-salt-lake-woke-up-to-this-morning-20081211/#comment-104932

      One of the posters on the blog that follows raised a very interesting question and I quote him verbatim:

      "The ad is great. It needs to run in a nationally distributed newspaper. There should be a fund specifically for that purpose."

      And here all this time, I labored under the impression that HRC had such a fund, created by the dues-paying, card-carrying membership with whom you seem to have lost touch.

      How silly of me.

      Sincerely,

    1. Mark Mead on Dec 12, 2008 6:01:51 PM:

      Ken is one of the sharpest leaders we have. He has been an honest broker and in my opinion a superstar in our movement. He is not about appearing with celebrities - he is about getting things done. How refreshing. Quiet quality is how I would describe Ken. I may have to rethink my opinions on HRC with Ken as a leader. Lawrie is pretty sharp too! Congrats Ken!

    1. Christian Bott on Dec 13, 2008 7:06:12 AM:

      This was exactly my reaction yesterday to this email regarding HRC. I'd rather see them standing outside his office or home in LA picketing, organizing a massive email blast to keep him out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (something he seems desperate to be inducted into) ..screaming ..yealling ..raising a litle hell....but enough with the constant request for money to HRC..I am pissed at Pat Boone, and HRC should be doing more than begging for money.

      "One sidenote, however: Ken offers up HRC's response to Pat Boone's latest idiotic utterance as the kind of "agressiveness" 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..."

    1. mademark on Dec 13, 2008 12:10:27 PM:

      Chris, if you read this – would you kindly reiterate what you’d like to see as HRC’s priorities under a new regime, assuming they don’t implode? I’ve read on here that a national civil unions bill ought to be on the short list, but as the New Jersey Government commission discovered, civil unions are ignored, in some cases not worth the paper they’re written on. Given the intense criticism of HRC from Andrew Sullivan and you, I’d just like to know what it is that gives you hope, beyond a change of leadership. My partner and I gave up on them when they supported Al D’Amato, and I’m not likely to get behind them again if their priorities remain misguided. (A civil unions bill that is not fully enforced with penalties, that does not make it absolutely clear that a civil union is legally the same as a marriage, is a waste of time.)

    1. Chris on Dec 13, 2008 1:43:19 PM:

      mademark: Chris, if you read this – would you kindly reiterate what you’d like to see as HRC’s priorities under a new regime, assuming they don’t implode?

      mademark: Sure, be happy to. HRC's top priority ought to be pressing the newly-in-charge Democrats to enact -- not simply introduce, or hold hearings, or vote in one House, or lamely attach as an amendment to a bill going nowhere, but enact -- legislation with the widest and deepest possible impact on gay Americans.

      That means pressing the Dems beyond their comfort zone, and lobbying them to pass not just the legislation they're already prepared to pass -- who needs a lobby group for that? -- but enacting till it hurts, where they actually expend political capital in exchange for decades of gay dollars, energy and votes.

      That said, if congressional majorities are raring to go on hate crimes and ENDA (trans or not), then great do them first. But the movement today -- and for some time now -- has been about relationship recognition. That's what put hundreds of thousands of us in the streets last month. Not workplace rights. So relationship recognition ought to be the top priority for HRC, even if it isn't the first-in-time item on the agenda.

      I understand and agree completely with your point about the N.J. civil unions, but please remember that the inadequacy of state-level civil unions is beside the point for federal civil unions. The federal government cannot marry us anyway, state governments do.

      The federal government does dole out more than 1,200 important rights and benefits to married couples, and every single one of those rights and benefits can be extended under the name "civil union" to gay couples who are married, in civil unions, or domestic partnerships at the state level. And since there are no residency requirements to marry in Connecticut or Massachusetts, every gay couple in the U.S. can travel there, marry, and get equal recognition from the federal government.

      The word "marriage" is of enormous symbolic importance, obviously, and HRC should work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act so that the federal government recognizes our marriages as such. But repealing DOMA isn't happening soon and doesn't have to. We aren't there yet on the "M word" and at the federal level the word doesn't matter legally like it does at the state level, where the real marrying gets done.

      Obviously implicit in my long explanation is the need to make the case for federal civil unions in a clearer way, something the marketeers of HRC ought to be genius at -- assuming they don't try to describe it without ever using the "G word" or heaven forbid showing our relationships to the voting public.

    1. Chuck on Dec 13, 2008 2:47:21 PM:

      Hear, Hear. Chris. Eloquently stated.

      I am all for federal civil-unions. As you said, we can work on the "M" word later. The sooner that happens, the faster the multi-national relationship couples like you and I can come back home to America, with our sweeties by our side. :-)

      Oh, happy day.

    1. Chuck on Dec 13, 2008 2:49:39 PM:

      Hear, Hear. Chris. Eloquently stated.

      I am all for federal civil-unions. As you said, we can work on the "M" word later. The sooner that happens, the faster the multi-national relationship couples like you and I can come back home to America, with our sweeties by our side. :-)

      Oh, happy day.

    1. mademark on Dec 13, 2008 6:04:26 PM:

      Chris, thank you very much. I’m just a guy (and a domestic partner) who doesn’t understand the legalities of state vs federal legislation. I would be happy with a civil unions bill, providing, as you say, concrete protections (Camille Paglia and others imagine civil unions for all, but that’s in the realm of theory and an idea whose time will likely never come). If that’s what a federal bill will give us then I’m all for it. We’ll meet resistance in the beginning, of course, but the courthouse (or schoolhouse) steps will not be barred. That is my only fear, that states with constitutions that deny us recognition as domestic partners (Michigan, Florida) will claim states rights and resist federal supremacy. But it’s all down the road. My partner and I don’t ultimately care if we’re ‘married ‘ or ‘civil partnered’, so long as the protections we have are not illusory and subject to the whim or states that refuse to recognize our union.

    1. Chuck on Dec 13, 2008 9:53:16 PM:

      As a statement of defiance against Yes on Proposition 8 that was just passed in California, I'd like to see a new t-shirt and perhaps a button as well stating the following.


      Keep your morals

      Away from my government,

      Out of my pocket

      And off of my body.

    1. Matt Kailey on Dec 14, 2008 12:49:38 AM:

      With regard to "ENDA (trans or not)," it's important to remember that the "gender identity" piece of an inclusive ENDA does not just protect trans people. In fact, trans people are only a small segment of the GLBT (and straight) population that would benefit from "gender identity" protections. The inclusion of "gender identity" in ENDA would protect gay, lesbian, and straight people who express their gender in non-traditional or non-standard ways. Many gay and lesbian people (and some straight people) are discriminated against not because of their sexual orientation (in many cases, it's not known in their workplace or in their job interview), but because of their gender presentation or gender expression. They are "presumed" to be gay or lesbian because of the way they are presenting their gender (in a way that does not reflect a "standard" male or female presentation). Straight people are also discriminated against because of this. They are also "presumed" to be gay or lesbian when they are not reflecting a standard masculine or feminine gender presentation. Even trans people will mistakenly say that HRC dropped its support of the "trans" portion of a national ENDA. It's not the "trans" portion. Discrimination based on gender presentation (how you present yourself as a man or as a woman), which translates to "gender identity," affects many people, only some of whom are trans. Great blog, by the way.

    1. Attmay on Dec 14, 2008 5:35:32 AM:

      Chuck,

      Their problem is that they have no morals. But they certainly don't mind forcing their ends-justify-the-means amorality to take our rights and rob us at gunpoint each April 15.

    1. Chuck on Dec 14, 2008 1:14:14 PM:

      Ain't that the truth, Attmay. That was precisely what I had in mind when I said Keep Your Morals Out of MY Pocket.

      What hypocrites.

    1. Chuck on Dec 14, 2008 1:14:35 PM:

      Ain't that the truth, Attmay. That was precisely what I had in mind when I said Keep Your Morals Out of MY Pocket.

      What hypocrites.

    1. Chuck on Dec 14, 2008 1:14:45 PM:

      Ain't that the truth, Attmay. That was precisely what I had in mind when I said Keep Your Morals Out of MY Pocket.

      What hypocrites.

    1. Chris on Dec 14, 2008 2:51:11 PM:

      Matt: Thanks for the kind words but I'm afraid we disagree on the legal impact of including "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in ENDA. This is a subject much debated on this blog during the ENDA debacle earlier this year.

      In my view, you've got it backwards, actually. Even if "gender identity" is omitted as a compromise to pass ENDA, including "actual or perceived sexual orientation" will nonetheless extend coverage to the gay and straight gender nonconformists you describe. This is because, as you point out, the workplace bigots think of them as "fags" or "dykes." It's irrelevant as a legal matter whether the victim is actually gay because the law prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.

      I would add that many courts have concluded that transgender men and women, as a group, are already protected under Title VII, as the recent Library of Congress case demonstrates.

      Thanks again for checking out the blog.

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