February 28, 2007
HRC vs. gay blogosphere
Posted by: Chris
At what point does scaterred criticism in the blogosphere become something of a movement? I'm not sure but the point of critical mass may well have been reached with gay bloggers and the current leadership of the Human Rights Campaign.
In the last couple of weeks, a growing number of gay bloggers from across the ideological spectrum have taken aim at the decision by HRC prez Joe Solmonese to position his organization in the same way labor unions have — as a special interest within the Democratic Party.
I first blogged about Solmonese and the "Dem-jacking" of HRC a couple of times back in January, and again in support of gay philathropist Tim Gill's alternative outside-the-beltway approach a couple of weeks ago. For other bloggers, the issue has come up in the same and other contexts:
- Andrew Sullivan picked up on the Tim Gill thread in a post he titled "The Antidote to HRC": "There is hope for the gay rights movement," he wrote, "just don't expect it from the failed Hillary cronies at the Human Rights Campaign." I'm unclear whether Andrew was referring to those at HRC already pining for posts in a Hillary Clinton White House or maybe Hillary Rosen, who's at the core of the so-called "Massachusetts Gay Mafia" that has long controlled the organization. Either way…
- The catty young queerlings at Queerty, ever in need of a catfight, cast the conflict as a "faggot feud" between Solmonese and me. I have absolutely nothing against Joe personally and have had only positive interactions with him. But hopefully this puts the lie to some who grumbled that I was somehow mysoginist for critiquing Solmonese's two HRC predecessors, Cheryl Jacques and Elizabeth Birch.
- Longtime gay and HIV activist-blogger Michael Petrelis, who is also a long-standing Solmonese critic, most recently questioned HRC's refusal to acknowledge the remarkable stand taken by several Republicans in the Wyoming state legislature, who blocked passage of a bill that would have refused recognition of gay marriage licenses issued by Massachusetts. One in particular, Republican Dan Zwonitzer, said, "If it costs me my seat, … I can say I stood up for basic rights, and history can be my judge." HRC not only stayed mum about these courageous Republicans, it stuck to the usual party line that the Wyoming legislature had more important, "real issues" to worry about — a bit of tired rhetoric that minimizes our own struggle and always acts to cover weak-kneed Democrats who want to stop anti-gay laws without coming off as (ick!) pro-gay.
- Echoing Petrelis' criticism but from the left-wing of the gay blogosphere was Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend, who wrote on Monday, "It's sad that HRC still hasn't managed to release even a simple statement of support for Zwonitzer's stand — after all isn't the point of an advocacy organization to support and show public respect for all pols who put themselves on the political line for our civil rights, not only Democrats who 'support' our civil rights (only when it suits them)? … I guess I'm just naive because I believe that to win the battle and the war we need to encourage every ally working for equality, regardless of party affiliation."
RobbieMatt over at The Malcontent, who sent HRC a note in response to one of the group's ubiquitous fund-raising mailers saying he couldn't support an organization that was no longer bipartisan. The response he got was full of outright lies and manipulations, as RobbieMatt documented here. Most blatant was the claim that HRC "gives to candidates, not parties," when donation records show last year "$135,000 to national and state party organizations (every penny of it to Democrats), including the DSCC and DCCC." He also pointed out that barely 10 percent of HRC's PAC donations in the last election cycle went to Republican candidates, and the organization recently removed the word "bipartisan" from its mission statement, burying it on an inside page on the group's website.
- The gay Republican blogger North Dallas Thirty not unexpectedly claims we are all unfashionably late to his anti-HRC tea party, and even claimed to be the Cassandra we all ignored on the issue. (Something about a cross and needing the wood, NDT…)
- Then there was Solmonese's appearance recently at a town forum in Washington, D.C., on "the state of the movement." Local gay blogger "The Scientist" was unsparing in his critique of the HRC president in a post titled "The Devil Wears Gucci":
"Joe Solmonese deigned to sit on the panel tonight. And he was pedantic. His whole spiel could be embodied in this summation: "You just don't understand how things work."
Now having been in academics for ages, I have run across this sort a number of times. The professor, giving you some weary look as you describe your idea, shoots it down passively. They don't explain their disagreement with your idea because "it is just wrong". No further explanation given nor needed. The professor doesn't have time to go into explaining the basics of the err of your ways. Or, what is generally more accurate, they won't lower themselves to argue with an inferior. And why should they? You, the little peon, just don't understand but Joe does.
Joe is a political animal. As the head of HRC, he doesn't have time to explain why grass-roots approaches are so slow, sloppy and ineffective. He can just tell you that it is, he'll then do a stage voice sigh, and pick at some imaginary lint on his Gucci sleeve. Condescension dripped from his every pronouncement.
To Joe, low level politics are passe. Blogs are distracting (quote). Local efforts are notable, not as a means but soley as a humble example, but ultimately, small potatoes. The only thing that matters is the House and the Senate. 535 people are his audience. The rest of us, the unwashed gay masses, are just sheep and we ought to just write our checks and shut the fuck up. He will decide what we need and our job is to genuflect towards the onerous burden that he has in spending our contributions."
Both Petrelis and Sullivan (who noted a growing anti-HRC "insurgency") sounded off in agreement with The Scientist's general view of Solmonese's smug dismissiveness, which for me is more a style issue than the substantive problem with the direction he has taken the "nation's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group." Another gay D.C. blogger, Jimbo, suggested gay contributions follow Gill down to politics at the local level.
All this criticism of HRC isn't just sniping from bloggers with nothing better to do. It represents a growing sense, among some of those who pay closest attention to the gay rights movement and its "leading" organization, that a major strategic error has been made in how to achieve our equality. These critics are not, for the most part, yelling for more money for Republicans as much as they are asking that HRC not treat the interests of the movement as secondary to the interests of the Democratic Party.
We are asking, ultimately, that HRC and Solmonese "keep their eyes on the prize."
(Extra special credit to The Malcontent for the altered HRC logo above. He calls it "less than" but my take was the reverse button on a tape player…)
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