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  • March 24, 2010

    One down, seven to go...who's next?

    Posted by: Chris

    Speaking of effective activism, the kind that gets your attention and produces results, the Gill Action Fund folks behind Fight Back NY are back with another viral video, fresh off their lopsided defeat of ousted state Sen. Hiram Montserrate.

    Last time around featured "Sex and the City's" Cynthia Nixon with a make-my-day attitude that would make Clint Eastwood blush. This time around it's a Jaws theme, designed to put on edge the other 36 senators up for re-election who voted against marriage equality. Particularly in the hotseat are those eight, now seven, who promised beforehand to vote for the gay marriage bill but switched sides when time came to be counted.

    Can anyone imagine the D&G crowd at the Human Rights Champagne producing something this much fun...and this effective?

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    Filed in: Gill , HRC , Marriage

    Service + sacrifice > Dolce + Gabbana

    Posted by: Chris

    Joe solmonese elegant activist dolce gabbana Following up on my post yesterday about the stark contrast between the "elegant activism" of Joe Solmonese and the direct action activism of Dan Choi, a reader pointed me to some recent data about the salary on which Solmonese affords his Ann Demeulemeester, Billy Reid and D&G.

    According to a Washington Blade report based on 2008 numbers, Solmonese was paid $338,400, a staggering sum that practically doubles the measly $176,000 that Kim Gandy got paid that year to run the National Organization for Women. The Solmonese salary is a good deal higher even than the governors of all 50 states -- Arnold Schwarzenegger tops the list at $206,500, though he waives compensation. Even the President of the United States earns only slightly more, at $400,000.

    The point isn't just how much Solmonese rakes in or the types of clothes he wears. Especially given the FAIL he has to show for the millions he has already earned at HRC, the image he projects is symbolic salt in the wound for the LGBT Americans who he supposedly represents. It is a mixed message to say the least for one of Washington's highest paid lobbyists to be leading a movement of people who claim to suffer from discrimination in the workplace.

    More importantly, Dan Choi's message of service and sacrifice is far more empowering and inspiring than Solmonese's message of Dolce and Gabbana.

    We can only imagine how things might look if Dan Choi were at the helm of the Human Rights Campaign.

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    Filed in: HRC , Military

    March 23, 2010

    Equality by way of 'elegant activism'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Dan choi white house fence dont ask dont tell

    Joe Solmonese favors Dolce & Gabbana. Dan Choi favors your equality. The two images could not contrast more completely:

    On the one hand, there's West Point graduate Dan Choi in uniform, handcuffed to the White House fence in the form of Jesus on the cross, sacrificing his career for the fight against Don't Ask Don't Tell. On the other, there's Joe Solmonese, paid a cool million every couple of years to run the Human Rights Campaign, named "The Elegant Activist" in the 2010 Fashion Awards in the new issue of Washington Life magazine.

    Joe solmonese elegant activist washington life Solmonese, perched next to Count Renault de Viel Castel, tells Washington Life that he favors designers Ann Demeulemeester, Billy Reid, and Dolce and Gabbana.

    Tellingly, Choi had asked Solmonese and comedienne Kathy Griffin to walk with him from a Don't Ask Don't Tell rally in Freedom Plaza, actually a filming of Griffin's reality show, for the two-block walk to the White House. They declined.

    Choi hit the nail on the head in an interview with Newsweek:

    Within the gay community so many leaders want acceptance from polite society. I think there's been a betrayal of what is down inside of us in order to achieve what looks popular, what look enviable. The movement seems to be centered around how to become an elite.

    There is a deep schism [in the gay-rights movement], everyone knows this. But this shouldn't be about which group has better branding. There is a tremor right now in every gay and transgender youth that these groups are not grasping. I would say to them—you do not represent us if all you are looking for is a ladder in to elite society.

    I would take that a step further. It's not just about becoming an elite for Solmonese and his fellow travelers at HRC; it's about access.

    Access is power in a town that truly deserves its nickname as "Hollywood for ugly people," and for Solmonese and David Smith and many of those at the top of the staff and board level for HRC, the access they have with the Democrats who run Washington right now is worth too much than risking it on the actual mission of the organization they are entrusted with gazillions from our community to run.

    In years past, the void created by HRC's cloying corporatism was filled by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, or even Queer Nation and ACT UP. These days, those organizations are either gone or have so marginalized themselves by focusing on the fringe of the fringe of our community that they are no longer players.

    The grassroots group Join the Impact, which organized those nationwide protests in response to Prop 8's passage, reenergized the movement, even if HRC and the existing architecture of Gay, Inc., was too calcified to notice. Last fall's march on Washington has since given birth to GetEQUAL, which was behind the sit-ins at Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office over her failure to give the Employment Non-Discrimination Act a vote in the House.

    There's no reason why the two forms of activism could not co-exist, of course, forming the sort of good cop/bad cop combination that worked so effectively in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when those with access used the ACT UP street theater as leverage with the CDC and Big Pharma to push through earlier availability of HIV medications and greater commitment to research for treatments.

    But good cop/bad cop requires an effective activist on the inside, able to move the ball forward with politicians who naturally look for cover, not for opportunities to stick their own necks out. Unfortunately, there's no indication that Solmonese's elegant activism approaches that level of effectiveness, unless progress is measured by the number of invitations he gets to White House cocktail events, or by the number of D-List celebrities turn up at black-tie fundraisers.

    As Choi put it:

    We all know the political reality now. The only way for the repeal to go through is for the president to take leadership and put it in the Defense Authorization Bill. There's a sunset on this, and it's happening quickly. Obama told us at the HRC dinner last year, you need to put pressure on me. I was there at that dinner, in uniform. So this is my mission; the president said to pressure him and I heard that as a warning order.

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    Filed in: HRC , Military

    February 19, 2010

    Déjà ENDA all over again

    Posted by: Chris

    Barney frank enda transgender hrc
    Just when we thought we were out, they pull us back in!

    Lost in the debate over President Obama's revived push to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell is the ugly stepchild of gay rights legislation: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Once the darling of the movement, ENDA was to be the vehicle through which gay civil rights won its first victory into federal law.

    As the name suggests, ENDA covers only the workplace and that limited scope is intentional; its leading advocates during the Elizabeth Birch years at the Human Rights Campaign argued that a more limited gay rights measure on an issue unrelated to marriage had the best chance of passage, thereby creating momentum for the rest of the gay agenda.

    It almost worked. ENDA came within a single vote of passing the U.S. Senate in 1995, two years after Don't Ask Don't Tell and one year before the Defense of Marriage Act. It has resurfaced from time to time in subsequent years, only to be slapped down by Republicans when they were in the majority of one house of Congress or the other.

    Then in 2007, Barney Frank reintroduced ENDA to a Democratic-controlled Congress, and for the first time -- the first time! -- gender identity was included along with sexual orientation as a protected category. After all those years of gay-only ENDA waiting its turn, the inclusion of trans protections effectively killed ENDA's chances of passage now that the Dems finally controlled Congress again.

    When it became clear that the votes weren't there for trans-ENDA, Frank and Tammy Baldwin and HRC agreed to a compromise that once again limited ENDA to its original form protecting sexual orientation-based discrimination. Trans activists and the progressive blogosphere furiously erupted in response, labeling anyone who disagreed with this tactic as a cold-blooded traitor to the movement.

    The compromise ENDA overwhelmingly passed the House, but the maelstrom manufactured in activists circles effectively killed its chances in the Senate, where many of those who would have otherwise backed workplace protections for tens of millions of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers balking at voting for a bill that would only earn the ire of many of the loudest LGBT voices.

    Fast forward two years, the election of a Democratic president who supports a trans-inclusive ENDA and a Congress with historic Democratic majorities. ENDA has once again gone nowhere, and now we know why:

    Frank said the transgender protections were among the sticking points in negotiations [among House lawmakers] on how to proceed [on ENDA].

    “There has always been a problem with the question of people who are transgender in situations where people are totally or partially unclothed,” he said.

    While expecting movement in the House, Frank was less certain about ENDA’s prospects in the Senate.

    “I’m less sure about that,” he said. “I think people have often underestimated some of the difficulties.”

    This time around, Barney and HRC have been saying that they're unwilling to compromise on transgender inclusion in ENDA, but it's too soon to tell if they'll stick to those guns. In the hopes that Congress will move forward on protections for gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender Americans, I'll hold off recounting the long and compelling list of reasons why our leaders should be prepared to repeat the compromise of 2008 if it's the only way to secure passage before the looming midterm elections.

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    Filed in: ENDA , HRC

    February 18, 2010

    HRC's roadmap to repeal DADT

    Posted by: Chris

    Confusing-road-sign-large-web-view After promises of greater transparency, the Human Rights Campaign responded in part to the blog swarm from earlier this week by releasing its roadmap to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. While it's fine as far as it goes, the roadmap is so vague and conservative that it's likely to leave gay service members quaking in their boots more than members of Congress.

    HRC is stating its DADT repeal effort will be focused on five "key principles":

    1. Continued Presidential Leadership:  We have — and will continue to — call on the White House to include DADT repeal language in the 2011 Department of Defense authorization bill.  HRC Legislative Director Allison Herwitt made that clear in this story by the DC Agenda on Jan. 11.
    2. Congressional Action in 2010:  We believe that legislative action must run on a parallel track with the work of the DOD implementation review.  We have — and will continue to — press the Senate to include repeal language in the final mark up of this year’s DOD authorization bill.
    3. Gates/Mullen review:  While the testimony of Gates and Mullen marked a historic and extraordinary move towards final repeal of DADT, HRC is advocating that the announced review is comprehensive and expeditious, and includes input from lesbian and gay service members and veterans.  We will work to ensure the Working Group established by Secretary Gates will have all the data and information necessary to address any and all implementation issues.
    4. Strategic Partnerships:  HRC will continue to partner with key groups and Congressional allies working toward repeal including the Center for American Progress, Servicemembers United and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.  By continuing to pool our resources, contacts and intelligence, we can meet the opposition head on and build even greater momentum for repeal.
    5. Voices of Veterans:  HRC’s “Voices of Honor” campaign is organizing veterans across the country to generate media, grassroots and grass tops pressure in key states that will be critical to the final votes in the House and Senate.  The campaign builds on the work of the national “Voices of Honor Tour” last summer which led to 30 new Congressional co-sponsors and garnered national media attention to this discriminatory law.

    It's good to see HRC committed at least to getting DADT repeal language into the Defense Department budget bill now working its way through Congress, rather than letting the ongoing Pentagon review to delay legislative action until next year. But, to paraphrase Mike Dukakis paraphrasing a Wendy's ad, where's the beef?

    Where's the call on HRC members and others to call Congress, complete with a phone number or a link to find out who your representatives are? Which senators and representatives has HRC identified as wavering and of those, which are most crucial to get on board now? At this point, it's not enough to know that your congressional delegation supports DADT review as a general matter. We need to know where they stand on repealing DADT now as part of the DOD authorization bill.

    Why hasn't HRC launched a "public whip count" on including DADT repeal in the DOD budget bill, the way ACT on Principles has produced one (complete with blog widgets) on the issue of DADT repeal generally? (You can see the ACT on Principles widget on the lefthand side of this blog.)

    For those interested in what a roadmap ought to look like, in terms of proposing a specific way forward legislatively, take a look at the SEDI plan proposed by Servicemembers United, one of those "strategic partnerships" that HRC cites above:

    A Set End-date / Delayed Implementation (SEDI) model is ideal for achieving the goals of all parties involved, and reporting benchmarks are reasonable to ensure that sufficient progress is being made toward the ultimate goal of developing the most effective implementation plan.

    Most importantly, the process of working to lock in full legislative repeal of DADT and the Pentagon’s development of the most effective repeal implementation plan can occur simultaneously.

    18-Month Set End-date / Delayed Implementation (SEDI) Model

    • Immediately; Pentagon Working Group begins; Legislation introduced to lock in repeal
    • After 3 months: Deadline for interim changes to policy enforcement; First report to Congress
    • After 6 months – Second report to Congress on progress of repeal implementation planning
    • After 9 months – Third report to Congress on progress of repeal implementation panning 
    • After 12 months - Repeal implementation begins according to plan established by Pentagon 
    • After 18 months – Full repeal completed; Final report to Congress

    This plan, developed by discharged Army translator Alexander Nicholson of Servicemembers United and Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, USPHS/USCG (Ret.), lays out a clear and detailed two-track process that allows the Pentagon review to go forward without delaying the legislative piece until that review is completed next year.

    If a loose-knit group of activists like ACT on Principles and a small, relatively new organization like Servicemembers United can produce concrete tools like these, why is it so impossible for "the nation's largest gay political group," as HRC refers to itself ad nauseum?

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    Filed in: HRC , Military

    February 17, 2010

    3 ways bloggers can help DADT repeal

    Posted by: Chris

    Phil attey hrc catholics for equality

    Since moving back to Washington a few weeks back, I've had the pleasure of reconnecting with Phil Attey, a friend I know from his days on the Human Rights Campaign communication staff. (Yes, I have friends at HRC; I even dated an HRC staffer a number of years ago -- is that the equivalent of "having one over for dinner"?).

    After leaving HRC in the late '90s, Phil has been at the cutting edge of leveraging the Internet and social networking to bring about change (yes, the kind we can believe in). A lifelong Catholic, Phil will very soon be calling on the lessons learned as an LGBT Netroots pioneer in the launch of a sorely needed effort at answering on their own terms those who misuse religion in politics to deny us civil equality.

    Dadt repeal call congressPhil and I don't always see eye to eye on tactics, but he's no knee-jerk defender of his former employer and I appreciate the way he challenges those of us throw bombs from our blogs to use our voices in a positive way as well. Along those lines, I'd like to share something he posted on Facebook -- Sarah Palin-style -- in response to the blog swarm targeting HRC that I joined yesterday.

    It's worth taking the time to read, and I join him in directing our primary focus where repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and other gay rights progress presently is mired -- in the hallowed halls of Congress.


    Yesterday, a group of our most prominent bloggers joined forces to ask their combined audiences to make phone calls on DADT. The idea of this excited me, as along with some great Facebook activists have been advocating for months, a united online call to action to flood Congress with phone calls on the issue.

    Sadly, instead of calls to Congress, they were joining forces to shut down the phone lines of our nation's largest pro lgbt equality group. Can you just see Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck salivating?

    My intent is not to shame the bloggers or finger point. We don't have the luxury of such time. Reality Check: We only have a few months to ensure the DADT repeal is included in this Spring's Defense Authorization Bill, and we need to focus on real action.

    Besides, these bloggers are my friends and heroes ... and valued voices in our movement.

    Trying to keep this positive, here are three things they could easily combine their forces to accomplish that would not only help to repeal DADT, but spark a grassroots excitement in the progressive community that after we elected President Obama, we've completely lost on the left:

    1. Promote a CALL CONGRESS Day for the next Senate or House Hearing on DADT.
    Have a graphic designer create a stylish logo, give it a catchy name, and join forces to create an online echo chamber to bring our entire community on board. Trust me, if you do this, all of us on Facebook will help you pull it off and praise you for it!

    2. Call for a National "March Into Washington" Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.
    Show the critics of the recent March on Washington that marches actually can be used to move Members of Congress on our issues. No money needed, no lofty speeches, just set a day with enough time in advance for folks to get cheap flights to DC, provide them with talking points on DADT and include a link for them to look up the office numbers for each of their Senators and Representative. 250,000 people walking through the Senate and House buildings and into offices would have an impact the likes of which Washington has never seen.

    3. Call of a National Day of Congressional District Action.
    Let's take a page from Tea Party. Poke fun at them all you want. Call them Teabaggers, racists, bigots, whatever, but please don't disrespect the reality that they just kicked all our progressive asses when it came to Health Care Reform. Not even my hero Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake was able to counter their grassroots influence on the HCR debate. Call for rallies and Congressional District meetings with every Member of Congress when they'll be back home during their next recess. And if you don't think you can actually organize/inspire our community to do our own rallies, at least learn from the great work ACT UP did with their 1992 "What ABOUT AIDS" signs, and create ones our activists can take to hijack the Tea Party Rallies that will be happening across the country on Tax Day, April 15th. ... DADT WASTES MY TAX DOLLARS ... REPEAL IT NOW!

    Is it pollyanna to think this will actually happen? Maybe. But as Willie Wonka said to Veruca Salt, "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams"

    It's time to make some music. It's time to make some dreams come true.

    Yours in the united stand for equality,

    + Phil

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    Guess who's coming to swarm?

    Posted by: Chris

    Sldn logo servicemembers legal defense network gays in the military dont ask dont tell Yesterday I joined those who sponsored a blog swarm of the Human Rights Campaign, albeit focusing Solmonese, Smith & Co. on Congress, not exclusively on the White House. As one reader points out, it was not particular efficient to ask people to lobby HRC to get them to lobby President Obama to get him to lobby Congress.

    Support for the swarm was broad and included at least one surprise entrant, considering its target was a gay rights group, not Congress: another gay group, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

    We join the Swarm’s call for DADT repeal this year. The best way to erase the law from the books in 2010 is for there to be a provision included in the defense authorization budget that nixes the law and replaces it with a policy of nondisrimination. We urge the President and Congress to include this provision in the defense authorization budget bill in the coming weeks. (This defense bill is currently being drafted.)

    Hrc not equals unequal logo HRC reaction to the swarm, meanwhile took the form of an email from spokesman Brad Luna, who argued that the bloggers were asking for something HRC has already done:

    Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has to be repealed this year. That has been the Human Rights Campaign’s position from the start, and at this point there is no one in the White House who does not know it. We and the community to whom we are accountable agree: This is the year.

    We firmly support including repeal in the annual Department of Defense Authorization bill, and have not only indicated as much, but continue to make that case, all while working to gain support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act....

    We have been lobbying the White House relentlessly, and we’ve seen more movement in recent weeks than in the previous 16 years. Our nation’s top defense officials testified, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be repealed. That did not happen in a vacuum.

    These events are just the start. There is a clear path to repeal, and that’s the one we’re on.

    Note that missing entirely from the HRC response is any mention whatsoever of the other end of Pennsylvania, where that "clear path to repeal" must next pass through. Owing to the misguided focus of the swarm on President Obama, rather than Congress, HRC wriggles its way free without angering (or pressuring) its Democratic friends on Capitol Hill.

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    Filed in: HRC , Military

    February 16, 2010

    HRC faces blog swarm over DADT repeal

    Posted by: Chris

    Hrc+not+equal Apparently I'm not the only one to notice that for an inside-the-Beltway organization, the Human Rights Campaign appears out of the loop when it comes to pushing for repeal this year of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

    The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld put together an excellent report that asks whether HRC under Joe Solmonese is producing anything like the results that could be expected for the amount of resources that "the nation's largest gay political group" siphons from our community. And today, a number of gay progressive bloggers have launched a "blog swarm" targeting HRC.

    Eleveld's video report -- anchored by Thomas Roberts, formerly of CNN Headline News, who it's great to see here -- offers Solmonese and longtime behind-the-scenes string-puller Hilary Rosen the opportunity to make the case for HRC's effectiveness, and… well… lets just say that hopefully they do a better of job of advocacy for our rights.

    "HRC needs to be as strategic as possible, as accountable as possible, to every member of our community to be laser-focused on what I call closing these very important deals."  — Joe Solmonese, HRC president

    "I think they are focused on their mission, I think they work for LGBT equality, I think they work for the movement and I think they feel that responsibility really strongly. At the same time I don't think it's an indictment that somebody wants to strategize with them behind closed doors. That to me is something we should be a proud of."  — Hilary Rosen, lobbyist and former HRC chair

    You need to install or upgrade Flash Player to view this content, install or upgrade by clicking here.

    What those substance-free defenses fail to mask is what's obvious to many: The entire premise for HRC, formerly the Human Rights Campaign Fund, is that our movement needed an organization run by insiders who know how to leverage our community's small size into big results, to play the good cop to the street activists' bad cop, to play ball with the politicians, even as the rest of the movement protests outside the ballpark.

    What happened is that Hilary Rosen's ex-wife, longtime HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch, grew HRC into the org that ate the movement, and we were left with only a good cop playing ball with the pols, and not particularly effectively at that. Only in the last several years, with the rise of the blogosphere, the net roots and a new generation of activists has the movement revitalized as something more than a black-tie dinner that relied on its checkbook to buy its equality.

    Solmonese, who has headed up the organization since 2005, represents the culmination of the HRC model, a designer label lobbyist whose primary qualification for running the gay rights movement was that he sitteth at the right hand of Rosen, Birch and Emily's List founder Ellen Malcolm. Alongside David Smith, who has been running HRC "strategery" since before most bloggers were born, Solmonese and company have sucked millions from the movement and managed to botch the very tasks they were supposedly so suited to handle.

    These consummate lobbyists gave us the legislative debacle back in 2008 over including, then not including, then promising to include, then jettisoning, transgender rights in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. They backed the wrong horse -- that other HRC whose husband gave us DADT and DOMA -- in the Democratic primary, and despite the Democrats historic grip on D.C., they have failed to either mobilize the community or leverage their resources on Capital Hill, to get anything more than hate crimes enacted into law.

    So yes, the blog swarm makes good sense, though its sponsors make their own strategic miscues. Their aim is for HRC to "publicly demand that President Obama take the lead in getting DADT repealed this year," meaning:

    1. That means the president needs to state publicly that he wants Congress to repeal DADT this year; and

    2. The president needs to take the lead in working with Congress to make sure the repeal happens.

    As goals go, these should induce more head-scratching that game-changing. All this effort to get the leading gay rights to make a public demand that the president say something he already said, complete with timetable, in his very first State of the Union address.

    More broadly, it repeats the very mistake HRC has been making since even before Barack Obama's inauguration, focusing attention on the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The president made his public commitment and dispatched his leading Defense Department deputies to make his case to Congress.

    Now it's time for the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, which has been demanding our allegiance and our dollars for almost as long as HRC, to get repeal done, making a moratorium and repeal itself a part of the defense budget now working its way through Congress. 

    I strongly encourage readers of this blog to join in making calls to HRC, but to make a point of focusing their attention on Congress as well as the president, and demanding a DADT moratorium and repeal be included as part of the Defense Department budgetary legislation. 

    HRC Front Desk: (202) 628-4160
    TTY: (202) 216-1572
    Toll-Free: (800) 777-4723

    Or, go to the HRC website comment page.
    Or, send an email: [email protected]

    But even as we make these calls or send these emails, let's remember that we cannot simply sit back and expect HRC to do all the heavy lifting for us. That's why John Aravosis over at AmericaBlog claims, "You've done your job. Now it's time for the President, Congress and HRC to do theirs," even as he's telling his readers it's their job to call HRC. Our work -- all of our work -- remains unfinished.

    Ultimately, our equality is all our responsibility, and it's up to each and every one of us to keep the pressure on all the key players -- within our movement and our government -- to dispense with business as usual in Washington and end the gross injustice done to gay men and lesbians putting their lives on the line for our freedom.

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    February 14, 2010

    Don't ask when DADT will be gone

    Posted by: Chris

    Dick cheney vice president gays in the military
    Why is it that every time it seems the momentum is growing to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, some poorly sourced news article appears predicting the process of repeal will take longer and longer to accomplish?

    The last few days brought news that:

    • An updated survey of Military Times readers, mostly veterans historically hostile toward open service by gays, showed an even split on the question.
    • New polling showed fully three-fourths of Americans generally favor repeal of DADT, including a majority of Republicans and conservatives.
    • Lt. Dan Choi, whose outspoken and passionate advocacy as a gay Army reservist has made him the face of DADT repeal efforts, was invited to participate in drills with his unit even though he has been facing discharge over the policy.
    • Moderate senators on the Armed Services Committee threw their support behind the review of the policy announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
    • Former Vice President Dick Cheney, the voice of GOP conservatives on issues of national security, came out in favor of the review as well, and signaled that the time has come to end the ban:

    "When the chiefs come forward and say, ‘We think we can do it,’ then it strikes me as it’s time to reconsider the policy, and I think Admiral Mullen said that,” Cheney said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” 

    Cheney said the U.S. military supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 when the law banning open service was put in place, but said “things have changed, significantly, since then” and predicted the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as it currently stands.

    “I see that … Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff, has indicated he is belief that we ought to support change in the policy, so I think that — my guess is the policy will be changed,” Cheney said.

    When Karl pressed Cheney further on whether he personally supports repeal, Cheney said said “it’s partly a generational issue” and he’s “reluctant to second guess the military” because “they’re the ones that have got to make the judgment on how these policies affect the military capability of our units.”

    And yes despite all these positive developments, an AP story by Anne Flaherty in today's New York Times predicted "a complete repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy is probably years away":

    The two officials appointed to lead a yearlong internal assessment -- Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson -- met for the first time on Feb. 9.

    As that study gets under way, officials were expected by mid-March to suggest ways to relax enforcement of the law. Of particular interest is minimizing cases of ''third party outings,'' where a service member is kicked out after being reported by others to be gay.

    The protracted time line is about more than giving military leaders time to assess the impact on troops and put new rules in place. The multiyear process also is a strategic way of getting troops used to the idea before they have to accept change. Politically, the time line puts off congressional debate over lifting the ban until after elections this fall.

    The entire story is sourced to unnamed "senior defense and military officials," and fails to abide by a New York Times policy that requires at a minimum that such anonymous sources explain why they will not talk on the record.

    Shoddy journalism aside, the article suggests shoddy activism as well. The Human Rights Campaign website shows no public statements or pushes on DADT since Feb. 5, further contributing to a sense that our "inside the Beltway" gay groups are as out of the loop on the process for DADT repeal than they were on pressuring the president and Congress to raise the issue last month.

    At issue at this point is not whether Don't Ask Don't Tell will be repealed, but when. Now is the time for HRC and the other D.C. gay groups to shine.

    HRC+Logo The entire argument in favor of having a well-resourced organization of inside lobbyists like HRC, and in particular well-paid leaders like Joe Solmonese and David Smith is that they know how to massage the process and leverage our efforts to win our equality sooner than we would otherwise.

    Will they mobilize the gay community and our progressive allies to prevent the Pentagon review to delay the legislative process toward repeal? Will they, at a minimum, succeed in making a moratorium on DADT discharges -- all discharges, not just so-called "third party complaints" -- an amendment to the Defense Department budget bill?

    Or what will it take for the millionaire activists of Gay Rights, Inc., to earn the salary or be replaced?

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    Filed in: HRC , Media , Military

    January 30, 2010

    Foot-dragging in march for DADT repeal

    Posted by: Chris

    Admiral mike mullen dont ask dont tell gays in the military
    The Pentagon had been expected to announce its "plan" to implement repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell early next week, but now it appears that the plan is the announcement itself (I've highlighted the most depressing bits):

    The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military.

    A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    While the review is likely to take the better part of this year to complete, and even more time to implement, its initiation will advance President Barack Obama's goal of repealing the ban and bring a divisive issue for the military back to the fore.

    At the White House, officials continued reviewing options to repeal the Clinton-era policy that the president vowed to repeal. The administration still believes that any repeal should start in Congress and have the backing of top military leaders.

    To that end, Obama and Gates planned a meeting next week to discuss, among other topics, ending "don't ask, don't tell" policies. The president was also likely to speak with Mullen, who has signaled he would carry out a repeal if ordered by Obama and Congress.

    So a full year after Washington welcomed a president and two houses of Congress in the hands of the "gay-friendly" Democrats committed to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, itself signed into law by a Democratic president, we learn that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- has been done to the lay the groundwork for its repeal.

    The "big announcement" next week is the formation of a "special investigation" that will take more than a year to complete. So what is there to specially investigate?

    Can a soldier be forced to room with someone who is openly gay if they are the same sex? Would the military recognize civil unions and how much would it cost to extend benefits to a service member's partner? Would quotas be imposed to ensure openly gay service members aren't passed over for promotions?

    These are the difficult questions? The second and third questions aren't even real issues. The federal government does not recognize gay relationships for any purposes right now, and no one -- no one -- is seriously suggesting that the mliitary has to take the lead in that regard at the same time they allow gays to begin serving openly. Quotas on out gay promotions? Really? This is a far-right, fear-mongering talking point that, again, no one -- no one -- is seriously suggesting.

    The first question does raise privacy issues that are worthy of being thought through, but it is flatly ridiculous to suggest that doing so would take weeks, much less months, to sort through.

    Keep in mind, for those worried about privacy for hetero soldiers and sailors, that Don't Ask Don't Tell is far more invasive of their privacy. Why? Right now, gays are guaranteed the right to serve and straight service members are prevented by law from knowing which of their comrades is homo. So if there's peeking going on in bunkers and barracks, they're far easier when no one knows who's gay.

    Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, "Democrats in Congress are unlikely to press the issue until after this fall's midterm elections." Of course they aren't, and why should they when no one is really holding their feet to the fire. The bottom-down, buttoned-down management of Gay Rights, Inc., almost all of whom are disgruntled Hillary-backers, have blamed the president for everything and let congressional Democrats almost untouched.

    No Excuses? More like No Excuses Necessary.

     Human rights campaign no excuses tee

    (Top photo: Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prior to last week's State of the Union address. Photo via Washington Post; No Excuses tee shirt via Human Rights Campaign)

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    Filed in: HRC , Military , Obama

    January 28, 2010

    Up off the mat, gently

    Posted by: Kevin


    With the stakes high for his flagging presidency, President Barack Obama managed not to blow his first State of the Union.  That was a relief, for a failed president with three years left in office is no help to anyone.  In fact, when the 70-minute speech is boiled down to its basic turning points, it was a tale of two speeches, as the Guardian and the Washington Post seem to posit.  Obama was saying he would refocus his agenda, but he would also not be changing course.  Things will change, but I won't.

    And he finally -- FINALLY -- made a concrete promise to the gay and lesbian community that really matters.  He promised "to work with Congress and the military" in 2010 to end the outrageous "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving in the military.  For me, this was a great moment and a long-overdue correction of a nearly 20-year old policy that must be overturned.

    As a very skeptical viewer, I have to say that the rhetoric was too gentle and not inspiring in the least.  The speech was so long and so full of items that I imagine the average angry voter out there was not satiated if he sat through the whole thing.  He was too gentle with his fellow Democrats.  They've done more than just "head for the hills" - they've abandoned all principle and sense of decency largely because they don't believe in anything but re-election.  All this aside, though, Obama's political bullet points on balance were encouraging, even if many of his policy statements were, to me and other center-right-inclined folks, wrong-headed.

    This is where I part company with many of my compatriots on the right, including many gay conservatives.  I don't agree with Obama on most of his policy positions in general.  I don't trust the Democratic Party one bit, and think of its Congressional caucus as a pack of lying slimebags who care only about themselves (with a few notable exceptions too few to influence anything).  I vote accordingly, and as readers of this blog know, I pontificate accordingly.  But I do not want President Obama to fail in delivering on his promises to the gay and lesbian community, nor do I want his presidency to collapse, as it would mean the country will fall deeper into chaos and dissension.

    I want the policies I disagree with to fail, yes.  I don't want the massive government-run health care hurricane massing off shore to become law and plow over the already hopelessly indebted Treasury.  I don't want populism to overwhelm an already tottering financial system, which would not only affect Main Street, U.S.A., but most of the developing world as well.  I think a spending freeze that doesn't include entitlements is a waste of time and will make some very important programs suffer while upper middle class, golf-playing retirees collect Social Security checks that they don't need.   We can win those fights honestly, and frontally, with the power of better ideas and with courage.  (Too bad the Republicans in Congress seem to possess neither.)

    But I don't want a President of the United States to fail entirely.  I think it reeks of selfish provincialism and borders on a lack of patriotism to cheer rapturously as a President of the United States sinks into political oblivion in his first year in office.  The institution of the presidency isn't a football team.  It has an importance far beyond the person in that chair, and it affects nearly everything in the global economic and political fabric.  If he has committed some sort of crime and must be removed, like Richard Nixon, then fine -- we must carry forward with his nominal defeat if he refuses to go.  But weakening the institution (from without or within) for minor playing field gains in the political realm is the stuff of moth-eaten banana republics like Argentina, Ecuador or Bolivia.  Not the United States of America.

    So, I applaud his promise to "work with Congress and the military" in 2010 to overturn one of the most vicious anti-gay policies ever adopted in American history.  It has sapped our nation's security, ruined tens of thousands of lives, fomented a level of hate and anxiety in one of the proudest and most able institutions of our Republic, and worst of all, it never worked as it was intended to.  It is a giant moral stain on our country.

    The real challenge now, as with nearly every other issue Obama outlined last night, will be the Democratic Congress.  And on that, we must be absolutely relentless from this day forward.

    If the gay community, starting with the Human Rights Campaign and the rest of the national political groups, does not mobilize with an intensity not seen in more than a decade, and use every single tool of pressure on the Democrats in Congress to follow through on this promise in 2010, I assure you it will fail.  And its failure will be a political catastrophe, bigger than Proposition 8.  There will be no room left for political courage on gay issues in national government, and we will be cast aside like a piece of trash for another decade.

    If we don't use threats, if we don't hold campaign money over their heads, if we don't get written, signed pledges and public statements, and set deadlines and hold rallies against the waverers -- if we don't send legions of constituents into district and Capitol Hill offices -- if we don't get the national media to report almost a decade of unrivaled peer-reviewed research from the Palm Center that proves how bad the policy is from almost every possible angle -- then even with effort from the White House, the Democratic Congress will not follow through.

    Yes, we must also pressure the Republicans.  Those who have promised to be with us in the past cannot be allowed to change their position, and should face our united wrath if they do.  Those who hurl tired, anti-gay rhetoric and try to whip up hatred within the military ranks should be condemned loudly, and they, too, must be made to suffer whatever consequence we can affect.  But let's also be honest -- we can do a hell of a lot more damage to a Democrat in almost any district or state in the country than we can do to a Republican senator from Oklahoma or Alabama.  The real firefight has to be with the cowards and the waverers, because they will decide our fate.

    I want to thank President Obama for getting up off the mat last night, albeit too gently.  Let's hope from now on we'll see some fierce activism from him, as well as from our own ranks.
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    Filed in: HRC , Military , Obama

    January 20, 2010

    Democratic Super-Baloney

    Posted by: Kevin

    Pelosi_reid0110 The Democratic Party promise since the 1990s: Give us all your money, all your votes, and we'll "fight 'til hell freezes over, then we'll fight on the ice" to deliver for the gay and lesbian community at the national level.

    Well, that was a lie.  Pure and simple. They had the power, and they didn't use it.

    And as the much vaunted Democratic supermajority comes to a bitter and self-destructive end, it's become fairly obvious to everyone now what a lie it was.  (I won't say I told you so.)

    Tens of millions of dollars in wasted donations and almost two decades of furiously slavish political loyalty to the national Democratic establishment yielded passage of a mostly symbolic hate crimes law that had gone moldy on the dais for more than a decade, and nothing else.  Indeed, we got more admonitions than action on all fronts, being told to wait even longer and not 'endanger' the prospects for totally unrelated legislation that ended up bombing anyway.  I mean - what are they going to tell us next, that they need 75 seats and a 100-seat majority in the House to pass ENDA?  Don't even think about repealing the military ban or the Defense of Marriage Act.  (Oh, and send a check, please.  'Your life depends on it,' etc. and so forth....)

    Indeed, allowing the Democratic leadership to shove aside reforms that go to the heart of being gay in America today, in favor of their disastrous legislative fiascos of the past three years, didn't get us anywhere.  Their bumbling cost them the Senate supermajority that our community invested so much in building as part of this deal they offered us almost a generation ago.  And now we get nothing.  Again.

    And even the way they lost the supermajority is like an anvil to the head.  It was Ted Kennedy's seat.  It was in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage.  And it was at the hands of a Republican so conservative, so 'out-of-step' on paper with that state, that even I can't believe he won, or better, that the Dems lost.  Could this be any more violent a wake-up call for all for all of us, finally yielding to a shift in gay national strategy?  Will it be the moment we finally decide to end our toxic dependency on partisanship?  Or is this just going to be like Lindsay Lohan crashing her car and saying it was an innocent mistake and not the pound of cocaine up her nose?

    First, we need gay leaders with balls once and for all.  Or just gay leaders, period.  Joe Solomonese is chief among the fulsome, useless enablers of this failed bargain we've made, and frankly you should stop giving the Human Rights Campaign money until he resigns.  What in hell has he accomplished in Washington worthy of the salary he receives?  Getting Lady Gaga?  How can you even bear to look at his insipid email missives now after all this?  I certainly can't.

    And while I agree that activism and commitment at the local and state level is probably more important, we cannot completely ignore the national imperatives.  Don't just turn your head in disgust at what a joke HRC has become, or what a disaster the Democrats have been as a governing party.  Do something about it.  Register your opinion with them.  Stop giving money to gay groups that fail to lead, and to party organizations that fail to deliver.  Remove yourself from HRC's useless email lists (do you get anything other than requests for more money anymore?)  Demand new leadership.  Post comments on blogs, on Facebook, and in the few remaining gay newspapers around the country.    Talk to like-minded gay and lesbian friends (especially longtime donors).  Share ideas with each other and make a plan - any plan.  But for God's sake, don't just turn your heads.  Don't just sit there

    Wake up, people.  The period between now and the 2010 elections will be the greatest test of whether we get action, or we wait another decade or two for a bus that is not going to stop here again.  If we don't get anything back after all that we've invested, and all this community has done to deliver for them, explain to me why the Democratic Party should ever feel obliged to deliver for us in the future.  We'll have proven ourselves the cheapest date in the history of party politics.

    We are spinning our wheels until we push out the old and demand something new.  Something real.  Something courageous and honest at the front of this movement, who will live and die on results in the next 10 months.

    It's time for someone to start fighting on the quickly hardening ice, and it had better be you.

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    June 15, 2009

    Defending Obama's indefensible defense...

    Posted by: Chris

    Doma obama brief ... of the Defense of Marriage Act. OK not really. But at the risk of being labeled (once again) as an Obama apologist, I want to add a bit more context to the excellent analysis done by Andoni and others of the DOJ's brief defending DOMA.

    Like most of you, I was profoundly disappointed by the filing, and my heart sank even further when I read some of the arguments used by the Obama Justice Department in favor of DOMA's constitutionality. The analogy to incest, in particular, was completely beyond the pale. Although (once again) it's not fair to say the brief directly compared same-sex relationships to incestuous relationships, it is ludicrous and insulting to suggest there is no meaningful legal distinction between laws that don't exclude gays from marrying and laws that permit an uncle to wed his niece.

    It was also patently irrational to argue that DOMA doesn't discriminate against gay Americans because we, too, can  enter into "traditional marriages." Its unfathomable that lawyers for a president who is the product of an interracial marriage would use an argument that was rejected some four decades ago in Loving v. Virginia. In that case, the Supreme Court rejected the state's argument that anti-miscegenation laws weren't racist because both whites and blacks were equally restricted to marrying within their own race.

    Even so, once my blood pressure came under control, I cannot join those who see the DOMA brief as a "betrayal" by President Obama or even as a sign that his administration will be "throwing us under the bus" like the last Democrat occupant of the White House did. Here's why:

    First and foremost, candidate Obama did not make any commitment that I'm aware of to refuse to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. That would have been an extraordinary promise for any presidential candidate to make about any piece of duly adopted legislation, and yet I don't know of a single time the question was even put to Obama or his competitors, or where he was even asked the more general question of whether DOMA is unconstitutional.

    There's obviously a big difference between believing a law is wrongheaded or unfair or even discriminatory, on the one hand, and believing it is unconstitutional, on the other. Since Hillary Clinton defended her husband's decision to sign DOMA into law, and only favored half-repeal, it's fair to conclude she agrees with the Obama DOJ that DOMA's deficiency is a matter of policy, not constitutionality. Ditto  the Human Rights Campaign, since "the nation's largest gay rights group" chose only to score the candidates on whether they support DOMA's half-repeal -- thereby equating Clinton's views with Obama's.

    If this question of DOMA's constitutionality is so crucial and fundamental, then why did everyone -- all of us -- fail to raise it during the eons-long presidential campaign? We thought about DOMA enough to make a big deal -- or not -- about half-repeal vs. full repeal, and others questioned Obama about the positions the DOJ might take in defending Don't Ask, Don't Tell in court. So why didn't we ask for a commitment about refusing to defend DOMA as well? And if we didn't, maybe we should take a deep breath before accusing Obama of treason for how his lawyers ultimately answered our unasked question -- in a lawsuit that most gay legal experts wish had never been brought and hopefully will get dismissed.

    A  spokesperson has explained the DOJ brief saying that, "As it generally does with existing statutes, the Justice Department is defending the law on the books in court." John Aravosis makes a good point by digging up examples of the DOJ under previous presidents declining to defend the constitutionality of certain statutes in court, but rather than proving the Obama administration is "lying," he accomplished the opposite. Four examples out of thousands hardly disproves the claim that "generally" the DOJ defends laws passed by Congress and signed by the president.

    Let's also pause long enough to consider whether we want to advocate the politicization of the Justice Department. Let us recall from the debate over the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the DOJ has an independent obligation to weigh questions of legality and constitutionality. Those decisions ought to be made on the basis of the law, not politics. It's not fair for us to switch sides on that argument when it suits our cause, however worthy.

    Please, please don't take away from these observations any hesitation on my part about the constitutionality of DOMA. As someone whose entire life has been torn apart for years now because of this single federal law, I know its destructive force, and for years counted myself among those who see DOMA as a gross affront to the Constitution. Nonetheless, I think it's a bit too easy to condemn President Obama for failing to anticipate a complicated legal question that our own advocates either also failed to anticipate or decided was unworthy of raising during the presidential campaign.

    Schoolhouserockbill Speaking of our own advocates, I will say it was refreshing to see Joe Solmonese at HRC actually speak out on the issue, even if he ultimately cops out by attempting to evade any institutional or personal responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in. Solmonese's impassioned letter to Obama calls on the president to "put your principles into action and send legislation repealing DOMA to Congress."

    Is that the way Washington works, Joe? Are we really to believe that this consumate lobbyist -- who couldn't resist bragging about his own White House access in the same self-serving letter -- completely missed that "Schoolhouse Rock" episode on how a bill becomes a law?

    Solmonese and his Beltway minions know damn well the president doesn't "send" legislation to Congress. Even on top administration priorities like the stimulus package and health care reform, the bills are drafted by legislators -- hence the name -- with public and private input from the White House throughout the process, including what importance the president puts on passage.

    If pressure is to be brought to bear, and indeed it should, then it ought to focus first on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. So when the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles raised a public ruckus with the president over DOMA this weekend, HRC should passionately remind them that not one of the Democrats in Congress from these two gay meccas, including a certain Speaker of the House, has introduced, much less given priority to, a bill to repeal DOMA.

    Why is it, then, that in the 13 years since passage of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that HRC and its friends in Congress have failed to "put principles into action" and draft repeal legislation, identify House and Senate sponsors and co-sponsors, pressure for hearings or otherwise shepherd the bill through the legislative process?

    I will answer my own question. Because anyone with even a passing familiarity with gay politics in our nation's capital knows that HRC long ago agreed with its cronies in the DNC and on the Hill not to even begin pressing for DOMA repeal until a whole laundry list of other (far less important and less controversial) legislation is adopted.

    With all of this context in mind, I would humbly suggest that we take each of Andoni's five examples of direct action and aim them also (not instead) at your member of Congress, the Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate, and our dear friends at the Human Rights Campaign. Has either Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid even committed publicly to repealing DOMA, or half-repealing it?

    Let's demand that HRC publicly release draft language for repealing DOMA and point us to members of Congress we should lobby to take on leadership roles in sponsorship. (And how about federal civil unions legislation while they're at it!)  With those pieces in place, pressure on the White House can be much more concrete, and all this righteous anger might move the ball forward toward relationship equality.

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    Filed in: HRC , Marriage , Obama

    June 08, 2009

    Glad to be back, Michael

    Posted by: Chris

    Michaelpetrelis I had to smile when I read a post welcoming me back to blogging from a somewhat unlikely source: Michael Petrelis. It was something of an understatement for Michael, a longtime gay, AIDS and human rights activist, to write that we have had "a sometimes adversarial acquaintance over the years."

    During my tenure editing Southern Voice in Atlanta, the Washington Blade and the other publications in the Window Media family, Petrelis left me his share of screaming voice mails. He was usually complaining about our decision not to give what he considered adequate coverage to a story or, more frequently, to source stories from outside the usual Beltway suspects.

    He was a pain in the ass, frankly, to me and my reporters, but then again, that's what the long lost art of activism is all about. I still differ with him on his methods at times, as well as on substance occasionally, but then and now Michael was at times spot-on in his criticism. I particularly took to heart his complaint that we should never do a story about HIV/AIDS without at least one quote from someone living with the disease, and I worked with the reporters to make it something of a rule for our coverage.

    Anyway, Michael has long been an ally -- along with Andrew Sullivan, the Gay Patriot folks and my co-blogger Kevin -- about the massive waste of potential and resources that is the Human Rights Campaign. It was on this point that Michael welcomed me back to blogging. And I have to say, thanks Micchael, it's good to be back.

    (Photo of Michael Petrelis protesting U.N. secretary general via Clinton Fein)

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    June 05, 2009

    Don't Ask Do Deal: 'outright lie'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Me thinks they doth protest too much, our friends at the Human Rights Campaign. Trevor Thomas has fired off an angry response by Blackberry to Jason Bellini's Daily Beast report alleging HRC cut a deal to delay pressing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell until next year. Wrote Thomas:

    This story is not only an outright lie, it is recklessly irresponsible. HRC never made such a deal and continues to work with congress and the administration on a full range of equality issues including a swift end to the military's shameful ban on gay servicemembers.

    Considering that Bellini's claim to a go-slow deal on DADT was (a) sourced to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and (b) confirmed on camera by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, thereby (c) confirming what Beltway gays have known for months, it appears that (d): HRC's Thomas, while using his Blackberry, was in fact talking out of a much lower extremity.

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    Filed in: HRC , Media , Military , Obama

    June 04, 2009

    Don't Ask Do Deal: HRC's betrayal

    Posted by: Chris

    I've been writing for years and years about the tragic willingness of those in "leadership" roles of the gay rights movement to cut deals that betray their supposed constituents. Joe Solmonese and David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign are archetypes of this pathetic trend -- grossly overpaid lobbyists who spend far more political capital lowering the expectations of gays on behalf of the Democratic Party than they do pressuring for equality in Washington.

    Thanks to a report for the Daily Beast by Jason Bellini -- formerly with Logo -- we have yet another pathetic example of HRC's betrayal of the movement, agreeing not to press for repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell until next year:

    Don't say I didn't warn you. HRC and the Democrats have been promising (with no plan to deliver) passage of a hate crime law and Employment Non-Discrimination Act for more than a decade, including before the 2006 election, and yet we are still expected to be satisfied by these same civil rights crumbs for the entire first year that Democrats are firmly in control of Washington.

    In some ways, delay is somewhat more justifiable on DADT than other gay rights measures, given the implementation steps to be taken in the midst of two foreign wars. But make no mistake: if DADT waits until 2010, then relationship recognition -- whether repeal of DOMA or a federal civil unions law -- won't get touched until after the midterm elections, if then.

    I hope that grassroots activists and gay folks nationwide play Bellini's report again and again, paying special attention to Smith's dissembling and Solmonese's smarmy status-whoring, along with the ridiculous excuse-making by Tammy Baldwin.  Come on, Congresswoman -- there hasn't been enough "education" on gay rights issues? Polls show overwhelming public support for not just ENDA and hate crime laws, but repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and for marriage or civil unions.  Enough with the lame, self-serving excuses!

    As for "the nation's largest gay rights group," we are definitely not getting what we pay for.  Despite an astronomical budget, we get backroom deals and snail's pace progress. Then again, what do we expect from a civil rights group that recently bought a building with a 30-year mortgage?  The Beltway tuxedo crowd is in no hurry, especially if actual activism might risk their coveted access and cocktail invites.

    All this nonsense reminds me, unfortunately, of why I burned out on gay politics earlier this year. We can only hope that independent voices bypass the Solmonese/Smith crowd and demand change directly from the Democrats in power -- in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

    Count me in for another March on Washington -- let's just make sure the HRC building is included on the protest route.

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    February 06, 2009

    It's UAFA time again

    Posted by: Andoni

    Binat 2

    Immigration Equality has just announced that the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 (UAFA) will be introduced into the House of Representatives by lead sponsor Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) on February 13. Because it's a new Congress this legislation must be re-introduced anew.

    Last year this bill had 118 co-sponsors. The goal is to get all those co-sponsors back and then some, to make a good showing when the bill is introduced. So action is necessary. Please find out the name of your Congressperson, then call them by going through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224- 3121 and ask your representative to co-sponsor this legislation. If your Congressperson was a co-sponsor last year, ask them to become an original co-sponsor this time by calling Congressman Nadler's office by February 12 to add their name.

    Here's the spiel when you talk to your representative:

    "The US government discriminates against gay and lesbian binational couples by not allowing us to sponsor our foreign-born life partner for immigration. Because of this, we face the terrible choice of separating from the person we love or leaving our country. As Americans, we should not have to choose between family and country. Please co-sponsor the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 before February 12. Thank you."

    It was very encouraging to see Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese reference UAFA in today's Washington Blade as one of the legislative priorities they hoped to work with President Obama on and see passed in the near future.

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    January 19, 2009

    Looking beyond Warren-gate...

    Posted by: Chris

    I was encouraged to read a piece by the Advocate's Sean Kennedy for New York Magazine that suggests that our activists are finally looking beyond the giant distraction of Warren-gate and on to the serious issues that lie ahead. (Unfortunately, HBO's failure to broadcast the inaugural event prayer yesterday by gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson will undoubtedly prolong the kvetching.)

    But at least Kennedy's report suggests that the Human Rights Campaign hasn't forgotten to set their eyes on a prize bigger than who gives a two-minute prayer at the inauguration:

    [T]here were those who believed it was a genuine act of inclusiveness, in keeping with the post-swearing-in benediction by the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who supports gay rights (but not marriage), and the Reverend Sharon Watkins's leading of the national prayer service Wednesday morning, the first woman to do so.

    "Unless we believe it's pure political bull, Obama's been talking the whole time about bringing people together across the ideological spectrum," says gay-media veteran Chris Crain, adding: "Why is it a bad thing that someone who's anti-gay wants to support the most pro-gay president we've had?"

    But Crain is an outlier; for the most part, the rancor is unabated: "The Warren choice was universally disappointing," says Harry Knox, director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith program. "But both grayheads like me and young people are wise enough to see that we can't expect perfection from our leaders. We have to be vigilant about getting the work done that it will take to get this legislation passed."

    He's referring to major policy items, like "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which Obama says he wants to repeal.

    That's actually the first time I've seen anyone from HRC talk about being "vigilant" about "major policy items" like repeal of DADT and DOMA. Up till now, all they've talked about are low-hanging fruit like hate crime and employmnet non-discrimination laws, which while important are largely symbolic by comparison.

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    Filed in: HRC , Obama , Religion

    January 07, 2009

    At last, some new thinking

    Posted by: Andoni

    Chris and I have been hitting the gay leadership hard, asserting that there is lot more opportunity for gay rights in this country at this time than they are willing to put on the table. To push only for "Hate Crimes" and ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) is aiming way too low and not meeting the needs or expectations of our community.

    "Hate Crimes" and ENDA would have been fine in 1994, but this is 2009. I am so discouraged that there is no bold new thinking anywhere in the leadership. Neither Barney Frank, nor Tammy Baldwin nor HRC are able to think outside the traditional rut they have been digging in for 14 years. I believe they are blinded by being too invested in these two pieces of legislation. There's a much bigger picture out there that they do not see.

    Kudos to David Mixner for his call today for some new thinking. He recognizes our problem and the fact that it is 2009 and not 1994 and makes some sound proposals that fit with our current needs. I agree with the scope of his thinking. And if it's a choice between David's proposal and the old castrated plan our current leadership has been working on for the past 14 years, I support David's aprroach any day of the week.

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    Filed in: HRC

    December 23, 2008

    Watch the Warren bait and switch

    Posted by: Chris

    Solmonesebaldwinfrank A lot of the anger over Barack Obama's selection of Rick Warren to say a prayer at the inuauguration springs from genuine (if misplaced) resentment over the mega-church pastor's previous pronouncements on marriage, mixed with a disturbing streak of P.C. intolerance that runs through the gay rights movement and liberals generally.

    Part of it is lingering distrust of Obama by gay Hillary supporters, who still revel in the chance to stick it to him, as they did on the (similar and analogous) Donnie McClurkin flap. Another part is from Clinton-haters, who are already bracing themselves for Obama to "throw gays under the bus" the way Bill Clinton did on gays in the military (1993) and the Defense of Marriage Act (1996).

    And then there are the "leaders" of the gay movement, who absolutely love this kind of controversy for an entirely different reason: the gay and gay-friendly masses are exorcised and primed for fund-raising, successfully distracted from the indefensible lack of progress, even backsliding, on the actual push for legal equality. You know who I'm talking about, people, so let's just get to the quote (from Politico.com):

    The rapid, angry reaction from a range of gay activists comes as the gay rights movement looks for an opportunity to flex its political muscle. Last summer gay groups complained, but were rebuffed by Obama, when an “ex-gay” singer led Obama’s rallies in South Carolina. And many were shocked last month when voters approved the California ban.

    “There is a lot of energy and there’s a lot of anger and I think people are wanting to direct it somewhere,” [Joe] Solmonese [of the Human Rights Campaign] told Politico.

    B-I-N-G-O and BINGO was his name-o! A nice juicy controversy with absolutely nothing of consequence at stake, and all those angry gays upset by the humiliating defeat of gay marriage rights in California, Arizona and Florida are distracted from further inquiry into why we lost, or whether there is anything that Democrat-controlled Washington can do anything about it.

    Look at this shiny Rick Warren bauble, gay people! Pay no attention behind that curtain to the deal Joe Solmonese, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin and others have cut to give you only hate crime and ENDA crumbs until after the mid-term elections! (And by then, of course, the excuse will be that controversial issues like Don't Ask Don't Tell and relationship recognition must wait for Obama's re-election.)

    Remember Solmonese's "very frank" letter -- we know it's "very frank" because HRC said it was -- to the president-elect calling the Warren invitation "a genuine blow to LGBT Americans"? Does anyone remember HRC sending such a very frank letter when congressional Democrats failed to pass even the most benign form of gay rights legislation? (No, actually, HRC thanked them for giving it the ol' college try -- for the 12th consecutive year.)

    (And why can't the cynic in me shake the notion that Obama's real transition sin was failing to hire more Beltway gays to high White House and cabinet posts? Hillary surely would have emptied out HRC with cushy bureaucratic jobs.)

    GeoffreykorsOn the other side of the country, another gay leader in the hot seat is also trying his hand at the Warren bait and switch. Geoff Kors, the Equality California leader under heavy fire for the horribly mismanaged and poorly strategized No on 8 effort. You think he's gonna miss out on this chance to point the heat in another -- any other -- direction?:

    The head of California’s largest gay civil rights organization has declined an invitation to attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama because Rev. Rick Warren will deliver the invocation.

    It is extremely disappointing and hurtful that President-elect Obama has chosen California Rev. Rick Warren, who actively supported Prop 8 and the elimination of existing civil rights for LGBT Californians, to give the invocation at his inauguration,” said Equality California executive director Geoff Kors in a statement.

    “Accordingly, I have decided to decline the invitation to attend the inauguration as I cannot be part of a celebration that highlights and gives voice to someone who advocated repealing rights from me and millions of other Californians.”

    The EQCA home page devotes its premium space to Kors' silly refusal to attend the inauguration, which makes about as much political sense as his silly refusal to meaningfully debate Prop 8. Does he really think we can boycott and refuse to debate our way to equality? He needs to watch "Milk" again.

    There's still time to make lemonade from these lemons. If the uproar over Rick Warren has the Obama folks anxious to mollify the gays, then let's ask for something real -- not simply long-promised hate crime and employment non-discrimination legislation. Something real -- like administration support for pushing a federal civil unions bill.

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    December 15, 2008

    HRC's balls are for dancing (II)

    Posted by: Chris

    Christmasdiscoballs A reader who is generally a staunch defender of the Human Rights Campaign can't believe the nation's largest gay political group (and a bunch of other Beltway boyz) will be dancing at an "Out for Equality" inugural ball while the rest of gay America burns:

    I happened to zip over to your blog just after the election and saw the news that HRC was planning a Ball. I'll have to say that, for perhaps the first time on a matter this significant, I agree with you.

    I come from a place in my life where I devoted countless hours to a local HRC steering committee in the Midwest, and therefore can offer a first-hand account for the value those smaller organizations have in their communities to make real connections and encourage otherwise complacent gays to give a damn.

    Still, I have to say that now simply doesn't feel like the time to put a smile on our faces and scamper off to an HRC party -- not when we've got amendments and restrictions abounding, and a party that wants us on-board, but doesn't fully fight for our rights. How about we see results before we get too interested in tuxedos and ballrooms. If the New York state Senate is any indication, we've got more than enough time to work on our tans and get those manicures before the big day.

    As you can tell, I was not one of those people dancing in the streets on November 4th and, yes, I was at the rally down at the Capitol. Oddly, I'm leary, upset and, frankly, a little scared right now. Let's see what Hope can do for me.

    Hope But Verify, with President Obama, Democrats in general, and our gay rights lobby groups.

    As I've said many times before, our full equality is an inevitability, absent some major cultural upheaval. The question is whether equality arrives sooner rather than later, as in five years, a decade, a generation, or our lifetimes. One key to the time frame is whether we use our influence effectively to pressure those in power to not just make changes the public already favors overwhelmingly, but actually expend political capital on our behalf.

    Have you ever heard a politician, especially a Democrat, complain in public or private that HRC pushes them too hard? Ever? In my decade close to the action, I have not, firsthand, secondhand or otherwise. That says it all to me, right there.

    Or, as Out for Equality headliner Cyndi Lauper (love her!) puts it in her recent hit, "It's the same ol' fuckin' story..."

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    Filed in: HRC

    HRC's balls are only good for dancing

    Posted by: Chris

    Cyndi_lauper_joe_solmonese_2 When was the last time you heard "HRC" and "balls" in the same sentence? It was probably the last time the Human Rights Campaign actualy showed some cajones, which was... well... help me out here... never.

    So it's no surprise that when "the nation's largest gay political group" discovers it has balls, they are of the dancing variety.

    Yes, as rumored, HRC's Beltway-bound activists will be marking the heartbreaking defeat of marriage rights in California with -- what else -- yet another high-priced ($375 a ticket) black-tie event.

    Never letting a second interview get in the way of a good gush, WaPo reports:

    The "Out for Equality" ball (though its gay-rights organizers don't want to call it a ball) is shaping up to be one of the single hottest tickets on inauguration night. And you don't have to be L, G, B or T to want in on this action.

    The party, being organized by a large coalition of gay-rights groups led by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, promises to feature Cyndi Lauper, Rufus Wainwright, Melissa Etheridge, Thelma Houston and other artists. It will be held at the legendary landmark Mayflower hotel, which, need we even say, is one of the most primo locations in the capital city.

    Love the name, "Out for Equality." We are said to be a creative people, though our mind-numbing use of the same 3 or 4 monikers for every event, organization or Pride theme suggests otherwise.

    HRC isn't alone, mind you, in dancing with they should be marching. The following organizations are also sponsoring this "unofficial" inauguration ball (i.e., bring your own Obama, since the first couple is not planning to attend):

    • Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund & Leadership Institute
    • National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
    • PFLAG
    • Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
    • National Black Justice Coalition
    • Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
    • Freedom to Marry
    • BiNet USA
    • Dignity USA
    • Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
    • Equality Federation
    • National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
    • National Coalition for LGBT Health
    • LGBT Community Center of NY
    • International Federation of Black Prides
    • Centerlink: The Community of LGBT Centers
    • Family Equality Coalition

    But please, make no mistake, this is an HRC shindig. These other folks are just along for the ride and a good "A crowd" buzz during inauguration weekend.

    I can't help but wonder if any other minority group in U.S. history has ever thrown an inauguration ball for itself (much less twice) while still denied basic legal equality and protection from discrimination. I'm guessing not. That's the kind of "historic first" where HRC has unparalleled success.

    We will -- eventually and with no great debt to HRC -- win our equality, and if HRC gets its way, we'll be the first civil rights movement to value gnoshing and waltzing over marching and rallying.

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    Filed in: HRC

    December 14, 2008

    This may be...

    Posted by: Chris

    ... my favorite link from Andrew Sullivan ... ever.

    Why do I suspect he's got the better of the argument?

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    Filed in: HRC

    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...


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

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    Filed in: HRC

    December 05, 2008

    Affirmative action for Beltway gays

    Posted by: Chris

    UPDATE: At the end of the post.

    We are often reminded how limited our political capital is in Washington, and why as a result we should lower our sights and limit lobbying to largely uncontroversial, long-promised hate crime and employment non-discrimination. If we're too weak to push for relationship recognition -- you know, the issue the gays are actually marching in the streets -- then why exactly are we squawking about this?:

    Joe Solmonese, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, sent a letter to Obama this week asking him to name labor leader Mary Beth Maxwell, a lesbian, as labor secretary. Solmonese said that he did not believe there had been an openly gay Cabinet member before, but he's confident that will change with Obama.

    ''Not only will we expect it, but we fully believe that it will happen,'' he added.

    Why? Because even though an openly gay cabinet secretary has almost no significance in real gay lives, affirmative action for juicy administration jobs is the kind of prize that Solmonese et al will always keep their eyes on.


    It turns out that in addition to being tangential, the HRC/Solonese push suffered from the usual level of incompetence:

    Today, the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign will release a letter to President-elect Barack Obama strongly backing [Mary Beth Maxwell for Labor Secretary]. The catch: The group last week backed Rep. Linda Sanchez for the post.

    “You would have received our letter in support of Representative Sánchez’s candidacy for Secretary of Labor last week,” HRC President Joe Solmonese writes, asking for a mulligan. “While we remain supportive of Representative Sánchez’s candidacy, it has come to our attention that Mary Beth Maxwell is also being considered for this crucial position. Given Ms. Maxwell’s long history of leadership on labor issues, HRC is pleased to also endorse Mary Beth Maxwell for Secretary of Labor.”

    Would that those who oppose our equality were so blessed in their selection of "leaders."

    Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

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    Filed in: HRC , Obama

    November 20, 2008

    Dancing while gay America burns

    Posted by: Chris

    Solmoneselauper It wasn't enough for "the nation's largest gay political group" to pat itself on the back as one of "the top five winning member interest groups" in this year's election, despite the passage of four more anti-gay ballot measures, including Proposition 8 eliminating gay marriage in California.

    Now word has it that out-of-touch "leadership" at the Human Rights Campaign is also planning a GLBT "inauguration ball" for next month. It was bad enough that HRC refuses any responsibility for the abysmal "hide-the-gays" strategy they trotted out once again in California, or its 0-30 record fighting anti-gay ballot measures. They can do their denial in their dancing shoes.

    As boneheadedness goes, this rivals even the Big Three automaker CEOs flying corporate jets to Washington with their hat-in-hand to taxpayers.

    If HRC follows through on rumored plans for their ironically named "Equality Ball," they will have fully mastered the art of self-parody. Even "hockey mom" Sarah Palin's small fortune on clothing can't compare to Joe Solmonese and company donning tuxedos and ball gowns while the rest of us are taking to the streets -- no thanks to HRC, of course, which offered no resources or assistance for the National Day of Protest.

    Seeing as how every good party craves a theme, let me suggest one for HRC's Equality Ball, should it come to pass: Irrelevance.

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    Filed in: HRC , Obama , Prop 8

    November 19, 2008

    Growing chorus for change at HRC

    Posted by: Chris

    Hrcnotequals A number of influential voices are echoing the view raised here (and here) about the need for fundamental change of mindset and personnel at the leadership of the gay rights movement:

    • Andrew Sullivan: Why are non-gay Mormons more capable of organizing and fund-raising on a gay rights measure than HRC, the biggest national gay rights group? I mean: HRC claims (absurdly, but bear with me) 725,000 supporters and members. … They are supposed to have "expertise" - but the ads that ran in No on 8 were the usual fearful, focus-group driven, conviction-free pap. So in the biggest national struggle in the history of gay civil rights, this organization - which has vacuumed money from the gay community for years - were by-standers. Why is that not a scandal? How many struggles do we have to wage with these people always, always failing to lead - before we demand accountability and reform?

    Following up on Andrew's point about who wanted it more, it turns out that James Dobson's Focus on the Family is facing layoffs of more than 200 staffers because it pumped $539,000 into the Proposition 8 battle in California. Can anyone imagine HRC giving till it hurts like that? In fact, HRC claims to have donated $237,409 in "staff time." (HRC claims to have given $3 million, but it's counting bundled money from HRC donors).

    • Markos_moulitsas Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas: As a gatekeeper, the Human Rights Campaign sucks. Sullivan calls for the organization to be abandoned and defunded. But something worse is happening -- it is being rendered irrelevant by current events, and with irrelevance, it will shrivel up and die on its own. … The anti-Prop 8 campaign was an exercise in frustration. What we're seeing now, straight out of Taking on the System, is brilliant. And the movement is spreading far beyond California's borders. These nationwide protests are a watershed moment of sorts -- the moment when the gay community realized that it had the power to fight for change on its own, and didn't require any of it's so-called, self-appointed "leaders" to give them permission to engage.
    • Gw200h267 Robin Tyler (quoted by AP): The movement's leaders "were very timid. They were too soft," said Robin Tyler, a lesbian comic who created a series of celebrity public service announcements with the slogan "Stop the Hate, No on 8" that were rejected because they were deemed too negative. "We were lightweights on our side."
    • Queerty: In our struggle to change the mind's of others, we may have to change our own. The grassroots, "everyone has a voice", web-centric nature of the campaign that started after Prop. 8 passed is a direct response to the hierarchical, "here's the plan, get on board or go away", "shout from our bubble" effort that preceded it. Madness is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different response. It's clear that the strategy (or lack thereof) of the HRC and No on 8. campaign did not work. … To the people who feel that questioning our gay leaders will only make us more divided, I point to our defeat and ask, "What makes you think we were ever united?"
    • Rexaz2_2Rex Wockner: Was it really just six days ago that I wrote here: "Maybe Stonewall was Activism 1.0, ACT UP was Activism 2.0, the failed corporate activism of HRC and No On Prop 8 was Activism 3.0, and now we are witnessing Activism 4.0 being born."? Was it really just six days ago that I wrote here: "I sense the power could be shifting, from the suit-and-tie professional activists with their offices, their access, their press releases and their catered receptions, to the grassroots."? It was.
    • Hrcspanight Michael Petrelis: After all the hard work HRC did shoving gays back into the closet during the No on 8 campaign, … HRC is now giving the San Francisco community what it truly needs at this point as we pick ourselves after being knocked down by the voters. It's HRC Spa Night! … What's next? Get a face-lift and HRC gets 10% from the plastic surgeon, to fight the next ballot proposition? … One thing that is surely not next from HRC is an achievement of any significance for gay Americans. What would happen to the gay movement and its quest for fairness and equality if we once and for all stopped giving even a dime to the worthless Democratic Party hacks burning through $40 million community dollars annually?
    • Box Turtle Bulletin's Jim Burroway: The HRC’s tepid response to ballot measures is now 0-30, their accomplishments on Capital Hill are minuscule — they are in serious danger of becoming completely irrelevant. With this, they are now reduced to self-parody. It’s like they’re not even trying anymore.
    • Andytowle2 Andy Towle: Voices are ringing out from all areas (liberal and conservative, some more critically than others) in the wake of the grassroots-organized protests around the nation, that national gay organizations, which have been the well-funded standard bearers for the gay movement for decades, must adjust to the new activism we've seen these past few weeks. Voices are ringing out that the national gay organizations must … adjust to this new reality" or "wither and die." Or perhaps, as we witnessed last weekend, they already have in many ways.
    • Waynebesen Wayne Besen: There has been a paradigm shift in the movement following marriage defeats in California, Florida and Arizona. ... The leaders of what is being billed as Stonewall 2.0 are not coming from large, established organizations. ... Up until two weeks ago, major GLBT groups instructed people to write a check and then essentially instructed donors to check their activism at the door. Sometimes, one was asked to take their commitment a step further by sending e-mail or attending a dinner. I think this week's protests mark the end of the Passive Era of gay politics. A sign at protests, "No More Mr. Nice Gay", highlighted this monumental change. ... Organizations that do not adjust to this new reality will wither and die.

    The commentary from Towle and Besen is noteworthy because Towle rarely uses his über-popular Towleroad blog to criticize gay groups and Besen was a long-time staffer in the HRC communications department during the Elizabeth Birch years, working with HRC lifer David Smith, who remains at the org.

    It's particularly disappointing to see how behind the curve HRC is on the use of technology to push grassroots advocacy, given the dozens and dozens of young, tech-savvy staffers who work at the agency. It just goes to show you how the top-down approach to politics pushed by Smith, Joe Solmonese and other HRC leaders results in in-house management that further cripples the group's effectiveness.

    Change may well be coming to HRC, for no other reason but that many of its leaders are no doubt jockeying for jobs in the incoming Obama administration. (Query whether they will be embraced by the White House, given how obviously they sided with Hillary Clinton during the primaries. It's noteworthy that none of the seven out gay politicos with roles in the Obama transition team hail from HRC.)

    Either way, the gay rights movement is moving on with a retooled HRC or without it. The question is whether the D.C.-based gay groups want to remain relevant to the constituents and the movement they claim to lead.

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    Filed in: HRC , Prop 8

    November 14, 2008

    Are your expectations 'appropriate'?

    Posted by: Chris


    In an interview with Metro Weekly, Joe "Extremist For Love" Solmonese made clear -- as if there were ever any doubt -- that he and HRC are just fine with our relationships remaining the love that dare not speak its name inside the Beltway:

    The new Congress and administration represent the best opportunity we've ever had to finally protect all Americans from hate crimes and to ensure workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We strongly believe that it is important to have a plan in place for each piece of legislation we are working to pass. In the months ahead, we'll work to keep transparency with the community and to set appropriate expectations.

    Are your expectations "appropriate," you Prop 8 protesters? Don't expect the Human Rights Campaign to do anything on the issue that has brought you into the streets because our ENDA/hate crimes bread crumbs are already a done deal.

    Just in case you assume HRC was smart enough to have worked through the nasty, divisive issue of transgender inclusion before deciding to leave ENDA at the top of its very narrow agenda -- well -- your expections aren't appropriate, either:

    It has been our goal and will remain our goal to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We will continue to do the hard work of educating Members of Congress on the need for crucial workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    In other words, he has no idea.

    A few related nuggets:

    • Asked his reaction to the Nov. 4 vote, Solmonese did a verbal victory dance, making absolutely no reference to Prop 8 or the other anti-gay ballot measures.
    • Taskforcepledge_2HRC had the gall, despite its abysmal failure on Prop 8, to claim it is among "the top five winning member groups" in the election. Again, no mention of the ballot measures.
    • At 3:40 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the supposed grassroots group the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force issued their first press release congratulating the real activists for their "amazing" protests. What's really amazing is that a small group of tech-savvy 20-somethings have managed to accomplish in one week what our national groups haven't managed to do in almost a decade now -- mobilizing us to protest.
    • Unsurprisingly, the Task Force "take action" link leads to a pledge form that, like HRC's, will be sent absolutely nowhere, except the group's own membership department. And what's the pledge? A promise to be nice, even though we're angry.
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    November 13, 2008

    This finger-wag brought to you by HRC

    Posted by: Chris


    MLK and Solmonese -- For Whom Does the Finger Wag?

    Unbelievable. Just when I think "the nation's largest LGBT political lobby" can't make itself any more irrelevant to the lives of its supposed constituents, Joe Solmonese et al somehow manage to go the extra mile.

    After failing to lift a finger to help organize days of protest following the passage of Proposition 8 and three other anti-gay ballot measures, the feckless leadership of the Human Rights Campaign finally acted.

    Are you ready? Drumroll, please. Solmonese issued his "weekly message" one day early!

    Normally, I would wait until Friday to write to you, but with all that’s going on right now, I felt it was important to speak to you today.

    Yeah, I was shocked, too!

    But simmer down, folks. It's not like Joe is interested in speaking truth to power, our offering some actual plan to mobilize the protesters' grassroots energy into achievable goals. No, no, no. That would conflict with the Beltway bargain HRC has already struck with the Reid-Pelosi-Frank-Baldwin contingent in Congress to take our ENDA and hate crimes and hush up till 2011.

    So instead it is the protesters themselves -- how dare they act from the bottom up! -- who are treated to a classic P.C. finger-wag in this Very Special Episode of Solmonese Speaks:

    To reverse the outcomes of November 4, we must embrace our passion and anger, and redirect them to tasks that have as yet gone undone. We must take this election as an occasion to look inward.

    Inward? I remember Obama saying that "we are the change we are waiting for," but surely Solmonese isn't blaming gay folk for HRC's "No on 8" hide-the-gays strategy that has failed all 30 times it's been tried before. Oh yes! It seems that minority voters were justified in stripping gays (of all races) of our fundamental rights because we have not sufficiently bankrolled a broader social justice agenda.

    In our California, Arizona and Florida campaigns, we asked diverse communities to hear our stories and respect our rights. But have we heard the concerns of the people we asked to listen to us?

    We assert that equal marriage rights are basic human rights. We must also show that our concern for human rights does not end with marriage. We must make clear alliance with those we seek as coalition partners. As we ask communities of color and religious communities to engage and partner with us, we must demonstrate our commitment to the people and issues they care about.

    Specifically, Solmonese calls on the gay rights movement, already tiny in number and overwhelmed financially and politically, to devote out energy to "forty-seven million uninsured" Americans and "legions of children are denied equal opportunity by failing schools, violence, and racism."

    Putting aside, for the moment, that gays have always contributed time, energy and (especially) money to the political party organized around these other social justice issues, Solmonese's primary goal here is the ole bait and switch.

    HrcnotequalsStop rabble-rousing in the streets on an issue HRC has already agreed to put on the backburner! You're only reminding everyone how badly our smartest focus-group strategists have failed our movement!

    Finally, as the pièce de non-résistance, there is the classic call to action that accompanies the Solmonese missive. He begs us to "join with [him] and thousands of others and pledge to become an 'extremist for love' and fight to overturn these amendments."

    That's you, Joe, a tuxedo-clad "extremist for love" with a quarter-million dollar annual paycheck. And the accompanying "take action" link? You guessed it -- a web form that captures your contact info and email address for the HRC database, consigning you to a lifetime of fund-raising solicitations.

    With "activists" like this, who needs the bigots? I wonder if he'll even show up for a protest.

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    November 07, 2008

    The slo-mo death of pro-homo Republicans

    Posted by: Chris

    Shepardgordonsmithkenned The dramatic gains that Democrats will make in both the Senate and House bring with them some particularly sweet defeats of anti-gay Republicans:

    • In Colorado, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, the original sponsor of a federal marriage amendment, was defeated by Democratic challenger Betsy Markey.
    • In conservative North Carolina, Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who scored 0, 0, and 20On  on respective HRC report cards, was decisively beaten by pro-gay Democrat Kay Hagan.

    On the other hand, Democratic gains are most likely in districts previously held by moderate Republicans, and Tuesday witnessed the defeat of two of the three most reliably pro-gay Republicans in Congress:

    • Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a primary co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Jeff Merkley. Despite Smith's record, HRC did not issue an endorsement in the race.
    • ChristophershaysbarneyfrankIn Connecticut, moderate Republican Congressman Chris Shays, a primary co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, was defeated by Democrat Jim Hines. HRC and Log Cabin had both backed Shays.
    • In New Hampshire, Log Cabin endorsee John Sununu, the incumbent Republican, was defeated by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Sununu was not exactly in the same league as Smith or Shays, given successive scores of 25, 33, and 20 on HRC's report cards.
    • In Ohio's 15th congressional district, vacated by Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce, who co-sponsored ENDA, Log Cabin endorsee Steve Stivers leads by just 150 votes.
    • Another longtime Log Cabin ally, Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, retired his seat and was replaced by a Democrat. Davis had backed ENDA and opposed efforts to overturn pro-gay legislation adopted by the District of Columbia.

    It wasn't all bad news for gay Republicans, as several moderate House members including Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Most significant will be the return of Maine Sen. Susan Collins -- HRC's only GOP Senate endorsee and a primary co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Act -- who was easily re-elected.

    Even still, the trends are disturbing, and follow the difficult loss two years ago of Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, another outspoken pro-gay Republican.

    In this environment, as the GOP caucus in Congress looks more and more under the tight grip of social conservatives, the Log Cabin leadership would be much better served concentrating their limited efforts on the waining number of Republicans in Congress who are truly pro-gay, rather than wasting their credibility inside and outside the gay community acting as apologists for the likes of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

    Remember than neither McCain nor Palin backed a single piece of gay rights legislation -- a stark contrast with Smith, Shays, et al. After Log Cabin prematurely labeled Palin, the Alaska governor, as "a different kind of Republican," she even came out in favor of a federal marriage amendment.

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    Filed in: HRC , Log Cabin

    August 27, 2008

    Don't hold your breath for Biden

    Posted by: Chris

    Biden Those looking to Barack Obama's vice presidential pick for some reassurance that the presidential nominee's strongly supportive gay rights talk will translate into legislative walk once in office will find little of either in running mate Joe Biden, the longtime Delaware senator.

    The selection of Biden was immediately praised by gay and trans groups in Washington and by activists from his home state, but the good senator's record doesn't live up to such laudatory rhetoric. In fact, Joe Biden was without question dead last on issues important to LGBT voters among the eight Democrats who ran for president this year.

    As usual, the Human Rights Campaign did the Democratic Party's bidding, "hailing" Biden as "a proven and effective advocate for fairness and equality," according to HRC president Joe Solmonese, whose "support and understanding has been unwavering."

    "Unwavering"? HRC's own congressional report cards tell a very different story. Biden scored "unwavering" (i.e. "100") only one time in the decade, and has trended downward in recent years, from 89 ('97-'98), 86 ('99-'00), 100 ('01-'02) to 63 ('03-'04), and 78 ('05-'06). Do you know any parents or teachers who would look at report cards like that and pronounce those grades an "unwavering" success?

    Neither Biden nor Obama supports same-sex marriage, of course, but Biden's opposition runs much deeper and is much more troubling. Obama opposed the passage of the notorious Defense of Marriage Act, as did John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee four years ago.  Not Joe Biden. He sided with Republicans to enact DOMA into law, and has never once said publicly that he regrets his vote or favors a full or even partial repeal.

    Biden's position on DOMA and other important issues remains a mystery in part because he was one of only two Democratic presidential hopefuls who chose to skip last fall's televised forum on gay issues sponsored by HRC and Logo. He claimed to have a "scheduling conflict" but his campaign website showed no appearances scheduled for the day of the forum.

    Rather than consider that poor choice an example of "wavering," Solmonese points to the recent repeal of the discriminatory HIV travel and immigration ban as proof of "the type of leadership we can expect from Senator Biden on the issues important to our community."

    Let's hope not. Solmonese credits Biden's work as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as important to passage of the repeal, but really it was the least that Biden could do. After all, he was one of those who voted in favor of the original Helms Amendment back in 1988 that put HIV on the list of communicable diseases that could get you barred from entering the country.

    When Louis Sullivan, the health secretary under Republican President George H.W. Bush, tried to take HIV off the list back in 1992, Joe Biden was one of only a handful of Democrats who broke ranks to support a Republican amendment that made the ban on HIV tourists and immigrants a matter of statute.

    The "wavering" doesn't stop there, on either HIV or immigration. Biden has declined to date to sponsor the Early Treatment for HIV Act, which would allow states to use Medicaid money to help low-income folks who have HIV but not full-blown AIDS. When HRC asked the Democrats running for president to say "yes" or "no" about whether they support the bill, Biden was alone among the eight in dodging the question.

    On immigration, Biden has not only declined to co-sponsor the Uniting American Familes Act, legislation that extends to gay Americans the right to sponsor foreign partners for citizenship, his only public statement on the issue is so vague that's impossible to tell for sure which way he'd "waver" if it came to a vote.

    Mara Keisling, who heads up the National Center for Transgender Equality, also cut Biden a whole lot of slack, saying: "We have reason to think he's very positive on all LGBT issues."

    "All LGBT issues"? The Delaware senator was very, very late among Democratic senators to co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, back when it only protected "sexual orientation." Biden waited more than five years after ENDA was first introduced and finally signed on only after some thirty-four of his party colleagues -- and even three Republicans! -- had already done so. Is this the "leadership" HRC says "our entire community can be proud of"?

    The HRC candidate questionnaire asked each of the Democrats running for president if they would "support and work for passage" of the new version of ENDA that prohibits protects both "sexual orientation and gender identity," Biden responded only that he supports outlawing bias based on sexual orientation, making him one of only two candidates to dodge the question.

    Despite a lot of lazy fact-gathering on the blogosphere, there’s no clear evidence Biden favors adding transgender protections to ENDA. Aren't we supposed to care about that?

    None of this is to suggest that Biden is actually anti-gay or has a record anything comparable to John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who is a gay rights nightmare. Biden has voted in favor of gay workplace rights, hate crime laws, against a federal marriage amendment and is solid on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He's even said some encouraging things on the campaign trail about civil unions and the inevitability of gay marriage.

    But LGBT voters deserve to know that the real Joe Biden bears little resemblance to the steadfast champion portrayed by the groups in Washington that supposedly advocate for our equality. If they've "pinkwashed" his record simply because an Obama-Biden administration would be far and away superior to a McCain-[fill in the blank] administration, then fair enough -- say so.

    Don't mislead gay voters by lying about Biden's mediocre record because it only signals to Democrats (yet again) that something way less than a full loaf of equality will keep our stomachs from grumbling.

    For more information about Joe Biden's position on gay rights:

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    August 21, 2008

    And then there were three . . .

    Posted by: Chris

    Jaredpolisnyt . . . Well there aren't three yet actually, but gay Colorado businessman Jared Polis was the surprise winner last week in a highly competitive Democratic primary and is the heavy favorite in November in his bid to be the third out gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Even better, he would be the first gay man to win a congressional election as a non-incumbent. Lesbian Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was the first to do it, way back in 1998.

    Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and former reps Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) all came out after they were already in office.

    Polis is due belated congratulations for pulling off the victory in a three-way contest with no incumbent for the congressional seat representing Boulder and some of the top ski resorts in Colorado. Polis, a  former chair of the state board of education who made a fortune from the e-card site bluemountain.com, spent more than $5 million of his own money to beat former state Senate president Joan Fitz-Gerald and conservationist Will Shafroth.

    Fitz-Gerald had been as the favorite and her lengthy record of strong gay rights support earned her support against Polis from many local gays, notably Tim Gill, another wealthy entrepreneur whose Gill Foundation has done ground-breaking political work in Colorado and elsewhere.

    Polis was endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, whose mission is to help elect more openly gay politicians, but the Human Rights Campaign stayed neutral.

    Normally I would have jumped all over HRC for that decision, because it was very likely driven by fear of offending locals (i.e. donors) who backed Fitz-Gerald. It's not surprising that Polis had to beat a gay-friendly opponent; that's likely to be the case in almost all the liberal congressional districts where out gay candidates are going to have the best shot.

    That's the primary reason -- along with homophobia, of course -- for the 10 very long years since Baldwin's landmark victory. Kudos to the Victory Fund for jumping into the Polis race when lots of pundits and analysts were saying it was a loser.

    Still, I'm cutting HRC a break on this one -- close that gaping jaw, please -- because for one thing they often stay out of primaries with no incumbents. Much more importantly, I've had my own misgivings about Polis ever since he made clear he would have voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Barney Frank and passed by Congress, on the grounds that it included sexual orientation but not gender identity as protected categories.

    Without being drawn back into that bitter debate, it reinforeced why ideological purity has no place in a legislative body that inevitably horse trades, compromises and moves along incrementally. Like most activists and GLBT groups in the "trans or bust" crowd, Polis was maddeningly naive in his analysis, explaining it this way this way to a transgender writer for PageOneQ:

    Q: So, among your endorsements is Congresswoman and ENDA co-sponsor Tammy Baldwin...

    A: She was on the right side of [ENDA], you know. I was disappointed, along with many progressive members of our community, that we seemed to be cutting political deals and leaving part of our community behind.

    Q: I felt it on a personal level, too, one of my best friends being a transwoman. We were being very pointedly pitted against each other politically, especially in the blogosphere.

    A: I do think there was a good grassroots response from gays and lesbians nationally, to push back against our political leadership in Washington. I know that HRC and others got a lot of negative letters from gays and lesbians. I have a lot of transgender friends as well, and I think the best thing I saw was some protesters at one of the HRC dinners saying, "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'."

    An inclusive ENDA is all we should really be talking about. I don't think that we should talk about a piecemeal version that pits part of our community against one another.

    Not only is Polis flat-wrong about Baldwin, who voted for the gay-only version of ENDA, he's also frighteningly simplistic. "You can't spell 'Equality' without the 'T'"? Seriously? Since you can spell "Equality" without a G, L or B, should we assume he'd be all for a trans-only version?

    Fitz-Gerald said she would have voted for Barney's ENDA, and that was enough for me for the primary. But Polis' victory is still a very important one, so let's hope he gets a reality check, whether from his general election race against someone to the right of kum-ba-yah or from good-ole Beltway politics.

    (Above: Photo of Jared Polis celebrating victory via the New York Times)

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    June 18, 2008

    Lowering standards for both HRCs

    Posted by: Chris

    It's a bit depressing to see Kevin Naff, my former colleague and successor at the Washington Blade, lowering the bar even further for the two HRCs: Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Human Rights Campaign.

    Hillarygayprideparadenewyork2000 Kevin endorsed Hillary back in January -- based not on her gay rights superiority but on her supposed general election prowess -- so I guess it's not surprising that he still had her back as she bowed out last weekend:

    [Clinton] delivered her belated concession speech, promising her full support of Obama. And, contrary to the Obama camp’s claims during the primary campaign that she shies from mentioning gay issues in front of non-gay audiences, Clinton referenced her gay supporters, not once, but twice. 

    “Eighteen million of you from all walks of life — women and men, young and old, Latino and Asian, African-American and Caucasian, rich, poor and middle class, gay and straight — you have stood strong with me,” Clinton said.

    She continued, “We all want an America defined by deep and meaningful equality — from civil rights to labor rights, from women’s rights to gay rights, from ending discrimination to promoting unionization to providing help for the most important job there is: caring for our families.”

    Kevin never explains why exactly we should be impressed that Clinton waited until she was withdrawing from the race to remember her gay and lesbian supporters. Color me less than impressed. If anything, it suggests her conspicuous failure to mention gays in literally thousands of campaign appearances was a calculated ploy not to risk her support among "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans."

    Now that she's out, Hillary pivots and remembers the gays, just as she frequently forgets her maiden name when running for national office and then remembers it when she's not.

    Nancypelosijoesolmonese_2 Kevin's defense of the other HRC is even more curious to me because I know he knows better. Kevin takes a shot at Andrew Sullivan and Michael Petrelis for pointing out that the Human Rights Campaign leadership supported HRC the candidate far more than Barack Obama, now of course the nominee.

    Mostly, Kevin seems put off that aspects of Andrew and Michael's posts had already been reported at various times by the Blade. When he gets down to substance, Kevin points out that some HRC board members also gave money to Obama. A stronger counterpoint, made by HRC Board member and lobbyist David Medina, is that Obama refused donations from registered lobbyists.

    Regardless, Kevin ignores the weight of evidence -- pointed out by Andrew, Michael and your's truly (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) -- that HRC has had more than its thumb on the scale for Hillary throughout the primary season. Crediting HRC as he does with not out-and-out endorsing Hillary does not a sound rebuttal make. Are we measuring fairness by such low standards these days?

    Finally, it's disappointing to see Kevin dismiss as silly Andrew's point about HRC's obsession with commercializing the movement; selling trinkets of equality -- like its latest, a T-shirt designed by Christian (I'm sorry for my "hot tranny mess" tagline) Siriano -- over and above the actual hard work of passing gay rights legislation.

    Instead, Kevin credits HRC with the House passage of ENDA this session. To the contrary, there is no greater condemnation of HRC's ineptitude and "Dems or bust" "strategy" than the debacle over trans-ENDA and the failure to get either that bill or the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act through both houses of Congress -- despite majority support in both chambers.

    Have we really lowered the bar so far that we thank HRC for so little, so very late? The movement does not need more apologists for either HRC. We need more pressure not less on the organization, the candidate, as well as Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, to once and for all deliver on the long-delayed promise of federal gay rights protections.

    Kevin is usually at the forefront of doing just that; I hope he'll "find his voice" again soon.

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    Filed in: Hillary , HRC , Media

    HRC - thinking like George Bush

    Posted by: Andoni


    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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    June 16, 2008

    HRC money and mouth go to HRC

    Posted by: Chris

    Hrcclintonsolmonese Gay and HIV activist-blogger Michael Petrelis is the best in the gay biz at following the money. This week he compiled a few data points about the Human Rights Campaign and Hillary Rodham Clinton that are as disappointing and they are not-surprising:

    FEC records show which 2008 Democratic contenders were lucky enough to take in dollars from the top people at HRC:

    Hillary Clinton: $4,300
    Chris Dodd: $3,000
    John Edwards: $ 750
    Bill Richardson: $ 500
    Barack Obama: $ 0

    Zero dollars for (and zero leverage with) the Democratic nominee is just about right from an organization that has made almost no effort to hide its siamese-twin (or should I say 'conjoined'?) relationship with the other HRC.

    HrcequalsAndrew Sullivan brings it home:

    Meanwhile, [Joe] Solmonese's record on Capitol Hill is, despite his breathless promises a while back, non-existent. They still haven't passed their hate crimes bill; the employment non-discrimination bill is still in limbo (they were insisting it should be the priority over marriage and the military two decades ago!), Don't Ask, Don't Tell still stands, and HRC didn't even ask the presidential candidates what their position was on the HIV immigration and tourism ban on their election questionnaire.

    One reason the US still has the same HIV immigration and tourism policies as Saudi Arabia and Yemen is because the US chief gay lobby group is more interested in selling tchotchkes than standing up for gay people or people with HIV.

    But fear not: they have persuaded Christian Siriano to design a "fierce, fabulous, flawless" t-shirt for the summer. This is what the suckers still give them money for.

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    Filed in: Hillary , HRC

    June 13, 2008

    Who's right about John McCain?

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnmccainstars_2 Whatever lack of enthusiasm the Human Rights Campaign harbored toward the Democratic primary success of Barack Obama is more than made up for by hostility toward the Republicans' choice, John McCain. Even before HRC was released as a pledged delegate by candidate HRC, the D.C.-based group issued a report last week that portrayed McCain as offering "four more years" of anti-gay hostility in the White House.

    Much in the HRC report is not new, highlighting as this blog has for months now McCain's long record of opposition to absolutely any form of gay civil rights:

    • Opposes employment protections
    • Opposes hate crime legislation
    • Supports "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
    • Opposes same-sex marriage and supports the Defense of Marriage Act
    • Opposes civil unions
    • Opposes domestic partnerships
    • Favors state constitutional amendments banning marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships at any level of government, as well as recognition of any of these from other states.
    • Favors state constitutional amendment that would ban public entities -- local governments, agencies, public universities and hospitals, etc., from providing health insurance and other benefits to the domestic partners of their workers, students, etc.
    • Opposes adoption by gay couples
    • Supports the ban on HIV-positive immigrants and backed a Jesse Helms measure blocking HIV prevention aimed at gay men
    • Supports the nomination of strict constructionist judges who reject "judicial activism," which is essentially anything that limits the elected branches' ability to trample on gays.

    That is a very daunting and very damning list, pretty much matching George W. Bush and the most conservative Republicans bullet for bullet. In fact, candidate Bush in 2000 had not yet come out against employment protection and hate crime laws; that only happened last year when his White House issued veto threats to both bills.

    Regardless, McCain's policy positions belie the "party maverick" reputation, which has come almost entirely from government reform and not on social issues -- about which he cares little and thus cedes entirely to those in his party who care a lot.

    In addition to this handy compilation of harshly anti-gay positions, the HRC report also provides some helpful citations to McCain's dangerous backsliding of late on the one and only gay issue on which he has stood up to Christian conservatives: the Federal Marriage Amendment.

    Back in 2004, McCain not only voted against the FMA but spoke out in opposition, calling it "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans." Not because it was discriminatory, or wrote into the U.S. Constitution for the very first time a provision depriving a distinct minority of its rights, but because it violated states' rights -- that is, the long-recognized authority of states to decide questions relating to marriage.

    (States' rights, as any high school student history can tell you, is a malleable "core principle." One day it protects progressive states who want to marry gays, and the next it protects bigoted states that want to keep their Jim Crow laws or other "peculiar institutions.")

    But McCain has long-since walked away from even this "core philosophy of Republicans." He did vote against the FMA in 2006, but campaigning in New Hampshire that same year he set a very low bar for when he would flip-flop and back a federal marriage amendment:

    If the Supreme Court of the United States rejects the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional; if state legislatures are frustrated by the decisions of jurists in more states than one, and if state remedies to such judicial activism fail; and finally, if a large majority of Americans come to perceive that their communities’ values are being ignored and other standards concerning marriage are being imposed on them against their will, and that elections and state legislatures can provide no remedy, then, and only then, should we consider, quite appropriately, amending the Constitution of the United States.

    Events in California have almost already satisfied the second marker laid down by McCain, assuming the anti-gay ballot measure fails in November, and the third marker means basically he's free to change his mind if the poll numbers are compelling enough.

    John_mccain_narrowweb__300x3730 It's the kind of fair-weather "friendship" that only a gay Republican could love, and I say that with all affection for my friends, of course. HRC policy chief David Smith made absolutely no mention of Log Cabin and its history of defending McCain during the conference call last week announcing the group's report.

    When I brought up the issue Smith deflected it, reiterating HRC's "respect" for Log Cabin and "respectful difference of opinion" about McCain. Smith avoided answering when I asked if HRC and Log Cabin had met to try to work through differences of opinion about the Republican presidential nominee, assuring that the "lines of communication are open."

    Log Cabin, for its part, was quick to respond to the HRC report on McCain, slamming it as an unfair representation of McCain that ignored the Arizona senator's "open door" to Log Cabin and "record of inclusion." McCain's coziness with Log Cabin is largely the result of the Republican presidential primary in 2000, when the gay GOP group sided with McCain against Bush.

    But that was an entirely different John McCain, of course. The Arizona senator has since gone from calling out "agents of intolerance" like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to kissing their rings and coddling their evangelical supporters. Log Cabin's Scott Tucker claims otherwise, insisting McCain "won the GOP nomination with no help (and with outright hostility) from many so-called 'social conservatives.'" Tucker conveniently ignores McCain's evangelical fence-mending -- a.k.a. ass-kissing -- and willingly blinds himself from the current political reality: However John McCain got here, he has no prayer of winning the White House without the enthusiastic support of those very same "so-called 'social conservatives.'" In the end, he will be every bit as indebted to them as if he were Mike Huckabee himself.

    Tucker unfairly accuses HRC of "glossing over" McCain's FMA opposition even though the HRC report deals with that issue directly and in context. Instead it is Tucker and LCR that don't just "gloss over" but ignore entirely McCain's back-pedaling since on a federal marriage amendment.

    I understand and appreciate the difficult position of the Log Cabin Republicans as they work for change within an often hostile party; doing so requires earning intraparty credibility by advocating on the GOP's behalf within the gay community. But the bar for LCR support cannot be set so low that anything short of mean-spirited hostility qualifies.

    John McCain may not care very much about social issues like gay rights; but neither did George W. Bush for that matter. The important thing is that both men have a record of consistent opposition to absolutely any form of gay civil rights and a demonstrated willingness to pander to the right when necessary.

    I have yet to see a principled argument in favor of John McCain's candidacy that does not jettison entirely the concept of gay and lesbian equality as simply a lower priority than other political issues of the day. The leadership of Log Cabin should rethink their position before its too late, and at least demand something more than token from McCain in exchange for -- perish the thought -- endorsing this man for president.

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    June 11, 2008

    Both HRCs reluctantly back Barack

    Posted by: Chris

    Clintonsolmonesereport Both of them waited until the very bitter end, and oh yes was it bitter. They waited until alternative had been exhausted; until they had tried the patience of pretty much everyone except those with a permanent address in Hillaryland.

    Then, and only then, at the end of last week and the end of their rope, did both HRCs -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Human Rights Campaign -- reluctantly endorsed Barack Obama for president.

    HRC the gay group actually came first, with a statement issued minutes after the campaign of HRC the candidate announced she would end (actually "suspend") her campaign the next day at a rally in Washington, D.C. For an important moment like announcing a presidential endorsement, you would think HRC would pull out all the stops -- something we know the resource-rich organization usually revels in doing.

    Instead, this is how the Obama nod got announced on HRC's Back Story blog:

    The following is from Jason Boeckman, HRC Communications and Marketing Intern. Jason is a senior at Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, OH.

    Today the Human Rights Campaign announced its support for Barack Obama in his bid for the presidency.

    That's right, the Obama endorsement was communicated by an HRC college intern. The weekly message by HRC chief Joe Solmonese was likewise lukewarm, barely containing his disappointment that candidate HRC wasn't the nominee:

    Although Senator Hillary Clinton will not be the nominee, her historic campaign inspired a nation.  Before joining the Human Rights Campaign as president, I served as chief executive officer of EMILY’s List, an organization dedicated to electing women to public office. To me, Senator Clinton’s extraordinary bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination was awe-inspiring, energizing, and a signal of all the progress our nation has made over my lifetime.

    After that kind of orgasmic praise, Solmonese comes off like he's already smoking a cigarette and cleaning up the mess by the time he gets around to the senator from Illinois:

    Senator Obama’s support for protecting our entire community from discrimination, his belief that the federal government should treat our families equally, and his conviction that patriotism—not sexual orientation—is what qualifies a person to serve our country in uniform, show promise that in our time, the dreams and hopes of our community will be shared, valued, and promoted from within the White House.

    Regular readers of this blog know that HRC the candidate was always the candidate for HRC the organization (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). So there was no chance that HRC would endorse Obama at a time when it might actually gain some leverage with his campaign -- the type of courageous move we saw from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which endorsed Obama in mid-May.

    Even still, you would think HRC and Solmonese would get over their "anger and grief" long enough to do their jobs.


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    Filed in: Hillary , HRC , Obama

    May 16, 2008

    Let's count the ways to be 'inclusive'

    Posted by: Chris

    Donnanarducci The Atlanta Pride Committee did. The result? Only one:

    The Atlanta Pride Committee decided last week to decline a [$5,000] sponsorship from the Human Rights Campaign over the national gay political group’s support for a version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that did not include “gender identity” as a protected category.

    “We knew that it was almost a no-win situation,” said
    Atlanta Pride Executive Director Donna Narducci. “Do you take the money, or do you not take the money? Do we need the money? Yes, we need the money. … But do we need to take the money from an organization that is not inclusive."

    Apparently inclusiveness is measured only by adherence to the political views of Narducci, the Pride Board and Atlanta's very vocal trans activists. The disagreement here wasn't even on substance -- all involved support protection for trans workers -- but legislative strategy.

    How does Atlanta Pride now demonstrate its own inclusiveness toward the thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual Atlantans -- and even some transgender folk -- who supported going forward with the only version of ENDA that stood a chance of passage?  Are they still a part of the community? Is Barney Frank also unwelcome at Atlanta Pride, then? What about Tammy Baldwin  -- she voted for Barney's GLB-only version of ENDA, after all.

    Somebody, please, make the political correctness stop!

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    May 06, 2008

    A nonsensical non-endorsement from HRC

    Posted by: Chris

    UPDATE: Kay Hagan won today's North Carolina Democratic primary by a landslide, taking 61% of the vote to Jim Neal's 20%. Keep in mind there were five candidates in the race and Neal placed second, but still it was a blowout. No doubt Neal's very long odds played into HRC's decision not to endorse -- echoed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which also steered clear of the race.

    I still view those decisions as unfortunate and short-sighted, not to mention self-fulfilling. Neal's candidacy was credible and generated a great deal of grassroots excitement among LGBT folks and a number of progressives in and out of North Carolina. With the assistance of groups like HRC and the Victory Fund, Neal would no doubt have performed better -- laying the groundwork for himself and others.

    In the last two decades, the LGBT groups in Washington have become incredibly more sophisticated politically, and that's mostly a very good thing. But sometimes their inside-the-Beltway mentality prevents them from taking risks and investing in the future, even when conventional analysis sees a particular contest as a huge longshot.

    JimnealbigORIGINAL POST: I'm behind the curve commenting on the recent decision by our blinded-by-the-Beltway friends at the Human Rights Campaign not to endorse any candidate in the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary. Controversial endorsement calls have actually been one of the few areas historically that I've generally agreed with and defended HRC (yes, publicly).

    But the "no nod" in the race between openly gay businessman Jim Neal and veteran state Sen. Kay Hagan is a head-scratcher of an entirely different sort. By most accounts, Neal has run a smart campaign and against the odds has polled well enough to appear viable in the contest with Hagan to see who will challenge vulnerable GOP incumbent Elizabeth Dole.

    Hagan apparently has a strong gay rights record, but there's a fundamental difference between a gay candidate and a gay-friendly candidate. History has shown over and over just how more effective and instrumental openly gay elected officials can be; just look at Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin in the House.

    The election of an openly gay U.S. senator, especially from the Deep South, would be ground-breaking and historic. And even if Neal should fall short, a primary victory or even a respectable finish lays important groundwork for the future -- for Neal himself and other out contenders as well as politicians still cowering in the closet.

    The smart folks over at HRC know all this, of course, but as on so many issues they are loathe to rock the boat for fear of offending Democratic party chieftains, who are backing Hagan, or mucking up their cherished win-loss record in endorsed races -- a tally artificially propped up by backing a buttload of completely safe incumbents.

    It's time for HRC to grow a pair, to use a testicular metaphor of the sort being tossed at Hillary Clinton of late, and show the big-equals-org isn't simply the tool of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign. Committee.

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    Filed in: Elections , HRC

    April 03, 2008

    Learning the lessons of ENDA . . . not

    Posted by: Chris

    6bde59c8729d4008ab8b4c25604f3801big Just weeks after the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was declared dead for the year by the Human Rights Campaign, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy appears to be sticking by his promise for a Senate vote on the bill, albeit later than the original January-February timetable.

    In an interview with the Associated Press, Kennedy defended his decision to move forward with the version of ENDA that passed the House, which includes sexual orientation as a protected category but not gender identity:

    "The fact is that the House of Representatives has taken action," Kennedy said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "The best opportunity for progress is ... to follow along on the action of the House of Representatives, and then look down the road to a new day after we have a good Democratic Congress and a Democratic president."

    Kennedy expects an "uphill fight" in the narrowly divided Senate, where 60 votes rather than a simple majority would be needed to overcome expected GOP stalling tactics.

    That "uphill fight" will also pit Kennedy against the intransigent left of the GLBT movement, which hasn't moved a muscle since the debacle of last fall's fight over ENDA in the House:

    "We will strongly oppose it," said Roberta Sklar of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Leaving transgender people out makes that a flawed movement." …


    "It was made very clear in the fall that most LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) organizations, the vast majority of LGBT organizations, do not want Congress to shove a civil rights bill down our throat that we don't want," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

    Sklar is right, of course, that a gay-only ENDA is "flawed," but so would be a trans-inclusive ENDA, since it would protect the workplace but not in housing and public accommodations; it also carves an exception for the U.S. military -- where the government itself is the discriminatory employer. But flawed incremental progress is inevitable to any civil rights movement.

    Sklar, Keisling and their "United ENDA" allies know this, but they are willing to sacrifice an advance that would benefit almost everyone for the few who would not be helped; even though it's politically impossible to help those few nor or anytime in the near future.

    And there there is HRC, whose Joe Solmonese started the unfounded rumor of ENDA's death in Los Angeles several weeks ago, sitting on the sideline being ineffectual:

    "We will continue this work until all members of our community no longer fear being fired for who they are," said Brad Luna, Human Rights Campaign communications director.

    OK, but what in the heck does that mean? Is HRC supporting Kennedy's gay-only ENDA or reverting to its disastrous flirtation with the United ENDA crowd? If the organization cannot even communicate its position -- the HRC website and blog are devoid of any reaction to Kennedy's ENDA announcement -- then how could it possibly lobby effectively?

    (Photo of Ted Kennedy via Associated Press)

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    March 26, 2008

    The quiet death of ENDA, hate crimes

    Posted by: Chris

    Joesolmonesehrcla We all remember the days after Democrats took control of Congress in the November 2006 election, promising among other things that they would get right to passing long-delayed gay rights legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. Some of us grumbled that the vaunted "gay agenda" ought to go further, considering those bills have already passed in one form or another for a decade.

    More than a year after Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were sworn in as speaker and Senate majority leader, it now appears even our most limited expectations have been dashed. Consider this nugget from a speech by Joe Solmonese at the Human Rights Campaign's Los Angeles gala:

    A number of hurdles, as you know, made it impossible to move those bills any further this session.

    Say what? Last we heard, Ted Kennedy was introducing ENDA in January or February and would be searching for other legislative vehicles to attach the Shepard Act, after House Dems rejected it as an amendment to a big Defense Department. No excuses this time, we were assured, about how our civil rights being too "hot button" in an election year.

    But instead of lobbying from HRC to push these bills forward, we get a lecture from Solmonese about being impatient:

    When did we all say to ourselves -- OK, that civil rights thing -- I'll give it a year, maybe two - then everything should be done.

    A year? Who is he kidding? Solmonese may be late to the gay rights party, joining the movement only after he got a quarter-million-dollar job running HRC, but for most of us this ain't the first time at the rodeo. ENDA came with a vote of passing in 1996 -- more than a decade ago -- and both bills have been backed by a large majorities of the public and their reps in Congress for years.

    Hell yes we're impatient. Rather than motivating us into action and pressing Congress to do better, Solmonese is wagging his finger at us -- at us! -- and tamping down expectations. Call it the fierce urgency of next year.

    There's plenty of blame in Congress as well, of course. Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin and Pelosi deserve credit for getting both bills passed the House -- the trans-inclusive Shepard Act sailed through and ENDA hobbled through in gay-only form. But Reid has seemingly done nothing in the ENDA. (Maybe Hillary will do better as Senate majority leader next year?)

    Yes, the primary culprits here are congressional Republicans, who rejected a trans-inclusive ENDA and balked at backing the Shepard Act add-on to the DOD bill, as well as President Bush, who threatened to veto both. But the GOP doesn't rake in gay money, votes and loyalty based on promises to get things done. Democrats do. And it's HRC that hoovers up gay dollars nationwide, promising to bring change, while never delivering.

    They all have some 'splainin to do.

    (Photo of Joe Solmonese at HRC's L.A. dinner via Bilerico/Karen Ocamb)

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    March 21, 2008

    The newest technological annoyance

    Posted by: Chris

    Annoyingcell Text messages to your cell phone from the Human Rights Campaign:

    Text messaging has some real advantages over e-mail as a form of communication, said Dane R. Grams, online strategy director at the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington advocacy group that focuses on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues.

    So far at least, mobile phones aren’t overrun with spam, he said, and while many people have multiple e-mail addresses — some of which they check infrequently — most only have one mobile number. …

    To date, the organization’s use of the medium for fund raising has been limited. At the end of January, as the group’s annual membership drive was coming to a close, it sent out text messages encouraging people to join or to renew their support.

    But the Human Rights Campaign hopes to soon send out fund-raising appeals that would ask members of the mobile network that would connect people who want to make a gift to live operators who could take their information.

    That's our "leading" gay civil rights group -- getting the jump on cell phone spam. As if the group's constant torrent of snail mail and telephone donation solicitations weren't enough, not to mention outing innocent homos through mis-addressed e-mail alerts.

    In related news:

    • Respected lesbian journalist Karen Ocamb was unimpressed by HRC's Los Angeles gala, where "Brokeback" actress Anne Hathaway seemed as confused as the audience for why she was receiving an "ally" award. Apparently being a celeb with a gay brother and a role in a gay film is critical to the movement's future.
    • Michael Petrelis has more evidence that the fix is in for HRC (the candidate) at HRC (the organization): chief strategist David Smith gave a whopping $2,300 to the Clinton campaign in January.

    Gnw_lighthouse_logo_3 For related stories and breaking news, click or bookmark:

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    Filed in: HRC

    March 12, 2008

    HRC's ENDA disappearing act

    Posted by: Chris

    It appears that part of the Human Rights Campaign's rehabilitation campaign with transgender activists and their allies may be to "disappear" the Employment Non-Discrimination Act almost altogether.

    A visit to the HRC website shows that if you click on "Issues" and "Workplace," there is absolutely no mention of ENDA, which was hobbled last fall by the insistence of some within the movement that either it include "gender identity" or be opposed by HRC and gay-friendly members of Congress. Even clicking within "Workplace" under "Legislation" shows only a list of bills in play in state legislatures across the country.

    The ENDA omission is particularly dramatic because the "gay only" version backed by gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), actually passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

    The only way to find ENDA that I could find was to click under "Laws & Elections" -- even though ENDA is neither -- and then on "Federal Legislation." There you'll find links to ENDA and Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill.

    The treatment of ENDA is in marked contrast to how the HRC site treats the (trans-inclusive) Shepard Act, which is also pending -- some would say languishing -- in the Senate. If under "Issues" you click on "Hate Crimes" -- the equivalent to clicking on "Workplace" above -- there is a very prominent link to the section of the site dealing with the Shepard Act.

    Am I reading too much into website structure? Perhaps, but it's striking that the "Workplace" section includes all sorts of links to transgender protections but absolutely nothing for ENDA. It is symptomatic of the way HRC marshaled all its resources to push the trans provision of ENDA and now seems satisfied with doing nothing even though ENDA has finally passed the House and is a Senate vote away from making history.

    Even the posts on HRC's blog about the org's Spring Lobby Day on Capitol Hill last week only mention lobbying House members on a "fully inclusive ENDA" and nothing about pushing senators to pass the version of ENDA (even amended to add trans back in) that is so close to becoming the law of the land.

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    February 29, 2008

    Rethinking the gay agenda

    Posted by: Chris

    Hrcprotestgcn Picking up on my post yesterday about the continuing grief the Human Rights Campaign is getting from transgender activists, I want to highlight something those protesting outside the New York black-tie dinner. The motley crue of trans activists, Radical Homosexual Agenda and such were holding signs shaped like giant hands -- except rather than signalling "we're No. 1!" they were giving HRC "the finger." Mature.

    The chant was likewise a meaningful: "What do we want? Liberation! Fuck that assimilation!" Almost self-fulfilling, that one; and so retro as well. I guess every fashion trend does come round for another go.

    Among the more sober-minded of the 50 or so protesters were some members of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. According to a report in Gay City News, Allen Roskoff, a member of the group, raised a more thoughtful objection to Barney Frank's gay-only Employment Non-Discrimination Act:

    "Jim Owles is asking members of Congress not to support ENDA in any form," he said. "We should revert to the effort originated by Bella Abzug and Ed Koch to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression."

    Abzug and Koch, as Manhattan representatives in Congress in the early 1970s, introduced the 1964 Act amendment as a way to give gays and lesbians nondiscrimination protection in housing, credit, and public accommodations, in addition to employment. Years later, HRC and Frank originated the more limited ENDA approach to getting anti-bias legislation through Congress.

    Roskoff pointed out that Bill Bradley, in his 2000 challenge to Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination, suggested amending the Civil Rights Act, rather than adopting ENDA, "but was shot down by Barney Frank and HRC."

    I wouldn't agree with that change in "gay agenda" priorities, but I do agree that the divisive scrap over ENDA highlights the need for the movement to rethink it's federal legislative plan. It’s critically important that we –- gay and lesbian Americans –- set that agenda, rather than having it dictated to us by the Democratic Party, no matter who is in the White House.

    Politics is by nature self-serving, and politicians from both parties will always reach for the low-hanging fruit unless pressured to actually risk some political capital. That’s actually been the strategy of the movement’s leaders as well, at least since 1996.

    That’s when they scrapped Bella Abzug's broad gay rights legislation and replaced it with ENDA.
    The idea was that polls showed the public most sympathetic to someone being fired for being lesbian or gay, and it was important to get some –- any –- federal gay rights law on the books. And it almost worked. The Senate came within a vote of passing ENDA, and Bill Clinton was certainly ready to sign it.

    More than a decade later, it’s past time to reexamine whether ENDA should still be at the top of the gay agenda for Congress. For one thing, states and local governments have gone a long way to bridge the gap. Today, more than half the U.S. population lives in areas where non-discrimination laws include “sexual orientation,” and the dramatic changes in the culture in the last 10 years have made discrimination far less common in the other half of the country as well.

    In addition, the difficult and divisive debate last fall about what to do if the votes aren’t there for including “gender identity” in ENDA means that legislation is no longer the most likely to break the barrier on federal gay rights legislation. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which includes gay and transgender protections and has already passed both houses of Congress in different forms, and in terms of popularity is really “the new ENDA.” With a gay friendlier Congress and White House, the hate crimes bill should become law fairly quickly and without much controversy. But a divisive and risky ENDA shouldn’t be next on the list.

    The highest legislative priorities of the movement ought to be redressing where the government itself is discriminating against lesbian and gay Americans – especially when that unequal treatment is widespread, affecting almost all of us and in a significant way.

    Measured that way, the next priority ought to be repealing the Defense of Marriage Act –- at least the portion that blocks federal recognition of valid marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by the states. Repealing DOMA should be accompanied by a bill that treats state-issued civil unions and domestic partnerships like marriages under federal law as well. Two-thirds of the public already supports gay marriage or civil unions, so the support is already there.

    Marriage is certainly more universal than job discrimination. More than 90 percent of Americans get married at some point in their lives, and given the hefty number of gays in that remaining 10 percent, it’s safe to say almost all of us will enter into a committed, long-term relationship at some point in our lives.

    Workplace regulation, however justifiable, faces non-bigoted objections about the government intruding into the private sector. Even libertarians who are broadly supportive of gay rights object to ENDA on this ground.

    It’s also true that many more gay and lesbian Americans would marry, if they could, than are fired from their jobs due to their sexual orientation. And while it’s relatively easy to get another job in the diverse U.S. economy – or move to a state that has gay workplace protections -– the hundreds of legal rights that come from federal recognition of our relationships are irreplaceable.

    (Photo of HRC protest via Gay City News)

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    February 28, 2008

    HRC lays a Pink Brick

    Posted by: Chris

    Pinkbrick_09_lrg The Human Rights Campiagn is taking hits on both coasts for its decision to support Barney Frank's gay-only version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In both cases, the extremism of the critics only reinforces how removed these intolerant ideological purists are from the real lives of lesbian and gay Americans.

    In New York, local politicians stayed away in droves from the annual HRC black-tie dinner, honoring a protest by transgender activists and others outside the banquet hall. In response, HRC Prez Joe Solmonese took to the podium and did what he's best at doing, lowering expectations:

    I have to ask myself: When did we all become so impatient? When did we say to ourselves, okay that civil rights thing, I'll give it a year, maybe two, then I'm done," he said. "Let me be very clear: No, we are not done. We are in the grueling, blinding middle of this fight and the middle of this fight is the hardest part.

    A year or two? ENDA came within a vote of passing the Senate in 1996. It's now more than a decade later, and it's still mired in limbo despite overwhelming public support and Democrats in control of both houses of Congress.

    In San Francisco, the local Pride group has nominated HRC for its "Pink Brink Award," an ignominious honor that according to the Bay Area Reporter is "meant to recognize groups and individuals who've run afoul of the community or pushed for antigay measures." This year's other nominees, to given you some sense of this silliness, are Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Keep in mind that not only does HRC support transgender workplace rights (and inclusion in the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act), but also pressed with unusual vigor for House Democrats to keep "gender identity" as a part of ENDA. HRC backed Frank's gay-only version after the legendary Massachusetts Democrat concluded the votes were nowhere close to passing the trans-inclusive version. Even Tammy Baldwin, the trans activists' idol in the House, voted for Barney's gay-only version.

    Also keep in mind that after the House vote, HRC's Joe Solmonese reiterated that HRC will continue to oppose sending to the president any version of ENDA that doesn't include transgender protections. Now maybe that (ill-conceived) promise rings hollow since Solmonese had walked away from an earlier (ill-conceived) promise never to support any version of ENDA that wasn't trans-inclusive, but it hardly puts him in Ahmadinejad territory.

    But such is the arrogance of ideological purists -- whether of the Ahmadinejad variety or his San Francisco foil -- that any slight divergence from orthodoxy is heresy and equally condemnatory.

    (Joe Solmonese photo via Bay Area Reporter/Rick Gerharter)

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    'We are the ones we are waiting for'

    Posted by: Chris

    Andrew Sullivan has a great post today takes the Barack Obama catch-phrase and applies it to the gay rights movement. The result is dead-on:

    The Clinton model - exemplified by the Human Rights Campaign - is: give us some big donor checks, we'll hire a lobbyist (if you're lucky), and we'll work the Democratic party establishment to give you your equality (which somehow never happens). Meanwhile: keep whining (and sending the checks). The Obama model is: you will only get your equality if you stand up for it, risk your job, status, even life for the sake of your own integrity. Stop whining and start explaining and persuading and acting.

    So many gay people over the years have asked me where our "leader" is. It's the wrong question. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Be the change you want to see in the world. And the world changes. In exact proportion to the number of gay people who have abandoned their fear and self-hatred, it already has. No excuses, guys. And no need to wait.

    I've heard lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a Hillary Clinton supporter, give a similar exhortation, including in her memorable speech at the Millennium March on Washington:

    If you dream of a world in which you can put your partner’s picture on your desk, then put his picture on your desk and you will live in such a world. And if you dream of a world in which you can walk down the street holding your partner’s hand, then hold her hand and you will live in such a world.

    If you dream of a world in which there are more openly gay elected officials, then run for office and you will live in such a world. And if you dream of a world in which you can take your partner to the office party, even if your office is the U.S. House of Representatives, then take her to the party. I do, and now I live in such a world.

    Remember, there are two things that keep us oppressed: them and us. We are half of the equation. There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now OK to express ourselves publicly. We must make that day ourselves

    Amen, sister Tammy!

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    Filed in: HRC , Obama

    February 27, 2008

    Persistent gay-friendly ignorance

    Posted by: Chris

    Just as I did, Andrew Sullivan posted his reaction to the Self magazine profile of a woman whose marriage collapsed after 11 years and four children when her husband confirmed her worst nagging fears and said he was gay and having anonymous sex with other men. Andrew received an interesting response from a reader that got me thinking.

    The reader pointed out something I've noticed myself time and again:

    I find that when talking one on one, the vast majority of straight people of all political stripes, confronted by personal contact with a gay couple exhibiting  stability and commitment, seem  positive on our securing rights. But, those same supportive persons most often voice their assumption that we already have those basic  rights, and are incredulous (or downright doubtful) when I describe the  reality and impact of how Federal and state laws prevent numerous common sense solutions to partner issues (such as sharing health care benefits or the recognizing of foreign partners). How can they be so ignorant of our plight?

    Is there any greater condemnation of the effectiveness of the organized gay rights movement? I agree with the reader that a sizable number of fair-minded Americans are so supportive of basic civil rights and legal recognition for gay couples that they actually believe we already enjoy such protections and recognition. Unlike the often difficult work of overcoming objections and changing hearts and minds, reaching these folks only requires informing them of the reality of our second-class citizenship and, as Barack Obama might say, activating them for change.

    And yet the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the other D.C.-based crew are so focused inside the Beltway that gay-friendly ignorance is permitted to persist. When was the last time you saw one of our national groups mount an effective public demontration of the rights denied gay and lesbian Americans? The Millennium March on Washington, perhaps? That was April 2000…

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    Filed in: HRC

    February 25, 2008

    Left off the list

    Posted by: Chris

    It's been a while since I've taken a potshot at the Human Rights Campaign, so here goes. Did anyone else notice the nation's largest gay rights organization was not on the list of 10 GLBT groups that will split the record-breaking $65 million bequest by gay Microsoft pioneer Ric Weiland?

    The complete list of beneficiaries includes:

    • amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research
    • Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
    • Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
    • In The Life
    • International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)
    • Lambda Legal
    • National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
    • Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG)
    • Project Inform
    • Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

    Perhaps Weiland decided HRC was sufficiently endowed or maybe like many he questions the organization's effectiveness, especially given its resources.

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    Filed in: HRC

    January 25, 2008

    With Dennis gone, Dems disappointing?

    Posted by: Chris

    Denniskucinich1_2 News that Dennis Kucinich has dropped his vanity candidacy for the presidency comes perfectly timed with an Associated Press report that about growing discontent among gay activists about the rest of the Democratic field, and Democrats generally.

    Kucinich and fellow fringe candidate Mike Gravel were, of course, the only two presidential candidates to back full marriage equality, marking little change from four years earlier, when Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun were the only ones in support. That lack of progress masked real improvement in positions from the leading candidates on issues on which the federal government can make a difference -- since marriage is defined at the state level. For the first time, all the leading Dems back federal recognition of civil unions and, in a less well-defined commitment, other committed gay relationships.

    But those commitments came months ago, last repeated in August at the Human Rights Campaign-Logo forum, and serious gay issues have largely dropped off the radar screen since. The AP reports:

    "They don't want to broach civil unions, marriage, equalizing benefits for same-sex couples," said Jennifer Chrisler, head of the Family Equality Council, which supports gay and lesbian families. "The vast majority of politicians don't lead, they follow."

    There are other frustrations as well. Activists were dismayed that the Democratic-led Congress failed to approve two much-anticipated bills late last year - one defining anti-gay assaults as a federal hate crime, the other prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination.

    And at a time when they hoped to be making advances, gays and lesbians are on the defensive in at least two states - facing a likely ballot item in Florida that would ban same-sex marriage and a measure in Arkansas aimed at banning them from adopting children or serving as foster parents.

    There's been no effort by HRC or other gay lobby groups to pressure the leading Democrats into greater specifics about federal recognition of gay relationships; not surprising because HRC clings to employment non-discrimination and hate crimes as the items of first importance on "the gay agenda."

    The nonscientific Vizu poll on this blog and Gay News Watch only confirms what most gay folk would tell you: legal recognition for our relationships (cited by 57.1% percent) and equal health benefits (10.7% percent) are far more important to gay voters than workplace rights and hate crimes, which taken together were only cited by one quarter of those taking part in the survey.

    Clintonsolmonesereport But HRC will stick to the ENDA-hate crimes schtick because that's what the Democratic Party leadership has agreed to, even though the divisive battle over transgender inclusion made clear that workplace rights have lost their appeal as the easiest form of gay civil rights to enact.

    Sure enough, there was HRC in the AP report, in its customary role of defending the Democrats and their vaguely-worded and rarely-kept commitments:

    The president of the largest national gay-rights organization, Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, is upbeat about the campaign. His group co-sponsored a televised forum last August in which the Democratic candidates addressed gay-rights topics, and he believes most gays and lesbians remain enthusiastic about the Democratic field despite some impatience.

    Solmonese also sees an easing of anti-gay rhetoric across the political scene - a contrast to 2004 and 2006 when voters in more than 20 states approved measures to ban gay marriage.

    "Among those people who use the politics of fear, there's typically an element of American society that's put forward as a wedge issue, and in this election it's illegal immigrants," Solmonese said. "It doesn't seem to be us."

    This is progress, as measured by HRC: "illegal immigrants" (I thought people were never illegal) have now replaced the gays as political punching bags. Break out the champagne, people.

    Because HRC is so captive to the Democratic Party, the group has invested huge sums in ill-defined "get out the vote" efforts even though the group hasn't endorsed anyone in the primaries. Those resources would be better spent pressing the candidates for specifics on their gay rights commitments, especially in the area of relationship recognition, but then that wouldn't be in the Democratic Party's interest, would it?

    Gnw_lighthouse_logo_3 For related stories and breaking news, click or bookmark:

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    Filed in: HRC , Primaries

    January 23, 2008

    When a Clinton lies about gay rights…

    Posted by: Chris

    … and no gay rights group makes a sound, did it ever really happen?

    UPDATE: At the end of the post.

    Yes it did, and now Log Cabin has posted the video evidence of Bill Clinton misstating the history and legal effect of his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military. The clip is short, so have at:

    Still nothing public in response from the Hillary fans at the Human Rights Campaign, even though HRC hasn't hesitated to interject itself thus far during the primaries when it would benefit "the other HRC," Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    In fact, the gay media and blogosphere generally has ignored the issue. So far all I could find was a post on Gay Patriot and a small story on PageOneQ (that doesn't test the validity of his comments).

    Also conspicuously silent is the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization whose work on gays in the military I greatly respect. SLDN owes it to gay soldiers and sailors kicked out during the Clinton administration and since to correct Bill Clinton's gross rewriting of the history of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," not to mention the basic structure of the policy -- which was never intended to allow gay service members to "live their lives freely" so long as they didn't march in Gay Pride parades in uniform, as Clinton suggested.

    I've asked SLDN for comment and am awaiting a reply.

    UPDATE: Pam Spaulding did post in response to Bill Clinton's selective memory, concluding, "The long legacy of triangulation and the Clintons is too familiar not to make this new statement sound like another bit of Bill revisionist history going on."

    Still nothing in the gay or mainstream media, and no reply from SLDN or its spokesperson Steve Ralls, who apparently spends a good portion of his day blogging off-topic over at the Bilerico Project. Since when did gay activism get so boring that they need to moonlight as journo-bloggers, anyway?

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