He's done it again. Big, bad Joe Solmonese--no doubt a saboteur sleeper agent from the Religious Right, programmed to take down the Equality movement from the inside--has sold us out for a cash prize a new Benz. According to a Jason Bellini column in the Daily Beast, Sen. Chuck Shumer has revealed that HRC is apparently committing treason, usurping our goals... for some reason. Actually, its apparently because they want to get pro-gay legislation passed. Here's the rundown: HRC had apparently told the White House and allied members of Congress to put the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell on the backburner while they focus on getting an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Hate Crimes legislation passed now. HRC later denied this, then Joe Solmonese went on Michelangelo Signorile's show and then Hardball to set the record straight. But, it seems that NONE of the queer bloggers out there are believing them or giving them a SHRED of credit here.
Let's get real here. HRC is NOT trying to stop ANY pro-gay legislation from passing. Hands down. HRC has been working very hard on getting Don't Ask Don't Tell overturned, and I know, because I've lobbied for it. HRC sent Eric Alva around the country over the last two years speaking all over the place trying to convince people to lobby congress to let gays serve openly in the military. They've put a significant amount of effort and resources (of which, HRC is not exactly abundant in) into pushing this, you can't convince me its all a lie, sorry Michelangelo.
However, when there's smoke in the kitchen... you have to look for a fire.
Having lobbied with HRC many times in the past, there are directions to push certain things at certain times over other things. Why? Is it because HRC is trying to control the progress of the Equality movement for their own gain?
No, its called information overload.
You have precious minutes with a Representative or Senator, or--lets just hope--the President, and you have to convince them to proactively support you on SOMETHING, do you lay out the ENTIRE LGBT Equality agenda at once and say, "hey, bitch, if you don't drop everything and do all of this right now, I'm going to kick your dog!"? I wouldn't be surprised if it was simply a situation of HRC telling the wrong person not to push this before that and that snowballed into "Mean Old HRC is picking and choosing."
I'm disappointed with Obama's silence and lack of progress on LGBT issues. I also think that there are many entrenched problems with the old LGBT orgs model of doing things that require fundraising for 363 days and lobbying for 2. And its not just HRC that runs on that model--they're the scapegoat because they're the biggest. That said, I personally know and respect many of the hard working people at HRC. These people are young and full of energy like us. I'm not talking about their board--which in the past included people like Judy Shepard and Donna Rose--who are also stand-out older leaders in the community; I'm talking about the young people full of hope and optimism that leave home to go off to D.C. to make a difference, who work tirelessly, 60 hours a week for a nonprofit that can barely pay them a pittance enough to live in a basement apartment in D.C. Yet they still wake up every day with a smile on their face, and go down to that super-cool blue and gold high rise down on Rhode Island and bright and early begin calling all over the country, meeting donors, legislators and everyday people like you and myself who are desperate for change.
I've seen the inside guts of HRC--for years and years--and I can tell you, there is not even a hint of ill-will or fatigue. These kids are fighting for what they believe in and they're doing a great job.
When you're in D.C., I invite you to go down to the HRC building on Rhode Island, go in and ask for a tour. Someone that you've seen in pictures and videos all over the internet, that you've seen in news stories, or even being interviewed by some of the biggest names in the media will drop everything, come down and show you around. You'll meet some of the finest idealists you've ever met, and some of the greatest people to hang out with. Candice Gingrich never ever seems to run out of energy, and ALWAYS has a smile on her face--which is odd, because her brother Newt NEVER seems to smile! Those cute and friendly kids that do the morning video "Equally Speaking" are so fun and SO SMART!
HRC has two things to worry about: Access and resources. HRC is lucky to have gained access to the highest levels of government to try to hold on to and DEVELOP our allies there. You can't develop an ally by screaming at them and pounding them over the head. Does screaming work? Yes! At a protest, at a rally, not in a one-on-one meeting with Senator Bob Casey. You find your common ground and you begin to build on that, until that person is with you 100% on 100% of the issues. It takes time, and it takes patience, and it is not the same process as cultivating the movement itself. Understand that. And if you think we can do this alone, forget about it. We NEED allies. At best we're 12% of the population. In congress we're about 1%. STUDY AFTER STUDY SHOWS THAT PEOPLE WHO KNOW AND LOVE GAY PEOPLE BECOME ALLIES! You don't get someone to love you or empathize with you by alienating--you do it through patience and mutual understanding.
HRC is also working with VERY limited resources. Every non-profit is cutting back (look at the Task Force), and HRC is no exception. Their staff in that building is relatively small, and they have a few field organizers around the country, but otherwise everything HRC does around the nation is done by an army of UNPAID VOLUNTEERS, of which I was one for half a decade until recently. The local Committees do a lot of the local footwork for HRC, and because they are not on pay-roll, they are a little more difficult to work with. They get fatigued easily, and HRC has to work hard to motivate them to keep up the good work.
In Detroit it was realy hard. I came in at the end. We had a dying Steering Committee that was overall lazy and belligerent when it came to D.C. Early on I was very embarrassed by the way that the adults in our Committee acted when Frank November flew in from D.C. to try and help us fix our local problems. HRC has to deal with the fact that there are so many different views of what needs to be happening, and lots of flak coming from outside AND inside. They are the lightening rod because they are the biggest... so we rightfully expect MORE from them. And they deserve our criticism, but also our respect.
I DON'T believe that HRC needs to be the single voice for the community. I think that we're moving into an era where the old school orgs are still relevant, but no longer need to be at the forefront of the movement. We need a multi-pronged approach now, with more ownership going to the activist and local volunteer, rather than the donor or paid spokesperson. However, HRC gets our voices heard at the highest levels of power, by people who may not be as willing to listen to Larry Kramer's or Michael Signorile's shrill "all or nothing" anger. WE NEED TO BE FIGHTIN' ANGRY EVERY DAY, but we also need a quieter, calmer, more welcoming voice to whisper into the ears of the folks in Congress.
Want more say in what HRC does? Get involved, learn how they work, donate, and become a reasonable, rational part of the conversation.
The Right has had a strict "divide and conquer" strategy for holding off change--they helped fan the flames in California by pitting gays against African Americans (as if there are no LGBT people of color), and people like Dan Savage took the bait. And look at California, the Right is STILL successfully dividing the gay community there. However, here's a case where they haven't even had to try, and we're just dividing ourselves. We have very loud and trusted voices in the community advocating we just kill off one of our most visible and vocal institutions in D.C.--its like chopping off our arm because of a papercut. Are HRC's 5-times-a-decade fuck ups worth undoing all of the inroads they make every other day?
If we want Equality, we need to unify and not be at one another's throats. So many in our community seem to have hippie-envy--this false nostalgia for the 60's and 70's anti-war movement-style protesting and angry Molotov cocktail throwing outward expression of our inner-anger. I'm angry too. I want rights now. But I'm not going to cut my nose off to spite my face to do it. There's a difference between a rally and a riot, and the egg on your face afterward tells you which is which.
I encourage everyone to read and to sign on to the Dallas Principles. Understand that we need to go at this from all angles though--even the tea and crumpets angle that HRC affords us. No one is asking you to endorse HRC, but respect the people that work so hard there every day for all of our rights--even if its not your strategy.