HRC Feels the Heat, But Still Doesn’t Get The Message
June 5th, 2009
One popular blog reported yesterday that the Human Rights Campaign cut a deal with the White House to withhold public pressure on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until sometime next year. HRC immediately issued a statement calling the report “an outright lie” and “recklessly irresponsible.” Nevertheless, many grass roots LGBT activists weren’t convinced.
I had already observed that when the HRC met with the White House following the removal of key commitments from the administration’s LGBT civil rights web site, they basically handed the administration a blank check to delay away. HRC Director Joe Solmonese simply told reporters that he was “pleased” and that they have a plan.” With that, there was no further pressure or call to move forward on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the many other issues that President Barack Obama had once advocated. That milquetoast statement told me everything I needed to know about HRC’s sense of urgency.
So when yesterday’s report appeared on the Daily Beast, LGBT activists and bloggers all around nodded and shrugged. Sound about right, we thought. And the HRC’s subsequent denial sounded hollow. After all, we’ve been complaining that we’ve gotten a lot of great words from the Obama administration with little actual movement. Why would we consider HRC’s words any more important than their actions?
Radio talk show host Michelangelo Signorile had long complained that HRC appears to have gone completely underground following that White House meeting. He tried over and over to get someone from HRC to appear on his program, but he was rebuffed every time. Other journalists complained about the same problem.
But all that changed yesterday. Signorile got a call from the HRC yesterday that they wanted Solmonese on the program that day — within a few hours. (Signorile has posted audio of that interview with more background information.)
It’s very clear that HRC sees that they are being left behind. The massive nationwide Join The Impact protests following passage of California’s Prop 8 caught everyone off guard. Since then, two prominent lawyers bypassed the traditional LGBT leaders and launched their own lawsuit against Prop 8. Others have called for a march on Washington to show their impatience. People are impatient and they are voting with their feet. The HRC is being being bypassed.
Joe Solmonese appeared later yesterday on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. While he’s definitely feels the need now to answer for the perception that HRC has given the White House a pass on DADT, he’s still not much of a fierce advocate. Consider this exchange, where Solmonese dutifully mouths the White House’s talking points.
SOLMONESE: Well I think on any measure of issues we are working on right now with the White House, whether it’s movement on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the White House is working on these issues. But Lorre Jean brings up an incredibly important point particularly with regard to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There’s overturning the policy which I believe the administration will do in the course of the year or so, and then there are good hard working people like Dan Choi, and Arab language interpreter who potentially could be thrown out of the military in the next few weeks, and the President has the opportunity to stop that from happening. We’ve asked him to do that and pressed him to do that and hope that he will.
MATTHEWS: But if he does that by executive order, what is he worried about? Why is he not doing it? Joe?
SOLMONESE: Well, we don’t know… he may do it and he has the opportunity to do it and it may be that… I don’t know why he wouldn’t do it, but I mean with regard to overturning the policy generally, I mean you brought up… I don’t think its the case he want to not necessarily upset these military leaders, but he understands there’s an implementation part of this policy that has to be worked through, and I think on any measure that he’s working on with us, and I see we’re working daily with them on getting the hate crimes bill to his desk right now, is that he approaches these things in a way that they will be sustainable and will work in a way that’s going to work for the community in opposed to an expeditious manner which I think you saw President Clinton undertaking the first days of his administration that actually got us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The only difference between Solmonese answer and the near-nonanswers coming form White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs is that Solmonese is a bit more articulate. Maybe Solmonese should become Press Secretary instead.
Contrast that to Lorrie Jean, of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, who also appeared on Hardball:
Getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” doesn’t change what’s been happening. Gays and Lesbians have been serving in the military for decades, for hundreds of years and those kinds of problems don’t exist. While they figure out how they’re going to work out all those permutations, the President could take a very simple step. He could issue a Stop Loss Order and could say, hey look, right now our country is under attack by terrorists around the world. We need every able body that we can have, every valuable person. And so let’s stop drumming people out now while we figure this out.
You can watch the video here.