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Posts for June, 2013

HRC Promotes LaBarbera’s “Press Conference” at HRC HQ

Jim Burroway

June 5th, 2013

Peter LaBarbera, whose sparsely attended press conference yesterday in front of the Human Rights Campaign headquarters (“the world’s most powerful homosexual lobby organization,” he calls it) but hidden away behind a temporary construction wall, “was a success,” so sez The Peter. I guess HRC agrees. They posted video of the event so you don’t have to miss it.

The Discussion That Wasn’t

A commentary

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2013

It’s official. Yesterday, President Barack Obama formally nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) for Secretary of Defense. Obama’s announcement recounted Hagel’s qualifications: an enlisted Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War, Veterans Administration deputy administrator during the Reagan Administration, and serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Intelligence Committee in the Senate. He voted for the Iraq War, but became a vocal critic as the war’s execution was bungled by the Bush administration, something that people who have actually served in combat tend to do, much to the annoyance to those who convinced themselves they knew what they were doing. After retiring in 2009, he became chair of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a move which the GOP sees as traitorous on par with Tokyo Rose. I don’t see how anyone can say he’s unfit to be Defense Secretary. They may disagree with him on policy — or Obama’s policies, more specifically — but we had an entire election where we got to debate those policies and Obama won. So here we are.

But there is that thing about Hagel’s anti-gay record, and it’s not a small thing. A full recap is in order, and this time I want to go over the full context rather than relying on drive-by pull-quotes. Let’s start at the beginning.

Hagel vs. Hormel, 1998
Fourteen years ago, President Bill Clinton nominated James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) immediately set about blocking his nomination. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) was just one of many Senators on both sides of the aisle to express their concern for the appointment. Those expressions ranged from mild to wild, with Hagel staking out the wilder side. On July 3, 1998, Hagel expressed his concern to the Omaha World-Herald this way:

Ambassadorial posts are sensitive, Hagel explained.

“They are representing America,” he said. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

Hagel noted a documentary, filmed with money Hormel donated, that showed teachers how they could teach children about homosexuality. He said he had seen another video clip that showed Hormel at what Hagel called an anti-Catholic event in San Francisco, featuring the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a group of male drag queens.

“It is very clear on this tape that he’s laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti-Cathloic gay group in this gay parade,” Hagel said. “I think it’s wise for the president not to go forward with this nomination.”

Over the years Hormel, a former dean of the Chicago Law School, has given money to civil-rights groups, colleges, symphonies, and to groups fighting autism, breast cancer and AIDS. Hormel listed the contributions in a letter to a supporter, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. In the letter, Hormel said he provided “minor” support for the teacher documentary and had no control over its content.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, says the videotape from the San Francisco event resulted when men dressed as nuns walked past a broadcast booth where Hormel, a well-known civic leader in the city, was giving an interview to a local reporter.

Hormel’s homosexuality is not the problem, say Hagel and other opponents of the nomination. It’s his openness about being gay and his advocacy of some causes, they say.

Hagel, meanwhile, said a homosexual should not necessarily be disqualified from all ambassadorships.

His approach to nominees, he said, has been to examine the person’s qualifications first. The United States has had gay ambassadors in the past and gays in the military, who have done well by quietly adopting the Pentagon’s current “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude.

Hormel, however, has gone beyond that, Hagel said.

He “very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he’s been involved in. I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum,” Hagel said.

“If you send an ambassador abroad with a cloud of controversy hanging over him, then I think it’s unfair to our country, it’s unfair to the host country and it’s unfair to the ambassador because the effectiveness of that individual is going to be seriously curtailed. That’s just a fact of life. And I believe Hormel’s situation is one of those.”

It’s important to remember the context in 1998, when any kind of pro-gay gesture was fodder for anti-gay prejudice, whether it was attending a Pride parade — regardless of whether drag queens and Sisters were there or not — or suggesting that a discussion about the issues of LGBT youth. Fourteen years ago, those were areas that even our supporters feared to tread, and more often than not, they would inoculate themselves by bemoaning Pride parades and assuring a jittery public that nobody would come within a thousand miles of their children with material that might suggest that having two moms or experiencing “funny” feelings might be something to talk about.

I say that not to excuse or exonerate Hagel. Instead, it goes to show how powerful a cudgel Hagel wielded when he made those remarks to the World-Herald. That was in 1998, and Hagel would spend the next ten years in the Senate opposing nearly every pro-gay measure, racking up a very nearly perfect zero score on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard. There were two exceptions: Hagel supported reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which included an end to Jesse Helms’s cherished AIDS travel ban. That nudged his HRC score off of zero for 2007-2008, even though I’m unclear about whether he voted for it because of, despite, or with indifference to the lifting of the travel ban. The second exception was a bit smaller: He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006. Soon after, he voiced his opposition to the FMA, earning this rebuke from Focus On the Family.

But before we continue, it is important to note a few more things about Hagel’s term as Senator. LGBT issues aside (and his record in that area was deplorable), Hagel had earned a reputation as a moderate in the Senate. Those positions in today’s GOP would have made him a traitor, but just ten short years ago, when Hagel criticized the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s “war on terrorism” rhetoric as needlessly alarmist, and criticized the prison on Guantanamo as the reason the U.S. was “losing the image war around the world,” questioning things that were going wrong wasn’t yet a crime against nature. He voted against “No Child Left Behind”, but supported President Bush with the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which would have provided a pathway to residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for five years. During Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) 2008 run for president, he floated Hagel’s name as someone who would make a good Secretary of State for a McCain Administration.

Hagel v. Hormel, 2012
Since Hagel’s retirement on January 3, 2009, he has stayed mostly out of the limelight, only to re-emerge over the past year or so. In 2011, he said that there was the Defense Department is “bloated”, and said that diplomats should, you know, engage in diplomacy, with Iran and Hamas. He now is being criticized for having said things like, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator” — a statement that wasn’t nearly as controversial just a few short years ago in the GOP as it is today. He also, inelegantly, said that the “Jewish” lobby has too much influence. If he had said “Israeli lobby” instead, he would have been more accurate, but I don’t think it would have shielded him from accusations of being an anti-Semite since the dominant GOP trend now is to show what a strong “friend of Israel” you are by never contradicting Netanyahu on anything. In 2012, he endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey in the race for an open U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska, and you just know that didn’t go over very well with fellow Republicans either.

So when rumors began to circulate that President Barack Obama was thinking about nominating Hagel for Defense Secretary, the knives were already out. Meanwhile, the LGBT community remembered Hagel’s comments to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998, a rediscovery which reopened a lot of old wounds in the LGBT community. HRC’s Chad Griffin said on December 20, “Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on LGBT equality today.” Hagel moved quickly to try to put out that fire with this short statement to Politico on December 21:

My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Naturally, given the timing and brevity of Hagel’s statement, Hormel’s initial reaction was negative:

“I have not received an apology,” Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. “I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.” Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”

But a few hours later, after Hormel had a chance to think it over, he issued this statement accepting Hagel’s apology and supporting his nomination:

Senator Hagel’s apology is significant–I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal–they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted–perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.

As Hormel says, there has been a huge shift in public opinion since 1998. Actually, you don’t have to go back that far to see a strong shift. You only have to go back to 2008, the year that Hagel voted to rescind the HIV travel ban but voiced support for DADT, and the year that he retired from the Senate. That same year, Californians voted 52.2% to 47.8% to strip gays and lesbians of their right to marry. Voters in Arizona and Florida also enshrined discrimination into their state constitutions. In 2009, Maine voters rejected a bill granting same-sex marriage by 52.9% to 47.1%.

But three short years later, in 2012, Maine voters reversed themselves on the same question by very nearly the same margin, 52.7% to 47.3%. Voters in Washington and Maryland — with substantial support even from GOP voters — also approved marriage equality bills, and Minnesota voters rejected an attempt to deface their constitution with discrimination. In that same short time span, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed with bipartisan support; the New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire legislatures enacted marriage equality, also with bipartisan support; former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who had authored the “Defense of Marriage Act,” came out for DOMA’s repeal; and two current GOP representatives are cosponsoring a bill to do just that.

That represents a huge sea change in LGBT politics in just four years. Of course, not all Republicans are participating in that change. Among elected officials and party activists, the vast majority are not, as evidenced by what was perhaps the GOP’s most overtly homophobic platform in history. But taken together, that represents an extraordinarily wide spectrum within the Republican Party, with people like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL, and a vice chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus) on one end and Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX, retrograde) on the other. It’s safe to say that Hagel falls somewhere within that very wide spectrum, but exactly where he is we don’t know.

Unwarranted Attacks
And the way things are shaping up, few of our so-called “advocates” are interested in finding out. I can’t think of another context in which a politician who had previously had a pretty solid anti-gay voting record and who had, just a few short years later, voiced support LGBT Americans’ civil rights — and those were his words — only to have everyone evaluate that transformation not in terms of what it means for LGBT Americans, but strictly through the lens of unrelated politics. And in this case, it seems to be politics related to whether Israel or America determines American foreign policy. At least that’s how Log Cabin Republicans appear to have framed the issue. When rumors first began circulating that Hagel was being considered for Defense Secretary, L. Clarke Cooper responded on December 14:

Speaking for himself and not for LCR, Cooper wrote in an email, “I recall working with Senator Chuck Hagel and his staff during the Bush administration and he was certainly not shy about expressing his criticisms. But despite his criticisms, Hagel voted with us most of the time and there was no question he was committed to advancing America’s interests abroad. As for his nomination to be secretary of defense, it is well worth noting that Senator Hagel is a combat veteran who has hands-on experience in the field. The battlefield is not just theory for him.”

The timeline here is important because it helps to provide context. Cooper voiced this support for Hagel after reports were circulating about his 1998 comments to the Omaha World-Herald and before Hagel apologized for those comments. Which means that Cooper was defending Hagel despite Hagel’s comments from 1998.

LCR’s mission, according to its own web page, is “to build a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party” while adhering to what LCR calls the party’s “core values.” And so when a previously anti-gay politician utters words which indicate a shift away from exclusion towards inclusion, one might think that an organization which claims to promote inclusion would want to encourage that. You know, something like this:

Hey, we’re glad you came around. We’re glad you apologized. It’s a really good start, but we’d like to know more. What changed? Why did you change? And that thing you said, about your commitment to our civil rights. This is the first time you’ve said anything like that. Can you tell us more? Which of our civil rights are you committed to? And that thing about LGBT military families: that’s an important issue that’s still unresolved. Thanks for noticing. What issues to you think you can resolve for them? Where do we go from here?

LCR’s Hagel Ad in The New York Times, December 27, 2012. (Click to enlarge.)

There are so many things LCR could have done, and it appeared that based on what Cooper said before Hagel apologized, LCR was in the perfect position to carry out what it claims to be its mission. Bizarrely, Log Cabin Republicans did exactly the opposite. After Hagel issued his apology, Log Cabin Republicans placed an expensive, full-page ad in the December 27 edition of the New York Times quoting from Hagel’s 1998 comments — as though his more recent statement had never been uttered — and tied their opposition to Hagel to Israel and Iran. And as icing on the cake, they called the man who, for the first time in his career recognized “LGBT Americans’ civil rights” by using those very words, “Wrong on Gay Rights.”

Bizarre, I know. But then, this is the same organization who endorsed a presidential candidate who signed on to the National Organization for Marriage’s five-point plan to destroy LGBT Americans’ civil rights. What can I say but “Exclusion wins!”

Oh, and Israel! Iran! Wherever that came from.

LCR’s Hagel Ad in The Washington Post, January 7, 2013. (Click to enlarge.)

LCR doubled down yesterday with another expensive full-page ad in the Washington Post. This time, they made it all about the gays, leaving the Middle East out of it. But of course, in the context of the greater GOP opposition, LCR has already shown their hand with The Times ad. In this ad, they claim to examine Hagel’s anti-gay record — except, of course, they left out his 2006 change of heart on the FMA because that inconvenient fact interrupts their narrative. (If you recall, that would be the very same position on FMA that LCR explicitly cited when they endorsed McCain for president in 2008.) And in a particularly juvenile move, LCR decided to acknowledge Hagel’s brief apology by crossing their arms, stomping their feet and shrieking “Too little, too late“. Seriously. That’s the concluding line they stamped across the bottom of their ad. It’s a fine retort for a first-grader, but not from mature adults who claim that they want to actually accomplish something.

If this is how LCR slams people who make a move towards inclusion while rewarding presidential candidates who really do want to turn back the clock on our civil rights, then they’ve pretty much sent the message to everyone in the GOP that they may as well stay right where they were in 1998.

Unearned Embraces
If LCR represents one cynical extreme with its irrational reaction to Hagel’s statements, then thank goodness we still have the Human Rights Campaign around to remind us about its well-earned reputation for being too cozy with Democratic politics.

HRC’s mission, according to their web page, is “to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.” And so when a previously anti-gay politician utters words which indicate a tentative shift away from discrimination and towards fairness and equality, one might think that an organization which claims to promote those values might want to seize the initiative and try to elicit some kind of a follow-up to Hagel’s three sentence statement. Obviously Hagel’s apology raises far more questions than it answers. If that’s all he has to say on the subject, than I don’t think anyone with a shred of self-respect would accept it as a final word. After all, contrary to Hagel’s assurances LGBT Americans do have plenty of good reasons to question Hagel’s commitment to their civil rights. Those reasons can be found in his own record.

And so, you might think that HRC, given their mission, might want to say something to encourage Hagel to clarify what he meant. Something along the lines of–

Hey, we’re glad you came around. We’re glad you apologized. It’s a really good start, but we’d like to know more. What changed? Why did you change? And that thing you said, about your commitment to our civil rights. This is the first time you’ve said anything like that. Can you tell us more? Which of our civil rights are you committed to? And that thing about LGBT military families: that’s an important issue that’s still unresolved. Thanks for noticing. What issues to you think you can resolve for them? Where do we go from here?

You know, the same kinds of questions that LCR could have raised.

But no. The ink was barely dry on Hagel’s apology when we got this instead:

Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”

Nothing more to talk about here. Forget everything you remembered about him. He’s our pal now, and there’s no need to worry our pretty little heads over him anymore.

True, it’s much better than kicking Hagel to the curb. But it’s a far cry from anything that would remotely resemble clarity, let alone accountability. HRC has declared the subject closed and there’s nothing more to talk about.

There is a silver lining though: at least they didn’t spend a couple hundred grand on that message.

Where Do We Go From Here?
But the conversation isn’t over. It’s barely even started. And so let me close with two statement which, I think, strike the right balance and invites Hagel to expand on his all-too-brief statement. And of all places, the first one comes from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an organization that is often criticized for diluting their efforts across a wide array of non-LGBT issues. In 2012, the NGLTF even went so far as to claim “synergy” between same-sex marriage and an attempt to add casino gambling in Maryland. But on the Hagel nomination, the NGLTF gets it mostly right:

“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights. Cabinet choices set the tone for an administration and it is critical that those members support fairness, women’s health and the belief in a level playing field for all. Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families. We recognize that people do evolve on these issues and we hold out hope that, if confirmed, Hagel will meet the bar set by other cabinet secretaries and the administration when it comes to ensuring fairness for all LGBT military families and for women in the military.”

And the second one comes from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who said this to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell:

“I do not know Chuck Hagel…I do want to speak with him, particularly about his comments 14 years ago, to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient. I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the the last 14 years because the significance to the post to which he’s been nominated is the respect for now openly gay members of the military who because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can serve openly and we need to see that implemented successfully…”

Both statements strike a good balance, neither damning Hagel as irredeemable nor embracing him as though he has nothing left to answer for. Because the fact remains that he may yet become a good ally, and we’d be foolish to slam the door on that possibility. But we’d be equally foolish to pretend that our legitimate doubts about his commitment to our civil rights either don’t exist or don’t matter.

Where Are The Religious Leaders?

Jim Burroway

November 27th, 2012

American liberals are upset that Ugandan Pres is leading his nation in repentance--afraid of a modern example of a nation prospered by God?With Uganda poised to pass what would become one of the most draconian anti-gay laws in the world, human rights advocates, LGBT activists, and diplomats from around the globe are lobbying members of the Ugandan government to set aside the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. But there is one set of voices that is conspicuously silent: church leaders. So far, the only religious voices to speak up about it are those who favor its passage, including Scott Lively and the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer. The Family “Research” Council’s Tony Perkins, while not addressing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill directly, praised Uganda over the weekend as “a modern example of a nation prospered by God.” (Perkins had previously lied about what the bill would do if enacted and lobbied Congress against a resolution condemning the bill.)

So far, those are among the few religious leaders speaking up about the bill, all of them supporting it directly or indirectly. And so far, major religious leaders against the bill have been conspicuous by their silence. The HRC called on them to speak up in a press release last week:

“American faith leaders know that calling for the death penalty – or even calling for imprisonment of – an entire community is not in line with Christian values,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “American Christian faith leaders with ties to Uganda, like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes, must reach out to their influential Ugandan friends to ensure that the human rights of Ugandans are not put up to a vote.”

American Christian faith leaders have been active in Uganda for decades and have significant ties to Ugandan political leaders and faith leaders. Such influential American faith leaders, including Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and voices from the Trinity Broadcasting Network, have a moral obligation to urge their Ugandan friends and allies to condemn the bill. Many of these American faith leaders have shown a commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Uganda and know passage of this bill would curtail these efforts. Public statements and private conversations by these American faith leaders, if they are done immediately, could save the lives of thousands of Ugandans.

Rick Warren last addressed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in late 2009, when he condemned the bill. Three years is an eternity in politics, and he has been silent since then. Silence will only mean that Scott Lively and Tony Perkins is speaking for them.

HRC Files Complaint Against Anti-Gay Spam Text Messages

Jim Burroway

November 1st, 2012

Tuesday night, cell phone users received unsolicited, anonymous text messages attacking President Barack Obama over a number of topics, including Medicare, Libya, Planned Parenthood, and, of course, gay marriage. The messages were sent via email-to-text technology, allowing unsolicited SMS messages to be sent from web domains rather than phone numbers in an attempt to get around Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Yesterday, the Human Rights Campaign filed a complaint with the FCC:

Recently, HRC supporters have received unsolicited anti-gay text messages such as: “Obama endorses the legality of same-sex marriage.  Say No to Obama at the polls on Nov 6.”  TheWashington Post reports that the texts originated from ccAdvertising, a firm specializing in political phone and text outreach – and with a history of spamming cell phone users with unsolicited content. HRC’s letter to the FCC is available here.

Since many Americans pay for their text messages on an as-used basis, ccAdvertising is costing money to some cell phone users by spamming them with these unwanted messages.

HRC says that ccAdvertising violated their terms of service with GoDaddy by trying to hide their identity. GoDaddy subsequently revoked ccAdvertising’s anonymity and revealed their role in sending the text messages. ccAdvertising’s chief operating officer is Republican Jason Flanary, who is currently running for Virginia Senate in Fairfax County.

Follow the Money: Catholic Groups Emerge As Largest Donors In Marriage Battles

Jim Burroway

October 18th, 2012

Simultaneous to Equally Blessed’s report on the Knights of Columbus’ extensive donations against marriage equality since 2005, the Human Rights Campaign released its tabulations of contributions to the four 2012 battleground states in which marriage proposals are on the ballot. According to the HRC’s calculations, the Catholic Church and its affiliate organizations are providing more than half of the funds that have been raised so far against marriage equality in each of the four battleground states.

The major sources of funding include various dioceses and parishes of the Catholic Church itself, the Catholic charitable organization the Knights of Columbus, and the National Organization for Marriage, which has extensive ties to the Catholic hierarchy. The breakdown of Catholic spending against marriage equality in 2012 goes like this:

Minnesota: Of the nearly $1.2 million raised so far, $600,000 has come from the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense fund, $135,000 from the Knights of Columbus and its local chapters, $188,200 from Catholic dioceses and parishes across the nation, and $23,000 from NOM. Nearly 78% of Minnesota’s anti-marriage funding has come from Catholic sources.

Maryland: Of the $855,00 raised so far, $250,000 has come from the Knights of Columbus, $400,000 from NOM, and $12,000 from the Maryland Catholic Conference. About 77% of Maryland’s anti-marriage funding has come from Catholic sources.

Washington: Of the 1.6 million raised so far, $675,939 has come from NOM, $250,000 from the Knights of Columbus, another $4,000 from a local Knights chapter, $5,000 from St. Monica Parish. About 58% of Washington’s anti-marriage funding has come from Catholic sources.

Maine: Of the $446,317 raised so far, $263,324 has come from NOM, and $1,135 from the Knights of Columbus. About 59% of Maine’s anti-marriage funding has come from those two sources.

These activities contrast sharply to public opinion polls which show that Roman Catholics increasingly support marriage quality for gays and lesbians. A Public Religion Research Poll in 2011 showed that nearly three quarters of self-identified Roman Catholics support civil recognition of marriage or civil unions, with 64% of weekly churchgoing Catholics holding that same opinion. In 2012, Catholic support for marriage equality has risen noticeably, particularly when the question is framed in terms of civil marriage. When same-sex marriage is defined as a civil marriage “like you get at city hall,” Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28 points, from 43% to 71%. (This large jump is undoubtedly due to the fact that Catholics — divorced Catholics in particular — are very attuned to the distinction between a civil marriage and a church marriage.) This latest data demonstrates a growing divide between lay Catholics and the actions of the Catholic Church and its affiliated institutions.

Barney Frank Calls LCR “Uncle Toms”; LGBT Groups Disavow Charge

Jim Burroway

September 6th, 2012

Several leaders of LGBT organizations are distancing themselves from comments by Rep. Barny Frank (D-MA) that the Log Cabin Republicans have taken “Uncle Tom” as their role model. Frank first made those comments yesterday during an interview with Sirious/XM OutQ’s Michelangelo Signorile:

Frankly I’ve been appalled to see the Log Cabin club, in the face of this worse and worse record on public policy by Republicans on our issues,” Frank said. “Mr. Cooper said, ‘Well at least they’re not saying bad things about us.’ That’s just extraordinary. Again, 30 years ago when we were emerging from the vice of prejudice, I understood that. But no, we shouldn’t be accepting a kind of second class citizenship, [and saying], ‘You can treat us badly as long you don’t yell at us.’”

“They’re accepted on [the GOP’s] terms,” he continued. “They’re willing to be accepted with no rights — no right to marry, no right to serve in the military, no right to be protected against hate crimes, no right to be protected in employment. I’ll be honest: For 20 years now I’ve heard how the Log Cabins are going to make Republicans better, but they’ve only gotten worse. I now understand why they call themselves Log Cabin: their role model is Uncle Tom.”

Buzfeed’s Chris Geidner reports that Frank repeated that comparison to the Democratic National Convention’s LGBT Caucus toda, where he reportedly received a mixed reaction from the crowd. Geidner quotes HRC’s Chad Griffin: “That’s certainly not my perspective. The Log Cabin Republicans are good people doing good work.” He added: “We need all fair-minded Americans to rally to the side of equality, and that most definitely includes Republicans. They provide a voice within the Republican Party that’s important.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Rea Carey and Stonewall Democrats’ Jerame Davis also backed away from Franks comments, saying that they don’t reflect the positions of their organizations. But Davis added, “The truth is that they do play a certain role of kowtowing to the Republican Party in a way that borders on inappropriate itself.”

LCR responded via a press release:

“As far as Log Cabin Republicans are concerned, it’s a badge of honor to be attacked by a partisan hack like Barney Frank,” said Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper. “We understand that Barney has earned his protected place within the Democrat Party by being their attack dog on gay rights issues, demonizing Republicans and undermining efforts at bipartisanship that would actually improve LGBT Americans lives. We expect this kind of bile from Barney, especially when it plays into the Obama campaign’s efforts to divide, distract and deceive the American people.”

Cooper continues, “Frank calls us ‘Uncle Toms’ and pretends that Log Cabin hasn’t been on the front lines of the fight for equality. The truth is, by speaking conservative to conservative about gay rights, Log Cabin Republicans are doing some of the hardest work in the movement, work that liberals like Barney are unwilling to do and couldn’t do if they tried.”

HRC Names New President

Jim Burroway

March 2nd, 2012

The Human Rights Campaign has announced that Chad Griffin, a founding member of the California-based LGBT group that is challenging Proposition 8 in Federal Court, has been selected to become the HRC’s president.  He will succeed Joe Solmonese when his contract expires March 31.

Despite Griffin’s extensive ties with Democratic and progressive causes — he is an enthusiastic supporter of President Barack Obama’s political campaign, as well as  causes encompassing equal rights, clean energy, universal health care, stem cell research and early childhood education — Griffin has also sought support from people on all sides of the political spectrum. As a founding board member of Americans for Equal Rights, Griffin is credited for recruiting Ted Olson and David Boies as the dream-team attorneys in AFER’s fight against  Prop 8. Griffin will remain on AFER’s board of directors.

It’s worth noting that when that lawsuit was first announced, many other LGBT organizations openly questioned whether AFER was taking too bold a risk. Some tried to derail it, others tried to hijack it, but AFER remained the sole litigant in the challenge that is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Where Solmonese showed timidity and a reluctance to challenge political leaders, Griffin has a rather different track record. Is Griffin big enough to lead the HRC to becoming a genuine advocacy group for its constituents — you know, LGBT people and not elected political leaders? HRC is larger than just a president. There’s an entire board of entrenched establishment figures whose access to power and celebrity is at least as important to them as the community’s goals, even when there is conflict between the two. Griffin’s appointment looks promising.

Update: Griffin was also an Executive Producer of Outrage, a documentary about the politics of “outing.” Again, another sign that he’s not one to defer to power.

Well Surprise, Surprise, Surprise…

Jim Burroway

February 22nd, 2012

Human Rights Campaign’s departing honcho Joe Solmonese has been named a national co-chair for the Barack Obama reelection campaign. That’s good. It’s probably a better fit for him than his old job at HRC.

Obama Blasts GOP For Failure To “Stand Up For the Men and Women Who Wear The Uniform”

Jim Burroway

October 2nd, 2011

In remarks before a gathering of the Human Rights Campaign, President Barack Obama blasted Republicans for standing silently on stage while audience members booed a gay American soldier during a GOP debate last week. Six candidates — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, pizza magnate Herman Cain, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — have maintained their silence for more than a week. Obama called them out:

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We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says its okay for a stage full of political leaders, one of whom could end up being the President of the United States, being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since.

You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.

We don’t believe in a small America. We believe in a big American, a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America that values the service of every patriot. We believe in an America where we’re all in it together and we see the good in one another. And we live up to a creed that is as old as our founding, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. And that includes everybody. That’s what we believe. That’s what we’re going to be fighting for. I am confident that’s what the American people believe in. I’m confident because of the changes we’ve achieved these two and a half years, the progress that some folks said was impossible.

Obama recounted his accomplishments since taking office: the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, the lifting of the HIV travel ban, the enactment of regulations requiring hospitals to allow gay partners to see and make decisions for their loved ones, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also reiterated his support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act:

I vowed to keep up the fight against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. There’s a bill to repeal this discriminatory law in Congress, and I want to see that passed. But until we reach that day, my administration is no longer defending DOMA in the courts. I believe the law runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all. It should join “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the history books.

Reports: Joe Solmonese To Leave HRC

Jim Burroway

August 27th, 2011

Pam Spaulding reports that Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, will announce his resignation from the post he’s held since 2005, on Tuesday. She also says that the change will herald the beginnings of a larger staff shakeup at the organization that has been criticized for its timidity and coziness with political leaders. Pam hears that Solmonese’s replacement has already been named, someone from outside the HRC who has worked with the organization as a paid consultant. But another source told Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly that “a full candidate selection process will take place” to find his successor.

Geidner also reports that the HRC’s board had originally scheduled a conference call meeting for August 29, the day before Solmonese’s planned announcement, but moved up the conference call to today after Spaulding broke the news in an exclusive report.

Update: Kevin Naff at The Washington Blade says that the HRC will release a statement later toady, which will reveal that Solmonese is giving six months’ advance notice. Naff also says his sources deny that Solmonese’s resignation will foreshadow a change in direction or staff at HRC. They also deny moving up the announcement because of Spaulding’s report, claiming that they decided to make the announcement later today because of the hurricane.

King and Spaulding dropping DOMA was due to Clement’s error, not gay bullies

Timothy Kincaid

May 13th, 2011

When King and Spaulding announced that they would not be defending DOMA on behalf of the House of Representatives – after partner Paul Clement had announced that they would – anti-gay activists had a field day. Words like “intolerance” and “homosexual activist bullies” screamed across headlines in articles designed to portray the gay community as a collection of thugs who forced a poor defenseless international law firm into following the insidious homosexual agenda.

Even mainstream newspapers and editorial staff immediately assumed that the homosexuals were being too pushy and self-righteously took the opportunity to remind gay people that while gay rights may be worth fighting for, they really are just a “cause”, you see, and not so important that you can’t play nicely. Pointing out to a lawfirm that DOMA hurts gay people is, well, Un-American.

The Washington Post ran an editorial titled King & Spalding and HRC do a disservice to American values in which they declared:

HRC is right to fight vigorously to overturn DOMA, which deprives gays and lesbians of many of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. But it sullies itself and its cause by resorting to bullying tactics.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, a writer indignantly asserted “Case closed. This is intimidation. This is intolerance.”

I do believe that HRC bungled this situation. They behaved like jerks, adopted high-pressure tactics as their first option, and presented our community in about the worst light possible. Threatening to send out letters to K&S clients and then bragging on TV when the case was dropped was about the most stupid course of action that could be imagined.

If there are any of our readers who still contribute to HRC, this might be a good opportunity to look for another organization – one that has a better ear for political tone.

That being said, it is not unreasonable to remind a company – including law firms – that engaging in anti-gay activism or acquiescing to the demands of anti-gay activists will cost them the support of gay people and our friends, family, neighbors, supporters, and all people who value equality. As equality becomes more and more the national favored opinion, companies will find that being “neutral” on matters of sexual orientation equality will be viewed like being “neutral” on racial equality or gender equality. Forward thinking CEO’s may well be receptive to reminders about future image, provided that they aren’t made to be fools in the press.

But as it turns out, neither HRC’s bragging nor anti-gay activists’ shrieking are based in reality. King & Spaulding dropped the DOMA defense because Paul Clement never had it approved in the first place. He signed the case without following procedures or giving the firm an opportunity to measure the benefits or detriments of such a course of action.

The Fulton County Daily Report decided to look into things and found an entirely different chain of events than that which the big papers just assumed had happened. (Via WSJ)

But the Daily Report spoke to two firm lawyers and a third source anonymously who said that the DOMA matter was not fully submitted to King & Spalding”s business review committee, a firm requirement, before Clement signed a contract obligating the firm. They said the committee immediately began reviewing the case the day after the firm learned of the contract—and rejected it the next day, according to the Daily Report.

The sources said the firm’s partners were taken by surprise when news broke that Clement had taken the case. “Any matter that is controversial in any way or where there is a discounted rate goes through the business review committee,” one of the sources told the Daily Report, noting that the DOMA engagement was both controversial and had a discounted rate.

The King & Spalding sources, according to the Daily Report, said that there was widespread, adamant opposition to the DOMA case within the firm. “”It sticks a finger in the eye of people,” said one source, referring to the firm’s gay lawyers and staff.

And, a source said, the case did not fit the firm’s business mission. “King & Spalding is a corporate law firm—not a constitutional firm.”

I believe that there could have been a way that Clement could defend DOMA and that Spaulding & King could have worked with our community to craft a statement that did not back K&S into a corner. But Clement did not consider his firm’s interests and it was his arrogance and presumptions about DOMA and public opinion that ultimately embarrassed the firm.

KC Vigil To Tell Lou Engle to Stop Exporting Hate to Uganda

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2011

Lou Engle addressing a rally in Kampala, Uganda.(Marc Hofer/New York Times)

Soulforce and the Human Rights Campaign have announced a vigil this Sunday morning outside of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, to ask fundamentalist pastor Lou Engle to “abandon his hateful and dangerouls anti-LGBT rhetoric and actions.”

The vigil appears prompted by the recent murder of Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato. Last summer, Engle traveled to Uganda where he voiced his support for the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would impose the death penalty of LGBT people under certain circumstances. He denied supporting the death penalty itself, but he did confirm that he does support the criminalization of consensual same-sex relationships between consenting adults. According to an updated press release from Soulforce and HRC, Engle has agreed to meet with the group “at a date to be determined.”

Click here to read the full press release from Soulforce and HRC

HRC Fires Rare Warning Shot

Jim Burroway

December 9th, 2010

You know things are heating up when the Human Rights Campaign issues a rare warning like this one:

Fred Sainz, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement, “If senators move forward with a vote on NDAA before a deal has been solidified, the vote will fail and all key players will share the responsibility.”

The statement appears to be aimed at Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, who has been flirting for 24 hours with scheduling a vote on the defense bill that includes the repeal. A planned vote was scrapped Wednesday night after a key Republican senator said she was not satisfied with the results of negotiations.

Of course, we don’t know how the HRC defines “sharing responsibility,” but it’s good to know that more people are beginning to see through Harry Reid’s machinations and are willing to call him on it.

Meanwhile,  The Washington Post reports that it’s Harry Reid who is stonewalling Sen. Susan Collins and jeopardizing DADT repeal, not the other way around:

[Sen. Collins] said she largely accepted Reid’s offer of 15 amendments, but added she needed four days of debate on them.

Guess what: Reid has yet to respond to her offer, according to a spokesperson for Collins. “As of this morning, Senator Collins has not received a response from the Majority Leader,” the spokesman, Kevin Kelley, tells me.

This is potentially bad news. Word is that the Senate may vote today on the defense authorization bill containing DADT repeal. It seems likely that if Collins’ every demand isn’t met, she’s prepared to stop the defense authorization bill from proceeding, and other moderate Republicans who generally support repeal may also vote No.

The White House IS Showing Leadership on DADT Repeal

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2010

It’s just not the leadership we expected to see two years ago. Consider the evidence as The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld reviews Reid’s announcement of the Senate’s floor schedule:

Oh yeah, that.

The near-final nail in the coffin was delivered by Senate majority leader Harry Reid over the weekend when he announced the floor schedule for the week of December 6: nothing Monday, on Tuesday/Wednesday an impeachment trial of a federal judge from Louisiana, with the first votes of the week likely to come on Thursday.

Once the impeachment is a wrap, Reid noted that left “a pretty clear path” to what else needed to be addressed – tax cuts, a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty plus votes on some other extraneous bills, one of which included the DREAM Act. …

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin — perhaps slightly dismayed at no mention of the National Defense Authorization Act — prodded Reid to “say something about the Defense bill.”

Oh yeah … that. “We’re also trying to figure out a time to move forward on the defense authorization bill,” Reid added, along with offering some minutiae about process and time being too scarce to debate the bill without putting limitations on the number of amendments and length of debate.

In other words, it’s not on Reid’s radar. Especially now that  he can’t milk it for the midterm elections.

Kerry also notes that DADT repeal hasn’t made the White House’s list of “must-haves” for the lame duck session. In fact, the White House’s list just happens to match Reid’s list to a tee. It’s also not among the White House’s talking points, nor does Press Secretary Robert Gibbs mention it unless asked directly — usually by Eleveld.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates can read the tea leaves as well as anyone. While he has supported DADT’s repeal from the very beginning, he told sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea today, “I’d have to say I’m not particularly optimistic that they’re going to get this done.”

There’s a lot of talk that the demise of DADT repeal reflects Obama’s lack of leadership on this issue, but I disagree. I think it’s time we recognized that the White House HAS been showing leadership on DADT. It’s just not the kind of leadership we expected when he said its repeal would a a priority for him. Examples of Obama’s leadership include:

  • Setting the contentious midterm year of 2010 as the year for repeal.
  • Agreeing to a timetable that called for the Pentagon to study repeal but not complete its work or release its report until December — with just one month left before the 111th Congress expires.
  • Actively discouraging any attempt to repeal DADT before the Pentagon releases its report.
  • Refusing to lobby Capital Hill for DADT’s repeal.
  • Opposing DADT’s demise through the courts by appealing the decision striking down DADT as unconstitutional.

Just as Harry Reid got exactly what he wanted when he deliberately set DADT repeal up for failure last September, we would have to be the world’s greatest fools not to conclude that Obama has gotten exactly what he wanted in this entire debacle as well. The entire strategy was laid out too deliberately to conclude otherwise. How this consciously engineered fiasco is supposed to serve him, I haven’t the foggiest clue. But then, I’m not the one make the political calculations here. All I can do is look at the evidence that is right in front of my nose. And it reeks.

And by the way, the HRC’s political calculator is worse than the President’s. Remember when Joe Solmonese was so confident in Obama’s plan? Good times.

Who Does The HRC Represent Anyway?

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2010

HRC?After the White House has failed to lobby the Senate for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s” repeal while vigorously defending DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, guess how the Human Rights Campaign made their displeasure with the White House’s lack of leadership known.

That’s right. They invited White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett to be their featured speaker at their gala fundraiser Saturday night. Not only that, but HRC lauded both Jarret and the White House, saying “She and President Obama both care deeply about equality and are strong supporters of those of us fighting for LGBT rights.”

If the White House’s inaction represents “strong support,” I can’t even begin to imagine what weak support would look like.

Servicemembers United, who has actually been lobbying very strongly for DADT’s repeal and whose representatives on Capital Hill alerted everyone to the sham vote that took place in the Senate last month, fired off a statement asking that Jarrett meet with LGBT veterans before attending the swank black-tie dinner:

“We certainly do not feel like the White House is a ‘strong supporter’ of gay and lesbian troops and veterans right now,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army human intelligence collector who was also discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “Before she appears at a black-tie fundraiser to tout the administration’s ‘strong support,’ Jarrett should meet and talk with those who have actually been impacted by this discriminatory law and who continue to fight this uphill battle for the lives and livelihoods of gay and lesbian troops. To ignore the reality of the administration’s choices, a reality manifested in our daily lives, while appearing at a party hosted by an organization that has given cover to this administration would be incredibly insulting.”

Nicholson really nails it when he accuses HRC of giving the administration cover. In May of 2009 — seventeen months ago! — HRC had already given Obama a blank check to maybe repeal DADT whenever, after emerging from a meeting with the White House over impatience with the administration’s foot-dragging clear back then. “They have a vision,” Joe Solmonese, HRC’s head honcho said. “They have a plan.”Later in October, Solmonese grew a tiny piece of a vertebra when he finally gave the White House a strict deadline for DADT’s repeal: January 19, 2017, the last day of Obama’s presumed second term in office.

HRC’s “fierce advocacy” on behalf of the Obama administration when into overdrive again yesterday in response to Servicemembers United’s criticism, with this statement from Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications:

“These latest hijinks by Nicholson are part of a troubling pattern of irrational, unprofessional, and unproductive behavior,” Sainz said. “[Nicholson’s] rant is also without substance. The Administration helped to craft the legislation that was successfully voted on by the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Never before has a Defense Secretary or a Joint Chiefs chairman publicly supported repeal. This president got them there, and for that, he deserves our gratitude.”

Gratitude people, please!

Nicholson wasn’t having any part of that:

Nicholson responded to HRC’s statement on Saturday: “When the spokesperson for the largest gay organization stoops to vicious personal attacks against committed, unpaid staff of the smallest gay organization, you know there’s a problem with the former,” he said. “While I have more professionalism, rationality, and class than to return the favor and attack Sainz personally, I think this official ‘response’ from the Human Rights Campaign speaks volumes as to who is truly holding the administration’s feet to the fire on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'”

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