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Posts for October, 2009

Maine’s “Yes” Side Claims LGBT Groups Contributed $5 Million to Defeat Question 1

Jim Burroway

October 25th, 2009

This is amazing. Stand for Marriage Maine’s web page says this:

Your support will help us stand up to the vast network of wealthy homosexuals with seemingly unlimited resources from places like Hollywood, New York and Massachusetts. Washington, D.C.’s largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization has already pledged to spend as much as $5 million to try to defeat us.

Five million dollars from the Human Rights Campaign? Let’s review. According to campaign filings by both sides, Protect Maine Equality’s three largest donors are:

  • Portland resident Donald Sussman, $500,000.
  • The Human Rights Campaign, $220,000.
  • The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, $140,000.

These three contributions altogether make up only 22% of Protect Maine Equality’s total budget. The rest has come from ordinary contributors like you.

Now let’s look at Stand for Marriage Maine. Their top three contributors are:

  • National Organization for Marriage: $1.5 million.
  • Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland: $550,000.
  • Focus On the Family: $114,500.

Altogether, these three organizations alone have provided 83% of Stand for Marriage Maine’s total budget.

Who’s trying to buy an election while pulling the wool over the eyes of Maine voters?

NOM Doubles Its Maine War Chest, Claims Special Rights

Jim Burroway

October 24th, 2009

The Bangor Daily News reports that Stand for Marriage Maine, the group pushing to strip LGBT Mainers of their right to marry, has almost doubled its war chest in the past three weeks. They raised $1.4 million in October, bringing their total amount raised to $2.6 million, according to reports filed Friday with the Maine Ethics Commission. Guess where the money came from:

But $1.1 million of the $1.4 million raised by Stand for Marriage Maine in October came from a single source: the National Organization for Marriage. In fact, the Washington, D.C., organization has bankrolled more than 60 percent of the campaign to ban same-sex marriages in Maine.

The No on 1 campaign, meanwhile, claims to have received contributions from more than 22,000 donors, compared to slightly more than 700 donors to the opposing camp.

This brings NOM’s total investment to $1.5 million, according to the Associated Press. By my calculations, that’s actually 58% of the total. But still, that’s pretty amazing. One out-of-state special interest group is trying to purchase an election, lock, stock and barrel.  The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has contributed a total of $550,000 to the “yes” campaign. Another $114,500 came from Focus On the Family. Together, these three groups alone account for 83% of Stand for Marriage Maine’s total budget.

And yet, despite the fact that the National Organization for Marriage is paying the lion’s share of the bill, they are in court demanding that they be held above Maine’s financial disclosure laws:

NOM’s financial role in the Maine campaign will be discussed in federal court in Portland on Monday when a judge hears arguments in a complaint the group filed against the state.

Earlier this month, the Maine Ethics Commission voted 3-2 to investigate whether NOM was skirting campaign finance laws in order to avoid disclosing the identities of contributors. A complaint against NOM alleges the organization, which played a key role in overturning California’s gay marriage law last November, funnels money to Stand for Marriage Maine while promising donors confidentiality.

NOM responded earlier this week by challenging the constitutionality of Maine’s law requiring “ballot question committees” to file detailed campaign finance reports.

Protect Maine EqualityMeanwhile, campaign finance reports also show that Protect Maine Equality has raised more than $4 million so far. This includes $1.4 million raised in October, matching Stand for Marriage Maine’s fundraising from the same period. While the nearly 80% of the Yes side’s money during that period came from NOM, most of Protect Maine Equality’s fundraising came from individual donors during the same period.

Protect Maine Equality also reports some large donors, but nothing like the outright attempted purchase of an entire campaign by NOM. According to the Bangor Daily News, Portland resident Donald Sussman has contributed more than $500,000. The Human Rights Campaign kicked in $220,000 in donations and in-kind goods and services, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has contributed about $140,000 in funds, goods, and services.

Altogether, these three major donors make up only 22% of Protect Maine Equality’s total take. The rest, as they say, comes from people like you. Please donate today.

HRC Responds

Jim Burroway

October 14th, 2009

HRC president Joe Solmonese responds to accusations that he gave President Barack Obama a pass until 2017:

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the reaction some people had to my comment that on the last day of President Obama’s term, we will be able to look back on many accomplishments in LGBT rights. I still find it hard to believe that anyone thought I was saying that we should be content to wait patiently for our equality. What I said—and what I believe in my heart—is just the opposite.

We all worked hard to elect a President who supports our rights and now that we’re in a position to make change happen, the last thing we should do is wait.  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DOMA are still on the books and an inclusive ENDA has yet to become law.  Real families are left without protections and people living with HIV and AIDS aren’t getting the care they need.  Students are being bullied in school because they’re different and bi-national couples are treated like they’ve never met.  While we’ve started to turn the tide, it’s clear that our community has a lot of reasons to be angry and impatient, and I’m thankful to the tens of thousands who joined us in Washington this weekend to demand a change.

So while I steadfastly believe that we will have accomplished an awful lot by the time President Obama leaves office, I know that wishing won’t make it so.

…That is why our confidence in what we will accomplish under this President is not misplaced.  At the end of the day, it is confidence in ourselves.  I have confidence in the LGBT community and the people who support us.  We will claim the equality that is our birthright, day by day, vote by vote, law by law.

The entire statement is here. In effect, Solmonese hitches his success squarely on the Obama administration. Time will tell whether that’s a wise choice.

Candidate Obama Addresses HRC

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2009

Barack Obama at the HRCWhen he becomes President, he’s going to sign the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, he’ll sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if it ever sees the light of day, and sometime during his presidency he’s going to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Oh, and he’s gonna appoint a gay ambassador or two, and we’re all invite to the big Easter Egg roll.

Seriously, I guess it was a good speech — a great one considering that it reflects the sentiment of a sitting president. “My commitment to you is unwavering,” he said, and I actually believe it as far as the speech goes. Which makes it a home-run of a speech when compared to previous Presidents’ speeches I can name. And I really like the way he promised to stand behind his LGBT appointees against a blistering attack by the right.

And we must not lose sight of the fact that he is appearing before a major LGBT advocacy group. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall a president speaking before, say, Focus On the Family or at the Values Voter Summit. Obama’s presence at the HRC made for about an hour’s worth of video tape which can be used by his opponents in 2010 and 2012. Meanwhile his remarks will be discussed on Sunday morning talk shows and news outlets across America among the larger American audience who really hasn’t been much engaged in these issues. The topics he raised went out to a much broader audience, and not just to the LGBT people and their allies in that room. These are no small things. Let’s take a moment to be grateful for it.

..

..

Okay. Moment’s over. I think we’ve all heard this speech before. It’s an oldie but goodie. I’ll never tire of hearing it. But the great thing about being President is that he can do a whole lot more than just give speeches to the diehard faithful. Now that, you know, he’s actually President, he has a tremendous bully pulpit with Congress — and with voters in Maine and Washington (which, by the way, he didn’t mention). There are some Executive Orders he can sign on DADT, and some DOJ briefs on DOMA he can influence. You know, Presidential executive-type stuff. Action-type stuff.

I hope this time next year, we’ll get to hear from President Obama, not Candidate Obama.

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Gay, Inc., vs Gay Advocavy

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2009

Two fierce advocates: The HRC’s Joe Solmonese defends the Administration while Cleve Jones defends the LGBT community.

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I’m amazed that after Solmonese protests that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is tricky and will be time-consuming, he decides to shift gears over the administration’s inaction on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Out of nowhere Solmonese comes to life and declares that “the most significant thing the President can do is overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. That is immediately within his power.” Which, of course, it isn’t. It’s a law that Congress has to overturn. But after seven minutes sitting next to a real advocate, I guess he had to say something.

HRC Sets A Deadline for Obama: 2017

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2009

Wow. Talk about cutting the administration a lot of slack and eliminating all pressure. It looks to me as though HRC president Joe Solmonese is vying to be Obama’s next Press Secretary. His latest roll-over comes via John Aravosis at gay.Americablog:

But what has he [Obama] done?

I’ve written that we have actually covered a good deal of ground so far. But I’m not going to trot out those advances right now because I have something more relevant to say: It’s not January 19, 2017.

That matters for two reasons: first, the accomplishments that we’ve seen thus far are not the Obama Administration’s record. They are the Administration’s record so far….

I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will look back on the President’s address to my community as an affirmation of his pledge to be our ally. I will remember it as the day when we all stood together and committed to finish what Senator Kennedy called our unfinished business. And I am sure of this: on January 19, 2017, I will also look back on many other victories that President Barack Obama made possible.

This is the second blank check Solmonese has given to the Obama administration this year. Does anyone recall any of our opponents giving George W. Bush and the GOP a tw0-term pass for passing their agenda? Me neither. I guess that’s why they got so much of what they wanted through the Congress and White House. But the HRC wants us to hold our tongues and sit on our hands for the next seven years. And just trust that change will come. It’s good to see that this president has such a fierce advocate in the HRC.

Unbelievable. And yet so completely in character.  Why do they still exist?

Update: Towleroad has the complete email, and Solmonese responds. I’m willing to dial back my criticisms a little — a little. Solmonese’s full email highlights some critical disagreements with the Obama administration, so he’s not exactly the administration’s de facto press secretary. And in his response, Solmonese rightfully points out that Aravosis carefully selected a few choice quotes for maximum outrage while ignoring everything else. Unfortunately, it’s what he does.

But go back and read that email again. I agree with Aravosis on this: Don’t tell me to wait and see where we’re at in 2017. I’m worried about the 2010 congressional elections. Plus, we’re still going to have a contested presidential election in 2012. Solmonese is working on a seven year timeline because he assumes Obama will still be around in 2013 with, what? — an even friendlier Congress than we have now? At the rate we’re going, we’ll be lucky if we get Hate Crimes and maybe ENDA. DADT? DOMA? Unless we see big changes, color me skeptical.

This email, even in its entirety, exhibits the sort of comfortable complacency and lack of urgency that we’ve come to expect from the HRC.

Rewarding Intentions

Timothy Kincaid

October 9th, 2009

President Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some around the world objected to the choice of Obama, who still oversees wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has launched deadly counter-terror strikes in Pakistan and Somalia.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee countered that it was trying “to promote what he stands for and the positive processes that have started now.” It lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama’s calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen the U.S. role in combating climate change.

If we are now presenting awards based on intentions and promises rather than on actions and accomplishments, then no doubt the Human Rights Campaign will be awarding the President on Saturday with the Fierce Advocate Award.

Obama To Speak At HRC Dinner

Jim Burroway

October 5th, 2009

Barack Obama's LGBT Civil Rights ScorecardIt’s eleven months after the election, and we still don’t have hate crimes protection. That was supposed to be the easy one. Now even that is in doubt. But we’re still gonna gather at his feet and be thankful for the crumbs, aren’t we?

President Obama will speak to a gathering of gay rights activists this weekend, a day before thousands of people are expected to march on Washington in a demonstration calling for greater legal protections for gays, lesbians and transgendered Americans.

Mr. Obama’s appearance on Saturday at the annual dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights advocacy group, represents a significant show of support for gay rights at a time when many prominent gay and lesbian activists have been questioning the president’s commitment to their issues.

“Significant show of support”? How about something tangible we can really use, besides a great speech and a Salisbury steak.

The White House Wants To Buy Us A Drink

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

June 22nd, 2009

Last week, word went out that the Justice Department will meet with LGBT groups to try to iron out how the Justice Department can go forward with future litigation with DOMA without insulting a key group of fellow Americans. I think that has the potential of being a very good move, and I’m glad LGBT advocacy groups are being invited to this working meeting. But we are also learning that the White House plans on inviting LGBT leadership to a cocktail party of some sort later in the week. I can’t think of anything more inappropriate than that.

I think Michelangelo Signorile sums it up just right. I agree that it was important for LGBT leaders to be on hand when President Barack Obama signed the president’s memorandum providing for very limited benefits for gay employees. It was, as Signorile points out, LGBT business, and we expect LGBT leaders to be on hand whenever LGBT business is being conducted. And it’s good that LGBT leaders will be meeting with the Justice Department tomorrow. Again, more business.

But a cocktail party? I can’t imagine that any self-respecting gay person would agree to go to a cocktail party at this stage in our difficult relationship with the current administration, although I have to concede that House and Senate Republicans, even some of the most conservative ones, have taken the White House up on similar invitations.

But still, I think that attending a cocktail party sends two wrong signals. One, serious business like what we’ve gone through over the past week calls for serious and frank meetings. What we need is actual movement on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and (this one was supposed to be “easy”) finally enacting the Hate Crimes bill that was supposed to have come out this week but now is more likely before Congress recesses in August, if Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid can be taken at his word. We’re looking for real movement and a plan forward, not drinks and witty reparté.

And there’s another message that I have trouble squaring. The Human Rights Campaign in particular has labored under criticisms of being too cozy with the Washington power structure, and that those cozy relationships have led the HRC to go easy on pressing for important issues like repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That’s the perception, and it’s one that the HRC may just now be growing sensitive to. This latest flap over the Justice Department’s DOMA brief led the HRC to play catch-up with grassroots anger and suspicion, and they did that by issuing an unusually sternly worded letter to the White House. If the HRC really wants to shed its image of the go-along-to-get-along Washington schmoozing machine, the worst thing they could do would be to take the White House up on this latest invitation.

It looks like, for the time being, our relationship with the Obama administration can be divided into two periods: pre-DOMA brief and post-DOMA brief. In the pre-DOMA brief days, this party would have been seen as a good sign. We would have rejoiced that the White House engaged in this symbolic act, and the HRC would have basked in the glow. But that was before the DOMA brief — and before there were cocktail invitations. That brief changed everything. One way to understand the negative reaction surrounding the presidentail memorandum is that symbolic acts no longer cut it. LGBT leaders need to be cognizant of that or risk their own relevance in the LGBT community.

Update: I’ve changed my mind.

Military Paper Confirms HRC’s Deal to De-Prioritize ‘Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell’

Timothy Kincaid

June 22nd, 2009

Early this month we told you of a report by Jason Bellini which claimed that HRC had derailed the repeal of the military’s anti-gay ‘Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell’ policy in favor of fast-tracking the bills which they support. HRC strongly denied the claim.

However, the military paper Stars and Stripes is confirming the claim:

An official with the House Democratic leadership said the House is committed to repealing “don’t ask” but has agreed with civil rights groups to put new hate crime legislation and a workplace nondiscrimination bill on the legislative calendar before taking up the military issue.

Stars and Stripes also reminds us that legislation is ready to go and just waiting for the President’s support:

The House of Representatives has had a bill to overturn the law pending since March, but no hearings have been scheduled on the measure. Bill sponsor Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., collected 147 co-sponsors for the legislation but publicly said she wouldn’t push for passage without support from the president.

And they raise an interesting observation about the limitations on the new benefits announced by the President last week:

But planned changes don’t contain any privacy or anonymity guarantees. Edmund Burns, spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, said everyone applying for benefits is essentially “outing” themselves and their partners.

That means a Defense Department employee with a same-sex partner in the military could run afoul of the “don’t ask” rules.

Pentagon officials said they are not aware of any plans to adopt special guidelines shielding benefits information from “don’t ask” investigations.

Reactions To Obama Administration’s Defense of DOMA

Jim Burroway

June 12th, 2009

Reactions to news that the Obama administration is defending the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” against a constitutional challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court are pouring in fast and furious. We go first to the Human Rights Campaign:

[HRC President Joe Solmonese said,] “Mr. President, you have called DOMA ‘abhorrent’ and pledged to be a fierce advocate for our community.  As we approach the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, it is time for you to use your leadership to translate these principles into meaningful action.”

HRC also has grave concerns about the arguments that the Administration put forth in this case, arguments that simply do not reflect the experiences that LGBT people face or the contributions that they make. The Administration’s brief claims that DOMA is a valid exercise of Congress’s power, is consistent with Equal Protection or Due Process principles, and does not impinge upon rights that are recognized as fundamental.  The brief further claims that DOMA is a “neutral” federal position on same-sex marriages, and permits the states to determine on their own whether to recognize same-sex marriages. The most alarming argument, grounded neither in fact nor in law, reads as follows:

[DOMA amounts to] a cautious policy of federal neutrality towards a new form of marriage. DOMA maintains federal policies that have long sought to promote the traditional and uniformly-recognized form of marriage, recognizes the right of each State to expand the traditional definition if it so chooses, but declines to obligate federal taxpayers in other States to subsidize a form of marriage that their own states do not recognize.

“Same-sex couples and their families are not seeking subsidies,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.  “We pay taxes equally, contribute to our communities equally, support each other equally, pay equally into Social Security, and participate equally in our democracy.  Equal protection is not a handout.  It is our right as citizens,” he said.

From Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund:

“DOMA is and has always been an immoral attack on same-sex couples, our families and our fundamental humanity. This law has only served to discriminate against Americans and belittle our nation’s heralded values embracing freedom, fairness and justice. The Task Force Action Fund demands President Obama and Congress immediately repeal this hateful law, which has left a moral scar on our nation and its worthy pursuit of equal justice for all.

“Unfortunately, the malicious and outrageous arguments and language used in the Department of Justice’s marriage brief is only serving to inflame and malign the humanity of same-sex couples and our families. This is unacceptable.

“This ugly chapter in our nation’s history must come to an end now with the repeal of DOMA.”

From Executive Director Geoff Kors of Equality California:

We are outraged the Obama Administration filed a brief defending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act — a law Obama promised to repeal when running for President. It is unacceptable that he is defending DOMA instead of supporting its repeal as unconstitutional. And the justification that Congress has the right to deny one minority equal benefits as a way to save money is truly offensive. We not only call on President Obama to order the Justice Department to file a supplemental brief reversing its position and instead urging the repeal of DOMA, but we also demand the president demonstrates that he is the ‘fierce’ advocate he once claimed to be by publicly calling for the end to all discrimination against LGBT Americans — including the immediate repeal of this law so same-sex couples legally married in their home state receive the same federal benefits and protections as opposite-sex couples

From a broad coalition of advocacy groups (no link yet):

We are very surprised and deeply disappointed in the manner in which the Obama administration has defended the so-called Defense of Marriage Act against Smelt v. United States, a lawsuit brought in federal court in California by a married same-sex couple asking the federal government to treat them equally with respect to federal protections and benefits. The administration is using many of the same flawed legal arguments that the Bush administration used. These arguments rightly have been rejected by several state supreme courts as legally unsound and obviously discriminatory.

We disagree with many of the administration’s arguments, for example that DOMA is a valid exercise of Congress’s power, is consistent with Equal Protection or Due Process principles, and does not impinge upon rights that are recognized as fundamental.

We are also extremely disturbed by a new and nonsensical argument the administration has advanced suggesting that the federal government needs to be “neutral” with regard to its treatment of married same-sex couples in order to ensure that federal tax money collected from across the country not be used to assist same-sex couples duly married by their home states. There is nothing “neutral” about the federal government’s discriminatory denial of fair treatment to married same-sex couples: DOMA wrongly bars the federal government from providing any of the over one thousand federal protections to the many thousands of couples who marry in six states. This notion of “neutrality” ignores the fact that while married same-sex couples pay their full share of income and social security taxes, they are prevented by DOMA from receiving the corresponding same benefits that married heterosexual taxpayers receive. It is the married same-sex couples, not heterosexuals in other parts of the country, who are financially and personally damaged in significant ways by DOMA. For the Obama administration to suggest otherwise simply departs from both mathematical and legal reality.

When President Obama was courting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters, he said that he believed that DOMA should be repealed. We ask him to live up to his emphatic campaign promises, to stop making false and damaging legal arguments, and immediately to introduce a bill to repeal DOMA and ensure that every married couple in America has the same access to federal protections.

Signed:
American Civil Liberties Union
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders
Human Rights Campaign
Lambda Legal
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce

And from PFLAG:

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National expressed deep disappointment and strong opposition to the Department of Justice’s recent arguments regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the dismissal of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a gay couple who married in California.

“Since DOMA’s enactment in 1996, PFLAG has vocally opposed this blatant and malicious law, which enables legal discrimination against our gay and lesbian loved ones and denies them the right to protect their families and receive equal treatment under the law,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG. “We are deeply offended by the DOJ’s recent arguments and alarmed by the hurtful language that further denigrates our families and friends.”

“PFLAG continues to urge President Obama to explore options to repeal this immoral and unethical law that leaves our families and friends unprotected and unequal. DOMA hurts our families and friends by denying them more than 1,100 federal benefits legally recognized married couples currently receive from the federal government. When families are hurt, communities are weakened and all of America suffers. In the name of basic equality and fairness, we ask that the Administration fulfill its commitment to advancing equality for LGBT Americans by acting immediately to overturn this law,” Huckaby concluded.

Everybody Favors Ending Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell

Timothy Kincaid

June 5th, 2009

A new Gallup poll shows that everyone is sick of the ban on gay men and women in the military. Every measured demographic answered the following question favorably:

Do you favor or oppose allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military.

The highest level of support came from “liberals” at 86%. But open service was favored by 60% of “weekly church goers”, 58% of “Republicans”, and 58% of “conservatives”.

As best I can tell, the only demographics who are not in favor of lifting the ban are “White House occupants”, “elected representatives”, and (perhaps) “HRC lobbyists”.

Kevin Naff: HRC Blowup “Much Ado About Not Much”

Jim Burroway

June 5th, 2009

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff has a blog post which extensively covers about a year’s worth of comments by various politicos and activists which peg the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the end of 2009 or early 2010. He points out that the priority has always been for passing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act first, with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” following sometime later. So he thinks the latest report from The Daily Beast is “much ado about not much,” mostly covering the same ground that we’ve already covered. But what is new is the LGBT community’s growing frustration over the slow pace of progress:

If Congress wakes up and finally passes some of these long-suffering bills, then HRC will claim victory. If, however, our so-called Democratic “allies” can’t pass ENDA and hate crimes and a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is off the table come December 2009, then the entire movement is a bust and everyone working in it should resign and make way for more effective leadership. There will never be a better time to advance these measures. The Democrats have made lots of promises to LGBT voters and, more importantly to them, to gay donors. We’ve waited patiently for those politicians to deliver. Come December, my patience runs out. The clock is ticking.

HRC Feels the Heat, But Still Doesn’t Get The Message

Jim Burroway

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.

Has HRC Sold Out Gay Servicepersons?

Timothy Kincaid

June 4th, 2009

Many of us have been wondering why the President has not taken steps to protect service men and women who are being expelled from the military when they are needed most. And we wonder why Congress isn’t proactively responding to the change in administration to throw out the hugely unpopular Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell policy. With overwhelming majorities of Americans offended by the mistreatment – and even a majority of Republicans opposed to DADT – why does it still exist?

Jason Bellini, reporting for the Daily Beast, has a surprising explanation. He says that HRC told them to wait.

Now HRC may think that their Hate Crimes lobbying is vastly more important than the lives of an estimated 231 gay military folk who have lost their livelihood, pension, and homes since President Obama took office. I don’t.

And if HRC is cutting deals behind the back of other groups like the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network so that they can get their legislation passed first, then I have no use for them. And neither will the new young activists who are rising up to take the fight for their liberties and freedoms into their own hands. The more that HRC appears to be a secretive, back-room dealing, insiders club, the more they will be blamed for the failure of the “establishment gays” to win rights, freedom, and equality for the community.

Update: HRC is denying the story

“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.”

Trevor Thomas
The Human Rights Campaign

Are Lawsuits The Best Way To Go?

Jim Burroway

May 27th, 2009

I welcomed conservative Attorney Theodore Olson’s eagerness to try to overturn Prop 8 in federal court. But when I wrote that, I only addressed the fact that even conservatives are coming around to the idea that discrimination is fundamentally un-American.

What I didn’t address was the wisdom of trying to bring about change in the courts, especially when this particular tactic has almost no chance for success. I don’t think it’s wise to proceed in the courts. Eight prominent LGBT organizations agree:

In response to the California Supreme Court decision allowing Prop 8 to stand, four LGBT legal organizations and five other leading national LGBT groups are reminding the LGBT community that ill-timed lawsuits could set the fight for marriage back. The groups released a new publication, “Why the ballot box and not the courts should be the next step on marriage in California” (PDF: 70KB/3 pages). This publication discourages people from bringing premature lawsuits based on the federal Constitution because, without more groundwork, the U.S. Supreme Court likely is not yet ready to rule that same-sex couples cannot be barred from marriage. The groups also revised “Make Change, Not Lawsuits” (PDF: 105KB/7 pages). which was released after the California Supreme Court decision ending the ban on marriage for same-sex couples in California. This publication encourages couples who have legally married to ask friends, neighbors and institutions to honor their marriages, but discourages people from bringing lawsuits. [Hyperlinks added]

I tend to agree. The problem though is this: the LGBT movement has never been a monolith. Unlike the caricature painted by our opponents, there really has never been a behind-the-scenes entity to dictate a coordinated strategy. Advancement has been a messy process, at the ballot box, in the legislatures and in the courts.

But the whole reason that we have courts is they are the ones charged with dispensing justice for those with legitimate grievances. And when someone has a legitimate grievance, it’s hard to argue that they should not exercise their constitutional right to their day in court. This true whether that grievance is against negligent employer operating an unsafe work environment, a drunk driver whose recklessness resulted in the death of a loved one, or a state with discriminatory laws.

But I do think that the LGBT advocacy groups’ advice is what we need to heed now (PDF: 70KB/3 pages):

Rather than filing premature lawsuits, we need to talk to our friends, family and neighbors, and help them understand why denial of the freedom to marry is wrong. We need to build a vigorous, aggressive campaign to overturn Prop 8 and restore the freedom to marry in California. This is the moment to convince California and America that we should have the freedom to marry.

I hope Mr. Olson will consider deploying his considerable legal talents to help us win in other ways.

“The Fierce Urgency Of Whenever”

Jim Burroway

May 13th, 2009

Andrew Sullivan taps into the impatience that many of us are feeling surrounding the Obama administration’s delay and prevarication on LGBT issues:

Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level. Here I am, facing a looming deadline to be forced to leave my American husband for good, and relocate abroad because the HIV travel and immigration ban remains in force and I have slowly run out of options (unlike most non-Americans with HIV who have no options at all).

And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. We’re firing Arab linguists? So sorry. We won’t recognize in any way a tiny minority of legally married couples in several states because they’re, ugh, gay? We had no idea. There’s a ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants? Really? Thanks for letting us know. Would you like to join Joe Solmonese and John Berry for cocktails? The inside of the White House is fabulous these days.

Two weeks ago, the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese emerged from a White House meeting with a blank check allowing the administration to delay away. He announced that he was pleased with the meeting. “They have a vision,” he said. “They have a plan.” So I guess there’s no need for the HRC to risk its White House access to apply any pressure.

And so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the White House takes its cues from LGBT advocates. That may explain why White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave the longest series of non-answers yesterday to some rather simple questions from ABC New’s Jack Tapper on LGBT issues that we’ve seen in a long time. No pressure? No problem.

HRC adds four anti-gay voices to its wall of shame

Gabriel Arana

March 27th, 2009

The Human Rights Campaign has added four entries to its list of anti-gay voices at endtheLies.org. Here are the names, with quips:

America Forever, a Utah-based group, has been faxing hateful flyers denouncing marriage for lesbian and gay couples to businesses in Vermont, where marriage equality legislation is currently under consideration in the state legislature. The group claims that marriage for lesbian and gay couples would trample on the rights of children and that “HRC of the homosexuals is the most powerful lobbying group in the world.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the HRC were in fact the most powerful lobbying group in the world? Maybe, maybe not, but this is certainly not the case. Why the insistence on using the medical term “homosexuality”?

National Organization for Marriage (NOM) created an anti-marriage equality radio ad playing in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. NOM’s website falsely and outlandishly warns that “religious groups may be denied the use of parks and other public facilities, unless they endorse gay marriage.” The three targeted states are all considering pro-LGBT equality legislation.

I have never understood the fundamentalist Christian persecution complex, which seems to interpret anything in society not in line with its worldview to be an instance of oppression that invariably means a Christian Holocaust is coming.

Elaine Donnelly, President of the Center for Military Readiness, claims that allowing lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military will sanction “inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community” and “the ensuing sexual tension will hurt discipline and morale.”

Is this woman afraid that soldiers sent into battle can’t withstand a catty remark or two?

Hawaii State Minority Leader, Rep. Lynn Finnegan, voted against HB 444, a Hawaii civil unions bill. She said, “If we push to have government certify or make legal a union or marriage between the same sex, I believe that we push what is accepted to what will be promoted.”

When will politicians understand that accepting gay people does not mean there will be more gay people; it will just mean that they aren’t confined to the closet.

HRC Calls For Action In Illinois

Jim Burroway

March 4th, 2009

Responding to our post about the email blast sent from a Nauvoo, Illinois bishop to members of his ward, the Human Rights Campaign has issued an action alert asking supporters call their representatives to urge passage of a proposed civil unions bill. The HRC also calls on supporters to contact the Mormon Temple in Nauvoo to express their displeasure over the church’s “deceitful and fear-mongering email.”

The HRC’s message recalls the highly visible position the Mormon church took in California’s and Arizona’s 2008 anti-marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the recent dumping of even the most minimal protections for same-sex couples in Utah. They also noted that many of the same false claims that made their way into the California campaign has also turned up in the Nauvoo email.

The HRC’s message continues:

No more lies! Church leaders want to spread their distortions in secrecy, but it’s time to shine a light on their insidious and devious work. And you can help!

Please let the Nauvoo Illinois Mormon Temple — the church responsible for authorizing this deceitful and fear-mongering email — know that enough is enough. No more lies. No more secrecy. You can reach them by calling (217) 453-6252.

Then take a moment and let members of the Youth and Family Committee in the Illinois State Legislature know that you support The Civil Union Bill (HB 2234).

Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago)
Chairperson
(217) 782-3835

Rep. LaShawn K. Ford (D-Chicago)
Vice-Chairperson
(217) 782-5962

Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago)
Republican Spokesperson
(217) 782-1653

Rep. William D. Burns (D-Chicago)
(217) 782-2023

Rep. Michael P. McAuliffe (D-Chicago)
(217) 782-8182

Rep. Al Riley (D-Matteson)
(217) 558-1007

Rep. Dave Winters (R-Rockford)
(217) 782-0455

Directions for identifying your legislators:

Click here to identify your state legislators and their contact information and enter your 9 digit zip code. If this link doesn’t work, you can also click here and then click on “legislator lookup” near the bottom of the page, then click on “by zip+4″. Type in your zip code, and you’ll see a list of your legislators. Make sure you contact your own state senator and state representative. It is important they hear the voices of pro-equality Illinois voters before they vote on this bill.

HRC’s Self-Parody

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2008

As angry protests continue to erupt across California in the wake of Prop 8′s passage, our so-called leaders at the “Human Rights Champagne” is ready to mix it up with — get this — spa night:

HRC invites you to an evening of pampering and relaxation while you sip wine, snack on appetizers, and mingle with friends! We are proud to partner with Nickel Spa on this evening spa event.

…Note: There is a 50 person maximum for this event, you must be on the list to attend! Receiving a service is not required to attend. 20% of proceeds from spa services to benefit the Human Rights Campaign.

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.

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