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Posts for February, 2012

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.