Bil Browning

Rumors Say HRC and Obama Plot to Help Most Queers Possible

Filed By Bil Browning | June 09, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Chuck Schumer, Don't Ask Don't Tell, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, Jason Bellini, Palm Center

Stop the presses! There's another controversy swirling around the Human Rights Campaign's role in winning gay rights!

This time the rumor mill has it that HRC has told the Obama administration that it's okay to stall on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell this year. Instead, the org has supposedly counseled the White House to focus on passing a hate crimes bill and employment non-discrimination laws. HRC denies the allegation, calling it an "outright lie."

The story first surfaced in a report from Daily Beast correspondent Jason Bellini who cited Senator Chuck Schumer and an unnamed source. Radio personality Michelangelo Signorile quoted Palm Center's Aaron Belkin confirming that HRC was working behind the scenes to get DADT pushed to the back burner. Schumer's office denied Bellini's claim, saying "...he never said the Human Rights Campaign struck some quote-unquote deal on this issue. Any rumors to the contrary are flat-out wrong."

I didn't post on the rumors at the time for two basic reasons.

  1. With so many rumors and denials floating around, no one really knows what's going on.
  2. Who cares if HRC did urge the White House to prioritize our issues? We did the same thing late last year.

While the rumor mill has HRC placing a higher value on ENDA and hate crimes legislation, a Bilerico Project poll from August 9, 2008 put a fully inclusive ENDA in the number one spot. Instead of hate crimes though, our second place winner was "relationship recognition" (aka marriage!). Don't Ask Don't Tell tied for next-to-last place with HIV/AIDS.

Poll Answers

Don't Ask Don't Tell has never been the hot organizing issue for the LGBT community. The reasons are myriad; many LGBT people don't want to join the military, others are opposed to violence and the military industrial complex, and a huge portion of the allied community simply didn't know any queer service members to personalize the story.

After Bill Clinton got his ass handed to him in the first few months of his administration when he tackled the issue of gays in the military, you can't blame Obama's advisers or LGBT leadership for being a little dubious about jumping headlong into the fray. We ended up with DADT because politicians weren't prepared for the political battle.

Organizations like Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Palm Center have done the due diligence of laying the groundwork for a full repeal of DADT. Obama has said he opposed the law and is working to repeal it. While it's considered a slam dunk, this is an issue you want to be 110% guaranteed you'll win on.

President Obama has committed to working for full LGBT equality - not just one or another issues. HRC has also committed to working for our rights. Whether or not we agree or disagree with either of their tactics or reasons, we can't dispute that they're fighting for our community in their own ways.

Both Obama and HRC have been accused of being elitist and stubborn. Yet, if the rumor is true, they've both done exactly the opposite. Instead of picking the low hanging fruit of DADT and helping only a small minority of our community, they picked the two issues that would help the most people.

National hate crimes legislation helps all of us; we'd all be protected. A fully inclusive ENDA would similarly protect everyone. Repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell only helps a small minority of our community who wants to serve in the military. Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act just benefits that small group of LGBT couples who live in a handful of states that recognize their relationships.

So if - if - HRC had a hand in guiding Obama's eye towards ENDA and hate crimes legislation before tackling the repeal of DADT, I'd like to extend a big fat thank you for promoting legislation that will give me protections I don't currently have.

Thanks for sharing the same priorities as the majority of our readers too, HRC. Because that is the most newsworthy aspect of the story - otherwise this story could be headlined, "Rumors Say HRC and Obama Plot to Help Most Queers Possible."

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Absolutely wrong. 100% wrong.

To suggest that one battle is more important than another because this one benefits you more is anti-equality and kind of...dickish.

You're setting up different levels of equality based on proportion of the community. If we're using your standard, transgender issues would be all the way at the bottom, likely never seeing the light of day because I get no benefit at all, just as most other LGBT people don't. That's just stupid and diametrically opposed to what we're supposed to be about.

There is absolutely no reason for DADT to continue damaging our community and the country (and the world, for that matter) while we wait for the government to get through the rest of the issues. There's absolutely no reason DOMA should stay on the books any longer than necessary because we have to form an orderly queue. There's absolutely no reason for transgender people to be left behind because there are fewer of them.

As for HRC, maybe the problem is that people keep calling them leaders, and that's not their job. They're lobbyists. That's a whole different skill set.

Hi Matt :)

Bad news for you.

If we were to use the standard described, then trans issues would be at the top. There are a Hell of a lot more of us than people (including ourselves) realize because transgender is a hell of a lot more than just transsexuals. Why, it even includes a massive organization of Straight Married Men!

Indeed, it includes the majority of the GLB population as children from 5 to 13 a well. Or had you not noticed what the diagnosis of GID in children is and is used as in order to apply still ethical reparative treatment to kids?

Just saying.

You are right, though -- prioritizing what can be dne right now for the wider community as a whole instead of just certain segments of it a little at a time -- say, incrementally -- is not what we are about.

We are about getting them all at once. Which a single org cannot do. It takes a lot of them.

A single org will always adapt and adjust its priorities according to the resources it decides are available.

So they will indeed prioritize.

Too bad its HRC, which claims leadership. They want to be leaders. They are described as such, they are self proclaimed as such.

Walks like a duck, talks like a duck, well...

"To suggest that one battle is more important than another"

It seems to me this is exactly what the "DADT now, forget everything else" crowd has been doing all along.

I agree with this:

As for HRC, maybe the problem is that people keep calling them leaders, and that's not their job. They're lobbyists. That's a whole different skill set.

But I think that setting priorities for the LGBT movement has been with it since the beginning and will continue, and people will usually call others "dickish" not so much when they say they believe in setting priorities, but more just when those priorities aren't the same as the speaker's.

Chitown Kev | June 9, 2009 4:26 PM

While I would agree that ENDA should be a higher priority for the gay community overall that Don't Ask, Don't Tell, maybe DADT is just a "sexier" issue? With possible national security implications?

And now, we can put faces, names, and jobs to the DADT.

Gosh I’m so glad that HRC is looking out for my best interests… I didn’t ask them to or vote for them or anything. (

I’m a Transgendered, Intersexed Veteran… (you can see where this is going..)
NO, making ‘priorities’ or helping to make priorities is stupid.

Tactically it is far easier to repeal DADT. It would only take a Presidential Executive Order.

Once DADT is repealed the Armed Forces would be forced to recognize same sex marriages from those states that have them because there would be gay/lesbian marriages. [Hell, there is now](major DUH on that one)

Strategically? It would result in a defacto repeal of DOMA. The Supreme Court would have to throw DOMA out if the Federal Government accepted Military members gay/lesbian marriages but not civilian ones. (once again, DUH)

Don’t ‘prioritize’ any rights,
All rights are our rights.

For DAT to die a quite death takes the stroke of a pen saying dont go after Gays and Lesbians in service let them serve.I know lots of vets who are now out so dont trivialize this issue because you hate there job. Now as to pirotitizeing issues yes thats a good idea but lets see EDNA and Hate crimes are basicly the same thing and yes DAT is part of the above to. So we can do all of the above at the same time if we put our minds to it.

Politics is a contact sport with no rules!

I emailed you earlier and said I wasn't going to post about this item for much the same reason: there are so many he said/she said's flying around with unnamed sources and denials that I have no idea who's telling the truth. It's hard to get worked up over something like that when it could all turn out to be nothing, especially considering that whoever these unnamed sources are they could just be HRC haters trying to stir the shit. And HRC doesn't have a history of scrupulous honesty either....

But I agree more generally with the idea that ENDA is more important than DADT repeal. While you say DADT "has never been the hot organizing issue for the LGBT community," it's important to remember that there's a small a powerful segment of our community, most of whom have not served in the military, who think that it's the #2 issue, right after marriage.

Remember that book by Andrew Sullivan saying that DADT and marriage were the only two issues? That hasn't died, as evidence by David Mixner a few weeks ago, in his call for a march on Washington, saying that it would be about marriage, and maybe a little about DADT, but definitely about nothing else.

Then again, they're denying it, so whatever. It would be a nonstory if not for that small, powerful, and often noisy sector of the LGBT community didn't throw a hissy fit over this. I suppose that's sort of the point - make sure that everyone in the community knows that DADT is supposed to come first, or at least second, but definitely before special rights for those folks who work for a living.

Oh, I forgot to say: Bil Browning hates the troops! I bet he doesn't even have a yellow ribbon sticker on his car!!!1!

I also also want to say that ENDA will be hard too. I can see why Obama might want to avoid DADT: the military is a tough cookie to fight against on policy, as Clinton learned. But big business isn't that easily pushed over either. Hate crimes seems to be the easiest of the bunch on the federal level because it at least sends people to prison.

Um, correction, Alex: it doesn't send anyone to prison.

It makes it possible to prosecute on a federal level when and if state level efforts fail or are ignored.

It also lifts the restriction of hate crimes sentencing enhancements to 6 specific crimes, opening up the possibility for those enhancements to be attached to anything else. Which is basically creating federal hate crimes enhancements since the current legislation is so toothless, which would send people to prison longer.

That an it, as you point out, gives more resources to local and state law enforcement, which should mean that more of these crimes get prosecuted and more people end up in prison. Unless the money would just be wasted....

When I say hate there job I mean just that lots of folks say they love the people but the job they do.So if I struck a nerve there so be it.Yes an executive order can make the law mute and end the dismissal and if some one is open its not a security issue hell kidds I used to have to have a Top Secret Clearance just to do my job years ago.
Politics is a contact sport with no rules.

opps make that but hate the job they do and still typo queen!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 10, 2009 12:42 AM

I have never gotten everything I have ever wanted simultaneously. This much is a great beginning and will build momentum.

A religious man goes to the mountaintop and asks God for "Just one thing" and if he gets that he will never ask for anything else. Once he gets that thing he immediately goes back with a list of additional things.

Thanks Bill

HRC denies this entire thing:

“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 lesbian and gay servicemembers,” said Brad Luna, communications director for Human Rights Campaign.

The HRC release also included reaction from Schumer’s office.

“Senator Schumer has never said the White House didn't consider the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' a priority, and he never said the Human Rights Campaign struck some quote-unquote deal on this issue. Any rumors to the contrary are flat-out wrong,” said Brian Fallon, spokesperson for U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.

Honestly this is looking more and more like Jason Bellini was engaged in some... reckless journalism. Who are his unnamed sources?

beachcomberT | June 10, 2009 8:12 AM

Priorities are a necessity but let's not let Congress off the hook by saying, in effect, one gay bill every year, (or every five years) fills their equality quota. My personal priority is Social Security reform, which could benefit millions of Boomer GLBT couples but remains a footnote in the so-called gay agenda. I'd say an inclusive Hate Crimes law should be our top priority this year because if you get bashed to death, then gay marriage, job security, military career, AIDS funding, etc. don't count for much.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 10, 2009 10:02 AM

People believe these rumors because HRC is damaged goods, and above all in their chosen field of work, lobbying. That’s largely their fault. For all their efforts since 1980 all they've managed to produce is a string of frustrating delays and disappointments. Lobbying is the least likely road to getting our agenda because it relies on the goodwill of our enemies in Congress.

Most critically, irrespective of their stated goals HRC has become little more than a front group for the Democrats, the party of DOMA and DADT, the party that ditched hate crimes and gutted and then ditched ENDA in 2007 to pander to bigots. HRC sided with rightists like Barney Frank on ENDA. More recently, combined with EQCA and No on 8, their general strategy in California surrendered the fight against Prop 8 and subsumed it to electing Obama. That betrayal was qualitatively worse than their treachery during the Democrats attack on ENDA.

The key question of priorities won't be solved in blog discussion. What they do is illuminate the growing divisions in the movement on questions of priorities, democracy and inclusiveness in the movement (there isn’t any) and the utter failure of relying of Democrats. Those questions can only be addressed by a nationwide, democratically run LGBT left is created.

The gay rights organization who sold out the trans community on ENDA and the President who wiped his promises to our community off the White House website are not to be trusted. Their only "plot" is to get him and his no-action self re-elected.

The people who keep saying all you have to do with DADT is sign an executive order are driving me crazy.

The military is a huge behemoth and signing an executive order without having a process in order to bring the generals onto your side, have trained military personnel, and started a conversation with rank and file military persons- would create a shit storm that would be terrible.

Yes, Obama can sign an executive order, but to do so without putting all the pieces in place in the field and hierarchy would to me, seem to put our LGBT troop in even more harm's way.

Do it right, don't do it hurried.

That said, I'm one of those who hear from many many people who are fired or discriminated against everyday in the workplace for just being LGBT so numbers wise, I would see ENDA affecting more lives than I have no problem with ENDA being the top priority...

Kathy Padilla | June 10, 2009 12:25 PM

It might take more than one stroke of the pen to eliminate DADT, but a stop loss order would only require that stroke - and send a message through the behemoth that they need to start the heavy lifting needed to make a permanant change. Start drafting revised training, proposed policies etc.

There is however one thing that could be done with just the stroke of a pen - the Executive Order banning discrimination in federal employment based upon gender identity.

If other actions are conditioned on legislative process and schedules, these actions would be immediate. They would further the administrations stated goals and prepare for the changes that require legislative action.

We can do more than one thing at a time. Start the change, by starting the change.

I think the most obvious thing this discussion illustrates is the overwhelming number of ways we, as LGBT people are discriminated against in our world, and the need for equality. That said, prioritizing or triage is common and necessary when the need out paces the available resources. Here I take available to mean resources free to be committed to a cause. Priortization does not mean necessarily that an organization has lost interest, or thrown an issue or group "under the bus."

I have worked hard with HRC on transgender issues and transgender education, not only in straight settings, but among our LGB allies who want/need to know more about the T in LGBT. I also know folks in HRC DC who are working very hard to lift DADT and struggling with allocating their resources effectively.

As a Californian I worked hard against Prop 8 and still, with my church, work for marriage equality.

While the President can order the military not to enforce DADT in an Executive Order, he cannot lift the ban without congressional action. And there is still the problem of implementation. If MREA passes, what are the plans to implement it? I know folks, including many at SDLN grappling with those issues.

ENDA will not be an easy fight, either. I spend time as a judge/arbiter in a community court and each session I see at least one case where due to a chain of events triggered by job discrimination the person is in my court, driven to the underground economy. It breaks my heart each and every time, even while I am charged with dispensing justice.

I only have so much time and energy to spend. I have to prioritize how I commit my resources. For me, it is primarily dealing with DADT, and passing ENDA. I still do the Gender Identity related seminars, and still push toward marriage equality. I cannot argue with those who come up with different priorities.

A prophet once asked, "who builds a house without counting the cost?" it is wisdom to be a good steward of one's resources, and I'm glad that organizations are applying wisdom. If someone has a different view of those priorities, then give their resources accordingly, or consider increasing the resources available for their cause.

I think if DOMA were overturned & marriage equality became the law of the land, then all the other discriminatory laws (DADT) & the need for ENDA would vanish. What legal reason could be used to continue discrimination in the military or the workplace against equal citizens, who enjoy all the same rights as everyone else? I say target DOMA & the rest will fall.