Alex Blaze

HRC: Trying to figure out what the grassroots wants from us since 1980

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 13, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Dallas Principles, Don't Ask Don't Tell, full equality now, gay marriage, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, marriage equality, National Equality March, Prop. 8, same-sex marriage, single-issue

HRC released that statement promised a week ago saying that they're going to help out with Cleve Jones' National Equality March. It's nice of them to join in less than two months before it happens.

It's been interesting to watch HRC since Prop 8 passed. They were obviously caught off guard as the gays responded angrily and energetically to Prop 8's passage, what with having a spa night scheduled in San Francisco just days after the election (yes, I know, they scheduled that in advance, but no one seriously thought losing Prop 8 was outside the realm of possibility going into the election). They celebrated Obama's election, then laid low for a while, issuing the occasional press release, but staying out of trouble and avoiding interviews.

I can understand why. It's not like HRC's never been criticized before, of course. They're a lightning rod for the queer left, who usually goes after them for ignoring economic inequality, their inability to participate in coalitional politics, and the fact that they act like a giant, unfeeling corporation, with all that that word entails. They've been criticized extensively by the gay right as well because they generally support Democrats, not Republicans (what a surprise). They've been criticized by trans folks to no end for their treason to the LGBT coalition, as well as by queer people of color, many of whom see them as a symbol of white gays' general ignorance to racial issues.

But they used to be able to rely on two groups: their donors, and quasi-politically aware white gays and straights of the center/liberal persuasion. Well, the latter are the ones who appearing now and going after HRC for the lack of progress on the gay rights front, making HRC the fall-guys for lack of progress, citing their sycophancy to power and fundraisers, when, frankly, 40 years of movement conservatism that started just when the gay rights movement was picking up steam is more to blame.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I've been one of those constant critics of HRC, usually in the queer left vein. But recently I've felt like I've had to defend them and other LGBT orgs more and more, which simply isn't what I wanted to do when I got into blogging. But I didn't predict the coming out of a group of people even more mushily-centrist, culturally isolated, and single-issue than HRC, but... voila. This is the new reality.

Just a couple weeks ago, HRC announced a new campaign to lobby Congress on LGBT issues by helping them set up August meetings with their Representatives and Senators, called the "No Excuses" campaign. To be fair, it's a great idea and I have no idea why they haven't been doing this for years. Even with Bush in office it was a good idea for constituents to develop working relationships with their members of Congress, and HRC, as a lobbyist organization, was perfectly situated to facilitate that.

Still, this is great. It's a real step that will help move some of this legislation forward. And democracy can be more participatory if people have the means, knowledge, and the will to make it so.

What I do find interesting, though, is the way HRC coopted the language of the post-Prop 8 anger:


"Demanding"? How many times have I read from these new folks something along the lines of "We're not going to ask for our rights anymore, we're going to demand them!" with no explanation as to what the concrete difference between the two is? And there's that free-floating, undefined "equality" again....

Pam Spaulding wrote, when this was announced, "Should the authors of The Dallas Principles[...] feel flattered that HRC has now come on board?" They should - their document had more influence than one would have thought. Even though it didn't take over the movement by any means, it did get passed around and read by people as the manifesto to this new group of gay activists, fairly or unfairly.

Plus, it seems like HRC is cribbing language:


Not that there's anything wrong with a movement attempting to stick to the same talking points and keeping to the same language. But it's an interesting etymological question.

Here are the goals of the HRC's campaign:

  • Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denies legally married lesbian and gay couples more than 1,000 federal protections;
  • Prohibit workplace discrimination for the LGBT community by passing an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA);
  • Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell to ensure that service members who contribute to our nation's security are no longer summarily discharged for who they are;
  • Pass immigration reform that recognizes permanent same-sex couples and ends the painful separation of families;
  • Provide health benefits equally to the nearly 3 million federal government employees, including same-sex domestic partners.

And the National Equality March's:

  • Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) so that every marriage in every state has the same federal rights.
  • Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell so that LGBT persons may serve in the military openly and with the same rights as their straight counterparts.
  • An end to workplace discrimination for everyone with an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that protects everyone.
  • The right to adopt children and raise families like any other parents.
  • Hate Crimes legislation that includes LGBT people and protects us like any other targeted group.
  • Immigration reform that recognizes same-sex couples and ends the needless separation of families.

The only differences are that HRC didn't include hate crimes, probably because they keep up with the news, and the Marchers didn't include benefits for federal employees, probably because it's not even on their radar as most aren't federal employees (although most aren't soldiers either yet DADT was included, but whatever, DADT is a lot worse than a lesbian partner of a bureaucrat avoiding a doctor even after she finds a suspicious lump on her breast because she doesn't want to have a preexisting condition in case she ever does get a job with health care). And adoption, even though that isn't really a federal issue.

HRC's statement in favor of the National Equality March politely mentions the changing conditions of this past year:

WASHINGTON - On October 11, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists and allies will meet by the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. The first national gathering of LGBT volunteers, community members, and supporters since the 2008 elections and the passage of Proposition 8, this event provides a powerful opportunity to harness the energy--both excitement and anger--that this historic year has sparked.

Indeed, it's a response to the Prop 8 backlash, and it is a better way for people to expend their new-found energy and anger than their usual methods (writing Facebook comments calling Obama a huge disappointment because he didn't disband Congress and repeal DOMA himself within 3 months of taking office or writing blog comments saying that anyone who thinks that issues like health care and the wars are also important is distracted and giving the enemy cover).

Also in their calculus is the fact that this march is going forward no matter what, which might explain why they waited until 2 months before the march to support it. And like most indie acts that get picked up by a large corporation, at least the production value will improve. HRC has a lot to bring to the table here, and these people all seem to be of the same political stripe, which is probably why it took only about 6 months for HRC to get the message from the angry gay centrists while they never really paid attention to the queer left.

HRC is back, and this is what it's going to look like. No spa nights for a couple months, people. These are trying times.

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HRC has become more irrelevantly than a Great White shark with no teeth. Their support of the march is a great way to insure that few will show up and the ones who do will be hit up for money. It will be a disaster, with the one in 2000.

And, of course, the issues facing transgender veterans are not on their list, nor is the issue of allowing trans people to serve openly in the military. Ask me if I'm surprised.

I agree with Monica. HRC's involvement with the March will kill any opportunities for real coalition building. Most LGBT's won't work with an org they don't think they can trust. You can be sure few transfolks will show once they realize they'd have to march under HRC's banner even figuratively.

This march would be a great idea if it were better planned, with an eye toward where the community really is right now socially and politically, but it won't be, because it's not.

Hm. I see what you're all saying, but something tells me that the sort of people who were going anyway wouldn't be all that bothered by HRC's presence. Were there many trans people who were already planning on going? You all would know better than I do, but I honestly don't know a single person from outside this site who was planning on going.

As for coalition building, since it's two months before the march and they haven't built any coalitions with any group outside a few small orgs and JTI, this is probably going to be as good as it gets for them.

What I am thinking now, and I'm glad you brought it up, Monica, is how HRC kinda fucked up the Millennial March. Yeah, maybe the production value will be a little better, but there's just not enough time to prepare. But I'm sure there will be opportunities to donate!

Sister Mary FP | August 13, 2009 2:17 PM

So who watches the watchers? Does the gay community, like democracy, 'get the government it deserves'? How have groups like HRC, and here in California EQCA, take and keep prominence even when they are not very successful? And get paid six figures for doing so?

The lengthy and heated discussions (including some flying objects) over 2010 versus 2012 have me scratching my head. Much noise was made about the decision that the 800-pound gorillas would make (and surprisingly they decided to spend two more years of making six figure salaries) (Okay, that was mean-spirited and cynical, I take it back), but the point of 'grassroots' that big corporate overseers are not required.
Is HRC (and EQCA) taking the pulse of the people or are they merely exhibiting The Drum Major Instinct (you know, running to the front of the parade and acting like you are leading it)?

So what do we do about these organizations that have taken on a life of their own, who (just like corporations) consciously or unconsciensly put their own survival as a first priority?

Its easy to place blame on others, blame me for not doing enough if you want, I know that I have not.

I am a transsexual. Was I hurt in 07? Yes, but I saw something amazing; even though most in the T community were angry, I saw the positive, we were accepted by LGB's like never before and the support groups like PFLAG were reaching out to us like never before. I have noticed the same is happening with every other set back we in the LGBT community suffers, i.e. Prop 8, more and more, we are gaining straight allies.

We can bash HRC, and blame them for not having direction, or we can do more ourselves, I challenge everyone to be more active, if you are unhappy with how your dollars are being spent, then step up and get involved.

I really do not care who gets credit for our progress, put egos aside, educate and work in a positive way. I am not saying follow blindly, but be the change that you seek!

Personally, I think Santanaya had it right: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Certainly the onus is on the trans community to be out and active, but the reality is that HRC betrayed our trust and has done little or nothing concretely since to address the issue and move past it. Given that, there's really no credible reason I can see to give them the benefit of the doubt on anything...unless and until they show us they're worthy of it.

I think I speak for many when I say we're still waiting for that to happen, and until it does the Human Rights Campaign will continue to be popularly seen as an organization that cannot be trusted to act honestly or fairly as a coalition partner or a leading organization in this movement by the majority of the American LGBT rank-and-file.