Joyce L. Arnold: Liberal, lesbian, Independent, equality activist, writer.
“The timing of Solmonese’s resignation, as related to 2012, is at least curious – why would HRC make such a change as the presidential campaign moves into high gear?”
The Human Rights Campaign is probably the most widely recognized LGBT organization in the nation, not surprising since it has the biggest budget. It receives both praise and criticism. One reason for the latter is because the famous “HRC Annual Dinners,” held in various cities around the nation, take many thousands of local dollars to DC. I am totally in favor of DC advocacy. I’m just as certain, however, that state and local organizations are equally vital.
Another criticism is that HRC has basically become an extension of the DNC, a view reinforced when in May of this year, HRC announced its endorsement of Obama. No doubt the decision made sense for some Insiders, but for many Outsiders, it appeared to be yet another indication of HRC / DNC coziness.
HRC’s August 27 announcement that Joe Solmonese is leaving his six year stint as president (following Pam Spaulding’s breaking the story on August 26), has raised numerous questions. Naturally there is interest in who will replace him, and some speculation that Solmonese will take a position in the Obama administration, though others discount that possibility. At LBGTWeekly,for example: “Given Solmonese’s salary level, it is unlikely that he will be joining the Obama administration as many have suggested … .”
From the HRC press release:
The co-chairs of … (HRC’s) Board of Directors and the … Foundation Board today announced that … Joe Solmonese has informed the boards that he will not renew his contract which expires March 31, 2012. Solmonese will remain at the helm of the organization until the completion of his contract to ensure a smooth leadership transition.
At the same time, the co-chairs announced the formation of a search committee … .
According to Bil Browning at Bilerico, Solmonese’s decision to resign “at the end of his contract has been a ‘known secret’ to many pundits and journalists for months … .”
That seems a bit strange, if the board was caught by surprise. But whatever insiders and pundits know or guess about why and when Solmonese made the announcement, the larger question is: will HRC use this opportunity to make some changes to an organization that is viewed by significant numbers of people as much too close to the Democratic Party? Another query is in regard to HRC’s rather tenuous support of the transgender and bisexual communities. In 2007, Solmonese spoke at Southern Comfort, an annual transgender conference in Atlanta, declaring HRC’s full support of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Then, with the 2007/2008 version of ENDA, he changed HRC’s position, and agreed to remove “transgender,” creating a huge backlash. Later, HRC returned to the trans-inclusive version. Will HRC use this moment to take steps toward being more inclusive, in substantive ways?
The timing of Solmonese’s resignation, as related to 2012, is at least curious – why would HRC make such a change as the presidential campaign moves into high gear? Even if, as is reported by Chris Geidner at Metroweekly, the resignation came as a surprise to the HRC Board, the decision surely didn’t come without prior and relevant Insider HRC conversations.
Maybe “why now” is in part because of the consistent critiques. A few of those follow. But first, this from the HRC release:
When Solmonese began at HRC in 2005, the organization was fighting the Federal Marriage Amendment and now marriage equality is a reality in six states and the District of Columbia with more within sight. Under Solmonese’s leadership we saw the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and numerous administrative changes … .
Now, this is what advocacy organizations do – take credit for accomplishments. And there is no doubt HRC plays an important role. But it’s equally as certain that this kind of spin, with no mention of the vital work done at state and local levels, nor that of other national organizations, is a part of HRC’s problem.
Among those offering assessment is Pam Spaulding, who wrote in her news breaking piece:
We can review and critique the effectiveness of Solmonese’s tenure in the growth of the organization and political savvy in working with the Hill all day long, but it’s time to think about the job his successor has in front of him/her.
With the perception of the HRC leadership as the province of wealthy white gay men living in gay-friendly environs, there are several questions HRC … will face:
… Will more bisexual and trans staff be added with the staff shake-up? …
Will this shift signal a change to include more people of color in positions of influence?…
What kind of relationship will the HRC build with the LGBT media (including bloggers) and grassroots activists (like GetEqual) under new leadership?
Via Queerty, HRC’s Joe Solmonese To Jump Ship Right Before 2012 Elections summarizes: “Now we get to play, ‘Who will the HRC hire next to defend Obama throughout the 2012 election season?’”
A good many gay intellectuals regard the HRC as the Halliburton of gay rights – a cog in the ‘non-profit industrial complex,’ monopolizing gay politics by dint of its fabulous piles of money and establishment connections.
Calling for Solmonese’s resignation has been a common refrain. In late 2009, he was attacked for urging the LGBT community to be patient with President Obama …
I question the “gay intellectuals” description, at least if by that the discontent with HRC at the grassroots level is being diminished. Pointing to unhappiness with that 2009 call for “patience,” is accurate.
According to Jim Burroway at Box Turtle:
Kevin Naff at The Washington Blade says … his sources … deny that Solmonese’s resignation will foreshadow a change in direction or staff at HRC.
All we know at this point is that Solmonese is leaving. David Badash at New Civil Rights Movement writes it’s:
a great opportunity to think about the needs of our community, and the resources we … are putting toward them.
I hope lots of people will let HRC know their thoughts, and that HRC is listening. We’ll see.
(Photo via The Advocate)