The Queer Issue: You're Doing It Wrong

HRC

The Human Rights Campaign—the Country's Largest LGBT Lobbying Group—Has Failed

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Robert Ullman

The Queer Issue: You're Doing It Wrong

I once entertained the fantasy that I might one day be a politician. Prime minister, of course. There was no need for modesty at the age of 9. But it took a little growing up—a fun but tumultuous student political career at Oxford and a stint running one of America's better political magazines, the New Republic—to realize I was useless at it. I was no plotter; I found it hard to lie to people's faces; I hated the forced socializing; I was a useless negotiator, always asking for exactly what I wanted from the get-go. I found it hard not to take opposition personally. And my misanthropy—it's really much more universal than just misogyny—put the kibosh on it.

Gay politics—in so far as I have engaged in it—was even worse than the regular kind. Most of us were emotionally damaged enough to spend most of our time backbiting or time-wasting. There was so much PC bullshit all around, you were lucky if it didn't splash up and infect your pierced nose. There was a cloying leftist smugness combined with a supine attitude toward any straight politician prepared to cash a check. And there was no strategy. The gay leaders who actually had something to say, and an ability to say it well, were in the mainstream or alternative press or theater. The idea that, say, former Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch or current HRC president Joe Solmonese had ever had a dream—apart from meeting Cyndi Lauper—was ludicrous. Solmonese had barely written a single op-ed or given a single speech in defense of gay equality before he was parachuted into the leadership by boomer donors and pro-choice monomaniacs. I spent much of the 1990s watching Birch go into one whiny defensive crouch after another because hardball political opponents (like, er, Bill Clinton) were mean to her. The week in 1996 when we actually got the first congressional hearing on marriage equality—the most prominent forum ever for the argument—she called "hell week." She just wanted her non- discrimination bill from her nervous Democratic Party stalwarts in return for gobloads of cash.

At first I was just bemused by this. All these fags and dykes without a clue how to play hardball politics—just like me!—were pushing the gay movement nowhere slowly. And I mean nowhere. In 1989, HRC's top priority was passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In 2011, HRC's top priority is still passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. They were scared of tackling the military ban and absolutely terrified by any notion of civil marriage rights. First things first, we were told. Employment nondiscrimination polled the best, annoyed the fewest, and was an easy pitch to nervous Dems. Besides, it had massive public support. Today, a federal employment nondiscrimination law for gays polls at around 90 percent. In fact, 90 percent of Americans think it already is the law! But it isn't. Any organization that places its top priority on a law that has 90 percent approval but cannot get it passed in 20 years is doing something wrong.

Here's what you don't do. You don't give standing ovations to politicians like Clinton and Obama who just screwed you over. You don't prematurely endorse a primary candidate (Hillary) who goes on to lose; you don't endorse a Democratic presidential candidate (Obama) before you even know who his opponent will be; you don't tell a new president that you're happy to wait eight years to have your agenda implemented (Solmonese's classic gaffe in 2009). After Obama's speech at HRC's dinner that year, as he was driven back to the White House, the president remarked how stunned he had been by the response. "I was expecting a rough crowd," he said, according to a White House source. How pathetic were the gays that they would throw themselves in front of him even after he had failed to advance any of their core objectives in his presidency thus far? This wasn't how politics was played. Was it a triple non-bluff bluff? Or were they just useless?

Here's more of what you don't do. You don't deep-dive into local communities, hire Bravo TV celebs as speakers, and vacuum all the donation cash to build and own a multistory complex in Washington, DC, that screams "We don't expect to be done with this for at least a few decades." You don't build a civil rights movement by selling rainbow fucking candles and teddies-for-equality in gay neighborhoods where nobody needs persuading in the first place. You don't get the vapors when you get invited to talk to the White House; you don't go to West Wing cocktail parties as a substitute for real legislation. You don't become a rolling carnival of glittered black-tie silent-auction dinners.

If you want to see how to do it, check out AIPAC—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They raise shitloads of money and leverage it with a cold-blooded brutality against any candidate of either party who strays from within an inch of the Israeli government's line of the day. They ally with a massive movement, the religious right, to keep the GOP in line, and give 10 times the amount that gays do to congressional candidates through networked member donations. They get the American taxpayer to give billions in aid to the most prosperous and well-armed country in its region. And they pummel any critic of anything to do with Israel as an anti-Semite. They take no shit, and they make their case with constant passion and amazement that anyone could possibly think otherwise.

We do not need inspirational thinkers or speakers at HRC—we have plenty of them everywhere you look. We do not need more communicators (although the cloying, smug, corporate-speak messages from Solmonese could do with a vicious copy editor). Our message has reached millions in the best way possible—through a cultural revolution, an intellectual argument, and a non-lefty mainstreaming strategy. What we need are people able to harness this broad and successful movement and bring the federal legislative goods home. We need an organization with some cunning, persistence, and passion in getting lawmakers to vote the way we want them to. It can be done—look at how Tim Gill's relatively tiny movement focused its energies and got marriage equality in Iowa and New York State. It requires professionals with more interest in getting shit done than basking in celebrities' reflected glory or sending out press releases. It requires letting Democrats know we are not pussies and letting Republicans know they should fear us and our families.

It requires those with no talent for this kind of politics to leave the stage. It's time the gays handled political bargaining with the same zeal and attention to detail as a lesbian real estate agent with a mortgage or a gay cardinal planning the Easter Vigil. We can surely do it—but on a federal level, we almost always haven't. Yes, HRC is an easy target. But only because they so magnificently deserve every flying turd they get. recommended

Andrew Sullivan is an award-winning author, editor, political commentator, and blogger (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com).

 

Comments (37) RSS

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Baconcat 1
You're really milking this HRC thing, Power Glutes.

Easy target, indeed.
Posted by Baconcat on June 22, 2011 at 10:02 AM · Report this
2
"and got marriage equality in Iowa and New York State"?? A bit premature! Hoping and praying tonight is the night, but we aren't there yet.
Posted by Nervous New Yorker on June 22, 2011 at 1:41 PM · Report this
3
Well, it's a bit different for the Israel lobby. They can play the DNC and the GOP against each other, I mean, there are prominent national politicians in both parties who bend over backwards to show their support for Israel. A Republican, however, always has to give a blowjob to the religious right (or, barring that, a decent handjob while it's feeling them up), and that means barely acknowledging that gays are even human.

So, since the gay rights orgs can't endorse the GOP, they're generally inclined to be dragged around by the DNC.

A more apt approach, perhaps, would be to be more active in less homophobic states where even a Republican (presuming that Republican had no ambition to seek a national election, as for President) could be a viable ally. That means, for example, watching the New York governor's race.
Posted by JudT on June 22, 2011 at 2:06 PM · Report this
Hawke 4
HRC needs to be milked out of existence.
Posted by Hawke http://facebook.com/thehawke on June 22, 2011 at 2:17 PM · Report this
Last of the Time Lords 5
But the HRC holds those expensive fundraiser dinner's here in Seattle that every freaking "professional" gay man in town shits themselves silly to attend. I can name about 10 right off the top of my head and they aren't the over 50 crowd either; they're the 30-40 something crowd.

Pathetic....
Posted by Last of the Time Lords on June 22, 2011 at 3:27 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 6
"AIPAC—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They raise shitloads of money and leverage it with a cold-blooded brutality against any candidate of either party who strays from within an inch of the Israeli government's line of the day. "

I'd say AIPAC doesn't always follow the Israeli government, they're often more hard-line than that.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings http://www.reddit.com/r/spaceclop on June 22, 2011 at 7:33 PM · Report this
7
Very well said, it's a shame this week's I, Anonymous will get ten times as many comments.
Posted by anne77 on June 22, 2011 at 9:07 PM · Report this
sirkowski 8
I stopped reading at the author's name.
Posted by sirkowski http://www.missdynamite.com on June 23, 2011 at 11:20 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 9
Excellent observations by Andrew.

If you ever wonder why Canada had rights and marriages decades before America, it's because in Canada women and gays play hardball, and aren't afraid to do it.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on June 23, 2011 at 11:48 AM · Report this
10
This is one of his hobby-horses, and so we find him assuming bad faith and criticising them for doing more than he was capable...which is not to say that he's wrong in all particulars.
Posted by Gerald Fnord on June 23, 2011 at 11:51 AM · Report this
11
This hypocritical pozzer barebacking talentless douchebag has no credibility. HRC is sorely in need of criticism for its administrative ineptitude and lack of tangible results based accountability, but when shit sacks like Andrew Sullivan criticize it (who, in turn, inexorably becomes a part of the dialogue, clouding the issue), it just gets more powerful. Fuck Andrew Sullivan, his fans, and the sub par media outlets that promote him.
Posted by PugilistPuck on June 23, 2011 at 12:09 PM · Report this
12
I find it interesting that Sullivan's lead is how he would be singularly incompetent as a politician in his first paragraph and then explains how he knows literally nothing about anything in the rest of the article.

AIPAC kind of has an ace up their sleeve when a 1/3 of the country on the right depend on Israel to exist to bring about the end of times, and 1/3 on the left are actual Jews. Maybe if Gays could command 66% of the country, THEY WOULD BE MORE LIKE AIPAC!

Also, Sullivan goes to WAY more cocktail parties than Solmonese.
Posted by Jasen Comstock on June 23, 2011 at 12:21 PM · Report this
13
HRC = PETA

They are only interested in the vain veneer of importance afforded obsequious fans like themselves who bend over backwards to be associated by proximity to the fleeting fame, fortune and power of entertainers and politicians.

They have no sincere interest in doing any of the real work for which they have solicited all those donations.

Fuck the pompous assholes!
Posted by Failure may be your style - Q.C. on June 23, 2011 at 12:40 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 14
"There was a cloying leftist smugness"

As opposed to Sullivan's cloying right-wing smugness? At least the HRC is fairly sincere to their causes.

Sullivan's a bog-standard right-winger, constantly making excuses for the politicians that pay him lip service and drop him when it's politically convenient.
Posted by undead ayn rand on June 23, 2011 at 1:33 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 15
I think he makes some very good points, but they could hardly be limited to just GLBT people and groups.

In all levels of society - and especially corporations - glitz is valued over substance or ability. CEO's who have only the vaguest idea of what their company does, and even less interest, keep it going long enough to get the stock options that will allow them to retire.

Look at Pacific Northwest Bell/US West/Qwest/ Centurylink. That's four names in just over twenty years, yet service has not improved, technology has only grudginly been embraced, innovation is nil, and the customer base keeps eroding.

Or look at the Intiman theatre - again, the victim of a leadership culture that has no idea of the bottom line, no concept of organizational sustainability.

TV and pop culture is the same way: Where once you had to have at least some sort of talent, we have people now who are famous for being famous, or having appeared on some dumb reality show.

Believe me, I am no fan of the HRC (I got those dinner invites for years before they finally gave up on me) but the problem is much more widespread than just the lack of GLBT leadership.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay http://www.danlangdon.com on June 23, 2011 at 1:50 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 16
I'm not much of a fan of Andrew Sullivan, but in this case he's right. HRC has a long history of raising tons and tons of money and getting absolutely nothing accomplished with it. HRC is by far the most useless LGBT org in the country. I stopped donating money to them about 10 years ago.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on June 23, 2011 at 3:10 PM · Report this
17
&8: your loss. Maybe you'd learn something if you didn't have such closed mind.
Posted by Rdstorm on June 23, 2011 at 3:14 PM · Report this
18
Sullivan is full of shit and always has been. Anyone else remember when he was out urging everyone to vote for fucking George W. Bush in 2000? Ya, he doesn't like to talk about that so much anymore. Andrew now says "How could I have known?"

I dunno Andrew, I'm not a fucking Harvard/Oxford educated "genius" like you, so I voted for Al Gore just like every other gay person with half a brain. You on the other hand were duped because George W. Bush once said something nice about a gay interior decorator, and yes, Sullivan once cited this story as a reason to believe in Bush's BS about compassionate conservatism.

So yes, HRC has problems, but guess what Andrew: THEY DIDN"T TELL PEOPLE TO VOTE FOR GEORGE W. BUSH. Which for me, puts them about 1000x ahead of you when it comes to furthering gay rights.
Posted by PoliGeek on June 23, 2011 at 11:08 PM · Report this
19
I'll never forget when HRC endorsed Alfonse D'Amato, a corrupt Republican candidate going down to defeat over Chuck Schumer, a rising star in the Democratic Party.

I shouldn't be surprised, though. HRC is just one big mess and always has been.
Posted by Tim in Portland on June 23, 2011 at 11:28 PM · Report this
20
damn, it's frustrating just trying to post a comment. thank God for dummy email accounts.

I'll never forget when HRC endorsed Alfonse D'Amato, a corrupt republican senator pandering to the gay community and destined to defeat instead of Chuck Schumer, a rising democratic star.

How'd that work for ya, HRC?

20 years of idiot decision-making.
Posted by Tim in Portland on June 23, 2011 at 11:33 PM · Report this
21
btw, Larry Kramer has been saying the same thing about HRC for 20 years. If you don't believe Andrew, would you believe Larry?

HRC sucks, pure and simple and you are an IDIOT if you donate a penny to this vapid, barren organization.
Posted by Tim in Portland on June 23, 2011 at 11:36 PM · Report this
22
The current issue of HRC's membership rag, which is named "Equality," has a full-page ad for British Fucking Petroleum. So you can destroy the Gulf of Mexico as long as you're a bud to Joe Solmonese!

Good to know about HRC's "multistory complex." Now I know where the money that I gave them (before I stopped giving them money) went, although I'd already suspected that Solmonese has been living high on the hog at our expense. Literally and figuratively.
Posted by sacrob http://virtualsoapbox.wordpress.com/ on June 24, 2011 at 12:30 AM · Report this
23
The current issue of HRC's membership rag, which is named "Equality," has a full-page ad for British Fucking Petroleum. So you can destroy the Gulf of Mexico as long as you're a bud to Joe Solmonese (who indeed seems to be in it only in order to meet the likes of Billary Clinton and Cyndi Lauper)!

Good to know about HRC's "multistory complex." Now I know where the money that I gave them (before I wised up and stopped giving them money) went, although I'd already suspected that Solmonese has been living high on the hog at our expense -- literally and figuratively.
Posted by sacrob http://virtualsoapbox.wordpress.com/ on June 24, 2011 at 12:42 AM · Report this
Peteykins 24
HRC is basically a sticker manufacturer which throws fabulous cocktail parties and gives awards to celebrities. Who needs them?
Posted by Peteykins http://sparklepony.blogspot.com on June 24, 2011 at 3:22 AM · Report this
25
@20: There are plenty of things to criticize HRC for, but endorsing Al D'Amato isn't one of them. What issues separated D'Amato and Schumer in 1998? Was Schumer out campaigning for gay marriage? No. They both favored ENDA, and the both favored repealing DADT. In fact, if HRC had endorsed Schumer just because he was a Democrat, it's people like Sullivan who would have been bitching about it the loudest.

Take a look at Sullivan's coverage of the gay marriage debate in NY. Plenty of posts hailing the 2 Republican marriage supporters, but nary a peep about the 29 Democrats that provide nearly all of the votes for the bill. In fact, Sullivan finds time to complain about the ONE Democrat who is against it!
Posted by PoliGeek on June 24, 2011 at 7:45 AM · Report this
26
HRC is a Country Club where privileged white gay men write checks to other privileged white gay men in imaginary group catharsis to atone for being the sin of living-out a self-serving, socially unconscious life that never serves the greater good. It's a narcissistic wank-fest.

A few years ago, one of MSFT's first LGBT employees, Rick Weiland, died. He bequeathed $65M to 10 LGBT charities. It's no accident that HRC was *not* a recipient. In reading between the lines of Rick's bio, I was impressed to learn how he put himself out and proud with a "YEP I AM" vanity license plate all the way back in 1978. Can you imagine the professional risk it was to be an out professional in the 70s, working beside Bill Gates? It was not a disco: being out was an enormous personal risk back then. When Rick started giving his fortune to LGBT charities, he did so quietly and with forethought, the way giving out to be. I felt like sharing this info because it's worth spreading that there have been LGBT champs who lived out when it was dangerous to be out, and who donated their wealth to better causes than HRC.
Posted by Grant76 on June 24, 2011 at 6:52 PM · Report this
27
Wow, this was actually interesting. Yeah, where's our political hardball group?
Posted by TechPixie on June 25, 2011 at 5:24 PM · Report this
28
"It requires letting Democrats know we are not pussies" Typical myso-gay trying to pander to the straight boys. A pussy is far stronger than your dick Andrew. One delivered you into the world, you faux ursa.
Posted by HenryJames on June 25, 2011 at 7:17 PM · Report this
29
wow wow and WOW. Thank you for saying what I have been knowing for too long. Go Andrew
Posted by Dennis for President on June 25, 2011 at 10:12 PM · Report this
30
I also stopped reading at the authors name. I have seen Andrew many times on tv and have never been impressed. He is such an oxymoron - he screams gay but it so conservative he would vote himself out of existance. What a joke.
Posted by anon1 on June 25, 2011 at 11:05 PM · Report this
31
As soon as I saw that he once edited TNR I took it all with a grain of salt. BUT I have to say that I definitely agree with everything he has to say about the HRC, except the whole AIPAC business. I wouldn't want to dirty the movement with their tactics. Hard-ball good, employing tactics that are successfully supporting repressive regimes bad.

good anti-HRC song by Adhamh Roland of Riot Folk:

http://thefeedbackloop.org/2011/06/28/qu…
Posted by TJordan on June 29, 2011 at 2:26 PM · Report this
32
As soon as I saw that he once edited TNR I took it all with a grain of salt. BUT I have to say that I definitely agree with everything he has to say about the HRC, except the whole AIPAC business. I wouldn't want to dirty the movement with their tactics. Hard-ball good, employing tactics that are successfully supporting repressive regimes bad.

good anti-HRC song by Adhamh Roland of Riot Folk:

http://thefeedbackloop.org/2011/06/28/qu…
Posted by TJordan on June 29, 2011 at 2:28 PM · Report this
33
As soon as I saw that he once edited TNR I took it all with a grain of salt. BUT I have to say that I definitely agree with everything he has to say about the HRC, except the whole AIPAC business. I wouldn't want to dirty the movement with their tactics. Hard-ball good, employing tactics that are successfully supporting repressive regimes bad.

good anti-HRC song by Adhamh Roland of Riot Folk:

http://thefeedbackloop.org/2011/06/28/qu
Posted by TJordan on June 29, 2011 at 2:37 PM · Report this
34
Could I get from some of you a few suggestions for worthy LGBT groups to donate to, in place of HRC?

I'd like names of groups who are doing what HRC claims to be doing, but doing it better--so that I can give them my money instead of HRC. Or even just a link to an unbiased site that evaluates and compares groups would be helpful.

I want to support the most effective group(s) who are successfuly furthering the idea of equality, and who are furthering the goal of penalizing abuse.
Posted by rezolution on July 2, 2011 at 5:26 PM · Report this
35
*Yawn* More hypocrisy from Andrew Sullivan. I also stopped reading once I saw that it was written by that bug chaser Andrew Sullivan.

http://www.thenation.com/article/andrew-…
Like many a preacher and politician before him, Andrew Sullivan, the neoconservative gay pundit, was caught with his pants down. The story goes like this: Some time ago, Sullivan, who is HIV positive, took out an anonymous personal ad on a website called Barebackcity.com, which advertises itself as the "one stop source for bareback [i.e., unprotected anal] sex." He listed himself under the screen name "RawMuscleGlutes," posted two headless photographs, and solicited bareback sex, preferably (although he did not say only) with other HIV-positive men. He also indicated an interest in "bi-scenes, one-on-ones, three-ways, groups, parties, orgies and gang bangs," but not in "fats and fems."

The HRC is a joke but so are media whores like Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, and Larry Kramer who do nothing to actually help their fellow gay men and give all gay men and GLBT People a bad name.
Posted by JamesNYC2122 on July 5, 2011 at 11:22 AM · Report this
36
"How pathetic were the gays that they would throw themselves in front of him even after he had failed to advance any of their core objectives in his presidency thus far?"

Last time I checked, DADT repeal was a core objective. He also lifted the HIV travel ban, opened up syringe exchange access, added LGBT inclusive/protective language to multiple federal programs, expanded domestic partner benefits for federal employees, passed the hate-crimes law, created the first ever HIV/AIDS strategy, created funding for anti-bullying education... these are ALL core objective that have been accomplished in 2 1/2 short years.

There are complaints that can be made about HRC's leadership and one could even complain that Obama hasn't gone far enough, but failing to acknowledge what he has accomplished is just plain ignorant.
Posted by jasonsabio on July 5, 2011 at 4:37 PM · Report this
37
@22: Isn't that true of all "civil rights" groups? Charlatans and crooks, all of them.
Posted by xxxSTEVExxx on July 10, 2011 at 10:15 AM · Report this

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