CommunityPam's House Blend

The little secret gay cabal…not

I had to chuckle today at the smattering of articles and chatter about the Human Rights Campaign taking a beating in the gay blogosphere, as if there was a secret cabal organized to put the org over our collective knee and give it a spanking from the left, right and center of the political spectrum.

For your entertainment and info, check out these articles (I was interviewed/gave quotes to each):

Bay Windows: HRC struggles to find its footing in New Media
Washington Blade: HRC hits back at blogger criticisms [I am referred to as a “black lesbian activist” — left out “vicious anti-Christian” lololol.]
DIRELAND: Ann Coulter and HRC – a question of censorship

More discussion below the fold.The articles are pretty fair regarding my quotes, though of course not everything I said was used in the pieces, nor are all the bloggers interviewed on the same page about HRC, thus no cabal; those are the breaks in print, though.

Anyway, all you regular Blenders know, with 7000+ posts in the can, that I’ve been tough on HRC, and given praise when the organization does the right thing. As with any organization of that size, and with that much money and bureaucracy, there’s a lot of room for improvement. In fact we’ve all vented here in the comments, frustrated at some core areas of concern that seem to keep cropping up —

* Lack of blogosphere savvy: slow response time to breaking news. HRC can be seemingly out of the loop in terms of communicating in the rapid fire blogosphere, and are learning on the fly. An example of this is the slow first response on Ann Coulter’s “faggot” bomb at CPAC, but then the org hit a home run by putting Amaechi out there in a YouTube video that was extremely effective as a response. One example of a “needs improvement.” It’s great that HRC has a radio show, The Agenda, but why on earth can’t they provide transcripts from key interviews to bloggers to get the word out. Audio is great, but as most bloggers know, a lot of readers don’t bother to click through and listen — you reach many more with the transcript, which can be excerpted and spread quickly and widely. Certainly the cash saved from producing one glossy full-color mailer would cover transcription services.

* HRC’s relationship, stated and unstated, with the Democratic Party. I feel that this Democrats right-or-wrong  attitude is a long-term mistake; and as we’ve seen with Hillary Clinton, it’s almost painful to have to continue to fight our alleged elected allies to act as if we’re not the crazy granny in the attic with a big wad of cash in her purse. It’s not like there are a lot of Republicans to support anyway, but from my point of view, there are moderates out there who have been banished from the fundies in their party — why not court the support where we can get it? The Bay Windows piece cited the January Boston Globe article in which HRC declared that resources were diverted from marriage amendment battles to Democratic candidates in 2004, even those who didn’t support marriage equality.

Playing down its support for gay marriage, the HRC mobilized its 650,000 members to staff phone banks, raise money, and participate in get-out-the-vote campaigns to elect candidates sympathetic to gay issues, even if they didn’t support gay marriage.

…The group also helped congressional candidates from Arizona to Florida and Ohio, and party activists believe the organization can play an even larger role in the 2008 elections. The idea, leaders say, is to become a steady source of funds and grass-roots support for Democrats — more akin to a labor union than a single-issue activist group.

The resulting criticism is about tactics, strategy and priorities. The strategic decision of HRC to take this path is obviously that’s not going to go over well with a lot of LGBT folks, and we don’t all speak with one voice.

This blind spot allowed HRC to miss praising the Dan Zwonitzer speech (the GOP WY Rep. who voted against an anti-gay measure and gave an eloquent pro-gay address to his colleagues). Activist Michael Petrelis and I gave it a lot of play — because it’s important to acknowledge allies who are willing to stand up for our rights, regardless of party affiliation. HRC either didn’t know or felt it couldn’t promote these allies. Joe Solmonese had Zwonitzer on The Agenda (the XM radio program) a few days later, but it took two weeks to put up a letter thanking the pro-gay Republican legislators in Wyoming on its web site.

* The lack of visibility of HRC in Red State America: You Blenders out there have made it clear that you’re quite angry at the perceived lack of visibility of HRC in states where real people have to deal with the legacy of state amendments that are resulting in oppressive, aggressive anti-gay policies, such as Michigan’s decision to roll back state benefits for partners, citing the amendment. For those gay folks out there who have to live with the legal fallout of anti-gay amendments that passed in 2004, it’s little comfort to know that yes, there may be Dem control on the Hill, and that anti-gay fed legislation won’t be able to move forward. Those amendments aren’t going to be rolled back anytime soon, particularly in Red states where some Dems are as likely to vote for an amendment as a Republican.

If the work to elect Democrats is now a primary mission, it’s relevant to know whether this also means HRC is leaving various Equality organizations around the country to fend for themselves. What is their relationship and charge in terms of supporting the work of state equality organizations? If they are doing anything substantive, the folks in the hinterlands aren’t aware of it. It’s a big communication problem if the country’s largest gay advocacy organization appears to be ignoring “flyover country” and is out of touch with the lives of average LGBT citizens.  That’s correctable, but is it a goal on HRC’s checklist or not?

From my vantage point, I want our advocacy groups to be strong; it’s a pain having to watch the missteps and missed opportunities along the way, and to hear from so many of you out there who read the Blend and take time to comment and write feel so let down. HRC needs to listen, learn, and most of all, lead. If bloggers on a shoestring can take a story and spread it wide, certainly an organization with millions of gay dollars can be more effective on messaging and reach.

I’ve no agenda to continually flog HRC or any other org that’s less than perfect. I (and probably a lot of you out there) simply want my hard-earned money, should I choose to part with it, go to organizations and candidates that will spend it well and truly be an advocate for my rights on all levels, and not rest on the gains seen in Blue enclaves and toss lavish galas while the Red State LGBT folks feel like they have to go it alone.

I haven’t yet received my decoder ring for joining this imaginary gay cabal. I won’t be waiting at the mailbox.

A cool perspective outside of the brouhaha can be found at Sean Buggs’s pad.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding