My Photo
Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

HRC sorta gets it ... then loses it again

There must be something about Washington, D.C., that muddles even the most idealistic, clear-thinking heads. Perhaps it's marsh gas seeping up from the fetid swamp Washington was built upon. Or perhaps it's the proximity to all that power - both real and imagined - that gives people (and organizations) the idea that they know what's best for the rest of us.

National gay rights organizations are no less exempt from succumbing to that U.S. version of the "one ring of power" known as the Beltway and the Human Rights Campaign (an organization so proud to be working for gay rights that the word "gay" doesn't even appear in its name) is the latest to lose a grip on the reality of the millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender lives it claims to represent living beyond the Beltway.

HRC has struggled over the past few years. First there was HRC's endorsement of New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and the storm of controversy that created. Then, in the wake of the 2004 election and BushCo's on-again, off-again plans to introduce a federal Marriage Amendment, HRC seemed to bargain with the devil by offering to help with BushCo's Social Security plan, then backing away from earlier statements when faced with criticism.

Sure HRC has done some good as a lobbying group. But there's a sizeable chunk of the GLBT community - myself included - who view HRC as being primarily a group that attracts donations from wealthy, closeted "A-list" gays who want to assauge their guilt over not taking a more active role in gay issues by writing out checks to organizations too cowardly to mention the word "gay" in their names. Besides, wouldn't want those A-listers to out themselves by giving money to an obviously gay cause, now would we?

Earlier this year HRC took on a new leader, Joe Solmonese, and it appeared the organization might just be headed in the right direction. Solmonese took a month-long tour of towns and cities in Kansas, Michigan, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Missouri and Tennessee to find out what issues were important to the rest of us.

What he found was the subject of an article in a recent issue of the gay publication, The Washington Blade, in an article titled HRC leader wraps tour of ‘red states.’

According to the article: "He [Solmonese] added that everywhere he went, workplace issues topped the concerns of gay men and lesbians."

Well, what do you know? One of the Washington insiders finally climbed out of his tower to find out what was important to GLBTs in the rest of the country. Surprisingly (at least for HRC), the top issue wasn't marriage or gays in the military, but employment.

For too long the national groups have been pushing an "M&M" agenda - marriage and military - as if those two issues were the only two standing between GLBTs and full acceptance into the rest of society. Granted, both issues are important, but here's the thing HRC and other groups don't get: They don't affect a majority of GLBT folks. Yet HRC expects the rest of us to fall in lockstep and fight for rights that affect only the tiniest of minorities within the GLBT community.

Meanwhile, back in the real world GLBTs can be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Granted, there are a handful of cities that offered limited protection to GLBTs and an even smaller number of states that offer protection. But discrimination against GLBT employees is still acceptable and still practiced from sea to shining sea.

Those of us outside the Beltway understand this. The overwhelming majority of us have jobs and many of us have faced discrimination in subtle and not-so-subtle forms. I'm glad that HRC finally seemed to get this message during Solmonese's trip to the "flyover" part of the country. I'm glad he was able to make note of the importance of employment issues in the article.

But then hope turned to a primal scream of despair when, in the very next paragraph of the article, Solmonese states: "It's not surprising to me that economic activity and workplace issues are important. That's why marriage is important."

Say what?

The importance of workplace issues somehow justifies the importance of marriage? Now there is a classic non sequitor argument.

No, Joe! You've missed the point. Let me put it in terms you can understand. Work place issues are important because just about everyone in the GLBT community works for a living. We aren't independently wealthy like the A-listers who write the checks that allow you to fly all over the country. We need to know that we won't be fired from our jobs for our sexual orientation BEFORE we start planning a wedding and honeymoon.

Sure, it would be nice to meet that special someone, pick out china patterns and exchange vows. But what stability have we gained if we return from a week in Maui only to discover our employer decides having a gay employee just isn't appropriate?