March 24, 2010 at 11:41 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
HRC president responds to Choi protest

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, jumped into the debate triggered this week by gay Army Lt. Dan Choi over whether LGBT leaders and organizations are doing enough to advance LGBT equality, saying there should be a place for different tactics and strategies, including civil disobedience.

In response to questions from DC Agenda, Solmonese disputed Choi’s assertion that a deep “schism” exists in the LGBT movement over tactics and strategy.

Here are Solmonese’s responses to our questions:

DC Agenda: Dan Choi told Newsweek that groups like HRC “do not represent us if all you are looking for is a ladder to elite society.” He also said there’s a “deep schism” in the gay movement over strategy and tactics. What’s HRC’s response to this?

Joe Solmonese: Any healthy and diverse social movement will have a diversity of voices and opinions. Individuals and groups will take different approaches based on their ideology, life experience and other sincerely and deeply held beliefs about the political process. This is not indicative of a schism, but rather a sign of vibrant engagement.

Differences over tactics are nothing new; they have been a part of the LGBT rights movement since its inception. While there are some differences over strategy and tactics, there is a wide and deep consensus about movement priorities — LGBT non-discrimination laws (ENDA, DADT repeal, education, housing, credit, etc…), hate crimes protections and relationship recognition (marriage, DOMA repeal, domestic partnership benefits, adoption). Again, some in the community dissent from one or more of these goals, but these objectives enjoy significant support across the LGBT community.

Quick facts on our work:

• Our recent efforts across the country, with particular emphasis on 103 priority congressional districts, have resulted in over 190,000 phone calls and e-mails to members of Congress.

• 2,500 veterans recently said in a survey they’re willing to take action to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

• Our members submitted over 1,300 letters to editors in papers in priority media markets.

• Earlier this month, HRC sent 275 of our members to lobby on the Hill in support of ENDA, DADT and other key legislation.

• Beyond the Beltway, our members conducted over 250 in-district lobby visits.

• In 41 cities, we held events that highlighted veterans who are opposed to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Over the next several months, we will conduct at least 20 more of these events.

• In May, we will send an even larger number of veterans to the Hill to lobby for repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

DC Agenda: What’s HRC’s view on how, or whether, non-violent civil disobedience action — as Dan Choi and Robin McGehee of the new national group are now calling for — fits into the overall efforts to advance LGBT rights that HRC is working for?

Solmonese: The beauty of our movement is that we have a dedicated community that is constantly searching for new and innovative ways to effect change in Washington and at home. Whether it be the actions last week or meeting with a senator in a district office, these are ways that our community continues to advocate for LGBT equality. Activism by Dan Choi and others has one common intent in mind that we also share: to advance equality in the fastest way possible. As we said last week, this is the nature of social change and everyone has a role to play.

DC Agenda: Members of, as you know, were arrested in the Washington and San Francisco offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a protest over what they say is Pelosi and Congress’s failure to hold a vote this year on ENDA. HRC has not included ENDA on its list of LGBT-related bills it expects Congress to vote on this year. What is HRC’s understanding of why ENDA hasn’t been scheduled for a mark up in the House and Senate and may not be voted on in the Senate this year?

Solmonese: The Human Rights Campaign and the entire LGBT community have worked hard over the last two years to build support in Congress to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). In recent weeks, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the lead sponsor of ENDA, has publicly stated on a number of occasions that he believes that the House should move ENDA in the coming weeks and that we can pass an inclusive bill. We agree. We also agree with Speaker Pelosi that ensuring we will win that vote and protect the bill from harmful amendments is a critical factor in timing of floor action.

DC Agenda: Dan Choi and others have suggested that mainstream LGBT groups like HRC are too accommodating to the White House and congressional Democratic leaders on issues like ENDA and DADT. What is HRC’s current count of U.S. senators on an up or down vote on ENDA right now? Can you release a list of which of the 17 Democratic senators who are not ENDA co-sponsors will vote for or against ENDA?

Solmonese: There has been understandable frustration in the community at the pace of progress at advancing some of the pieces of key legislation that are important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. We continue to press the president and Congress to live up to the promises they made to advance real, substantive equality for LGBT Americans. It is critical that everyone in the LGBT community and our allies engage in this effort.

All senators (or House members) who are not co-sponsors of ENDA, DADT or other LGBT bills are pursued as key votes needed in order to pass pro-equality legislation.

DC Agenda: If you choose not to release this list, please explain why you feel it should not be released at this time. Many activists feel they could better direct their lobbying or ‘direct action’ if they know which way their senators stand on ENDA. As far as I can see, HRC’s lengthy and detailed web site page on ENDA makes no mention at all of which lawmakers are for or against ENDA.

Solmonese: Members’ positions on ENDA are determined by their co-sponsorship of the legislation, a clear public statement or their vote. Ensuring we will win that vote and protect the bill from harmful amendments is a critical factor for determining floor action and timing. There are 17 Democratic senators and 39 Republican senators who are not cosponsors of ENDA. We must win 14 of these votes to get to 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster. Unless a member of Congress makes a clear public statement, we do not assume we have their vote.

Direct action toward a member of Congress should be done after a careful analysis of that member’s position on the issue and, if they are not publicly supportive, after determining why are they not publicly supportive. This involves significantly more research than checking a web site. HRC works every day with individual activists and organizations in those states and districts that require the most intensive grassroots work. Every LGBT person who cares about these issues should lobby their House member and two senators. Even cosponsors must be asked to do more to bring these bills to successful votes.

DC Agenda: Robin McGehee of says her group wants a vote on ENDA, even if there aren’t enough votes to pass it. What is HRC’s view on this? What are the pros and cons of having a vote on an important bill if you know in advance there aren’t enough votes to pass it?

Solmonese: An unsuccessful vote can be very harmful to an issue and prevent successful action for many years. In some cases, having the vote can be a useful marker. Particularly in regard to ENDA, bringing the bill to the Senate floor without very careful consideration could result in some incredibly harmful amendments, some related to ENDA and other anti-LGBT-related amendments. Harmful congressional votes can spill over into fights over state legislation and into state and federal court cases. In addition, it is unusual for congressional leaders to schedule votes that are expected to fail.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • What a crock of crap, you can do all of that just by going on Facebook. What exactly has HRC done for gays except to throw lavish parties that accomplish nothing

    • I totally agree with Llyod. I long ago stopprd supporting HRC because of the large disconnect from the community

    • I agree completely, Lloyd. HRC (the organization that ‘dares not speak its name’) is the poorest excuse for an LGBTQueer support group that our Community has. From its very beginning it has spent all its time and money and efforts on sucking up to the inside-the-Beltway crowd in hopes of furthering the careers of its officers.

      It co-opted the Queer Liberation Movement in an attempt to ‘earn’ respectability in the eyes of people who are willing to invite its officers to their FUND-RAISING events. Their goal is to be as inoffensive as possible, hoping thereby to convince those in power that they are really ‘just like straights’ and they end up being exactly that.

      The people who lead the HRC have been selling themselves–AND our Community–cheaply while lavishing their ‘allies’ in the Democratic Party with all manner of support….without anything substantial in return, except sweet talk, empty promises, and assurances that these political ‘allies’ are on our side.

      They have shown themselves to be either opportunists or outright chumps. They certainly are NOT the heirs of Stonewall, but they continually bill themselves as the largest GAY organization in the U.S. Meanwhile, they are rolling in dough that is contributed by the closeted and the naive.

      We need more leaders like Lieutenant Choi who are willing to put themselves on the line by DEMANDING the rights and the dignity that we deserve. We have had enough timidity, accommodation, and faux-assimilation.

      After almost 40 years of HRC’s pussy-footing tactics, it’s refreshing to see folks like Choi asserting their rights firmly and unapologetically….sometimes at great cost to themselves.

      While the candy-asses at HRC beg for acceptance, we deserve to be led by Queer liberationists, not some outfit that resembles a ‘public relations’ marketing tool for white, male, middle-class, straight acting and straight appearing, college educated mainstreamers who plead for a right to marry and a chance to ‘fit in’ with a larger culture that looks askance at drag queens, sissies, and other non-conformists who are not particularly interested in joining a culture that still discriminates against racial minorities, women, the poor, the working class, the non-monogamous, and any Queer who dares to stand up for others as well as for her/himself.

  • Even in a statement defending himself and his organization, Solmonese seems clear in his intention to defend the identities of our opponents on the Hill than in actually trying to pass ENDA. At least he’s learned from past mistakes and is mentioning the need for this bill to be inclusive and actually said the word transgender.

    But seriously, here. Let’s not pretend that telling individuals to do their own research about which representatives are or are not supporting the Bill? And why? Sorry, Joe, but if every LGBT person and supporter had the time and energy to do that on their own, AND to then take appropriate action afterwards, then we wouldn’t need you or your organization. Then again, if that is your clear position, maybe we don’t actually need you after all…

  • HRC is increasingly irrelevant but even more so entirely detached from the vast majority of LGBT Americans. Joe’s a politician not an activist who seems more interested in protecting his salary and job than actually ensuring change.

  • Like AARP, NRA, and other big Washington-based organizations, HRC has a vested interest in never achieving the goals for which it was created. Success means its demise and unemployment for its very well paid executives.

  • Joe Solmonese demostrates once again as to why the LGBT Community isn’t seeing any action on the LGBT bills that are pending Congress. I think its better to demand a vote on bills like ENDA and DADT repeal, and if we lose the votes we will know which members of Congress we need to get rid of in the next few elections. Despite what he said, there are no harmful effects for the LGBT Community in losing a vote, its really about covering-up for those Democratic members of the Senate and House who refuse to do the right thing, and would like to avoid a vote as a means of hiding their bigotry. Realistically, there are only 2-3 Republican votes in the Senate for LGBT bills, but that is more than enough to overcome a filibuster, so it must be a handful of Dems who stand in our way.

  • joe, please resign. please go peddle your pablum elsewhere. larry kramer

  • correction:
    please go peddle your pablum somewhere else.

    Joe, i call you joe salmonella because your cowardice is infectious and infects too many people.

  • Nice job not saying anything. Then again, I’ve never cared for the Champagne Fund’s vision of LGBT activism.

  • Time and time again, Joe demonstrates why he is so seriously out of touch with everyone in the LGBT community except for our wealthiest members. Joe has been essentially pushing the agenda of white, wealthy gays and lesbians as the unified view of our community. Just like Geoff Kors in California, Joe demonstrates no interest in reaching out to the community of color. This view cost us Proposition 8.

    When are they going to learn that we are as only as strong as our weakest member? The answer is, never.

    I stand with Larry Kramer, it is time for Joe to do the decent thing and resign…eh, but who am I kidding?

    Journalists in general, with few exceptions, give this guy the kid gloves treatment, lobbing him softballs to hit out of the park. He has demonstrated little courage and has shown very few scruples.

    $350,000 per year for what, Joe? That type of money should be based on results, and I haven’t seen enough of anything from you to merit that level of compensation. Kindly just resign and let someone with some intestinal fortitude replace you. Heck, we would all be much happier. I am sure you have enough money to continue dusting off your tux and hobnobbing with the shysters who promise us the moon and the stars but leave us wallowing in the mud. If that lifestyle means so much to you, go run for office.


    • JC, Wish to hell I made $350,000 a year! Joe Solmonese is to me comparable to TV evangelical preachers who, under the guise of religion, do and say whatever they can to accumulate wealth, if not for themselves personally, for their “religious organization.” After all, their “religious organization” provides limos, mansions, second and third vacation homes, etc.

      We have only seen the tip of the iceberg of Solmonese’s perks.

  • You can find out exactly where politicians stand on GLBT legislation by visit

    If they are undeclared, they are opposed and just too shy to say so. They should be replaced in the primaries with better candidates.

  • Never ever once mentioned Immigration Equality which impacts so many …

  • I totally agree with Lloyd. I stopped supporting HRC becise of the large disconnect LGBT community

  • What!? Joe makes $350,000 ?!?! What?!? I’m speechless… Thank gawd the BabyBoomers are starting to retire, because that playbook comes directly from Gordon Gekko and the go-go 80’s. That actually hurts, Joe… I assume the idea includes having a charismatic “figurehead”, right? Well, Lt. Dan beats you in that department too, imo. I already stopped giving HRC money, but that one really takes the cake.

  • If only the gays would stop donating money to HRC. They’re just a huge fundraising machine that shamelessly takes credit for everyone else’s work.

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