It was a sunny, warm lunch hour in D.C. on March 18. It boded well for the rally that the Human Rights Campaign was holding to support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I arrived 10 minutes before noon and there were about 250 people there, which was disappointing. But as the noon hour approached the crowd grew, American flags were distributed and the rally began.
HRC’s Joe Solmonese spoke, as did Eric Alva, the first Marine wounded in Iraq. Alva, who is gay, has traveled the country to rally support for the repeal of the military’s gay ban. He is impressive and passionate and it was an honor to meet him. He is a man who served his country valiantly and is still a proud Marine and an example to people across the nation that want to know what a gay member of the military looks like.
Then came a speaker from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and then the star of the rally — Kathy Griffin. That was the low point of the rally and where it all went off track. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Kathy Griffin is a foul-mouthed comedian, who I admit can sometimes be funny, but totally inappropriate as a lobbyist representing the largest LGBT human rights organization in the nation.
She made fun of Congress and our elected representatives, which is not exactly the way to make friends. I have no problem challenging Congress, but let’s do it with some respect, at least for our friends up there, if we want to make headway. Then after using a curse word in every sentence for the TV cameras, she introduced Lt. Dan Choi. He basically castigated her and said, “This is not a joke to me,” which got a huge round of applause. Then he proceeded to hijack the rally and asked people to follow him to the White House where he and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo handcuffed themselves to the White House gate and were arrested.
I am not opposed to people chaining themselves to the White House fence. In October 1978, one week after I got to D.C., I participated in a demonstration of handicapped individuals and their advocates who chained themselves to the White House gates.
But if we are to do this, let’s at least plan it out and get something other than an arrest out of it. I believe that like ACT UP fighting AIDS in the ‘80s, we could plan a huge demonstration around the White House. They called it, “Hands around the White House.” We can let the White House know and arrange for a delegation to be invited in to talk and make the points we want to make, namely that the president needs to tell Congress that he wants “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ended this year. We can be more active than HRC, but let’s do it intelligently.
We need to sit down with our most loyal supporters in Congress and get them to join us. They can be part of the delegation. With the proper planning, Reps. Barney Frank, Jared Polis, Tammy Baldwin, along with our straight congressional supporters would join us. They are getting as frustrated as we are.
For many years, I was a vocal critic of HRC. I thought that they were wasting money and that the time had come for them to get their act together, work on elections out in the states, and use their clout more intelligently. I think that in some ways they have. But this use of Kathy Griffin as a lobbyist for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” looks like the old HRC — the one many of us labeled “the Champagne fund.”
I agree with Lt. Choi that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not a joke. It is a serious human rights issue, and one that we should be focusing on in a serious way with serious people. I thank Kathy Griffin for traveling abroad to entertain the troops because that is what she is, an entertainer. But I wouldn’t ask her to be my lobbyist.
Using an entertainer to attract crowds is fine. But Griffin couldn’t even do that as so few people showed up. So if we work with entertainers let’s not allow them to use us like Griffin did for her TV show. And let’s get some big name supporters and leave the Kathy Griffins for the dinners where her schtick may be appropriate.
Our community must be strategic. We must hold the president’s feet to the fire and do the same to Congress. But surely we can do better than this. And so can HRC.