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Solmonese to step down as head of HRC

Source denies reports of sweeping shakeup

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Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Joe Solmonese, who has served for more than six years as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group, will step down from his job when his current contract ends on March 30, 2012, HRC officials announced last week. The news of Solmonese’s departure was first reported by Pam’s House Blend.

In a statement released Aug. 27, co-chairs of the board of directors of HRC and its sister organization, the HRC Foundation, said Solmonese will remain as head of both organizations “until the completion of his contract to ensure a smooth leadership transition.”

They also announced the formation of a search committee for Solmonese’s replacement to be co-chaired by board members Joni Madison of North Carolina and Dana Perlman of Los Angeles.

“Joe Solmonese is an outstanding leader,” said Anne Fay, who co-chairs the HRC Foundation board. “While we will miss his extraordinary leadership, we enter this next phase, thanks to Joe, in the best place the organization has ever been. Not only has our community secured historic victories, but our membership is larger and more active than any time in our history, and our financial health is secure even in these difficult economic times.”

HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz said the combined revenue for HRC and the HRC Foundation for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011 was $39.8 million. He said the two groups have about 150 employees.

Sources familiar with HRC have speculated that several LGBT movement leaders would likely emerge as candidates for Solmonese’s replacement, including Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; Brian Ellner, an HRC consultant who coordinated HRC’s efforts to help pass New York’s same-sex marriage law; Chad Griffin, head of the California-based organization that initiated the lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8; and Sean Maloney, one of former President Bill Clinton’s openly gay White House aides who later worked for former New York Gov. David Paterson.

Solmonese has received mixed reviews by LGBT activists during his tenure as head of HRC, which began in 2005. Disagreements over his and HRC’s policies and activities appear to reflect divisions within the LGBT movement.

Supporters and others familiar with the group say Solmonese has worked well in navigating HRC and its LGBT rights agenda during a hostile Bush administration and during a supportive Obama administration, using behind-the-scenes political skills to prod allies in Congress and the White House to move its agenda forward.

Critics say he and HRC have been too closely aligned with the Democratic Party and Democratic congressional leaders, which they say have failed to adequately advance LGBT legislation, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and LGBT-supportive immigration legislation while Democrats controlled the House of Representatives.

The statement released by the HRC board co-chairs says that under Solmonese’s leadership, HRC expanded its public outreach programs, including the start of its Healthcare Equality Index, which, among other things, assesses the sensitivity of hospitals in caring for LGBT people.

HRC and the HRC foundation launched or expanded other important programs during Solmonese’s tenure, the board statement says, in the area of outreach to religion and faith communities, schools programs promoting fair treatment of LGBT youth, and a family and children initiative to open adoption agencies to LGBT parents.

In the area of legislation, the board statement said Solmonese played a key role in steering HRC’s opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. They also note that under his tenure, Congress passed a hate crimes law with protections for LGBT people and repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law barring gays from serving openly in the military.

The statement notes that during his tenure, the Obama administration put in place a number of administrative directives and policy changes favorable to LGBT people, including a policy banning discrimination against federal government workers based on gender identity.

Dana Beyer, executive director of the transgender advocacy group Gender Rights Maryland and a former HRC board member, said Solmonese alienated many in the transgender community and in the LGBT community in general in 2007 when he declined to oppose a decision by House Democratic leaders to remove protections for transgender people from ENDA.

Then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s gay, said they determined at the time that ENDA couldn’t pass in the House if a transgender provision remained in the bill. The House passed a so-called “gay only” version of the bill that year over strong objections from a coalition of dozens of LGBT groups from across the country. Pelosi and Frank said they would introduce a separate bill with transgender protections at a later date, when support for such a bill could be lined up.

Solmonese said it would have put HRC in an untenable position to oppose a major gay rights bill backed by longtime LGBT rights supporters in the House. The bill died when the Senate did not bring it up for a vote.

Solmonese and HRC changed their position on the bill the following year, saying the organization would no longer support ENDA without a provision protecting transgender people from job discrimination.

But Beyer and other LGBT activists said HRC’s earlier position left deep scars within the transgender community, which felt abandoned by HRC.

Others have said the LGBT movement as a whole was divided over HRC’s position, with many in the movement – including D.C.’s Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club – supporting an incremental approach of passing a sexual orientation-only version of ENDA while continuing to push hard for adding a transgender provision as soon as possible.

Those holding that view said they favored a fully inclusive ENDA but recognized such a bill could not pass at the time.

Beyer said that in addition to the ENDA flap, many LGBT activists believe HRC is devoting too much of its resources to marriage equality, including the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, at the expense of other legislation, such as a trans-inclusive ENDA. Beyer argues that ENDA would help many more LGBT people than those interested in getting married.

“Many of us are hoping HRC will change its direction on some of these issues under a new president,” she said. “But the president is really nothing more than a reflection of the board of directors,” she said. “If the board of directors doesn’t want to change the direction of the organization, it doesn’t matter who the next president is.”

Richard Socarides, president of the national LGBT advocacy group Equality Matters, said Solmonese has performed well in advancing the LGBT agenda.

“He has been there when some very important gains took place,” he said. “And I think he did a tremendous job building the organization.”

Socarides said he disagrees with some critics who say HRC failed to do enough to push ENDA or is placing too much emphasis on marriage equality.

“I don’t think they can be blamed for the failure to pass any particular piece of legislation just as they can’t take all the credit for the legislation that has passed,” he said.

“But what I have said before is that as an organization, they have not sufficiently leveraged their power to bring about change more quickly,” Socarides said. “They are a key part of the Washington establishment but they seem to seek change within existing structures. They are very reluctant to rock the boat.”

Rick Rosendall, vice president of D.C.’s Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, and Bob Summersgill, GLAA’s former president, each said HRC under Solmonese’s leadership has provided strong support for the efforts by D.C. activists in passing a same-sex marriage law. The two said Solmonese also arranged for HRC to devote considerable resources to fight efforts by members of Congress to attach anti-gay riders to the city’s annual appropriations bill. Congress must approve the city’s annual budget under the city’s limited home rule charter.

Summersgill and Rosendall noted that HRC, among other things, helped to line up support to defeat proposals by Republican lawmakers to ban same-sex couples from adopting children in the city.

Lateefah Williams, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, said she, too, appreciated Solmonese’s support for D.C.’s marriage equality campaign, noting that he directed HRC to provide a full-time field organizer to help local activists build support in the community for the same-sex marriage bill.

Williams said she also shares the views of some that HRC should broaden its support for transgender rights initiatives as well as efforts to support programs aimed at minorities within the LGBT community, such as blacks and Latinos, and youth.

“I wish Joe well,” she said.

News of Solmonese’s departure was first reported by the blog Pam’s House Blend last week. The blog cited unnamed sources as saying his departure may be part of a sweeping staff shakeup initiated by the HRC board and that news of his leaving came about under less than amicable circumstances.

Other sources familiar with HRC told the Blade that account was inaccurate. One source familiar with the group characterized as “complete fiction” claims of a staff shakeup as well as claims by some that HRC may already have lined up a successor for Solmonese.

“This is about as normal and straight forward as it gets,” said the source. “He’s giving them six months advance notice. They’re going to launch a replacement process. The organization will go through that and come out with a successor.”

In a letter to HRC volunteers across the country, Solmonese discussed the timing of his decision to leave the group.

“While there may never be an ideal time, this moment seems right for me and my family,” he said. “In addition to our unprecedented victories, the health and future of the Human Rights Campaign has never been more robust,” he said. “My successor will lead a thriving organization despite the recent economic challenges.”

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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