This week I've been taking a closer look at the new direct action group GetEqual and asking if the group has too many similarities to HRC, the group that everyone loves to hate. Many readers and other bloggers around the web have weighed in and criticized my analogy citing the areas where the two groups differ. GetEqual's Managing Director, Heather Cronk, has also responded twice to the series here on the site with her own guest posts.
Part 1: Follow the Money: Is GetEqual the New HRC?
GetEqual's Managing Director: GetEqual: A Response & Clarification
Part 2: Behind the Veil: Is GetEqual the New HRC?
GetEqual's Managing Director: Part 2: GetEqual responds again
I'd like to commend GetEqual for directly and bravely stepping forward and engaging in a debate and dialogue with Projectors who had questions. While we're seeing many of the mainstream orgs - especially HRC - improve dramatically with their online and press relations, GetEqual has really set the bar high for directly answering some of the concerns we've shared.
That said, it's still disappointing to see that it was bad publicity that has forced them to be more transparent - even with information they would have to publicly disclose as a not-for-profit organization. With such a small staff and short time in existence, is the group heading down the same road of insular decisions and hidden agendas HRC is known for?
Let's take a look at GetEqual's transparency issues and what they are and are not.
Transparency Isn't an Afterthought
While Cronk released the org's leaders salaries after my first post based on the generalizations provided by co-director Kip Williams, it wasn't until I published my thoughts on those as they'd stated them that the org decided to actually come off with real numbers.
Williams told journalist Michael Petrelis the amounts were "less than $90k per year" and The Advocate quoted their source as "less than $90,000." When I e-mailed all three leaders, Cronk, Williams, and McGehee, about the salary amounts I was given vague generalizations and non-answers.
"I'm not sure what relevance this has to a story about GetEQUAL," Cronk replied when I asked if she was taking a paycut to work for the new org.
"I'm not sure what the hang-up on staff salaries is -- can you say more about that? Some of us are making about the same as we were before joining GetEQUAL -- some are making less," Cronk wrote in response to my second attempt to get her to simply say what she'd be making.
Neither Williams nor McGehee responded to my requests for salary amounts even though those payouts have to be publicly available since GetEqual is being run through a 501(c)(3) organization. The amounts would have to be recorded in the parent non-profit's annual report and tax reports. Cronk revealed their salary amounts in her guest post on Bilerico Project yesterday.
Other reporters and bloggers have also expressed similar frustration at getting clear answers from the GetEqual team. Even when someone responds, it's usually so full of vague answers and general platitudes that it reads like one of those generic "Thank you for your opinion" letters you get back when you send a message to your Congressperson.
Generalities capped with a Kumbayah moment has become a pattern with Williams and McGehee. What's always missing is the concrete action plan and deliverable items. There's a difference between calling yourself a direct action group and actually planning out actions instead of knee-jerk re-actions.
What GetEqual Is Not
While GetEqual is being hailed as the new conquering hero in some quarters and they are entitled to their due as a group of hardworking individuals, it's important to also keep in mind what they aren't.
GetEqual is not responsible for the passage of the mealy-mouthed Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal legislation currently pending before the Senate. In fact, the group has often railed against the legislation saying that the compromise is unacceptable. To give them credit for getting something passed that they opposed is a ludicrous leap of logic touted by blind fans and acolytes.
In a similar manner, GetEqual is not responsible for "forward movement on the passage of ENDA" as one reader wrote. Let's be clear, there hasn't been any movement on ENDA. It's stuck in committee in both houses of Congress. Politicians have promised us movement for months and no amount of interruptions to deliver markers or sit-ins at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office have helped drag the needed legislation out of the ditch.
The group, while much ballyhooed as the people's answer to the corporate-like structure of HRC, is also not a grassroots organization. It is very much a grasstops organization. This is not the people coming together with a demand; it is rich funders supporting the work of a few handpicked activists to stir up their community and put pressure on government officials they have a personal beef with.
Just like HRC, they have rich backers that they need to keep happy to keep the dollars flowing in. This isn't a mean attack; it's a reality of any not-for-profit. You can bluff your way so far in politics, but when it comes down to brass tacks, you have to put up or shut up. If GetEqual doesn't accomplish something concrete, no one is going to be willing to pay them to do nothing.
Sadly, the group has also not been effective. Instead of falling over themselves to perform spontaneous actions like chaining themselves to the White House fence without a solid media communications plan, mouthing self-aggrandizing media soundbites that turn off viewers, or organizing small protests attended by a dozen or so activists, why not turn in a solid and well planned performance like the National Equality March?
After Williams heckled the President during a Barbara Boxer event recently, the President, guests and media laughed - not just at Williams but at what he represents. They laughed at him and by extension they laughed at us.
Witness the visceral distate many felt at a spreadeagled Choi aping Christ on the cross in the few pictures taken of his first White House protest or his spotlight stealing moment with Kathy Griffin at an HRC rally before the second protest. Throw in his constant self-referential comparisons to Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr when describing his actions and you've got a public relations nightmare that's not working as much for our advantage as their namebrand recognition.
Lt. Dan Choi is not the second coming of Gandhi or Jesus Christ. As I said in my first post, no matter how many times you quote Bayard Rustin or Martin Luther King Jr, you won't be able to morph into them and continue their work for equality. The LGBT community has long complained that we've not had our own version of MLK instead of simply rising up and becoming our own instruments of justice.
The New HRC?
Is GetEqual the new HRC? They're not a lobbying organization, true. They're not a large membership organization with a budget of several million dollars. They're not nearly as old or established as the Human Rights Campaign either.
But they do have a budget that will be approaching at least a million dollars - no small-time amount of cash. They will have a board charged not with what's best for the community, but with the legal obligation of always considering what's best for the organization. And while they're touting themselves as a "grassroots" group based on "volunteer" (instead of "members") ideas, they keep the true chain of command and authority for decisions masked behind a smokescreen.
As a regular queer activist or community member, do you really know who it was at HRC that made the final decision on whether or not the org would support a version of ENDA that wasn't trans-inclusive a few years ago? That decision split the community apart and caused schisms that still haven't healed and we don't even know how it really happened.
So what happens when GetEqual potentially does something similarly stupid that really divides the community? There is no one around to hold accountable if "there's no 'Wizard' behind the curtain," as Cronk says. Those guilty of gross injustices to our community and our entire movement could be allowed to skate free with even the knowledge that they were responsible hidden from us.
Is GetEqual the new HRC? No. Hardly. It takes a while to develop a reputation as deep and nuanced as the Human Rights Campaign's. But unless GetEqual changes some of their way, they're headed down the same road to hell HRC took years ago.
After all, it's paved with good intentions.