I've often lamented, although I don't know if I've mentioned this on Bilerico, how I was one of the people who hated HRC before hating HRC was cool and the new haters don't really have a good reason to hate HRC other than a vague "DC elitists are screwing everything up for Real Americans" attitude.
Before the 2008 elections, the main critics of HRC from within the LGBT community were the gay Republicans, who thought HRC was a Democratic org in disguise; the queer left, who thought HRC was just plain conservative; and transgender activists, who were directly betrayed by HRC's actions in 2004 and 2007. While I think that gay Republicans were wrong, each of these major criticisms challenged in HRC's goals and ideology. HRC becoming more effective at pushing their agenda wouldn't have solved any of their issues with the group, and many people within the community, both by parroting the HRC line on major LGBT issues and by dismissing any criticism of them as unproductive, actively sought to defend HRC's position as "the voice of the LGBT community." Now those people have become some of HRC's most vocal critics.
Even though these critics were marginalized by the gaystream, they developed a substantive criticism of the nonprofit industrial complex and how it functions when it comes to queer issues. In short: HRC would never become an organization that represents the community because its funding mostly comes from a small group of people who aren't representative of the rest of us. Their primary interest, like all corporations, is their own financial survival, so putting faith in them as the saviors of all the queers in America is misguided.
Fast-forward to last Friday, when Pam Spaulding, who's representative of the newer critics of HRC, called for Joe Solmonese to resign:
Joe Solmonese should do the honorable thing and step down. It is shameful to cash all those checks without the follow through on the job. The White House was never put under serious pressure; the late calls now in the e-blasts for the President to do something ring hollow after the toadying that has gone on for two years.
As we saw, Reid couldn't get it together in the Senate and the wingnuts will have more control in January. The watered-down repeal doesn't do much of anything at this point (even if it passes as a separate bill during the lame duck session -- good luck with that), and we're still dealing with all the GOP squawking by McCain and others who want a "do-over" of the Pentagon's implementation report. It's a big f'ing mess because there has been piss-poor leadership by those who are lobbied in government.
In turn it's the unelected, highly marketed, well-tailored representative of the entire LGBT community, Joe Solmonese of HRC, who also has to be held accountable for these failures. It's clear that those in power had no fear of the vast war chest of HRC being used to turn up the heat. No, the heat came from less well-heeled activists who didn't have the access to power, only voices and fearlessness to call out the purposeful foot-dragging and inaction.
That "heat" that came from folks who protested and got arrested once or twice was very effective but HRC was completely ineffective, even though neither tactic was successful (DADT is still law). Go read the whole thing; she never explains why she believes one tactic should be punished and the other shouldn't.
The 2008 elections changed two things when it came to queer people's reaction to the nonprofit industrial complex generally and HRC specifically. First, Prop 8's passage woke up a largely dormant LGBT population in California and elsewhere by letting them know that they were still hated. (Some of my favorite statements from activists who worked on Prop 8 asked where all these angry people were before the election, when, you know, it actually mattered.) In a few months, those newly-aware "Prop 8 babies" became ruthlessly critical of Equality California, that state's largest LGBT nonprofit, a sentiment that would carry over to HRC a year later.
Second, Obama was elected, and the solid brick wall blocking all LGBT legislation that was GWB's veto pen was torn down. In a dynamic that we've seen on pretty much every issue, by giving the Democrats the power to actually do what they wanted instead of jeering from the sidelines we found out just how much the Democratic Party and liberalism had rotted away since their glory days several decades ago. Liberals got mad at Democrats not because they were doing less than they were doing back in, say, 2004, but because they finally had the power to do a lot more and they weren't doing it.
That anger was directed to HRC by an LGBT public that was already frustrated by living in a country that had significantly advanced on the homophobia front but hadn't changed its legislation to reflect those advances because of 28 years of Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Bush Jr. Things should have been different, and if they weren't it couldn't be because of people outside of DC because those people are our friends, family, and coworkers, and they're generally fine with us having jobs. When it became apparent that Obama wasn't going to be that straight guy who's totally cool with discussing the best bathhouse in town or that straight girl at work who's just dying to meet your partner, the blame quickly went to anything "establishment." If anything, that should speak more to the distance and powerlessness lots of people feel when confronted with America's political process than it does about reality.
What's notable about this anger, though, is that it's decidedly not ideological. It's coming from people who have generally bought into the gaystream agenda without even questioning whether these big pieces of legislation (DADT repeal, DOMA repeal, ENDA, hate crimes) would actually benefit them personally. These are people who have personally felt pain and confronted unfair treatment because of their sexuality and subconsciously or consciously think that passing these bills will end homophobia itself.
That belief has been sold to a community in search of a quick fix by people who want to get support for their pet project but couldn't care less about things that would help people far from the halls of power (increased funding for HIV medication, money for queer homeless people, improving conditions of prisons for LGBT people, making school environments safer for sexual and gender difference, although that's gotten some brief attention this year).
Pam's resignation call is a good example: she doesn't have any problem with DADT repeal or its sudden, recent prominence in the LGBTQ agenda (remember that not even a year ago all the talk was about ENDA, not DADT), but she does link to posts about Joe's wardrobe and HRC's press release language as evidence of HRC's ineffectiveness.
Compare that to 2007, when many people in the community were calling for Joe's head (if Pam joined in this call in 2007, I missed it) because of HRC's position on cutting gender identity out of the ENDA. Folks weren't talking about HRC's effectiveness, since that can't be separated from the surrounding environment. But their goals and actions were fair game.
Anyway, this is all more interesting considering the love for GetEqual displayed in that post, which has its own directors with bloated salaries, has gotten a large (but smaller than HRC's) warchest that seems to be funding one demo a month, and is so open about sharing the same agenda with HRC that even their managing director says their work is little more than a supplement to HRC's.
But they've marketed themselves as outside the mainstream in much the same way as George "I'd rather have a beer with him" Bush did in 2000. So that counts for something, I guess.
So back on the title question, I suppose I just don't see a) how losing Joe would change anything since he'd be replaced by someone who'd do similar work; b) what changed just now since the essence of HRC hasn't really changed in the last 10 years; why HRC is particularly to blame for the Senate's failure on DADT when there there are so many other actors involved (like the Senators themselves and all those other orgs that sprang up to specifically focus on DADT).
Moreover, I don't really see what HRC could have done specifically on DADT repeal. While we love to say that HRC is just oozing money, they have a pretty small budget compared to most lobbyist groups, even lobbyists that don't represent commercial interests. According to their 2009 990, they took in and spent around $9.5 million in 2008, and that money wasn't just for DADT repeal (HRC has many other projects). The American Family Association, on the other hand, took in and spent around $20 million that year, and they're not even the biggest anti-gay org (Focus on the Family is much larger, although they spend their money on lots of different causes). HRC can't make like the health care industry lobbyists and dump $1.5 million a day into Congress to get a bill passed, and even the Religious Right in all its permutations is able to spend much more on lobbying.
Not that any of this matters since most of the people who want to discuss this don't have a say in the matter. I don't donate to HRC so they don't care what I think, but even if they did "Fire Joe" or "Put out angrier press releases on DADT" wouldn't be the first things I'd want to tell them.