Joe Solmonese

We’ve come a long way to get to where we are today

Filed By Joe Solmonese | August 01, 2007 5:54 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Congress, ENDA, Gordon Smith, hate crimes against LGBT people, House of Representatives, HRC, Matthew Shepard, Nancy Pelosi, Senate, Teddy Kennedy

On May 3, the House of Representatives voted 237 to 180 in favor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592). This historic vote was the first time that a major piece of pro-gay legislation had an up-or-down vote in the House. The new fair-minded leadership of Congress is responding after 12 years of inaction by Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay.

Just last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) would have a House vote in September. This would be the first vote on ENDA since it failed to pass by one vote in the Senate in 1996.

For more than a decade, the Human Rights Campaign has worked with Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and other Members of Congress to build support for passing hate crimes legislation that will include all Americans in federal protections against vicious hate violence. Over the years, we’ve been successful in building strong bipartisan support for passing hate crimes legislation. The Senate majority has been particularly impressive. In 2004, the Senate passed the hate crimes bill as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill by a vote of 65-33.

Still, over the past decade, despite the majority of both the House and Senate being in favor of passing updated hate crimes legislation, Republican leaders have been able to stop it from reaching the president in each Congress the hate crimes bill has been introduced. In the past, House and Senate leaders either allowed the bill to die in committee, blocked consideration, or stripped it out during final negotiations among the leadership.

We were disappointed, although not surprised, that on the day before the House vote, President Bush’s senior advisors recommended a veto of the hate crimes legislation. Our Senate champions, Senators Kennedy and Smith concluded that the best strategy for success was to find a must-pass, must-sign bill to use as a vehicle to move the hate crimes bill to the president’s desk for signature. This year, as in the past, they chose to offer hate crimes as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill. This bill has been signed by the president each year over the last 50 years. Despite the turbulence around the Defense bill due to the debate on the Iraq war, the Defense authorization was again an attractive option. And, it still may prove to be.

Progress on pro-GLBT legislation in this Congress is real, meaningful and significant. Congress often moves slower than people want or expect, so it is understandable that some grow frustrated when the final results are not immediate. In this Congress, we have already witnessed a heightened visibility and concern for GLBT issues that affect our community, including hate crimes. Senators Kennedy and Smith and the Senate Democratic Leadership remain committed to passage of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act this year. They are working with us to find ways to ensure enactment of the legislation.

We’ve come a long way to get to where we are today. With the help of the GLBT community, the civil rights organizations, and law enforcement supporters, we will succeed.

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I'd like to know what you think are the chances that ENDA and Matthew Shepard will both pass this year? Can we still get both?

Leland Frances | August 1, 2007 8:42 PM

"With the help of the GLBT community, the civil rights organizations, and law enforcement supporters, we will succeed."

I thought "we" are "the GLBT community."

Solomonese speaks,
I cringe.

The HRC remains a bunch of queers of privledge who overcompensate for their political apathy by throwing their money at an profoundly un-strategic outfit like the Human Rights Fund.

and it makes me sick.

beergoggles | August 2, 2007 10:26 AM

You got a tough break with getting any of this to pass with this president in power.

However, the LEAST you could do is hold the feet of the Democrats who voted AGAINST these bills to the fire, and there were several of them that actually said one thing before being elected before deciding to vote against it.

How about asking for some accountability of the people that you actually lobby?

We have come a long way ... but we haven't come nearly far enough.

A. J. Lopp | August 2, 2007 5:23 PM

Joe, scanning these comments, doesn't seem like you are getting the reception here that you were expecting.

Thanks for all those unending mailings, insisting that I renew my HRC membership. In the summer, they are a total waste of money. In the winter, at least I save them up, take them to the family farm, throw them into the furnace and they help keep my mother warm. The quarterly mag-rag burns well, too.

C'mon now folks. Let's go easy for a minute here.

Far be it from me to discourage comments on a blog, but let's just take some things into account here. This is Joe's first post on our site. No real welcome given by anyone, but a couple of, well, hateful comments.

It's the politics of personal destruction that I constantly rail about... Would it really have taken that much for just one person to welcome Joe? Even if you disagree with everything that he has to say, he's willing to take the comments on his work without flinching. He's put himself out there. And he's right - we HAVE come a long way. Should we sit back on our laurels and rest? Hell no. But I never got that impression from Joe's post either.

I've told everyone you can come to TBP and speak your piece - so I'm not taking down the comments. It's just that I expected better from our readers than this. It saddens me.

Maybe I just expect too much.

You know, it doesn't do any good to just hurl your nastiness at Joe. I've met Joe a couple of times and he's a smart and decent guy. HRC has had it's problems in the past - and I've been a pretty strong critic of them, don't get me wrong - but damn people, give the guy some slack.

HRC was extremely helpful in getting the Indianapolis Human Rights Ordinance passed. HRC was instrumental in helping turn Indiana's congressional delegation from red to blue. HRC has put hundreds of people in the field and paid them to help organize in most, if not all, of the states of the union for the past few years.

Sure, they're pigheaded at times and think too much of themselves quite often, but I think most organizations behave in much the same way. Part of it is out of necessity (to exist in a town like Washington, a little arrogance helps more than it hurts,) but the truth of it is that we don't often give organizations like HRC the credit they actually deserve.

Let's also keep in mind that HRC isn't just the guy or gal at the top. They have a board of directors that has an agenda, they have a staff that has an agenda, they have members who have agendas, and sometimes those agendas are ALL different. If you think I'm crazy, just ask some of our contributors on the site. Several of our current bloggers have worked for HRC at some point either present or past.

So, while we all have frustration about the LGBT movement that we want to express, being nasty to Joe Solmonese isn't going to fix a damn bit of it. Give your criticism in a constructive and coherent manner and I can guarantee you you'll get a hell of a lot better response out of anyone, including Joe.

Joe doesn't have to blog here. He doesn't have to put himself out there in the least to continue his job at HRC. But he is. And he's doing it because he wants to start a conversation with you. So the first thing you do in return shouldn't be to bite his head off.

When you sit and stew about why the movement isn't moving as fast as you want it too, look in the mirror. Because it's behavior like this that holds us back.

Now, let me be the first to say so: Welcome Joe. Thanks for being a contributor at the Bilerico Project. I appreciate what it has taken for you and HRC to join us here at the project.

AS I said in a much longer post at my site ( - I won't waste all the space here going in depth - I feel as though ten years is an awful long time to wait for just this little tid-but of "progress." Yes, things are looking up; I'm happy for us. But for me (I'm 21) and many other youth, ten years is a really long time.

I also feel that the way in which HRC tends to go about things - while needed in some ways - isn't always the only thing that can or needs to be done to address issues important to our community. There is a time and place for everything. Wining and dining certainly fits in somewhere along with direct, on-the-street activism.

I'm glad to be an HRC supporter, although I wish I could see more progress. I'll just chalk up to my youth. Pay no attention to my anxiousness.

Gays in America are a joke, not to mention a disgrace. Why don't all of you homosexual people get out of your gay bars and start protesting for your human rights. Nobody is going to give you your rights unless you fight for them.

The HRC is a scam as well. Why do they so vigorously support Democratic candidates that will eventually piss all over them. Why do they support legislation that, in all reality, is feel good legislation. Why don't they support some real hard core legislation that truly effects the lives of homosexual. For instance, why doesn't the HRC email weekly with where the UAFA currently stands. The UAFA is a piece of do or die legislation that the HRC does not touch.

Moving from the USA is the best decision I have ever made. Canadian gay activists have their shit together. Do you ever wonder what it is like to be treated like an equal citizen? Just wait 10 years and get back to me.

A. J. Lopp | August 3, 2007 2:31 AM

OK, OK, OK ... as a Bilerico fan who wants this blog to grow and prosper, maybe my previous post was in poor judgment. Bil and Jerame, I have been duly chastised. And although I cannot apologize for the exact words I used (because they were as true as they were sarcastic), I can apologize for being quite so nasty, and for not being more of a team player.

I certainly support the same goals that HRC does. My beef with them is mostly about fiscal management. They appear to me to be a mega-group which is 50% or more a fundraising machine. This proportion is inappropriate when representing a populace that can't afford that type of fat --- unless such a proportion is necessary just to survive and be large enough to get noticed, and they have failed to convince me so far that that is their situation.

It was not my intent to attack Joe personally, and I don't believe I did. Yes, it is challenging to head a large organization such as HRC, and he was generous with his time to give Bilerico a post.

My most earnest advice to Joe and HRC is to increase the genuine, quality dialogues that HRC has with its concerned GLBT constituency (its PR problems are considerable, or else we would not even be having this discussion), turn down the knob on the glossy marketing ...

... and, yes, hold the Dems accountable when they flirt with us, take our money and votes, and then dump us. We might even have to put a few such minor folks on a permanent "do-not-call" list and wait for their successors to appear before we get this message across loud and clear.

The GOP is even more problematic, because there is a smaller percentage of them who even want our votes. Even though there are many HRC constituents who can't stand being in the same room with a Republican, highlighting our few friends in the GOP is very important. (Don't ask me to make a list of them at the moment. I'd be stumped to name any big ones, but we do have certain ones on certain specific issues.) In this regard, educating the GLBT populace about the necessity of bipartisanship is as much a task for HRC as lobbying the politicians is.

Joe Salmonese has taken HRC slightly in the direction I am suggesting. His tours to American cities are a step in the right direction, but the events appear to me to be too staged only for the elite. Maybe I'm wrong about this, maybe the wealthy GLBT's need an HRC and poor people like me/us need to go to NGLTF, I don't know.

Now, I think that I have given Joe and HRC the serious time and thought that he has given us. I hope I took my destructive nastiness and channeled it into something approaching a valuable piece of feedback, even though everything I've said seems pretty obvious.

Leland Frances | August 3, 2007 4:04 AM

If everyone’s done singing “Kumbaya” or yelling “off with their heads,” I’d like to address some specifics. As one who had a passing acquaintance with the late Steve Endean who founded the Human Rights Campaign Fund in 1981, I unabashedly presume to assert I know at least a little of which I speak.

1. It’s one thing to “think positive,” and quite another to refuse to hear the seriousness behind the growing hostility among growing numbers toward HRC. Where should our priorities be—with a group or individual or with what is best for the movement for gay equality itself?

2. So relatively new to the well-paying job, Solmonese certainly can’t be held accountable for things that preceded his tenure, but he is an adult who took that job willingly, and it’s not our fault if he was unaware of or is unable to deal with the thorns along with the roses. Leaping like lavender lizards to his defense itself demeans him.

3. He can, however, be held accountable for repeating previous ED’s mistakes. One of those was reflected in all the “we’s” in his article, from “we have come a long way” to the strange closing “we” that seems to separate him and HRC somehow from the community they claim to serve. Is it poetic license or arrogance that leads one to talk about “we” over the last ten years when one has been a part of that advocacy group for barely two?

4. As for that brief tenure, quick, raise your hand if you had ever heard of Joe Solmonese before he was announced as new HRC ED. You? Yes? You didn’t remember his name but you remember the outrage when he was head of the abortion rights group Emily’s List and they endorsed an antigay candidate because he/she was pro choice? One can certainly choose one priority over another. One can also be thought of as simply a hired gun.

5. One can also be held accountable for perpetuating the “royal” status HRC seems to declare for itself. And that is never more simply and absurdly evident than in one of his statements by video with, not the rainbow flag, not the American flag, but a large “HRC flag” next to him. When did HRC become a country? When were they granted the exclusive patent on the gay equality movement? I used to be proud of the simple but eloquent iconography of the yellow equal sign against the blue background. Now it’s beginning to remind me of the Biblical “mark of the beast,” and certainly long ago ceased connoting “gay equality” and is now nothing per se but a corporate brand.

6. And speaking of corporations, during his tenure, HRC has published their LGBT buyers guide in which Coors gets a 100% rating despite the fact that HRC acknowledges in VERY fine print that Coors may still be involved in antigay politicking, thus violating the guide’s own explicit formula for assigning a rating. HRC also takes money from Coors and in turn promotes the fortune of the family whose patriarch bankrolled the founding of the antigay industry and whose senior heir supported banning gay marriage by US Constitutional amendment.

7. Then there are some of the astonishing things Solmonese has said. San Francisco’s “Bay Area Reporter” quoted him this March as saying, “It wasn't our job to help the Democrats take back the House.” I’ll give y’all a minute to chew on that one. ……… Now, however that unusual assertion from the leader of the PAC tasted to you, consider that just a couple of weeks ago, after HRC’s huge San Francisco fundraising dinner, the B.A.R. reported, “HRC President Joe Solmonese also addressed the crowd, pointing to the organization's successes in last year's midterm elections that saw the Democrats take control of Congress for the first time in 12 years.” Ignoring for the moment the arrogance of appearing, as HRC so often does, to take sole credit for such an event, at what point in the last four months did Joe have such a revelation? Did God, or at least Harvey Milk, appear to him in a burning bush?

8. RE such profitable dinners: unlike HRC, when NGLTF leaves DC, they leave with local gay rights organizations a large portion of the money they raise at such events. Their upcoming Miami dinner, for instance, will turn over two-thirds of the proceeds to local groups. [And they haven’t yet given an award to Reichen.]

9. Much has been made, and fairly so, of HRC’s seeming greater attention and participation recently in the fight for gay equality beyond the proverbial Beltway. A writer above claims they have paid for “hundreds” of localized workers. Assuming that’s true, what did that cost and in what relation to the rest of their use of the money we send them—more than the next three ranking gay groups combined? What will be more telling beyond anyone’s sincere perceptions or the organization’s marketing rhetoric will be their next annual report, for to read their accounts of income and expenditures during the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections, when “faggots” were the fuel that was helping fire the Bush Reich’s coups is to see an organization that spent disproportionate amounts on fundraising and relatively little on the elections themselves while leaving, as I recall, some $25 million in the bank. Until the certified report, I also recall that they bragged on their site after the election last fall that they’d spent over $5 million on it. Again, with an annual budget estimated at over $30 million was investing only one-sixth of their wealth in such an important election justified?

In closing, unlike some I don’t particularly care whether they inflate their membership numbers. And all of the braying for “bipartisanship” by gay Repugs may be minty but it’s certainly not fresh. It’s simply more evidence that they are Repugs first and gay second. But, again, what of Joe Solmonese and his HRC masters? Which comes first in their raison d’etre? The organization or the community it claims to represent? Before you answer, burn that goddamn flag!