Karen Ocamb

Solmonese: No Means No on ENDA vote

Filed By Karen Ocamb | March 20, 2008 2:39 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: anti-gay, ENDA, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese, LGBT politics

I was completely flummoxed by the Human
Joe Solmonese.JPGRights Campaign's gala in Los Angeles last Saturday - lots of tuxes and spots of inspiration but no real take-away message, except something about The Big Picture.

This is a critical election year but no one waltzed out jazzed about who's doing what to win the presidency or congressional races. And the critical effort to stop an antigay marriage constitutional amendment from making the California ballot this November only got a fleeting mention.

Joe Solmonese did confirm, however, that HRC will give congress members who voted against the sexual orientation-only ENDA bill a negative score - albeit with an asterisk.

Ron Wyden and Judith Light.JPGFirst, the gala. About 1000 people showed up, I'm told, but it appears that only two electeds were there - keynote speaker Sen. Ron Wyden and West Hollywood Mayor John Duran. That's pretty strange for a political organization in a hot political year.

It may have something to do with the program. In 2006, HRC featured former Vice President Al Gore who essentially espoused marriage equality, and, in 2007, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, then a presidential candidate, keynoted with rival Dennis Kucinich in the audience.

This year - with all due respect to the Honorable Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a long supporter of marriage equality - he seemed to be stopping by on his way home and his keynote was a well-worn cheer for equality, albeit spiced up with references to the new catch-phase "fierce" with Project Runway winner Christian "fierce" Siriano sitting in the audience waiting to present an award to Bravo.

Even the honorees - local heroes - didn't seem to know why they were being honored. Sweet Anne Hathaway said as much in her remarks, noting that being gay in her family was no big deal. And the others did not seem to have any direct connection to HRC or actually anything overtly political.

Shirley Riga.JPGThe one attempt to connect the dots was met with a sudden uproar of chatter. Shirley Riga had just finished her incredibly moving story about how her wife had been seriously injured in an accident and how the hospital recognized their Massachusetts marriage so Shirley could make healthcare decisions, including removing life support. Afterwards one of her spouse's daughters challenged Shirley since there was no will. Shirley was choking back tears and you could hear a pin drop as people felt her anguish.

Then an HRC Board member took the podium and pitched hard for money. It took a second for folks to adjust - but when he started talking about the Federal Club - the room burst into chatter. It felt like he was exploiting Shirley's heartbreak.

In his remarks, Solmonese stressed The Big Picture and the long march to equality. But even he seemed tired of making the point, sounding at times almost like he was giving a stump speech with some local names thrown in.

Solmonese talked about how HRC worked on the inclusive hate crimes bill, then began "the long legislative process" toward passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Solmonese said:

These were historic events. A number of hurdles, as you know, made it impossible to move those bills any further this session. But we began the process after many years of operating in a purely defensive mode.

Now for a number of reasons, many people in our community don't view these stepping stone accomplishments as monumental - even very important. They are feeling dejected angry and impatient. And given the way we began our journey toward the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - I understand every day that some members of our community are feeling forgotten or left behind.

But it is easy to understand why. In some ways we are the victims of our own success. We thought, well in 2006 we worked hard and smart and that work paid off. So when the hate crimes bill fell short - and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act began in a way that none of us were happy with - it created a sense of anxiety and anger within the community.

But I have to ask - when did we all get so impatient? When did we all say to ourselves - OK, that civil rights thing - I'll give it a year, maybe two - then everything should be done.

Let me be clear - No: we are not done. This is called the grueling, blinding middle of the fight. And the middle of the fight is the hardest part. (Applause)

And I understand. It is hard to see The Big Picture from here. It is hard to keep faith. It is hard to realize that all the things that we want, that we know we can achieve - may not happen in a timely or a smooth fashion. You know sometimes - and I know this well - the fight for our rights feels like hell. But as Winston Churchill so aptly said - when you are going through hell, the most important thing you can do is keep going. (Laughter)

Later I asked Solmonese about how HRC would score congress members who voted no on the sexual orientation-only ENDA bill, since so many politicians tout their HRC rating in their campaigns.

Solmonese said:

We are going score an up or down vote on whether they voted for the bill or not because that is what we said we were going to do when we started this.

We felt - when the bill came out of committee and on to the floor - we felt very strongly that that bill on the floor - regardless of what you felt about the hundred other incarnations that the process went through - that bill on the floor should pass. And so we are going to score it accordingly.

Now those people like Jerry Nadler and others who voted against the bill - we're also going to note on the scorecard the reason they voted against the bill was that it did not include gender identity, not like a right wing member who voted against it because across the board they don't support GLBT issues. We will note it accordingly. We're still going to score it as the vote - if you didn't for vote it, it'll be characterized as a vote against it.

While there is no question that we are solidly advocating for an inclusive bill, there are many roads to go down in the direction of that bill and regardless of what you think - I believe, the leadership believe, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights believe, Sen. Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis - all of our allies in the struggle for civil rights evaluated this situation and said, as this bill goes to the floor - it is critically important that it pass.

I know it's a complicated process the way these things work. But if we were going to say that to members - and scores of members voted for that bill - they said, you know what - I see this as a building block. I see this as something we want to work towards. I see it as laying down a foundation upon which we can build. You know, people like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kathy Castro - really progressive, committed to gender-identity members who, when faced with that decision, said I will vote to pass that bill. It doesn't mean I don't support gender identity. It doesn't mean I think this is the end of the road. I think it's the beginning."

I don't know how asterisks are tallied in the final percentages.

In his speech, Solmonese acknowledged the work being done to combat the proposed antigay marriage constitutional amendment in California and talked briefly about how HRC is part of the Equality For All coalition pushing a unique "Decline to Sign" campaign to interfere with the religious right's paid signature-gathering effort. Later he told me that HRC has contributed $100,000 to the Equality for All coalition and has four staff members on the ground in Orange County helping out.

But frankly, Solmonese missed an opportunity to educate audience members, especially those from the corporate world, about how important this battle is.

Here's what Solmonese said, in part:


And at HRC we understand that what happens at the state and local level impacts America as well. Equality California, here in this state, at every turn, has fought all attempts to ban same sex marriage in this state and is in fact moving this debate in a positive pro-active direction every day.... Join HRC and our partners in Equality for All and become involved in the decline to sign campaign. We have five weeks left to block our opponents from putting a discriminatory marriage ban on the ballot here in November and your help will make history."

What he didn't say is that Focus on the Family and other antigay religious and right wing groups are pouring money into the state, hoping that a win for them in California will take up where Karl Rove left off.

What he didn't say was that those antigay forces have roughly 650,000 signatures right now and may well reach the 1.1 million needed by April 17. One cannot scoff at their collecting 100,000 signatures a week!

And, for some reason, Solmonese did not mention the fact that the California Supreme Court is now considering a consolidated marriage case that - if the court rules in favor of marriage equality - could pave the way for a marriage equality bill passed by the state Legislature and this time signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promised to follow the court or the will of the people through an initiative.

So if the court rules favorably and if a marriage bill is signed into law, look for California to become the focus of frustrated and angry antigay activists who would love to see an antigay marriage constitutional amendment succeed here.

Now knowing more about that might have gotten the Los Angeles audience more politically jazzed because a victory or defeat in California will, as Solmonese said, impact America as well.

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I have my left arm way in the air because Joe has filled this blog with so much bullshit that my shoes are already ruin. I'm trying to save my watch.

When did WE get impatient? Really Joe - you're the one who who didn't have the spine to see it through to the long term goal. You heard a boo & jumped up on your chair like a cartoon charicature when they spot a mouse.

And that "we don't change things because we told you that's how we would judge you"? What utter nonsense. On the one hand you say you have to bow to expediency in shifting situations regarding enda, on the other you say your word is your bond.

The only consistency in those two positions is that you sold out transgender people both times. And you dissed your strongest House allies by punishing them for voting their consciences on a civil rights bill. Great long term vision there, Joe.

The asterisk by a name is fitting in one respect - it will be appended to your name like Barry Bonds by future generations:

Joe Solmoese: civil rights leader*

* see irony

George W. Bush has his poodle, Tony Blair, and Hillary Clinton has her poodle, Joe Solmonese.

His 'I'm a good boy, I want mommy's approval' behavior at the LOGO/HRC chat with the Democratic candidates was one of the most embarrassing acts of sucking up to Hillary I have ever seen.

The day Solmonese steps down from the HRC, a cheer will erupt from WeHo to Key West.

This is 10 pounds of monkey crap in a 5 pound bag. And what was the price per plate to attend said function? What a waste of time and money.

But I have to ask - when did we all get so impatient? When did we all say to ourselves - OK, that civil rights thing - I'll give it a year, maybe two - then everything should be done.

I believe he's being ironic? I mean, the whole thing was that he/HRC were too impatient to get an SO ENDA through that they couldn't wait for the T-folk, if I remember correctly.

And Anne Hathaway? She's nice, but I don't really know what she's done... Her brother's gay and that gets an award? My brother and sister each have a gay brother, but...

Maybe I'm missed something!

What were the general reactions to his comments, Karen?

Well, many in the audience seemed to agree with Joe that if sexual orientation was the best HRC could get, then that's what should be pushed. I left the 'applause" and "Laughter" notes in there to indicate some of the audience reaction.

However, there were more than a few folks who thought he was being a bit snide - and of course, as I hoped I conveyed - some of the LA activist were not pleased that HRC did not take the opportunity to explain the importance of Equality for All and fighting this antigay marriage constitutional measure.

But be advised - for many of the people who attended the HRC dinner - this is really their only exposure to an overtly political LGBT organization, other than perhaps the Equality California dinner. So they are inclined to go with Joe and believe he stands for the LGBT community.

John R. Selig | March 20, 2008 10:09 PM

Joe Solomnese and the HRC were out of step with 300 national and local LGBT organizations in the LGBT community over the ENDA legislation. How often have we seen such a huge percentage of our community agree on anything? How could Solmonese and the HRC be so out of touch?

I have been extremely underwhelmed by Solmonese's leadership and he has not been a great spokesperson during media appearances. I have seen Solmonese miss major opportunities in interviews where our fundamentalist opponents have scored points against the LGBT community that a spokesperson competent in media relations could have countered and the opposition look foolish. Sure Solmonese looked good on "The Colbert Report" but it was obvious that the interchange between Solmonese was scripted or at least outlined.

Until the HRC gets it act back together I recommend that our community divert their contributions to organizations that are doing far more good for our community such as Lambda Legal, Freedom to Marry, GLSEN, PFLAG, Family Equality Council, the Points Foundation, the Ali Forney Center, The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, Truth Wins Out, and Out and Equal, to name a few, as well as various LGBT state lobby organization like Equality Texas that fight for our rights, LGBT youth organizations like Youth First Texas and organizations that build coalitions for us like the Straight Spouse Network and Scouting for All.

When the HRC starts representing the LGBT community again in a positive way then perhaps a reevaluation will be worth considering. I sure miss Elizabeth Birch!!!!

Really Joe - you're the one who who didn't have the spine to see it through to the long term goal.
The day Solmonese steps down from the HRC, a cheer will erupt from WeHo to Key West.
When the HRC starts representing the LGBT community again in a positive way then perhaps a reevaluation will be worth considering. I sure miss Elizabeth Birch!!!!

Let's not allow our critical analysis of HRC to start and end with Joe Solmonese and the recent ENDA controversy. These are just symptoms.

Lets look at this then:
3/4 of the LGBT dead recently have been people trangressing traditional gender roles.

If we leave them behind, we leave them to die.

Can you wonder, then , why they are angry?

why don't i care about joe solomnese? why do i want to leave the room when i hear HRC? because they represent betrayal and lies.

OTTUMWA — Listen, reconsider and amend. That’s what the City Council did Tuesday concerning the sexual orientation ordinance.

The ordinance was on Tuesday’s agenda for its second reading. At least 50 people packed council chambers and several spoke, for or against, the proposed city law, which was the last item on the agenda.

Those who favored the ordinance said it’s needed to prevent discrimination in housing and employment.

Citizens who spoke against it said the ordinance would enable a man to put on a dress, enter a women’s restroom and molest or kidnap a female youngster.
After public comment, Councilman Gordon Aistrope said he was also concerned about who would enter the restroom because the proposed ordinance includes “gender identity” as part of the protected classification.

“This does bother me. Sexual orientation, OK. Gender identity, no,” Aistrope said.

He moved to delete “gender identity” and Councilman Mitch Niner seconded the motion.
The council voted unanimously to remove “gender identity” from the proposed ordinance.


Nice one, Joe. You think this would have happened without the ENDA debacle? This in a state that already has Inclusive ENDA-like provisions for employment. The vote was unanimous - the Dems followed the DNC's lead, as of course they would. How could anyone expect otherwise? And the Fundies? They just have to quote Barney Frank on the issue of restrooms, and their opponents scatter.

Oh yes, the consequence of this amendment means that the whole bill is back to square one. So no-one gets protected. Just like ENDA in that respect too.

Nick: Good point about Solmonese...

That "a year or two" comment is the one that most pisses me off. Poor fucking Joe. He's had to carry the weight of all gay rights on his shoulders lo these many decades. After all, the rest of us have just shown up in the last two years with - apparently - a lackadaisical attitude. That poor thing. He must be so tired from all that work of carrying a movement.

So many of us have been fighting for years before Joe swept into town to show us how NOT to do it.


Tell that to the families of the dead, Joe.
Your policies have casualties.

Solmonese says, "[W]hen did we all get so impatient? When did we all say to ourselves - OK, that civil rights thing - I'll give it a year, maybe two - then everything should be done."

I say to Joe Solmonese, get a friggin' grip. We've been waiting for the HRC to pass one....just one and any one will do... significant piece of federal, non-AIDS-related CIVIL RIGHTS legislation for more than 30-years! How long are we suppose to wait? How many more HRC office towers will accomplishing that take? Maybe a few dozen more employees are called or? Or maybe you need more HRC retail stores in upscale shopping areas? Fine, buy the buildings, hire more people, open up an HRC shop on Rodeo Drive for all I care. Just DO SOMETHING meaningful besides perpetuate yourself.!

There is a phrase, that is extremely significant in responding to Joe's consistent empty promises for Transgender inclusion in ENDA, and that is....

Has it sunken in yet, Joe???

Everything, even remotely related for Transgender Unequivocal Equality inclusion at the HRC, holds as much water as a sieve!

Peace, Unequivocal Equality & Solidarity ~
Dr. Mekah Gordon, Ph.D., T. E., L. E.
S. U. R. E. Foundation
Santa Fe, NM