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The Prophet's Song:

The HRC Titanic

"One man lies in his work, and gets a bad reputation; another in his manners, and enjoys a good one." -Henry David Thoreau

by GREG KUBIAK

There are ebbs and flows with political causes and the campaigns that pursue them. And just as important as the rightness of the cause is the importance of how it is pursued. A quarter century ago, the Equal Rights Amendment was the big political issue to assure women's rights. But blinded by the cause itself and its celebrity nature, leaders of the effort took for granted the people it was trying to help. Today, there is no focused ERA movement. And while the state of women's rights is better than it was in 1972, those original watchdog groups are splintered and existing without direction.

This might very well be where the Titanic Gay rights group is headed. The Human Rights Campaign advertises itself as "the largest national lesbian and gay political organization." They advocate a vision of "an America where lesbian and gay people are ensured of their basic equal rights -- and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community." They boast a membership base of a quarter-million contributing members, "both gay and non-gay -- all committed to making this vision a reality." A number of small things have made many question whether the powerhouse political lobby at HRC is still in touch with its mission and constituency. For example, a national gay religious group recently tried to get HRC assistance by simply transmitting an invitation to Ellen Degeneres to speak at the group's 1999 conference. The group was advised by an HRC staffer to go through them as a contact to Ellen. But follow-up efforts by the religious group resulted in the classic bureaucratic run-around: buck-passing to other staff members, several unanswered phone calls, ignored faxes, and broken promises to get the job done. Strike one. Poor constituent relations. There is also criticism on the streets over a recent example of tasteless opportunism. While churches and college campuses around the country were mourning the death of Matthew Shepard with candle-light vigils that featured solemn moments of mourning and healing, HRC's Washington vigil was more of a "rally," according to some in attendance. From the booing of a former Republican Senator to the distribution of flyers for a "post-vigil fundraiser" at a local bar, the host's effort took a somber occasion and made it a political event. It's one thing to seize an opportunity for a call for justice, but it's another to be a stage for politics and fund-raising. Strike two: Improper politicization, a.k.a., bad taste. But the final straw for many HRC loyalists was the board's endorsement of incumbent U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato over Rep. Charles Schumer. Despite Schumer's superior support on gay issues, D'Amato's incumbent status earned him extra points with HRC. Even if Schumer were only one point better than D'Amato on a definable scale of gay issues, the HRC nod would still go to the incumbent. This philosophy flies in the face of what HRC should be about. Yes, the legislative process requires compromise. AIDS funding levels and enforcement procedures under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are places where you prove political acumen and cut deals when you must. But candidate endorsement should go to the individual who will best mirror your mission and vision. Let the corporate lobbyists cut and paste their PAC checks on the electoral gambling table. But HRC should support our friends and remember why the organization exists. It's not about how big your budget or staff has grown, how many Congressmen you know or how many White House events you get invited to. It's about holding to your vision and sticking by your friends -- whether they are challengers, constituents, donors or the late Matthew Shepard.

from The Southern Voice
Greg D. Kubiak, public policy analyst, author and activist, writes for a number gay publications. He can be reached via this publication or by e-mail, GKubiak@aol.com.

"Her words, and words like them, remind me of what maggots do in a barrel of rice. When they finish consuming the rice, they begin to consume each other."

Elizabeth Birch
HRC head honcho trashing Carmen Vasquaez' critique of HRC.