Friday, August 26, 2011

Joe Solmonese Plans December Departure From HRC

Pam's House Blend reports intriguing news sure to interest any involved in LGBT activism:  Joe Solmonese, the long time Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, is due to step down in December.  While it is not yet publicized who will replace him, sources state an independent consultant with a history of working with the organization is slated to take Solmonese's place.

During his tenure, the Human Rights Campaign has become a bedrock institution that has played a role in successes -- a hate crimes law passed, the legislative repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- the extent of its leadership and success also depends on your point of view and knowledge of the back stories related to the hard work to make these gains happen.
Pam is correct in that there are mixed views on his tenure as leader of the nation's premier LGBT advocacy organization.  Solmonese has been roundly criticized by many, to include myself, as being a Democratic apologist willing to throw the B and T of LGBT under the bus in order to forward the goals of the L and G.  However, what I find more compelling are the possible changes that could come from this shakeup.

For instance, the end of Solmonese's stint at HRC is spelling a larger shakeup in the staffing of the organization.  Pam asks, and I would love to know myself, the answers to a few key points:

  • What will this mean for bisexual and trans community members? The L and G in LGBT have had much more visibility not only in its leadership composition, but in prioritization of political priorities. Some of this is a result of political expediency, but no doubt influenced by the composition of its leadership, board and donor base. This leads to...
  • Will more bisexual and trans staff be added with the staff shake-up? Unknown. Until Joe's successor announces for lack of a better word, "battle plan" we won't know if this means putting people who know bi and trans issues best in positions of influence.
  • With DADT at bay, and DOMA on the ropes in court, will HRC put additional to attend to matters of equity in the trans community and speak openly about them? The new executive director will have to address this head on, particularly since Joe Solmonese was seen by many in the trans community as a political obstacle at the minimum, or an outright man not to be trusted. Representing HRC, Solmonese last spoke in public on transgender issues to a trans-specific public audience at the 2007 Southern Comfort conference. He was adamently 100% in support of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but later changed his position on the 2007/2008 version of the legislation -- effectively leaving trans rights behind.
  • Will this shift signal a change to include more people of color in positions of influence? Like bi and trans issues, a stronger HRC will come from actually honoring the influence that a socio-economically diverse leadership team brings to the table. Will a change at the top move the organization in this direction?
  • What kind of relationship will the HRC build with the LGBT media (including bloggers) and grassroots activists (like GetEqual) under new leadership? To be kind, there has been a tense and guarded relationship with activists and new media that work outside of the comfort zone of the HRC. The fact that these entities cannot be "controlled" or managed like a press release is old news - it's how the game of politics works now; any person who succeeds Joe Solmonese has to grasp this reality and find out how to work nimbly with not only the Hill and the White House, but to engage with these entities. 
These are excellent questions.  Activists like Autumn Sandeen, a colleague of Pam's and a co-arrestee of mine, will certainly want to know if more trans people are involved, while I surmise Dan Choi will be very interested to see if more people of color will be taking leadership positions in our largest organization.

I'm neither trans nor a POC, but I would like to see improvements in those areas for sure.  Above all, however, I hope that HRC chooses to take a different path.  I hope that path is less about keeping allies-in-name-only happy and more about holding "progressive" politicians accountable for failures in our progress to full equality. 

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