"Shame on you, Joe."

Chris Crain Not Feeling HRC Jena Six Support

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It’s no secret the Human Rights Campaign likes to think of itself as the biggest, most effective and ultimately best gay rights organization in America. The DC-based has pledged support to fighting for the rights of all American gays. Additionally, HRC often joins fights against other forms of injustice. As part of their mission, the non-profit lent its support to the Jena Six, a group of black teens jailed for allegedly beating up a white classmate.
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The altercation came after months of rising racial tensions in the small Louisiana town of Jena. Many people, including the editors of this blog, feel that the Jena police force and school authorities were unfair in their handling of the case. The racial bias seems undeniable: white students were barely penalized for their racist actions – such as hanging nooses from a tree on school property – which only perpetuated historic tensions and led to the violent eruption. It could have been prevented, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it any less violent. Nor does the violence make the justice system’s harsh treatment and tenacity any less offensive.

Considering all the layers to this case, it’s no surprise the Jena Six have become the hot activist ticket in recent weeks. And, as such, it’s no surprise HRC stepped out to make their voice heard.

Gay journalist and hate crime survivor Chris Crain, however, wishes Solmonese and HRC had kept their mouths shut.

Addressing supporters in DC yesterday, Solmonese framed his and his organization’s stance in terms of memory:

And I am here because I remember. I remember James Byrd. James was a gentle soul, a special soul. Someone who struggled his whole life with challenges, but was filled with love and was deeply loved in Jasper, Texas.

But James Byrd – at 49 – was savagely beaten, then chained to a pickup truck and literally dragged to his death. He was brutally murdered because he was black.

In this speech, Solmonese harnesses the collective pain of a hate crime. In his mind, homophobic hate crimes follow the same irrational trajectory of racist gay crimes. “Shame on you!” says former Washington Blade editor Chris Crain.

Crain, who has been the victim of anti-gay violence, takes issue with Solmonese’s blind allegiance with the Jena Six:

The “Jena 6” are the type of macho bullies (of all races) who victimize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students (of all races) every day outside school gymnasiums across this country. You remember those victims, don’t you Joe? They’re the ones you’re supposed to be defending.

For the head of HRC to claim to stand up on behalf of gay people and compare the perpetrators of this kid’s brutal beating in any remote fashion to the experience of those of us who have actually been victimized by hate crimes, whether because we are black or gay or from any other group, is deeply misguided, politically craven and downright shameful.

Shame on you, Joe. And shame on you, Donna Payne, HRC’s associate director for diversity, for dismissing the severity of the “Jena 6” beating by noting that Justin was “sent to the hospital and released the same day.” Gee Donna, I was never knocked unconscious and was treated and released from the hospital in several hours. Does my hate crime even count with you?
For the head of HRC to claim to stand up on behalf of gay people and compare the perpetrators of this kid’s brutal beating in any remote fashion to the experience of those of us who have actually been victimized by hate crimes, whether because we are black or gay or from any other group, is deeply misguided, politically craven and downright shameful.

Crain goes on to wonder why Solmonese and his organization haven’t spoken up for Michael Sandy, whose alleged killers are currently on trial here in New York. Why didn’t HRC release a statement on Scotty Weaver’s trial? Why do they remain silent on smaller, less trendy injustices and come out full throttle when the whole nation’s watching. Because they want to be the biggest, most effective and, ultimately, best. They do not, of course, make any pretense of being the most morally sound. Or consistent.