gay inc.

Did HRC Have To Wait for Matthew Shepard Act Before Doing Anything Else?


In the 1995, attorney Elizabeth Birch was named executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. She left nine years later, in 2004, to spend more time with then-partner Hilary Rosen. (Rosen, subsequently, became HRC’s interim director just nine months later.) It was Birch’s agenda that led HRC to where it is today: Always begging for cash from “members,” but really unwilling to put tangible pressure on its friends in Washington. Sure, the organization pushed for federal hate crimes prevention laws, but at the cost of a real effort to end (or prohibit) Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, which became law on Birch’s watch. It’s this very beguiling strategy that HRC’s current head, Joe Solmonese, today stands accused of perpetrating: Telling the White House to get certain laws passed while letting them off the hook in ending other types of discrimination (e.g. marriage, military). And now that HRC finally has something to pat itself on the back for — the Matthew Shepard Act — it’s Birch who’s once again revisiting her own Gay Inc. strategy that many would-be supporters have come to despise: Every gay civil right must be put on hold until LGBT hatred is recognized as a special class of crime.

We understand the strategy: By getting the federal government to, for the first time, recognize LGBTs as a class as the Matthew Shepard Act does, activists can build on that cornerstone for other legislation. Since queers are a special class of victim, surely you can’t continue discriminating against them, right?

That’s Birch’s theory. And, it appears, HRC’s strategy still.

“This was the moment that was required in order to have new laws follow.” That was her at HRC’s reception celebrating passage of the Matthew Shepard Act.

And it’s got folks like Andrew Sullivan asking: “Huh? You have to have a federal hate crime law in order to recognize the existence of gay married couples? Or in order to stop the government persecuting servicemembers? How on earth did the civil rights movement for African-American equality unfold all the way to inter-racial marriage without a single hate crimes provision? I think Birch was saying: this was the easiest get, and thereby gets the gays marked in federal law as a protected victim class. Once gays are turned legally into victims, more laws can be passed enshrining that status. The trouble is: victims are not servicemembers or married couples. Marriage and military service do require real things from gay citizens, real responsibilties and real equality.”

The theory, while plausible, is in fact bunk. But from HRC’s perspective? It’s one based on survival. Continues Sullivan: “Victim laws merely require things from government. And that’s why the hate crimes fixation makes sense from the HRC point of view. The campaign was a brilliant decades-long marketing measure to provide HRC with funding, while giving Democratic party officials an alibi for not tackling the actual question of equality. It was a way to give lawmakers cover for saying they oppose actual equality. I predict that this congress will be up for re-election with this as the single legislative achievement for gay equality. Which is how HRC lives for another fundraising cycle. And how they get their Democratic paymasters off the hook from the community.”

It would be unfair to say HRC has done nothing for gay rights. Of course they have. Without their fundraising and presence on the Hill, we might not have the Matthew Shepard Act right now. But from their perch atop the Gay Inc. mountain, they rightfully stand accused of the same thing many cancer and AIDS organizations do: Operating on a strategy that puts their ability to survive first, and their reason for existing second.

Which means HRC might, one day, have a hand in enacting the remaining types of gay rights legislation, like ENDA, UAFA, and killing DOMA and DADT. But their delays and weak pressure increasingly appear to be based more on the organization’s commitment to having a purpose in the coming decades than on ensuring gays have their rights right now.

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  • AndTom

    Well put

  • Brian

    Very well said. Thank-you for telling the truth.

    The “Hate Crimes” bill is an aspirin to the LGBT Equality headache. A little something for the symptom, but nothing for the problem.

    HRC operates with a mindset that seeks to delay equality for as long as possible. They have no incentive to do anything quickly. Because of this – most of our donations are wasted on Gay Inc.

    Equality is something we – as a movement – will have to do. We are no closer to equality than we were 40 years ago and WE DO NOT HAVE A MOVEMENT.

    The Hate Crimes Bill may have a placebo effect and lessen our anger and frustration for a moment – but, it should not be celebrated as a “victory.” It does not contribute to our equality – it only punishes bad behavior.

    Our equality relies on changing minds (like those young men were doing in Maine) and not on changing laws. Laws do not create equality – people do.

  • Mike L.

    Nicely said.

  • GrrrlRomeo

    Did the gay community HAVE to wait for the HRC?

  • Keith Kimmel

    Very well put. Probably one of the most honest looks at HRC I have read in a while. Even mentioned the Democrats complicity in there. Good job, Queerty. I’m impressed.

  • Steve

    I expect that Olson and Boies will do more to achieve equal rights for gay people during the next twelve months, than HRC has done in 40 years. The appeals might take a little longer, but they will have created the record for that case within the next year.

  • Attmay

    What can you say about a gay organization that doesn’t have the word “gay” (or any of the other letters of the Gay Alphabet Soup) in it? Imagine Julian Bond as head of the National Association for the Advancement of People.


    Join the movement at

  • Scott Gammans

    Someone more astute than I recently observed that HRC seems to exist for no other reason than to throw celebrity-studded benefit galas. I find it difficult to refute that observation.

  • Daniel

    The federal marriage cases will fail. The U.S. Supreme Court is not a neutral, independent body so don’t think of relying on it.

    Instead of focusing on “stop hrc”, do something actually constructive, for example, visit and actually put pressure on Congress to pass the necessary laws.

  • Keith Kimmel

    No. 8 · Scott Gammans

    “Someone more astute than I recently observed that HRC seems to exist for no other reason than to throw celebrity-studded benefit galas.”

    Heh, we have an organization like that here in Oklahoma. Only with ours, no celebrities show up. Except when they pay Judy Sheppard to come. And unless you are a member (membership is by invitation only, lol) They call it The Cimmaron Alliance Foundation (CAF). Ten years. $1 million raised. And all we have gotten out of it is ONE federal court case where they got us the right to hang queer pride banners on light poles during gay pride month. And this year, they refused to put the banners up for Pride. But they always have money to fund gatherings at our best watering holes for the elite.

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so damn sad – and if we weren’t paying for it all.

  • Josh

    No. 7 & No. 8:

    Why not just say the obvious: “HRC is not effective.”

    These people take $50 million a year and 70% of it is paid out in salaries and consultant fees. Just imagine what real activists could do with $50 million.

    Stop donating to HRC – they are not on our side.


    HRC will never push real issues like Marriage or DADT…they, much like AIDS, Inc. NEED us to stay “sick”. Their jobs depend on it…if were were granted the right to marry and the right to serve in the armed forces…why would we need them any longer?

    HRC is anything but incapable of getting these these measures passed…but once they do…party’s over. So…don’t expect movement from HRC on any REAL issues tomorrow, or next month, or even next year. That wouldn’t be good for their bottomline. And the housequeers ONLY care about the bottomline.


  • PopSnap

    “The federal marriage cases will fail. The U.S. Supreme Court is not a neutral, independent body so don’t think of relying on it.”

    Funny, everyone thought that Loving v. Virginia would fail in the sixties, especially in the black community. I can also recall people being upset about Lawrence v. Texas failing, as well as the one that ruled in favor of a pro-gay legislation in Colorado (i believe).

    I expect it will be 5-4. The justices are not stupid, they are some of the most intelligent people in the country. Scalia is an activist and has no heart/sense of reason, and that one other guy is his pawn, but that’s about it for brain-dead justices.

  • PopSnap

    Oh, and the lawyers making the case for marriage equality arent just Joe & Bill with their bachelors in law they half-assed a few years back. Olson is VERY well-respected by the justices, and Boies is a genius.

    You guys seem to forget that there *are* no good legal arguments against gay marriage. Literally, none would stand up in the neutral court of law now that sodomy is legal, and they’re attempting to prove gays cannot help how they are by having several dozen experienced proffesionals, many from the APA, testify for them.

    They have a 70% chance, easily.

  • Chitown Kev



  • Prof. Donald Gaudard

    I wrote the first gay rights ordinance to pass in the US in 1972. At the time, everyone said that we were crazy, that it would never be enacted in the small midwestern town of East Lansing, Michigan (population 47,000). It took us 2 years to get it passed, but we did it–a month before San Francisco. So, don’t believe it when the HRC Inc. sycophants tell you that something can’t be done.

  • Mark Reed

    @ Professor Donald Gaudard:

    So what! Do you think that has done anything for LGBT equality. then, you jump on board with HRC – what are you on their board?

    We have had enough bull-shit. If you contributed your East Lansing success to get a place at the HRC table – you are as bad as they are. Weasels.

    The Gay Inc. industry is awful and obvious. We need to dismiss them – all of them, professor or not.

    Stop giving money to Gay-rights-pimps!

  • Mark Reed

    If you want to make a difference – join We are the answer. We did the huge March on Washington and now we’re taking over the equality challenge for all LGBT people.

    Bet on us – we have the plan. We have the money. HRC is sooooo over. Thank Jesus my guide and my lord.

  • Prof. Donald Gaudard

    @Marc Reed
    I have nothing but contempt for HRC and its sycophants. I have never given them any money and I have never said anything positive about HRC or the Gay Inc. community.

    Apparently you missed the last sentence of my comments: “So, don’t believe it when the HRC Inc. sycophants tell you that something can’t be done.” All I’m trying to say is screw the establishment gays and fight for our rights whenever and however you can.

  • InExile

    We don’t need HRC if ALL of us continue to write our representatives, call our representatives, and do more protesting.

  • Brian NJ

    I think the HRC is too closely aligned with the democratic party, and have surrendered an independent agenda, for the agenda of the party. The HRC allowed itself to be bullied by the democratic party into putting our interests last on the to do list. The HRC leaders are very weak and frightened that they won’t get noticed by their democratic masters. The HRC is like the ugly/nerdy kid who invites the popular kids to their house for a party, and the popular kids actually respect them less for it. They totally blew it.

  • Robert, NYC

    #2 at Brian…

    Brian….I thoroughly concur with your statement, “WE DO NOT HAVE A MOVEMENT”. To advance our fight for full equality, we need a national spokesperson leading the fight, no concessions, no political correctness, none of which have worked. We’re too fragmented and not on the same page, each organization with its own specific agenda. We need to unite under one umbrella with a sole leader who has the political and intellectual skill to take on the establishment.

  • Keith Kimmel

    @ No. 23 · Robert, NYC

    Its nice to dream, but have you ever tried to get a dozen queens to agree on anything before? How did you do? The real problem is not the gay establishment, its us. We are in the position we are today because we continue to allow it. We continue to vote for the bastards as they sell us out. Its a case of too many chiefs and not enough indians. Everyone wants to be in charge and there is nothing in the way of compromise from anyone.

  • Brian

    @ Robert NYC

    I’m not as cynical as Keith. While I don’t think we will have a magical “leader” or even spokesperson – I do think we need some new ideas and new approaches. If there was actually a “strategy” for equality maybe that would inspire/unite us. Right now there’s just a bunch of noise and lots of fundraising.

    I’m getting more $$ requests from EqualityAcrossAmerica than HRC. All they want to do is March around making angry demands.

    There must be more – better ideas and better leadership. If we could get young people involved I bet they would have some new approaches. I’m afraid the young people that went to DC to March just want to make posters and yell – then, get drinks. Marching is the new excuse for a circuit party.

  • Robert, NYC

    Brian, I no longer donate to HRC, none of them. I’m frequently bombarded with requests and on occasion I get a phone call in regard to renewing. I’m sick of it, nothing gets done. We need to galvanize as an entire group and get tough with politicians, no more compromises, no more votes unless they’re prepared to deliver the goods. I’ve been a long supporter of the Green Party but not enough of us are prepared to support them, the only party that actually supports full equality and the only one that isn’t afraid to declare its total support for marriage equality. Imagine if 20 million of us were to get behind them and the impact it would have on the democratic party and to some extent, the party of hate and obstruction. Losing our votes is the only action they understand and we’ve seen how scared they become when we make a smidgeon of noise about ending DADT, DOMA. Obama goes running to an HRC dinner to pacify us. Its so transparent what that was about. He should have addressed the entire nation. Many of us are too entrenched in believing that voting for an alternate party is casting our votes for the GOP. I don’t buy it. We need to make that leap and draw a line in the sand with the dems.

  • Brian

    @ Robert NYC:

    I have alwasy wondered why HRC didn’t get politicians to sign a “Contract for Equality” in order to get our support. Instead they have this meaningless “gay-friendly” scoring system. We need politicians to say Yes or No to LGBT.

    If we are to create a “movement” we will need to enroll an army – equality should be the common denominator. I think the majority of Americans believe in equality – even ours. But, we’re not doing that. Instead we play politics (poorly) and make angry demands about “equal rights” and not equality.

    I really wish the Gay Media would convene a “strategy meeting” and invite everyone with an idea. There must be some “new thinking” out there, but it’s always overshadowed by HRC and others. I think the nonprofit sector lacks any incentive – they’re all just trying to raise enough money to fund their salaries. I wish there was a big prize for figuring out how to create our equality – maybe that would inspire some innovation.

  • Robert, NYC

    Brian, you raise some interesing points. One way to counter HRC and others is to stop funding them, they need fierce competition to get anything done. We’re not angry enough either, far too politically correct. We have to spell it out, we want our equality NOW, not tomorrow, demand it or else. We need the spirit of the 60s back, some unrest with support of the younger generation, unions and straight allies alike.

  • Brian

    HRC will continue to lose funding. I think people understand they are not trying to solve the problem. I don’t know if more “anger” works. We need some good ideas because i think most Americans would support us – we have to figure out how to enroll them.

  • ycktr

    I hate to say it, but what we need is a new Larry Kramer…hell the old one would do right about now.


  • Mike in Brooklyn

    My boyfriend, now husband, and I gave up on HRC in 1995. A dear friend invited us to meet the Hawaiian attorneys arguing for marriage equality before their Supreme Court. After several years of buying tables at the big annual SF fundraiser, we didn’t just get no where trying to get HRC involved in the Hawaii case, we were told outright that the fight in Hawaii was working AGAINST gay causes and that HRC wanted the Hawaiians to stop their efforts.

    Instead of continuing to support HRC, we sent our money to Hawaii. Amazingly, HRC withheld support, using the same stupid logic that the effort worked against their agenda for gay rights, in Massachusetts (as did that idiot Barney Frank). Fortunately, enough gays/lesbians/bi/trans have given up on HRC and have pursued marriage equality state-by-state.

    What’s worse than “always a fag hag”? A politico hag. And HRC is one bunch of politico hags, sucking up their love lust of politicians. Yuck.

  • dontblamemeivotedforhillary

    Why are so many people so unkind to me – the real HRC? (Hillary Rodham Clinton) Seriously, HRC(Fund) should fold their tent, regroup with the NEM folks and restart on the same page as the Gay Population. They are the AIG of Gay Reform!

  • Mark Reed

    Equality Across America is the replacement for HRC. The NEM delivered the Hate Crimes Bill and our continued efforts will deliver our full equal rights under the law. Demanding works. Join us.

  • Huntington

    “The NEM delivered the Hate Crimes Bill…” Um, what? Please show any evidence the Shepherd Act would have passed one day later if the NEM hadn’t happened. It was in the works for a long time before the march was even a gleam in Cleve Jones’s eye.

  • David Alex Nahmod

    I’m so tired of the HRC & all the other self appointed gay “leaders” who use political correctness as a weapon, who raise funds for their glittering cocktail parties, and who ignore the community.
    I want real equality, and these groups aren’t doing it!

  • Mark Reed

    RE: No. 35

    EqualityAcrossAmerica is the new leadership. Get on board.

  • AxelDC

    Let’s give HRC credit for what it does well.

    They are great at getting A-list queers to give big donations, making them feel all good about themselves. In exchange, they throw great parties for said donors, hooking them up with the biggest names in Queer America: Ellen, Martina, Barney, Neil Patrick, etc. They turned the old B’nai B’rith building just of Dupont Circle into a fabulous HQ for themselves. This year, they even snagged the President of the US at their gay-lister annual shindig! Bully for them!

    Anyone expecting them to make any change for those of us who can only give them $100 or less any year misunderstands their purpose. They are the nation’s premier gay country club.

    They also have a great logo and you get a cute hat with your donation. If you were expecting more than that, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.

  • Mark

    So Joe and Elizabeth, are you proud of what happened in Maine? For the love of all that is good, take off the damn gloves and FIGHT!!!! Fight hard and fight dirty! I’ve effing had it

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