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Gay Inc. Declares Defeat on ENDA. Face It: Their Strategy Is Not Working

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Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Family Equality Council, American Civil Liberties Unions, Lambda Legal, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have been, ostensibly, lobbying lawmakers and making the case in public that queer Americans deserve the right not to be discriminated against. These organizations ask those same queer Americans to continue donating to them, so their budgets can expand and, you would think, their lobbying efforts as well. But after years — decades — of these organizations trying to convince legislators that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is worth their vote, they are closing out 2009 not with a bang, but with the sorrow song of collective disappointment. The above groups, and handfuls of others, joined together for an open letter to “demand” Congress pass ENDA. The demand is an empty one: Congress will not be passing HR 3017, and there is absolutely nothing any of these well-funded organizations can do to force their hand. And it’s time to abandon ship.

It will forever be a confounding state of affairs: Why can lobbying groups representing the interests of oil giants, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance providers wield so much control over our elected officials, but Gay Inc. does not? While the American Petroleum Institute continues to get federal lawmakers to shoot down improved environmental standards; while the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America continues to get elected officials to cease demanding lower drug prices; while America’s Health Insurance Plans continues to get legislators to turn their backs on their uninsured constituents … the organizations charged with convincing lawmakers to support civil rights turn up empty year after year after year.

How can this be? How can we dump millions of dollars into Gay Inc. and have, literally, almost nothing to show for it? While smaller gay activist groups fight our state-by-state battles, these national activist brands — HRC, NGLTF, FEC — can barely muster enthusiasm for our causes, let alone votes.

Something is seriously wrong here.

It’s hard to throw all the blame on Gay Inc. After all, for all our joking, HRC chief Joe Solmonese does not show up to work and sit on his hands for eight hours a day. He must be doing something, yes? Surely NGLTF’s Rea Carey, on the job some 18 months now, isn’t still enjoying the honeymoon phase of her tenure and redecorating her office? These leaders, and their bank accounts and legions of supporters, staffers, and volunteers, aren’t just sitting around all day.

So is it the lawmakers, then, who must accept all the blame? They certainly deserve a huge chunk of it. Passing ENDA, repealing DOMA and DADT — these shouldn’t be acts that require lobbying from civil liberties groups. But we’re not stupid: Politicians must play careful games of chess while holding office if they hope to get re-elected. They don’t want to offend voters, they say. Rather, they are just voting the will of their constituents. Often, that’s just an excuse for cowardice, or a lawmaker’s own bigotry.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned makes lawmakers jump, it’s money. While we dump millions upon millions into the budgets of Gay Inc. every year, perhaps it’s time to start funneling money somewhere more constructive: Into the political campaigns of candidates who guarantee they’ll act on our behalf. What HRC and NGLTF cannot do, no matter how much money we give them, is turn off the faucets of gay dollars flooding into coy lawmakers who, while publicly supportive of LGBT rights, do nothing about it once elected, or re-elected.

Every week, we grow increasingly tired, and detached, when we see another press release from a Gay Inc. group “applauding” something or “condemning” something else. If these organizations want to continue receiving our funds, it’s time they find — or build — a backbone, and start making outright demands of lawmakers that have major ultimatums attached.

If HRC & Co. really wanted to enact an effective strategy to get bills like ENDA to pass, they would instruct lawmakers to move on them, or bear the wrath of a network of activist organizations telling their supporters to support somebody else, to give their money to someone else, and to drag these candidates through the mud until they know first-hand the type of discrimination, suffering, and neglect LGBT Americans have been handed.

And if they don’t, we’ll know Gay Inc.’s real strategy: Perpetuate a situation where Gay Inc. groups are still needed, because LGBT Americans are still victims who need saving.

“LGBT AMERICANS OUTRAGED AT DELAY IN BASIC JOB RIGHTS”

In light of continuing delays in the House of Representatives, we must state clearly and unequivocally: Passing basic job protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people must happen now. At a time when our government is deeply focused on the critical issue of employment, it is inexcusable to delay action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Each and every job lost to prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity needlessly compounds the unemployment challenges facing our nation. We call on Congress for the immediate passage of ENDA.

For decades now, we have called upon Congress to pass legislation to address the basic right of LGBT people to work free from discrimination at our jobs, and now Congress tells us we must wait another year. In 29 states, it remains legal to fire people based on sexual orientation and in 38 states, discrimination based on gender identity remains legal. In failing to take swift action to pass ENDA, our government allows unfettered bigotry to go unchecked, leading to the loss of jobs, fear in the workplace, economic instability, and personal hardship, while allowing employers to lose competent experienced workers. ENDA is urgently needed by our communities.

The majority of Americans consistently state their support for employment protections and voters have affirmed similar state and local measures. There is absolutely no reason for Congress to continue to delay this non-controversial bill or drop LGBT issues to the bottom of their agenda. We will not be denied basic rights any longer. Nothing is more important than protecting peoples’ jobs so ENDA must pass now. Further delays are absolutely unacceptable.

Matthew Coles & James Esseks, Co-Directors, American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project
Terry Stone, Executive Director, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Toni Broaddus, Executive Director, Equality Federation
Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director, Family Equality Council
Lee Swislow, Executive Director, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Jarrett Tomás Barrios, President, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Joe Solmonese, President, Human Rights Campaign
Rachel T. Niven, Executive Director, Immigration Equality
Earl Fowlkes, President/CEO, International Federation of Black Prides, Inc.
Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director, Lambda Legal
Christian Berle, Director of the Log Cabin Republicans National Office
Sharon J. Lettman, Executive Director/CEO, National Black Justice Coalition
Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality
Rebecca Fox, Executive Director, National Coalition for LGBT Health
Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
Michael Mitchell, Executive Director, National Stonewall Democrats
Gregory Varnum, Executive Director, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
Selisse Berry, Founding Executive Director, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National
Jo Kenny, Interim Director, Pride at Work AFL-CIO
Masen Davis, Executive Director, Transgender Law Center