saving face

Slammed for Doing Absolutely Nothing, HRC Goes on Tour

Have you heard about this nationwide tour to generate support for repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that’s being spearheaded by the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United? “Voices of Honor: A Generation Under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is like traveling carnival, except less cotton candy and more discharged soldiers. Also, the goal isn’t to trick you into giving up cash for a chance to land a ring on a milk bottle. So how come this tour is generating suspicion?

According to HRC’s release, the tour will include “former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first U.S. soldier wounded in the Iraq war; Jarrod Chlapowski, a former U.S. Army Korean linguist who opted to not re-enlist because of DADT and is currently a public policy advocate at the Human Rights Campaign; Alex Nicholson, a U.S. Army veteran fluent in Arabic discharged under DADT and current executive director of Servicemembers United; Army Staff Sgt. Genevieve Chase, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Executive Director of American Women Veterans.” (And Queerty crush Rep. Patrick Murphy is involved.)

But it’s just not sitting well with reader AJ, who writes us: “They claim ‘Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans and their straight allies.’ I thought that was SLDN [Servicemembers Legal Defense Network]? This screams of covering their butt. Supposedly they’re touring several cities, but no dates have been announced yet. If you check out the webpage for Servicemembersunited.org – there’s only one staffer listed. [Ed: Actually, there is zero.] The whole thing smells weird.”

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Yes, AJ, you are right. Something does smell weird. We believe it’s called “activism,” which is a foreign scent to those who have been sniffing around HRC for any amount of time. (Also smelling funny, however, is Servicemembers United’s decision to “[sit] out calendar year 2008 because of the extremely contentious presidential primary and general election cycle.”)

What we are seeing here is HRC doing something grassroots-y: running around the country trying to do lots of convincing and score media coverage. But haven’t we been demanding HRC actually, uh, do something with all the money the gays donate? Haven’t we been saying HRC, in cahoots with the White House, has for too long been silent and immobile on legislation that matters?

Indeed, this “Voices of Honor” tour is a nice foil to the current story regarding HRC and DADT: That president Joe Solmonese counseled the White House to punt on DADT to pass ENDA and hate crimes legislation. And the decision to create “Voices of Honor” was, arguably, tied to criticism of HRC.

But call it “covering their butt” or “real activism.” We don’t care. We’re just pleased to see HRC use some of its resources for giving gays a voice rather than buying plush buildings in D.C.

UPDATE: Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson responds:

The insinuations, implications, and sloppy research that went into this posting are all quite shameful. Servicemembers United is a group of young gay veterans who have taken the initiative to stop whining and actually step up the plate and start doing something about the DADT issue themselves in a major way. The organization is not a front for HRC, or for HRC’s DADT work, as is absurdly implied in this post, but rather has been around for 4 years going out into the community (and not just the gay community) and doing such innovative and high-impact projects and initiatves like the 2006 Call To Duty Tour of young gay vets (primarily in not-so-friendly parts of the country) and the 2007 ‘12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patritos’ event on the National Mall.

SU has built up a huge following and has made an active effort to actually recruit many more vetearns into the movement to repeal the DADT law, including and especially Iraq and Afghanistan-era gay vetearns and straight allies. So yes, after 4 years of work, SU is now the “largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans and their straight allies.” And no, SLDN is not – they are a legal aid organization that has clients whom they represent from time to time. And there are actually 3 full-time staff members (not zero) at SU now, who all work for FREE (full-time!!!) in a new office that SU just opened up in downtown DC to try to expand their advocacy efforts on behalf of gay vets.

So instead of slamming these hard-working men and women who have already taken a beating by the military simply because they’re gay, you should consider supporting their work. It’s hard enough to try to recruit and inspire gay veterans to get involved in activism. Thanks for making it a little harder.

Here is Alex’s speech at the “Voices of Honor” presser:

FURTHER READING: Michelangelo Signorile’s excellent query into the HRC-White House relationship. “It’s good to see that HRC’s patience is running thin as well. But the damage of accommodation has already been done.”