What’s It Say When Everybody Has Run Out Of Nice Things To Say About The Human Rights Campaign?

Oh man, wasn’t this quite the take down by Congress.org’s Ambreen Aliof the Human Rights Campaign, painted as out of touch with other activists and in the pockets of Democrats. Even those formerly on the inside are coming out with claws. Which is the sort of bitchfest we love the most!

There Servicemembers United’s Jarrod Chlapowski, once a poster boy for HRC’s efforts, and now one of its loudest critics.

In June 2009, the Daily Beast reported that the Human Rights Campaign had told Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was not a priority for the White House that year. That summer, the group instead worked with Democrats to pass a bill expanding the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation. Around that time, the Human Rights Campaign hired Jarrod Chlapowski of Servicemembers United to create a nationwide tour of veterans, called Voices of Honor. Chlapowski said he was given $20,000 to create a five-city tour. He stretched the dollars to visit 20 cities and wanted to do more.

“HRC was very reticent about adding extra tour stops even though I stayed close to budget,” Chlapowski said. He and Servicemembers United’s founder, Alex Nicholson, said they continued to pressure the Human Rights Campaign to expand the grassroots efforts that fall without success. They say that the Human Rights Campaign, which was also working to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, appeared to be waiting for a signal from the president before devoting more money to the issue.

[…] The Human Rights Campaign came under fire for holding a fundraiser with Obama that March, where the president reiterated his promise but added that his plate was full with issues such as health care and the economy. Choi and other activists chained themselves to the White House fence that month and openly criticized the Human Rights Campaign for not pushing Obama enough.

In May, the groups’ efforts paid off as the Senate voted the repeal out of committee and the House passed it as part of the defense authorization bill. Still, many activists say they worried the bill would stall in the Senate if the vote was held to close to the November elections. Chlapowski decided to leave the Human Rights Campaign around that time, saying he was frustrated a lack of initiative by the group to engage in meaningful grassroots work around Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

[…] In his 10 months as a consultant for the Human Rights Campaign, Chlapowski said he sensed that the leadership had other priorities. His requests to expand the campaign or devote more funds to the issue were repeatedly denied. “It seemed to me very early on that a lot of the work that HRC did in the field was very cynical and they didn’t expect it to work,” he said. “They just mobilized so that the membership would feel involved. They weren’t directing them to much effective work.” He said he now believes that his hiring was just an effort to make the Human Rights Campaign seem more involved on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell than it was. As a multi-issue organization, the group was lobbying Congress for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act at the same time. “Looking at both ENDA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, they preferred ENDA because it reached a larger membership base,” Chlapowski said. He added that, after the May vote, “HRC was misleading the community into thinking that DADT was for the most part done, and that we needed to focus our energy on ENDA.”

And former communications head Brad Luna, who fled in March in a fit of frustration.

Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz provided Congress.org with a 16-point list that detailed the group’s efforts on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. They include generating thousands of e-mails and phone calls from its members, organizing rallies with Servicemembers United, and holding weekly coalition meetings with the other groups involved. “If the measurements are have we worked strategically, have we worked collaboratively, have we always had the advancement of the issue as our goal, then yes, I think that we have been effective,” Sainz said.

But Brad Luna—who held Sainz’s job until this spring—said it was interesting that the list does not include what many in the gay-rights community expect the Human Rights Campaign to do: pressure Obama, Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Yeah, you sent five of your billed staffers to Indianapolis Pride to march for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but what is the point when, on the same day, your legislative and political folks are walking into the White House and cutting deals about how the plan is going to go,” Luna said.

And guys with deep pockets, like GetEQUAL backer and vocal DNC basher Paul Yandura.

Paul Yandura, an advisor to funder Jonathan Lewis and a former advisor on LGBT issues for the Clinton White House, said he attended a closed meeting of donors and advocacy groups in January where the Human Rights Campaign opposed other groups who wanted to apply pressure on the Obama administration. “[The Human Rights Campaign] said that we have to trust that the White House is going to do the right thing,” Yandura said. Yandura said that the Human Rights Campaign’s Vice President of Programs David Smith told him later that the organization was “banking on the president’s commitment.”

Yandura likened the situations to one he faced while working for Clinton. After the Defense of Marriage Act passed and the Clinton administration paid for ads on Christian radio stations touting it, the LGBT activist said he threatened to quit unless the White House pulled the ads. “At some point you build your moral authority as an insider by standing up when you need to,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s happening with the Human Rights Campaign.”

But HRC’s Sainz says they’ve got it all wrong, claiming the Congress.org “piece failed to give any perspective of the political or legislative climate in which the repeal of DADT is being considered.” Sainz offers this four-point rebuttal cocktail:

1. Completely absent from your analysis is how far this legislation has come this year. The White House brokered compromise language with the Pentagon and Congress. Following that, the bill successfully cleared the House and a key Senate committee with the language now part of the underlying bill. The Senate Majority Leader has said that it will be scheduled for a vote after the November elections. There are plenty of progressive movements that would like to have this problem.??

2. No piece of legislation is an island considered solely on its own merits. Bills are considered by our legislators as part of a bigger political picture with a lot of outside factors impacting the legislation. Your piece falsely gives the impression that getting repeal done should have been an easy lift. Nothing in Washington is easy – nothing. Folks thought the passage of hate crimes legislation was going to be easy; it wasn’t. The unfortunate reality is that the repeal of DADT remains a hard lift for many. Washington is hardly ever a leading indicator of social change. Most often, it is a lagging indicator. Forty-five days before an election, and with a procedural skirt to hind behind, Senate Republicans made it impossible. I refer you to the release we issued last Friday regarding Senator McConnell’s motives.??

3. Senate Democrats don’t have 60 votes. If Senator McConnell decides to hold together his caucus for political reasons, there is little anyone can do.??

4. It certainly won’t get done in the lame duck unless all activists push like hell to get it done. This is no time for circular firing squads that are wholly unproductive especially when many of the allegations are warrantless and uninformed. There’s no doubt that this will be an uphill climb and that’s why we need to be solely focused on the goal.

If you’ve read Queerty long enough, you’ll know HRC’s defense of its failed strategy — orchestrated to zero effect year-after-year by David Sanz — is met with a collective eye roll, one that’s grown so natural it can be be performed with our eyes closed. Just recognize there’s a serious problem when the only people defending HRC’s way of doing things is HRC, while every other activist group with a foot in the fight for LGBT equality long ago abandoned them.

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