Unanswered Questions

Why Won’t Gay Rights Groups Tell Us Their Real Membership Numbers?


Gay rights organizations have a storied history of juicing their “membership” numbers so they look more powerful and can claim more reach than reality might suggest is possible. The Human Rights Campaign, for instance, claims 750,00 members — which, if true, would suggest a full 0.2 percent of the entire American population belongs to HRC. How does the organization count “membership”? By including everyone who’s ever donated even $1 to the organization. (HRC refuses to say how many people are actively paying dues.) It’s this non-transparency among Gay Inc. that led Bob Roehr, a D.C. correspondent for the Bay Area Reporter, to quiz the Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs on how he counts membership. Guess what? He’s still waiting for a response.

The Courage Campaign claims 700,000 members (though Wikipedia says it’s just 400,000, a number that hasn’t changed since at least February). Indeed, that’s just 50,000 fewer than HRC, even though HRC started in the 1980s, and the Courage Campaign has been around for just a handful of years.

And Roehr, among others, wants to know how Jacobs counts members. (To be sure, CC’s website says it is “an online organizing network that empowers more than 700,000 grassroots and netroots activists”; so if that’s not 700,000 “members,” we’d still like to know how they came up with that figure.)

It’s a fair question, given the Courage Campaign actively solicits donations from the community in its email blasts every few days, and asks us to rely on it for gay activism in California. And why is knowing the true figure so important? Because it will give us one more piece of information to know just how effective CC is in the struggle for our rights.

So far, Jacobs remains silent, according to Roehr, who notes, “I asked these questions a week ago and still haven’t received any answers. They are pretty basic ones and important to how one views an organization, the people behind it, their motivations, and the ability to put an organization within a context of other organizations.”

You can argue this is a non-issue, or that we’re unfairly attacking Jacobs and his organization. Neither is true. We’re just asking for some transparency — and if you care about the equal rights fight in California, or elsewhere, you should demand the same thing.