I always find it fascinating when a reporter outside of the LGBT media looks at the inner workings of the movement. Ambreen Ali at Congress.org did just that, examining how we got to where we are on DADT repeal. (FYI: Congress.org “is a project of the CQ-Roll Call Group.”) It’s a long piece and worth a read:
Many activists involved in the issue say a large part of the blame goes to the Human Rights Campaign, the most well-funded and politically connected gay rights group in the country. They say it did not act quickly enough, did not spend enough money on the issue and failed to pressure Democratic leaders to take action before the elections.
“If you’re solely riding on being a voice at the table and remaining at the table, eventually you’re going to have to show us results,” said Servicemembers Legal Defense Network spokesman Trevor Thomas, a former employee of the Human Rights Campaign. “I don’t know how you’re going to do that when we lose the House to the Republican leadership.”
For its part, the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign maintains that it worked hard to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and believes the policy could still be overturned by Congress in the coming months.
(Anyone who thinks DADT will be overturned by Congress in the coming months is either naive or not being honest. See the post below.)
This article is full of interesting tidbits, like this:
[Jarrod Chlapowksi] 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.”
Sainz maintains that both issues were a priority, and HRC simply pushed the one it thought was more likely to move through Congress first.
So, our lead lobbying organization thought ENDA was going to move. We haven’t even had a Committee vote on ENDA. It hasn’t moved at all. Nothing.
After Obama’s speech, Nicholson said the Human Rights Campaign waited more than a month before releasing the money for the second Voices of Honor tour.
Sainz denied the charge and said his group moved immediately to take action once it saw that the White House planned to move on it.
“We needed something to exist before we could do anything about it,” he said. [emphasis added]
Huh??? HRC waited for the White House to move on DADT before HRC itself was willing to move on DADT? This confirms what we’ve long heard — that HRC was basically working as an arm of the White House, rather than putting the community first. And another thing, “something” already existed. There was a House DADT repeal bill introduced in 2009. HRC could have easily started advocating for that bill.
The White House was the problem. We knew that all along. Yet HRC denied it all along. Do you all remember when we did the blog swarm targeted HRC last February? Here’s what we said back then:
OUR MESSAGE TO HRC IS SIMPLE:
Publicly demand that President Obama take the lead in getting DADT repealed this year.
1) That means the President needs to state publicly that he wants Congress to repeal DADT this year; and
2) The President needs to take the lead in working with Congress to make sure the repeal happens.
We wanted HRC to challenge the President to push on DADT repeal. But, we kept hearing from HRC that Congress was what mattered, not the President. In fact, in response to the swarm, HRC issued a statement, which read, in part:
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has to be repealed this year. That has been the Human Rights Campaign’s position from the start, and at this point there is no one in the White House who does not know it. We and the community to whom we are accountable agree: this is the year.
We firmly support including repeal in the annual Department of Defense Authorization bill, and have not only indicated as much, but continue to make that case, all while working to gain support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act.
The President has committed to repeal, but has also made clear that we need the votes in Congress.
Now, top HRC staffer Fred Sainz admits that HRC waited til the White House was moving. That’s not advocacy. That’s being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the White House. It also contradicts what HRC has been saying all along, that the White House was already on board and thus didn’t matter.
It looks like HRC wasn’t holding itself accountable to the community. Instead, HRC was at the beck and call of the White House. This probably explains why HRC didn’t freak out when White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina either told a group of activists that the White House wasn’t pushing DADT repeal this year or was, at best, non-committal. HRC didn’t push back. Instead, our “leaders” waited for their marching orders.
Nice work. We’re not getting ENDA or DADT repeal this year (and forget about DOMA), and if we lose the House, it may not happen for years to come. That’s a betrayal from our supposed allies at the White House and in Congress. But it’s a massive failure on the part of our leading advocacy organization.