With the country in the midst of aserious recession and LGBT people struggling to fund the civil rights battle, perhaps Solmonese should not be flaunting expensive tastes
Just when it looked like we might be starting to gain a little headway in our fight for equality, here comes Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese showing off his fancy new clothes in a magazine spread.
Washington Life recently included Solmonese in its 2010 Fashion Awards tribute to "35 men and women who bring that je ne sais quoi to the ballrooms and boardrooms of Washington."
In the piece Solmonese confided that he favors designers Ann Demeulemeester, Billy Reid and Dolce and Gabbana.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the French expression, je na sais quoi means "an intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive," according to Wikipedia.
Solmonese, whom the magazine labeled the "Elegant Activist," was featured with the likes of Count Renault de Viel Castel, whose "Parisian polish makes [him] a shining star in the young shining social firmament."
Also included in the list were Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi, along with a host of others that few know but supposedly would be dazzled by if they did.
Well, what can you say to that?
It just literally takes one’s breath away, particularly when you’re trying to convince someone that LGBT people belong to an oppressed group in need of legislative protections to ensure them the right to work and to live in peace.
All I can figure is that Solmonese must have sipped a little too much champagne at a cocktail party when he agreed to participate in that magazine feature. As the head of a nonprofit civil rights group that depends on donations to exist and do its work, Solmonese appears to have shot himself squarely in the center of his stylish footwear.
One reader of the article commented on the magazine’s Web site, "And meanwhile, the rest of the country looks on, wondering whether we will have jobs in the next year and be able to afford a new pair of jeans."
Indeed, I’m sure the millions of unemployed Americans —straight and gay — who are worried about holding on to their homes and providing food and shelter for their families are mightily under-impressed and unamused by Solmonese’s apparent lavish spending on clothing. It provides ammunition for conservative pundits and others opposed to LGBT equality that argue gay and lesbian people tend to be privileged rather than oppressed.
It’s Solmonese’s business how he spends his salary — which is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $350,000 per year, plus perks based on the nonprofit group’s 2008 financial reports — but surely this is not the time to be flaunting wretched excess. Maybe more than a decade ago when the economy was booming it might not have caused such a stir, but now the nation is in the tank.
It also seems to be setting a poor example for young LGBT people as regards priorities in life. What comes to mind here is a Dallas lesbian well known for her fashionable style and charitable giving whose partner wound up in the hoosegow a few years ago for spending somebody else’s money. Attorneys for the victim attempted to link the clotheshorse to the missing money in a civil suit.
Many already argue that the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and other groups are spending entirely too much time partying with celebrities and enjoying the highlife. The groups’ leaders are accused of being out of touch with the interests of the average LGBT person, who likely has little je na sais quoiand doesn’t want to support somebody else’s.
In other words, this might be a good time for some in the nonprofit business to tone it down a little before a lot more people get the idea that you’re charging way too much money for what you do.
David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice who lives on Cedar Creek Lake now. He is the author of the blog TheRareReporter.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 2, 2010.