Solmonese fears 2012 setback
Outgoing HRC president says community must fight for Obama
JOHN WRIGHT | Senior Political Writer
Joe Solmonese admits he’s “very concerned” about President Barack Obama’s prospects for re-election.
But Solmonese says he’s equally concerned about how the LGBT community — and his successor at the Human Rights Campaign — would respond if Obama loses.
Solmonese will step down as president of HRC after seven years in March. On Saturday, Nov. 12, he’ll make his final appearance as the group’s president at the Black Tie Dinner, of which HRC is the national beneficiary.
In an interview last month with Dallas Voice, Solmonese focused largely on the importance of 2012 elections, saying that depending on their outcome, major advances during his tenure could be all but erased.
“I don’t think that he’s going to lose,” Solmonese said at one point, attempting to clarify his assessment of Obama’s chances. “I think that if everybody does what they need to do, I think there is just as good a chance that Barack Obama will be re-elected, but I’m as concerned that he could lose.”
Solmonese said Republicans already have a majority in the House, Democrats have only a slim majority in the Senate, and “everything about these  elections points to us having real challenges.”
“I think that if everybody who has gained from the Obama administration does everything they need to do over the course of the next year, he’ll get re-elected,” Solmonese said. “But I would be lying if I said I’m not very concerned about the prospects of him getting re-elected.”
Solmonese said the message he wants to send to the LGBT community is that Obama has done more for us than any other president, and that the movement has seen more gains under the current administration than at any other time in its history.
“If we care about continuing with the forward motion that we’ve experienced, then we as a community need to do everything possible to re-elect Barack Obama,” Solmonese said. “And we can talk about and debate and press the administration on his ability to do more, and him coming out for marriage, or anything else that we want to talk about, but now is the time to sort of decouple that from all of the work we need to put into getting him re-elected. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to a choice, and the choice isn’t even hard for me: It’s Barack Obama or any of these other people who are running against him.”
Despite his concerns about Obama’s chances, Solmonese said he has no misgivings about leaving HRC seven months prior to Election Day. He said he made a commitment to give the organization six months notice, and his contract expires in March.
He said announcing his resignation at the end of August allowed HRC to begin the transition process, which will be completed when his successor takes over, midway through the Republican primary. Solmonese also said he’ll continue to be involved with the organization through next year, assisting with its efforts around the November election.
“I’m a lot more concerned about what happens the morning after the elections,” Solmonese said. “I’m a lot more concerned about this organization and its leader being in the best possible position to navigate those waters, and either we are contemplating a second term with Obama and a continuation of our agenda and perhaps a decidedly different Congress, or we’re contemplating President Mitt Romney and all of the implications that means for our community, and I want whoever is in this seat leading this organization contemplating where we go from there, to have had some time under their belt to figure that out.”
Asked whether that means he believes Romney will be the Republican nominee, Solmonese clarified that anyone claims to know definitively “doesn’t’ know what they’re talking about” — but he added that he thinks the former Massachusetts governor is the “odds-on favorite.”
And while Romney may appear less anti-gay than some other GOP presidential hopefuls, Solmonese said called him “someone you have to be careful of” because “he’s essentially beholden to no issue.”
“He adopts a position that works best for the political predicament he finds himself in,” said Solmonese, a Massachusetts native who’s watched Romney’s political career closely. “So, while he was seemingly pro-gay as he attempted to unseat Ted Kennedy, and his rhetoric isn’t harsh and he doesn’t have the same sort of narrative that a Rick Santorum has, he’s effectively said that he doesn’t believe in the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and that he would support the federal marriage amendment. But what we don’t know, just like we didn’t really anticipate with [President] George [W.] Bush, is how beholden he is going to feel to the hard right once he becomes president.”
It was Bush, of course, whose administration was pushing a federal marriage amendment when Solmonese joined HRC in 2005.
The marriage amendment, Solmonese said, represents the worst possible thing that could happen to the LGBT community, because it would enshrine discrimination into the Constitution.
And although the threat of the amendment may seem like a distant memory to some, Solmonese warned that it could easily resurface. Which is why, he said, the 2012 elections are the biggest challenge HRC faces going forward.
“I think the elections loom largest because what the elections really represent to me is the potential for us to really stop, potential derail and ultimately set back a lot of the progress that we’ve made,” Solmonese said. “What also concerns me then is that the community be braced for that, and we understand that we’ve been in these places before, and the measure of who we are and how we’ll be defined, is how we react in those moments, the degree to which we stay in the fight and make sure we continue to press forward regardless of the outcome of the election.”
Solmonese said he fears the progress of the last several years may lead to complacency. And he said based on his experience, when the LGBT community suffers setbacks, instead of regrouping and uniting, people have a tendency to lose their way and point fingers.
“If we lose, if the outcome is negative, if we go from the march toward marriage equality and the repeal of DOMA and the positive direction that we’ve been in, to a president and a Congress who decide they’re so troubled by all the success we’re having with marriage they want to take up the fight again to pass the federal marriage amendment — well, boy, we’ve come full circle from where we were back in 2005, the last time that happened,” he said.
“And you can react to that in one of two ways. You can say this is the inevitable ebb and flow of social change, so pull up your boot straps and let’s get going and turn that around again — and understand that that sort of energy that the other side has around something like that is a reaction to their own fear of the progress we’ve made — or you can become very dispirited and depressed and disenfranchised and decide that it’s our own doing, it’s our own lack of progress, it’s our own failing. And that would be the worst possible thing that we could do.”
Caroline Rhea: From the hip
From her role as Noleta Nethercott on Del Shores’ campy queer Texas-based sitcom Sordid Lives to taking over Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show, Caroline Rhea has long has a strong connection to the gay community. This week, she breaks new ground again, becoming the first professional comedienne to serve as soup-to-nuts emcee for the Black Tie Dinner.
Rhea took a moment this week to discuss her involvement with the LGBT community, her Texas ties and her new (like her, Canadian) reality TV show.
Dallas Voice: You’ve always seemed to be close to the LGBT community. Where does that stem from? Rhea: I am not a direct member of the LGBT community, but I have had a BLT. In the Venn diagram of life, there is a lot of crossover between gay men and female comedians. It’s a mutual lovefest.
How different is it to do a gay event like Black Tie vs. a comedy show on the road? The audience is much better looking.
For special events like this, do you bring your family? Not if it involves bringing a toddler on a plane.
What in you is fulfilled to do an event such as Black Tie Dinner? I want to support the LGBT community in all that they do.
If you were to rank all you do — acting, hosting, voiceovers, comedy, etc. — how do you rank your priorities? Motherhood first. Then comedy, and working with people that I like.
You have hosted a new reality competition series in your native Canada, Cake Walk: Wedding Cake Edition. How did you enjoy that? Did you get to taste the goods? Believe it or not, I didn’t taste the cakes.
Will there be a same-sex couple on the show? I hope so.
How do you think that would fly with the show’s audience? Same-sex marriage has been legal for years in Canada. It would be another beautiful wedding.
Having now worked with Del Shores on the Logo series Sordid Lives, how do you perceive Texas in general? Dallas in particular? Any misconceptions you had that were proven wrong? My dad’s family was from Texas and my father looked like J.R. Ewing. I am not a fan of your toll roads and every time I am on the George Bush Turnpike I feel like I am going backwards.
—Arnold Wayne Jones
Taylor Dayne can’t stop the music
More than 20 years after she packed the gay bar dance floors with her debut hits, the songstress is still going strong, and says her performance at Black Tie is a ‘win-win’ for her and her fans
Rich Lopez | Staff Writer
Helping out LGBT people is nothing new for singer Taylor Dayne.
She can’t quite recall when she knew she was a hit with the gay community: Over the course of her 23-year career in pop music, she’s played venues of all sizes, but she did notice early on how a certain fan base seemed to keep showing up.
“It’s kinda hard to remember, but I would perform very specific shows and then some gay clubs and it dawned on me,” she said.
With an explosive debut, thanks to her platinum selling 1988 debut Tell It To My Heart and the more sophisticated follow-up Can’t Fight Fate a year later, Dayne became a quick force to be reckoned with on the charts.
But her pop hits were just as big on the dance floor, and Dayne was resonating across the queer landscape.
“I’ve had wonderful relationship with gay and lesbian fans for years. I’m so glad to be doing Black Tie because I have a great core of fan base here,” she said. “It’ll be a good show with lots of fun and for a good cause. It’s a win-win.”
Dayne’s performed at gay bars and Pride events in Boston, Chicago and the Delaware Pride Festival. But appreciation of her work in the community was clearly evident in 2010 when she was asked to record “Facing a Miracle” as the anthem for the Gay Games.
“That was quite an honor and then they asked me to perform at the games,” she said. “It was very emotional for me. The roar of the crowd was great.”
Even after two decades, Dayne remains just as committed to music as she was in 1988. She’s embraces her sort of “elder” status in pop music and instead of seeing the likes of Nikki Minaj and Katy Perry as rivals, she enjoys what they are bringing to the landscape of music now.
“I love listening to all the new stuff going on. There is some great talent out there. It’s nice to know I was some inspiration to them, the way ladies like Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar were for me. The cycle goes on,” Dayne said.
But they still push her to keep in the game. She admitted, “I’m pretty competitive that way.”
This year, Dayne released the single, “Floor on Fire,” which made it to the Billboard Dance/Club Charts Top 10.
At 49, Dayne doesn’t show signs of slowing. Along with a rumored second greatest hits album, she recently wrapped up filming the indie movie Telling of the Shoes and she’s a single mother to 9-year-old twins. Juggling it all is a mix of emotions, but her confidence pushes her through.
“I can say I’m a great singer, so when it comes to decisions, I’m fine about recording and performing,” she said. “But I would say I work really hard at acting. It’s nerve-wracking but it’s also amazing. But I’m not a novice at any of this.”
With her children, she doesn’t make any pretenses about the difficulty of being both a musician and a mom — as long as she instills the proper principles in them.
“We don’t try to get wrapped up in small time crap,” she said. “At the end of day it’s about having a good heart and they have great heart.”
It’s likely she’ll show the same at Black Tie.
BLACK TIE DETAILS
The 30th annual DFW Black Tie Dinner will be held Saturday night, Nov. 12, at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel. The event is already sold out.
Special guests at this year’s dinner include Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin as keynote speaker and Emmy Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Media Award winner. Singer Taylor Dayne will perform.
Chet Flake and his late partner, Bud Knight, will be honored as recipients of the Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, and gay military veteran Eric Alva, the first U.S. serviceman injured in the Iraq war and an advocate for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” will received the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.
Dinner organizers this year decided, for the first time, to bring in an emcee for the evening, choosing popular comedian Caroline Rhea.
This year also marks the final time that Joe Solmonese will attend the dinner as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the national beneficiary of Black Tie, which each year receives about half the proceeds of the event. Solmonese has resigned as head of HRC, effective next March.
Seventeen local HIV/AIDS and LGBT organizations have also been designated as beneficiaries.
Black Tie Dinner includes a silent auction, a live luxury auction and an after-party at the hotel.
For more information, go online to BlackTie.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.