I’m sure you know that’s been my position for some time, but in harmony with Autumn’s post last night that summarized the complete Senate legislative fail yesterday, it’s simply too easy to point the finger at just Harry Reid, the GOP, or the President for the public bumblef*ck of DADT repeal.
All of the FAILs lead to one obvious conclusion, though. It’s time for the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese to tender his resignation.
By any sane performance metrics, he has failed to successfully lead. Promises like those made in the “This year we are going to bring down DADT” video at the HRC Carolinas dinner on Feb. 27 were used to extract money from low-info, fat wallet attendees. It’s rinse and repeat at events like that around the country and there is precious little to show for it in terms of the major promises made by Solmonese — and this President.
I thankfully captured Joe’s bold promises to the HRC Carolinas dinner attendees. You realize that was before we had to deal with the failed, weak DADT compromise language, the sad shell of pre-repeal we’re dealing with now. He makes it abundantly clear that true, full repeal would be achieved in 2010.
Joe Solmonese should do the honorable thing and step down. It is shameful to cash all those checks without the follow through on the job. The White House was never put under serious pressure; the late calls now in the e-blasts for the President to do something ring hollow after the toadying that has gone on for two years.
As we saw, Reid couldn’t get it together in the Senate and the wingnuts will have more control in January. The watered-down repeal doesn’t do much of anything at this point (even if it passes as a separate bill during the lame duck session — good luck with that), and we’re still dealing with all the GOP squawking by McCain and others who want a “do-over” of the Pentagon’s implementation report. It’s a big f’ing mess because there has been piss-poor leadership by those who are lobbied in government.
In turn it’s the unelected, highly marketed, well-tailored representative of the entire LGBT community, Joe Solmonese of HRC, who also has to be held accountable for these failures. It’s clear that those in power had no fear of the vast war chest of HRC being used to turn up the heat. No, the heat came from less well-heeled activists who didn’t have the access to power, only voices and fearlessness to call out the purposeful foot-dragging and inaction.
One can only call Joe Solmonese’s reign as a “could have been,” with DADT as the latest of a string of lobbying efforts, such as they are, that seemed more in tune with keeping the peace (and cocktails) flowing when it was clear to even a political novice (or Cheetos-stained blogger) that the Obama administration had only a limited amount of time to move any LGBT legislation in the first two years, and repeal of DADT was back-burnered in favor ENDA by HRC in “the plan”, which has, as we have seen, gone NOWHERE.
Honestly, for HRC to become the organization the community needs it to be in terms of a lobbying organization with access to our elected power brokers, it will take more than Joe Solmonese’s resignation. The organization is multi-faceted and is populated with well-meaning, hard working people who deserve better leadership — and the buck stops at Joe’s desk.
His position at the top requires that he set tone for the organization, provides the baseline for staff morale (god knows how many hair-raising off the record tales I have heard about failure on that level), and effectively uses the incredible war chest developed by formidable fundraising and branding machine.
FAIL. Tone deaf to community concerns and political momentum at the grassroots level.
FAIL. An inability to admit mistakes in strategy and correct course.
FAIL. A refusal until the back is against the wall to publicly criticize the very people in power who needed to be shamed for the slow-walking.
FAIL. The institutionalization of paranoia and defensiveness toward the activists, LGBT media and independent voices of criticism rather than looking inward to see whether the organization is bloated, and has failed to evolve and become nimble and focused in its leadership.
It is not airing dirty laundry to hold Mr. Solmonese accountable in his position that he is happy to promote as the voice of the community when called upon by the mainstream media. With that position comes responsibility — and accountability. We, as “the community” cannot vote him out of office, we can only 1) point out how and why he isn’t the voice of the LGBT community and 2) form alternate means of sharing that dissent through commentary, and/or action — e.g. GetEQUAL.
It is not divisive to ask what have we gotten for the million that flowed into the coffers of the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to leadership. Those funds – were they effectively used to ensure promised action on by this President on his major promises?
For those who simmer with anger and immediately call any criticism the “circular firing squad”, that’s disingenuous. There have been plenty of kudos for what has been accomplished (including those Cinderella Crumbs); but we’re talking about a long list of major issues (DADT, ENDA, etc.) that were not seriously pushed after the promises were made.
In any case, critics haven’t any power to change the strategic vision (such as it is), within HRC, and if those in charge simply blow off any criticism, is the community expected to sit silent with hands politely folded? There certainly hasn’t been a private summit to discuss the myriad problems that have arisen, nor does there appear to be any feedback mechanism desired. I don’t expect that it would occur, anyway, given the bunker mentality in place.
That can only change if there is a thorough shake-up, even if only a symbolic one such as Solmonese’s departure, that can signal an understanding of the magnitude of disconnect, discord and failure to lead that needs to be addressed. How that occurs is up to the board of HRC – so my little call for a change at the top is of little significance other than it’s just me sharing my two cents and you all reacting to it in the comments.
And as far as calls for accountability for new media/bloggers/citizen activists? Hey, that’s easy — people won’t read what doesn’t interest them, and our voices are limited by time — we’re not news services. As we all know here at the Blend, all it takes is a health issue to take me offline for a good long while. Voices will come and go.
Without the access or proximity, that means actual influence of new media is limited to perceived power. Certainly if the Cheetos-stained PJ set all thought we could effect change in the structure of the broken parts of Gay Inc. through a twitch of a virtual nose it would have happened already.
I suppose HRC could ban its staff from reading critical blogs, or make them take some sort of absurd loyalty oath to the organization, but unless they are going to lock down internet access in their building, people will read what they want to read. And when they are bored or disagree strongly, they’ll move along. Pam’s House Blend – Front Page
TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)
DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.
According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.
As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.
The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.
But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.
“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”
Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.
Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.
As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.
In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.
“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”
Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.
Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.
Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.
The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.
The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.
Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.
“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”
Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.
Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.
“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”
Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.
“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”
Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.
Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.
Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.
“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.