by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve LGBT equality. Joe Solmonese has quickly emerged as one of the nation's most powerful voices for the Gay movement since becoming the organization's president in 2005. With the launch of a new HRC campaign and a National Equality March planned for October, SGN contacted the executive to talk about the current state of the LGBT community and what direction he thinks we should move in.
Knittel: HRC recently announced a "No Excuses" campaign that demands equality through in-district visits. What has the feedback been like so far? Will this campaign be successful?
Solmonese: The response to the "No Excuses" campaign has been amazing. More than 7,500 people have signed up to visit their members of Congress. As we know, there are many challenges facing this Congress and this president. But LGBT people often face additional hardship protecting their families, their loved ones and their jobs, and too few in Congress are willing to champion these issues of basic fairness. Now, more than ever, members of the LGBT community need to make their voices heard face to face and in the districts where they live. (You can take action by visiting www.noexcuses.hrc.org.)
Knittel: On August 12, you released a statement announcing HRC's role in the National Equality March on Washington. You say that HRC views October 11 as a starting point for people to continue to work towards equality after the crowds clear. Activist Cleve Jones and his supporters are asking for equality across the board - your thoughts?
Solmonese: Well, we share that goal of full equality. The march is one way to express that demand, but I don't view it as a final destination. Just as our "No Excuses" campaign is laying the groundwork, we need more in our community and more of our allies to become citizen lobbyists, ready and able to tell their senators and members of Congress what has to happen: an ENDA that protects every single one of us, a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a repeal of DOMA, and overdue protections for our families.
Knittel: In Seattle, there is a lot of talk about which issue is the domino that will push over all the other dominos. What would you say to anyone who is asking, "Where should my activism start? Which domino do I choose?"
Solmonese: That is a question we face as a movement all the time: where and when should we invest our resources, and on what issues? I'm really pushing this "No Excuses" campaign because it tackles key priorities on the federal level that will help everyone have their voice heard.
Much of the progress our community has made over the last 40 years has come from our willingness to come out and share our personal stories. Now, more than ever, members of Congress need to hear from us that these legislative priorities make a real connection.
Knittel: You are one of our nation's most influential LGBT leaders with access to the audience of powerful political leaders. How is President Obama doing?
Solmonese: The administration put forth this week its second briefing in response to the federal complaint filed in California over DOMA. You may recall the concerns raised over the first brief filed in June. We were relieved to see that in preparing this brief, the government familiarized itself with the fact that we are equal parents. The numerous social science and child welfare authorities that the brief cites overwhelmingly [show] that the government was right to disavow arguments that it is in the interest of children for the government to discourage our families from forming.
Now, the president must take a leadership role in repealing DOMA. It is not enough to disavow this discriminatory law and then wait for Congress or the courts to act. While they contend that it is the Department of Justice's duty to defend an act of Congress, we contend that it is the administration's duty to defend every citizen from discrimination.
Knittel: Why hasn't "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" been repealed yet?
Solmonese: The president has made the commitment, and I have no doubt it will be overturned. The administration views this in the context of the broader issues agenda they are working on with Congress - everything from the economy and healthcare to hate crimes. They see overturning of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" along that spectrum as something that will likely happen next spring. I see a road map of six-month windows: the hate crimes bill, then the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, then "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Plus, the administration is building a case in military leadership and Congress as well as the rank-and-file members of the military.
Knittel: Gay marriage is all anyone can talk about these days. Is this a state-by-state fight or a federal fight?
Solmonese: The HRC is working on both levels in a strategic way. Clearly, we continue to make enormous strides at the state level, but the big fight facing us right now is happening in Maine. Once again, there's a move to dismantle a marriage law enacted by the legislature and governor. So, we are involved, both on the ground and financially, in Maine. On the federal level, we continue to press the administration and Congress to repeal DOMA.
Knittel: At this point in the LGBT community's history, how would you rate the movement?
Solmonese: It is clear we're at a tipping point in the movement. The Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969 were more than a cultural event; it marked a turning point when LGBT New Yorkers, tired of government harassment and persecution, said, "Enough. No more." Just this year, Maine, Vermont and Iowa legalized marriage equality for same-sex couples, while New York and New Hampshire remain close. And in Washington, D.C., the City Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state.
It's becoming crystal clear that those who continue to use our community as a wedge issue are out of touch with the American public. Over the past decade, public acceptance of marriage equality for same-sex couples has changed dramatically. For the first time, more Americans say they support Gay marriage [49%] than oppose it [46%], according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll released in April. The bottom line: it's happening, steadily and irrevocably, and more Americans from all walks of life are supporting the constant quest of our country's history: equality for all.
Knittel: Do you have anything you'd like to say specifically to LGBT youth?
Solmonese: Yes. Make sure you're up to speed on our Generation Equality Scholarship Program for LGBT and allied students who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to Queer equality. All too often, LGBT students face obstacles in the pursuit of education, whether from a lack of family support or negative experiences in the classroom or on campus. The Generation Equality Scholarships were created to provide exceptional students with the funding that they need and deserve.
Knittel: What would you like to say to the Seattle LGBT community?
Solmonese: Be informed and be involved. Make sure you're tapped into the HRC new media tools on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and our blog at HRCBackStory.org. And be heard, whether that's through our "No Excuses" campaign or not. Take your stories to Congress, to your statehouse, and to city hall. That's how change happens.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!