There is continuing criticism from a few gay bloggers and activist harping on black voters supposedly delivering gays a defeat on Prop 8, and I think that criticism is being directed at the wrong party.
I'd like to devote some attention to the crucial role the Human Rights Campaign played in the early days of the fight to defeat Prop 8, the large amounts of funds from the organization, how our effort for a short time was run by a former top director and the tremendous influence this Democratic Party organization had over the campaign.
Basically, what I saw from the No on 8/Equality for All/Equality California in the months leading up to Prop 8 going down in flames on November 4 was a local version of HRC's losing strategy.
Has anyone else noticed the creepy similarity between the No on 8 deep blue background propaganda and HRC's boring equal sign, also with a deep blue background? It's as if the No on 8 leadership were out to brand the campaign as an extension of the HRC through graphic design.
How hard is it to see the fingerprints of HRC on our loss?
First, as signatures were gathered in the spring to place an anti-gay-marriage proposition on the November ballot, Seth Kilbourn, former national field director for HRC, was the head of the effort to persuade people to not sign the petitions. As we all know, Kilbourn's attempt failed. He told Gay and Lesbian Times in March about his work to stop the signature-gatherers:
“Through this unprecedented effort, we have had hundreds and thousands of volunteers all across the state doing this work,” said Seth Kilbourn, campaign manager for Equality for All.
Kilbourn was eventually replaced as campaign manager by Steve Smith of the Dewey Square firm in Sacramento.
Second, in May, HRC issued a release touting its significant role in launching the now-disastrous campaign:
The $500,000 pledged is in addition to resources HRC has already contributed to the fight for marriage equality in California. This year, HRC provided six full-time staff members and $100,000 to Equality for All ...
HRC is part of the Equality for All coalition that ran a “Decline to Sign” campaign, educating voters and urging them to tell the signature gatherers paid by anti-equality forces that they will not sign a petition that could lead to enshrining discrimination into California’s constitution. HRC staffers were on the ground in Orange County from January until mid-April as part of a broad coalition effort.
Loud alarms should have gone off after the coalition, with HRC's strong help, failed to achieve success with "Decline to Sign."
Given HRC's lousy track record of not winning a single state ballot proposition for us, despite decades of employing their closeted approach to politics and initiatives, it seems more activists would have been wise to publicly question HRC integral role throughout the campaign.
When we saw the No on 8 campaign shoving gay couples back into the closet and not featuring them in the TV ads, an alarm should have rang out.
As the campaign failed over the summer and fall to bring about real and widespread community buy-in for the overall strategy, the HRC approach should have been tossed into the trash can.
With the No on 8 folks operating under the "no transparency, no accountability" mandate of HRC, community meetings to demand changes could have rectified the lock-out of many activists fed up with the top-down tactics of the campaign leaders.
I could go on about all the ways in which HRC, and it's state partner organization, Equality California, no only committed tactical blunders turning off gay activists, and voters!, but I'll instead let two other HRC critics have their say.
From Patrick McDonald of the LA Weekly:
I always thought--perhaps naively--the HRC was supposed to win gay rights. I didn't think it was set up primarily to win elections for Democrats.
So far, HRC hasn't won a single anti-gay marriage ballot measure, and there's been over 20 losses. A few years ago, Arizona voted one down, but a gay Republican named Steve May really ran that winning campaign. So what's the deal with the email?
To be honest, I think Solmonese was trying to spin the gay community away from last night's debacle for the movement, and, as a major player in that movement, he didn't want us looking at him or the HRC. Solmonese also wanted me to keep donating, which was asked of me at the very bottom of the email. It makes a thinking man start to wonder when enough is enough.
And the always fabulous Ann Rostow of SF Bay Times has something to say about HRC and Prop 8:
I just noticed a headline on an HRC email that reads: “Human Rights Campaign Lauds 2008 Election Results.” Granted, the email was sent around 10pm Tuesday, but what were they smoking?I'd like to humbly suggest that the next time we face a state ballot proposition in CA or any state, and there will be a next time, let's keep HRC and it's operatives far away from any leadership role.
“During this historic election cycle” boasted our D.C. champions, “the Human Rights Campaign launched its nationwide $7 million “Year to Win” electoral initiative to mobilize 5 million LGBT and allied voters to help elect fair-minded candidates and defeat discriminatory ballot measures.”
Hmmm. And how did that go?
“HRC deployed staff to key election campaigns in 22 states and helped train hundreds of activists in 17 cities in crucial battleground states throughout the nation. In 2008, the LGBT community and the entire social justice movement are poised to make significant gains in the representation of fair-minded candidates throughout all levels of government.”
Sorry. I’m just not in the mood for happy talk from entrenched self-promoting activists ...
Frankly, the battle to defeat the next anti-gay ballot proposition would be better off to take the first 10-20 people coming out of any gay bar or gay AA meeting and put them in charge. Anything other than allowing HRC to muck up another chance to achieve gay liberation and equality.