Colleagues Popped In For Visit
[UPDATED - See below.]
Last Tuesday, I sent an email to Stonewall UK, the British version of HRC, asking about HRC's Joe Solmonese visiting London, as the American President and U.S. Congress were grappling with important gay issues. After the Washington Post revealed that he was in London, I wanted more info on why he was traveling overseas. Oddly, neither HRC nor Stonewall UK had, or have, anything posted to their sites about Solmonese's jaunt abroad.
This is the note I received this morning from Ben Summerskill, leader of Stonewall UK:
Dear Michael, if I may,
Thank you for your enquiry. Joe and a couple of colleagues did pop in to see us the week before last.
Oh, so Joe popped over with colleagues, huh? I wonder if that means HRC staffers and/or members of the various boards of the org.
Stonewall UK's release on their Equality Dinner omits any mention of Solmonese, but I notice in the comments sections, some criticism of how the UK gay org spends its money and some folks wondering what good the org does. Criticism we hear over here regarding HRC.
Kevin Naff, editor over at the DC Agenda, also raises questions about Solmonese's travel to the UK at this moment in the battles over Don't Ask, Don't Tell and ENDA. In an excellent piece about a lame town hall with several gay leaders in Washington last week, Naff writes:
Solmonese joined by phone from London, where he was stranded by the Icelandic volcano ash cloud.
No one on the panel asked Solmonese the question that many audience members were buzzing about: Why was he in London during this critical period for securing the final votes to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? Was the Senate Armed Services Committee holding a British retreat that we don’t know about? [...]
Good questions, Mr. Naff. Do let me know if you receive some answers from the folks at HRC.
Soon after I posted the above, Summerskill sent a much fuller reply to my concerns. Thank you, Ben Summerskill, for the additional info:
I'm not quite sure if it is, but if it is helpful:
(a) On Joe's visit we discussed our current 'gays in the military' status. I don't know if you know but Stonewall secured full rights for gay people to work across the UK military in 2000. Stonewall has recently been working very closely with the British Army, Navy and RAF in supporting gay personnel, and with senior officers such as the Chief of the UK General Staff, and we shared some of this background, and our lobbying experience on it.
(b) We also discussed the current employment situation in the UK and how we had secured it. Again we are (happily) now in the position that any employment discrimination at work - whether it be bullying or in promotion or pensions provision etc - is unlawful in Britain. We shared with Joe how we had secured those provisions and are now embedding them with almost 600 major employers employing about 5 million people (one in five of the GB workforce) between them. Joe was clear that the ambition of HRC and US campaigners is to secure a similar situation in the US.
(c) If it's of any help I understand that the trip and stay of Joe and his colleague were funded by one of our supporters who invited them to visit us to gain intelligence on (a) and (b) above and to be guests at the Equality Dinner to see an overseas example of fundraising. Obviously, Joe is best placed to confirm this for you.
(d) As far as publicity is concerned, as well as Martina and Gareth Thomas (who's one of the best known rugby players in Britain) we had a number of members of the (UK) cabinet and shadow cabinet present including Harriet Harman (effectively our Deputy Prime Minister) and also a number of other ministers, such as the Europe minister. We also had members of the House of Lords (including Conservatives), CEOs from a number of FT-SE 100 companies, British TV stars and a string of British artistic celebrities such as Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Beryl Bainbridge and also artists well known in this country such as Maggi Hambling and Kobi Israel.
I can only apologise profusely if, in light of the above, we have caused offence by failing to mention Joe as a campaigning figure from overseas. I can assure you that absolutely no offence whatsoever was meant to America, or equality campaigners worldwide, or to HRC. If any such offence has been caused, please accept my most profound regrets.
May I also say how much I admire the work you've done personally over so many years. It is an inspiration.
Very best wishes