Because I was lucky enough to have had something of a reputation as an enlightened corporate leader for several years, my mantle is filled with awards from progressive public advocacy groups like the ACLU, GLAAD, People For the American Way and HRC. Actually my mantle used to have an HRC award on it. But a little over a week ago, just as the National Organization For Women (NOW), DFA and MoveOn.org were bravely stepping forward to say they would no longer support Democrats who have taken their constituencies for granted and have voted in support of bigoted nominees and who have consistently sent mixed signals on hate-issues-- two glaring problems between Lieberman and the GLBT community-- HRC endorsed Lieberman over clear, enlightened, unambiguously progressive and pro-gay Ned Lamont. So I took the award down and put it in a box where no one-- including, or especially, myself-- will see it.
In 1997 I had been so proud to accept HRC's Leadership Equality Award "for outstanding corporate leadership and dedication to the gay and lesbian community." My mother and my grandmother were kvelling and my boss, the Chairman of Warner Bros, was beaming at my side when I went up to make my speech. Last week I thought about calling friends and family over and having a smashing-up ceremony but I decided to just wait and see if HRC changes and gravitates more towards their roots as real agents for change and leaves the severely compromised kiss-up politics that pervades the sick, sick system Inside the Beltway to others. I'm not overly optimistic. HRC's fancy new 8-story building symbolizes their institutional self-perpetuating role inside that insider game.
When I was in Washington a few weeks ago, visiting friends at another progressive civic group, someone there asked me why HRC had donated money to right-wing Republican Joe Schwarz' re-election campaign in MI-07. The Club for Growth and other extremist hate groups have fielded a lunatic to run against Schwarz but Schwarz' record on GLBT issues is clear and unambiguous: anti, anti, anti. No doubt his opponent is worse, but Schwarz' score of GLBT issues is zero so no matter how much worse his opponent is... well there's nothing below zero. And looking at the "featured HRC endorsees" on their website was pretty sad. It includes 2 of the most reactionary Democrats being shoved down progressives' throats: Melissa Bean in Illinois and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. (Among the not featured endorsees is Congress' most outstanding and tenacious fighter for GLBT rights, openly gay Wisconsin congresswoman/heroine Tammy Baldwin. What the hell is wrong with HRC?)
Hugh Baran is disappointed but he isn't surprised that HRC endorsed the duplicitous Lieberman, who has consistently failed to support gay marriage equality.
Ultimately, what HRC values is access to power, and its money certainly does provide it with access. Consistent support of an incumbent like Lieberman, especially when he is facing a tough race, is certainly a way, if he is elected, to help maintain that access. But HRC is never going to lose its access or influence by not supporting people like Lieberman. It would only stand to gain by withholding support in the race, or by coming out strongly for Lamont. HRC already has access, but what good has it been, when the situation of LGBT Americans has for the past decade remained little changed?
The only way the LGBT community is going to win equality is if we build up not our access, but our real political power. If we are unwilling to demand that candidates take the best stands on our issues-- especially when it is completely politically possible, as it is in Connecticut-- then how will we ever build a pro-marriage, pro-equality majority in either house of Congress? I'm not even saying that the HRC had to endorse Lamont (though that would have certainly been nice). But in such a high-profile contest, on the same day that NOW is willing to take a stand not only for women but for queers too (because they, unlike HRC, understand that the feminist and queer struggles are inextricably bound up with one another), why does HRC feel the need to use its (unearned) position as the leading LGBT advocacy group to undercut them that same day? There was no need for HRC to endorse in this race, and in doing so they continue to undermine the fight for LGBT equality in this country both by acting against their interests and by alienating key progressive allies gay and straight.
Lieberman does his best to come across as an aww shucks, folksy type. It masks a slick power-player and, as I remarked above, a duplicitous nature. Many of us watched with dismay earlier this year as Lieberman used one of his slimiest tactics to help Bush get uber-reactionary Sam Alito confirmed in the Senate. Although Lieberman brags now-- defensively-- that he voted "no" on Alito, he didn't cast that no vote until he had done what was necessary to make sure Alito would indeed get confirmed. The only chance progressives had to defeat Alito would have been a defeat of the Republicans' cloture motion to shut off debate. Knowing full well that that was the vote that mattered, Lieberman voted with Bush and the Republicans and against the Democrats. He does it frequently-- especially when it really matters, like when he helped make sure Clarence Thomas was confirmed with the same exact tactic. And of course, Lieberman protected his Big Business campaign contributors by doing the same thing when the bankruptcy bill came up. He voted to cut off debate, knowing that would doom any chance of stopping the bill-- and making it safe for him to vote against it so he could ingenuously tell his liberal and moderate CT constituents that he voted the way they wanted him to-- against Bush's horrific bankruptcy bill (as well as against Thomas and against Alito). And of course, what the slippery snake is really voting against are his constituents' interests.
A few months ago I mentioned here how Lieberman has been running around wringing his hands about how some of his best friends are gay. (Yes, he really said that-- to editors of a local CT newspaper.) When he voted for the hateful and treacherously-named Defense of Marriage Act, HRC was led by a stronger and more forthright executive director than it is now. Elizabeth Birch minced no words about why DOMA was a hateful, gay-bashing piece of legislation. "The Human Rights Campaign is appalled over the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act... Denying lesbians and gay men equal marriage rights will not stand. HRC vows to continue to fight this legislatively and in our country's courts of law and public opinion." Maybe someone should explain that to the new executive director and also explain to him why, when a politician tells a newspaper that "homosexuality is wrong," its a clear indication that, although he may court gay voters, he is unlikely to be sympathetic to a gay perspective on life and death issues to the gay community.