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03/24/2010

A brief note on public relations

by Jeremy Hooper

Yesterday, this writer posted a piece about the rhetorical idea that any of our advocacy organizations are defined by black tie dinners and cocktail parties. And I stand by it 100%. Because regardless of how meritorious or lacking any of us find a certain group, the simple fact is that there is more going on than just champagne-clinking. And said clinking does undeniably earn funds which are put to other efforts. So I genuinely think that reducing an organization from the get-go as being defined by little more than penguin suits and crystal can actually weaken a person's criticism, no matter how valid, as the listener can perceive the speaker's points as being skewed by preconceived notions. That was the primary, if not sole, poin of the prior post: That the verbiage itself is somewhat reductive and can get in the way of valid, constructive, productive arguments. I would say the same thing if it applied to a socially conservative advocacy group: That we should challenge the messaging and the work itself, not leave much of it unaddressed by focusing on one clich├ęd portrait.

But here's the thing: It doesn't really matter all that much what I think on this one point. It matters to me and it may to you, but not so much on the grand scale of the group that most frequently receives such criticism, the Human Rights Campaign. Because on that bigger scale, there is a MAJScreen Shot 2010-03-24 At 9.08.49 Am-1OR problem that causes points like mine to be met with resistance based not so much on the point I was actually making, but rather in regard to the subject of the post itself. On that bigger scale is a visceral mistrust that goes beyond this program or that piece of legislation and cuts right into the very advocacy model itself. On that bigger scale is the fact that a blogger can and will post nothing more than a picture of the HRC building in order to make a point about ivory towers and elitism. On that bigger scale is a constant division between grassroots and organizational structure. On that bigger scale is a major PR problem for HRC. A problem that must be dealt with. Now. Like today.

Yesterday afternoon, it came out that HRC president Joe Solmonese was recognized in Washington Life magazine for his manner of dress. My instinct was to think nothing of it, perhaps based on my own set of circumstances and own skewed life in certain fashion-obsessed Manhattan circles. I certainly like to throw on a nice set of rags, but that doesn't change the fact that I spend 8+ hours a day focused solely on LGBT issues. It also doesn't change the fact that I've given plenty of cash to political campaigns and advocacy groups. And it certainly doesn't put me in any certain social crust - it just means that I prioritize a certain cut of cloth as being something that increases my comfort level and sense of self enough to justify the expenditure (at the expense of other things that I see as more frivolous but others see as crucial). So when this note of "Joe the elegant activist" came in my inbox, I saw it as being little more than a fluffy publication that singled out one point, fashion sense, to recognize in 35 D.C. figures (including the President himself).

But many of my best bloggy friends saw it otherwise. Pam did. Joe did. John did. And more importantly: The vast majority of all of their commenters saw it as a major issue. Some of them countering HRC and Solmonese as strongly as if they were countering NOM and Mags Gallagher!

Now again, that doesn't mean that my perspective doesn't matter or earn favor, or that the most overheated criticism is what should be of most note. This whole advocacy thing is rarely suited for one perfect answer or summation, because much of it is uncharted and/or unknown. But the evidence, at least online, does clearly show that the larger LGBT community has a major bone of contention with the current operations, of which this fashion award or the "black tie parties" accusations are only a part. And again: HRC has no choice but to address this current state of affairs. The situation is not going away. My fear, in fact, is that we've only seen the beginning of it.

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Your thoughts

I'm in agreement with you on this, Jeremy. Few are watching for now but this situation will reach a crescendo and I hope it's not an ugly one.

Posted by: a. mcewen | Mar 24, 2010 12:01:28 PM

I agree with you too, Jeremy. Now is the time for us all to pool our resources. Attacking people who are on our side is not a strategy for success.

Posted by: PMWOKC | Mar 24, 2010 12:40:30 PM

I was the one who posted the article on Joe's 'AWARD' to the thread yesterday. I agree that social 'fundraisers' all do better if the alcohol is flowing very freely. But HRC is viewed as ONLY doing that. We do not see them do anything else!!! Except put up more cute little blog pieces on their site. (which was not remodeled until after Obama took office...e.g. no money to IT either, guess it went for suits.)

Here..In response to a posting today here: http://tinyurl.com/yerxn2o
that is a list of all the HRC Board members,I began having a conversation on fb with a community HRC supporter. Consider the following:

HER: Most of us love our friends that are on the local HRCs. It is the national leadership most of us are dissatisfied with.

ME: Fine, so can your local reps pressure the Nationals some more.
It is very obvious that they are feeling the heat. Hopefully, by a significant closure of the GAYtm. I know it is a big corporation that has innate self-perpetuation at core, but we need them.

Their 'slowness' was fine during the Bush years but we may only have 4 of Obama and anyway he is 'obstructionist' to us too no matter what he says.

Aren't some of the HRC Wash groups getting married? Why don't they invite the OBAMA's???

HER: I've got a different idea; please take into consideration many HRC local volunteers see eye to eye with us. How about one of those facebook things that say "I bet I can find a 1,000,000 people that think HRC needs new leadership."

ME: Well, discuss it with your HRC people. I think it would pull more weight to have HRC members especially 'active' ones get together in their communities and write as a group to the WASH DC headquarters.
Maybe try to get a 'CONVENTION' or something where ideas could be exchanged in a friendly manner rather than confrontationally.

HER: Do and will discuss. Frankly it is disgusting that the leadership makes big $ and does so little.

Posted by: LOrion | Mar 24, 2010 2:03:45 PM

You were right. They were off-base. Pam is terribly bitter (woes is me, I'm black. woes is me, I'm a lesbian in a gay world, woe is me I don't feel pretty, woe is me I don;t subscribe to what magazines think is pretty, whatever) and entitled (because of all the previous, I deserve something from you, blah, blah, blah) and that motivates too much of her snark. JoeMyGod can be the same way sometimes (especially as he gets older, but I like his blogs format best). Joe (HRC's) award was just a nice PR hit. As such, it got free attention in a publication that would cost thousands to advertise in. You gotta work all angles for PR -- and to get $$$ for causes.

Posted by: William | Mar 24, 2010 2:34:04 PM

I agree with the closing of the gAyTM and it needs to be extended to the HRC. They have constantly given cover to President Obama. I was frankly shocked the e-mail sent today mentioned pressuring the Obama administration. I think it's the first one I've gotten that mentioned him. Of course they also slyly took a shot at Dan Choi and his action. It's great we have a list of the board members but there is no contact information for any of them. Love to be able to send them each a message.

Posted by: Tim W | Mar 24, 2010 2:41:22 PM

I have some difficulty understanding where we get the notion that HRC has been ineffective. We have been extremely ineffective at the state level, but the National HRC, is probably less to blame for that than the state groups have been. But a lot of this HRC-bashing (and I have been somewhat prone to bash them too), seems specially to be aimed at Solmonese. Remember, that Joe was appointed to the head post at HRC in 2005, and "them were some fightin' years." We had a president who was elected, in part, because he supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage - to alter the constitution to enshrine hatred of gays. Even though we still hear rumblings about it, it still hasn't happened.

Even through the darkest ages of the Cheney-Bush-dom, the hatemongers were unable to get enough support to burn us at the stake. And, as soon as Dems got a majority in the House, we were able to get that body to recognize the harm inflicted on our community by the hatemongers, and the HOUSE voted several times for LGBT friendly legislation. That didn't happen as a result of the goodness of their hearts, it happened because HRC had become a voice to be heard, a force to be reckoned with.

So, now we have a receptive (at least somewhat) House, Senate and Executive, and we have seen movement toward the full equality and protection under the law that we, as a hated/targeted/stigmatized minority, deserve. And, this is just one year into this president's administration.

We have been hated, reviled, lied about, beaten, bashed, and even murdered by the hatemongers who love to hate us. And, for that we want (NEED) to be a priority for this legislative session. The passage of LGBT inclusive hate crimes legislation goes a long way toward halting some of the vilest of the weapons in the hatemongers arsenal, and without any doubt in my mind was the most urgent need that we as a group had - and this President signed it into law. There is a reason that Solmonese was standing behind him when he signed it, because HRC was at the forefront in pressing for that legislation.

It is one step, and I agree that if it is the only step forward, then HRC may have outlived whatever usefulness it had. I'm optimistic that it is just the first of many steps. And we should keep the pressure on HRC as well as this congress and administration to ensure that it isn't the last step. But we should not forget that that there are a lot of people out there who don't need much reason to hate us, and even with that, and in part because of HRC's efforts, we're still here, and we may finally be winning.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Mar 24, 2010 3:45:04 PM

First, William, Pam is a good person with a big heart and has incredible instincts on a wide range of issues. I don't know you and hope you were just a bit impulsive with your response.

Second, this topic is all over the place. Jeremy, you missed what I said, and in turn I missed your point. I feel like we should put this to bed and start over when things cool a bit.

Peace, Bob

Posted by: Bob Barnes | Mar 24, 2010 5:46:11 PM

Huh? Bob, I'm confused. This is not about you at all --why would it be? It's about what's on my mind, and what's being discussed ad infinitum in activist circles right now. I stand by yesterday's post 100% (as noted), I just had more thoughts to add about the larger picture independent of me.

I responded to your thoughts yesterday in the other thread -- didn't miss them. I appreciated them. In fact, I kind of loved yesterday's discussion! I love the passion.

So why aren't things cool? Explain, por favor.

Oh but yes, William, Pam is great.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 24, 2010 6:03:27 PM

J, I didn't think this was about me... I apologize if I gave the wrong impression.

It' cool, we're cool.

Posted by: Bob Barnes | Mar 24, 2010 6:18:27 PM

My GayTM has been closed to the cocktailing set for years. I live in MD, work in DC, so I visit my Congresscritters regularly. I don't need no stinking advocacy organization to tell me what I should talk to my Congress Members about. I keep up with the proposed legislation and I write, fax, phone and visit at least twice monthly, more if the issues are particularly relevant to my life. I scoff at the idea that HRC has done ANYTHING to help our cause.

Posted by: Mykelb | Mar 25, 2010 11:47:41 PM

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