DADT Repeal: Not an HRC Victory.

As Paul mentioned this morning, a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal appears imminent. In response, the media's go-to gay spokesperson Joe Solmnese of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) put out a celebratory release saying that the government is on the "brink of historic action." But the reaction among grassroots gay-rights supporters and the gay blogosphere has basically been a frustrated "finally!" -- directed both at the Obama administration and the leaders of the HRC and other established gay-rights organizations, which critics perceive as complacent, influence-peddling politicos. 

At the last minute, the HRC may have joined the bandwagon by calling for a DADT repeal "not tomorrow, not next year, now" and asking their members to call their representatives. But they failed to apply that same pressure last year when things were reaching a boiling point. On the eve of Obama's speech at their annual fundraising dinner, Solomnese sent out an e-mail blast admonishing the administration's critics:
I've written that we have actually covered a good deal of ground so far. But I'm not going to trot out those advances right now because I have something more relevant to say: It's not January 19, 2017.
I'm among those who've criticized "Gay, Inc." for its failure to pressure the Obama administration to repeal DADT and also pass ENDA or similar nondiscrimination legislation that would protect gay people from being fired or denied housing on account of their sexual orientation. Instead, the HRC mostly concentrated on a symbolic hate-crimes victory.
The thing is, there wasn't reason to dawdle on a DADT repeal. An anti-DADT stance can hardly be called "controversial" -- the most recent polls show over 70 percent of Americans support repealing the 1996 1993 bill, which makes the percentage of those opposed less than the percentage of Americans who believe we've been visited by aliens. No wonder gay-rights supporters have been frustrated recently. The HRC deserves some credit for helping move public opinion in favor of gay rights for the past 30 years, but it's been much less successful in convincing legislators to do anything more than have cocktails with them in the short term. 
In the past year or so grassroots impatience has manifested itself in various ways: Lt. Dan Choi and others hijacked an official HRC rally and chained themselves to the White House fence to protest DADT; others occupied congressional offices and heckled the president at public events; and the gay blogosphere has organized e-protests against the HRC and the Obama administration. Whether or not these demonstrations helped or hurt the cause among ordinary Americans is not really the point. The public-opinion battle is one that's already been won; we're not going back to the days when most people thought homosexuality should be criminalized. What the protests did do is let lawmakers know that people are antsy in a way black-tie HRC dinners are unable to. 
Ultimately, credit for the forward march of gay rights is owed to all the various groups who have advocated for them since the early '50s. But if we're talking about the DADT repeal, HRC didn't help anyone cross the finish line.

--Gabriel Arana

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