Sometimes last minute engagements can be the most interesting. I found out the day of the event that two Human Rights Campaign directors were in town to do a town hall meeting about their work. I raced over to CAMP Cabaret in St. Paul to meet them. I’m glad I had this opportunity.
HRC is a well-known GLBT rights organization with its ubiquitous yellow equal sign on a blue background. However, we don’t often hear much about the important work they do. This was a way for me to get to know more about what they do and hopefully give you some information as well.
I met Marty Rouse and Brian Moulton in the main bar on the way into the cabaret area before they addressed the crowd. Rouse is a tall, cheerful and earnest man with a ready smile and a firm handshake. He is the National Field Director for HRC and organizes the “boots on the ground” HRC volunteers and staff.
Moulton is more reserved until you begin talking with him about his work and his passion, the legal work for HRC. He’s the HRC Legal Director and works with GLBT litigation filing “friend of the court” or amicus briefs, and background research and strategy.
Each man has a very different job but in my brief discussion with them both, they tackle the issues with equal passion and dynamism.
Rouse explained how HRC has national and state strategies that they employ to address GLBT issues in the field. They have been working closely with state organizations on marriage equality in Minnesota, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Illinois. But it isn’t limited to that. They are also engaged in the civil union fight in Colorado where the state senate has passed that legislation and is poised to get a vote in their house of representatives.
Colorado has been getting the headlines lately but they also worked in Wyoming.
They sent an HRC representative to Cheyenne, Trevor Chandler. In Wyoming the civil union and same sex marriage bills didn’t pass, but made it to the floor. Rouse said the effort wasn’t just bipartisan but was led by Republicans. “So many things happening right now”, he said. But that’s not all HRC does.
Even where it seems there isn’t much going for the GLBT community, HRC is finding a way to make a difference. For example in San Antonio, Texas and Jacksonville, Florida, they are building coalitions of businesses and religious leaders to pass laws against employment discrimination. We may not be able to get statewide measures enacted in those places, but HRC is working to get ordinances passed in these large cities. They are also working hard on the federal level to get the Employment Non-discrimination Act, or ENDA passed by Congress. While Minnesota may protect GLBT residents against being ‘fired for being gay’ not all our friends in other states are so lucky.
Moulton’s job is quite different. While Rouse is directing resources and personnel to political hotspots, Moulton works behind the scenes with GLBT civil rights partners giving them the intellectual firepower and support to challenge laws and legal dilemmas.
For example, HRC is working with partners on the Supreme Court case regarding California’s Proposition 8, and the case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). They aren’t the lead litigators, but are doing the necessary organizing and support work to challenge these legal questions.
He explained the issues of equal protection, due process, and even legal standing affecting these cases. One interesting note is they’re raising the idea of a ‘standard of scrutiny in laws. There are different standards of review in the judicial branch when deciding whether law is constitutional or not. The “rational basis” idea has the least scrutiny and up until now laws regarding the GLBT community have fallen into that category. However, with the striking down of sodomy laws nationwide in Lawrence v. Texas, the question arises as to whether laws affecting the GLBT community should be considered more suspect. Fascinating.
Both Rouse and Moulton demonstrated such unbridled passion I wondered if they were quite new to the organization. Working day in and day out on these issues could burn a person out. Surprisingly, Rouse has been with HRC seven years and Moulton eight. For people who had been in the trenches that long, their enthusiasm and compassion hasn’t seemed to wane. I think I know part of the reason why.
They both nodded and recited what the head of HRC believes about the organization. Chad Griffin refers to young people in the community and asks his team, “What are we doing to make their life better?” That is something we should all consider.
When we think of political movements, we may think of rallies, letters, lobbyists, and court cases. But there is more to it than that. The Human Rights Campaign has been working quietly in the background, giving support to local and state organizations and lead litigants. After my meeting with Rouse and Moulton, I spoke briefly with Trevor Chandler, an HRC regional field organizer. He said that HRC tries to avoid grabbing the spotlight, and leaves the kudos to those on the front lines. But without important support by HRC, many of these opportunities could be wasted. Without background support like Rouse and Moulton, the infrastructure of our movement could come crashing down. I’m glad I got to meet these ‘behind the scenes’ pillars of the GLBT community.