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HRC Doesn’t Build Local Capacity

By Lavender September 24, 2010

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In its August 27 issue, Lavender announced that Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solmonese would attend this year’s HRC gala. Sorry, but I can’t get excited about Solmonese’s appearance.

Back in the mid-’90s, I was a contributor to HRC. In fact, I was a member of the President’s Circle. (I am not sure if that category of giving even still exists).

After a short time, however, I discovered that HRC really has very little commitment to enabling efforts at the grassroots level (sponsoring a tent at a the local Pride celebration each year to recruit new members/donations doesn’t count).

HRC holds numerous gala dinners around the country annually. And, throughout the year, HRC members and others can count on receiving fundraising requests that are accompanied by pleas to the gay community that they must be visible, vocal, and participatory at their local levels on issues like gay marriage and civil rights.

The rub is that HRC does very little to teach people how to effectively be visible, vocal, and participatory at the local level.

We are fortunate to live in a large metropolitan area that has been responsive to our demands for representation. But this was not, and is not today, the experience of many teens and adults living in the small-town America where I grew up.

Many individuals struggle with their identity. This struggle is exacerbated by demands from organizations like HRC to “do more!” especially when no support, leadership, or education are provided on the “how to.”

There are several competency-based models for leadership development that could be effectively employed by HRC on a statewide or regional basis that would teach people how to be effective individual and systems advocates. Instead, HRC chooses to isolate its efforts in DC.

In fairness, HRC has lent its name to a few high-profile efforts in a few state capitals around the country. But, again, I am not aware of any localized, grassroots efforts by HRC that are designed to promote systemic change or build localized advocacy capacities.

Our battle for civil rights will not be won with only incremental successes in DC. Certainly, those successes are important. But we need to foster successes in small towns, counties, and state capitals across the country as well.

While it is to our advantage as a community to have effective representation in Washington, it is also critical to our ultimate success to have effective representation at the local and state level on school boards, as county commissioners, city council members, mayors, state legislators, etc.

By comparison, Target Corporation CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel may have blundered in the eyes of many in the gay community. But Target continues to give 5 percent of revenue, or approximately $3 million, weekly to various community-building efforts, many of which support issues important to the gay community.

And Target has been held accountable for their action. They have heard and responded to the protest from the gay community.

If we as a community are going to call for a boycott of Target, why not include the many other major national organizations that annually give to both liberal and conservative causes and campaigns?

Boycotts, like many other tools in our civil disobedience toolbox, can certainly be effective, but the important thing to know is which tool to use when.

And, no, it is not about the money that Target gives. It is their demonstrated commitment to investing in and building capacities in our communities.

It is fine that HRC asks for our support. I just think that they should give some time and attention back to build local capacity. My grandmother used to say, “We’re all in this alone, together.” The challenges being faced in Crossroads, America, are just as critical and important as those in DC.

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