Thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners are like abortions or same-sex marriages: If you don‘t approve of them, don’t have one. We all make choices based on our views, our means and our priorities. The Human Rights Campaign has a loyal constituency. If that doesn‘t include you, pick another organization or start your own. We should not reserve our worst bile for our allies.
HRC is a convenient bogeyman for many people‘s frustration with the slow pace of change. This is understandable, given the group’s prominence and the size of its budget, but the vitriolic tone of much of the criticism is at best unproductive. Those who loudly demand immediate total equality, as if the only reason we haven’t achieved it was that HRC forgot to say the magic words, insist that many different approaches are legitimate. I agree, but then why is HRC’s approach not legitimate also?
The latest round of attacks against HRC came in reaction to an HRC rally for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” featuring comedienne Kathy Griffin. It was held at noon on March 18 at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue. This location has been faulted, but the stage was set up so that, when facing it from the news-camera platform, the U.S. Capitol was in the background.
Several hundred people had gathered. I stood near the stairs leading to the stage. As the rally got underway, openly gay servicemember Lt. Dan Choi and GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee walked up to an HRC staffer. Choi asked to speak, and was told no, that Griffin was the featured speaker. McGehee said Griffin was good at telling jokes but DADT was not a laughing matter, and if Choi was not allowed to speak, they would disrupt the rally. What resolved the impasse, though, was when Choi spoke to Griffin, who greeted him warmly and agreed to introduce him.
Griffin gave irreverent descriptions of her encounters with several politicians. She led a moment of silence for the gay men and lesbians who have to serve in silence. Then she introduced Choi, who repaid her graciousness by repeating the line that she was good at telling jokes but injustice was no laughing matter. He said that he was going to the White House to demand that President Barack Obama repeal the ban this year, and urged everyone to join him. He did not mention his plan to chain himself to the White House fence. After Choi finished, Griffin told people how to contact their members of Congress.
Choi told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week that the president should include DADT repeal in his proposed 2011 defense authorization bill. Rep. Barney Frank has already stated his determination to add the provision. Obama does not have to originate it. In any case, Choi would have done better on March 18 to explain his strategy. As it was, he appeared to be marching to the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It was also unwise of him to breach military protocol by wearing his uniform during his protest.
Choi’s treatment of Griffin was boorish. If there is no room for humor in this struggle, count me out. Griffin is an ally who lent her fame and voice to a worthy cause. Those who disapprove are free to organize their own event.
Queerty.com wrote, “Nobody will remember the HRC rally for anything other than Choi taking it over. They got Kanye’d.” That is hardly flattering to Choi and GetEQUAL. Civil disobedience has its place in a well-coordinated strategy, which Choi’s actions were not. In any case, media exposure by itself wins no votes on Capitol Hill. Building relationships with legislators and mobilizing voters are essential. That’s why HRC runs lobbying and field operations. But it has no monopoly. Dissatisfied? Don’t just complain. Step up.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at .