Metro Weekly

Building Blocks

The new headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign

The new HRC headquarters building at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW.
(Photo by Michael Wichita)

Blue and yellow confetti filled the air at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue on Saturday, October 11, as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) raised its flag for the first time over its new headquarters building. The ceremony, coinciding with National Coming Out Day, drew local dignitaries, national celebrities, and more than a thousand supporters.

The ceremony began at midday with former pro football player Esera Tuaolo singing “America the Beautiful” from atop the building’s entrance as the American flag was raised from the ninth floor roof.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) praised HRC for nationalizing the gay rights movement. “You belong here because so much that must be done on behalf of this community, in this country and around the world, starts in this city.”

Norton urged that both the American flag and HRC flag be raised “real high, so that Congress can see both flags flying above this building. So that Congress will understand that you belong here, that you belong anywhere in this country, every bit as much as the Congress of the United States.”

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) noted the building’s prominent location just blocks from the White House.

“What makes us proud as Americans is that we recognize explicitly, day by day, hour by hour, we have made a debate in our country about the unfinished ambitions and aspiration of this country to be a country of equality for all people,” he said.

Williams presented a proclamation declaring the day to be “Human Rights Campaign Day.”

Tipper Gore told the crowd that she and her husband, former Vice President Al Gore, and their family support HRC and the gay community because they believe that “we are all created equal and in the image of god…. We want to be on the right side of history, and we want to be on your side.”

“Today is not just a celebration for a single organization but for our whole community,” said HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch, dedicating the building “to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movement for equality.”

HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch (center) greets the crowd during the dedication of the organization’s new headquarters.
(Photo by Michael Wichita)

“This building will forever send a clear message to the world: We are strong, we are worthy, we are passionate, and we will not rest until we have achieved perfect equality – nothing more and nothing less,” Birch said. “We dedicate this building today to the founders of the Human Rights Campaign, half of whom we have lost to the ravages of AIDS.

“We dedicate this building to the gay child that was born sometime this morning somewhere in America, that someday he or she might learn the story of this day in their American history class — that once there were a group of men and women that staked their future on the possibility that one day the American democratic system would reach out and embrace them as well.

“We dedicate this building to transgender Americans who every single day make profound decisions that place them on the front lines of humiliation, brutality, and employment discrimination. They are the bravest souls in our movement.

“We dedicate this building to the gay men and lesbians of the armed forces who risk their lives every day for our nation under an inhumane gag order.”

Birch called upon those gathered at the ceremony to “rededicate ourselves to the hard daily work” of achieving equality. The HRC flag was then raised from the rooftop, under the American flag.

The renovated and remodeled building was previously the headquarters of the Jewish human rights organization B’nai B’rith.

Birch will be stepping down as executive director by the end of the year. Vic Basile, who heads the search committee for her successor, said they have narrowed the field to four leading candidates. They hope to reach consensus on the leading candidate and begin negotiations with that person by the end of the month. All four candidates have said that they would be able to start before the end of the year.

HRC communications director David Smith also is leaving the organization, almost immediately. Published reports framed his departure in the context of having interviewed to succeed Birch and not having been among the top finalists.

“Most rumors have some basis in fact, but in this case there is none,” Basile said.

Smith said that he is very pleased with the job he had done at HRC, but it is time to move on. Smith declined to say where he plans to go, but a number of sources say he will head up media operations for a powerful senior member of Congress. The official announcement should come in the next few weeks.