Yes, it’s the end of an era. The Blend has learned, from a trusted source in a position to know the details, that Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization in the country, will announce his departure next Tuesday. Solmonese will reportedly step down from the organization in December of this year.
His departure also signals, according to our source, the beginning of a larger staff shake-up in the HRC. The Blend can also report that a replacement executive director has been identified — it will be someone who is not currently on the HRC’s staff, but is currently a paid consultant that has worked with the civil rights group for some time.
During his tenure, the Human Rights Campaign has become a bedrock institution that has played a role in successes — a hate crimes law passed, the legislative repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — the extent of its leadership and success also depends on your point of view and knowledge of the back stories related to the hard work to make these gains happen.
We can review and critique the effectiveness of Solmonese’s tenure in the growth of the organization and political savvy in working with the Hill all day long, but it’s time to think about the job his successor has in front of him/her.
With the perception of the HRC leadership as the province of wealthy white gay men living in gay-friendly environs, there are several questions HRC — including its board — will face:
* What will this mean for bisexual and trans community members? The L and G in LGBT have had much more visibility not only in its leadership composition, but in prioritization of political priorities. Some of this is a result of political expediency, but no doubt influenced by the composition of its leadership, board and donor base. This leads to…
*Will more bisexual and trans staff be added with the staff shake-up? Unknown. Until Joe’s successor announces for lack of a better word, “battle plan” we won’t know if this means putting people who know bi and trans issues best in positions of influence.
* With DADT at bay, and DOMA on the ropes in court, will HRC put additional to attend to matters of equity in the trans community and speak openly about them? The new executive director will have to address this head on, particularly since Joe Solmonese was seen by many in the trans community as a political obstacle at the minimum, or an outright man not to be trusted. Representing HRC, Solmonese last spoke in public on transgender issues to a trans-specific public audience at the 2007 Southern Comfort conference. He was adamently 100% in support of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but later changed his position on the 2007/2008 version of the legislation — effectively leaving trans rights behind.
* Will this shift signal a change to include more people of color in positions of influence? Like bi and trans issues, a stronger HRC will come from actually honoring the influence that a socio-economically diverse leadership team brings to the table. Will a change at the top move the organization in this direction?
* What kind of relationship will the HRC build with the LGBT media (including bloggers) and grassroots activists (like GetEqual) under new leadership? To be kind, there has been a tense and guarded relationship with activists and new media that work outside of the comfort zone of the HRC. The fact that these entities cannot be “controlled” or managed like a press release is old news – it’s how the game of politics works now; any person who succeeds Joe Solmonese has to grasp this reality and find out how to work nimbly with not only the Hill and the White House, but to engage with these entities.
They are not going away, in fact their existence moved the civil rights ball forward on DADT when traditional means of Beltway negotiation and hand shakes in closed door meetings dissolved into political inertia. That this influence is publicly ignored, but privately fretted about (yes Virginia, we have eyes and ears everywhere), should be a signal that precious wasted energy worrying about allies that use different tactics should be spent on how a powerful institution with access like HRC can leverage those differences without appearing to “sell out” or be in battle when the end goals are actually in alignment.
So now the commentary is left to readers – how does this prospective news affect your view of the potential of the Human Rights Campaign to rework its reputation within the elements of the LGBT community that have questioned its strategy and decisions regarding legislative focus and its image to the larger public? Is there any positive/negative fallout from this organizational shift?
Discuss. More to come as additional details emerge.
UPDATE: Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly has filled in a few more details that conflict with our source’s account, and identified the consultant.
Although Spaulding reported that “a replacement executive director has been identified,” four sources familiar with the situation describe that portion of the report as inaccurate — with one saying the process is just beginning and will not be rapid.
…Spaulding refers to the person she reported was identified as Solmonese’s replacement as “a paid consultant” who has worked with the organization. Metro Weekly has identified that consultant as Cathy Woolard, who most recently served on the senior leadership team at CARE, which describes itself as “a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty” and is based in Atlanta.
Although the sources say that no permanent replacement has been selected, none of the four sources were willing to say what, if any, role Woolard would play in the transition efforts at HRC.