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New Leadership at HRC, GLAAD, and ECQA
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/30/11
Last updated on: 08/31/11
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GLAAD Executive Director Jarrett Barrios resigned under a cloud in March. Photograph by Greg Hernandez (CC BY 2.0).

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has announced that Joe Solomonese, who has served as Executive Director for seven years, will leave his position at the end of March 2012. Solomonese joins the Executive Directors of two other leading glbtq organizations, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Equality California (ECQA), who have also recently announced their resignations.

At a crucial time for the gay rights movement in the United States, it is imperative that our most prominent organizations be both effective in advancing the movement's goals and reflective of the aspirations of the grassroots, who have become increasing dissatisfied with the mainstream lgbt organizations.

Geoff Kors, who served as Executive Director of Equality California for nine years, stepped down in March 2011. Jarrett Barrios, who joined GLAAD as its executive director in 2009, left under a cloud in June 2011, following allegations of misconduct in the organization's relations with funders, including especially its intervention on behalf of AT&T's merger with T-Mobile.

Unlike in the case of Barrios, no charges of misconduct led to the decisions by Kors and Solomonese to leave their positions, but all three organizations have been accused of being out of touch with their constituencies.

Although HRC has grown to be the country's most visible and politically influential glbtq organization, it has been criticized for its failure to challenge the Obama administration to move more decisively to secure equal rights.

Critics have accused HRC's leaders of having been co-opted by the Democratic Party and more interested in White House invitations than in holding the President and other politicians accountable for their failure to fulfill the promises they made in the 2008 election.

ECQA has been spectacularly successful in achieving legislative victories in the Golden State. However, the organization was roundly criticized after the passage of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that denied gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in California. It was accused of running an inept campaign that did a poor job in reaching out to minority communities and in countering the misinformation and fear-mongering of the proponents of Proposition 8.

GLAAD has faced criticism not simply for the AT&T fiasco, but also for having lost touch with its mission. The organization was founded in 1985 to serve as a watchdog group to ensure accurate media representations of the glbtq communities. However, in recent years critics have charged that GLAAD has become too closely identified with the very entities it is tasked with monitoring. The organization is now better known for its media awards than for its defense of the glbtq communities.

Some recent high-profile missteps by GLAAD illustrate its problems. For example, when comic Tracy Morgan earlier this year spouted forth a homophobic rant that included a threat to murder gay children, GLAAD seemed to some to be more interested in rescuing the actor's career than in exacting a punishment for his remarks.

Similarly, when this spring the evangelical magazine Sojourners refused to run an ad promoting a Mother's Day video by the gay religious group Believe Out Loud, GLAAD intervened: but instead of condemning the homophobia of Sojourners and demanding that it run the Believe Out Loud ad, they negotiated to secure the right to buy an ad promoting the Ali Forney Center for homeless youth. They announced that they had somehow achieved a victory by funneling money into a homophobic publication.

In May EQCA announced the appointment of Roland Palencia as its new executive director. Palencia will face numerous challenges, including a likely referendum to repeal the recently passed FAIR Education Act, which may be on the 2012 ballot.

Activist Mike Thompson is serving as Acting Director of GLAAD while its Executive Committee conducts a search for a new Executive Director.

The Board of HRC is expected to announce its plans to search for a new Executive Director soon.

What seems to be missing from these organizations is the sense of urgency and impatience shared by their constituents.

The urgency and impatience of the glbtq grassroots have led to the founding of new activist organizations such as GetEqual and to the emergence of such "accidental" but welcome leaders as advice columnist Dan Savage. The new leaders of HRC, GLAAD, and ECQA need to share this urgency and impatience and instill it into their groups.

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