Ryan Lee: Human Rights Campaign is the Kardashian of the LGBT movement

Toward the end of my coming-out process, I had the urge to put a gay bumper sticker on my car, which was probably overkill considering I drove a Geo Metro. I wasn’t yet bold enough to ride around Alabama with a rainbow flag on my hatchback, so I opted for the yellow-on-blue equal sign that few were aware was the logo for a gay rights group known as the Human Rights Campaign.

hrc_logoThat equal sign is less discreet 12 years later, with its visibility on social media leading to it being dubbed “Symbol of the Year” for 2013 by Stanford University. The recent Atlanta HRC Dinner & Silent Auction shared the downtown Hyatt with a group of high school students attending a separate function, and during his speech, HRC President Chad Griffin recalled overhearing one teenage girl ask another who were all of the dressed-up adults in the hotel lobby.

“Those are the equal sign people from Facebook,” the girl replied, according to Griffin.

Griffin offered this observation as the best example of HRC “doing the work that needs to be done.”

Indeed, if the goal is logo and brand recognition, HRC has done an exceptional job. However, if the goal is gaining LGBT rights, the Human Rights Campaign is the Kardashian of our movement: its fame (and wealth) dwarf its accomplishments, and its thirst for celebrity company has turned HRC into a star.

The Atlanta HRC dinner started with a nauseating video that celebrated the succession of marriage victories in the past year.

HRC had absolutely nothing to do with the two marriage cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and was among the Gay Inc. contingency that initially opposed the lawsuit that led to California’s Prop 8 being nullified. Yet, HRC is more associated with those historic victories than more deserving players simply because HRC’s symbol was tinted red and went viral on social media.

It took three decades for the nation’s leading gay rights group to shepherd a single piece of landmark legislation through Congress—30 years for our movement to score a lonely national victory on hate crimes.

Despite the overwhelming surge in public support on LGBT issues, and despite HRC’s impressive roster of corporate sponsors, the organization still cannot get a barebones nondiscrimination bill to President Obama’s desk. Griffin commended Atlanta for scoring a perfect 100 on HRC’s self-important Municipal Equality Index, without mentioning that the city achieved this status with no significant assistance from HRC, despite the millions of dollars that Atlanta activists have sent to national headquarters over the decades.

When it was time to ask the Atlanta crowd for (yet more) money, the multi- million dollar organization cynically tapped a couple of amateurs to make its plea. An otherwise adorable lesbian couple from Arkansas testified about HRC’s assistance when one of them was fired from her job as a schoolteacher.

The gay rights behemoth didn’t win the lesbian her job back or enact a nondiscrimination ordinance in Little Rock, but HRC was able to organize a press conference and start an online petition, arguably the most useless form of modern activism. HRC is a first-class public relations firm and a shrewd fundraiser. It is an unreliable partner, and hardly a leader, in the majority
of LGBT struggles.

The fundraising goal for the Atlanta dinner was at least $150,000, which is more than the annual budget for one of the dinner’s honorees, Lost-N-Found, a local nonprofit that serves homeless LGBT youth. None of the money raised at the black-tie dinner will go toward the housing or feeding of local youth in need.

Instead, HRC gave Lost-N-Found a lovely glass plaque as a symbol of its support.