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.

19 Responses

  1. Jared

    I agree that HRC is much more of a marketing machine than it is a lobbying powerhouse. It’s been that way since Elizabeth Birch was President back in the late 90’s. The problem with your argument is that you could say the same thing about NGLTF or any other national gay rights lobby group.

    Yes, organizations with tighter focus like Lambda Legal and The Victory Fund have done a lot more by focusing on local litigation. However, in terms of wholesale change that’s not the only battle that has to be fought.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think that a lot of HRC’s activities as of late have been a bit over-the-top, particularly with the galas. In fact, you could go as far to say that they are emblematic of the larger commercialization of gay culture.

    However, HRC has helped if only to gain enough marketing clout to raise awareness and the collective, national empathy towards gay rights. For many Americans, particularly those in the heartland, HRC’s marketing is the first positive exposure they receive regarding gay rights issues.

    It’s tough to look at an organization as big as HRC and not wonder where the tangible results are but let’s not kid ourselves about the impact they actually do have.

    Reply
  2. Chris

    Bitter, party of one??? and wasn’t that you at the HRC Brunch the following day on the front steps of the host’s house collecting signatures?

    Reply
    • Daniel English

      Why is it when someone offers truly rational criticism the first flippant comment is “you’re bitter”? Really after reading all his article he has given ample reasons as to why the HRC doesn’t really work to end LGBT discrimination. Next time before you decide to come off half-cocked maybe you should consider why someone took the time to write the article in the first place. Most writers that address social issues don’t do so because they are bitter. They do so because they give a damn.

      Lambda Legal aided me when I needed help. All I’ve ever seen out of the HRC is begging for money. The HRC doesn’t wish to see an end to discrimination when discrimination pays its bills.

      Reply
      • Keith

        What does Lambda Legal have to do with this thread? The HRC is an organization that reaches out to lawmakers on Human and Civil Rights issues. They do not help individuals with legal matters unless it has a broader meaning. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. HRC does beg for money because money is power, especially in governing. Sad but true.

  3. Keith P

    Chris, he’s not bitter. He’s observant. HRC Atlanta raises thousands of dollars at their event yet do NOTHING locally for the community.

    Reply
  4. Scott

    Lost N Found obviously feels that receiving the award is important because the HRC’s logo is prominently featured on the Lost N Found website along with a blurb about the award. Even though it’s possible that no money flowed directly to Lost N Found on the night of the gala (I can’t verify one way or the other, but I’m taking your word for it), it’s possible, even probable, that the award creates visibility for the organization directly leading to future donations.

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  5. Matthew Malok

    I agree with Jared’s comments. My partner of 40 years and I attended this year’s gala and were blown away by the comments of Rep. Lewis who has attended each of the HRC dinners for 27 years. HRC does a great job of raising awareness nationally, and we have been supporters for many years. We’re also grateful for local groups like Georgia Equality and SAGE who are more focused on regional and statewide issues. There’s a need and definitely room for a variety of LGBT organizations.

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  6. Jenny

    All that money raised and HRC’s biggest guest…works across the street. SERIOUSLY? For the money HRC raises you would think they could do better than someone who lives here and “entertainment” from Serenbe Playhouse.

    Reply
  7. Paul

    HRC helps portray the LGBT community in a relatable fashion. They have helped us become not just a statistic or a minority, but show us as brothers, sisters, teachers, and neighbors. That is just as important as local legislation because without that perception, nothing will move forward.
    As for local donations, HRC is a national organization that is fundraising for not just one city or state. If you want money to go to a local organization go to their gala. GA Equality’s and AID Atlanta’s are on June 21st.

    Reply
  8. Joe Openshaw

    HRC is about to spend $8.5 million in your state of Alabama, along with Mississippi and Arkansas, so let’s see how that plays out before giving up. They will be working for social change, institutional change and legal change, all of which are challenging but needed here in the south. In states in the south, changing the hearts and minds of friends and family members is the way to create change, not working to convince red state legislatures to vote on our issues. Educate the voters, then convince them to vote their convictions. There are nine objectives to their Project One America, as it is called. This is from my notes from a conference call I was on this week, and are not official HRC notes.

    1. Empower people to come out. 2. Raise visibility. 3. Safer environment for young people. 4. Build partnerships with other organizations and faith organizations. 5. Workplace equality, especially with small and medium size businesses 6. Legal protections and support. 7.Expand HRC’s municipality index in these states. 8. Create a more inclusive health care environment. 9. Equip LGBTQ and Allies as key spokespeople for equality.

    I for one am glad an organization is realizing that the South has importance, and I welcome them to our state.

    Reply
  9. Julie

    I understand how misinformation and rumor can taint an organiztion. And the bigger an organization is, the bigger the target on it’s back. But I want to say this in the kindest way possible — you need to do your homework, Ryan. It would also help to do some research or have an actual chat with someone from HRC. Or, better yet, anyone who donates or volunteers. HRC is the biggest national (NATIONAL) organization we have working for our rights. For the statewide fight, we have GA Equality. Do you really think HRC and GA Equality don’t have a relationship?

    HRC has had a huge impact on the changes that we’ve seen since they started the fight 30 years ago. http://www.hrc.org/the-hrc-story/our-victories

    Just to name a few: the Corporate Equality Index, Municipal Equality Index, political endorsements, congressional scorecard, campaign contributions, grassroots lobby days on Capital Hill, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment, testifying before Congress, passing ENDA in the Senate, tremendous leadership in the equal marriage fight, countless educational materials, and sending full-time field organizers to staff statewide initiatives like those in Maine, New York, Washington state, Minnesota, Maryland, Rhode Island and Delaware.

    No organization is an island, and HRC hasn’t been working alone. But let’s not look at a red equal sign and think that’s all there is. Dig a little deeper.

    Oh, and branding? Hell yeah! I love knowing there’s a positive “brand” for the fight out there. And that reminds me — I need to get a new HRC sticker for my car.

    Reply
  10. Harlan

    What I love about the LGBT Movement is have already achieved equality. HRC and many other LGBT organizations have replicated the same system of inequality as dominate society. All one has to do is look the leadership of these orgs, and one will find that the LGBT leaders are all white and male…… just like the dominate society. If there are are people of color (but not all people of color – I don’t know of any Native/Two-Spirit people in leadership positions at a National org!) they are in a public roles and are doing the bidding of their white masters/bosses. These same org are corporate america whores just like the any other mainstream org. These are some of the main reasons why I can not and will not support these orgs!

    Reply
  11. Keith

    Sir, you need to do your homework a little better on HRC. To say that had nothing to do with recent and important decisions having to do with marriage equality and the elimination of DOMA are completely unfounded. Bringing these issues front and center is largely due to the efforts of HRC and their supporters. Why are gay people always beating up their supporters? Pick a fight that needs fighting and stop trying to put a bad taste in people’s mouths for an organization that is determined to make your life better.

    Reply
  12. John

    Disagree with gist of the article, but the negative gets the ink more than it should and this is not exactly a well-written expose.
    The writer also needs to remember (actually I am sure he knows but is just chumming the waters) that HRC is a political organization (non charitable, non tax-deductible) with a foundation arm (charitable and tax deductible) and that the dinner was a political fundraiser for itself. It’s primary goal is to influence federal legislation for the LGBT community or help defend against harmful legislation. While it would be nice if the organization could be all things to all people, and many incorrectly think it should be, it’s just not possible.

    Lost and Found is a good cause and definitely needs more of a lot of things including money. That said, appropriating a stage and converting your award acceptance speech to a pitch is just not very cool. I was there and inspired by Lost and Found’s mission etc., but was not the only attendee turned off by their cross-sell. Nonetheless, they were treated graciously and there was no “cue the music” to play them off the stage.

    Reply
  13. NoChance

    HRC is a scam organization plain and simple. They want money. ‘Raising awareness’ is the most vomit inducing phrase. We exist and the world at large knows that, it is time to actually produce results with all that money HRC has raised. Also, HRC is not all inclusive to our community. They are a shallow group that puts on galas and fronts with faux glamor. Perhaps HRC could represent the real gay community that is made up of waiters, bartenders, mechanics, homeless people, the check out clerk at Kroger. HRC and too many in our community all would like to pretend we are lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and so on when that isn’t the true identity of our community. I wish people would stop wasting money by donating to HRC.

    Reply

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