|by Peter Rosenstein|
|HRC: The Joe Solmonese Years Begin
When HRC appointed their new Executive Director, there were some comments made about a Massachusetts gay and lesbian mafia. I don't know about that, but I do know that Massa-chusetts has produced some of our countries most distinguished citizens. From Paul Revere to John Adams to John F. Kennedy to Barney Frank, we can be proud of the Bay State. I also know that some of the past Executive Directors of HRC who hailed from Massachusetts were hard working and did yeoman's work for our community. Our community and its needs were different at the time that HRC was led by Vic Basile and Tim McFeeley. They led HRC at a time when we were even struggling to be recognized by the other groups fighting for human and civil rights. I remember what a coup it was when HRC first became a member of the Civil Rights Roundtable.
But in any discussion regarding the future of HRC it is appropriate to ask what Joe Solmonese will do for HRC that is different from what his immediate predecessors did? The reason we need to ask this question is that times keep changing and with them the needs of our community are different. We have moved out of the closet into the American consciousness. From Stonewall to today our problems have taken on a different caste. There are those, especially in small rural communities and towns that still feel they must be in the closet, but even the issues they face are different today than they were thirty years ago.
It is accepted as good management practice in both the business and non-profit communities that organizations that want to stay relevant to their constituencies must change. To grow and prosper organizations need creativity and new ideas and a constant flow of new people involved.
Wanting and bringing about change is not necessarily a criticism of the past, but recognition of current and future needs.
I have written often about how I believe that HRC can move into the future. I hope that during his first six months as he assumes the helm of this venerable organization Joe Solmonese will take the time to talk to people who have left it over the years and try to understand why they did and what their ideas for change would encompass. He needs to bring them back into the fold. I also hope that the Board of Directors is open to possible changes which would open up the organization to more input from the GLBT community as a whole. Policy always remains the prerogative of the Board and if the Board holds fast to outmoded ideas and methods, Joe will have no real chance of making a difference for the organization.
I know that Joe has just reported that he has finished his first tour of the Red states since taking over at HRC. He has reported that he has talked to HRC members and religious organizations across the country. But there is another whole group of activists and just interested people in the GLBT community who are ready to meet with him and share their views of a new direction for HRC. They live all across this nation as well, in small communities and large cities and many of them are in Blue states. These are individuals who have either left HRC or never joined in the first place because they have a vision of our community that is different than the one that has been presented by HRC over the past ten years. If we consider that in any one year HRC claims only about 500,000 people as members or donors, and we know that recent articles have indicated that HRC doesn't differentiate the two, that means that only between 1 1/2 to 3% of the GLBT population in the nation are supporters of HRC. We should be looking at the reasons that the others are staying away. What keeps them from supporting what is arguably the biggest GLBT organization in the country? What is it that they would like HRC to become or be doing? How can HRC become more relevant to all these people? I think these are the questions Joe Solmonese and the Board need to be trying to answer over the next year. I believe as a community we owe it to Joe to give him a chance to make the needed changes at HRC.
But if Joe only talks to HRC supporters, and only those in Red states, he won't find out what all the real issues are. And as I said, after he does have these conversations and finds out what people are really thinking, he will need to convince the Board to give him the authority to make the real changes that are needed to move HRC forward and let it become the great organization it has the potential to be.
Some may think it's time to give up on HRC, but I for one don't subscribe to that point of view. I think it is time for HRC to change and with change become even bigger and better. Many of us in the community are watching and waiting to see what Joe Solmonese will do. We are the 97 to 98 1/2% of the GLBT community not now regularly supporting HRC. But many of us are ready to talk to him if we are asked. We are ready to share our ideas, our creativity, and our passion, our work, and yes even those that have it, their money, if he and the Board are ready to make the organization relevant to the large majority of the community that doesn't think it is now.
Peter Rosenstein lives in Washington, DC and Rehoboth Beach. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 6 June 3, 2005