News :: National

HRC Head to Depart in 2012

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Aug 29, 2011
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Joe Solmonese, the president of the nation’s largest GLBT equality lobbying organization, the Human Rights Campaign, has not renewed his contract and will be leaving the HRC next year.

Solmonese’s impending departure was announced in an Aug. 27 media release from the HRC. His current contract will run out on March 31, 2012, the release said. "Solmonese will remain at the helm of the organization until the completion of his contract to ensure a smooth leadership transition," the release added. The group’s board of directors also announced the formation of a search committee to identify Solmonese’s successor.

"Joe Solmonese is an outstanding leader," HRC Foundation Board co-chair Anne Fay said. "While we will miss his extraordinary leadership, we enter this next phase, thanks to Joe, in the best place the organization has ever been. Not only has our community secured historic victories, but our membership is larger and more active than at any time in our history, and our financial health is secure even in these difficult economic times."

"From the repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, to the recent passage of marriage equality in New York, Joe has made sure that HRC is an effective and strategic force for positive change," HRC board of directors co-chair Tim Downing said. "Over the course of his tenure, he’s set the tone for delivering real reform that matters in peoples’ everyday lives."

The release also included remarks by Solmonese.

"Leading HRC has been an inspiring experience and a complete privilege," Solmonese said. "I could not be more proud of our staff, our volunteer leadership and of the extraordinary progress we’ve made together as a community."

"Solmonese’s leadership has taken the organization from 750,000 members and supporters to more than 1,000,000," the release said. "Additionally, he oversaw significant expansion of HRC’s public education and outreach programs including the launch of the Healthcare Equality index, a more robust Religion and Faith Program and wider reach and success of the Corporate Equality Index.

"The HRC Foundation also launched the Welcoming Schools program to address family diversity, gender stereotyping, bullying and name calling in schools, as well as the All Children All Families initiative that helps open up adoption agencies to prospective LGBT parents," added the release. "The grassroots field operation also expanded -- most recently mounting the largest state-level campaign in LGBT movement history resulting in the passage of marriage equality in New York."

GLBT news blog Pam’s House Blend reported on Aug. 26 on Solmonese’s impending departure, but said that the HRC leader would be leaving the organization in December. The news item also said that a new executive director had already been decided upon, "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."

Solmonese’s departure "also signals, according to our source, the beginning of a larger staff shake-up in the HRC," the Pam’s House Blend article said. The article posed several questions relevant to how the change would affect the HRC’s messaging, methods, and focus, especially in terms of representing bisexuals and transgender people.

"The L and G in LGBT have had much more visibility not only in its leadership composition, but in [the group’s] political priorities," the article noted.

"Will more bisexual and trans staff be added with the staff shake-up?" the article continued. "Unknown. Until Joe’s successor announces [a,] 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."

The blog also noted that the HRC’s leadership has had a "tense and guarded" relationship with so-called new media" such as bloggers. The article noted that new media operates "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."

An Aug. 27 article at MetroWeekly said that the Pam’s House Blend claim that a successor had already been selected was inaccurate, with a source telling MetroWeekly that "a full candidate selection process will take place" in order to a bring a new leader on board.

Solmonese "helmed the organization during historic successes like passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and the passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act in 2010 but also during one of the most divisive moments of the organization’s history," the MetroWeekly article noted, "its support in 2007 for a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that was not inclusive of gender identity."

That highly controversial decision polarized the HRC’s board and led to the resignation of sole trans board member Donna Rose.

"HRC has never been stronger and after nearly seven years, this is the right moment for me to move on," Solmonese said. "As I explore new professional possibilities, I plan on continuing to pour my heart and soul into improving the lives of members of our community -- from battling proposed marriage amendments to creating more equitable workplaces to ensuring the President Obama is reelected for a second term."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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