HRC President Joe Solmonese Reflects on 2008

by HRC Staff

Dear Friends,

As 2008 draws to a close, America is preparing for the change of our lifetime. Like many LGBT Americans, I have dreamed of and worked for this day to come. In 2009, an ally will occupy the White House. Divisive, anti-gay politics are leaving our executive branch. Our Congress will have more allies than ever. And our next Supreme Court justices will respect our fundamental rights. Through our work, our belief, our unyielding commitment to a better future for ourselves and our families, LGBT people helped to make this happen. All of you who attended Camp Equality training, who volunteered in phone banks, who donated your hard-earned money to a pro-equality candidate, and, most importantly, told your friends and family why our rights matter and how their votes can harm or protect them, to all of you I say thank you. 2008 was OUR year to win.

On the same day that America elected a fair-minded president who is a longstanding ally of civil rights and a professor of constitutional law, voters in California, Arizona, and Florida wrote discrimination into their constitutions. In California, Proposition 8 stripped citizens of the rights that the state's highest court had finally recognized last May. On November 5, as our nation celebrated a historic election, our community's grief turned into anger, and anger turned to action.

LGBT people and allies took to the streets and to the airwaves... we were everywhere. Showing the neighbors who had slighted us who we really are-not just families and friends and coworkers worthy of equal rights, but strong, resilient people who will fight for those rights.

My question to you is, will we?

It's the end of 2008, and the opportunities before us are vast. We can finally pass hate crimes legislation covering our entire community and a fully-inclusive ENDA we can roll back eight years of bad Bush Administration policy on HIV, workplace protections for federal employees, and benefits for families.

In winning the elections, we did not pass these bills or secure these policies. Rather, we earned a fighting chance to pass them. The election opened a door that had long been locked. But what lies beyond the door is not a room full of treasures no, what's beyond that door, what we're seeing now, is a steep, spiral staircase. What we won in this election is the chance to climb it. It's more than we've had in my memory, but it's not going to be easy.

And my experience tells me that a "fighting chance" is a good way to describe it, because we're going to have to fight for it.

This is a lesson of Prop 8 and of all of the discriminatory campaigns against us. It's the lesson of eight years of roadblocks to our legislation. The lesson is that when our community is getting ready to win, the other side fights hard. And they fight with lies. When we passed hate crimes in the last Congress, the haters rolled out every lie that they would later use to take away our rights in California. We harm religion. We harm children. We take over the schools. We put preachers in jail. The same lies.

In a way, it's comforting. I mean, if it were palatable to be an out-and-out bigot these days, our opponents could simply take out ads that say "hate the gays? Vote yes on 8!" But we are past that today. Today, people will turn against us if they're given a reason to fear us. And the same few lies serve that purpose every time-whether it's hate crimes or marriage at stake.

Our job is to beat back those same lies. Every time. When hate crimes comes up for a vote in 2009, will those of us who are standing up against the Prop 8 haters come out against those who would kill this bill? We must. We must stand up. We must never forget that even as we focus on the right to marry and the economic and spiritual benefits that it brings, we have a duty to protect our entire community's right to live without fear of being attacked for who we are. And we have a duty to stand up in this fight, and win it, because passing hate crimes legislation ten years after Matthew Shepard's death is a step toward marriage and every other community goal.

And like a spiral staircase, each step upward is a step in full circle: back to facing our enemies, back to the same set of falsehoods that every campaign against us uses, back to the same slanders, the same tired old bigoted players. But I do believe that we are climbing upward, even though we have not yet achieved so many of our goals. More Americans support marriage than ever before, and even in California, Prop 8 succeeded by far less than another anti-marriage initiative just eight years ago. Young people, LGBT or not, overwhelmingly believe in our rights, and are increasingly fighting for them. Employers are treating our families equally faith communities are embracing us. Although we find ourselves facing the same people again and again, I truly believe that with each year that passes, we do so from higher ground.

But we cannot reach the top if we do not keep the heat on the other side, calling them to task. We cannot reach the top if we do not invest the same energy, time, and even anger into federal laws and policies that we have invested in fighting Proposition 8.

I know that especially after losing California, it is difficult to imagine how working on hate crimes, or an inclusive ENDA, or family benefits, or fair federal workplace policies, is going to move the ball forward for marriage. But it's clear to me that this is our path-upward and around, steadily and surely. It's clear to the right wing, which is why they try to block every measure that would help our community at all.

Martin Luther King once said that faith is taking the first step when you don't see the whole staircase. Many of you took that first step in speaking out against Proposition 8, or volunteering for Barack Obama, or coming out. Our equality-in our families, in our workplaces, and in our communities-is that staircase. It is linked together, and one measure follows from the next.

In this holiday season, we too, the LGBT community, are linked together with one future, one path, and one monumental task: to fight hate with truth. That is the next step that we will take together.

Happy holidays, and a happy new year.


Joe Solmonese
President, Human Rights Campaign

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