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Drinking for dollars or fighting for rights?

More and more, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) seems to think that fundraising galas and million-dollar sound bites are the ways to win equality.

And while money is critical (and well-written statements are a good thing), drinking for dollars is not necessarily fighting for rights. At what point do we take our tuxedos off, and put our protest clothes on – and not risk being chastised by "the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization"?

Last week, in a statement by its president, HRC completely abandoned Lt. Dan Choi, a well-known LGBT activist, after he protested the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy by handcuffing himself to the White House fence. This action followed his appearance at an HRC-sponsored rally protesting the same.

HRC President Joe Solmonese immediately released a statement claiming he knew nothing about Choi’s participation until it was too late. (Maybe that’s true, but given HRC’s track record of image protection, it seems rather unlikely that anything would have happened at that rally that wasn’t approved by the powers that be.)

Choi has also come under fire by local HRC supporters. One San Diego writer asserted that Choi’s efforts should have been approved by a larger organization, and then went so far as to compare his protest to Jane Fonda’s controversial demonstration during the Vietnam War. (Quite the stretch, since Fonda’s protest actually involved enemy combatants.) Moreover, the same writer said the lack of response by the LGBT veterans groups “clearly” means those groups oppose Choi’s action.

Really? Perhaps those groups do approve of Choi’s display, but made a conscious choice to remain silent because Choi also violated military protocol by protesting in uniform. Their silence is certainly no evidence for one view or another. To assert anything else is to draw an unfounded conclusion.

Nonetheless, in an interview appearing in this week’s Newsweek, Choi said he feels “betrayed” by HRC.

Betrayed indeed, for he has now learned the difficult lesson many activists learn from HRC. That is: if you associate with HRC, you must not exercise your right to free speech. You must get every action you take approved. You must also submit to HRC’s agenda, which is: look pretty, be rich, climb the social ladder, and protect HRC’s brand with all your heart, soul, and mind. (And of course, write lots of checks.)

And if HRC’s overt abandonment of Choi isn’t confusing enough, its statement about the recent health care legislation certainly is. There, HRC let us know that it “is saddened” by the fact that every single pro-LGBT provision was removed from the bill. (But don’t worry. HRC promised the Democrats they would “support the bill” anyway.)

Saddened? what happened to -

“No Excuses?” or how about -

“We are outraged?” or -

“HRC feels betrayed?” or why not (in case those phrases are a little too “activisty” for you) -

“HRC is gravely disappointed” or even -

"This is completely unacceptable?”

We do know that HRC is capable of remaining neutral, but in ways that only add to the confusion.

Remember when HRC took a neutral stance on including gender identity in federal employment non-discrimination legislation? Apparently, it aligned with HRC’s Capitol Hill lobbying efforts and some mysterious political strategy that we just weren’t savvy enough to understand. True to form, however, when donations stopped flowing, HRC quickly changed its position to align with every other LGBT organization in the country.

At best, the community remains perplexed by HRC.

But one message should start ringing clear: HRC, if you are not going to stand for LGBT inclusion in the most far-reaching health care legislation in U.S. history; and if you continue spending all your time (and your donors’ money) protecting your own image by distancing yourself from activists and their acts of civil disobedience (no matter how poorly planned), then you should just stick to planning galas and brunches.

After all, you do throw a killer party.

Arlon Jay Staggs received his doctor of jurisprudence degree from Mississippi College School of Law in 2000. He is a professional writer, business owner, professor and activist. Even though his opinions are usually spot-on, they are not necessarily the views of SDGLN.com. He can be reached at arlonjay@arlonjay.com.