Q-Notes got the chance to speak to Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solmonese in an exclusive pre-Gala interview. Discussing issues from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to youth involvement and the state of rural, “red” America, Somonese gave us a view into the direction of our national movement.
Matt Comer: Now that white collar jobs are getting more wide-ranging protections from corporations, what can be done for middle and lower class workers?
Photo Credit: Judy G. Rolfe/HRC
Joe Solmonese: The first target for us were the Fortune 500 companies. Going into big companies which already have human resources infrastructures and policies, we knew that we’d have somewhat of a start. That was just step one for a few years. Now we are starting to take it out to medium- and small-sized businesses and trying to figure out how we can be a resource for these smaller companies.
There are very few things that small businesses can’t do. The same policies large, multi-national corporations have regarding employment and healthcare, can certainly be created. You can do all the things big businesses do, with perhaps the exception of the large amount of philanthropic activities many corporations engage in, especially considering their scope and volume of work. HRC certainly wants to be a resource and way for small businesses to start navigating toward creating more equitable experiences for our communities.
How does HRC invest in youth and the future of our movement?
GLBT youth really are our most important resource. Young people in general, gay and straight alike, present a great opportunity for us in terms of their support and compassion surrounding GLBT issues. Also, our greatest challenge is that youth are the most expensive to reach and engage. They present a challenge in motivating them to be involved and keeping them involved.
In terms of our own community’s youth, everything we are involved with always has an element of youth woven into it. HRC activities and projects like National Coming Out Day, our Corporate Equality Index and our HBCU (historically black college and university) program really try to focus on young people. HRC really tries to engage youth and we want to be able to provide for them opportunities for leadership and mentoring.
What is HRC doing to aid in the growth of our movement in places like North and South Carolina?
North Carolina is an interesting example because it is a place that really is touched by every element of the organization. We have historically invested heavily in political opportunities in North Carolina. We were unsuccessful in defeating Helms but we have over the years continued to invest when and where we could. North Carolina is a place where there are traditionally opportunities for us to elect more fair-minded people into the state legislature and Congress and it is a state that’s typically in play for us.
What is important in North Carolina and the Carolinas generally, is some of our other work like education in religious and faith communities and bringing in faith leaders to talk to community members so that we can continue to move the conversation forward. We also have a good partnership with Bank of America and Wachovia.
And, of course, we’re doing some of our other and lesser known elements of our foundation work, like healthcare equality, which is really important in rural areas. I really was inspired by people I’ve met in rural areas. I met a couple of women in Topeka, Kan., who had a child. The non-biological mother experienced problems at the hospital when trying to take her kid to the emergency room. Stuff like this is much more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas, so having discussions with local healthcare providers and hospitals is becoming bigger work for us.
What, if any, role will HRC have in supporting the international community as it pertains to the officially recognized groups associated with the UN? Will HRC become more involved with what seems to be a growing, international movement for equality?
First, we are trying to be a resource and want to help promote the creation of any new group that is coming forward to do this work internationally. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) in New York is, at least from where I sit, the people who are on the front lines of this work. Members of our community here in Washington, D.C., did a fundrasier for them recently.
We obviously have HRC members who care deeply about things around the world. Instead of expanding our reach though, we support their work in any way we can. One of the most important ways to help is to try whenever possible to be a bridge and open doors when and where we can on Capitol Hill. The work international groups are doing sometimes falls into slightly different arenas than what we do, but we can certainly help when needed.