New HRC president to visit Nashville May 12, 13

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Nashville will play host to new Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese on May 12 and 13 as part of his “ on the road to equality” campaign.

Solmonese, who took the helm at HRC on April 11, said he was looking forward to his first trip to Nashville.

“Nashville is home to a lot of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and big supporters of HRC, who are doing really great work,” he said. “I want to thank them for doing such an incredible job. But Nashville is more than that. Its home to many Americans who are fair-minded and want to do the right thing but who our opponents are often able to persuade with fear. We can’t give up on our neighbors. This tour – including this trip to Nashville – is all about building a bridge with education.”

Nashville is just one of many cities that Solmonese has visited in the last month, including Lawrence and Topeka , Kansas , and Kansas City , Missouri .

One mission of Solmonese while in Nashville is to meet with local leaders, including those from the Tennessee Equality Project and the local HRC steering committee.

“I hope my trip to Nashville gives me a chance to connect with local leaders and hear directly from them where they’d like to see us go as an organization. One thing is clear. HRC has funneled more money to state organizations than any other national organization,” Solmonese said. “Last year alone, we provided $1.6 million directly to state GLBT organizations and ballot campaigns. Since I came on board, we’ve given $75,000 to the Equality Federation, recognizing the important work they do on behalf of state organizations nationwide. In Nashville specifically, I’m excited about the newly formed Tennessee Equality Project and the work that HRC has already embarked on with TEP’s leadership and community members, including the lobby day earlier this year. We look forward to more collaborative efforts like this.”

Maria Salas, a Nashville bankruptcy attorney who serves on the national HRC board of directors, said Tennesseans supported HRC and was looking forward to meeting the new president. She mentioned that not only did Tennesseans support HRC financially, but also gave countless hours as volunteers towards the mission of equality.

“It is hard to estimate the exact financial support to HRC from people in Tennessee. Tennessee HRC members would have contributed at least the $35 basic membership cost, and many contribute more through various giving plans or support of HRC activities in Tennessee and across the country,” she explained. “For example, Tennessee has approximately 85 HRC Federal Club memberships (many of which are couple memberships), and three major donors. The Federal Club memberships contribute a minimum of $1,200 per year to HRC, and major donors contribute a minimum of $5,000 per year to HRC.”

Salas said that the annual Tennessee HRC dinner raised a net of approximately $62,000 to $72,000 per year and that various community events and other HRC advocacy activities in Tennessee also provide financial support to HRC.

“I think it is important to keep in mind that all of these events and activities are organized by HRC volunteers across the state,” she said. “The time these volunteers put in on behalf of HRC cannot really be measured in financial terms , but is critical to the success of HRC’s work here in Tennessee and across the country. It is also important to remember that the financial support of Tennesseans to HRC comes back to our state communities in various ways such as the HRC television ad recently premiered in Nashville, financial support from HRC to state GLBT organizations, political lobbying in Congress to stop the Federal Marriage Amendment, and resources like HRC’s award winning website (www.hrc.org).”

 

Interview

Solmonese, who took the helm at HRC on April 11, said he was looking forward to his first trip to Nashville . Below is a Q & A interview with Solmonese on his upcoming trip to Nashville .

O&AN: Why the interest in Nashville ?

Joe: With this tour, I want to reach out to every part of America . Nashville is home to a lot of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and big supporters of HRC, who are doing really great work. I want to thank them for doing such an incredible job. But Nashville is more than that. It’s home to many Americans who are fair-minded and want to do the right thing but who our opponents are often able to persuade with fear. We can’t give up on our neighbors. This tour – including this trip to Nashville – is all about building a bridge with education.

O&AN: You’ve been “on the road to equality” since you started with HRC. I see that you’ve visited some vastly different parts of the country. How many cities have you visited, and what have you learned that impacts you the most?

Joe: I started off visiting Lawrence and Topeka , Kansas , and Kansas City , Missouri . By the time I get to Nashville , I’ll have visited over a dozen cities.

The personal stories have affected me most. Like the story from two lesbian moms in Kansas who have a notebook stuffed with legal papers they keep on the kitchen shelf in case one of the kids has to be rushed to the hospital. Or of Kevin, a 22-year-old gay man whose parents – a Republican and independent – are staunch supporters of GLBT equality. Or the woman I met at Hallmark in Kansas City , who stayed in the closet for 34 years until she had a supportive boss. Or the church group in Topeka who convinced me that we’re going to win the religious battle not by quoting scripture but by getting to the root of peoples’ beliefs, by appealing to the values of decency toward fellow human beings.

These are the discussions we need to be having with the rest of America . And those stories are only the tip of the iceberg.

O&AN: What do you see as your biggest challenge in your first year?

Joe: Time. There’s just not enough time to sit down with as many people as I want to during the first year. Like I said before, I want to build bridges with the community and the rest of America . It’s a formidable chore. Luckily, I’m not alone. If every GLBT American can enlist one friend, one family member and one co-worker in the fight for equality – not just securing their support but also their votes – we will make huge inroads this year alone.

O&AN: HRC has come under some criticism in Tennessee this year as being an elitist greenbelt organization, by taking money and resources from local coffers and giving little in return. Have you heard similar criticism from other states, and do you view this as a perception problem or do you see a greater need to analyze how the organization is operated?

Joe: I hope my trip to Nashville gives me a chance to connect with local leaders and hear directly from them where they’d like to see us go as an organization. One thing is clear. HRC has funneled more money to state organizations than any other national organization. Last year alone, we provided $1.6 million directly to state GLBT organizations and ballot campaigns. Since I came on board, we’ve given $75,000 to the Equality Federation, recognizing the important work they do on behalf of state organizations nationwide.

In Nashville specifically, I’m excited about the newly formed Tennessee Equality Project and the work that HRC has already embarked on with TEP’s leadership and community members, including the lobby day earlier this year. We look forward to more collaborative efforts like this.

O&AN: You bring with you extensive grassroots experience from EMILY’s list. How do you see transforming that experience into one that will help the GLBT community?

Joe: The message we need to send is that we’re fighting for full equality without compromise. At EMILY’s List I had the opportunity to spend a good share of time in cities and towns around the country. It’s given me a good sense of what’s going on across America .

At Emily’s List, we reached out to moderates and the heartland with a track record of victory that is second to none.  We need to do the same thing at HRC and I’m proud to bring that to the table.

O&AN: What do you see the greatest issue facing individual states over the next year?

Joe: That certainly depends on the state. Marriage and bans prohibiting marriage will continue to be dominating themes in various states. And we’ll continue the conversation about marriage equality in all states, regardless of how far along the state has come.

But it’s important to recognize that other issues, like workplace equality, hate crimes and a package of family rights in the absence of marriage, will continue to be lead priorities in many states. This year alone, we’ve seen Illinois and Maine secure GLBT non-discrimination laws. We’ve seen Maryland pass a hate crimes measure and a medical decision-making bill. It’s these kinds of issues, along with marriage, that will continue to push forward a discussion about equality at the state level.

O&AN: What do you see as the greatest issue on the Federal level involving GLBT rights?

Joe: At a federal level we’ve got to bring the conversation about equality back to a place of understanding. Of course, it’s a challenge. Fear sells. But the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in fairness.

That’s why the personal, face-to-face conversations are those that matter the most. When we sit down and have a simple conversation with another person who doesn’t yet know the challenges we face, we are start a ripple effect of education that goes all the way to Congress. It’s a challenge but it’s one that in the end will have a huge pay off.