|Winnie Stachelberg will be assuming the newly created position of Vice President of the HRC Foundation
This past week The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nationâ€™s largest LGBT political group, underwent another major readjustment at the senior levels. A press release announced that Political Director Winnie Stachelberg would be assuming the newly created position of Vice President of the HRC Foundation.
The Foundation is HRCâ€™s educational wing, charged with bringing information about LGBT issues to mainstream America, as well as acting as a resource for LGBT people. Among Stachelbergâ€™s new duties will be the development of a Religion Project, which according to the press release, will â€śresearch and develop the language and messages to effectively discuss GLBT issues with people of faith.â€ť
What the press release didnâ€™t mention was the creation of a new Vice President of Policy and Strategy, as well as the renaming of several upper-level management positions, and the creation of the Marriage Project. The as yet unfilled Executive Director position, held by Cheryl Jacques until her abrupt resignation on Nov 30, will be known as President.
Gone is Stachelbergâ€™s Political office, that managed advocacy in Washington, now combined with the Field office, that performed a similar function outside the Capital. â€śThis will not only make fewer direct reports necessary to the head of the organization, but streamline the various departments. It makes sense to have greater coordination among our grassroots initiatives and our national efforts,â€ť said Steve Fisher, HRCâ€™s Communications Director. â€śWe all know what happens in Congress tends to affect the states and vice versa.â€ť
Fisher said this model of high integration was temporarily employed during HRCâ€™s efforts to stop the passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment. The reorganization was made permanent now so the new President, expected to be chosen in the spring, will â€śhit the ground running.â€ť
David Smith, former HRC Communications Director and Senator Edward Kennedyâ€™s spokesperson for the past year, will occupy the Policy and Strategy position.
Policy and Strategy will have broad oversight coordinating HRCâ€™s advocacy on the federal and state levels: how and where the organization fights anti-gay measures and pushes for supportive legislation, control of Capitol Hill lobbying, and the fight for marriage and other rights at the national level and across the country. Fisher said under the old structure of HRC, each of these functions were semi-autonomous, and reported to the Executive Director. Policy will also oversee HRCâ€™s interaction with the media via the Communications department.
Smith departed HRC around the time Jacquesâ€™s was hired. He returned as a consultant immediately after her resignation to do legislative strategy, and what Fisher characterized then as â€śbroad programmatic kinds of things,â€ť and â€śdevising a program for the coming year.â€ť
Could those â€śthingsâ€ť be characterized as Executive Director stuff? In an interview this week, Fisher would not say whether Smithâ€™s new office, given the purview of essentially determining how the nationâ€™s largest and best endowed LGBT advocacy group leads the fight for gay rights, was a stop on the way to HRCâ€™s highest position.
Last November, Cheryl Jacques, suddenly resigned, citing â€śa difference in management philosophy,â€ť ending a tenure only slightly longer than the 10 months it took to recruit her. A source familiar with the situation claimed Jacques was fired because many HRC board members were unhappy with her management style.
The organization had been criticized for endorsing John Kerryâ€™s presidential bid while also claiming to be bipartisan, and alienating mainstream Americans by aggressively championing same-sex marriage rights. Jacques was also criticized for her unfamiliarity with Washington political minutiae.
Soon afterwards the New York Times quoted unnamed sources on the HRC board who indicated the organization might back off the fight for marriage equality and instead endorse President Bushâ€™s effort to privatize Social Securityâ€”if gay people gained the right to make their partners eligible for survivor benefits the way married heterosexual couples are allowed to receive each others Social Security checks if one of them dies.
HRC denied any such wavering on the issue of marriage. However, Winnie Stachelberg told Gay City News back then, â€śWeâ€™re pursuing marriage where we can, and other initiatives where those are possible, in collaboration with other state and national organizations.â€ť
eth Kilbourn, former head of HRCâ€™s Field Operations and now the director of the new Marriage Project said that, â€śit is not at all the case,â€ť his position was created in response to the flap over the New York Times article. â€śWe have done a lot of work on marriage. Frankly, weâ€™ve spent the most money and resources of any gay group. We want to be the point man on the issue and work in collaboration with national and state allies.â€ť
And HRC has some major work ahead. The turf in Washington is decidedly hostile. A very conservative party, elected partly on a backlash against the recent gains made by the LGBT community, controls the White House and Congress. Already the Senate has geared up for re-consideration of the Federal Marriage Amendment, with the House soon to follow. The gay-inclusive hate-crimes bill again failed at passage last year, and there is yet no viable gay employment non-discrimination legislation. Thirteen states passed anti-gay marriage amendments to their constitutions, and another 10 are set to consider them by 2006.
â€śThe reorganization will allow HRC to work as effectively and efficiently as possible, as well as move more boldly when confronting these issues,â€ť Fisher said.