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From Emily to HRC: new president Joe Solmonese promises to "engage America" in the Human Rights Campaign's fight for GLBT equality.

On April 11, longtime Washington insider Joe Solmonese takes over as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization. The 40-year-old gay man replaces fellow Massachusetts native Cheryl Jacques, who stepped down in November after less titan a year on the job.

A 1987 graduate of Boston University, Solmanese had been chief executive officer of Emily's List, a D.C. group that helps elect pro-choice female Democratic candidates to political office. He stressed that one of his first priorities at HRC will be to reach out to religious leaders, community officials, and various straight allies.

Solmonese took time out from his hectic work schedule and his daily spinning class at a D.C. gym to speak to The Advocate. Far the complete interview go to www.advocate.com.

What attracted you to this job?

In the course of the last year--whether it was watching George Bush interrupt television programming to say that he intended to amend the Constitution to take my rights away or reading the Washington Post article about a young teenager in rural America--I've been reminded of some of the hardship and some of the pain and some of the challenges that I had as a teenager. It's just been a year of a lot of firings happening that have really drawn me more to HRC.

What is your general vision for where you want to take HRC?

I want us to engage America--whether it's through the religious community or through corporate boardrooms or roundtables or precincts or neighborhoods, to reintroduce ourselves in a way that, I hope, helps them to understand not just why our fight for equality is important to us but why it ought to be important to them.

It sounds like a lot of energy is going to be put into going out into America, but isn't HRC primarily a lobbying machine?

I think we continue to work with members of Congress, work on the Hill, advance the various things that we're working on legislatively and at the federal level. We need to approach these challenges from a variety of different directions. We need to approach from the grassroots level, and we need to impact what's going on in Congress in more ways than we are.

How will HRC deal with a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and White House?

It seems to me that even Democrats on the Hill are reluctant to touch anything having to do with gay people at this moment.

I don't think that anything we are going to fight for has to be pin, san in nature. We need enthusiastic Republican support as well as Democratic support as we move forward. I think that a record of working with members and working in coalitions and getting things done is going to be key to draw whatever elements into this work that we currently don't have.

What is your strategy for getting gays and lesbians a seat at the table as far as the Social Security debate, if it comes up?

Well, I think what the Social Security debate really does for our community is give us another opportunity to talk about and raise awareness around the inequities that exist for GLBT Americans in this country.

Right. But as far as concrete concessions written into the bill or whatever's being proposed, how do you do it?

Well, I mean, that's a tough question because of the fluid nature of what's going on. There are times when I think that there are so many retreats under way right now with the Social Security debate--every day I read that there is another compromise with Social Security, that there's a sort of ongoing retreat that makes it hard to think about how we delve into that. For our purposes, it's much more about using it as an opportunity to talk about inequities.
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Title Annotation:Behind the Headlines; Human Rights Campaign; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered
Author:Graham, Chad
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 12, 2005
Words:641
Previous Article:Tolerance on the radio dial.
Next Article:NC-17 takes the gay out of DVD rentals.
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