On Tuesday, The Human Rights Campaign announced the launch of a $26 million advocacy campaign to counteract the Republican agenda. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be supporting Republicans for office.
The LGBTQ civil rights organization, with its 1.5 million supporters, plans to hire at least 20 additional staff members, and focus efforts “to organize against the Trump-Pence agenda” in six states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada.
The initiative, called HRC Rising, is meant to “accelerate progress in states from coast-to-coast, resist the politics of hate, fight anti-LGBTQ legislation, and fuel pro-equality candidates and initiatives.” Someone who shares the goals and agenda of HRC might think, based on the way this campaign is being presented to HRC’s supporters and donors, that HRC is committing its money and resources to helping Democrats win control Congress, to provide a check on the actions of President Donald Trump. That is not quite true.
While HRC does mainly support and endorse progressive Democrats, the organization also has a long history of endorsing particular Republican incumbents, including Maine Senator Susan Collins. In 2016, the organization drew flack for endorsing Senator Mark Kirk, then an endangered Republican running for re-election in Illinois against Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran with a more progressive civil rights platform. The organization eventually withdrew its endorsement after Kirk made a racist comment against Duckworth during a debate.
So, does HRC plan to endorse more Republicans in the Trump era? The answer is: “Probably.” From HRC spokesman Stephen Peters:
We are going to back candidates who support equality for the LGBTQ community — which includes women, communities of color, immigrants, people of all faiths, and others. That often means Democrats but there are some Republicans like Ileana Ros Lehtinen who are trying to lead the GOP in a better direction. Overall, we believe that pushing Democrats and Republicans alike on these issues is a fundamentally important strategy for making progress. And we believe this campaign will help us pull the emergency brake on Donald Trump in 2018 and also build for the long term.
It’s worth noting that Ileana Ros Lehtinen, a Republican from a moderate Florida district, is retiring at the end of this term, so it’s unclear which Republican candidates HRC would consider supporting in future elections, including the 2018 midterms.
It is HRC’s belief that it’s worth building coalitions with Republicans who nominally support same-sex marriage, even if they also support oppressing Americans’ civil rights in other capacities, and even if, by contributing to Republican majorities in legislative bodies, these politicians enable the trampling of civil rights merely by their presence in those bodies.
HRC’s theory is that by judiciously doling out support to selected Republican pols, they can eventually shift the party toward support of LGBTQ rights. This isn’t a completely ridiculous idea—politicians tend to take seriously the agendas of supportive groups with lots of money to spend, and HRC fits that bill—but the cost of this long-term campaign is immediate harm coming to LGBTQ Americans.
There are certainly Democrats in office who have not done enough to support LGBTQ rights, but only one party has gone out of its way to continue oppressing queer Americans on a systemic level. From state lawmakers in North Carolina to the vice president of the United States, Republican politicians have made it clear that they are just fine legislating against the majority will of Americans when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
HRC may only endorse moderate Republicans who are “trying to lead the GOP in a better direction,” but those moderate Republicans are the people who allow far-right Republicans to exercise power. Susan Collins may personally support LGBTQ rights, at least to a greater degree than most of her colleagues. She also voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, whose first actions as a Supreme Court justice immediately betrayed his anti-gay bigotry. If Trump (or Mike Pence) eventually has a chance to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, Susan Collins will likely cast a vote (and Mark Kirk would have surely cast a vote) for the person who could eventually be instrumental in rolling back same-sex marriage in the United States.
Many LGBTQ organizations have not fallen for supposedly moderate Republicans’ okie-doke, but not HRC. Perhaps they believe, like many liberals, that Good Republicans deserve infinite chances to meaningfully challenge their party’s 60-plus-year legacy of oppression when it comes to civil rights. Perhaps, more cynically, it’s a ploy to give an advocacy organization a sheen of respectability in Washington, where having “bipartisan support” in the headline on your press release is both an important social marker and advantageous to fundraising.
Left-leaning advocacy organizations fail when they capitulate to or are scared to challenge moneyed interests. Bank of America, which screwed over millions of American homeowners through corporate negligence, now gets to buy back some goodwill by throwing a rainbow filter over its logo and putting up a Pride Parade float. That they would choose to do so is an obvious sign of the huge advances LGBTQ people have made in terms of societal acceptance. But in a country in which staggering numbers of transgender people live in desperate poverty, it is worth asking how much the institutions that undergird the current economic order truly care about the communities they claim to celebrate.
HRC plays an important role in U.S. politics, it has done a lot of good, and it has surely helped lead to more Americans supporting gay rights. That is undeniable. But HRC’s potential supporters ought to ask themselves whether HRC’s latest big-money campaign will truly help expand LGBTQ rights, or whether it is merely a rainbow-colored Band-Aid.