By Bob Roehr
Blue and yellow confetti filled the air as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) raised its flag for the first time over its new headquarters building in Washington, DC, on Coming Out Day, Oct. 11. The celebration drew local dignitaries and more than a thousand supporters.
The ceremony began at midday with former pro football player Esera Tuaolo standing atop the first floor roof of a portion of the building, singing America the Beautiful while the American flag was raised from the ninth floor roof.
U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) praised HRC for nationalizing the gay rights movement. “You belong here because so much that must be done on behalf of this community, in this country and around the world, starts in this city. Make sure that you raise the American flag and the HRC flag real high, so that Congress can see both flags flying above this building. So that Congress will understand that you belong here, that you belong anywhere in this country, every bit as much as the Congress of the United States.”
Mayor Anthony Williams noted the building’s prominent location just a handful of blocks from the White House, a half block from the National Geographic Society and the Catholic Cathedral of St Matthew.
“What makes us proud as Americans is that we recognize explicitly, day by day, hour by hour, we have made a debate in our country about the unfinished ambitions and aspiration of this country to be a country of equality for all people.” The Mayor presented a proclamation declaring it to be Human Rights Campaign Day.
Tipper Gore explained that she and her family support to HRC and the gay community because they believe that “we are all created equal and in the image of God…We want to be on the right side of history, and we want to be on your side.”
“Today is not just a celebration for a single organization but for our whole community,” began HRC’s executive director Elizabeth Birch. As if on cue, the shadow of the building slid back and bright sunlight hit the podium. The building was dedicated “to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movement for equality.”
“This building will forever send a clear message to the world: We are strong, we are worthy, we are passionate, and we will not rest until we have achieved perfect equality – nothing more and nothing less,” said Birch. “We dedicated this building today to the founders of the Human Rights Campaign, half of whom we have lost to the ravages of AIDS.”
Birch touched upon each of the constituencies of the community, their families, and their supporters. She called upon those gathered to “rededicate ourselves to the hard daily work” of achieving equality. And then the HRC flag was raised from the rooftop, under the American flag.
Birch will be stepping down as executive director by the end of the year. Vic Basile, head of the search committee for her successor, said they have narrowed it down to four leading candidates. They hope to reach consensus on the leading candidate and begin negotiations with that person by the end of the month. All four candidates have said that they would be able to start before the end of the year.
HRC communications director David Smith also is leaving the organization, almost immediately. The Washington Blade framed his departure in the context of having interviewed to succeed Birch and not having been among the top finalists.
“Most rumors have some basis in fact, but in this case there is none,” Basile said in denying the allegation.
Smith told this reporter that he is very pleased with the job he had done at HRC, but it is time to move on. He is excited by the challenges posed by his new job, which takes him to Capitol Hill to head up media operations for a powerful senior member of Congress. The official announcement should come in the next few weeks.