HRC clarifies Castro store plans

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday September 7, 2005
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News that the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group, plans to open not just a store but also an action center in the Castro surprised local LGBT leaders, who said they had been told the location would serve only as a retail outlet.

After an article in the Bay Area Reporter August 25 described the store and action center, to open later this fall at 600 Castro Street, as HRC's war room in the fight against two antigay state constitutional amendments and quoted HRC President Joe Solmonese as saying, "action will be the foundation" of the location, local leaders in the campaign to defeat the amendments called Solmonese for clarification on what the group's plans were in opening its first West Coast outlet.

Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors, who is heading up the newly formed Equality for All campaign against the antigay initiatives, said HRC officials had told local activists that the Castro location "would not be an action center, it would just be a store." Thom Lynch, executive director of the LGBT Community Center and a spokesman for the statewide group, said HRC had said the goal of the store would be to "identify themselves and to sell T-shirts and hats" but otherwise would not be a center for organizing against the ballot measures. Though he added that HRC had agreed "to provide computer space to EQCA to sign up volunteers for the campaign and put up collateral from the center such as our calendar and that sort of stuff."

Privately, others questioned why HRC was even opening up a store, whose rent is $5,500 a month, and taking money out of California at a time when local LGBT leaders say they need to raise between $15 million and $20 million to launch a successful campaign against the measures.

In response to questions over HRC's plans for its store and action center, Solmonese said in a statement that the location "will provide information and encourage customers to get involved with the Equality for All campaign, but it will not be a 'war room' or provide any sort of coordinating function. The San Francisco LGBT Center, Equality California, and other organizations will continue to fulfill that role."

Noting that HRC is a member of the statewide group's committee, Solmonese added, "As we become a neighbor to organizations like Equality California and the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, we look forward to working together with them to inform and engage the volunteers, activists, and contributors that we will need for the campaign to succeed."

While the location is meant to be more than just a retail outlet, HRC spokesman Jay Smith Brown added that it would not be a "money suck or drain of cash for the state" fundraising efforts under way to defeat the measures.

"It is not just a store where people buy T-shirts. We are making sure people who want to buy T-shirts with this great message understand work needs to be done to make sure we all have equal access to our rights," he said in an interview. "A lot of the people who come into our stores aren't people who would give money necessarily or they already have given money to state groups. This is a good way to turn them on to getting involved. I don't think it is taking anything away. The stores are in our marketing and communication department, not in our fundraising area. It is not about making money at all."