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Top Gay-Rights Lobby Seeks New Chief

The nation’s largest gay-rights lobbying group is searching for a new leader.

The Human Rights Campaign released a job description for a new president this week, three months after current leader Joe Solmonese announced that he would soon step down.

Solmonese joined the group in 2005 and has helped it expand its membership and influence on Capitol Hill.

The 30-year-old organization, which consists of two nonprofits and several political action committees, spent $1.2 million on lobbying this year alone and has contributed millions of dollars to political candidates, mostly Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The HRC hired executive recruiters Russell Reynolds Associates to help find Solmonese’s replacement. The job profile calls for a “charismatic, visionary, and strategic leader” who can be “a force for constructive dialogue and relentless advocacy.”

The new leader is expected to help shape the organization’s strategy for the coming years, according to HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz.

Solmonese is expected to complete his current contract, which expires March 31. The group’s board of directors plans to hire a replacement by that date.

Board members praised the outgoing president, saying he leaves the HRC “in the best place the organization has ever been.” Solmonese helped bring the advocacy group’s membership from 750,000 to more than 1 million.

“Over the course of his tenure, he’s set the tone for delivering real reform that matters in people’s everyday lives,” Tim Downing, co-chairman of the group’s board of directors, said in a statement.

Solmonese joined the gay-rights group in 2005 from EMILY’s List, the pro-abortion-rights Democratic PAC where he served as CEO.

He has not announced what he will do next, but he said in a written statement that he plans to continue “to pour my heart and soul into improving the lives of members of our community.”

During his tenure with the group, the gay-rights community celebrated several legal victories, including the passage of a national hate crimes law, the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay service members and the legalization of gay marriage in New York.

Despite those wins, the HRC and Solmonese faced criticism at times from gay-rights activists for being too close to the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama.

Dan Choi, an activist and former Army lieutenant who was discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” publicly criticized Solmonese last year, accusing him of not standing up to Obama on that issue.

In 2009, activists also protested a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser where Obama spoke. They faulted the president for not taking a more aggressive stance for gay rights and the organization for inviting him to speak despite that.

It remains to be seen whether the HRC will make any changes in that strategy under new leadership.

“A lot of the direction of the organization is going to be based on this new person’s direction and vision,” Cole-Schwartz said.

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