Cheryl Jacques, executive director of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, has left her job less than one year after she was hired for the nation's most prominent gay rights post. Her official resignation was confirmed by HRC on Tuesday shortly after several sources told Advocate.com that the style in which Jacques handled key issues led to friction between board members and Jacques.
“There was a difference in management philosophy and both [Jacques] and the board decided it was best to part company at this time,” Mike Berman, incoming co-chair of HRC’s board of directors, told Advocate.com.
Berman said he couldn’t share the details of Jacques's departure, but confirmed that she had had a three-year contract. While Jacques's departure is officially a resignation, the final decision to part ways with Jacques was made Monday night during a conference call between board members that did not include Jacques, Berman said. “It’s the end of the year,” Berman said. “A fight in which she was very involved [the battle against the antigay Federal Marriage Amendment] was over, and it’s always a good time at the end of the year to reappraise things.”
In an official statement, Jacques said only, "My priorities were to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, expand the organization's membership and fund-raising capacity, increase our diversity, and maintain a strong voice in the media."
"Cheryl hit the road almost as soon as she arrived and has been an effective advocate for our community," said Lawrie Demorest, HRC Foundation Board co-chair, in the HRC press release.
Berman confirmed that former Recording Industry Association of America president Hilary Rosen will serve as interim executive director. Rosen is a political consultant who worked with HRC and is longtime partner to Elizabeth Birch, the group's previous executive director. “Hilary and I are going to coordinate this transition period together,” Berman said. “I’m the one co-chair that happens to live in D.C. and Hilary and I have been friends for more than a few years.”
HRC's press release says Rosen "will be focused on internal, strategic issues and management."
A former Massachusetts legislator, Jacques was picked late last year to succeed Birch, who left the organization in January after eight years at the helm. Before she came on board at HRC, Jacques--who is raising twin boys with her partner, Jennifer Chrisler--was a longtime state senator in Massachusetts and a former prosecutor. She didn't come out until 2000, and many gay leaders said she lacked sufficient gay rights experience to head the nation's top gay rights group. While others greeted Jacques's appointment with praise and noted her strong performance as a media spokeswoman for equality, some argued that the longtime Democrat was too liberal for Republican-dominated national politics.
"State politics has prepared me for everything," Jacques told The Advocate shortly before starting the job. "You learn to have a tough skin and do the right thing no matter what the detractors say. I felt that I helped improve the quality of life in my district, and being reelected many times has rewarded me. I'm not going to allow critics to distract me."
When asked how her leadership style would differ from that of Elizabeth Birch, Jacques said she was "stepping on the shoulders of a giant.... I'm so fortunate to have come along in this job at a time when the organization has never been stronger. I will be at the center of a storm in the next chapter of gay rights, and I have to find ways to inform Americans that equal rights are good not just for gay people but for everyone."
The largest gay rights group in the country, HRC had a record $30 million budget in 2004 and claims 600,000 members.
Advocate.com will continue to update this story as it breaks.