Donius previously served as Chairman and CEO of Pulaski Bank and holding company Pulaski Financial Corp. based in St. Louis. Donius stepped down from the CEO role in 2008 while remaining on the board for another three years. He joined the bank in 1992.
During his tenure the bank was voted, “Best Place to Work” in St. Louis (St. Louis Business Journal poll), won the Torch award for Ethics and Excellence in customer service (Better Business Bureau) and was ranked one of the top performing banks in the nation by SNL (in the thrift category, based on Return on Equity to Shareholders). Donius was appointed to a year term on the U.S. Federal Reserve Board TIAC Council in 2009. He is currently writing a non-fiction book about the difference between left and right brain function and is a contributing writer at the Huffington Post.
“I feel responsibility,” says Donius. “I feel a responsibility to give back. I think about my life and I felt ‘less than.’ I had a great life, and great parents, but still felt ‘less than.’ And that’s not OK. That’s not right – and we have a chance to stop that discrimination.”
As the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans, the Human Rights Campaign represents a grassroots force of over 750,000 members and supporters nationwide.
Founded in 1980, the Human Rights Campaign advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office and educates the public about LGBT issues.
The HRC Board of Directors is a group of volunteers comprised of corporate and community leaders throughout the country. It is the governing body for the corporation, with its members determining HRC’s mission and purposes and sustaining the organization’s vision.
HRC’s board makes policy, manages finances and coordinates volunteer involvement for the organization. They sustain HRC’s vision and raise awareness about the mission of the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC Board of Directors has the ultimate authority over the organization’s actions, including fiscal management and budget approval. Board members also establish the official policies that direct HRC.
“I think that what HRC does is so amazing, because I never dreamed that we would never have gotten so far so fast,” Donius addresses. “We’re VERY close to being able to live a happy, normal life. We need more money at HRC – I’ve seen the way they spend it and they spend it very wisely. So I can tell you that your money will be spent very well if you decide to give it.”
Solmonese spoke to the Federal Club regarding recent victories under the Obama administration, as well as future plans. He praised Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill as one of the major combatants of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, which was signed into law December 23, 2010. “One of the most thoughtful people in that whole process was Claire McCaskill,” Solmonese recalls. “She had some of the best, if not the most, challenging questions for military leadership. McCaskill asked a question that absolutely silenced the entire panel. In the end, during the lame duck session, there were about 6 senators that said we cannot go home until we get DADT repeal passed. One of those senators was Claire McCaskill.”
HRC combines a strategy of both visible and invisible work – often working politicians behind-the-scenes to advance equality measures for LGBT Americans.
For workplace equality, a major focus will be the Corporate Equality Index, which rates large businesses on a scale from 1 to 100 depending on equality factors across the board including but not limited to non-discrimination policies for orientation and gender identity, partnership benefits and internal LGBT support.
“We’ve done a great job at reaching a critical mass of companies who score a 100%,” remarks Solmonese. “We started with 13 companies 10 years ago, now we’re at 350. What we’re hearing lately from companies like Ford Motor Company, who scored 100%, is that it’s great if you work in corporate, but if you work on the plant floor – not great at all if you’re an LGBT employee. We’re going to take this conversation and focus not only on the corporate benefits portion, but also on corporate culture: we want to change that experience for people beyond benefits so there is a way forward to improving your workplace experience.”
Solmonese continued discussion of the HRC agenda touching on the newly re-introduced trans-inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) repeal, same-sex marriage, taxation of partnership benefits, health care with the Department of Health & Human Services, public education anti-bullying programs, the Census and enforcement of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Donius provided Vital VOICE with additional insight on his new role within HRC:
Colin Lovett: How do you see your appointment to the National Board of Directors affecting the LGBT community in St. Louis? On a national level?
Bill Donius: “I think it is significant the board decided to seek representation from the middle of the country. Sometimes national organizations hear a great deal from the coasts and very little from the middle. The seat at the national table affords the St. Louis LGBT community direct access and input to all of the issues affecting us at the city, state and national level.”
CL: Many would argue that full federal equality is the only way Missouri will see true equal rights; your thoughts?
BD: “I am concerned about the speed of progress and the degree legislators are willing to be open-minded in this state. However, since I am from here I want to continue to educate elected officials as well as the citizenry about who we are and why equality is important to us. We’re not asking for special rights, simply equal rights. We don’t want to be fired from work, bullied at school, unable to visit our partner in the hospital or participate in benefit plans and we want to be able to marry the ones we love. It’s pretty basic stuff when you think about it.”
CL: Will we see you disappear to the National issues, or will we still see you involved in local organizations outside of HRC?
BD: “I plan to stay involved locally as I care deeply about the community.”
CL: What is your main interest in serving on the National Board of HRC? Are you satisfied with the status quo operations of HRC? Do you seek any changes?
BD: “My interest is driven by math and strategy! I realize since I’m now over 50, I don’t have as much time to fight for equal rights as I once had. Accordingly, I want to work smarter and more strategically to be more effective with the time I have left. Affecting change at the federal level is the fastest and best way to affect change for the entire LGBT community in this country. It’s very difficult to fight 50 battles in 50 states. HRC has been extremely effective in the past and has a very small, dynamic legal board for such a large organization with over 750,000 members. I hope to be able to assist them in any way I can in moving their strategy – securing equal rights for the LGBT community – forward.
CL: At the HRC Gala in 2008, you pushed for no more “not asking, not telling” and more “asking and telling.” What would be your message in 2011?
BD: “We need the engagement of all within the LGBT community to accelerate the rate of social change. My view is we can get what we want over the next five years if the various communities across this country band together and work together effectively. Specifically, I believe we can pass ENDA (Employment Non Discrimination Act) on a federal basis, get a Safe Schools Act to protect against bullying and overturn DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and obtain the right to be married in this country.”
However, we cannot be passive and expect others to do the work for us. All of us must reach out and contribute and do what we can. We are a talented, creative, hard working community both in St. Louis as well as across the country. We need to harness the power and tell our stories effectively in a manner the rest of the country can understand. We will get there! I would prefer 5 years than 15, less battle fatigue!
The Human Rights campaign is a national organization with smaller chapters, including one in St. Louis. For more information and to get involved, visit http://stlouis.hrc.org
BY: COLIN LOVETT – STAFF WRITER