Chad Griffin Named President of HRC

The Los Angeles–based political consultant whose central role in the Proposition 8 lawsuit turned him into a national LGBT rights figure has been named president of the Human Rights Campaign.



WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chad Griffin, the Los Angeles–based political consultant whose central role in the Proposition 8 lawsuit turned him into a national LGBT rights figure, has been named president of the Human Rights Campaign.

A major fund-raiser for the Obama campaign who began his career in the early days of the Clinton White House, Griffin will replace current president Joe Solmonese at the helm of the $40 million organization June 11, HRC announced Friday following a board of directors vote. Solmonese, who joined HRC as president in 2005 and said in August that he would leave after his contract expires at the end of this month, will continue in his role until June. Solmonese was named a national cochair for the Obama campaign last month.

In its pick of Griffin as president, HRC has chosen someone who was shaped from an early age by Washington political culture yet is not defined by it, having spent the vast majority of his career outside the Beltway. Griffin, 38, is a fervent supporter of President Obama with personal ties to White House officials, but has pushed the bipartisan case for marriage equality, notably hiring former George W. Bush solicitor general Theodore Olson to co-lead the Prop. 8 suit and aligning with conservatives including gay former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who has raised money for the legal effort. Griffin has been openly critical of the president’s evolving position on marriage equality, calling Obama’s indicated support for states’ rights on deciding who can marry “a step backwards.” And, central to the job, Griffin has a proven ability to be a formidable fund-raiser.

“While there’s no doubt that we’ve made tremendous progress on the road to equality, we must not forget that millions of LGBT Americans still lack basic legal protections and suffer the consequences of discrimination every day,” Griffin said in a statement. “Today’s generation of young people, and each generation hereafter, must grow up with the full and equal protection of our laws, and finally be free to participate in the American dream. As HRC president, I’ll approach our work with a great sense of urgency because there are real-life consequences to inaction.”

Griffin will take over at HRC just five months prior to the November election in a year both precarious and promising for LGBT rights. Anti–marriage equality referendums loom in multiple states following huge victories in the Washington and Maryland legislatures. Meanwhile, political candidates including Wisconsin representative Tammy Baldwin, who’s in a tight race to become the first openly gay U.S. senator, are vying to add greater diversity among elected officials.

And Griffin’s position at the organization will require a broader focus on issues beyond marriage, from employment discrimination to health care disparities faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

Griffin will remain on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization he cofounded in 2009 to organize, publicize, and fund the Prop. 8 lawsuit. Bruce Cohen, a fellow AFER board member and an Academy Award–winning producer whose films include American Beauty and Milk, applauded the announcement, saying that Griffin’s new position “makes a very strong statement on behalf of HRC that they chose him to lead.”

“Chad thinks big. And then he goes out and accomplishes his goal,” Cohen said. “If AFER is any blueprint, then I think we have exciting things to look forward to. And for those who haven’t felt that they had a home at HRC, I believe he’ll make them feel that they do now.”

In the past, Griffin hasn’t shied away from resisting the prevailing strategy of national LGBT groups — including HRC. Against the public position of HRC and LGBT legal groups, two gay couples represented by AFER’s legal team filed the lawsuit against Prop. 8 in May of 2009, based on the argument that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. The groups have since reconciled, while organizations such as Lambda Legal and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders continue their own targeted litigation strategy against the Defense of Marriage Act, one that has led to significant court victories on both coasts.

Griffin began his career in the West Wing at age 19, working under Clinton White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers. As a political strategist in Los Angeles, he has waged pro-environmental and antitobacco campaigns, the latter with Hollywood director Rob Reiner.

He was a founding partner in the consulting firm Griffin | Schein, and his former business partner, Kristina Schake, was tapped as first lady Michelle Obama’s communications director last year.

HRC’s executive search, a very private process over the past few months, “included the consideration of over one hundred diverse and extremely well-qualified candidates from the worlds of business, academia and activism,” according to a Friday HRC news release.

The search was cochaired by HRC board members Joni Madison and Dana Perlman. Both Perlman and Griffin are top bundlers for the Obama 2012 campaign, raising thousands of dollars through their personal and professional networks.

“In Washington there’s a deep institutional bias against doing anything that would rock the boat. But we’re fighting for our lives and for our freedom, and as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got to rock the boat,” said Richard Socarides, who served as a White House special assistant during the Clinton administration. “I think Chad is someone who’s proven that he’s willing to do so. In some ways, it’s an obvious choice. He’s a great fund-raiser and a great communicator. It’s a very exciting development for our movement."

After the jump, HRC's full news release on Griffin.