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Celebrating Pride Month and democracy with the Human Rights Campaign’s leader, Kelley Robinson (exclusive)

Kelley Robinson HRC President Interview LGBTQ human rights campaign advocacy org
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

The history-making president opens up about her role in an exclusive interview with The Advocate.

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As we usher inPride Month, Kelley Robinson knows there's a lot to celebrate and a lot to be concerned with.

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Robinson is the first Black queer woman to serve as president of the Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the largest LGBTQ+ human rights group in the country. Robinson's activism began in theBarack Obama world and was honed in the movement-building environment of Planned Parenthood, where she rose through the ranks before taking the HRC helm. Now, she's one of the leader combating a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country and a far-right looking to erase the acceptance of queer lives.

“I am so honored to be the president of the Human Rights Campaign, and I also understand that positions are temporary. The movement is a calling that I feel compelled to be a part of,” she tells The Advocate.

Growing into an activist

Robinson grew up in modest circumstances on the south side of Chicago. She says she faced obstacles in becoming the leader she is today, but she never let them deter her.

“Every day I wake up and pinch myself that I get to be a part of the Human Rights Campaign,” Robinson, 38, says. “There are so many elements of leadership and power that felt inaccessible to me growing up. Now, being in it and transforming it so that the door is open for other people who look and love and live like I do is powerful.”

Related: Kelley Robinson, Black queer woman, is new Human Rights Campaign head

Her faith and community instilled in her the values of collective action and the belief in manifesting a better world, Robinson says.

“My whole origin story is that I grew up in the church. I grew up Catholic. My aunt used to call us Black Catholics,” Robinson shares. “Faith was really important to us. Just the idea that we can manifest something that we’ve never seen, felt, or experienced before, and we can do that collectively and together.”

Her family’s history, including that of a great-aunt who lived to 102, also propelled her work forward and has given her a sense of purpose. “My family’s story is that we were the first free Black family in a town called Muscatine, Iowa. To think that in her life, [my great-aunt] set the footsteps of people who were born into slavery. Today, I’m talking about how we will make this a representative democracy so that all of us can think that it’s possible in two generations,” she says. “How could you not believe that change is happening?”

Leading HRC during unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ rights

Since stepping into her role in 2022, Robinson has led the HRC through milestones and heartwrenching tragedies.

From the tragicClub Q shooting to the triumphantpassage of the Respect for Marriage Act and her demands of the U.S. Department of Education toinvestigate the alleged bullying conditions at Owasso High School in the wake oftransgenderOklahoma teenagerNex Benedict’s death, her tenure has been marked by both these high highs and low lows.

“We have to be able to hold grief and joy, hope and despair, victory and challenge, all in the same breath,” Robinson reflects.

Kelley Robinson HRC President Interview Club Q shooting Colorado lgbtq hate crime nex benedict nonbinary teen dead bullying OklahomaBrett Forrest/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; Courtesy Kasandra Phelps via GoFundMe

Under her leadership, the HRC has launched or expanded several impactful initiatives, including the Transgender Justice Initiative and a program with historically Black colleges and universities cultivating the next generation of leaders. These programs address critical issues such as political power, employment, education, health care, and financial planning for the LGBTQ+ community.

Robinson was evennamed one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024 in April.

Kelley Robinson HRC President Interview President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage ActDrew Angerer/Getty Images

As the country faces a critical election this year, Robinson emphasizes the importance of unity and participation, especially in light of a conservative Supreme Court that could roll back progress on LGBTQ+ rights.

“They are coming for us, and they’re coming for all of us at once. No institution says that more clearly than the Supreme Court,” she warns, pointing to conservative Justice Clarence Thomas’s writings in the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, indicating that some rights may need to be revisited by the high court.

Beyoncé and being inspired

As a parent, Robinson says she finds new motivation to fight for a better future.

“[My son] is always my why. If we’re not finding some joy along the way, then we are not doing it right,” she says, reflecting on how parenthood has enriched her commitment her work.

In March, First Lady Dr. Jill Bidencalled Robinson and her wife, Becky George, a “power couple.”

“You and Becky are such an amazing power couple,” Dr. Biden said. “Joe and I have really enjoyed getting to know you both. You have quickly established yourself as an inspiring leader of HRC, and we need you to continue to lead us with your grace and grit.”

Robinson’s journey is also marked by a love for Beyoncé, an influence she does not shy away from. A proud über-fan, Robinson lights up when discussing the iconic singer.

“Beyoncé has given so many gifts to our movement in ways that we needed,” she says. Robinson admires how Beyoncé lifts queerness and Black queer ballroom culture, particularly through her Renaissance Tour. “At the moment when Renaissance launched, you had a drag ban happening in Tennessee. She lifts up not only queerness but Black queer ballroom culture as the center of Renaissance. Now she’s got Cowboy Carter, where she’s infiltrating spaces that were actually created by us but haven’t recently been for us. It’s transformative.”

Kelley Robinson HRC President Interview Beyonce album covers renaissance cowboy carterParkwood Entertainment LLC/Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment

Though Robinson has not yet met Beyoncé in person, she cherishes her interactions with the singer’s team.

“I have gotten to spend time with Carlos Basquiat and Les Twins and other members of her team, and they are also kind of using the institution of Beyoncé to figure out ways to lift up our community that are powerful,” she said.

For Robinson, Beyoncé represents the power of cultural influence and the potential for celebrities to contribute meaningfully to social justice causes.

“Now, would I like her to come to an HRC event? Absolutely,” Robinson says. “So let her know the invitation is open.”

Kelley Robinson HRC President Interview LGBTQ pride parade rainbow flags human rights campaignBenjaminCarver/Shutterstock

Leading the way forward for LGBTQ+ rights

As a leader, Robinson understands the importance of listening to people’s concerns and addressing their fears. “A lot of people are feeling afraid. A lot of people are grieving. We have to listen to that,” she says.

Related:Human Rights Campaign to spend $15 million to support Joe Biden’s reelection campaign in key swing states

Robinson remains optimistic about the power of the LGBTQ+ community and it's potential this year.

In May, HRC announced the launch of a $15 million public education and engagement drive aimed at mobilizing so-called identified “equality voters”—a diverse and multigenerational coalition united by a commitment to LGBTQ+ equality—to become involved in this year's election.

“We are powerful. We’ve identified 75 million equality voters across the country. That can be the difference makers in this election,” she says.

Her message is clear: Unity and active participation are essential to overcoming the challenges ahead. Through an initiative titled “We Show Up: Equality Wins,” HRC hopes to combat anti-trans attacks and secure electoral victories for Democrats, including the re-election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. HRC plans to reach voters through field programs, events, and advertising in six key battleground states: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada.

She warns that those members of the LGBTQ+ community who advocate for segregating lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from transgender, queer, and other sexual minorities are playing into Republican hands.

Her approach to leadership also involves creating spaces for visibility and acceptance. “Our challenge right now is to make sure that we’re creating enough space for people to have the meaningful conversations where we’re actually sharing stories, where we’re debunking some of these myths and lies that they’re telling [about transgender people] because they’re starting to infiltrate the people that should be with us,” Robinson says.

Robinson believes that the power of the LGBTQ+ community lies in its ability to come together and show up for each other.

“When we show up together, we are going to be the single thing that can solve for our greatest fears. No other heroes are coming to save us. It’s us that has to show up.”

Kelley Robinson HRC President Interview LGBTQ human rights campaign advocacy orgCourtesy Human Rights Campaign

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).