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Congratulations to Chad Griffin, a founder and president of the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), on being tapped to succeed Joe Solmonese as president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
After a six-months search, the HRC announced on March 2, 2012 that Chad Griffin will become president of the nation's largest glbtq civil rights organization in June, when Solmonese, president since 2005, steps down.
In making the announcement of Griffin's selection, HRC Co-Chair Tim Downing and HRC Foundation Co-Chair Sandra Hartness spoke on behalf of their colleagues on the Board of Directors: "We're ecstatic to have someone of Chad's caliber as our next president. His superior credentials and achievements, both as a visionary and strategist, make him uniquely qualified to lead this organization forward. Chad has a proven track record of consistently delivering results during his career. That's something that our community rightly expects and deserves."
A Los Angeles-based political consultant, Griffin's central role in founding AFER in order to launch a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8 made him into a national leader in the struggle for equal rights. He has been a highly visible and effective spokesperson for the organization and for marriage equality generally.
Griffin, an Arkansas native, began his career at age 19, working in the Clinton White House as an assistant to press secretary Dee Dee Myers. As a political strategist in Los Angeles, he has waged pro-environmental and anti-tobacco campaigns, the latter with Hollywood director Rob Reiner, who is also a founder and major supporter of AFER.In 2008, he was a major fund-raiser for the Obama campaign, but has reached out to attempt to include Republicans in the fight for marriage equality. He is credited with hiring former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a Republican, and David Boies, a Democrat, as lead co-counsel in the Proposition 8 lawsuit.
The two distinguished attorneys hailed Griffin's selection to lead HRC. "I cannot think of anyone better to take the helm of the Human Rights Campaign than my dear friend and colleague Chad Griffin," said Olson. "There is no one more passionate, more resourceful or more effective than Chad. His brilliant and visionary leadership makes me confident that one day, very soon, every American will be treated equally under the law. HRC is extraordinarily lucky to have him."
David Boies was equally laudatory: "Time after time over the past several years, Chad has proven that he is easily one of the most skilled strategists and tacticians in American politics today. That is a rare combination of skill sets for one person to have. His diplomacy, his intellect and his passion for issues of equality are second to none. I cannot think of a better person to lead HRC into the future."
Rob Reiner added to the praise of Griffin's appointment: "The federal constitutional challenge to Proposition 8, Perry v. Brown, would never have happened without the vision and tenacity of my dear friend Chad Griffin. His incomparable leadership has brought us one step closer toward completing America's last great civil rights struggle. My congratulations go out to Chad on this great honor and to the Human Rights Campaign for picking a brilliant leader as its next president."
Griffin's selection was similarly praised by glbtq leaders, including prominent bloggers.
Andrew Harmon at The Advocate observed, "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 will take over HRC at a pivotal moment in the organization's history. Under Solmonese's leadership, it has grown both in resources and in influence, yet it has been criticized for its failure to challenge the Obama administration to move more decisively to secure equal rights.
During the first two years of the Obama administration, when the Justice Department was opposing gay rights in court and when the Democratic majority in Congress failed to move aggressively on gay-friendly legislation, critics accused HRC's leaders of having been co-opted by the Democratic Party and more interested in White House invitations than in holding the President and other politicians accountable for their failure to fulfill the promises they made in the 2008 election.
More pointedly, critics have complained that HRC has lost connection with the aspirations of grassroots activists. Especially after the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, activists have expressed dissatisfaction with the tactics and lack of urgency shown by HRC.
Notably, despite Griffin's support of President Obama in 2008, he has been openly critical of the President's evolving position on marriage equality, calling Obama's support for states' rights on deciding who can marry "a step backwards."
Moreover, he has also demonstrated his ability to defy conventional thinking and take bold action. At a time when most glbtq legal groups cautioned against fighting for marriage equality in federal court, Griffin pressed ahead with his plan to challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8 on grounds that could lead to a major victory in the Supreme Court of the United States.
In accepting the appointment, Griffin said "I'm honored by the board's confidence in my ability to lead HRC. 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. 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 remain on the board of AFER.
In the video below, Griffin reacts to the news that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional.