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social sciences

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Griffin, Chad (b. 1973)  
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But Griffin's independence and relative outsider status may have proved an advantage for him when he was considered for the helm of the glbtq movement's largest and most visible political organization. The Human Rights Campaign grew in resources and influence under Solmonese's leadership, but it was criticized by many activists for being insufficiently attuned to the aspirations of the grassroots, especially for not challenging the Obama administration to move more decisively to secure equal rights.

Need for New Leadership

During the first two years of the Obama administration, when the Department of Justice 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 of being more interested in White House invitations than in holding the President and other politicians accountable for their failure to fulfill the promises made in the 2008 election.

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Indeed, the National Equality March of October 11, 2009 was born out of frustration with the established leadership of the gay rights movement. The march, which was hastily organized in only six weeks, initially without the support of the major gay rights organizations, was called by veteran activists Cleve Jones and David Mixner, but those who responded to the call and made the March a success were primarily young activists who yearned for a new kind of leadership.

The contrast between the attitudes of the gay political establishment as epitomized by the HRC, which with about 150 full-time employees and a budget of $40 million is by far the largest gay rights organization, was highlighted by the fact that on the eve of the March, when President Obama addressed HRC's annual dinner, he was greeted by picketers who criticized his failure to advance gay rights in the first nine months of his presidency.

In calling for the March, Jones and Mixner emphasized the need for a change of direction by the movement. Jones characterized the current practice of seeking rights on the local level as a failed strategy. "The endless pursuit of fractions of equality, state by state, county by county, locality by locality is not enough," he told the New York Times. "Until we get federal action, every one of those local victories--as important as they are--every one is incomplete and impermanent."

The immediate aftermath of the National Equality March was the creation of more grassroots-oriented groups like GetEqual, whose direct action methods, especially in pressuring the Obama administration for action on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, was in pointed contrast to the more deferential approach of the HRC.

In some ways, Griffin's work at AFER also embodied the change of direction that Jones and Mixner called for in 2009 but in a less confrontational way than groups like GetEqual. The bold plan to go to federal court to establish same-sex marriage as a fundamental right throughout the country was precisely what many activists believed was necessary.

Ability to Reach Out

Another quality that may have worked in Griffin's favor as a candidate for the presidency of HRC was his willingness to reach out to Republicans. Despite his deep connections in the Democratic Party, he seemed more willing than Solmonese to be independent when necessary, as witnessed by his reaching out to Olson and Mehlman.

Griffin's willingness to reach out to find unexpected allies, at least for particular goals, seems to be related to his ability to understand the concerns of the religious conservatives with whom he grew up in Arkansas.

Griffin told a reporter about an experience he had on a flight home for Christmas a couple of years ago. He found himself seated next to the youth minister at a large Little Rock church. The two chatted and when the conversation turned to faith, Griffin told the minister that while he grew up in the Southern Baptist church he would not today support the institution. "They preach bigotry and hate on a number of issues."

When the minister said, "We all sin," Griffin told the preacher that gays are born with their sexuality, and could not flip a switch and be straight, nor would they want to. "The most important thing for you to know," Griffin said he told the man, "is that if you've got a youth group with 50 people in it you've got multiple kids, whether out or not, who are gay. You are someone they look up to and whatever you do and say about this issue is going to impact them. They could be quietly contemplating suicide. And you yourself have the power to change that person's life."

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