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Griffin, Chad (b. 1973)  
 
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In June 2012, Chad Griffin assumed the helm of the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest and most influential glbtq-rights organization. He was tapped for the HRC's presidency after exhibiting leadership in a number of political roles, including as fundraiser, political strategist and consultant, and as co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Many observers expressed hope that Griffin would bring a fresh new style of leadership to the organization that had been criticized for being too close to the Democratic Party, too elitist, and too aligned with corporate interests.

Sponsor Message.

Early Life

Chad Hunter Griffin was born on July 16, 1973 in Hope, Arkansas, the birthplace of both former President Bill Clinton and former Governor Mike Huckabee. He was reared in Arkadelphia, a town 45 miles away. His mother and stepfather were educators, who eventually became high school principals.

He attended a Southern Baptist Church and did well in school, but was taunted by other students, who called him gay slurs. As he would later reminisce, the gay-baiters must have known something he himself did not know then, for he would not come out until much later.

Indeed, he has described his childhood as "infused with a sense of isolation and confusion." He told the Washington Post's Ned Martel that as an adolescent, "I didn't know that I knew a gay person." He continued, "I have a wonderful family, and I'm very lucky. But I knew there were certain tables you didn't want to sit at in the lunchroom."

Although Griffin would not come out to her until many years later, his mother, Betty Hightower, suspected that her eldest son was gay from the time he was very young. Nevertheless, the subject was never broached. When he finally told her, in 2000, she looked at him searchingly and said, "I knew that. Did you think I would love you any less?"

As a teenager, Griffin worked at the local Wal-Mart, but also evinced interest in politics. He served as a page at the state capitol. He was also deeply interested in international affairs. He spent a summer in Japan, and the year after he graduated from high school, he spent a year studying in Germany on a scholarship.

The Clinton Years

When he returned to Arkadelphia from his year abroad, Griffin enrolled for some classes at nearby Ouachita Baptist University. He also learned that Bill Clinton had recently announced his plans to seek the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. At a friend's suggestion, he drove to Little Rock and volunteered for the campaign.

Explaining that he was a news junkie, he asked to work in the campaign press office. He was accepted as an intern to Dee Dee Myers, head of the operation's communications office.

Griffin became Myers' "go-to intern." Whenever she returned to the Little Rock headquarters, she could ask the college student to "go get an answer on this, go call these 10 people," she recalled many years later, describing him as quiet, competent, hard-working, and "not empire-building."

After the exhausting but exhilarating campaign resulted in Clinton's victory, to Griffin's delight Myers asked him to come to Washington to help with the transition.

She ultimately hired the 19-year-old as manager of the lower West Wing press office. He thus became the youngest person ever to work in the West Wing. One condition of Myers' job offer, however, was that he commit to returning to college to finish his education.

Griffin stayed at the White House for two years before leaving to pursue his studies in international relations at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. His ambition was to become a foreign service officer. Indeed, in 1997, right before he graduated from Georgetown, he was offered a State Department job that he intended to accept.

However, before doing so, he received a job offer from actor-director-political activist Rob Reiner that seemed even more interesting.

Griffin had met Reiner when he was working at the White House. Reiner and his wife Michele were doing research in preparation for filming The American President (1995, directed by Reiner and starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening) and had asked to be shown around the West Wing. Griffin was assigned the task.

He made a deep impression on the visitors. Rob Reiner later recalled to reporter Greg Kilday, "I'd never seen anyone with that kind of poise and intelligence for a young kid. It was just striking." He became friends with the couple and they kept in touch even after he left the White House to attend Georgetown.

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Chad Griffin. Photograph by Rex Wockner, courtesy rexwockner.com.
  
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