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Human Rights Campaign (HRC)  
 
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The largest glbtq political organization in the United States, now claiming in excess of 1,000,000 members and an annual budget of $40,000,000, the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign was founded in 1980 as the Human Rights Campaign Fund by activist Steve Endean. Originally formed as a Political Action Committee, or PAC, to support gay-friendly political candidates and elected officials, it has since broadened its purview to encompass lobbying, research, education, and media outreach. In light of its expanded range of activities, the organization dropped "Fund" from its name in 1995.

The formation of the Human Rights Campaign Fund was a response to the success of such right-wing organizations as the Moral Majority and the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which had raised large sums of money and provided other support for anti-gay political candidates.

Sponsor Message.

Because it is composed largely of white, affluent, and assimilated males, the Human Rights Campaign has sometimes been criticized as unrepresentative of the glbtq community. In addition, it has often been seen as arrogant and unresponsive to local issues and concerns and too deferential to powerful interests. Still, the Human Rights Campaign has become the most influential voice of the national glbtq movement for equal rights.

Human Rights Campaign Dinners

From the beginning, the HRC has been committed to mainstream political advocacy and organizing. Key to its attempt to put a "respectable" face on groups that were frequently considered fringe at best or disreputable at worst is its strategy of holding gala fundraising dinners in fashionable hotels, featuring big-name speakers.

In the beginning, many of these speakers often seemed uncomfortable appearing before predominantly gay and lesbian audiences. In 1982, for example, former Vice President Walter Mondale spoke to an HRCF fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, and quickly exited after delivering a canned campaign speech. While he barely mentioned the subject of glbtq rights, his appearance nevertheless recognized the legitimacy of HRCF and the potency of its ability to generate money for political candidates.

Since then, HRCF and HRC dinners--held in most major cities in the United States--have attracted a wide range of celebrities, human rights figures, and politicians, ranging from Coretta Scott King and Elie Wiesel to Vice President and Tipper Gore and Congressman John Lewis.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton accepted the HRC's invitation to appear at a dinner, thus becoming the first president to speak publicly before a glbtq rights group. Clinton pointedly compared his address at the HRC dinner to President Truman's 1947 appearance at an NAACP meeting. President Obama has also spoken at HRC events.

Endorsements

In the early history of the organization, some candidates repudiated its endorsement, sometimes even returning checks. These days, however, most Democratic and moderate Republican candidates welcome the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, both for the money an endorsement generates and for other help, including volunteers, that the organization provides for candidates in key races.

Some of the Human Rights Campaign endorsements have proved controversial, however. In 1998, for example, using a formula that favored the endorsement of incumbents, the organization endorsed Republican New York Senator Alphonse D'Amato, whose support of gay rights was spotty at best, over his Democratic challenger Representative Charles Schumer, whose record on glbtq issues was by any measure far stronger.

The endorsement created an uproar and led to a number of resignations. The fact that Schumer, in defeating D'Amato, received a large percentage of glbtq votes made the HRC endorsement even more embarrassing to the organization. In reaction, HRC claims to have changed its endorsement procedure to be more responsive to the opinions of local activists.

Although the HRC attempts to endorse candidates from both parties, most of its endorsements have gone to Democrats, if for no other reason than more Democrats have been supportive of glbtq issues than Republicans. HRC's first presidential endorsement went to Bill Clinton in 1992. President Clinton also received the organization's endorsement in 1996, as did Vice President Gore in 2000, Senator John Kerry in 2004, and Senator Barack Obama in 2008.

Lobbying

Now firmly ensconced as a major contributor to political campaigns, HRC is also a major lobbying organization. In 1985, the HRCF merged with the Gay Rights National Lobby in order to strengthen its effectiveness in the area of lobbying.

Among its legislative concerns are job discrimination protection, hate crimes legislation, AIDS policy and lesbian health issues, and judicial appointments. The organization is credited with having defeated a number of anti-gay bills and amendments on a variety of issues, and with helping derail the 1987 United States Supreme Court nomination of noted Robert Bork.

In addition to its political lobbying, the organization also lobbies corporations and other employers to adopt fair employment policies, including domestic partner benefits. It issues an annual "Corporate Equality Index" that reports on the practices of leading companies in regards to their treatment of glbtq employees.

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HRC headquarters in Washington, D. C. Photograph by Judy G. Rolfe.
  
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