The next president of the nation’s largest LGBT political group will be Chad Griffin, a California activist who has made a name for himself by initiating and orchestrating one of the most important legal challenges in LGBT history. Griffin will replace current Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese on in June.
Griffin, 38, is the founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group that enlisted the legal services of some of the nation’s best lawyers to launch a lawsuit against California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8. The lawsuit, which so far has been succeeded in having Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional in both federal district court and by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Supreme Court, is considered one of the most important pieces of litigation in LGBT history.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced Griffin’s appointment on Friday (March 2).
“We’re ecstatic to have someone of Chad’s caliber as our next president,” said HRC Co-chair Tim Downing and HRC Foundation Co-chair Sandra Hartness, in a joint statement. “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.”
Through an HRC press release, Griffin said he was honored by the HRC board’s decision.
“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,” said Griffin. “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.”
Log Cabin Republicans’ national president R. Clarke Cooper called Griffin “a leader who knows achieving victory will require advocacy and champions on both sides of the [partisan] aisle.”
Solmonese, whose contract with HRC was scheduled to end this month, will stay on until Griffin takes the helm June 11.
Griffin was a relative unknown to the LGBT community nationally until he organized the lawsuit, Perry v. Brown, against Proposition 8. He enlisted lead attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, two of the best and best known attorneys in the country, to take the case, drawing a flood of publicity and optimism to the prospects for success in striking down the ban.
The announcement of that lawsuit drew resistance from many established LGBT legal activists at first. Many thought that taking the marriage issue into federal court —a seemingly inevitable issue for the U.S. Supreme Court— was risky and premature, given the growing conservatism of the high court. They wanted a lawsuit to evolve out of a careful campaign of public education. Even renowned constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe believed the timing was risky. Tensions were so high at one point, Griffin’s legal team opposed the appointment of LGBT legal groups as intervenors in the case, leaving the LGBT community essentially out of the loop in a case that would directly impact it.
But as the litigation developed, Griffin and his litigators began to work with LGBT legal group leaders and the tensions turned quickly into teamwork.
Prior to founding the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), Griffin was a founding partner of the political communications and campaign firm of Griffin|Schein in Los Angeles.
A native of Arkansas, Griffin also worked for a time in the White House communications office of President Bill Clinton.
HRC is perhaps the LGBT national community’s most stable organization, having changed leaders on a fairly consistent basis every six years. The organization was established in 1978 by Steve Endean and hired Washington, D.C., activist Vic Basile as executive director in 1983. Basile was followed by Massachusetts activist Tim McFeeley in 1989, California leader Elizabeth Birch in 1995, Washington operative Joe Solmonese in 2005, and now by Griffin.