CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Appearing at a lecture at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte on Tuesday, former Human Rights Campaign (HRC) executive director and former Sen. Hillary Clinton supporter Elizabeth Birch praised the leadership abilities of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and blasted the Republican presidential ticket.

“Obama is a gifted man,” Birch told a crowd of approximately 200 people. “He is wise, intelligent and gifted.”

In a sit-down interview with Q-Notes prior to her speech, Birch said Obama’s upbringing in Hawaii has prepared him to be a leader who knows how to relate to a global and diverse community.

“One of the things shaping Barack Obama was the fact that he did grow up in Hawaii,” Birch told Q-Notes. “The exposure to those values and that Pacific Rim exposure helped to shape him and that will make him a great global leader.”

Birch told the college audience she was “terrified not only as a woman, but as a human being” by Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Taking a page from history to comment on the possible ascendancy of Palin, Birch spoke of the almost-appointed Lord Halifax as Britain’s prime minister in the 1940s and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1940 running mate Henry Wallace.

“Can you imagine how vastly different our would would be if we would have had to depend on great leaders like Lord Halifax, who wanted to cut a deal with the Nazis, and, of course, the very famous Henry Wallace,” Birch asked, referring to Winston Churchill’s 1931 near-death run-in with a New York City taxi and the 1933 assassination attempt on then President-Elect Roosevelt.

Birch added, “[Wallace] had nothing of the gifts of FDR.”

Birch, who led the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group from 1995 to 2004, worked closely with dozens of Capitol Hill lawmakers, including McCain, during her tenure as head of HRC.

“John McCain is not the man I met in the mid-90s,” she said. “He’s turned into a born-again pretzel. Every position is floating now. I really admired him because he always had both legs in buckets of cement. You couldn’t move him. He was who he was and he believed what he believed. That’s all up for grabs now.”

Birch said she is in a “sheer panic about what could happen,” as a result of an Obama-Biden loss on Nov. 4.

During the interview, Birch also spoke at length on HRC’s current direction, last year’s controversy over transgender inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, her thoughts on openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and her past support of Sen. Clinton. A more in-depth report on Q-Notes‘ interview with Birch will be printed in our Oct. 18 issue and available online at

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.