CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This weekend, supporters and donors of the Human Rights Campaign will travel to Charlotte from across the region to attend the national group’s annual North Carolina fundraising dinner.
With them will come Chad Griffin, president of HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. Griffin began his career at 19, as a staffer in the Clinton White House. He’s since moved on to become a political strategist, putting his weight behind campaigns for LGBT equality. Before joining HRC in 2012, Griffin founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization which spearheaded the legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 and led to a U.S. Supreme Court victory alongside a similar suit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) last June.
In an interview, conducted through email via HRC communications staffers, Griffin says the LGBT movement has seen exciting advances, even as he stresses his organization’s commitment to future priorities. Among them, he says, “We must pass ENDA,” or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The bill has been stuck in Congress for two decades and, if ever successfully passed, would bar employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Griffin also shares thoughts on the state of LGBT rights across the globe. The national organization recently launched its Global Engagement Program to help make change abroad.
The HRC North Carolina Gala will be held this Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Charlotte Convention Center. Activities are planned throughout the weekend, starting with tonight’s HRC Diner, a drag-themed fundraiser. You can learn more about the HRC Diner on Facebook, and you can check out our list of all other events beginning Friday.
qnotes is a sponsor of the HRC North Carolina Gala.
Our unedited interview with Griffin follows below.
Matt Comer: In your estimation, what’s the most exciting advance HRC has made in the past year?
Chad Griffin: Without a doubt, the victories at the Supreme Court for marriage equality were the highlight for our movement. In one great day, we saw the fall of Section 3 of DOMA and Prop. 8. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work from across the LGBT rights movement and I’m proud of the role HRC played in the lifting up the public education around these important cases.
But our movement isn’t confined to marriage. Another exciting advance was Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We had been working around the clock to build bipartisan support for this common-sense legislation that protects all workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. I’ll never forget when Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, gave his first floor speech since suffering a stroke in 2012. Slowly, but with great determination, he described how supporting ENDA and workplace freedom is vitally important to him, in the Illinois tradition of Abraham Lincoln. Also of note, Kay Hagan from North Carolina was an amazing ally and was a big part of our winning majority.
We’re also making great progress on a number of fronts. I’m proud to have launched our Global Engagement Program and begin work to assist partner organizations overseas and expose the exportation of hate by right-wing Americans. And I’m proud of the work we did in partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center to ensure that Jaydon Laredo — a transgender student in Texas — was able to express himself and his own choices about what to wear in his yearbook photo. Through that campaign a lot of minds were changed in small-town Texas.
The movement for marriage equality is picking up steam. It was beyond many people’s imaginations that states like Utah or Virginia would come center-stage so soon. Why do you think progress is hitting more traditionally conservative states so soon?
Quite simply, times are changing, but they’re not changing by accident. This movement has experienced unprecedented success because we’ve always dared to set bold goals and take even bolder action. That’s why, right after last year’s historic Supreme Court rulings, HRC set a goal to bring marriage equality to all 50 states within the next 5 years.
Now, in places like Utah and Virginia, we’re seeing true positive change, not just in laws but in people. That’s because many more Americans — nearly 9 in 10 — say they know someone personally who is LGBT, and we’ve found that if someone knows even one openly LGBT person, they are far more likely to support equality. In recent years LGBT people have come out of the closet with greater frequency than ever before, and those people feel empowered to demand equal treatment under the law. Now, even our opponents are seeing the writing on the wall. LGBT people and our families will prevail.
Other than marriage equality, what issues do you see HRC prioritizing over the next year or two?
HRC is always fighting on all fronts. We must pass ENDA. We must guarantee that our kids can go to school without being menaced by bullies. We must ensure that, at all levels of society, LGBT people have the same access and opportunities as anyone else. We have cultural work to do. No child should be demonized for who they are around their dinner table or in a church pew on Sunday. Laws and lived experience don’t always line up.
That said, even as we celebrate our victories here at home, increasingly the news is full of stories of LGBT people in places like Russia, Uganda and Nigeria who are facing discrimination and violence every day. In Nigeria, for instance, a new law led to gay men being rounded up and even tortured by the dozens. We can’t stand idly by and tolerate international human rights violations. That’s why HRC recently launched our Global Engagement Program. We’ve got to raise awareness about the fact that, often, anti-gay Americans who are failing here at home are traveling abroad to spend their hate. We’ve got to leverage the influence of the United States government to take action against global human rights violations. As then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2011, “Gay rights are human rights.”
How can LGBT people in states like North or South Carolina help push for change?
It was not even two years ago when voters in the Tar Heel State passed the discriminatory Amendment One banning marriage equality, and yet today we see signs of new progress. In fact, despite the ultimate loss, the fight over Amendment One brought out the best in fair-minded North Carolinians. The Protect All NC Families Campaign, which HRC was a proud partner in, did great work to spread the word of equality all across the state. Equality North Carolina continues to push strongly ahead, paving the path toward full equality. I’d urge people in North Carolina to stand up and join the fight. Come out and demand equality. Work with organizations like Equality North Carolina and the Human Rights Campaign. Tell your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers about who you are and what you support. They just might surprise you and come out in support of equality too.
We have made tremendous progress. The finish line is in sight, but we have a lot of work to do to get there. That work is in North and South Carolina and other states like them. LGBT people need to continue to tell their stories. People are listening.