The season is turning from summer to fall which signals that it’s time for the 2012 Twin Cities Human Rights Campaign Gala Dinner. This year, the climate is more charged than ever in recent history with marriage equality on our minds and in our hearts. On September 8, members and guests of the Twin Cities HRC will gather at the Minneapolis Convention Center to raise money and celebrate the collective efforts of many, as well as hear from the new President of the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin. Here is a short introduction to Chad as well as his inspiring advice for facing adversity and challenges of all types and scales.
Andy Lien: As the new leader of the Human Rights Campaign, your background is impressive. Can you highlight positions of interest to introduce yourself to the Lavender readers?
Chad Griffin: Serving as the President of the Human Rights Campaign is the greatest honor of my professional life, but I’ve always been dedicated to advocating for causes I believe to be right. I got my start working as a press aide in the Clinton White House. Later, after finishing school, I took a job working for a charitable foundation in California. It was there that I really cut my teeth on campaigns to increase funding for early childhood education and stem cell research.
In 2008, Proposition 8 changed all of our lives. I helped to set up an organization to challenge Prop 8 in court, organizing folks from both major parties and all walks of life around a case that is currently sitting in the Supreme Court’s docket. Now that I’m at the HRC, I sincerely believe that we—as a community and as citizens—have a chance to turn a corner in this fight for full equality.
AL: What are your goals as the new President of the HRC?
CG: I’ve always said that if I have one goal, it’s to make sure that the next generation—today’s LGBT youth—inherit a country in which their communities and their government embrace them for who they are. This means we have to secure full legal equality—from marriage equality, to an inclusive employment non-discrimination law at the federal level, to equality in health care and other rights. But it also means we must participate in a vital dialogue around the country and create change in institutions like workplaces and churches that effect peoples’ daily lives. At HRC, we do research and provide important resources for our places of worship, our families, our hospitals and our schools. We need to ensure that Americans are part of this conversation about how we treat and understand LGBT families and individuals in this country.
AL: You grew up in Arkansas and experienced a religiously conservative culture. Minnesota may be progressive, but it also has a similar strong conservative culture with systematic, ingrained prejudices. How did you cope with this as a younger person? What advice would you give students who are in this type of environment?
CG: As a young person growing up in small town Arkansas, it sometimes seemed like I didn’t know a single other gay person. I understand how it feels to be isolated and to wonder what kind of future you’ll be able to build for yourself. There are still too many bullies out there, and they’re not just in our schools.
My advice to young people in these situations is that you are never alone. If HRC can be one thing, I hope that it’s a beacon for LGBT youth—proof that there are advocates out there fighting for them across the country. There are other incredible organizations working on the state and local level as well. Seek them out because they want to help.
AL: What advice would you give parents with LGBT children in conservative communities?
CG: My chief piece of advice would be to make sure that your child feels affirmed and loved inside your home. The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University has a number of great resources and publications for parents of LGBT children, as does our own HRC Foundation. If you feel that you lack the vocabulary to discuss these issues, seek out communities in your area that can help. It will make all the difference in the world for your child.
AL: The Minnesota ballot will have an amendment on it limiting the marriage to be between a man and a woman in November. What is your experience with similar such campaigns? What advice can you give us in this fight?
CG: We all remember the bitter disappointment of Proposition 8 in 2008 and the many other constitutional bans on marriage equality around the country. Any time that a discriminatory ballot measure is approved, it has repercussions for our communities and especially for our young people.
That’s why HRC has just this month committed an additional $1 million to the four states facing marriage-related ballot initiatives this year—Maryland, Maine, Washington, and Minnesota. We’re optimistic that if we coordinate our efforts with the local campaigns on the ground, and if we speak clearly about the basic dignity of LGBT families, we’ll have results to celebrate come November.
AL: We’re excited to hear you speak at the 2012 HRC Gala Dinner in September. Have you been to the Twin Cities before and what are you looking forward to?
CG: I’m excited too! I love being able to speak directly with the individuals around the country who make this movement happen. This is my first time visiting as President of the HRC, and I know the planners have done a phenomenal job with the Dinner in past years. I can’t wait to see what they’ve got up their sleeves.
For more information about the 2012 Twin Cities HRC Gala Dinner, go to www.hrc.org/events/entry/hrc-twin-cities-gala-dinner