This is a big WOW. Much of the talk about who would succeed Joe Solmonese as head of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been about whether the organization would select someone who wasn’t the stereotypical representation of “LGBT” in America, i.e, a gay white man. I do think that’s an obvious consideration, but honestly, what HRC needs is a shot of activism in the arm, a pick that would not signal business inside the Beltway as usual, a choice that would reflect the need to be media savvy and deeply connected to politics from the grassroots to the pols on the Hill.
The activism behind Chad Griffin’s American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) with its legal work to turn back California’s Prop 8 is audacious. The decision to pick Chad Griffin is interesting and a proactive choice for HRC. From HRC’s release:
Chad H. Griffin was appointed today as the next president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, by the organization’s Board of Directors. Griffin, a national communications and policy strategist, is widely credited for being the mastermind behind the federal lawsuit to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which has now been ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts.
Griffin’s appointment follows an extensive six month search by the board that included the consideration of over one hundred diverse and extremely well-qualified candidates from the worlds of business, academia and activism. Griffin will assume his new responsibilities on June 11, 2012. Current HRC president Joe Solmonese will continue to lead the organization until that time.
The founding partner of strategic communications and campaign firm, Griffin|Schein, Griffin has taken on entrenched, well-financed interests like Big Tobacco, Big Oil and the far right, and shaped national policy debates around equal rights, clean energy, universal health care, stem cell research, and early childhood education. He has also led groundbreaking ballot initiative campaigns including the largest ballot initiative ever recorded, Proposition 87: California’s Clean Alternative Energy Initiative; the Proposition 10 campaign, which generates $600 million a year for early childhood education; and Proposition 71, which secured billions of dollars for stem cell research despite the Bush Administration ban.
Griffin is a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the sole sponsor of the Prop. 8 lawsuit. He is personally responsible for recruiting the legal dream team of Theodore Olson and David Boies to successfully argue the case. Griffin will remain on the board of directors of AFER. This is what Olsen and Boies had to say:
“I cannot think of anyone better to take the helm of the Human Rights Campaign than my dear friend and colleague Chad Griffin,” said AFER lead co-counsel Theodore B. Olson. “There is no one more passionate, more resourceful or more effective than Chad. His brilliant and visionary leadership makes me confident that one day, very soon, every American will be treated equally under the law. HRC is extraordinarily lucky to have him.”
“Time after time over the past several years, Chad has proven that he is easily one of the most skilled strategists and tacticians in American politics today,” said AFER lead co-counsel David Boies. “That is a rare combination of skill sets for one person to have. His diplomacy, his intellect and his passion for issues of equality are second to none. I cannot think of a better person to lead HRC into the future.”
A native of Arkansas, Griffin served on the Clinton White House communications team; he was highly motivated by young people in taking this new endeavor.
“All over this country in big cities and small towns, there are families and young people who long to be accepted for who they are, and who want be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else,” said Griffin. “I’m honored by the board’s confidence in my ability to lead HRC. 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. 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.”
HRC Co-Chair Tim Downing and HRC Foundation Co-Chair Sandra Hartness spoke on behalf of their colleagues on the Board of Directors:
“We’re ecstatic to have someone of Chad’s caliber as our next president. 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.”
In November, I wrote a piece, “Think you have what it takes to run HRC? It’s a tall order,” about the prospective search. I didn’t focus on who might fit the bill, but the skill sets needed in 2012 and going forward. One of the major challenges for Chad Griffin will be building trust and enthusiasm within the organization – and that means good management skills.
Interpersonal Acumen: The successful candidate must be a person of the utmost personal and professional integrity with a high level of energy. Candidates must possess the right combination of self-confidence balanced with humility and a healthy sense of humor. The successful candidate needs to be gracious in manner and comfortable in any situation. S/he will be confident enough to hire and retain strong, smart people, and possess an understanding of his/her own strengths and weaknesses.
Good grief, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this emerge as a #FAIL. And the sad truth is, you cannot always suss this out in an interview, and certainly not during reference checks (where those you call for many reasons, including legal/HR ones, aren’t going to be forthcoming). But the bottom line is if you can’t recruit someone that you want to work with, all the other skills in the world are meaningless. Part of the problem here is that some “leaders” don’t have any self-awareness, and thus are oblivious to their weaknesses; all they see is how great they are. And worse, the board does nothing to correct the situation, particularly if the lack of interpersonal skills results in frequent conflicts/altercations/abusive behavior by the hire with lower-level staff. Leadership, be it senior level staff or a board, requires accountability. That’s why a realistic, accurate, frank performance review process is so essential. If a candidate is selected and continually falls short in this area without any improvement, it’s the fault of the board or other senior staff for neglecting their responsibilities to the organization’s overall health.
Here is the reaction from R. Clarke Cooper, Executive Director, Log Cabin Republicans, via LGBTPOV:
“The campaign for equality is not a partisan matter, it is about doing what is right for all LGBT Americans. By selecting Chad Griffin as their new President, the Human Rights Campaign has selected a leader who knows achieving victory will require advocacy and champions on both sides of the aisle. Chad’s leadership of the American Foundation on Equal Rights and his work with a leading conservative, Ted Olson, on Perry v. Schwarzenegger recognized the importance of coming together to do what is right. Log Cabin Republicans looks forward working with the Human Rights Campaign under Chad’s leadership to help enact pro-equality legislation in Congress and across the country.”
I have no doubt, based on AFER’s stellar track record, that he can handle the external communication and politics in this almost-impossible job (you’re never going to please everyone in the LGBT community). I can say as a new media journalist, AFER sets the standard for keeping the Blend and other blogs in the loop by providing excellent advance work and on-point communications.
I hope that Chad Griffin can reinvigorate the organization from within to make it more nimble, more vigorous, and get it back to more of a fierce advocacy role (there’s irony, huh?) as opposed to a perceived go-along, get-along Beltway organization.
More from Americablog’s Joe Sudbay here.
Reactions are below the fold.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President:
“The President appreciates the work that the Human Rights Campaign has done with us and we congratulate Chad on his new position as President of HRC. We look forward to working with him.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
“I congratulate Chad Griffin on his appointment as the new President of HRC. I’m confident Chad will continue to provide the strong leadership that HRC has become known for here in Washington. I’m proud to count myself as a strong supporter of issues important to the LGBT community and look forward to working with Chad and HRC to advance these issues.”
Judy Shepard, President, Matthew Shepard Foundation:
“I couldn’t be happier for HRC and my good friend, Chad Griffin. He’s just brilliant. The ways in which he connects with people on issues of equality continue to amaze me. He’s going to be a great leader for HRC, and the equality movement and I look forward to working with him.”
Kate Kendall, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights:
“Chad Griffin is a visionary and a force of nature. Chad sees around corners and finds ways to surmount obstacles and bring together disparate voices. The LGBT movement will benefit greatly from his unflagging confidence in the rightness of our cause and his career spent fighting for equality and fairness on a wide range of progressive causes.”
Evan Wolfson, Founder & President, Freedom to Marry:
“This is a terrific choice for HRC and our movement. I admire people who raise the bar and bring creativity, smarts, and, of course, more people into the work of getting important things done. As we’ve worked together to win the freedom to marry, I have seen Chad do all of that with fresh energy and exceptional talent, and Freedom to Marry and I look forward to partnering even closer as he takes the helm of HRC.”
Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus, NAACP:
“Chad Griffin is a great choice – he is a major leader in the fight for equality. HRC has staged a coup!”
Anthony Romero, Executive Director, ACLU:
“Chad’s appointment to the Human Rights Campaign comes at a historic time for LGBT equality. Chad is exactly the right person to lead the organization at this incredible time. He has courage, passion, dynamism and a willingness to push tough issues forward in a thoughtful and strategic manner.”
Shannon Minter, Legal Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
“Chad Griffin is an inspired choice. In addition to his legendary genius and relentlessness, Chad has a deep understanding of how social and political change happen and an unflinching commitment to full equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As someone who grew up in the South, he will bring a fierce commitment to ensuring that change comes to all parts of our country and that every young person can grow up with unqualified love, acceptance, and support. Chad is exactly the type of creative new leader that we will need to make the most of the unprecedented opportunities opening up for our community in the years ahead.”