HRC names new president

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American Foundation for Equal Rights board president Chad Griffin, a key player in the federal challenge to Proposition 8, will replace Joe Solmonese as president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Griffin began his political career at the age of 19 in the communications office for the Clinton White House. After two years he moved to Los Angeles where he ran a charitable foundation for director and actor Rob Reiner. Griffin was tapped to spearhead the effort to stop Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage. After it passed with 52 percent of the vote, Griffin and Reiner challenged the initiative in federal court, a move originally opposed by most established gay rights groups.  The ban has been overturned in a federal and appeals court. Griffin, 38, will take the helm of the HRC on June 11.

“He’s passionate about our equality and more importantly, has a proven track record of consistently delivering results. Already, the fight to overturn Prop. 8 has prevailed in two federal court rooms,” Solmonese said in a press release. “Chad Griffin has the leadership qualities critical to propel our movement for equality forward and I am so proud that he will succeed me this June in leading HRC.”

With a $40 million annual budget and a staff of 150, the HRC is often recognized as the most influential queer rights organization in the nation. President Barack Obama has spoken twice at its fundraising dinners and the organization has pushed for various gay-rights advancements that have occurred including same-sex hospital visitation rights and federal hate-crime legislation protecting queers.

However, the HRC also has its critics who say it is too slow to push for change and it represents the interests of well-off gay men. Solmonese has been heavily criticized, especially after he endorsed a bill in 2007 that would have extended job and housing protections to gay men and lesbians, but not to transgender people.

“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,” Griffin said in a statement. “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.”

The head of the Utah Democratic Party, Jim Dabakis, was included as a possible candidate by the HRC steering committee to replace outgoing Solmonese, Dabakis said earlier this year in a press release.

“I am flattered and honored to have my name mentioned together with the Human Rights Campaign, however, the last six months of being the Chair of the Utah Democratic Party have been the most interesting, challenging and rewarding time of my life. The association with so many Democrats across our beautiful state has been a singular honor, and I will not leave my job half done. I would rather work for free in Utah then pile up cash in D.C.,” Dabakis said. “And frankly, even though we disagree regularly, often with ferocity, it has been rewarding to work with Republican leaders in the state like Gov. (Gary) Herbert, State Senate President (Michael) Waddoups and Republican Chairman (Thomas) Wright. Utah Republicans and Democrats have the ability to separate out the brutal, thuggish partisanship that so permeates paralysis in Washington, D.C. and concentrate on policy issues without making the politics personal or too disagreeable. This is what the people of Utah demand and deserve.”

Dabakis is the first openly gay head of a major party in Utah. He was one of the founding members of both the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah. While the annual salary of the HRC president is nearly $400,000, Dabakis is currently accepting only a $1 a year salary to work for the Democrats.

“I look forward to serving the people of Utah for the next one and a half years and am confident that I will enjoy spending time in Washington County much more then in Washington, D.C.,” Dabakis said.

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