New HRC President Visits the Castro

by Chris Carson
Friday Jun 15, 2012

Starting his new job a day early and outside of Washington, D.C., Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin made a quick stop in San Francisco last weekend, where he met with friends of the late Supervisor Harvey Milk and toured Milk's former camera store, now the site of HRC's store and action center.

While in the Castro Sunday, June 10, Griffin offered a glimpse of his agenda as he starts his tenure at the country's largest LGBT rights organization and has made it clear that LGBT youth will be near the top of the list.

Milk, for example, had known he was gay since he was 14. It wasn't until he was nearly 40 however, that he decided to leave New York City to begin a new, open life here. He was like thousands of other gays and lesbians who flooded San Francisco at the time, all believing that in order to flourish; they would first need to escape the communities in which they grew up.

Fast forward to 2012, and many LGBT youth apparently still believe the same thing.

Through a recent survey of 10,000-plus teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17, titled "Growing Up LGBT in America," HRC discovered that even though a majority of LGBT youth are optimistic about their future, they also "believe to a greater extent than their [non-LGBT peers] that they must leave their communities to make their hopes and dreams for the future come true."

The survey also found that compared to their non-LGBT peers, LGBT youth are twice as likely to be verbally harassed, physically abused, ostracized by peers, and use drugs or alcohol. With comparatively few adults to confide in, LGBT youth more often find support through online communities, as opposed to neighborhood programs or school clubs, like gay-straight alliances.

"What Harvey talked about so often was that young kid who's isolated and without a safe place to go, and with no safe home," Griffin said.

Griffin, 38, grew up in southern Arkansas. He said that even though "we are now being able to see the fruits of Harvey's labor," with support of marriage equality from a majority of Americans as well as President Barack Obama, a vast majority of LGBT youth in this country "still aren't happy."

"Adults should be their mentors and institutions should be their protectors. It's our job to make that happen," Griffin said.

"I am so honored and humbled to be here at this spot," he said of being at Milk's former camera store.

Griffin was joined by Academy Award-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, former Bay Area Reporter political editor Wayne Friday, Milk confidante Cleve Jones, Milk's former aide Anne Kronenberg, and the prolific science fiction novelist and former Milk speechwriter, Frank M. Robinson.

Black talked about the history of gay men in San Francisco, going back to the end of World War II when "all these gay men who were given the blue slip after being kicked out of the military for being gay" settled here. Gay men who were discharged from the service also gravitated to San Francisco.

HRC critic Michael Petrelis was there, among the small crowd. The day before, he pointed out on his blog the irony that Griffin would be in town to discuss a survey described by the HRC as "groundbreaking" for collecting "the largest known sample of LGBT youth from every region of the country," yet not have "a single gay youth, trans person, or person of color," with him.

But other critics of the organization lauded Griffin's hiring, which was announced in early March.

Jones said he, too, has "a lot of issues with HRC," but, he is hopeful and confident "that at 57, I'm going to live long enough to see equal protection in all 50 states," and see a day "that the kids on the street, when they grow up, aren't even going to imagine a time when we weren't equal."

Jones said Griffin is "such a big part of the incredible acceleration toward equality" in the last few years that he and others who have been around a long time "have never seen anything like it."

Black said that he also had criticisms "of a certain organization."

But, Black said, Griffin is "unlike anyone I've ever met, he has been able to be a uniter in this community. To find a way to get the grassroots to work with the establishment. To build coalitions and to never accept crumbs."

Prior to heading up HRC, Griffin founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the federal lawsuit against Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban.

Griffin told the B.A.R. in March, shortly after his selection was announced, that he wanted to look forward rather than at the past.

"My job is the future," Griffin said at the time.

Griffin is taking over an organization that has an annual budget of $40 million. Following his visit to San Francisco, Griffin stopped in Arkansas on Monday, where he held a forum at the Clinton Library. On Tuesday he was in Omaha, Nebraska, where he met with religious leaders and on Wednesday he was in Baltimore where he attended a marriage equality campaign meet and greet. He's expected at the Washington, D.C. HRC headquarters later this week.

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