On Monday evening, Griffin turned the tables, playing host with Fallon to some of the hardest-to-book high-recognition names on the planet. Over here was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; there was Sir Elton John and Sharon Stone, drawn to the District for the International AIDS Conference.
Yes, gay rights leaders such as Griffin have friends in the White House. They have enjoyed victories in federal courts and in statehouses. They have gay sitcom characters making their case. They have strong poll numbers. They have money.
But they lack one credential: a win at the ballot box.
This is now Chad Griffin’s problem.
As the new head of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization, Griffin has been tasked with stopping the streak of losses in statewide tests of same-sex marriage. This fall, the 39-year-old Arkansas native will be faced with ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state that could overturn marriage rights for gays. He can count on mounds of money, with the HRC’s donors contributing about $40 million each year. But with it come almost as many opinions about how the contributions should be spent.
A few decades ago, awareness and empowerment were a unifying goal for the gay community. AIDS created new bonds as gay men and lesbians fought disease, hostility, ignorance and the institutional torpor in response to the plague. Slowly, the movement has matured, expanded the conversation to consider schoolyard bullying, teenage suicide and the challenges of starting a family. Still, unlike other civil rights groups, which are united by skin color or ethnicity or faith, the gay community remains difficult to steer.
“I have always gotten the most criticism from our own community,” said Dustin Lance Black, a Griffin friend who won an Oscar for his “Milk” screenplay.
The HRC has earned sneers for being the domain of “tuxedo gays,” lured to promlike galas with Lady Gaga, Pink, the “Modern Family” actors. Also invited are corporations, which earn plaudits for workplace inclusiveness even as they are dunned for donations and auction items.
“I have been dismayed and disgusted by them for a long time,” said Cleve Jones, who worked for gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk. “Working-class, minority, transgender individuals all felt completely abandoned and ignored and really disrespected by this organization.”