Human Rights Campaign President on Midterms, Trump and Power of LGBTQ Voting

chad griffin Human Rights Campaign
The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Human Rights Campaign targeted dozens of races in the midterms, helping land some historic wins, but it’s not hard to guess what will be on the agenda for 2020: defeating Donald Trump.

“There is a clear message,” says Chad Griffin, the president of the LGBTQ advocacy organization. “It’s not only attack us at your own peril. If you attack us, we are going to invest, we are going to organize, we are going to defeat you in the next election.”

Griffin, 45, has led HRC for almost seven years, while it has greatly increased its political spending as a way of organizing the LGBTQ community into a potent voting bloc.

He’s pleased with many of the results of the midterms, which saw the election of the first openly gay man as governor, Jared Polis, in Colorado; the first gay Native American lawmaker in Congress, Sharice Davids, in Kansas; and the reelection of Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, in Wisconsin.

With an emphatic speaking style and disciplined focus, Griffin, a native of Hope, Ark., has drawn on his experience in the Clinton White House, and as political and philanthropic adviser to Rob Reiner, and then as the leader of an effort to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, in the federal courts.

Popular on Variety

Griffin thinks that gains in the midterms have put the “emergency brake” on the more egregious aspects of the Trump era. He recently chatted about what lies ahead in 2020, and what he would have to say to LGBTQ individuals who still support Trump.

You’ve talked about the bright spots. What was most disappointing to you about the midterm results?

CHAD GRIFFIN Any time there is an election, it would always be nice to win everything. While that was not the case, we won most of the races around the country that we prioritized. We really prioritized the LGBTQ voting bloc, and the exit polls [showed our] current numbers are 6% of the electorate. That is a really big story. [Eighty-three percent of LGBTQ voters supported Democrats, compared with 77% in 2016.]

If you take those exit poll numbers and overlay them on [some of] these key races, in many cases that will have been the difference.

HRC endorsed Stacey Abrams in her race for governor of Georgia. Yet Brian Kemp is leading. He’s pledged to sign religious freedom legislation that would permit discrimination. Then what happens?

CG We saw what happened when some in the state legislature tried that last time in Georgia [in 2016]. Leaders from across industries, including the entertainment industry, stood up and made clear that they would send the state no more business. I would expect that any state legislature or governor that attempts to move forward legislation that specifically targets and attacks LGBTQ people and our rights will face the same consequences.

What do you say to LGBTQ individuals who continue to support Trump?

CG I can’t understand them and frankly don’t have much to say to them. … Donald Trump got fewer of the LGBTQ votes than any of his predecessors in 2016, despite the many lies he told during the campaign of how he would stand up and be there for the LGBTQ community. He got significantly
fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in the previous presidential election, and I would expect that given all of the attacks that Trump and [Vice President Mike] Pence have launched against our community, you will see in 2020 an even further shrinking of those numbers.

What did you think when Caitlyn Jenner renounced her support of Trump?

CG She tried hard to work with Donald Trump and ultimately realized who he is. What Caitlyn made clear is she has given up on changing his mind.

When you took the HRC job in 2012, is this where you expected the LGBTQ community to be in 2018?

CG We have come a long ways. Yes it is a dark moment in history in terms of who occupies the White House. But I really do believe that if you look a few years down the road, we will see this as one of the great awakenings of our democracy where LGBTQ people, women and people of color rose up, spoke out, voted in historic numbers and ran for office in historic numbers.

If you look at the battles of 2012, it would have been hard to predict many of the battles of 2018. But there’s one thing that is consistent. LGBTQ people are fighters. We are resilient. We have seen our ability to fight back and our political power continue to grow. More and more politicians are realizing it, and more and more politicians are standing up and winning elections. More and more [of those who] are against us are facing defeat because of it.