Money, Power, and the Human Rights Campaign (Pt. 2)

by | Apr 11, 2023 | Transgender Agenda

How one activist group tracks the Democrats’ 30-year assault on America, and how conservatives can learn from their enemies

Whose Rights?

As more states legalized same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court eventually legalized it nationwide, Evan Wolfson’s Freedom to Marry shut down—but Griffin’s Human Rights Campaign (HRC) radicalized.

Instead the group pursued legal action in 2017 against people like the Colorado baker who objected on religious grounds to baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Many observers pointed out that this move was something beyond the “live and let live” ethic that many Americans cited in their support for gay marriage. After all, unlike the racism of Southern business owners refusing to serve Black customers in the 1960s, the Christian view of marriage as a holy union between a man and woman was millennia old, and there was no reason the couple in question couldn’t go to another baker with different beliefs. If America specializes in one thing, it’s religious (and non-religious) pluralism.

But Griffin’s HRC didn’t slow down: it took the same tack on transgender rights, which like gay rights had gained support online through YouTube influencers like Gigi Gorgeous, and whose advocates had won supportive rulings from the Supreme Court. Again, HRC pushed harder and from the top: In one of Griffin’s last moves before he departed as director, it made its marquee agenda item the Equality Act, which cuts around any effort to live-and-let-live in favor of regulating Americans’ lives. Griffin justified this push by citing what he called anti-LGBTQ legislation in states—legislation mandating that public accommodations treat sex as biological and not gender-based. Early opposition to these laws had brought out the same cast which had rallied around Griffin in 2009. Entertainment companies, film directors like Rob Reiner, singers like Bruce Springsteen, and white-collar corporatists threatened to pull business from the states.

Now Griffin was taking their fight to Washington, culminating in 2019, when House Democrats passed the first Equality Act. Joe Biden, who’d headlined the HRC’s annual dinner in 2018, said would be his first legislative priority as president.  

Consider what this spectacle means. Duly elected state legislatures pass laws regulating public morals, the traditional responsibility of state governments, and the response of nonprofits, corporations, entertainment companies, celebrities, and the Democratic Party is to threaten them with economic ruin. Meantime, in Washington, D.C., those same groups, led by the HRC, work to push a bill that essentially criminalizes, nationwide, religious and private attempts to define gender biologically. Both moves are backed by Democrats in the name of government-mandated equality and opposed by Republicans, who argue that individuals ought to handle moral issues themselves. Which party really stands for human rights? The one which wants to use “human rights” to place some issues beyond debate, despite polls showing either uncertainty or outright opposition from the public? Or the one which wants to give people a voice and treat them as adults?

But this wasn’t a question the Human Rights Campaign was interested in answering; it was benefiting too much from Griffin’s $26 million anti-Trump, pro-transgender fundraising project which he’d launched in 2017. It also wasn’t a question that the Democratic Party, which under President Obama lost more statehouses than any party since Herbert Hoover’s Republicans, wanted to answer. And by President Biden’s Administration, the Party was even more reluctant to consider it. The Administration listened “more to public interest groups than the needs of the U.S. Senate,” a Democratic senator told The Los Angeles Times in February 2022, in the middle of its climate-interest-group-backed-push for Build Back Better featuring many of the same nonprofits which had come to Washington with the Human Rights Campaign. According to another Democratic lawmaker, “They tell everyone what they want to hear and they’re afraid to take the hits from activist groups.”

Woke Boardrooms and News Desks

Insider activist pushes were what HRC had been mounting for 30 years—and now these pushes extended past the Biden Administration to corporations and media. In 2022, the HRC and internal Disney protests successfully put Disney’s then-CEO on the defensive for not condemning Florida’s legislation prohibiting classroom discussion of “sexual orientation and gender identity” from kindergarten to third grade, even though Americans supported it by a margin of 2 to 1.

In 2023 the HRC coordinated with New York Times employees to send two public letters to Times’ editors demanding the Times stop what the letter called its “both-sides’” coverage of transgender issues: e.g. generally supportive articles on the topic that raised questions about gender transition surgery for minors. 

And the HRC could mount these pushes without scrutiny thanks to a willing media. Though the coordination between Times’ reporters and advocacy groups was blatant enough in 2023 that Times’ editors either felt empowered or forced to push back, this was an exception. Headlines of New York Times articles in which Chad Griffin’s name appeared between 2014 and 2021 capture the Times’ preferred approach to gay rights and transgender rights coverage: “How [President Obama] Got to ‘I Do’ on Same-Sex Marriage”; “Human Rights Campaign’s Letter to the NFL [regarding non-discrimination protections for 2017 Huston Superbowl Attendees]”; “Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathrooms for Transgender Students”; “Furious Gay Rights Advocates See Trump’s True Colors”; “Corporations Show Support For Transgender Boy in Supreme Court Case”; “In One Day, Trump Administration Lands Three Punches Against Gay Rights”; “Trump’s Celebration of Gay Rights is Met with Criticism”; “Behind Joe Biden’s Evolution on LGBTQ Rights.”  

A Friend in the White House

What stands out about these articles is that they show absolutely no interest in how power actually works. Either they function as news bulletins; or political combat stories with attributable quotes from the HRC, which they call a “civil rights organization”; or behind-the-scenes-“stories” like Obama’s and Biden’s blatantly political switches on gay marriage. There’s no actual investigative reporting here—not about the splits among gay rights advocates, or where the HRC gets its funding, or why Biden decided to headline its annual dinner, or about why Biden’s “evolution” on LGBTQ issues included abandoning religious principles he supposedly firmly held 30 years ago.

But why would there be? The New York Times’ reporters want quotes and access, something Griffin and the Democrats feed them, along with a story of unity-against-homophobes that appeals to the Times’ white-collar urban professional readers. In this context, the fact that a President who advertises himself as a working-class politician from Scranton, Pennsylvania, can change the definition of “gender” with almost no media comment begins to make more sense.

But there were more benefits to those pushes for the HRC than just ideological victories. By the end of the 2010s the HRC was a fundraising behemoth, raising $44.7 million in 2020 from the likes of Apple, Google, Hyatt, Goldman Sachs, BP, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and George Soros, and Planned Parenthood. Looking at  these the numbers, some gay rights activists  wondered if a betrayal was happening in front of them. Were certain hardline provisions in the Equality Act were designed to make the bill harder to pass, ensuring HRC could fundraise for a few more legislative cycles? Either way, the HRC got to have its cake and eat it, too: President Biden’s executive order gave the group’s priorities the force of law, even as the HRC could keep fundraising to achieve a long-term victory with congressional legislation.  

Lessons for the Right

One thing to notice about the Human Rights Campaign after 2020 is that its modus operandi is the same as in 1990. Now it’s ideologizing and then it was triangulating, but where the money and power goes, the HRC goes, too. Still, the shift from triangulation to totalitarianism, which has been the Democrats’ shift on issues from race to environmentalism, brings lessons of its own. What happens when shady operators start acting in front of the curtain? Liberated from the strain of their deceptions by a public which believes in live-and-let-live, they become righteously aggressive, pushing an agenda well beyond what most Americans support. How are they able to operate without fear of pushback? By working inside the structures underwritten by the government they’ve worked so assiduously to expand. From their point of view, who’s going to stop them? 

All of this should resonate with Republicans, especially since even some Republican politicians like to treat today’s cultural issues as electoral losers or foaming-at-the-mouth-emotionalism somehow separate from practical, “serious” issues like taxes and federalism. But the history of the Human Rights Campaign shows that cultural issues are downstream from power: Power that a small group of connected insiders with the same agenda can exert when the national government gets too big, too disconnected, and too distant from the people it’s meant to serve. Still, with all the noise from the media and entertainment complexes—fed by Democrats, backed by corporations, and perfected by people like Griffin—it’s easy to lose sight of the raw power grab happening right in front of us.

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