Here's one reason I'm happy that the Human Rights Campaign has chosen Arkansas native Chad Griffin to be its new head: when you grow up gay in places like Arkansas and come home to visit family and friends, you can't avoid having conversations like this as you travel back home (or when you reach home):
When Griffin was flying home one recent Christmas he found himself seated next to the youth minister at what he would describe only as one of Little Rock's “significant” churches. The two chatted and the minister asked Griffin what his holiday plans were. Griffin said after Christmas he planned to meet his boyfriend in Hawaii. That led to a conversation about faith; Griffin told the minister that while he grew up in the Southern Baptist church he would not today support the institution. “They preach bigotry and hate on a number of issues.”
The minister was a nice man and very accepting. And then he said, “We all sin.” At which point, Griffin said, “I just want you to hear something” and suddenly everybody around them tuned in. Griffin told the preacher that gays are born with their sexuality, just as he was born straight. Gays couldn't flip a switch and be straight, nor would they want to.
“The most important thing for you to know,” Griffin said he told the man, “is that if you've got a youth group with 50 people in it you've got multiple kids, whether out or not, who are gay. You are someone they look up to and whatever you do and say about this issue is going to impact them.
“They could be quietly contemplating suicide. And you yourself have the power to change that person's life.”
And so your experience growing up gay outside centers of political, media, academic, and cultural power inclines you, once you've taken the step of coming out of the closet, to take chances. Not to hedge your bets. Not to be patient with centrists colluding with the powerful who concede so much to the power structures that they effectively side with the powerful and not with those on the margins, who desperately need to see progressive change that permits them to be included in the social mainstream.
Your experience of growing up on the margins inclines you, once you take the step of coming out of the closet, to speak truth to power.
And when you grow up in a culture in which the churches and their leaders have a stranglehold on people's thinking, in which the churches and their leaders dominate everything people do, you're also inclined, once you come out of the closet, to realize that engaging religion and speaking truth to the power of religious leaders is a crucial step in the liberation process for gay people around the world.
Chad Griffin may well disappoint me. For now, though, I hold renewed hope for HRC under his leadership.