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Gay leader Chad Griffin, new president of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), lets Arkansas roots take reins

BY JEANNIE NUSS, ASSOCIATED PRESS

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. -- Chad Griffin could have spent his first official day heading the country's largest and most influential gay rights group anywhere: in Washington, where he cut his teeth working for President Bill Clinton, or California, where he spearheaded a legal challenge to the state's same-sex marriage ban.

Instead, he came back to the Arkansas community where he spent his Sundays in a Baptist church and heard kids call him gay slurs in school, to show that he stands with young gay people in small towns across the country, not just on the coasts.

"One's state's borders should not determine one's rights," said Griffin, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Arkansas helped shape Griffin into the leader he is today: a man uniquely qualified to fight a civil rights battle that will be difficult, even after President Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage this year. As the first Southerner to head the Washington-based group, Griffin has a knack for translating the fight for gay rights into language familiar to people in the Bible Belt. He sometimes borrows phrases from the pulpit - brothers and sisters, God's children - to advocate equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"This is nothing more than the golden rule," Griffin told community leaders during his visit last month. "Treat others as you wish to be treated."

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