Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Human Rights Campaign Fund was established as a political action committee to raise funds for candidates for public office who would be supportive of gay and lesbian civil rights. The organization’s founding came at a time when conservative lobbying groups, such as the Moral Majority, were busy establishing their own presence in Washington, D.C.

Summary of Event

In the late 1970’s, groups such as the National Conservative Political Action Committee and the Moral Majority Moral Majority had much success supporting and influencing conservative political candidates. It became obvious that for the protection of gay and lesbian rights, lobbyists also had to work for gay and lesbian causes. In 1978, Steve Endean founded the Gay Rights National Lobby and went to Washington, D.C., to serve as its director. Some contributors, however, had been reticent to contribute to a political action committee with the word, “gay” in its name. For that reason, some fund-raising organizations chose names such as “Legal Foundation for Personal Liberties.” Finally, on April 22, 1980, Endean founded the Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRCF), a name designed to allow donors to contribute without specifically funding a group with “gay” or “lesbian” in its name; however, the goal was the same as that of Endean’s earlier project: political lobbying for lesbians and gays. The HRCF, based in Washington, D.C., had the broader appeal of “human rights.” The HRCF attracted an advisory board of well-known individuals, including singer and songwriter Joan Baez, feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem, and Civil Rights activist and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. [kw]Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded (Apr. 22, 1980) [kw]Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded, Human (Apr. 22, 1980) Human Rights Campaign [c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded[1370] [c]Government and politics;Apr. 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded[1370] Endean, Steve

During 1980 the HRCF registered with the Federal Election Committee and made its first contribution. The HRCF supported Representative Jim Weaver (D-Oregon), who went on to defeat a Moral Majority supported conservative candidate. Also in 1980 the Fund mailed its first nationally distributed gay-focused fund-raising letter, with the support of playwright Tennessee Williams. In 1985 the Fund merged with the Gay Rights National Lobby, and in 1995, the organization changed its name to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and adopted the current “equal sign” logo. By 1998 the HRC’s political action committee had contributed more than $1 million to more than two hundred congressional candidates.

In 1982 the HRCF had incorporated and drafted bylaws that made clear the purpose of advancing the cause of gay and lesbian civil rights “by supporting and educating candidates for federal elective office.” It held a major fund-raiser in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria hotel and its keynote speech, given by former vice president Walter Mondale, was covered on Nightline (ABC-TV). By November of 1982 the HRCF had raised $800,000 and had become the seventeenth largest independent political action committee in the United States. It also had a great success rate for the candidates it supported, with 81 percent of HRCF-backed candidates winning their elections.

In 1989 the HRCF reorganized, becoming a membership organization as well as a political action committee (PAC). The HRCF would become a PAC for the “promotion of the social welfare of the gay and lesbian community, by drafting, supporting and influencing legislation and policy at the federal, state and local level.” In June of that year, HRCF’s membership had grown to twenty-five thousand.

In 1992 the HRC backed its first presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, and one year later it took on the National Coming Out Day project. In August, 2000, Elizabeth Birch, the organization’s director, addressed the Democratic National Convention. Democratic National Convention;Elizabeth Birch address to[Birch] Birch was the first leader of a national gay and lesbian organization to address a convention of a major political party in the United States.


The Human Rights Campaign Fund was the first national lobbying organization supporting gay and lesbian rights, founded to counter the efforts of the New Right, which had been forming political action committees as well. HRCF mobilized gays and lesbians and encouraged many to contribute to the organization as it assisted gays, lesbians, and allies who were running for political office. The HRC remains dedicated to educating citizens and politicians alike on GLBT issues and concerns.

HRCF’s founder, Steve Endean had stepped down from the HRCF during some power struggles in the mid-1980’s, but he continued to be politically active, supporting gay and lesbian rights until his death in 1993. The Philanthrofund, a national philanthropic organization, has established an endowed fund in Endean’s honor. The Endean fund provides support for activism and the study of public policy related to the GLBT community.

The HRC also has a number of current issues on its agenda, including the protection of GLBT families (working for the rights of same-gender couples); marriage; workplace discrimination; health (HIV-AIDS, lesbian health); hate crimes (expanding federal hate crimes legislation to include crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, and disability); transgender issues; immigration; military; privacy issues; and judicial nominations.

From its small beginnings in 1980, the Human Rights Campaign has moved into the national political arena and has remained a formidable force on Capitol Hill: its name and logo are widely recognized, it commands respect when speaking out on a wide variety of issues, and it is successful during elections, both with ballot measures and with the candidates it endorses.

The fund’s financial supporters include The Advocate and Out magazines, American Airlines, Chase, Citigroup, Deloitte,, IBM, Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams Co., Nike, Olivia Cruises and Resorts, Prudential Financial, Replacements, Ltd., Shell Oil, Showtime, Volvo Cars of North America, and Washington Mutual. While some of these are obvious supporters of the gay and lesbian political cause (The Advocate, Out, Olivia), others (Citigroup, IBM, Shell Oil, Volvo) are mainstream companies. Human Rights Campaign

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Endean, Steve, and Vickie Eaklor. Bringing Lesbian and Gay Rights into the Mainstream. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press, 2006.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The State of the Workplace for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans, 2005-2006. http://www
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mohr, Richard D. Gays/Justice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rimmerman, Craig, Kenneth Wald, and Clyde Wilcox, eds. The Politics of Gay Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

February 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes

1971: Kameny Is First Out Candidate for U.S. Congress

1973: National Gay Task Force Is Formed

October 18, 1973: Lambda Legal Authorized to Practice Law

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

June 27, 1974: Abzug and Koch Attempt to Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964

1978: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Movement Is Founded

November 7, 1978: Antigay and Antilesbian Briggs Initiative Is Defeated

1979: Moral Majority Is Founded

October 11, 1988: First National Coming Out Day Is Celebrated

July 26, 1990: Americans with Disabilities Act Becomes Law

1994: Employment Non-Discrimination Act Is Proposed to U.S. Congress

Categories: History