The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is the public charity component of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT activism organization and a prominent force in Democratic Party politics and left-of-center advocacy. Together with its affiliated HRC Political Action Committee PAC, and Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes super PAC, the HRC organizations are nicknamed “Gay, Inc.” for their financial resources, relationships with powerful politicians and corporations, and leading role in Democratic Party politics and left-leaning activism. 
Under the leadership of its current president, Chad Griffin, the HRC Foundation has leveraged the HRC’s position as the de-facto “representative” of the LGBT community to pressure major corporations, law firms, hospitals, and local governments into implementing and expanding pro-LGBT policies, financially supporting HRC and withdrawing support from conservative and faith-based organizations through implicit threats of low scores on its Corporate Equality Index, Healthcare Equality Index, and Municipal Equality Index “scorecards.”  
History and Leadership
HRC was founded in 1980 by Stephen Endean as the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a political action committee for supporting pro-LGBT candidates. The organization merged with the Gay Rights National Lobby in 1985. 
Endean left the HRC because of health issues in the early 1990s. In 1995, new president and executive director Elizabeth Birch joined HRC from Apple. Birch led a rebranding and restructuring to the HRC’s current organizational structure, as well as introducing the organization’s “equal sign” logo. 
Cheryl Jacques took over HRC’s lead role in early 2004, but served less than 11 months before she departed in a “difference of management philosophy” after 11 states passed ballot measures limiting or banning same-sex marriage.  After her departure, the HRC’s board decided to take what the New York Times described as “a new, more moderate strategy, with less emphasis on legalizing same-sex marriages and more on strengthening personal relationships.” The strategy reportedly grew out of the belief that Republican electoral victories in 2004 had been driven in part by voter backlash against HRC-promoted policies. 
Jacques was succeeded by former EMILY’s List CEO Joe Solmonese, who served until 2012 when he left HRC to become national co-chair of Barack Obama’s presidential re-election campaign.  Solomonese’s successor, former Clinton White House aide Chad Griffin, has announced he will step down in August 2019; Griffin is widely expected to take a role on a 2020 Democratic presidential campaign. 
Finances and Funding
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation does not accept individual donations of less than $5,000 per year.  It redacts the names of donors from its publicly disclosed IRS Form 990 filings, as is permitted by law.
The organization’s 2017 tax returns showed six individual donors of $375,000 or more, with the largest individual donor contributing $1,301,250. Together, these six unidentified donors comprised more than a quarter of the HRC Foundation’s entire revenue for the year.
The HRC Foundation makes few grants to outside organizations, and has been criticized for this practice by LGBT activists. In 2017, the Foundation made grants to 23 organizations in the United States. In 2016, it made 16, and in 2015 it made just 14. Of these grants, the largest each year were its annual lobbying transfer to its 501(c)(4) lobbying arm, Human Rights Campaign, Inc.
The HRC Foundation regularly supports groups and initiatives that promote left-wing policy and social issues. Some of the organizations that have received grants from the HRC Foundation since 2015 include:
- Faith in America (now the Tyler Clementi Foundation), an advocacy group working toward “a world where religious denominations no longer teach that homosexuality is a sin.” 
- Gathering for Justice, a far-left criminal justice advocacy group created in 2005 by radical activist, singer, and actor Harry Belafonte.
- HIPS, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that promotes decriminalization of prostitution and drug possession. 
- Muslims for Progressive Values, which advocates for leftist policies such as single-payer health care, legalized abortion, and left-leaning education and environmental models. 
- National Center for Transgender Equality. Some of its advocacy includes lobbying state and local governments to implement policies that include allowing transgender individuals to edit their birth certificates to reflect their chosen gender, play on youth sports teams of their chosen gender, eliminate sex education classes that promote abstinence, update state building codes to require gender-neutral bathrooms and more. 
- National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy organization that promotes social liberalism through litigation and policy initiatives.
- New Venture Fund, a funding and fiscal sponsorship nonprofit that makes grants to left-of-center advocacy and organizing projects and provides incubation services for other left-of-center organizations.
- Resource Impact, an incubator for left-leaning nonprofits. 
- Voter Participation Center, a voter registration group that focuses on registration of numerous Democratic-leaning voting populations.
- Women Make Movies, a non-profit feminist media arts organization.
Between 2014 and 2017, the HRC Foundation reported spending $3.6 million on lobbying through grants to its affiliated lobbying arm, Human Rights Campaign, Inc. These lobbying expenditures are regularly double or triple the size of the rest of the HRC Foundation’s annual grantmaking to other U.S.-based organizations, combined:
- In 2017, the HRC Foundation made $495,894 in grants to other organizations, while transferring $975,000 in lobbying funds to HRC, Inc. 
- In 2016, it made $158,670 in grants to other U.S.-based organizations and transferred $825,000 to HRC, Inc. 
- In 2015, it made $329,917 in charitable grants to U.S.-based groups and transferred $900,000 to HRC, Inc. 
Corporate Equality Index
Since 2002, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has published the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) to rate American companies on their compliance with the HRC’s left-leaning, pro-LGBT views. The HRC and its allies use these ratings to pressure companies into implementing pro-LGBT internal policies, limiting their donations to right-leaning charities and political causes, and not working with suppliers or contractors that do not comply with the HRC’s preferred standards.
The Corporate Equality Index is constantly updated to mandate increasingly specific and comprehensive corporate policies. For instance, in 2016, companies could receive full points for offering full benefits to spouses and not domestic partners, as long as same-sex marriages were included. In 2018, that criteria changed to require companies offer benefits not only to spouses, but also to all domestic partner relationships. That year, the CEI standards also began requiring companies to fully and completely cover all “medically necessary” care for transgender employees, including sex reassignment surgery.  HRC implemented these standards despite warnings from insurance-industry experts that such changes could take major companies many years to implement effectively in a complex tax and legal environment. 
The index also has an impact on companies that do not participate in the program, as its rankings penalize participating companies that engage with suppliers or contractors that do not meet the HRC’s increasingly strict standards. For instance, in 2015, HRC began considering policies in companies’ overseas subsidiaries as part of its criteria.  In 2018 it added a requirement that corporations require all contractors to abide by HRC-compliant policies, and in 2019 it required companies to add LGBT suppliers to their supplier diversity programs. 
Corporate Equality Index standards also force companies to limit their charitable giving to approved nonprofits, even in cases where the activities being supported by that philanthropy have no immediate relevance to LGBT issues. Companies lose CEI points for “directing corporate charitable contributions to organizations whose primary mission includes advocacy against LGBTQ equality,” including faith-based charities, and prohibits “philanthropic giving to non-religious organizations that have a written policy of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/ or gender identity.” 
HRC subtracts these points from corporations for a “large-scale official or public anti-LGBTQ blemish on their recent records,” which can include supporting political candidates opposed by the HRC. In 2011, Minnesota-based Target, Best Buy, and 3M were assessed this 15-point deduction for donating to a political action committee that supported Tom Emmer (R-MN) in his campaign for governor of that state. 
HRC uses the Corporate Equality Index to pressure companies into taking specific actions and supporting legislation and policies it favors. It has publicly suspended the CEI scores of high-profile corporations, such as Amazon and Google, to pressure them into taking specific actions such as banning “conversion therapy” apps from their stores.    It is also reportedly using CEI scores to leverage corporate support for the Equality Act, claiming more than 170 major businesses have expressed support for the legislation, of which 110 have “perfect” CEI scores.  
The Index is used as the basis for boycott campaigns and other activism against companies that do not conform to its increasingly onerous standards.   Human Rights Campaign publishes a “Buying for Workplace Equality” shopping guide for consumers based on its rankings, with apps for Apple and Android smartphones, and encourages its members to use it regularly.  
LGBT activists and left-leaning commentators question the Corporate Equality Index’s validity and criticize it for being a corporate fundraising tool for the Human Rights Campaign instead of accomplishing its stated mission of measuring the workplace experience of LGBT employees.  Daily Beast writer Emily Shire criticized the CEI for “nebulous, arbitrary, and excessive” criteria, noting that substantive questions for employers such as whether a company offered health insurance to LGBT partners ranked equally with more nebulous concepts such as whether the company “positively engaged” the “External LGBT Community.” Shire concluded, “In short, it comes down to the fact that the HRC’s system for evaluating work environments makes little sense.” 
LGBT activist Kate Raphael questioned how much the HRC truly knows about workplaces, writing, “Even just the narrow standard of how good of a place it is for gay people, or god forbid, trans people, to work, I really don’t believe they know that.” 
Left-wing activists have criticized the Corporate Equality Index for serving as public relations for major corporations. In The Nation, executive editor Richard Kim called the CEI “an obscene form of pink-washing in which every banker, sweatshop overlord and oil baron gets a gay star,” while “those gay activists not wholly in thrall to the corporate elite are running boycott campaigns against the remaining businesses (Chick-Fil-A, Barilla) too stupid to figure out that gay is gold.” 
At LGBT news site Queerty, writer John Rogers also criticized the CEI for promoting a cozy relationship between corporations and the HRC: “And so it remains in HRC’s way of doing things: They’ll still love their corporate abusers even after they make us bleed, so long as they say they’re sorry. Great to see the Corporate Equality Index is as misleading as ever.” 
Labor unions criticize the Corporate Equality Index on similar grounds to other left-wingers: The AFL-CIO affiliated LGBT organization Pride At Work says, “HRC has catered to its big-moneyed donors at the expense of those who live on the margins,” and that “nowhere is this more apparent than in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.”  Pride At Work has called for “all labor unions, labor federations, and labor-affiliated organizations to cease funding HRC at all levels until these matters are addressed.”
Johns Hopkins Hospital
As it does with the Corporate Equality Index, the HRC Foundation also publishes an annual Healthcare Equality Index (HEI). The HEI began as a list of hospitals that had policies welcoming to LGBT patients and families. It quickly expanded its scope and now pressures hospitals to implement human resources policies for LGBT employees and undertake “community engagement” on LGBT issues. 
Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore had been a top-ranked hospital in the Healthcare Equality Index since 2012, but in 2016, two researchers affiliated with the hospital (Paul R. McHugh and Lawrence S. Mayer) published a controversial review of the state of academic research into transgender health that challenged many of the prevailing views of gender identity among LGBT activists. 
Human Rights Campaign pressured Johns Hopkins to disavow the researchers, but the hospital’s leadership defended McHugh and Mayer’s right to academic freedom and independence. In response, HRC created a new rule for the HEI that allowed it to deduct 25 points from a hospital’s score for “a large-scale official or public anti-LGBTQ blemish on their recent records,” and applied that deduction to Johns Hopkins and only Johns Hopkins in the 2017 rankings. HRC took this step despite Johns Hopkins not only having maintained all the policies that had made it a top-ranked HEI performer in the past, but also having expanded its healthcare services for transgender patients in the interim. 
In 2018, Johns Hopkins declined to participate in the HEI survey. Regardless, HRC again assessed the 25-point deduction and dropped the hospital’s rating another five points from its 2017 position, giving it the second-worst ranking in Maryland.
Failure to Represent All LGBT Interests
Many LGBT activists and allies on both left and right criticize Human Rights Campaign for failing to represent the interests of all LGBT persons.   As editor of the far-left journal Current Affairs Nathan J. Robinson writes, “The Human Rights Campaign’s betrayal of its ostensible constituents has been going on for a long time… This organization has no credibility to speak for the groups it claims to represent. It is actively harming their interests and has been for a long time.” Human Rights Campaign (the lobbying arm) had endorsed incumbent U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) in a primary election against left-wing candidate Kerri Harris, whom Robinson identified as a “queer woman of color.” 
An internal examination of the group by the Pipeline Project in 2018 found that Human Rights Campaign staff criticized the group for being a “White Men’s Club.” The report also found that substantial blocs of HRC’s ethnic minority and gender-nonconforming staff reported feeling that “they are not treated equally based on their identity.” 
Other left-wing activists have criticized Human Rights Campaign for focusing its advocacy on certain demographics. One wrote that the group “has long been criticized by queer activists as the embodiment of ‘Big Gay’ politics, marginalizing the interests of trans folks and people of color in favor of issues that favor rich, white gay men,”  and another claimed, “HRC’s message is that the LGBT inequality in the U.S. only impacts middle to upper class white couples.” 
Human Rights Campaign’s left-leaning and pro-Democratic Party bias leads it to oppose Republican candidates and politicians by default, even when those officials are implementing policies that benefit LGBT constituencies. “[A]n organization as prominent as the Human Rights Campaign that is committed to defying anti-LGBT actions should also be committed to praising pro-LGBT action” by a Republican administration, said conservative LGBT activist and Log Cabin Republicans president Gregory Angelo. “But I’m seeing no such promises from the Human Rights Campaign or any other LGBT advocacy organization on the gay left.”