American Foundation for Equal Rights

Leadership

Board of Directors

Bruce Cohen, President

Bruce Cohen is an Academy Award-winning and Emmy-nominated producer of film, television, theater and live events. He won the Best Picture Oscar in 2000 for producing “American Beauty” along with Dan Jinks, was nominated again for the Best Picture Oscar in 2009 for “Milk,” also with Jinks, and again in 2013 for “Silver Linings Playbook,” with Donna Gigliotti and Jonathan Gordon.  He was nominated for an Emmy in 2011 for producing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards with Don Mischer. His work also includes the films “Down with Love” and “Big Fish” and the Emmy-winning television series “Pushing Daisies.” He and Jinks are now working on the Broadway musical version of “Big Fish,” with book by John August, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and to be directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Susan Strohman. Cohen was chair of the Los Angeles Finance Committee for the NO on Prop. 8 committee and is the recipient of numerous awards for his work in the LGBT community. In May 2008, Cohen and his husband, Gabe Catone, were the first same-sex couple to be married by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Michele Reiner, Treasurer

An accomplished photographer, producer, and children’s advocate, Michele Reiner is a co-founder of Parents’ Action for Children, an organization for which she produced the prime-time ABC special “I Am Your Child” and worked with Newsweek to produce a special parenting issue dedicated to early-childhood issues. Other credits include a series of nationally distributed DVDs that have helped educate thousands of parents, caregivers and professionals on topics relating to early childhood development. These films were produced in English and Spanish and were given to every birth mother in the state of California. Reiner has also produced numerous public service announcements, including PSAs featuring Meg Ryan, Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jennifer Aniston, among others. In 2012 she produced an independent campaign ad in support of President Obama’s re-election that focused on women’s issues and featured Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington. Reiner also directed a series of advertisements for Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization comprised of families of service-members killed in action.

A founding board member of AFER, Reiner was the co-producer of ’8′, a play written by Academy Award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Framed around the 2010 U.S. District Court trial to overturn Proposition 8, the play was read in New York and Los Angeles and featured George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Lynch, Kevin Bacon and others.

Dustin Lance Black

Lance Black is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for MILK and was a writer and producer of the acclaimed TV series Big Love. He recently completed his feature directorial debut, Virginia, and penned the screenplay for J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo Dicaprio. Black is also a noted equal rights advocate. He was a leading opponent of Prop. 8 during the 2008 election, was a featured speaker at the 2009 March on Washington, has spoken at scores of colleges across North America and Europe, topped The Advocate magazine’s list of “Forty Under 40,” and has repeatedly been listed in OUT Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful LGBT persons.”

Chad Griffin

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, has spent his career taking on the toughest fights against the most entrenched, well-financed interests like Big Tobacco and Big Oil to shape the policy debate around some of the nation’s most important issues, including equal rights, clean energy, universal health care, stem cell research, and early childhood education. Griffin led the largest ballot initiative ever recorded, Proposition 87: California’s Clean Alternative Energy Initiative; Proposition 10, which generates $600 million a year to early childhood education; and Proposition 71, which secured billions of dollars for stem cell research despite the Bush Administration ban.

Griffin’s fundraising and strategic counsel in the final weeks of the campaign to oppose Proposition 8 earned him selection as one of The Advocate’s 2008 People of the Year. A veteran of the Clinton White House communications team, Griffin was the youngest staffer ever to serve in the West Wing. He is an executive producer of the recently released Kirby Dick film “Outrage.”

Jonathan D. Lewis

Jonathan D. Lewis is the president of Jonathan Lewis & Associates, an independent design, development and project management consulting firm. He has successfully developed, managed and financed multiple award-winning restaurants and hotels. In 2004, Lewis created a political funding partnership with his father that funded dozens of LGBT equality and youth empowerment organizations to further progressive values and inspire a new generation of leaders. The political partnership has spent almost $20 million on this focus area. Along with many other current philanthropic efforts, he helped found GetEQUAL, a direct action group that fights relentlessly for LGBT equality, and funds a multi-year scholarship at the Point Foundation, which is awarded to students who demonstrate promise as future leaders.

Kenneth B. Mehlman

Kenneth B. Mehlman is the global head of public affairs for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR), a leading global alternative asset manager. Prior to joining KKR, Mehlman was a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld with a bi-partisan practice in legislative and regulatory counseling. He previously served in high level positions on Capitol Hill and the White House, including as chairman of the Republican National Committee and campaign manager of President Bush’s re-election campaign. He is a trustee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Franklin & Marshall College, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and The American Enterprise Institute’s National Council, serves the board of directors The IDEAL School of Manhattan, and on the Senior Advisory Committee of the Harvard University Institute of Politics. Mehlman graduated with a B.A. from Franklin & Marshall College and holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Rob Reiner

Actor and director Rob Reiner has been a leader in elevating the issue of pre-Kindergarten education and other services for children ages 0 to 5. He chaired the campaign to pass Prop. 10, the California Children and Families Initiative, and chaired from 1999-2006 First 5 California, the state agency responsible for allocating $600 million a year for health, education and other services for young children and parents. He played a key role in defeating Prop. 1D, which would have gutted critical programs for Californian children, and he has also championed open space preservation and alternative energy.  Recently, he and his wife Michele joined with the American Foundation for Equal Rights to bring the landmark federal court challenge to California’s Prop. 8, the ban on marriage for gay and lesbian couples.  Reiner’s career as one of the nation’s most accomplished actors and directors includes his Emmy Award-winning role in “All in the Family” and directing the films This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, The American President, The Bucket List, Flipped and the just-completed The Magic of Belle Isle.

Kristina Schake

Kristina Schake is the Chief Communications Officer for L’Oreal USA overseeing all corporate communications, industry and government relations, sustainability projects, and corporate philanthropy programs.  Prior to joining L’Oreal, Kristina was a Special Assistant to President Obama and Communications Director to the First Lady Michelle Obama, where she successfully worked at the nexus of political, business and press environments.  She conceptualized and managed every element of the First Lady’s profile, serving as her key strategist, cultivating her brand, determining her activities and schedule, preparing her for all appearances, and handling all sensitive political and press situations.

Prior to the White House, Schake co-founded Griffin|Schake to conceive and implement national media relations campaigns on behalf of progressive leaders, foundations and nonprofit organizations.  The firm, based in Los Angeles and New York, affected public policy from renewable energy to civil rights, and secured billions of dollars in funding for issues from public education to medical research.  Griffin|Schake also specialized in communications for high-profile legal cases, having been retained by the nation’s top appellate and defense firms to devise the public and media positioning for their cases and clients.  A graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a degree in writing, Schake began her career in politics working for Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Staff

Adam Umhoefer, Executive Director

Adam Umhoefer has spent nearly a decade working in politics and non-profit management. Prior to becoming AFER’s first staff member, Umhoefer spent the better part of 2008 working on President Obama’s first presidential campaign. Earlier, at Andy Spahn & Associates, Inc., Umhoefer worked with individuals and non-profit companies consulting on strategic philanthropy, government affairs, public relations and fundraising. He also spent several years working in program management for the Institute for Educational Advancement, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving high-potential youth. He graduated from the Arts and Sciences Honors Program at Boston College and is a native of Racine, Wisconsin.  In 2011, Umhoefer was named by The Advocate magazine as one of its top “Forty Under 40.”

Melissa Gibbs, Program Manager

Melissa Gibbs manages the execution of AFER’s key impact events and oversees all organizational operations. Prior to joining the team, she ran successful fundraising campaigns for the ACLU, Oxfam America, and Equality California with Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. While earning her Masters of Communication Management and B.A. in Public Relations from the University of Southern California, she participated in the efforts of USC’s LGBT Center, GLAAD, Equality California, and the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center. Her Master’s thesis examined the potential threat the ex-gay movement poses for the gay rights movement.

Kevin Rutkowski, Research Assistant

Kevin Rutkowski conducts research  for AFER and manages the organization’s online presence. Prior to joining the team, Kevin assisted in field and research efforts for Congressman Joe Kennedy’s (D-MA-4) 2012 campaign. In 2013, he worked with One LA-IAF in analyzing enrollment of individuals into public and private health care programs as part of the Affordable Care Act rollout. While earning his B.A. in Political Science and Theatre from the University of Southern California, Kevin led student outreach initiatives across Southern California and neighboring states for President Obama, Governor Brown, and Senator Feinstein.

Elizabeth Riel, Senior Communications Consultant

Elizabeth Riel manages AFER’s communications efforts.  As a seasoned communications strategist and expert in social marketing campaign, Riel’s work has impacted public policy, changed people’s behavior, and created healthier lives. Her past experience includes 10 years as a senior vice president with GMMB, a national strategic communications and political consulting firm, where her clients included the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Cisco Systems, First Five California, the Healthcare Finance Administration, Children Now, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and Buckle Up America.  On behalf of her clients, Riel developed and directed various communications strategies including TV/radio/print advertising, strategic partnerships, event production (including press conferences, roundtables, concerts, Capitol Hill hearings), market research/surveys, strategic partnerships, PR and earned media outreach, collateral materials for internal and external audiences, website development and content, PSAs and videos.

Nicholas Graham, Media & Communications Strategist – Virginia

Nicholas Graham helps design and execute AFER’s media relations and strategic communications nationally, and especially in Virginia, where AFER’s current Bostic case began.  Graham’s experience spans senior communications positions on Capitol Hill and at several major corporations over two decades. He has been an award-winning journalist and editor of a Virginia newspaper, and also served on the senior staff of a Presidential Commission on wounded warrior health care where he earned the “Award for Outstanding Achievement” from the Secretary of Defense. He currently serves as a communications/PR consultant representing Fortune 500 clients, media companies, advocacy organizations, and others across a wide array of industries in the marketplace. A lifelong Republican, Graham has served the GOP at the local, county, state, and federal levels and is working to change the party’s position on marriage equality. He lives in Virginia and is a native of Miami, Fla.