Amid a string of court victories for marriage equality around the country, a D.C.-based consulting firm has started a new project aimed at addressing other issues affecting the LGBT community that don’t receive as many headlines.
The Raben Group, a consulting firm that works on progressive public policy issues, officially announced on Tuesday the formation of “LGBT Strategies,” an initiative intended to build off an already extensive portfolio on LGBT policy.
In an interview with the Washington Blade, Raben said the project is the result of a “diverse and critical mass” of LGBT professionals working at his firm who wanted to “dive deep” into LGBT issues.
“I think there are 12 or 13 people who identify as gay, and I think we decided that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, that coming together to do our full-service work — advocacy, communications, coalition building, fundraising, etc. — as a group was accurate and coherent,” Raben said.
Prior to founding his consulting firm in 2001, Raben worked as a counsel to gay former Rep. Barney Frank and assistant attorney general for legislative affairs during the Clinton administration.
“I’ve been doing gay work for 25 years now,” Raben said. “The younger generation, there are very proud, capable professionals who are excited to organize around the fact that they’re LGBT and to do that work, so it’s a formalization, and a celebration of that which has been going on informally.”
Raben, who’s gay himself, identified a handful of openly gay workers at his firm: Chris Cormier, former head of donor relations at Gill Action Fund; Steven Fisher, a former vice president of communications at Viacom; and Courtney Snowden, a former staffer for then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin who’s now running for a seat on the D.C. City Council.
For Raben, an important goal for the new initiative will be working with clients seeking to advance LGBT equality in areas such as poverty and minority issues.
“So much of the work has been first about anti-discrimination under the law, and now about marriage equality,” Raben said. “And what there hasn’t been nearly enough of are the bread-and-butter issues of LGBT Americans: poverty, access, work around church and faith. So we have a particular interest in that.”
Among the groups with whom the Raben Group has already worked on LGBT issues are the Human Rights Campaign, Google, the Williams Institute, Lambda Legal, Viacom, the California Endowment as well as the Arcus, Ford and Gill foundations.
Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said help from the Raben Group has empowered the scholarship at his organization.
“The Raben Group has very effectively helped us maximize the relevance and visibility of our research for several years,” Sears said. “They have helped us be more creative — a critical added-value that I am excited they will be bringing to other LGBT organizations in a more formalized way.”
Raben envisions the new initiative taking on issues that he says are not necessarily addressed by HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT group, such as poverty in the LGBT community.
“I think HRC has done an amazing job focusing on the middle-class, and because it’s their donors and their membership, they’re worried about a taxation penalty for domestic partnerships, but what they never worried about was food stamps, EBT, WIC, Section 8, things that affect tens of millions of Americans,” Raben said. “There are, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands of Americans, particularly in the Deep South, particularly in rural America, who struggle with basic kitchen table issues, asset building, jobs.”
Diego Sanchez, who’s transgender and policy director for PFLAG National, was among the fans of the new initiative created by the Raben Group.
“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Robert well for years, and his and the team’s work at the Raben Group has played a critical role in the advancement of the LGBT community’s rights,” Sanchez said. “I am thrilled to know about his establishing the LGBT Strategies practice for the benefit of the community and our allies.”
Although his firm is left-of-center, Raben said he envisions working with corporate America to devise plans to improve the lives of LGBT Americans.
“We do a lot of consultation and advising with foundations and wealthy individuals about communities,” Raben added. “And we’ve done it in the black, brown and Hispanic communities, and we’re going to go deeper in the LGBT community, working with high wealth individuals, foundations and corporations that want to figure out a better way of connecting with us.”