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Victory Fund announces ‘Ten Races to Watch’

Cicilline, Pougnet among the highlighted candidates

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A gay Republican seeking office in the Nevada State Legislature and a gay politician vying to become mayor of a Kentucky city are among the candidates the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund is highlighting as part of its recently announced “Ten Races to Watch.”

On Monday, the Victory Fund identified the names of ten endorsed candidates in races that the organization believes could have a significant impact on LGBT community.

The ten candidates represent a portion of the 164 candidates the organization has endorsed in all of 2010 and more than 100 candidates who are facing election in November, according to the Victory Fund.

In a statement, Chuck Wolfe, the Victory Fund’s president, predicted that 2010 will be “a banner year” for the organization and its mission to elect openly LGBT people to public office.

“We know out elected officials can be a leading political indicator of real change, so it’s exciting to see so many candidates stepping up to run for office this year,” Wolfe said.

The Victory Fund statement highlights each of the candidates running in the “Ten Races to Watch” in alphabetical order:

Marcus Brandon — North Carolina House of Representatives (60th District)

With the retirement of N.C. State Sen. Julia Boseman, Brandon would become North Carolina’s only openly LGBT state legislator, and one of just five out African-American state lawmakers in the U.S. Brandon ousted a four-term incumbent in the Democratic primary, and now faces a Republican opponent on November 2.

David Cicilline — U.S. House of Representatives (Rhode Island, 1st Congressional District)

Providence Mayor David Cicilline beat three primary opponents to stand in the general election this November. If he wins, Cicilline would become just the seventh openly gay or lesbian person to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Jim Gray — Mayor, Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray is in a close race for the city’s top elected office. The construction company executive is passionate about running city government like he has run his family’s nationally known business, Gray Construction. Gray was elected Vice Mayor in 2006 by an overwhelming margin.

Dan Hill — Nevada House of Representatives (District 29)

Dan could become the new face of the Republican Party in Nevada. He’s a staunch fiscal conservative who  believes the party will thrive if it also stays out of citizens’ personal lives. As an openly gay man, Dan could help bridge the political divide on issues like LGBT equality.

Laurie Jinkins — Washington House of Representatives (District 27)

As a public health and education advocate, social justice leader, community volunteer, lawyer, and mom, Laurie Jinkins is a problem solver with a track record of bringing diverse people and interests together to help working families build community, and to make sure the marginalized have a voice. In Olympia, Laurie will be a strong voice for positive change, and the state legislature’s first openly lesbian member.


Aaron Kampfe — Montana State Senate (District 30)

This two-term city council member from Red Lodge, Montana is now running for the State Senate, where he would join two other out state legislators whose authentic voices represent the LGBT community in state government. Red Lodge is the largest city in this Senate district, and Aaron is well-known to area voters.

Victoria Kolakowski — Superior Court Judge, Alameda County, Calif.

Victoria Kolakowski, a lawyer and administrative law judge with a strong background as an LGBT civil rights advocate, is running to become a judge on Superior Court of Alameda County, California. If she wins, Victoria will become America’s first openly transgender judge.

Kevin Lembo — Connecticut State Comptroller

Kevin Lembo could become one of just a handful of openly LGBT people ever to be elected statewide, and that would make him one of the highest-ranking openly gay government officials in America.

Evan Low — Mayor, Campbell, Calif.

At 26, Evan Low is currently the youngest openly gay mayor in America. He was elected to the post by his colleagues on the city council in December, a testament to his remarkable leadership skills and bright future. He’s facing nine candidates in an election to fill just two positions on the city council.

Steve Pougnet — U.S. House of Representatives (California, 45th Congressional District)

Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet could become the first and only openly gay parent if he’s able to beat the GOP incumbent, Rep. Mary Bono Mack. Pougnet is Bono Mack’s strongest challenger in years, and among the Democratic Party’s greatest chances to pick up a seat now held by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

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Smithsonian staff concerned about future of LGBTQ programming amid GOP scrutiny

Secretary Lonnie Bunch says ‘LGBTQ+ content is welcome’

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Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, appears before a Dec. 2023 hearing of the U.S. Committee on House Administration (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

Staff at the Smithsonian Institution are concerned about the future of LGBTQ programming as several events featuring a drag performer were cancelled or postponed following scrutiny by House Republicans, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Post.

In December, Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III appeared before a hearing led by GOP members of the Committee on House Administration, who flagged concerns about the Smithsonian’s involvement in “the Left’s indoctrination of our children.”

Under questioning from U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), Bunch said he was “surprised” to learn the Smithsonian had hosted six drag events over the past three years, telling the lawmakers “It’s not appropriate to expose children” to these performances.

Collaborations with drag artist Pattie Gonia in December, January, and March were subsequently postponed or cancelled, the Post reported on Saturday, adding that a Smithsonian spokesperson blamed “budgetary constraints and other resource issues” and the museums are still developing programming for Pride month in June.

“I, along with all senior leaders, take seriously the concerns expressed by staff and will continue to do so,” Bunch said in a statement to the paper. “As we have reiterated, LGBTQ+ content is welcome at the Smithsonian.”

The secretary sent an email on Friday expressing plans to meet with leaders of the Smithsonian Pride Alliance, one of the two groups that detailed their concerns to him following December’s hearing.

Bunch told the Pride Alliance in January that with his response to Bice’s question, his intention was to “immediately stress that the Smithsonian does not expose children to inappropriate content.”

“A hearing setting does not give you ample time to expand,” he said, adding that with more time he would have spoken “more broadly about the merits and goals of our programming and content development and how we equip parents to make choices about what content their children experience.”

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Survey finds support for Biden among LGBTQ adults persists despite misgivings

Data for Progress previewed the results exclusively with the Blade

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Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A new survey by Data for Progress found LGBTQ adults overwhelmingly favor President Joe Biden and Democrats over his 2024 rival former President Donald Trump and Republicans, but responses to other questions may signal potential headwinds for Biden’s reelection campaign.

The organization shared the findings of its poll, which included 873 respondents from across the country including an oversample of transgender adults, exclusively with the Washington Blade on Thursday.

Despite the clear margin of support for the president, with only 22 percent of respondents reporting that they have a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Trump, answers were more mixed when it came to assessments of Biden’s performance over the past four years and his party’s record of protecting queer and trans Americans.

Forty-five percent of respondents said the Biden-Harris administration has performed better than they expected, while 47 percent said the administration’s record has been worse than they anticipated. A greater margin of trans adults in the survey — 52 vs. 37 percent — said their expectations were not met.

Seventy precent of all LGBTQ respondents and 81 percent of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks, while just 24 percent of all survey participants and 17 percent of trans participants agreed the party is already doing enough.

With respect to the issues respondents care about the most when deciding between the candidates on their ballots, LGBTQ issues were second only to the economy, eclipsing other considerations like abortion and threats to democracy.

These answers may reflect heightened fear and anxiety among LGBTQ adults as a consequence of the dramatic uptick over the past few years in rhetorical, legislative, and violent bias-motivated attacks against the community, especially targeting queer and trans folks.

The survey found that while LGBTQ adults are highly motivated to vote in November, there are signs of ennui. For example, enthusiasm was substantially lower among those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 39 compared with adults 40 and older. And a plurality of younger LGBTQ respondents said they believe that neither of the country’s two major political parties care about them.

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Court records raise concerns about right-wing TikTok investor’s influence

Jeff Yass is a Pa. billionaire who has funded anti-LGBTQ causes

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Jeff Yass (Screen capture: Susquehanna International Group/YouTube)

The role played by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass in the creation of TikTok might be far greater than was previously understood, according to new reporting that raises questions about the extent of the right-wing megadonor’s influence over matters at the intersection of social media, federal regulations, and electoral politics.

In 2012, Yass’s firm, Susquehanna International Group, spent $5 million for 15 percent of the short-form video hosting platform’s Chinese-owned parent, ByteDance. In the years since, as TikTok grew from a nascent startup to a tech giant with 1.5 billion active monthly users and an estimated $225 billion valuation, Yass and his firm pocketed tens of billions of dollars.

Beyond the size of Susquehanna’s ownership stake, little was known about its relationship with ByteDance until documents from a lawsuit filed against the firm by its former contractors were accidentally unsealed last month, leading to new reporting by the New York Times on Thursday that shows Susquehanna was hardly a passive investor.

In 2009 the firm used a proprietary, sophisticated search algorithm to build a home-buying site called 99Fang, tapping software engineer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming to serve as its CEO. The company folded. And then, per the Times’s review of the court records, in 2012 Susquehanna picked Yiming to be the founder of its new startup ByteDance and repurposed the technology from 99Fang for use in the new venture.

Importantly, the documents do not provide insight into Yass’s personal involvement in the formation of ByteDance. And Susquehanna denies that the company’s search algorithm technologies were carried over from the real estate venture — which, if true, would presumably undermine the basis for the lawsuit brought by the firm’s former contractors who are seeking compensation for the tech used by ByteDance.

Questions about Yass’s influence come at a pivotal political moment

In recent weeks, federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S. altogether, citing the potential threats to U.S. national security interests stemming from the company’s Chinese ownership.

The bill was passed on March 13 with wide bipartisan margins in the House but faced an uncertain future in the Senate. However, on Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced plans to fold the proposal into a measure that includes foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, likely bolstering its chances of passage by both chambers.

Last month, shortly after meeting with Yass at his home in Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump changed his longtime stance and came out against Congress’s effort to break up or ban TikTok. The timing led to speculation about whether the billionaire businessman was behind Trump’s change of heart, perhaps by contributing to the cash-strapped Republican presidential nominee’s electoral campaign or through other means.

Meanwhile, Yass has emerged as the largest donor of the 2024 election cycle. A coalition of public interest and government watchdog groups have called attention to the vast network of right-wing political causes and candidates supported by the billionaire, often via contributions funneled through dark money PACs that are designed to conceal or obscure the identities of their donors.

The Action Center on Race and the Economy, Make the Road, POWER Metro: Faith in Action, Free the Ballot, and Little Sis launched a website called All Eyes on Yass that features research into the various causes he supports, along with insight into the networks connecting the entities funded by his contributions.

Broadly, in Pennsylvania they fall into five categories: Advocacy against reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights via the Pennsylvania Family Institute, lobbying on behalf of oil and gas industry interests by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, anti-union groups supported by Commonwealth Partners, a privately owned registered investment advisory firm/independent broker-dealer, the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, which seeks to privatize public schools and defeat proposed increases to the minimum wage, and the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which advocates for lowering taxes on corporations and the rich.

Additionally, All Eyes on Yass reports that the billionaire has given massive contributions to Club for Growth and direct spending to support the electoral campaigns of right-wing Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Josh Hawley (MO); U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.).

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