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Victory Fund: Rethinking for the future

Amid historic election, some concerns about organization’s direction

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There is no question that the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund had a great election cycle and the LGBT community had a fantastic night on Nov. 6. But as we build for the future and look to many more such cycles some would question whether the Victory Fund has retreated a little from what many believe was its initial mission. It was seen as the organization supporting and promoting LGBT candidates even when other organizations wouldn’t because they didn’t see the value in promoting them. The Victory Fund was building a strong bullpen of LGBT candidates — the future leaders at all levels of government.

Today the Victory Fund coordinates with and sometimes determines whether to support candidates partially based on what groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) do. I would assume since they are non-partisan they look at what the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee thinks as well. It appears they may be more concerned with their percentage of winning candidates rather than building for the future. Many of our finest politicians lost their first campaigns and went on to have stellar political careers. First time potentially viable LGBT candidates need our support and most believe it is the Victory Fund’s mission to provide that support and encouragement.

A recent congressional race in Michigan’s 3rd District is a prime example of where the Victory Fund has gone astray. Trevor Thomas, a gay man running in the primary asked for a Victory Fund endorsement early in his campaign. The Victory Fund turned him down suggesting that if he could raise $100,000 on his own and prove he was a viable candidate it would reconsider. Trevor did that and the Victory Fund turned him down again. A Victory Fund board member recently told me that the group decided not to endorse Thomas because they thought even if he could win his primary he couldn’t win the election. That board member also told me that the Victory Fund looked at the DCCC and saw that it wasn’t supporting Trevor in the primary but instead supported a self-funded candidate.

Thomas raised a lot of money on his own in the primary. He received the endorsement of two current members of Congress early in his campaign. About a month before the primary, the DCCC realized that in the pre-primary reporting period his opponent raised a weak $4,000, while Thomas pulled in nearly $40,000 in less than 15 days without a single dollar coming from PACs. The DCCC then gave the green light for other sitting members of Congress to endorse, including Barney Frank. He received endorsements from two former members of Congress, including Patrick Murphy, the leader in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Still, the Victory Fund wouldn’t endorse. Thomas found support from former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; from the state’s former lieutenant governor who had just run for governor; a progressive PAC dedicated to veteran’s issues and Cecile Richards of National Planned Parenthood. The chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, Rep. Diana DeGette, along with Frank, started raising money for him. What he didn’t ever get was support from many big LGBT donors who told him they only contribute to candidates endorsed by the Victory Fund.

Trevor Thomas wasn’t an unknown quantity. He was deputy communications director at HRC and communications director for SLDN during the final fight for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The executive director of the SLDN was an active supporter and fundraiser for Thomas.

Thomas raised about $400,000 for his campaign and had an independent group backed by veterans chip in another $150,000. He got 45 percent of the vote against a competitor not particularly friendly to the LGBT community, who spent $700,000. If only Thomas had had the early support of the Victory Fund, he might have either kept his opponent out of the race or gone on TV earlier to get his message out. Democratic pollster Mark Mellman shared a poll early in the campaign with the Victory Fund showing if Thomas had the money to get his message out he could win big — with one test showing a win by as much as 20 percent. Thomas’s story was compelling, including the fact that he was a product of the auto-industry, both his parents working the line for more than 30 years.

In Trevor’s case it wasn’t the mere $5,000 the Victory Fund gives to endorsed candidates but rather making people aware of his candidacy so they would give. While the Victory Fund wasn’t even interested in listing him on its website, National Planned Parenthood and a national veterans group, along with Jennifer Granholm, didn’t blink. They knew Thomas, knew his talents, but then so did the silent Victory Fund.

The time has come for the Victory Fund to take a look in the mirror and perhaps rethink their mission. The Victory Fund is based on ground broken by EMILY’s list whose name stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast. Early money is often primary money for an LGBT candidate. It allows them the chance to grow and get their message out. I fully understand having a set of criteria for an endorsement but it is clear that if Trevor Thomas didn’t qualify there is a problem with the current criteria. In Michigan it was EMILY’s List that stood early with Jennifer Granholm when others stood with her primary opponent in her race for governor.  The source and power of EMILY’s List is clear; they stand loyal in oftentimes divided primaries, going up against the DCCC if needed and they fight like hell and win. That’s a lesson to be learned.

Maybe it’s time to develop another organization so LGBT candidates can get their names out to the broader community; a place where every “out” candidate can list themselves, their bios, their positions and an analysis of how they see themselves winning. If the Victory Fund doesn’t feel it necessary to review its current criteria maybe they shouldn’t be the only gatekeeper to funding for LGBT candidates. We need the Victory Fund but if they don’t feel this is their role then we also need an organization dedicated to building that bullpen of LGBT candidates who will become the leaders of the future.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. bkmn

    November 15, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    The DCCC is looking out for the DCCC, not LGBT or progressive candidates. That should be the job of the VF.

    Trevor Thomas had the strong vocal backing of several of the LGBT’s progressive community’s voices but VF turned their back on him.

    The Democratic party may be an ally but they are not always an advocate for the LGBT community (unless the LGBT community pushes real hard, then a fierce advocate may act).

  2. Tom

    November 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    blah blah blah blah blah

    It has been a r-e-a-l-l-y long time since all this political party “inside baseball” hyper gay stuff has been of interest to anyone other than those playing the game. Don’t you guys have newsletters, or some other form of chatting among yourselves? Jeez.

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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Opinion | Blame Mayor Bowser for violence epidemic?

In a word, ‘no,’ as the problem is nationwide

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The simple answer to the question “Does the Mayor get the blame for the violence epidemic?” is NO! This is not something that can be laid at any one person’s feet. The epidemic of gun violence is gripping the entire nation. 

The frustration and outrage I and everyone else feels are palpable. It’s frightening when you hear gunshots in your neighborhood. It makes bigger headlines when the shots fired are in neighborhoods not used to that like the recent shooting on 14th and Riggs, N.W. When the shots rang out patrons of upscale restaurants like Le Diplomate ran or ducked under their tables for cover. When shots were fired outside Nationals stadium the national media lit up to report it. The truth is we must have the same outrage every time shots are fired and people hurt or killed in any neighborhood of our city.  

Trying to lay the blame for this at the feet of the mayor, as some people on social media and in opinion and news columns in the Washington Post are doing is wrong. Some would have you believe the mayor is just sitting by and allowing the violence to happen. There are pleas “Mayor Bowser do something!” as if she could wave a magic wand and the shootings will stop. 

In a recent Washington Post column, “Bowser pressed to act after shootings,” a number of Council members are quoted including Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 2 member Brooke Pinto, Ward 4 member Janeese Lewis George, At-large member Anita Bonds and Ward 5 member Kenyan McDuffie. They all call for something to be done but not one of them says what they would do. It’s clear they are as frustrated and outraged as the rest of us but have no easy answers. What is clear is casting blame on the mayor and police commissioner won’t help to stop the violence and shootings. 

Again, this epidemic of violence isn’t just an issue for D.C. but a national epidemic. Recently our mayor sat beside the president at a White House meeting called to discuss what can be done about this with mayors and law enforcement officials from around the nation. No one from the president down had an answer that can make it stop right away. Many in D.C. would be surprised at the ranking of the 50 cities with the most violent crime per 100,000 residents showing D.C. with 977 violent crimes per 100,000 residents at number 27 behind cities like Rockford, Ill., Anchorage, Ala., and Milwaukee, Wisc. Crime in nearly all those cities and murder rates have gone up, in many cases dramatically, since the pandemic. 

The solution to ending gun violence is to get the guns out of the hands of those who are using them for crime but that is easy to say and much harder to do. We know ending poverty will make a difference. Giving every child a chance at a better education and ensuring real opportunities for every young person will make a difference. We must also hold people responsible for the serious crimes they commit and often courts are a system of revolving door justice where we find the same people arrested for a serious crime back on the street committing another one and the same gun used for multiple crimes.

There are anti-crime programs that might work but they need buy-in from the entire community including activists and the clergy who must work in concert with our political leadership. D.C. is funding a host of programs including ‘violence disrupters,’ job training, and  mental health and substance abuse programs. They all need more money and more support. 

In D.C., we have only 16 elected officials with real power; the Council, the mayor, the attorney general and our congressional representative. We have community leaders elected to local ANCs. When members of the council attack the mayor, some simply to make political hay for their own future election, it won’t solve any problems. 

This must be viewed as a crisis and our 16 elected leaders should sit down, agree to a series of anti-crime programs and efforts they will adequately fund, and stop attacking each other. Once they agree on the programs to fund they should bring together ANC members from across the city to a meeting at the convention center and work out a plan for what each can do to move us forward to safer neighborhoods. 

We must work together as one if we are to succeed in making life safer and better for all. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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