LAS VEGAS – Despite anger with three gay and bisexual U.S. House members for voting with Republicans to block Syrian refugees from entering the United States, the head of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund says the organization won’t drop support for the lawmakers in the upcoming election.
Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO of the Victory Fund, made the remarks in a brief interview with the Washington Blade after her speech Friday during the 2015 International LGBT Leadership Conference.
Moodie-Mills said she was made aware of the disappointment in the lawmakers’ votes via Twitter, but on the issue of endorsements said the Victory Fund and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute are “not policy advocacy organizations.”
“I don’t have an opinion about…who’s doing what, where about Syria,” Moodie-Mills said. “Because Syria, I tell you, is certainly not my policy expertise, and it is the furthest thing from Victory Institute’s expertise.”
Moodie-Mills said the Victory Fund continues to have three criteria for endorsing candidates: They must be viable, pro-choice and in favor of LGBT rights.
“That’s about as deep in the weeds on any policy ideas or legislative maneuvers that we get,” she added. “Other organizations are dealing with issues and issue advocacy, but that’s not the role that we play. And for our candidates and for our elected officials, we surely don’t get involved in the devil of the details of how they legislate and what they vote for and what they support.”
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay; Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who’s gay, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who’s bisexual, were among the 47 House Democrats who voted for the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, or H.R. 4038, which passed the Republican-controlled U.S. House last week. The bill would expand background checks on Iraqi and Syrian refugees hoping to enter the United States, but critics say the legislation would have the effect of barring them entirely.
Some LGBT advocates rebuked Polis, Maloney and Sinema for their “yes” votes, arguing members of the LGBT community should support another community facing persecution.
Among those critics is Michelangelo Signorile, a New York-based LGBT advocate who said on his Facebook page the votes are “totally shameful” and the Victory Fund “should dump” the three lawmakers.
“Equality should be litmus test of anyone in ‘LGBT Equality Caucus’ in Congress,” Signorile said. “And realize that these individuals voted against desperate LGBT Syrian refugees — there was hope 500 of the refugee spaces would be set aside for them.”
Moodie-Mills, who assumed her role as head of the Victory Fund seven months ago, said despite the change in leadership at the organization she sees “no changes right now” to the group’s endorsement process.
“In the past, Victory’s win rate has hovered somewhere around 70 percent, which is higher than both political parties, or the Tea Party for sure,” Moodie-Mills said. “At any given time, the really competitive races for both political parties aren’t that high. And it has been because our current endorsement process is pretty rigorous, so we make sure we’re getting people who can actually win. And that’s a big deal for us.”
Moodie-Mills addressed the issue of endorsements just weeks after Election Day, when some Victory Fund-endorsed candidates won, like lesbian candidate Jackie Biskupski in her bid to become Salt Lake City’s mayor, while others lost, like lesbian candidate Ginny Deerin in Charleston, S.C.
According to the Victory Fund, the win rate for endorsed candidates in the 2015 election cycle was 65 percent.
Moodie-Mills said 2015 ended up being a “hard” year, but she drew attention to the Deerin campaign, saying it was a success at some level despite the loss at the polls.
“Her being there shifted the narrative and the conversation around ideas,” Moodie-Mills said. “Her being a queer woman ended up being a non-factor [amid] all the different things that she did to transform that landscape. So, it’s sad that she didn’t win, it’s disappointing she didn’t win, but the investment that was made there has absolutely created some infrastructure and growth for us that we can go back and be able to win the next time.”
For the upcoming election in 2016, Moodie-Mills said she couldn’t project the number of candidates Victory Fund would support, but endorsements would come soon.
Among the openly gay candidates pursuing a bid for Congress is Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims, a Democrat who declared in October his candidacy to run for the state’s 2nd congressional district. In that race, Moodie-Mills said she’s “pretty sure we’re going to endorse relatively soon.”
About 18 openly LGBT candidates are either exploring or pursuing a bid for Congress, Moodie-Mills said, calling that number “unprecedented.”
“That’s a lot of people,” Moodie-Mills said. “Victory’s not endorsing all of them. We haven’t endorsed many of them at this point, but it’ll be interesting to see those applications come through. It’s pretty exciting to be in such a sea change with so many running for Congress.”