May 17, 2016 at 12:49 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Victory Fund honors LGBT lawmakers at brunch
Valerie Jarrett, Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, drew loud applause when she was introduced and walked to the podium. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Leaders of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund told several hundred people gathered in Washington for the group’s National Champagne Brunch on May 15 that electing openly LGBT candidates to public office is an important means of stopping dozens of anti-LGBT bills pending in state legislatures across the country.

The annual brunch, which serves as a fundraiser, marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Victory Fund. Officials noted that the group was created to advance the cause of LGBT equality by recruiting, training and raising money to help elect LGBT people to public office on the local, state and national levels.

Aisha Moodie-Mills, who was named president and CEO of the Victory Fund a little over a year ago, told the gathering at the Omni Shoreham Hotel that she had hoped this year’s brunch would continue the celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision last June legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country.

“So here we are, on the eve of celebrating the year anniversary of marriage equality next month,” Moodie-Mills said. “But are we partying like we thought we’d be?” she asked. “No – the LGBT movement isn’t giving high fives right now.”

Added Moodie-Mills, “Because, as we say where I’m from in Jersey, we are literally ‘guarding our grills and knuckling up’ to fight off the 200 anti-LGBT bills that are being introduced in states all around the country.”

She noted that most of the so-called “bathroom bills” introduced in state legislatures this year are targeting transgender people in what she called “hate-filled attacks designed to derail the basic rights we just secured less than a year ago, as well as attempts to dehumanize transgender people in some of the most ridiculous ways possible.”

Moodie-Mills and other speakers at the Victory Fund event noted that states where openly LGBT people have been elected to their respective legislatures are less likely to pass anti-LGBT laws, including the so-called “bathroom” measures requiring trans people to use public bathrooms that match their gender at birth.

“We will achieve victory for all by electing people in the pockets of this country where equality has been slow to arrive – regions like the South, the Rust Belt and the Midwest,” said Moodie-Mills. “And we won’t declare victory until LGBT people are fully represented in every run of our government – from the school board, to the statehouse, to one day even the White House.”

There are currently more than 450 “out and proud” LGBT elected officials in offices ranging from city and town councils, state legislatures, the U.S. House of Representatives and one U.S. Senator – Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), according to information released by the Victory Fund.

Baldwin, who spoke to the May 15 brunch through a video recording, said she was hopeful that many more out LGBT candidates would win election to public office this year.

So far this year, the group has endorsed about 97 out LGBT candidates, including one – Jim Gray of Kentucky – who’s running for the U.S. Senate, and another four running for U.S. House seats.

Victory Fund officials note that there are currently five openly gay members of the U.S. House and one bisexual woman, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of the gay House members, drew loud cheers when he told the Victory Fund brunch gathering on Sunday that if just one more LGBT person wins election to the House in November “we will be the gayest Congress in history – that we know of.”

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, wasn’t on the official list of speakers at the event. She drew loud applause when she was introduced and walked to the podium.

Citing what she called Obama’s strong record of support for LGBT rights during his nearly eight years in office, Jarrett said she was especially proud of the president’s directive requiring states to comply with court rulings holding that anti-transgender discrimination violates existing federal law.

“We have to stand up for them,” she said, referring to efforts by some states to pass laws banning trans people from using public bathrooms matching their gender identity. “We should be grateful that President Obama is fighting back.”

Another speaker at the brunch was LaWana Mayfield, a member of the Charlotte, N.C., City Council who co-introduced the LGBT non-discrimination bill passed by the Council that prompted the North Carolina Legislature to overturn it and adopt its widely denounced “bathroom” bill.

Less well known than the infamous bathroom bill, Mayfield told the gathering, was an earlier attempt by some members of the Charlotte City Council to remove transgender protections from the bill on grounds that it would be less controversial.

“We said no,” she recounted. “And mind you, that ‘no’ brought on the big backlash” from the state legislature.

“I was asked why not take what you can get right now,” said Mayfield, a lesbian. “I said it was unacceptable to not have all LGBT people protected.”

Other speakers at the event included Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List; Angie Craig, a U.S. House candidate in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District; William Waybourn, the Victory Fund’s first executive director at the time of its 1991 founding; and Chuck Wolfe, the group’s immediate past president and CEO.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, Courtney Snowden, a longtime local LGBT rights advocate, welcomed attendees of the brunch at an opening cocktail reception. Bowser urged Victory Fund supporters to speak out in their homes states for the District’s latest effort to persuade Congress to approve D.C. statehood.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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