May 25, 2017 at 9:59 am EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Fighting for a seat at the table
National Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sunday was the Victory Fund’s annual National Champagne Brunch. It seemed low key compared to previous years. It is an off year for major races with LGBT candidates. The welcome was delivered by Kim Hoover, chair of the Victory Fund board. She spoke well as usual and I say that not only because I was a guest at her table. Hoover and her wife Lynne Hackney have dedicated countless hours and money to promoting the values of our community and supporting candidates across the country who share a vision for equality. She had the honor of introducing Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) who delivered the keynote.

Baldwin was great as always and spoke of how we need to stand together and continue to speak out, especially in these difficult times. She spoke of the fact that our wins in this Congress and with this White House may be simply managing to maintain what we have won before. Baldwin is a target of the GOP in her 2018 re-election bid and you can help ensure her voice continues to be heard.

It was a monied crowd at the Omni Shoreham Hotel ballroom. It is crucial everyone there contribute to the max if we are to fund the work of organizations like Victory Fund. But maybe in the future they could drop the word “Champagne” from the name of their brunch. Somehow it just reeks of elitism. Now, it is an elite group and, of course, not everyone can afford to attend, but I think the public image of the organization is also really important. I remember when HRC was HRCF and colloquially called the Human Rights Champagne Fund. They got away from that long ago and while it may not change the organization, image does matter.

A number of other candidates aside from Baldwin were introduced and spoke but to many the highlight of the afternoon was South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. My friend Jeffrey went as far as calling him the “Gay JFK.” He is a dynamic young man and we will hear much from him in the future. Even though he lost, he made a good impression on Democrats nationally when he put his hat into the ring for the position of chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Except for Buttigieg who compared us to other communities and said “our common suffering is greater than our differences” what I missed from most of those who spoke was the recognition we won’t be successful if we don’t join with others also fighting for their full civil and human rights; women, African Americans and other minorities, and immigrants. The work we must do to bring our own divided community together. To me one of the goals of promoting and electing a diverse group of LGBT candidates must be that when they win they use their seat at the table to fight for those who are the most marginalized in our own community along with the poor, workers and the middle class.

My experience attending political fundraisers began many years ago with the Democratic Party. For years, no event like this would have concluded without the workers and waiters who helped make the event a success being thanked from the stage. A friend sitting at a table that was purchased by a union brought my attention to the fact none of the organization’s speakers did that.

Baldwin counseled us to “focus on the future.” To understand that we must be prepared when our turn to control the levers of government comes again, and it will. To win, LGBT candidates will not only have to focus on the future when talking to their constituents but also learn to speak to voters across the broad spectrum of society. It will be incumbent on the Victory Fund in its candidate trainings to remind candidates of this and in many cases teach them what it means. It is speech that should be modeled by those who work for all our LGBT organizations when they stand in front of an audience.

It is fine at these events to speak to each other but it may be just as important and productive in the long run to speak to those who are serving us our meal so they believe we also really care about making life better for them and their families.

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

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