The national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund is serious about local politics in Tennessee.
Tennessee is one of seven states that does not have an openly GLBT person elected to public office. It’s a statistic that Nashvillian and newly appointed Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund board member David Taylor hopes to change.
“The Victory Fund is committed to help us change that, which we expect to do this summer,” Taylor said. “But their support and our efforts won’t stop then. We need to be represented at all levels of government in Tennessee and we won’t stop until that happens.”
Taylor noted it was an impressive track record of the Victory Fund that convinced him to join the board of directors. He is the first Tennessean to serve on the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund board.
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund is the nation’s largest GLBT political action committee and the only national organization dedicated to increasing the number of openly GLBT elected officials at all levels of government. They do so by providing strategic, technical and financial support to openly GLBT candidates and their campaigns.
“I am tired of losing,” Taylor said. “It wears me down and I think that it wears our community down. We need political ‘wins’ for our community, and it’s my belief that the Victory Fund is the most effective national GLBT organization to help us achieve local wins.”
Taylor added that last year the Victory Fund helped elect 67 people to public office, including Patricia Todd in Alabama (the first openly GLBT person elected to the Alabama State House) as well as Oklahoma’s first GLBT State Representative Al McAffrey.
"They endorsed 88 candidates and 67 won,” he explained. “That’s a winning percentage of 77 percent. These are all members of the GLBT community, not just ‘gay-friendly’ candidates.”
Nashville may soon see the Victory Fund at work. Shane Burkett, an openly gay man in Nashville’s Hermitage community, is running for Metro Council for District 12 and Keith Durbin, an openly gay man in Nashville’s Belmont-Hillsboro community, is running for Metro Council District 18. And those two may not be the only GLBT candidates running.
At press time Taylor said both candidates were in the application process for a Victory Fund Endorsement, but added that he was “thrilled” to see openly gay candidates run for local office.
“The difference between being at the political table, so to speak, and simply having ‘gay friendly’ supporters at the table is enormous,” he said. “Think of the different dialogue we would have heard in Nashville during the debate over the equality ordinance a few years back if there had been an openly gay person on the Metro Council. At the very least, we would have had a voice to rebut all of the horrible lies that were being said about our community on the council floor. Instead, we all had to sit quietly behind the bar listening to others debate our lives and issues. It’s wrong, and it needs to change.”
In order to get Victory Fund endorsement, each candidate must make application to the Victory Fund and go through a vetting process.
“The Victory Fund learned a long time ago that the secret of success for any politician is to meet the needs of and to serve his/her district,” Taylor said. “This takes a multi-faceted, proven leader who truly understand the issues of his/her district and greater community and who is committed to help solve the most pressing problems facing his/her constituents. While every endorsed Victory Fund candidate must support GLBT equality rights and other issues important to the GLBT community, we are not seeking single-issue candidates who simply want to work for GLBT equality. The Victory Fund does a wonderful job of determining the electoral viability of candidates and focuses its financial resources on those candidates who have the greatest chances of winning and who are in the areas where there is the greatest need for elected GLBT people.”
Local legislators can make a tremendous difference. For instance, in Arkansas, State Representative Kathy Webb, (the first open GLBT state representative in Arkansas), has been instrumental in stopping a bill that would have banned adoption by gay couples in Arkansas. Webb lobbied her colleagues on the State House Judiciary Committee to kill the measure, and many groups involved in the fight say her mere presence on the committee, and in the House, went a long way to stopping the anti-gay measure.
“When folks get to know a fellow lawmaker who is GLBT they become much better informed when making decisions that affect our lives and are less likely to support hateful and divisive bills,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he encouraged anyone and everyone in the GLBT Tennessee community to consider getting involved in local politics.
“If you are interested in running for office, let me know,” he said. “And if you are not interested in running for office, we need your financial support. You can donate online – www.victoryfund.org – or feel free to call me at Tribe (615-329-2912) to learn more information about the Victory Fund and how you might contribute to this important organization.”