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November a
potential turning point

November a
potential turning point


After 15 years of hard work helping to elect hundreds of gay and lesbian candidates nationwide, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund may be facing its most important challenge yet: the next four months.

Whatever your political stripe, the upcoming election is, as ever, exceedingly important to the LGBT community. Americans will decide not only a handful of anti-gay marriage amendments but perhaps the balance of power in many state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. And in towns, counties, and states across the country, voters also will have the opportunity to elect openly LGBT candidates to public office, some in places where their election to office will make history.

Fifteen years after the founding of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund we've seen a 500% increase in the number of openly LGBT elected officials. Our success in recruiting and helping to elect candidates is real, but context is necessary to understand the scope of the work ahead. Of the 511,000 elective offices in the United States, only 350 are filled by openly LGBT officials--just .068%. Not even James Dobson thinks our numbers are that miniscule.

It's tempting to take for granted openly LGBT incumbents in progressive cities and districts. Holding on to those gains and expanding our voice in those places is vital. But it's equally important to reach beyond our comfort zones and work harder to elect courageous candidates in places where no openly LGBT representation exists. At a time when fighting for equality can often mean blunting attacks and preventing backsliding, having openly LGBT lawmakers at the same table with their straight colleagues makes a remarkable difference. Real people with real stories always do.

In places where we have seen success, the work of changing hearts and minds is encouraging. In Maryland, a Republican lawmaker switched her vote on a bill that would secure minimal rights for same-sex couples, telling a gay colleague that she'd done so for him and his partner and their daughter. In Washington State, a long-stalled civil rights bill is now law because a handful of openly LGBT lawmakers would not give up. In the Virginia assembly a bill that would have made it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt was defeated by one vote. You guessed it. There's exactly one openly gay legislator in that body.

Earlier this year we helped to elect the first openly LGBT legislator ever in Arkansas. We also hope to make history in Alabama, Iowa, and Oklahoma, while keeping hard-won seats in places like Washington State, Georgia, and California.

A recent Zogby poll found that 70% of Americans would vote for an openly gay or lesbian candidate if that person shared their political views. Our job at the Victory Fund is to find, recruit, and equip qualified, committed LGBT candidates who can win. We've endorsed nearly 60 candidates so far, and this could be our biggest year yet.

The temptation in summer is to recline, sip frosty beverages, and throw oneself into a delicious novel; a retreat from reality seems overdue for most of us. For the Victory Fund, summer is tinged with the notion that November edges ever closer. Americans head to the polls in less than four months, and we've got work to do.

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