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Inside the plan to double the number of LGBTQ+ members of Congress (exclusive)

Equality Pac Mark Takano and Ritchie Torres with Nancy Pelosi
Jeff Larivee

Democratic U.S. Reps. Mark Takano and Ritchie Torres discuss their fundraising prowess in an exclusive interview with The Advocate.

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As the 2024 election draws nearer and the stakes could not be higher, money continues to be the ingredient that can make or break a campaign. Democratic U.S. Reps. Ritchie Torres of New York and Mark Takano of California, co-chairs of Equality PAC, spearhead a formidable fundraising campaign with the goal of doubling the number of LGBTQ+ members in Congress this election cycle.

Their efforts have already raised about $12 million, positioning the PAC as a significant player in the political landscape. Takano and Torres spoke exclusively with The Advocate to discuss the importance of these efforts.

Equality PAC, one of several identity-based political action committees that fund Congressional campaigns, has been pivotal in supporting LGBTQ+ candidates nationwide. Initially focused on protecting vulnerable incumbents, the PAC has expanded its reach to include emerging LGBTQ+ candidates.

Equality Pac Mark Takano and Ritchie Torres with Nancy Pelosi Jeff Larivee

“We’re small but mighty. We can punch above our weight class, and Equality PAC has emerged as an outsized player in the latest election cycle,” Torres told The Advocate.

Takano said that's because Equality PAC’s fundraising approach has evolved.

“We began to use remainder money, money that we couldn’t use for maximum donations to vulnerable incumbents,” he said. “We started to see that we could raise a good deal of money online, and it took us from maybe less than $100,000 into over a million, two million dollars.”

Currently, there are nine LGBTQ+ members of the House of Representatives. Takano and Torres say that the PAC’s efforts have been particularly impactful for candidates like Julie Johnson in Texas and Evan Low in California, where Equality PAC’s early and significant investments have made crucial differences in tightly contested primaries.

“Julie Johnson avoided a runoff by 105 votes, thanks to Equality PAC’s involvement," Torres said. "These are documented, demonstrable impacts in lifting up LGBTQ+ candidates for Congress."

Among the notable candidates endorsed by Equality PAC, one stands out with historic potential: Sarah McBride, running for Delaware’s at-large Congressional district. If elected, she would become the first transgender member of Congress.

“There’s a lot of excitement and momentum going in her direction, particularly because of the importance that it would be to elect the first trans member of Congress,” said Torres. “Sarah’s candidacy is a huge statement and a huge pushback on the culture wars that the Republicans have been waging.”

Takano emphasized the unique impact McBride’s presence would have. “Ritchie and I can’t humanize trans issues in the way that Sarah McBride can with her mere presence. Every audience responds to her. They are so impressed with her,” he said.

McBride’s campaign has garnered significant attention and enthusiasm within the LGBTQ+ community and beyond. Her victory would make history and bring an essential voice to Congress in the fight for transgender rights.

“The best representative of the LGBTQ+ community is an LGBTQ+ elected official,” said Torres. “If you have a trans member of Congress looking the Republicans in the eye, confronting them with the reality of their bigotry, it makes dehumanization and demonization far more complicated.”

Equality PAC’s slate includes several other potential history-makers. Johnson would be the first out LGBTQ+ member of Congress from the South and the first to represent Texas at the federal level. Emily Randall would be the first out LGBTQ+ member of Congress from Washington State and the first out LGBTQ+ Latina member of Congress. Eddy Morales would be the first LGBTQ+ member of Congress from Oregon. Low would be the first LGBTQ+ member of Congress from Northern California and the Bay Area.

Equality Pac Mark Takano and Ritchie Torres with Nancy Pelosi Jeff Larivee

Equality PAC remains undeterred despite the challenges posed by a resurgent right-wing culture war. According to the congressmen, the dedication to increasing LGBTQ+ representation in Congress is not just about numbers but about ensuring that the voices of the LGBTQ+ community are authentically represented.

“Our overarching purpose is to pass the Equality Act,” said Takano. “We know we can’t do that without an equality Congress, and that’s why we make that extra commitment to our colleagues and future colleagues whether they’re LGBTQ or not.”

As the election cycle progresses, Torres and Takano are calling on supporters to continue their contributions and support for Equality PAC’s mission. According to them, the stakes are high, but the potential rewards — a Congress that more accurately reflects the diversity of the American people — are even higher.

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re probably on the menu,” Torres said. “The Equality PAC exists to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community has a seat at the congressional table.”

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).