Q&A with Charlotte City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield

When North Carolina's HB2 the first state level anti-transgender “bathroom bill” to pass, we were left wondering if things would have gone differently had there been an LGBT voice present in the legislature. We decided to host our Candidate & Campaign Training in Charlotte this June to help train openly LGBT community leaders to run for public office, understanding that when LGBT people are elected, laws like HB2 are much more likely to be stopped.

One elected official who understands just how much LGBT representation matters is LaWana Mayfield, who serves on the Charlotte City Council. Through her work on the council and with the National League of Cities, LaWana shares Victory’s goal of changing the face and voice of American politics in order to enact progress for LGBT people. We spoke with LaWana about her experience as a candidate and elected official in North Carolina, the dynamics in the state post-HB2 and what participants can expect at a Candidate & Campaign Training.

Victory: How did you first decide to run for office?

I was working with a local LGBT advocacy group, and we were trying to identify someone openly LGBT to run for office, and I was part of that first committee. But I think my team had a meeting without me where they let me know they decided that I should actually be the one to run. So I had never heard of Victory prior to when I was looking to run. My campaign began in March, and there was a Victory training less than five weeks later. Friends and family pulled together to help get me to the training, because it was such a short turn around for me to go through this intensive, weekend-long training.

Victory: So what happens during the Victory Candidate & Campaign Trainings?

Mayfield: Since I had no idea what it looked like to even consider running for office, for me the first thing was being in a room with all of these other people like me who were openly identifying as lesbian, gay and bisexual that said, “Hey, I want to run for office!” or “I want to work on a campaign!” We received this booklet that was filled with information with everything from fundraising and beyond, and how you actually do that work.

All of it was really like drinking water from a fire hydrant with the amount of information you receive. You went through mock trainings, you had to go through mock interviews, you had to come up with a platform, you had to think about why you were running. A lot of people might say they want to run for office, but what’s your platform that’s going to get people to come out and support you and actually write the check to donate to your campaign? Before the training was over, you had to do your very first ask with your counterparts that were in the room with you. So my very first donation came from that room after the training.

Victory: How did it feel making that ask for the first time?

Mayfield: It was nerve wracking! It took a long time, because even after the training, coming back home you have to show a certain level of support before Victory chips in. As a community volunteer for over 25 years in the Charlotte area, I was not used to asking for anything for me. But thanks to Victory, I learned that I wasn’t asking for money for me, I was asking for money for me to do the work of the people.

Victory: How do we get more openly LGBT people deciding to run?

Mayfield: The first thing is getting them to better know who Victory is and what work they do. So that people know that there is a support system out there to help you. I think a lot of people don’t even know how to run for office even though they may have a passion and may have been volunteering. And the way politics is set up, a lot of times you think you need to be in a certain financial bracket to run. If you look at who mostly are elected officials, they’re people who are independently financially sound or people who are attorneys or are in executive positions and have all the potential time off that you need to actually show up and do the service. And I don’t think a lot of people realize that local office is a part-time job – and you need the economic means to survive.

Victory: Why is a primary focus on state/local office so critical for LGBT progress?

Mayfield: That old adage of you’re either at the table or you’re on the menu is very real! When I worked as a community organizer, specifically with MeckPAC, we had attempted for years to get the city of Charlotte to expand employee benefits and ensure that LGBT-identifying employees who were in relationships have access to the benefits. And it never happened. Within six months of me being in office we passed domestic partner benefits. Within six months!

The reality of that really helped change the dialogue. One of my colleagues who I had lobbied before years ago, told me a couple of months after we passed domestic partner benefits, that he and the others had a conversation. And because they had gotten to know me, and they got to know my partner, they saw our relationship and all its love and respect. That’s how they knew that to say “no” to partner benefits, would be a direct “no” to the two of us. We really put a face to it – it was no longer just an idea out of nowhere, because it’s easy to say you don’t know any gay people. Well guess what, there are more than 10,000 openly identifying LGBT people or supporters just here in the Charlotte area.

So we’re here and need to be recognized, but the conversation changed by having someone at the table who was elected by the people – just as they were elected by the people. Having a conversation about how this work directly affects people on the ground is vital at the state and local levels.

Victory: Do you think the obstacles you faced as a candidate in 2011 are the same today?

Mayfield: I think it’s a little different. Because honestly, I didn’t face nearly as many obstacles as a lot of other people have faced. But I believe that is because I had worked in the community for so many years around homelessness, and other issues surrounding equity inequality. So it was a lot harder to say that I was just going to be a one-issue person. No one could say that the only issue I would care about would be the “gay stuff.” So they couldn’t write me off, because people were able to stand up for me and say, “I’ve worked with LaWana on these numerous issues in the community for years. And either I did or I didn’t know that she was gay. But what I do know is that she shows up and she does the work.”

So I think we in the LGBT community have to be more present in the community at large that we’re saying we want to be a part of. You have to get on boards and local commissions that are appointed positions, you have to show up and volunteer to build that bridge of the issues that are important to everyone: access to jobs, access to a better quality of life – those are things that everyone can relate to. Let’s start there and then we’ll work down to the issue that we’re in a right-to-work state and you can be fired for these reasons and let’s look at the reality of being openly LGBT at your office – you can be fired. 

Victory: You already mentioned passing domestic partner benefits. What is another of your accomplishments that you’re especially proud of since being elected?

Mayfield: Passing Ban the Box legislation. In 2008, as a community volunteer and organizer, I was part of the group between the local Charlotte School of Law and several community leaders, and we actually wrote the legislation for Ban the Box. But, fast forward to 2013, and we get it passed on Charlotte City Council. So eight years later, from a conversation that I helped start as a community advocate then a part of it being on the Council and having it pass.

Victory: How did you react to HB2 getting passed?

Mayfield: Extremely disappointed. Because it was not about the fear of assault in the restrooms. It was clearly a political move. And it was a way some of our representatives saw as the best way to sure up some of their conservative support. Not to mention, HB2 opened the door for discrimination period. You’ve got to have a way to fight that on a state level, automatically pushing it up to the federal level. It also took the ability away for local municipalities to govern on their own for their constituents.

Victory: So how do we as a community move forward from this?

Mayfield: Well first, we have to change the conversation with the business community. Saying that you’re not going to come to North Carolina, yes, because in the beginning of all this it showed people the financial impact in order for them to know that this was real. But the other side of that is, if progressive companies stay away, they’re not bringing the benefits to protect their employees, they’re not bringing the volunteer hours or the donor dollars into the community to support local organizations that are fighting for equity and equality.

Basically, you’re letting the other side win. Then we’re going to be stuck with a higher unemployment rate. Businesses that have been supporters of the LGBT community through job creation and donor hours and dollars, now are suffering. If those businesses have to close their doors, then what happens?

Victory: In the wake of HB2, Victory is coming to Charlotte to host a Candidate & Campaign Training. What are you most looking forward to that weekend?

Mayfield: For me, to be in the room and help other people who may be nervous about the idea of running. To help them, tell them my story, and to say, whatever the idea of a politician is – get rid of it! Because on paper, I’m not that person. At all. And yet I’m going into my third term, my fifth year of being in office, and am still making change.

For them to know, that if you utilize and take advantage of every opportunity in front of you, starting with this training, you can be a successful candidate, a successful campaign manager, a successful policy maker – all around the issues that are most important to you.

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Are you ready to run? Apply here to join us in Charlotte on June 23-26!

Meet Spotlight Candidate Daniel Hernandez

The name Daniel Hernandez may sound familiar. In 2011, as just a 20-year-old intern for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Daniel was credited by many for saving Giffords’ life after she was shot during a public event in Tucson. Since then, Daniel has gone on to work in Arizona politics himself, serving on the Sunnyside District School Board for five years, and is now setting his sights even higher.  

Daniel is a candidate for his district’s seat in the Arizona state house. Should he win the election, Daniel will be the only openly LGBT person serving in the state House at a time when state legislatures are playing an even more critical role than ever in the fight for LGBT equality nationwide.  

As one of our Spotlight Candidates, Daniel spoke with us about his past experiences and why he’s running to represent Tucson's District 2 in the legislature.  

Victory: Why did you decide to run for the state legislature? 

Hernandez: There are a variety of reasons. I’ve spent five years on my school board, and as a board member, I’m driven to run because the decisions currently being made in Phoenix have negatively affected my district numerous times. Arizona consistently ranks amongst the lowest in the U.S. in terms of per-person education funding. We’re always at the bottom of the pack.  

Additionally, I would be the only openly LGBT person in the state legislature if I were to be elected. At one time we had as many as 5 openly LGBT members of the legislature, but there is currently no LGBT representation in the statehouse. I believe it is crucial to have at least one – ideally more – LGBT person at the state level to not only advocate against some of the anti-LGBT bills being considered, but also to introduce and advocate for pro-LGBT and anti-discrimination in the state house.  

Victory: Many people know you as the intern who saved Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' life when she was shot in 2011. How has that tragedy shaped your public service? 

Hernandez: There are so many issues that need my work and my attention. Reducing gun violence is certainly something I have worked for (I’ve helped lobby against extending background checks for guns in the past) and it was something I did focus on as a school board member. In that capacity, my focus was on the safety of the students and teachers in my district, and was then something I had to speak up about.  

My work has and will always be about doing what’s best for the kids and families of my district, increasing opportunities available to people of color and people living in poverty in my district – working to enact change and get things done. I have focused on learning more about understanding the impacts our policies have on actual households, and how to better advocate for them and bettering my work.  

Victory: How does being the only openly LGBT member of your school board impact the work you’re doing? 

Hernandez: There have been many times where it wasn’t easy. When I was first elected to the school board, they tried to recall me. And their efforts against me were heavily based in homophobic attacks against me. But after the recall effort failed, I was able to accomplish numerous things while on the board, and while serving as its president for a year and a half.  

As president, we were successful in passing comprehensive sex education legislation for the first time ever in our district, allowing us to provide basic and necessary information to our students regarding sexual health. However, Arizona has ‘no promo-homo’ laws that have been on the books since the 80s and early 90s, that prohibit us from providing basic LGBT-oriented sex ed in our schools. So this is just one example of how very limited we are in what we’re able to accomplish on the local level, based on what bills are or are not coming out of the state legislature.  

But while I was president, I was able to accomplish five major things in that year and a half: we opened a new school focusing on arts integration and STEM, we hired a new superintendent, we developed a strategic plan for our district for the first time in 15 years and we conducted a compensation study for our school employees. For me, this underscores the importance of what can be accomplished when we come together and get a lot of things done simultaneously, instead of working against one another.  

Victory: How have you responded to the homophobic attacks that get made against you? 

Hernandez: You develop a really thick skin. I’m frequently reminded of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote of having “skin as thick as a rhinoceros hide” that Hillary Clinton often refers to as well. What I think is most important is how you respond to these types of attacks. I chose not to get down in the gutter like the people attempting to recall me, but rather I focused on the work, and that’s what’s really important. Like I said, we were able to accomplish five really important things during my short time as president because I found ways to work with the people who had opposed me and focus on what truly mattered for our job. 

Victory: In your eyes, what is at stake in this election for LGBT people living in Arizona? 

Hernandez: Not having a voice at the state-level that understands what it’s like to be openly LGBT, or closeted even, in Arizona. About 15 years ago, we had decent LGBT representation at both the state and local levels. Now we have a few city councilmembers here and there, but nowhere near what we used to have in terms of LGBT representation.  

Especially at the state level, this is a critical time for LGBT equality in Arizona. There are numerous bills coming before the state legislature like religious freedom legislation and a bill regarding the adoption eligibility of LGBT couples. In addition to the issues of these bathroom bills that we’re seeing across the country and protections against discrimination based on gender identity and expression – we need elected officials who can articulate in smart and passionate ways on behalf of LGBT people and can work to build coalitions within the state legislature to prevent some of these bills from being passed.  

Victory: How can we encourage more young LGBT individuals to run for office? 

Hernandez: By showcasing and highlighting that people have and can be successful. The number one question I always get is: Who is your role model? We need to be able to point to people on all levels who can satisfy that question who are qualified, dedicated and openly LGBT.  

That is why I believe the work that Victory does is so very important and necessary. Not only does Victory help people run, but it helps to prepare them before they ever run, providing them with the skills and resources necessary to launch a successful campaign.  

Angie Craig rakes in over $400K in Quarter 1

Minnesota Congressional candidate Angie Craig announced yesterday that she raised over $400,000 in the first quarter of 2016.

With over 115 different endorsements from groups like Victory Fund and EMILY’s List, Angie's ability to fundraise signals that she's on track to win the seat in November. The biggest sign of the campaign's growing bank of support is the 3,000+ individual donors who've opened their wallets for Angie.

Recently, Cook Political Report upgraded Angie's district from 'leans Republican" to "toss up."

“Voters in the Second Congressional District are ready for someone who will fight for opportunities for all families, including high-quality education and affordable college, help create good-paying jobs that grow economic opportunity, and protect Medicare and Social Security for our seniors” Angie said. “I am humbled by the outpouring of support from individuals who are ready and willing to invest in this campaign and in our future.”

Five Republicans are competing for their party’s nomination to replace anti-LGBT Rep. John Kline.  Angie's opponents in the DFL primary dropped out of the race earlier this year.

Angie's race presents a rare opportunity to replace an outgoing anti-LGBT member of Congress with a campion for LGBT rights.

Contribute directly to Angie’s campaign.

Victory to train LGBT candidates in North Carolina following anti-LGBT law

Last week, North Carolina stripped its LGBT residents of basic protections when Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill revoking local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances across the state. The bill effectively legalizes discrimination and added a requirement that will bar transgender individuals from using public restrooms that align with their gender identitiy. 

Now more than ever, LGBT representation in government is crucial to roll back these antiquated and hateful laws. It’s no coincidence that North Carolina does not have a single openly LGBT person elected to state-wide office or serving in the legislature.

As LGBT people in North Carolina continue to fight for dignity and respect, Victory is expanding our efforts in the state with a Candidate & Campaign Training in Charlotte this June 23-26.

The Charlotte Candidate & Campaign Training will arm participants with the tools to develop a winning strategy for local, state and federal elections. The four-day event provides comprehensive, non-partisan training to present and future LGBT candidates, campaign staff and community leaders. At the training, Victory provides future candidates with the necessary skills and strategies to lead their campaigns to victory by engaging in tough and realistic campaign solutions. 

For 25 years, Victory has trained thousands of LGBT leaders, including openly LGBT Charlotte City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield. Other notable alumni include U.S. Representative Jared Polis and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker. North Carolina’s discriminatory bill followed Charlotte City Council’s recent decision to permit transgender individuals to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity – a direct result of having openly LGBT leaders like Mayfield on the Council.

Interested candidates can apply for the Charlotte training here.   

Angie Craig’s district declared ‘toss-up’

In a mid-March update of its Congressional seat forecast, Cook Political Report upgraded the race for Minnesota’s District 2 Congressional seat from “leans Republican” to “toss-up,” a boost to Victory spotlight candidate Angie Craig.

Angie is running to become the first openly LGBT person to represent her state in Congress. Outgoing Rep. John Kline was an opponent of LGBT equality measures, once blocking an anti-discrimination amendment from being added to a bill he was shepherding as chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

“This objective, nonpartisan ranking provides some of the best insight into the state of Congressional races,” said Political Director Mike McCall said in an email to Victory supporters. “Angie's upgrade speaks volumes to who she is as a candidate.”

The district’s toss-up status means that it will likely become one of the most expensive races in the country, as both Democrats and Republicans see the opportunity to seize the seat.

You can support Victory’s efforts to elect more LGBT leaders in Congress here

Six Victory candidates advance in Tuesday primaries

Rep. Kelly Cassidy accepts the Victory Leadership Award at Victory's 2015 Windy City Toasts. 

Primary elections in three states Tuesday advanced six Victory candidates, according to unofficial results. All of the races were uncontested.

In Illinois, state Representatives Kelly Cassidy and Greg Harris breezed through their primaries with no opponent. Both legislators are outspoken champions of the LGBT community in the state.

Former North Carolina state Senator Julia Boseman – running for New Hanover County Commission – also had an easy time. With three open seats on the commission and only three Democrats running, the race was uncontested.

In Ohio, all three Victory incumbents had uncontested primaries: state Reps. Nickie Antonio and Tim Brown, and Summit County Clerk of Courts Sandra Kurt. 

Victory endorses statewide candidates in Oregon, Washington

The Victory Fund today announced its endorsement of two candidates running for statewide positions: Kate Brown for Governor of Oregon, and Tina Podlodowski for Secretary of State of Washington.

Kate Brown was sworn in as Oregon's 38th Governor in February of 2015, following the resignation of her predecessor, making her the country's first openly bisexual Governor. Prior to assuming office, she served as the Oregon Secretary of State, where she earned national attention as a champion of increased voter participation.

Fighting discrimination of any kind has been the hallmark of Kate’s career. While serving in the Oregon House, Kate came out publicly as LGBT. As a leader in the Oregon State Senate, she was the chief sponsor of the state’s first domestic partnership legislation and a driving force behind successful legislation to ban housing and employment discrimination against members of the LGBT community. Now, as governor she continues to fight for civil rights and equality for all Oregonians. In her first six months in office, she signed two important bills: the first banning conversion therapy, and the second to help LGBT veterans rightfully secure equal respect, honor and benefits for serving in the military.

Tina Podlodowski won a seat on the Seattle City Council with 65 percent of the vote in 1995 after a successful career as a senior manager at Microsoft. While in office she championed the complete redevelopment and modernization of the city's financial management system, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Additionally, she continually championed LGBT equality issues, enacting watershed legislation ensuring basic rights for the LGBT community. The Equal Benefits Ordinance requires companies contracting with the City of Seattle to extend equal benefits to domestic partners. She spearheaded legislation to protect gender identity under all of the City's non-discrimination laws, as well as the Fair Employment Ordinance, which fights discrimination in any workplace in Seattle, regardless of size.

Tina holds leadership roles with Washington Citizens for Fairness, the Pride Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign. Her political and philanthropic work has been profiled in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People and Vanity Fair.

The following candidates also received Victory’s endorsement today:

Julia Boseman - New Hanover County Commissioner, North Carolina

Dr. Dakota Carter - State Board of Education, Texas

Billy Maddalon - State Representative, District 100, North Carolina

 

Park Cannon Victorious in Runoff

Park Cannon, who is running to replace Simone Bell as the state representative for Georgia’s 58th House District, handily won her primary runoff with 59 percent of the vote Tuesday.

Park’s special election bid to replace Simone will make history in Georgia: She’ll become the first openly LGBT legislator to replace another openly LGBT legislator in state history.

Turnout was predictably low, but still higher than the original primary on January 19. In unofficial results, Park earned 668 of the 1132 votes cast Tuesday.

Park – who identifies as queer – is expected to champion LGBT rights in the legislature.

“As a person who is outspoken about myself and outspoken about my truth, I hope to bring healing to people," Park said in a December interview with The Georgia Voice. "I hope to bring excitement to our community who is marginalized and underrepresented.”

Park is a women’s health advocate at the Feminist Women’s Health Center, and serves on the board of the advocacy organization SisterSong. 

Openly gay mayor of Lexington, KY announces run to unseat Rand Paul

Openly gay Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced Tuesday plans to take his public service statewide. Gray filed to run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Rand Paul.

In his campaign announcement video, Gray touted his fiscal successes as mayor, adding that he wants to extend the American Dream to more residents of Kentucky. Watch his announcement here.

Gray also went on the offensive against the junior senator of his state. “Sen. Paul confuses talking with getting results. He offers ideas that will weaken our country at home and abroad.” In an interview with the Lexington Herald Leader, Gray argued that Paul’s focus on his presidential campaign – and thus lack of focus on the interests of Kentucky residents – make Paul a vulnerable candidate in the Senate race.

When Gray was elected in 2010, Lexington became the third-largest city to have an openly gay mayor at that time.

In this election, Gray believes his sexual orientation will not hold him back. In the same Herald Leader article, Gray asserted that the people of Kentucky won’t focus solely on his identity, but rather on his ideas. “I know what it’s like to challenge conventional thinking and conventional patterns,” Gray said. “What I believe people want is performance and results. That’s what they are about. That’s what counts.”

Gray now heads into a Democratic primary against six other candidates for the seat. Paul also faces challengers within his party’s primary. However, the challenge for the Democratic nominee to unseat Sen. Paul will be to excite committed, liberal voters in the state of County Clerk Kim Davis and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Gray, the former CEO of Gray Construction – a family-grown company that has now expanded internationally – has previously stated that he sees his campaigns as “an investment,” and has largely self-funded his mayoral races. 

Eric Fanning receives bi-partisan praise during Senate hearing

Eric Fanning finally had his day before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. While the date for the full Senate to vote on Fanning’s confirmation has not been set, the hearing on his appointment to be Army Secretary went proceeded with little debate.

During the hearing, Fanning received bi-partisan support from the committee members, who questioned him on his experience, positions and proposed plans for the army. There was no mention of his sexual orientation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was especially in agreement of Fanning’s appointment and positions, calling him “well-qualified” and saying he “looks forward to voting for him.”

Should the vote go as smoothly as yesterday’s hearing, Fanning will become the first openly gay person appointed as Army Secretary. Fanning was appointed by President Obama in September, but his confirmation had been stalled by the Senate until now.

In the meantime, Fanning served as the Acting Army Secretary, but resigned earlier this month after Sen. John McCain expressed legal concerns with his role. His resignation led the Senate to proceed with his confirmation process.

You can watch the full hearing on C-SPAN here.

Fanning’s successful hearing and expected confirmation are a major victory for the LGBT community, particularly those in the armed services. 

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