Kosovo hosts groundbreaking "LGBTI In Politics" forum

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute is proud to share the success of “LGBTI in Politics”, a civil society forum held in Pristina, Kosovo on March 17, 2015. Agim Margilaj, an alumnus of Victory’s political leadership training held in Serbia last year, organized the forum that brought together representatives from government, political parties, and civil society to discuss the inclusion of LGBTI rights within the political agenda of Kosovo.

“Politicians often have to walk a tightrope between representing their constituencies’ political, cultural, and religious beliefs on one hand, and advancing and modernizing a society to make it fit for the future. And in the case of Kosovo, to make it fit for the European Union,” said Tom Gnocchi, Head of the Political Section at the EU Office in Kosovo, who participated in the forum.

Gnocchi stressed the importance of individuals active at different levels of the civil and political sphere in order to make Kosovo society more inclusive and democratic.

Ramandan Ilazi, Deputy Minister for European Integration, also attended the forum to voice his support for the inclusion of LGBTI rights in politics and society.

“We are determined to build a democratic and open society, but an open society requires open borders because open borders will also make us people more open to diversity, which will help the human development,” said Ilazi. “Therefore, LGBTI community inclusion in politics is a must, for our democracy, for the character of our society and our European future.”

In partnership with Labris, a Serbian lesbian human rights organization, and the National Democratic Institute, Victory will continue to organize civil society forums throughout the Balkans during 2015.

Each forum will aim to encourage wider political participation of all minority groups by providing leadership training, raising awareness through community dialogues, creating and reinforcing alliances with local NGOs to continue efforts towards equality.

Victory endorsed candidates sweep Tuesday's contests

Five Victory-endorsed candidates won their respective elections on Tuesday night, with two advancing to second-round contests in June.

Jolie Justus, who is running for a seat on the City Council in Kansas City, successfully won her primary election and will continue on to the general election on June 23rd. If elected in June, the former Missouri state senator would become the only openly LGBT member serving on the Kansas City Council.

Tim Orozco, vying for District 4's seat on the San Jose City Council, finished first in a field of 10 candidates with 22.2% of the vote. Orozco will advance to the June 23rd run-off, where he has consolidated the support of local Democratic groups and progressive organizations for the seat.

Ray Lopez and James Cappleman of Chicago both won their respective aldermanic elections in the 15th and 46th Wards. As a result, Lopez will join Carlos Rosa as one of the first openly LGBT Latinos to serve on the City Council.

Elsewhere in Illinois, Richard Rykhus, the only incumbent in the election for Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board, successfully won his first reelection contest.

The wins by Cappleman and Lopez will bring the total number of out LGBT aldermen in Chicago to 5, a high watermark for the city. It is marks the first time that LGBT aldermen have comprised 10% of the City Council.

VCI alum profiled in Pacific Standard's "30 under 30" list

The Pacific Standard, a magazine that covers the nation’s economic, educational, environmental, and judicial by focusing on what shapes human behavior, listed Victory Congressional Internship alum Lydia Brown among its “30 Top Thinkers Under 30” list.

Brown, who describes herself as “a queer, East Asian disabled person”, has devoted her professional work to focus on violence against disabled people, especially in the context of caregiver violence, hate crimes, police brutality, and prisoner abuse.

“[A]s long as disabled people can be involuntarily sterilized, paid mere cents per hour, arbitrarily locked up for indefinite periods without any due process, [and] denied life-saving medical treatment for no legitimate reason... my work is not optional. It is necessary,” Brown told the magazine.

As a Victory Congressional Intern in summer 2014, Brown worked as a legislative and policy intern in the House Financial Services Committee. Brown is currently a policy analyst at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. She has been recognized for her work by the Washington Peace Center, the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and as a Champion of Change by President Barack Obama.

Out attorney chosen for Supreme Court marriage equality arguments

Lawyers for the plaintiffs of marriage equality cases from Kentucky and Michigan on Tuesday named Mary Bonauto, an openly lesbian attorney and civil rights advocate, to present their argument before the Supreme Court when it takes up the cases on April 28. It is her task to address the first of two questions before the justices: Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

Considered a pioneer of the marriage equality movement, Bonauto is known for her successful litigation of a case in Vermont that led the state to become the first in the nation to enact civil unions for same-sex couples.

She served as co-counsel in the case that legalized marriage equality in Connecticut and was a driving force in the federal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

It was also Bonauto who on March 4, 2003 argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Court in support of same-sex couples’ marriage rights.

In a statement with BuzzFeed News a decade later, she recalled her thoughts 15 minutes before the court’s historic decision. “I think the first question, ‘Why should we do something no else has ever done?’ – which is a fair question, and I said, ‘Because marriage is a fundamental right.”

As the LGBT equality movement expands across the nation, she says the next task is ensuring employment protections, protecting LGBT youth and elder populations, and advancing transgender rights.

“I’m in a position to be able to help make it possible for people to be freer; more secure. I’m in. I’m in, and I want to be part of helping take it over the finish line,” Bonauto said.

In addition to Bonauto, Douglas Hallward-Driemmeier, of Ropes & Gray law firm, will be arguing in support of marriage recognition claims before the justices.

“The road that we’ve travelled to get here has been built by so many people who believe that marriage is a fundamental right,” Bonauto said in a statement. “Same-sex couples should not be excluded from the joy, the security, and the full citizenship signified by that institution. I believe the Court will give us a fair hearing, and I look forward to the day when all LGBT Americans will be able to marry the person they love.”

Panico, Jackson recognized for accomplishments

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute is proud to recognize the accomplishments of Ben Panico and Romeo Jackson, two alumni of our LGBT Congressional leadership programming.

The Trans 100, which celebrates excellence within the trans community, recognized Ben Panico among its recipients on this year’s Trans 100 list. The only openly transgender person working on Capitol Hill, Panico serves the LGBT Equality Caucus and Rep. Jared Polis as a David Bohnett Victory Congressional Fellow.

“My position here does not fill quota but rather opens floodgates," Panico said in a 2014 issue of VICTORY Magazine. "We need more representation: more women, more people of color, and certainly more LGBT people.”

Earlier this year, The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people, celebrated its Black History Month by naming Romeo Jackson as part of its 2015 Inaugural Cohort of 100 Black LGBT/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch.

As a Victory Congressional Intern in fall 2014, Jackson worked as a press intern for the office of Representative Gwen Moore.

Jackson is also the Vice President of the Advisory Board for Campus Pride, a non-profit organization that promotes safe college environments for LGBTQ students.

Victory announces new President and CEO

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute on Thursday announced that Aisha C. Moodie-Mills will be the group's next President and CEO.

Moodie-Mills comes to Victory from the Center for American Progress, where she served as a senior fellow and director of the FIRE Initiative that explores the intersections of race, class, and sexuality. She has worked as a political advisor, private-sector liaison, and fundraiser to more than 50 members of Congress, including six senators and the Congressional Black Caucus. Before joining American Progress, she was the president of Synergy Strategy Group, a boutique fundraising and political consulting firm where she raised millions of dollars for candidates and advocacy organizations.

Moodie-Mills also made headlines as a key strategist and spokesperson for the campaign to bring marriage equality to the District of Columbia, where she and her wife Danielle were among the first same-sex couples to receive a marriage license.

Her work and publications have been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Atlantic, Black Enterprise, The Washington Post, Essence, Politico, Ebony, The Huffington Post, and Uptown Magazine, and she also appears regularly as a political commentator on MSNBC.

“We believe that Aisha is exactly the person Victory needs to usher in an innovative and holistic approach to creating a pipeline for exceptional LGBT leadership and public officials," said Kim Hoover, chair of the Victory Fund board. "To us, Aisha represents the future of the LGBT movement. We are at a pivotal moment and in order to continue our momentum we need the insight and energy that Aisha brings to the job."

Mike Holloman, chair of the Victory Institute board, concurred, adding, “Her ideas for building a strong and visible network of LGBT leaders in public life aligns perfectly with Victory’s mission, but her vision to greatly amplify the impact of those leaders is what really captured the board’s attention.”

“Aisha’s enthusiasm for the vast potential of the LGBT movement is infectious,” said Michael Grover, who chairs the new One Victory board. “She understands how important LGBT leaders will be in expanding equality to every corner of our country. We are thrilled she will lead Victory into its next chapter.”

Reaction from Political and Advocacy Leaders

“The Center for American Progress is proud that one of our own has been chosen to lead Victory. Aisha Moodie-Mills has been an integral part of our intersectional work on the LGBT Research and Communications team as a Senior Fellow and Director of the FIRE Initiative. To ensure that all LGBT Americans have a seat at the table we need to diversify our pipeline of leadership and Aisha is just the person to usher in this new chapter for Victory and the movement.”
--Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, Counselor to Center for American Progress Action Fund

“As the first woman ever to serve as its President and CEO, Aisha Moodie-Mills is the right person at the right time to lead the Victory Fund’s efforts electing LGBT leaders to public office. In 2012, the Victory Fund partnered with EMILY’s List to help Tammy Baldwin make history. As we look forward to 2016 and beyond, we’re proud to continue standing with Aisha and the Victory Fund as we work together to elect more pro-choice, Democratic women like Senator Baldwin.”
--Stephanie Schriock, President, EMILY’s List

"As we head into the 2016 cycle and beyond, the Victory Fund has a critical role to play in ensuring that the number of LGBT elected officials not only grows, but is also increasingly reflective of the entire community. There is no better or more creative champion of that cause than Aisha Moodie-Mills, and HRC is eager to work with her and the Victory Fund as we tackle big new challenges in the post-marriage world. Aisha’s spot-on political experience and obvious passion make her a great choice to lead the Victory Fund at a pivotal moment, and we look forward to working with her.”
--Chad Griffin, President, Human Rights Campaign

“In Aisha Moodie-Mills, the Victory Fund has selected a smart and strategic next generation leader, who will not only serve the organization well, but also the larger movement for LGBT equality and representation. Aisha has spent her career fighting to ensure all of us are heard, counted, and represented in our democracy. Her unique experience in media, politics and electoral campaigning -- combined with her extensive advocacy work -- makes her an inspired choice to lead the Victory Fund into a very bright future.”
--Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, Color of Change

"The Victory Fund has made an exciting and powerful choice in Aisha Moodie-Mills as it's next President and CEO. The strategic thinking, accessibility and vibrance she brings to her leadership will serve our movement and the country well. She's got politics in her bones and as the first Black woman to head the Victory Fund, I believe she will inspire a broad range of LGBTQ people to run for elected office and lead this country. I look forward to working with her."
--Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

“The National Black Justice Coalition is overjoyed that one of our own community members has been elevated to lead the important work of the Victory Fund. Aisha Moodie-Mills will be a phenomenal addition to one of our nation’s premier LGBT organizations, working to ensure broader representation of LGBT people in elected office. As a black lesbian, Aisha will bring new hope to women, African Americans and other people of color who seek greater opportunities within the LGBT community with her vast talents and dynamic leadership style. NBJC looks forward to continuing to partner with the Victory Fund as Mrs. Moodie-Mills takes the helm as their new president and chief executive officer.”
--Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director & CEO, National Black Justice Coalition

"Aisha is a tireless leader whose experience and wisdom will catapult the Victory Fund into its next critical phases. As a veteran of national politics and a savvy media spokesperson for the LGBT movement for over a decade, I have no doubt Aisha will electrify the organization and continue its legacy as a key player in moving LGBT equality forward."
--Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO

Victory Fund announces March 2015 endorsements

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund announced on Tuesday its slate of endorsed candidates for March 2015, with six candidates from New England, the Midwest, and the West earning its support.

Three of this month's endorsed candidates are vying for state and municipal offices in Colorado, with the other half competing for the mayor's office of Hartford, Conn. and seats on the city councils of Columbus, Ohio and San Jose, Calif.

Shannon Hardin was appointed to the City Council of Columbus, Ohio in October of 2014, and is running for his first full term this fall. A former aide to the mayor, Hardin has worked in Columbus for years both as an LGBT liaison and a member of several gang violence prevention programs.

Leslie Herod was endorsed for a seat in Colorado's House of Representatives. Herod has worked in Colorado government for several years, including as a senior policy advisor to Gov. Bill Ritter.

Tim Orozco was endorsed in a special election for San Jose City Council. Tim has a long history of involvement in California's LGBT political landscape, including as campaign manager for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.

Pedro Segarra was endorsed as an incumbent for mayor of Hartford, Conn. He is seeking a second term after winning election in 2011.

Robin Kniech was endorsed as an incumbent for Denver City Council. In her first term she focused on issues like affordable housing, child protection and government transparency.

Debra Johnson was endorsed as an incumbent for Denver City Clerk and Recorder. She made news last year over her decision to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in Denver.

Annual Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade welcomes LGBT groups

Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday included the participation of LGBT groups for the first time in its 114-years history. LGBT rights group Boston Pride and OutVets, an organization for gay veterans, joined the annual march and ended a two-decade ban against the participation of LGBT groups in the celebration.

“South Boston is more diverse than it’s ever been and our inclusion is a testament to change in the neighborhood,” said Sylvain Bruno, president of Boston Pride.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who did not attend the parade last year due to the exclusion of LGBT groups, also marched on Sunday and became the first mayor to participate in 20 years.

Boston’s mayors have opted out of the parade since 1995, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of organizers to ban LGBT participants.

“I am thrilled that the St. Patrick’s Day parade is inclusive this year, and the addition of Boston Pride to the list of participants reflects the values of the South Boston neighborhood,” said Walsh, in a statement. “With this year’s parade, Boston is putting years of controversy behind us.”

Richardson's pro-gay adoption amendment advances in Fla. House

The Florida House of Representatives on Tuesday approved by voice vote an amendment striking discriminatory language from a law that prohibited gay Florida residents from adopting children in the state.

Introduced on Monday by Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, who is openly gay, the amendment follows an appeals court's ruling against the state's ban five years ago. In proposing the amendment, Richardson sought to eliminate the possibility that a future district court ruling could reverse the decision.

“All people who want to adopt should be judged the same way, with the best interests of children foremost,” Richardson said in a statement. “My amendment ensures that all suitable adoptive parents are able to offer loving homes and the support of a permanent family. I’m glad to have worked with my colleagues in the House to make this change.”

The amendment was attached to House Bill 7013, which seeks to increase the state's adoption rate. Richardson, a Democrat, collaborated extensively with the House's Republican leadership to ensure his amendment would pass. Following House passage, the bill will then be sent to the Senate, where supporters expect it to be approved.

Obama invokes LGBT movement in Selma speech

President Barack Obama on Saturday repeatedly referenced the LGBT rights movement during his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama.

Speaking to a crowd of about 40,000 at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where marchers were attacked by state troopers in 1965, President Obama honored the protesters' role in advancing equality for all Americans. “[B]ecause of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors," Obama said. "Their endeavors gave the entire South a chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but transcending the past.”

Obama went on to call LGBT advocates "warriors of justice” whose work has brought the United States closer to its ideal of equality.

“We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge,” referring to early gay rights protests in the 1960s and 1970s.

President Obama concluded his speech by stating that the efforts of activists are still ongoing and an integral part of the nation’s history.

“Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer,” Obama said. “Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer. Our job is easier because somebody already got us through that first smile. Somebody already got just over that bridge.”

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