Victory Institute announces its inaugural class of the Victory Empowerment Fellowship

The Victory Institute is excited to announce the inaugural class of the Victory Empowerment Fellowship.

This May, 10 LGBT leaders of color and transgender leaders will join a strong cohort of movement leaders from across the country to expand their campaign skills and policymaking power.

The fellowship consists of two programs provided by the Victory Institute - the Candidate & Campaign Training and the International LGBT Leadership Conference - and a year-long mentorship program.  

“It is clear that LGBT people face barriers to serving in public office and for LGBT people of color and transgender people the bar is even higher,” said Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO and President of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute. “The Victory Empowerment Fellowship will inspire and train a new generation of diverse LGBT people to seek public leadership roles and change the face of politics.”

The 2015 Victory Empowerment Fellowship inaugural cohort:

Bré Campbell is a Transgender Research Assistant for the University of Michigan's SexLab and the Testing Lab Coordinator and HIV Prevention Specialist for Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Horizons Project. She is also the Executive Director of the Trans Sistah’s of Color Project. Bré serves on the steering committee member of the Detroit Stigma Index and is a research consultant with Positively Trans (T+), a project of the Transgender Law Center.

Phillipe Cunningham is a Residency in Social Enterprise Fellow through the New Sector Alliance and a Public Policy Fellow through the Amherst Wilder Foundation. He also serves on the City of Minneapolis’ Youth Violence Prevention Executive Committee. Previously, Phillipe taught special education in Chicago Public Schools for 3 years as a member of  the Chicago Teachers Union. He is a graduate of DePaul University with a degree in Chinese Studies.

Ashlee Davis is the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Director of the National LGBT Rural Summit Series. Before joining USDA, she served in the White House as the Staff Assistant to the Special Assistant to the President. Her previous experience includes working for Third Way and The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.  A Nashville native, Ashlee holds a J.D. from Howard University School of Law and a B.A. in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh.

Justine Gonzalez is a Board Member on the City of West Hollywood's Transgender Advisory Board. Most recently, Justine served as a Field Organizer with the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Her previous experience also includes working for Los Angeles Mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti in government affairs and LGBT community liaison roles. Justine is studying Gender, Ethnicity and Multicultural Studies at Pasadena City College, and lives in Echo Park with her daughter Cecilia.

Jesús Pérez is a staffer for the Manhattan Borough President assisting communities on the East side of Manhattan on an array of neighborhood issues and works on LGBT matters across the Borough. He was appointed to his local Community Board in East Harlem in 2013. Jesús has also worked for the French-American Chamber of Commerce and the U.N. office of AARP. He holds degrees from the University of Houston and Hunter College.

Ace Portis is the Major Gifts Officer at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Ace brings several years of fundraising, project management, & event management experience to her work overseeing both the Major Gifts & Individual Giving programs. In 2014, she was named by The National Black Justice Coalition as a 100 Black LGBTQ/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch. A recent Bay Area transplant with strong Alabama roots, she has dedicated her life to education, social justice, & intersectional equality.    

Luis Rivera is the Vice President of the LGBT Legal Affairs Association and the General Secretary at Students Council at the law school at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. He is the Media & Communications Director at the Rainbow Pride Coalition and the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the International Pride Organizers. Luis has also served as a local elections coordinator and on the campaign of San Juan’s first openly LGBT elected official.

Robert Salcido is a Field Organizer for Equality Texas. Robert serves on the executive team for Pride Center San Antonio and the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce. He is a founding member and current president of Orgullo de San Antonio LGBT LULAC Council 22198, and also serves on the leadership team of Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA). In 2014, Robert was selected to serve on interim Mayor Taylor’s LGBT advisory team. He attended West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.

Mia Satya is a San Francisco-based advocate with over a decade experience specializing in youth empowerment, economic justice, housing, and LGBTQ liberation. Mia has served on 10 committees in 5 City departments and led a youth engagement strategy that secured over $150 million a year in services for children. As a San Francisco Youth Commissioner, Mia worked to secure Free Muni for 40,000 low-income youth and co-created a landmark LGBTQ diversity training for 9,000 City employees.

Andrea Zekis is a cartographer, activist and journalist living in Little Rock, Arkansas. Andrea is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition, a consultant to Human Rights Campaign Arkansas, and an Arkansas state employee. Her work campaigning for ENDA and Keep Fayetteville Fair, sending 14 Arkansans to Washington for Trans Lobby Day, and advising Little Rock Police's transgender interaction policy earned her an Arkansas Times' Arkansas Visionary award in 2014. Andrea leads a statewide project empowering transgender people in conducting their own health research and another developing statewide legal name and gender change services.

Interested in applying to the Victory Empowerment Program next year? Sign up here!


Report: U.S. groups trying to stop Irish marriage equality

Ireland this week could become the world’s first country to legalize same-sex marriage via popular vote. New polling suggests Irish voters will say “yes” to marriage equality in a national referendum set for Friday, but some advocates don’t fully trust those polls amid a last-minute infusion of cash from anti-gay groups abroad.

“Look at how Prop 8 happened — Prop 8 was a slam dunk [for LGBT rights supporters] until the result came in and it turned out it wasn’t,” said Brian Sheehan, the co-director of Ireland’s “Yes” marriage equality campaign and a Victory Institute Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow. In 2008, California’s Proposition 8 campaign saw late-breaking ads from anti-gay groups about the harm same-sex marriage could inflict on children, messaging that was credited with tipping the final outcome in favor of ending marriage rights for same-sex couples. BuzzFeed News reported last week that Ireland’s “No” campaign was receiving assistance from some of the same groups that helped pass Proposition 8, and a report in the The Guardian this weekend said the campaign was being “bankrolled” by evangelical Christian groups in the U.S.

The campaign has prompted some high-profile figures in Ireland to come out as gay, including the country’s health minister, Leo Varadkar. “I just kind of want to be honest with people. I don’t want anyone to think that I have a hidden agenda,” Varadkar said in a January radio interview discussing the marriage referendum.


Gay lawmaker celebrates rare victory in Texas House

In a legislature dominated by anti-equality forces, victories for equality can be hard to come by. So when the clock struck midnight last night without the Texas House passing the latest in discriminatory legislation, it was cause for celebration.

Representative Celia Israel (D-Austin), one of only two openly LGBT members of the legislature, worked with her Democratic colleagues in finding a creative way to defeat HB 4105.  The bill, introduced by Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would forbid state or local governments from using public funds to issue same-sex marriage licenses or performing any task that recognized those marriages.

Celia and her Democratic colleagues spent two days slowing the legislative calendar through a mix of amendment proposals and parliamentary points of order, a practice known as “chubbing”.  The Democrats bled enough time for the midnight deadline to come and pass without the bill being heard. The defeat was cheered by pro-equality advocates and businesses such as American Airlines and Dell Inc., both of whom came out publicly against the bill in recent days.

HB 4105 was just one of 22 separate Anti-LGBT pieces of legislation Texas Republicans filed this year. Other bills included constitutional amendments modeled after the Indiana Religious Freedom bill, and anti-trans “Bathroom Bills”. Bell, who sponsored 4 of these anti-LGBT bills, vowed to double down on his efforts to stop marriage equality. While HB 4105 can’t come up for a vote in its current form, he is looking to attach the language to another bill. "From my perspective, no bill is dead as long as there are other bills in front. You just have to find something that's germane,” Bell said of his efforts to prevent marriage equality in Texas

Despite the continued resistance from her Republican colleagues, Celia is ready for a fight. In a statement following the bill’s defeat, she said “Texans are ready for marriage equality, and I look forward to hearing the wedding bells.”

Arkansas town's voters back LGBT bias ban

Voters in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, yesterday voted overwhelmingly to keep a wide-ranging LGBT non-discrimination ordinance that was approved by the city council in February.

"If there was any question, that vote margin sealed the deal right there: 71 to 29 percent, that left no uncertainty about how Eureka Springs feels about civil rights," said James Devito, a city alderman.

But the ordinance will likely be moot on July 20, when a new statewide law goes into effect banning municipalities from enacting non-discrimination measures that exceed protections offered by the state. Arkansas does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in state non-discrimination laws.

Record number of out candidates win seats in UK Parliament

Parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom this week have produced a record number of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual MPs - records both for the UK and the world, according to Dr. Andrew Reynolds, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

By his count, “27 out LGBT candidates have been elected to the UK House of Commons after at least 152 out candidates ran on May 7,” Reynolds told Gay Politics. That’s one more than when Parliament was dissolved, “and the highest number of LGBT MPs ever recorded in the world,” Reynolds said.

At least seven new LGBT faces will take seats in the House of Commons, including Labor Party members Peter Kyle (Hove), Catherine Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil) and Wes Streeting (Ilford North). Conservative Ben Howlett (Bath) was elected, and out Scottish National Party victors included Stewart McDonald (Glasgow South) and John Nicolson (East Dumbartonshire, Reynolds reported.

“Our Parliament is richer and stronger for the diversity of voices and experiences within it, however, it is certainly disappointing not to see any openly trans people represented amongst our MPs,” said Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of the LGBT rights group Stonewall.

The group of out members are also politically diverse. The new parliament will include 13 Labor LGBT MPs, 12 Conservatives and two SNP, according to Reynolds.


LGBT Leaders, Marriage and the Supreme Court

Today’s historic Supreme Court oral arguments in a case that could bring marriage equality to every corner of America are the result of the hard work and commitment of hundreds if not thousands of openly LGBT leaders in government, law, politics and advocacy who believed this day was possible. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these brave souls.

Out lawmakers, lawyers and lobbyists teamed up with generous donors and supporters to create the legal and cultural change that was necessary to get us to the doorstep of victory. I’m thinking today of people like Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who worked for years in the Washington state legislature to win marriage equality. I’m thinking of people like Maryland State Delegate Mary Washington, who along with seven other openly LGBT lawmakers convinced her colleagues to approve marriage equality in her state.

I’m thinking of New Yorkers like Chris Quinn, Deborah Glick, Danny O’Donnell and Tom Duane--out elected officials who were among the loudest voices insisting on the freedom to marry the people they love in the Empire State.

Out lawyers like Paul Smith, Evan Wolfson, Robbie Kaplan and Mary Bonauto have been fierce defenders and expanders of the legal rights won by LGBT Americans.

We are blessed to have a growing number of allies who fight alongside us, and they will always be vital to our success, but today it’s good to step back and marvel at the talent, drive and commitment among so many in our own community. The determination of LGBT leaders made this day possible, and that makes me incredibly proud of the work Victory does to build up the leaders who will continue this work in the future.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, the work of LGBT leaders will be crucial in the ongoing fight to secure our freedom and equality in all aspects of society and in every place our community calls home.

Aisha Moodie-Mills is president and CEO of the Victory Fund and Institute.


Victory Fund endorses in Mississippi, South Carolina, Utah

Charleston, S.C., could be the next major U.S. city to elect an openly LGBT mayor. The Victory Fund today announced it has endorsed Ginny Deerin for the city’s top political job.

Deerin, an out bisexual, has run a multi-million dollar non-profit organization and been a small business owner. She’s worked with current Mayor Joe Riley, led community efforts in Charleston, and she’s a mother and grandmother. Deerin is currently president of Lewis Walton, LLC, providing management, fundraising and leadership consulting services. She also co-founded Project XX SC, a non-profit advocacy organization encouraging women to seek elected and appointed office.

Joce Pritchett also received Victory Fund’s endorsement in her race for State Auditor of Mississippi. A victory in this race would make Pritchett the first openly LGBT candidate to win statewide in Mississippi. Pritchett, an out lesbian, is a registered Professional Civil Engineer and the owner of Pritchett Engineering & Planning, a small firm located in Flowood, just outside of Jackson. A graduate of both Mississippi State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, Joce has worked under state and local contracts her entire 25 year career helping to plan and build civil projects to serve the public good.

Sophia Hawes-Tingey was endorsed in her race for City Council in Midvale, Utah. Hawes-Tingey moved to Utah in 2010 and immediately became immersed in her community, serving on local boards and committees and fighting to win non-discrimination protections for LGBT Utahans. If elected, Hawes-Tingey would become the first openly transgender elected official in the state.

Other candidates receiving Victory’s endorsement in April are:

Angie Craig - U.S. House of Representatives, MN-2 (2016 campaign)

Travis Leiker - Denver City Council, Colorado

Patrick Wojahn - Mayor of College Park, Maryland

Stephen Marc Beaudoin - Multnomah Education Service Board, Oregon

Hugh Fitzpatrick McGough - Judge of Common Pleas in Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania

Mike Laster - Houston City Council, Texas (incumbent)

Robert Gallegos - Houston City Council, Texas (incumbent)

Lee Storrow - Chapel Hill Town Council, North Carolina (incumbent)

Eddie Zimpel - Butte Public Schools Trustee, Montana (incumbent)

Joe McDermott - King County Council, Washington (incumbent)


LGBT Candidate Training Coming to Jacksonville

Few were surprised when a federal judge in Florida struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage earlier this year. More surprising was the response by some public officials across Florida--specifically county clerks whose job it is to oversee legal marriages.

To avoid performing civil marriages for same-sex couples, nearly a dozen clerks, including in Jacksonville, responded by refusing to perform any marriages. Technically the clerks still have to issue marriage licenses, but they no longer offer city hall ceremonies for any couples, gay or straight.

"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Personally it would go against my beliefs to perform a ceremony that is other than that," said Ronnie Fussell, Duval County clerk of courts, to The Florida Times-Union. Because of this public employee’s personal views, tax paying couples who rely on civil ceremonies because they can’t afford a wedding are now simply out of luck.

Unlike every other major city in Florida, Jacksonville has never elected an openly LGBT public official and the city offers no protections against anti-LGBT employment or housing discrimination. Members of Jacksonville’s City Council have never had to look an openly LGBT colleague in the eye when it came time to vote on something as basic as banning discrimination against gay and transgender employees.

That’s one the reasons the Victory Institute is bringing our LGBT Candidate Training to Jacksonville this May. Victory is a non-partisan international training and leadership development organization serving the LGBT community. Graduates of our programs have gone on to remarkable careers in public service, include Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Florida State Rep. David Richardson, among many, many others.

Up to 40 participants from Florida, Georgia and across the south will gather in Jacksonville on May 28 for three days of intensive training on how to build an effective political campaign and position themselves as future candidates or campaign staffers. They’ll leave with an understanding of campaign basics, from fundraising to field work, and messaging to mail programs. They’ll hear the inspirational stories of LGBT elected officials who are currently serving, and meet the leadership of state and national LGBT organizations who can help them with future political campaigns.

For more than two decades, Victory has trained thousands of LGBT people who wanted to make a difference in their own communities as public officials. That’s why states like Idaho and North Dakota now have openly gay state lawmakers, and voters in cities like Chattanooga, Tenn., and El Paso, Texas, have elected LGBT people to represent them in recent years. Wanting to win matters a lot, but knowing how to win is even more important, especially in areas that aren’t particularly hospitable to openly LGBT candidates.

I grew up in Jacksonville. I came out as gay there when the LGBT community still feared physical violence, not to mention rank discrimination. Our country has changed a lot since then, but this is one region that still needs the change that can come from visible, open and authentic LGBT leadership in local government.

For more information about Victory’s upcoming training in Jacksonville in partnership with Equality Florida, Georgia Equality, SAVE, and the University of North Florida LGBT Center, visit

Denis Dison is senior vice president for programs at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute.



LGBTI Community in Politics

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.”

The forum was also attended by various Kosovo Government officials, including a Vice-Minister, party leaders, and representatives from embassies, such as the Jennifer Bachus, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy and the Head of the Finnish Embassy, Anne Meskanen

In mobilization for our LGBT Political Leaders regional conference on September 16-18 with Labris, a Serbian lesbian human rights organization, and the National Democratic Institute, Victory will continue to organize civil society forums in Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania and Montenegro in the coming months.

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.


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