Brian Sims announces Congressional bid

Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims announced this morning that he will be running for U.S. Congress.

Brian declared his bid to run for Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district, which includes much of Philadelphia, the area Brian currently represents in the Pennsylvania State House. The Congressional seat is held by 11-term Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was recently placed under federal indictment as a result of alleged racketeering and corruption.

As the first openly-gay representative elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Brian has always stood for equality, supporting marriage equality and introducing legislation to eliminate the gender wage gap. He also cosponsored the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, which would add sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination law. During his past two terms, Brian made a point to foster bipartisanship between the Democratic and Republican parties in the House.

Brian is running on a platform of justice and civil rights. He also supports investing in education, economic fairness and opportunity and increased gun regulation.

If Brian wins the seat, he will join the six other U.S. representatives and one U.S. senator who are openly LGBT. These are Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. David Cicilline, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Rep. Mark Takano, Rep. Mark Pocan, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Sen. Tammy Baldwin. He will be the first openly-LGBT U.S. Congress member from Pennsylvania.

Brian’s race will rely heavily on the Democratic primary nomination, as the district has an overwhelmingly Democratic majority. You can visit Brian’s website to learn more about his campaign and find out how you can join.

Watch Brian's campaign announcement below. 

Victory honors Illinois game-changers at Chicago reception

Illinois – especially this past year – has been a leading state on ensuring LGBT rights and extending protections to the LGBT community. Gender identity was added to Illinois hate crime statutes. The Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which banned conversion therapy, passed in the Illinois House and unanimously in the Illinois Senate. In Spring elections, the Chicago City Council added two new openly LGBT members, making 10 percent of the council openly LGBT. Nearly 75 percent of all Illinois voters support legal recognition of same-sex relationships—a 25 percent leap in only two years.

This advances would have been impossible if not for two outstanding openly LGBT elected officials who paved the way for LGBT rights. On Sunday, September 27, Victory honored Illinois state Representative Kelly Cassidy and Chicago City Council Alderman Tom Tunney at its Windy City Toasts reception (pictured) with the Victory Leadership Award.

Representative Kelly Cassidy has been a champion for LGBT rights in the Illinois House since taking office in 2011. She worked hard to ensure new anti-bullying laws were fully inclusive of LGBT students. After sharing her personal experience of being in a mother with her partner, Illinois welcomed marriage equality a year before the Supreme Court decision, proving that when openly LGBT people are elected, they can make a difference for all LGBT people.

Alderman Tom Tunney has paved the way for an LGBT-inclusive Chicago City Council ever since becoming the first openly LGBT member in 2003. His efforts have expanded the Broadway Youth Center, which provides services citywide to LGBT youth. For the first time, Chicago has a LGBT Caucus in its City Council, comprised of the five openly LGBT aldermen. This caucus will address issues specific to the LGBT Chicago community, including issues within healthcare, homelessness and education.

It has always been Victory’s mission to help elect openly LGBT officials. We know that these officials use their position create the changes LGBT citizens everywhere need. Representative Kelly Cassidy and Alderman Tom Tunney have made an undeniable impact in their communities, and Victory is proud to honor them and their work.

Victory's Serbian conference supports democratic engagement in Europe

Thousands of police officers in full riot gear protected Pride marchers in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Extremist groups in the region planned on attacking the event, and several were detained.

That was September 20. Days before, findings of a poll regarding perceptions of LGBT people in the Balkans were presented to members of Parliament from across Europe in the same city.

Those findings were stark, yet offered reason to be hopeful. According to the poll, a significant portion of the Balkan population does not fully understand who is included in the LGBT community. But researchers also found that when a person knows an openly LGBT person, they are more likely to respect and understand the community as a whole. The poll also supported the idea that political parties do not receive backlash when they support openly LGBT candidates—an idea that was well received by the pro-equality parliamentarians.

This presentation took place at a meeting at the House of the National Assembly of Serbia aimed at increasing political participation of underrepresented minorities and to inviting them into the political process. The meeting prefaced the “Democracy for All: Political Participation of LGBTI Persons in the Western Balkans” conference on September 15-17.

Looking forward to speaking in Serbian Parliament #LGBTIBalkans

— Jerry Buttimer TD (@jerrybuttimer) September 15, 2015

This conference – which was co-sponsored by the Victory Institute, Labris and Hirschfeld Eddy Stiftung – was the first ever gathering held in the Balkans devoted to the political participation of the LGBT community.

Over 110 people attended with the goals of getting more LGBT citizens involved in civil society, advancing the movement within state institutions and helping elected officials in the region share ideas.

The result was two days of discussions and training. Topics ranged from LGBT allyship, recruiting transgender candidates for office and the power of social media in the equality movement. The conference’s organizers intentionally wanted to strike a balance of activists and elected officials.

A recurring theme emerged: Elected officials can do small things to create a big impact for the LGBT community. Respecting the pronouns, names and genders of trans members of the community, and sticking up for the trans community when they are disrespected, can set a tone for an elected official’s constituents. Leading by example can teach and encourage the larger population to learn about and respect their LGBT neighbors.

Great point about how tolerance is not the goal, #respect is. #LGBTIBalkans

— Alex Cooper (@wgacooper) September 17, 2015

The geographic distribution of attendees was wide, and included Liljana Popovska (pictured), Member of Parliament from Macedonia, Wiktor Dynarski of the Trans-Fuzja Foundation in Poland, Anđela Čeh of the Serbian Office for Human and Minority Rights and Montenegro Councilmember for Civil Control of the Police Sasa Zekovic.

This is not the first time Victory has been to Serbia. In 2014, Victory partnered with Labris, a Serbian lesbian rights organization, to host five two-day educational sessions for becoming an effective LGBT official.

#BiWeek: 5 Openly Bi Officials You Should Know

It takes a lot of guts to run for public office, but for openly bi candidates, this is especially true.

Running as an openly bisexual candidate creates issues other members of the LGBT community may not face. People’s lack of understanding of bisexuality may lead to a candidate being mislabeled as straight, gay or lesbian in the press. Bisexual elected or appointed officials may have their sexual orientation challenged or erased completely, especially if the officials has a long-term partner.

Stereotypes about bisexual people cause people to doubt a bi candidates’ effectiveness. Victory knows that these stereotypes are untrue, and that if we want to achieve equality for all LGBT Americans, we must increase the number of openly bisexual officials at all levels of government.

The openly bi elected officials serving at local, state and national levels of government are proof that bi candidates do run and can win. In honor of Bisexual Visibility Week, check out these five openly bi officials:

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona

Kyrsten Sinema represents Arizona’s moderate 9th congressional district. She is the first and only openly bisexual person elected to the U.S. Congress. During her congressional campaign, she was targeted by an opposing candidate in the primary race, who told potential supporters “she’s unfit for office because of her sexual orientation and because she’s single.” In Congress, Sinema is known as a moderate who reaches across the aisle to get things done. As a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, she is an original cosponsor of the Equality Act, which seeks to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, public accommodations, education, housing, federal programs, jury service and credit.

Gov. Kate Brown, D-Oregon

Brown made history when she became the nation’s first openly bisexual governor. In an essay written for Out and Elected in the USA, she said “Some days I feel like I have a foot in both worlds, yet never really belonging to either.” During her term, she has signed legislation banning “conversion therapy” for LGBT youth, making Oregon the third state to do so.


Basilio Bonilla, Jr.

Bonilla is a member of the Board of School Directors for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He came out in 2014, saying “We as a community need to do more to educate our communities as to what it means to be bisexual. They all know what it means to be lesbian or gay, but bisexuality to many is a new concept.” In April, Basilio proposed a motion to add gender identity and gender expression to the Bethlehem Area School District’s anti-discrimination and unlawful harassment policy. The motion was passed unanimously.


State Sen. Angie Buhl O’Donnell, D-South Dakota

Sen. Buhl came out in 2012 using the Victory Institute’s Coming Out Project to assist her. The Coming Out Project provides expert political and communications advice for elected officials who are ready to come out. She has since been honored by the White House as a “Harvey Milk Champion of Change, and started a social media campaign against South Dakota Senate Bill 67, which would have prevented people from bringing lawsuits against clergy members or business operators who refused to provide services to people arranging same-sex marriages. Its sponsor withdrew the bill after Angie’s campaign.

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Wisconsin 

Zamarripa came out as bisexual in 2012, saying “It has always been my goal in office to be transparent and honest with my constituents.” She also remarked that bisexuality can be “tough for people to wrap their minds around.” This year, she authored proposals to end constitutional restrictions on marriage in Wisconsin, and to recognize June 2015 as LGBT Pride Month.

These officials have understood and met the challenges bi people face, and their ability to overcome these challenges have led to them getting a seat at the table. All of these officials have created a safer and more welcoming world for LGBT Americans, as well as shattered assumptions about bisexual people everywhere.

When bi candidates win, we all win. This Bisexual Visibility Week, let’s salute these officials who are making their communities better for all.


Photo Credit: Krysten Sinema: Office of Kyrsten Sinema; Kate Brown: Office of the Oregon Governor; Basilio Bonilla, Jr.: Twitter/Bosilio Bonilla, Jr.; Angie Buhl O'Donnell: South Dakota Legislature; JoCasta Zamarripa: Wisconson State Assembly

Victory remembers Turkish LGBT activist Boysan Yakar

Victory mourns and honors the life of Boysan Yakar (pictured), who died in a car accident on September 6. Victory also honors the lives of feminist and LGBT activist Zelis Deniz, and Mert Serçe, who were in the car with Boysan.

“Boysan was full of purpose and had a clear plan, which is the exact kind of person Victory looks for in a candidate,” said Aisha Moodie-Mills, president and CEO of the Victory Fund and Institute. “We are honored to have gotten to know Boysan during his time with Victory, and we send our love and support to his family and friends.”

Boysan was an LGBT activist in Turkey and the first openly LGBT advisor to the Mayor of the Şişli municipality in Istanbul. His position was one of the highest public office positions held by an LGBT person in Turkey. He is also one of the first openly LGBT candidates to run for office in Turkey.

Boysan worked with Victory this summer through the Professional Fellows Program, a fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. He brought passion and dedication to his position, and proved himself a savvy campaigner.

During his time in the U.S., he was honored by the State Department’s Global Equality Fund, an initiative that seeks to promote LGBT rights around the world during the State Department’s annual Pride celebration. He was honored for his work with Turkish LGBT advocacy group Lambdainstanbul.

“If you don’t stand up for your rights, no one’s going to take care you,” Boysan said during a speech at the celebration.

As an advisor to the Mayor of Şişli, Boysan created a department focusing on equality within the municipality and recruited LGBT candidates and allies for upcoming elections.

Through Lamdaistanbul, he took part in several LGBT initiatives, including Istanbul Pride, where he and others marched despite authorities’ efforts to shut it down. Police shot plastic bullets into the crowd to stop the marchers, wounding 78 people including Boysan. Following the march, he took action, filing a report against the police and sending a complaint to the Governor of Istanbul and Minister of Interior Affairs.

“Boysan was a very passionate and dedicated person,” said Sezen Yalçin, an LGBT activist in Turkey and dear friend of his. “He was an inspiration to everyone around him, and his impact will last in the community.”


Then and Now: The International LGBT Leadership Conference

For 31 years, openly LGBT elected and appointed officials and other public leaders from around the world have gathered at the annual International LGBT Leadership Conference – the only one of its kind.

Called LGBT Leaders for short, the conference has grown from just over a dozen attendees to hundreds, becoming a must-attend event for LGBT leaders. Every year these leaders come together to build connections, exchange ideas and develop their leadership skills.

John Heilman (pictured), a city council member of West Hollywood, has gone to all 31 conferences. He was a co-chair of the International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials and continues to be an active member of the community. John talked with Victory about the history of the conference and his vision for its future. This conference has seen remarkable growth since its inception in 1984. Then, about a dozen lawmakers gathered to discuss the unique challenges of serving as openly gay elected officials.

“In the early days it was more like a support group,” Heilman says.

Today more than 1,000 openly LGBT elected and appointed officials are serving in offices around the world. In 2004, the organization that once held the conference, the International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials, merged with the Victory Institute, allowing the conference to grow to what it is today.

“The conference was always run by the hosting city and host committee, which changed every year,” Heilman says. “With Victory’s resources, the conference has grown. There have been new speakers and people from different disciplines. The evolution has been exciting.”

Since 1984, the conference and its attendees have seen incredible changes in the movement for LGBT rights. Heilman remembers when the conference was in Washington at the same time that the AIDS Memorial Quilt was featured on the National Mall in 1988, a somber moment for the attendees.

There have been happy moments throughout the conference’s history as well.

“The conference after Tammy Baldwin was elected to the Senate was a great memory; everyone was in celebration. At the beginning, we never could have imagined such a win.”

Heilman enjoys going to LGBT Leaders because it allows him to reflect on the successes of the LGBT movement, but also to keep looking forward.

“We need to appreciate and recognize the growth and expansion of our community, our openly elected officials and appointees. The growth has been dramatic. We should be thankful that we’ve come so far so fast and we should be inspired by that. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t imagine elected officials in some of the places they are now. We need to encourage people to be out, open and to share their stories and their leadership.”

Heilman is excited about this year’s conference, noting that it is the first conference after the historic marriage equality ruling on June 26, but recognizes the need to continue working toward equality.

“We need to fight for employment and housing equality. We also need to be mindful of what’s happening around the world,” he continues. “We need to share our experiences and listen to those who are not privileged to live in America. Only then can we have a truly global movement for equality.”

LGBT Leaders, which features speakers from around the world in government, LGBT activism and the private sector, offer workshops, trainings and discussions for attendees.

“What’s exciting is that the conferences gives you ideas. You get to see how others have dealt with challenges similar to what you are dealing with in your position. You learn what works and what doesn’t work. Sharing experiences with other LGBT elected officials inspires you and gives you motivation.”

But John Heilman’s favorite part of the conference? The community.

“I love getting to see Tammy Baldwin, who first attended the conference in 1986. As more and more LGBT officials are elected, you hear names and read news about them, but don’t get to meet them. The conference gives you a chance to connect with them on a personal level. Every year now you see the expansion of LGBT officials in cities you never could have imagined--Annise Parker in Houston and officials in states like Idaho, Wyoming, Missouri and Arkansas. We never would have expected these wins when the conference began.”

This year’s conference will be in Las Vegas November 19-22. For more information about the conference, visit

Nancy VanReece makes history in Nashville elections

For the first time, Nashville will have two openly LGBT councilmembers following last night's runoff elections.

Nancy VanReece (pictured) won a seat on the Nashville Metro Council, representing District 8. She will join Brett Withers who in an earlier election gained enough votes to oust the incumbent councilmember representing District 6.

Before this year’s elections, there were three openly LGBT candidates in the entire state. But after last night, there are five with a possibility of a sixth, depending on the outcome of the Memphis City Council election on November 3, where Victory-endorsed candidate Charles “Chooch” Pickard is running to represent District 5.

Nancy and Brett will be the first openly LGBT Nashville Metro Council members since Keith Durbin, who left the Council in 2009 to take a position within the Metro government.

Nancy – a Victory endorsee – maintained her lead in the runoff after earning the most votes in the August 6 election. She ran on a platform of shifting Metro Council priorities to infrastructure, housing and education, expanding the local library and advocating for the creation of District 8’s first outdoor community space.

The 40-member Nashville Metro Council is the legislative body of the city-county government of Nashville and Davidson County, which is home to over 650,000 residents. The next Metro Council session will begin in October. 

HERO fight turns to Houston’s openly LGBT council members

Houston District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will be on the ballot on November 3, alongside three Victory-endorsed candidates for the Houston City Council. These LGBT leaders have played a crucial role in passing and defending the ordinance, and now they're under direct attack by anti-LGBT forces in Houston.

Several anti-HERO candidates filed at the last minute to challenge pro-HERO candidates, including the three Victory endorsees.   

HERO protects Houstonians against discrimination in employment, housing and business services on the basis of 15 different characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity. The fourth-largest city in the U.S., Houston is the only major city without an equal rights ordinance.

The ordinance originally passed in 2014, but was suspended by the Texas Supreme Court, which forced Houston to repeal the ordinance or place the issue on the November ballot.

Robert Gallegos, a lifelong resident of his district, is running for Houston City Council District I. First elected in 2013, he was the first openly gay Latino city council member. Robert was instrumental in passing HERO, proposing an amendment applying the ordinance to firms with 25 or more employees immediately, and firms with 15 or more employees two years after passage.

Mike Laster has been the Houston City Council District J member for three years, and the first openly gay man on the City Council. His leadership and support also aided the passage of HERO. One of Mike’s opponents, Manny Barrera, holds the support and was encouraged to run by anti-LGBT activist Dave Wilson, a member of the Houston Area Pastor Council, who helps funds the anti-HERO campaign. This group has called openly gay Houston Mayor Annise Parker a “sodomite” and has labeled LGBT people as “forces of spiritual darkness.”

Lane Lewis is a Victory-endorsed candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council. A lifelong LGBT activist, he was instrumental in bringing down anti-sodomy laws throughout the country in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case. He is committed to keeping HERO intact.  

HERO Opponents are using anti-LGBT rhetoric to garner support, equating LGBT people to “sexual predators,” and making transphobic remarks about transgender women using women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, a $30 million budget organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and individual donors like Steven Hotze are funding the anti-HERO campaign and anti-HERO candidates like mayoral candidate Ben Hall.

By spearheading the fight to restore HERO and by coming under attack by anti-LGBT forces in Houston, Robert, Mike and Lane epitomize the need for openly LGBT public officials.

You can support Victory’s effort to save HERO by helping elect more LGBT leaders to the City Council.


Victory alum makes history as top transgender appointee

Victory Candidate & Campaign Training alum Amanda Simpson has been appointed the next Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, making her the highest ranking transgender appointee of any administration in history.

Prior to her new position, Simpson has been active in politics and recognized at the federal level for her work. She was the first openly trans woman political appointee of any presidential administration when she was appointed to the Department of Commerce by the Obama administration in 2009. In 2013, she was detailed to the Army Energy Initiatives Task Force – where she served as the Deputy Executive Director until January 2014 – when she was named the Executive Director.

Amanda has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, and in 2001 was named Raytheon’s Woman on the Move. She has served on the boards of multiple organizations, including Arizona Human Rights Fund, the National Center for Transgender Equality and Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. In 2014, she was listed in Time’s “22 Transgender People Who Influence American Culture.”

Amanda’s appointment follows the announcement that Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, another transgender woman, joined the White House staff as Outreach and Recruitment Director in the Presidential Personnel Office.

We’re proud to have worked with Amanda and wish her the best of luck in her new position.

Please click here for more information on the Victory Candidate & Campaign Training.

Victory alum working for the Department of Education

Former Victory Congressional Intern Levi Bohanan, a Summer 2014 intern for Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., has accepted a full-time position at the Department of Education.

Levi completed his degree at Texas A&M University, where he worked for the Dean of Faculties Office, as well as for the Department of Multicultural Services as an orientation speaker for incoming 

students. While at Texas A&M, Levi also served as president of the LGBTQA Aggies Student Association. After graduating cum laude with a degree in political science in December 2014, Levi moved to Washington and worked as a canvasser at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

These days, Levi is working as a Confidential Assistant in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs at the Department of Education. He’s particularly interested in working with education legislation and policy concerning students with disabilities.

“I’ve always wanted to work at the intersection of education and policy,” Levi noted, “which was actually what led me, in part, to the VCI program at Victory.” According to Levi, he could not be at the positon he is in now without his VCI experience. “It helped give me the skills to navigate DC and gain invaluable and hands-on work experience in these particular issue areas.”

Levi hopes to go on to continue to work in education policy, focusing on higher education policy and finance and its effects on low income and minority students. Wherever Levi ends up going, we are sure he's on to great things. 

Click here for more information on the Victory Congressional Internship.


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