The Victory Fund: A brief history

Victory was founded in 1991 by LGBT activists and donors who recognized the success of EMILY’s List at attracting attention and support for women candidates for public office. Then counting less than 50 openly LGBT elected officials across America at any level of government, our founders understood that boosting our numbers in public office would be key to advancing equality. In creating the Victory Fund, they set out to emulate the EMILY’s List model of building a network of supporters who pledged to assist viable LGBT candidates endorsed by the organization.

Founding board members included David Mixner, Hilary Rosen, Roberta Bennett, Scott Hitt, Lynn Greer, John Thomas, David Detrick, Tim McFeeley, Vic Basile, Howard Menaker, and Terry Bean. On May 1, 1991, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund was formally created as a non-partisan political action committee.

That fall, Seattle City Council candidate Sherry Harris (pictured right) became the first candidate recommended to the Victory Fund donor network, then consisting of just 181 members. With Victory’s help, Harris beat a 24-year incumbent to become the nation’s first openly lesbian African-American city council member.

Rapid growth followed. Victory Fund strategists had set a modest goal of raising a total of $80,000 for six candidates during its first election cycle. Instead, they raised more than $263,000 for 12 candidates, including a young lesbian named Tammy Baldwin, who that year won a seat in the Wisconsin State House of Representatives.

William Waybourn (pictured left) and then Brian Bond led the organization as executive directors from 1991 to 2003, and in 1998, Victory was instrumental in assisting Tammy Baldwin’s winning congressional campaign, making her the first openly LGBT candidate ever elected to Congress as a non-incumbent.

Victory Fund board member Chuck Wolfe was named executive director in 2003, and under his leadership revenue tripled. Wolfe helped create the Victory Institute in 2004, a non-partisan training and education arm that was the culmination of a merger with the International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials. The Institute would go on to expand its leadership and executive development programs for LGBT officials to include programs at Harvard Kennedy School and Duke University, and establish the Victory Congressional Internship and Fellowship for outstanding LGBT college leaders.

In 2012, the Victory Fund endorsed a record 180 LGBT candidates and celebrated 123 victories, including the groundbreaking election of Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly LGBT U.S. senator. In the U.S. House, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep.Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rep Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) all won their races.

The Victory Institute expanded its footprint in 2013 to serve LGBT communities in developing countries, partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development in a groundbreaking program to deliver programming in Colombia, Peru and Serbia. Victory’s annual International LGBT Leadership Conference also grew to include some 600 participants from nearly 30 countries.

In 2014, Victory’s board of directors approved a revised strategic direction for the organization to prioritize working in the regions with the least amount of representation and where LGBT communities enjoy the fewest legal protections. While Victory still works everywhere, its staff and financial resources will be dedicated to building up leaders in places where the room and potential for progress is high. Identifying and supporting local heroes who are fighting to change their communities is Victory’s top priority as the global fight for LGBT equality continues.

 

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