In 1974, Kathy Kozachenko was elected to the Ann Arbor City Council in Michigan, becoming the first openly gay or lesbian candidate elected to public office in the United States. Forty-four years later, representation stands at 539 elected officials who openly identify as LGBTQ, holding public office from municipal to federal levels. While this number is at an all-time high, this population remains underrepresented at just 0.1 percent of all elected official nationwide.
Ruben Gonzales, Vice President of Leadership Initiatives at the LGBTQ Victory Institute
, joins Paul Lisnek to discuss efforts to increase the ranks of LGBTQ elected officials and create a national network to help further LGBTQ equality through the organization’s “Out for America Census Project.
Lisnek: There are more than 500,000 elected officials across the United States, from members of Congress to municipal officials. Well, of those, 539 are openly LGBTQ. Hi, welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek. And joining me for a discussion about the representation of the LGBTQ community in public office is Ruben Gonzales. He´s the Vice President of Leadership Initiatives with the LGBTQ Victory Institute. Ruben, so good to see you.
Gonzales: Thank you, Paul. Good to see you.
Lisnek: I just said 539 LGBTQ members, but the truth is, that´s a moment in time.
Gonzales: That´s correct. That is absolutely just a moment in time today. We have 539 people that we know about that are out and in elected office. This December, Victory Institute launched an Out For America map. It´s at outforamerica.org, and it´s a map of all the elected officials that we know of, and that´s at every level, from Senator Tammy Baldwin in the Senate all the way to school-board members, local city-council members, your local neighborhood-council representatives. We tried to get everybody who´s out, and that´s why we´re doing a census right now. We´re calling it our Come To Your Census program, and we´re trying to find more people. We know there´s lots of people that are out there, and so we´re expecting the number to even grow beyond 539.
Lisnek: Now, on one perspective, I could look and say I know the goal here is to reach at least 1% if you want to have proper representation of the LGBTQ community there, but on the positive side, there are more elected LGBTQ officials than ever before.
Gonzales: Absolutely. There´s more people than ever that are representing the LGBTQ community in positions across the country, and we´re really proud to stand with them. But you´re absolutely right. Of the 510,000 positions that are elected office in this country, if we were -- even taking the most conservative estimate of the LGBTQ population, which is about 4%, we would need to elect thousands more people -- about 21,000 more positions to office in order to have equal representation.
Lisnek: So, we may have people watching us now who are thinking, "Ah, I´d love to run for office. I can´t do that. And how do I deal with the fact that I´m lesbian or gay or bisexual, transgender?" The reality of it is, you guys have training sessions for folks who want to enter this world, so talk to me about that.
Gonzales: We do. After the 2016 election, I think one of the really exciting things was people were inspired to run for office, people were inspired to do more -- people from all walks of life. People who had never considered running for office or doing any types of public service before wanted to do something. That´s where Victory Institute comes in. We have a couple of different programs that help people get ready for that. We like to work with people from across sectors, across different fields who want to serve their communities, and we try to help get them prepared for that.
Lisnek: You, by the way, have a pretty illustrious group of alumni from that program -- Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, Congressman Jared Polis, you got him. And, by the way, Danica Roem, I think, is the first transgender elected person, but she went through your training.
Gonzales: She did. She went to our training in 2016, and we´re very proud of what she was able to accomplish in November. One of the things that we´re most proud of is that Delegate Roem stuck to the issues. She knew what her constituents wanted to hear about, she knew what was most important to them, and it´s one of the key things that you´ll take away from a Victory Institute training, that hopefully it´s not going to detract from your voters that you´re an out LGBTQ person. In fact, they appreciate your honesty. They appreciate the authenticity that you come to the table with. But, at the end of the day, that´s not going to win the office for you. There´s very few communities in the country that are a majority of LGBTQ people, and so that´s not going to take you over the top. You´ve got to serve your constituents, and so Danica Roem did a fantastic job of connecting to the issues that her community members cared about, and that´s why she won.
Lisnek: In fact, I remember, in all the interviews she did, all the interview questions were, "You´re transgender. Talk about that." She went, "I´ve got bridges to build, I´ve got roads to repair." So that came from your training?
Gonzales: It did. It´s one of the things that we drive home, that you have to know your voters. You have to talk to them about issues that they care about. And, at the end of the day, they may not care that you´re the first transgender person to be elected as an out transgender person, but they are going to care about that you are concerned about their traffic patterns, that you´re concerned about their schools, that you´re concerned about their job potential in the cities that they´re working in.
Lisnek: We´re all just Americans. You also have LGBTQ leadership summits, and I want just a quick mention of that because there are people out there who are like, "I´m thinking maybe I´ll run."
Gonzales: Right. So, we do leadership summits across the country. We try to do these in states that may be facing anti-LGBTQ legislation or don´t have a high representation of LGBTQ people in public service, so we´re doing those, and this year we´ll be doing them in Phoenix, Arizona, Columbus, Ohio, and Milwaukee, and we´ll be in New Orleans in a couple of weeks. And the idea is to get people who have any sort of idea of wanting to do something in public service, and we bring them together for a day. We bring out elected officials, out appointed officials from their local community to come talk to them about their path to success and how they got there and what they´re working on and what´s important for them, and we hope that they´ll leave that training with a better idea of, "Yes, I want to do more, and here´s what my potential is to do more."
Lisnek: Ruben, I imagine, as we watch these numbers through the years, we´ll see that 539 go up.
Gonzales: Absolutely. We work with people over the year who are running for office, and we expect that number to always grow.
Lisnek: All right. We´re going to monitor it as we go. –
Gonzales: Fantastic. –
Lisnek: Ruben Gonzales with the LGBTQ Victory Institute. Appreciate your time, and thanks to you for watching. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community, across our country, just visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Paul Lisnek. Bye-bye.