While the LGBTQ community accounts for 4.5% of the U.S. population, the LGBTQ Victory Institute reports that LGBTQ Americans hold 0.1% of all elected positions nationwide.
Ruben Gonzales, Vice President of the LGBTQ Victory Institute
, joins host Paul Lisnek to discuss his organization’s efforts to ensure diversity and inclusion at every level of government.
Lisnek: The 116th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in our history. Of the 535 members of Congress, there are a total of 10 members from the LGBTQ community.There's two in the Senate,there's eight in the House of Representatives. Hi, welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers". I'm Paul Lisnek. While those numbers do show improvement, LGBTQ people remain severely underrepresented at every level of government. Joining me to talk about that now is Ruben Gonzales. He's the vice president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. Ruben, good to see you.
Gonzales: Good to see you as well, Paul.
Lisnek: So it's sort of interesting because the numbers are a record,but it's not enough at every level of government.What's important about the representation of the communityat every level of government?
Gonzales: Well, it's important to have our voicesin the conversation.There's an old expression that, if you're not at the tablethen you might be on the menu. We know that there's lots of allies in Congress, both in the House and the Senate, but that doesn't replace having the perspective and the stories of a person who grew up LGBTQ and what that means to them.
Lisnek: When I think of people in the community, my ears go to things like large communities, urban areas, but is that a stereotype? Or do we in fact have good representation from more rural areas, as well?
Gonzales: Well, in this last election in 2018,we saw LGBT people elected from places that you wouldn't expect. Kansas -- Sharice Davids. She's a member of Congress.They're also the first Native American or one of the first Native American women in Congress. But people would not expect a lesbian from Kansas to be elected. Kyrsten Sinema in the U.S. Senate now is from Arizona. Even Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin.So these aren't huge cities that they're representing, but they are places that they serve well.
Lisnek: We're not in Kansas anymore they might say, right? And let's take a look at the national level because here we have Mayor Pete Buttigieg who's running for president, openly gay. It's almost unheard of.And here's the thing -- he's not being dismissed. He's looked at as a serious candidate, so have things changed in terms of how people view this issue on a national level?
Gonzales: I think it has. And talk about representing a place that might be unexpected.Mayor Pete is from Indiana, from South Bend, Indiana.Not a big city or a large metropolis, but he has served that city very well for two terms as mayorand has done a fantastic job there.And it is exciting for us to see that people are respondingto his ideas and the way that he presents himself and that him being openly gay and him being married has not been a deterrent for people to support him or to listen to him.
Lisnek: One of the things that's always interesting is people who are from the LGBTQ community like him, and they sometimes face religious questions or objections -- one of the things he's been able to do is bridge that gap and talk about his own religious values. As a movement goes forward, how important is it that membersof the LGBTQ community are able to reflect religious values, other areas, which sometimes can pose a level of conflict?
Gonzales: I think it's really important.Our community is very diverse. We have every color of the rainbow represented in our community, every religion.We're from every state in the country, and so it's fantastic to be able to put that voice forward of a person who's proud to be gay and proud to be Christian at the same time.
Lisnek: Which raises another question for me because there's two ways to serve in the legislature, any legislature, as LGBTQ. One is to be out and open about it, and the other one is to not be. So every year, October, there's a Coming Out Day, that kind of thing. How important is it that people who serve, if they are a member of the community, are open and out about it?
Gonzales: It's very important. Aside from passing legislation, just being, I think, probably more effective people for being out. You know, people that are out in Congress, people that are running for president and they're out, they're inspiring generations of young people who are struggling with coming out themselves and to be able to see a role model like Senator Tammy Baldwin or Mayor Pete Buttigieg is life-changing for a teenager who's growing up in South Bend, who may not ever be able to consider coming out in their home school, but seeing Mayor Pete do this on the national stage and being able to be proud and showing his husband with him is really transformative.
Lisnek: Is this one of the ways, Ruben, maybe that social media can be of a value because people can see positive images,hear positive things, and with educationand exposure, have attitudes change around the country?
Gonzales: I think so. I think social media allows someone like Mayor Pete or any of our representatives in Congress to be able to communicate directly to the community.They can share videos, they can share their stories,their first-hand perspective. If you follow any of their Instagrams, you see what their lives are like, and I think that does paint a fuller pictureof what it means to be openly LGBTQthat is helpful for younger peopleand people across the country that are looking for examples of what it means to be LGBTQ in the United States.
Lisnek: Well, best wishes on the work you do.It will be interesting to see how these numberslikely grow over time.
Lisnek: Ruben Gonzales fromthe Victory Institute, thank you so much for joining us.
Gonzales: Thank you.
Lisnek: And thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leadersaround your community, across our country, all you have to do is go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.