Gains in LGBTQ Political Representation
with Ruben Gonzales of the LGBTQ Victory Institute
2020 saw more openly LGBTQ candidates than ever before run for public office, resulting in the highest level of LGBTQ representation in government, to date. At the time of this interview, there were more than 200 known LGBTQ appointees in the Biden administration.
Ruben Gonzales, Executive Director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, joins Tetiana Anderson to discuss the gains made in LGBTQ representation.
May 28, 2021
Anderson: Three years before LGBTQ icon Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Kathy Kozachenko was elected to the Ann Arbor City Council in Michigan, making history as the first openly gay candidate to win public office in the United States. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Diversity and inclusion at all levels of government is important. Joining me to talk about LGBTQ representation in the presidential administration is Ruben Gonzales, Executive Director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, and, Ruben, thanks for being here.
Gonzales: Thank you for having me, Tetiana.
Anderson: So we know just 50 years ago, people in the LGBTQ community were barred from serving in the federal government. Fast-forward to the days of Bill Clinton, when your organization really hit the ground to make some changes with the Presidential Appointments Initiative. Things changed, but I'm curious about what your first real win was. What was the first victory you all had?
Gonzales: Well, an early milestone and a big victory for the LGBTQ community in terms of representation in a presidential administration was the appointment of Roberta Achtenberg in 1993 as the assistant secretary in the Fair Housing Office at the Housing and Urban Development. Roberta Achtenberg was the first person from the LGBTQ community to go before the Senate for confirmation. This was a groundbreaking moment for our community to be in front of the Senate to be able to talk about her qualifications, what she could bring to the role, and the fact that her qualifications were able to get her into this position without having people's perceptions of LGBTQ people hold her back is just a moment for our community that we celebrate as one of our first victories.
Anderson: And you've had many victories. I mean, I know that with President Barack Obama, he appointed about 330 LGBTQ people, and about half were because of the Presidential Appointments Initiative. Let's talk about Joe Biden at his 100-day mark, which is, of course, a milestone for any president. He was being touted as the president who made the most LGBTQ appointments in history. How did he do that, and what was your organization's role?
Gonzales: Well, it's really exciting to celebrate President Biden's first 100 days. They reported that 14% of all appointments in the Biden administration are LGBTQ people. This is a really exciting milestone for our community. The way that Victory helped the Biden administration get there was to really help identify people from all sectors, all walks of life with different backgrounds and qualifications who could serve in a presidential administration. We sought out relationships with organizations that could help us to find experts in housing, experts in science, experts in climate, experts in health, and we were able to help to organize those folks and put them in front of the Biden administration and hold them up as people who were qualified to serve in this administration.
Anderson: And it's not just about gains at the federal level. I mean, there's a wave of wins on the state and local level. Give us the quick overview of what's going on nationwide.
Gonzales: Nationwide, it's an exciting time. We're at 992 LGBTQ-elected officials across the country. When Victory first started counting in 2017, we were at about 420 LGBTQ elected officials, so we've seen huge gains across the country, especially the state and local level. LGBTQ people are running for office at all levels, from the school board all the way to running for president with Pete Buttigieg in the most recent election, so we've been really excited to support LGBTQ people in running for office and preparing them and helping make connections for them with other elected officials and other people running for office and to support them in seeking public office.
Anderson: And I know that your group has some pretty lofty goals for the future. What are they, and can you achieve them all?
Gonzales: I think we can. We're off to a great start. As part of the Presidential Appointments Initiative, we are seeking out to have the first-ever LGBTQ person of color, the first woman from the LGBT community, or the first transgender ambassador serve under the Biden and Harris administration. We're also looking to have the first-ever LGBTQ Supreme Court justice named during this administration. We have built a great pipeline of LGBTQ leaders that are qualified and ready to serve this country, and we are looking forward to helping make those connections with the administration. We are also working to help more people run for office. Victory put out a report around women running for office and some of the barriers that LGBTQ women face when they run for office. We are starting a program this year called Women Out to Win that will help to give more visibility for women who are running for office and women who've been successful in running for office, and also some mentoring for women who are running for office to help them to overcome some of the barriers that they face when running.
Anderson: And, Ruben, if people want to find out more about the Victory Institute, where can they go?
Gonzales: You can find us at victoryinstitute.org to learn more about the organization, And you can also see the map of all of the LGBTQ elected officials at outforamerica.org.
Anderson: Ruben Gonzalez, thank you for being here.
Gonzales: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the United States, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.