Founded in 1991, Victory Fund and its non-profit arm, Victory Institute, have spent the last 30 years working to level the political playing field by supporting LGBTQ+ candidates for races all up and down the ballot. Currently, Victory Fund is supporting over 400 candidates, including key senate, mayoral and gubernatorial candidates. Annise Parker, the former three-term mayor of Houston, has been the president and CEO of Victory Fund and Victory Institute since December 2017. With midterm elections just weeks away, Parker spoke with News is Out about the organization’s important work of supporting LGBTQ+ candidates in elections across the country.
What does Victory Fund do?
The Victory Fund’s mission is to “achieve and sustain equality by increasing the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials at all levels of government while ensuring they reflect the diversity of those they serve.” According to the fund, voters need to elect “35,854 more LGBTQ public servants in order to achieve fair representation in government.”
“We are all about filling the pipeline of future leaders who want to be in office, either elected or appointed,” says Parker. “We handle the Presidential Appointments Initiative for all of the other LGBT organizations.”
For candidates selected by Victory Fund, that means support in several ways, from consulting, extensive training programs, communications and finding investors. Running a campaign, whether it’s a major position like a Senate or a school board position, requires funding.
“We’re a bundling PAC. We find candidates and then we try to persuade donors across the country to make an investment in the candidates of their choice,” says Parker. “We think of ourselves as sort of investment advisers. You know we want people to invest in these candidates.”
Victory Fund offers a national platform that they would otherwise not have. For the organization, it’s about giving candidates a chance to grow and launch the best campaign possible.
“Victory Institute is a 501(c)(3), and we do candidate and campaign trainings that are second to none.”
Making Victory Fund’s list of candidates is a process and after extensive vetting, the organization only ends up putting their support behind candidates that have a real shot at victory in their races.
Out of over 1,000 candidates identified by the organization, less than half end up with support.
“We’re a fairly small organization,” says Parker, “but we do our best to connect with all of them. I think we at least exchanged emails and invited applications from some 650 of them. We’ve endorsed 460 candidates through the course of the year. Most of them, down-ballot candidates.”
Victory Fund is also quite an accurate predictor of success when it comes to supporting or not supporting campaigns. Over the last few years, only three candidates that the Victory Fund decided not to support won their races.
Parker shares that candidates undergo a thorough vetting process before the Victory Fund will share their support.
“Are you a credible individual? Do you have a good reputation in the community? We actually call in and kind of do reference checks. We look at the campaign. We ask them to tell us about what they’re running for, what their budget is, and how they expect to raise it. I mean, we go deep into the campaign, so it’s somewhat labor-intensive.”
One major requirement of candidates: they must be openly LGBTQ+. Parker tells News is Out, “You know, we want candidates who are comfortable in their own skin.”
Victory Fund is nonpartisan but they are pro-choice, and candidates “must be fully inclusive of gender identity issues,” says Parker. “We lose some of our Republican candidates, or conservative candidates, I should say, who don’t believe that trans issues are their issues, and we lose a handful of them.”
Yes, that does mean that Victory Fund will support a Republican candidate if they fit the organization’s criteria. However, according to Parker, there are not many Republicans currently on Victory Fund’s list.
“I think, with our 460 candidates, I think we’ve endorsed two this year out of about fifteen who applied. But we also lose some on the choice issue.”
While all races this year are important in their own right, Parker suggested a few key races to pay attention to and support.
Democrat Attorney General of Massachusetts Maura Healey is running for Governor of Massachusetts and if elected, would be the first openly lesbian governor in the United States. Before getting into law and politics, Healey played basketball for the Harvard Crimson and then professionally in Austria. Parker praises Healey saying, “Maura is just she’s an amazing person, a really fierce candidate. All those years of playing professional basketball. She’s a competitor.”
However, another gubernatorial race is a cause for concern for Parker. “Oregon is giving me heartburn every day.”
Oregon is currently in a three-woman race for Governor, with Victory Fund-backed Democrat and Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Tina Kotek running against independent Betsy Johnson and Republican Christine Drazan. Parker acknowledges that having three women in a race for governor is a milestone, but the race is tight and Johnson could split Democratic votes. “The third party, a former Democratic candidate, is acting as a spoiler, and it is a complete toss-up right now whether the Republican or the Democrat will win.”
As for other races to keep a close eye on, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nestle is running for reelection. “Having a fierce attorney general who will stand up for women and for the LGBTQ community is important to us,” according to Parker.
Also in Oregon, Jamie McLeod-Skinner is running for US House of Representatives, OR-5 “That’s a lean Democratic seat out there. So we’re watching that one pretty closely, too.” If she wins, McLeod-Skinner would be Oregon’s first openly lesbian member of Congress.
In Arizona, Democrat Kris Mayes is running for Attorney General in what Parker considers a “very important” race against Republican and 2020 election denier Abe Hamadeh.
How to get involved
Considering getting into politics? News is Out asked Parker for her advice for those considering running for election. For Parker, getting involved in someone else’s campaign should be the first step.
“Find a campaign to kind of observe and learn the ropes and volunteer in,” she says. “Then go to a training. In a good campaign, no one works harder than the candidate.”
Getting involved in the community is also an essential part of running for any office. “It doesn’t have to be political, but it has to be. People want to know that you are that you’re connected that it’s not just about you.”
When it comes to raising money for a first-time campaign, Parker cautions against self-funding. Self-funded candidates overall do not have good track records in elections. “And why is that? It’s because no one invests in them.” Parker likens it to a horse race. “So, if you go to the racetrack, and you know you put a two-dollar bet on a horse. You’re gonna cheer just as loud as the owner when the horse wins because you made it an investment.”
Finally, Parker also recommends taking one of Victory Institute’s candidate and campaign trainings which are available throughout the year and in different cities across the country.
Resources for Election 2022
Make sure you are registered to vote in your district in order to cast your ballots. Visit usa.gov/register-to-vote or check your state’s registration instructions or learn more and find your polling location. Elections will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.