By Bob Roehr
Massachusetts State Senator Cheryl Jacques will become the next president and executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The announcement came on November 3, after a vote by the board of directors the previous evening at a meeting in Denver.
“From the genesis of this nation, GLBT Americans have been an important part of this country’s fabric making important contributions at every level of our society,” Jacques said in a statement released by HRC. “We have to continue the tradition of taking that message to Middle America.”
Jacques, 41, is a graduate of Boston College (1984) and Suffolk University Law School (1987). She became politically active at an early age and was first elected to the state senate in 1992, serving continuously since then.
Her partner gave Jacques a gift of attending the Millennium March on Washington for GLBT rights in April 2000 and that experience led to her public coming out as a lesbian in an editorial in the Boston Globe.
She ran for Congress in a special election in 2001 when Ninth Congressional District Rep Joe Moakley died in office, and came in second in a crowded field where the liberal vote was divided among several candidates.
In endorsing her for that race the Boston Phoenix said, “Beyond these tangible assets [of her record] Jacques has something else that’s hard to quantify: call it star potential. Although she’s been in the campaign just eight weeks, she has grown dramatically on the trail…She is easily the most articulate candidate on issues ranging from stem-cell research to civil rights to tax reform.”
Jacques announced a bid for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts in 2002, winning the early support of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. However, she later abandoned that effort to run for reelection to the state senate.
Vic Basile, cochair of the HRC search committee that hired Jacques, is “really excited abut having her here. She has a great deal of presence, she’s real smart, she’s got political experience.” It was a unanimous decision of the board.
“One of the things that was very important to us was [selecting] someone who can build bipartisan bridges. With some of the legislation she has passed, she could only do it with bipartisan support, and she got it.” Basile cited the defeat of the local antigay defense of marriage act and passage of gun control legislation.
Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, worked with Jacques while he was a member of the Massachusetts state legislature. “Cheryl Jacques is a proven leader for a challenging time,” he said. “She is a strong and experienced choice to lead the Human Rights Campaign.”
Basile acknowledged that raising money is one of the executive director’s principle responsibilities for the $20+ million a year organization. It was a major concern for the committee. He said they were impressed by her ability to raise a million dollars during the eight weeks of her congressional campaign and thought that she could do even better for a cause. “I think she is going to connect with donors, she has a presence thing,” he said.
There also was concern that she has been publicly out for only three and a half years. But, said Basile, “Her coming out experience [at the Millennium March and concert] was so emotional for her. That is when she wrote the Boston Globe piece. It was trial by fire for her, coming out to the world because you are in the camera’s eye.”
“I think she really gets now how important it is to be out. I think that there is a freshness still about her about that,” he added.
Another concern is family. The job requires a lot of time on the road and one of the reasons that Elizabeth Birch cited in stepping down was to spend more time with her two young children. That also was a factor in Elizabeth Toledo’s short stay as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which ended in 2001. Jacques’ partner gave birth to twin boys who are now toddlers.
“We were satisfied that she and her partner had talked a great deal about this,” said Basile. He pointed out that she is a legislator, politician, law professor, and someone with her own private law practice. “This is a woman who spends lots of time away from home now and somehow they have found a way to balance it.”
Jacques will resign from her state senate seat and will move to Washington by the end of the year. She already has begun the transition process with Birch.