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The Democratic Party’s support for LGBT rights and the election of a record number of LGBT people — nearly all Democrats — to public office in the 2018 midterm elections were widely discussed at the Democratic National Committee’s 2019 Annual Winter Meeting held Feb. 1 through 16 in D.C.
Among those hailing the election of LGBT Democrats to local, state and congressional offices in what is being called the 2018 “rainbow wave” was DNC Chair Tom Perez.
Perez mentioned what he called the importance of LGBT Democratic candidates in a keynote speech at the closing session of the annual DNC Winter Meeting on Feb. 16. The meeting was held at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Perez also elaborated on what he said was the importance of LGBT Democrats running for public office at a meeting of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus held on the opening day of the DNC winter gathering on Feb. 14. Among other things, Perez praised the LGBT community and LGBT Democrats for emerging as a strong force in opposition to the Trump administration’s rollback of LGBT rights policies as well as other issues.
“Our democracy was on fire. You stepped up. You were the first responders,” he told about 85 people attending the LGBT Caucus meeting, including many of the 42 LGBT DNC members who make up the caucus.
“One of the things we learned is candidate quality matters,” said Perez in reference to the Democratic candidates who won their races on the local, state and congressional level in the 2018 midterm election.
“And when they had the likes of Danica Roem running for state legislative seats those things matter,” he said. “And that’s been a huge formula for our success over this cycle.”
He was referring to Danica Roem, the transgender Virginia lawmaker who beat an entrenched anti-LGBT GOP incumbent for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the nation’s first openly trans person to be seated in a state legislature.
In his remarks before the LGBT Caucus and in his speech at the closing session of the meeting, Perez also hailed the election last year of openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) as governor of Colorado. He called Polis’ election as the nation’s first openly gay governor “truly historic.”
Perez served as an assistant attorney general and Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. He told LGBT Caucus members he is confident LGBT people and the other diverse communities and working people that make up the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition will succeed in helping a Democratic presidential candidate defeat President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
“You’ve been leading the charge to make sure that we are calling out these efforts to turn the clock back,” he said. “It’s painful to me as someone who spent a heck of a lot of time in the Obama administration fighting for equality to see what the Education Department is doing, to see what the Labor Department is doing, to see what the military is doing to turn the clock back for so many communities, including the LGBTQ community,” he said.
Gay Democratic activist Earl Fowlkes, immediate past president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, an LGBT group, serves as chair of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus. He outlined the caucus’s plans for working with the DNC to help elect more LGBT delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention than any previous convention.
“This is one of the first caucus meetings of the whole weekend,” he told the Washington Blade after the LGBT Caucus meeting on Feb. 14. “And it was very positive. We are still in an afterglow from the rainbow wave that came across the country as part of the blue wave of 2018,” he said.
“There are new faces here,” he continued. “A lot of people are coming as vice chairs and party officials in their own states. So, we can see the movement growing visibly just by the people in this room.”
Among those in attendance were The LGBT & Allies Caucus Vice Chair Mark LaChey, who was elected first vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and would become the first openly gay Michigander to serve on the Democratic National Committee; Ray Buckley, the openly gay chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party; and Terje Anderson, the openly gay chair of the Vermont Democratic Party. Also attending were gay Wisconsin DNC member Jason Rae, who serves as the DNC’s National Secretary; LGBT Caucus Vice Chair Evangeline Beechler, who serves as Vice Chair of the Idaho Democratic Party; and LGBT Caucus Secretary Laurence Zakson, who holds positions with the California and L.A. County Democratic Party committees.
Also speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were leaders of three national LGBT political groups who briefed caucus members and others attending the meeting on the status of LGBT rights initiatives, including the Equality Act, an LGBT civil rights bill pending in Congress.
Among them were former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is the executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps elect LGBT people to public office. The others who spoke were JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign; and Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy and action for the National LGBTQ Task Force.
Polis greeted LGBT Caucus members on a video recording projected on a large screen at the caucus meeting. He mentioned some of the initiatives he and his new administration were working on in his first year in office.
“I’m busy being the governor of the great state of Colorado,” he said. “Come visit us some time.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.