By the Numbers
By his own account, Ferndale resident Oscar Renautt is "a numbers person." That's why, when he calculated how grossly underrepresented the LGBTQ community is in elective office, he wanted to do something about it.
"I do a lot of research, so according to our sources, we currently have just under 1 percent of LGBTQ elected officials in our nation," Renautt said. [by this account, .13 percent] "If I do my numbers correctly, that's roughly 600 people out of nearly 520,000 elected officials in our country. And while our community consists of 5 to 6 percent of our nation, we should be closer to 20,000 elected officials in our nation to be equally represented."
Determined to remedy the situation, Renautt founded the Unity Fund, a political action committee that endorses and financially assists LGBTQ candidates in Michigan. PACs like the Victory Fund endorse LGBTQ candidates all over the country; this is the first one solely defined by the state's borders.
"The Unity Fund is a political action committee that consists of citizens — LGBTQ and allies —that came together to support LGBTQ candidates because we see a void in the support currently locally and we all understand that local elections are very important for us," Renautt said. "So we wanted to … create something that would help our LGBTQ candidates…to run more successful campaigns. Until we're going to have campaign reform in our country, running a campaign is very expensive.
"[The] LGBTQ community needs representation," Renautt continued. "We need people in public offices locally, and we need them in the Senate; we need them in the House. That's why we all came together, and we decided to pool our resources, contribute ourselves to the fund and then publicly announce the formation so the LGBTQ community [and allies] can come help us finance these elections."
The Unity Fund was founded in April 2020, just in time to support candidates running for office in November 2020.
"We started talking about it last year, because we got inspired by the rainbow wave of 2018 and we saw how many LGBTQ candidates ran very successful campaigns and we elected some very brilliant people on the state level and locally as well," Renautt said.
The steering committee's original plan was to form an independent PAC; that way, by backing a minimum of three candidates and with a minimum of 25 individual donors, they could contribute to each of their chosen candidates at up to 10 times the individual donor level. However, due to the constraints brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, that number of donors was not achieved. Still, they are able to function as a PAC and contribute to campaigns at the individual level. In the future, they hope to scale up.
There are several criteria that candidates must meet to secure endorsement by the Unity Fund. First of all, they must be committed to making a difference when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Legally, they must be formally registered as a candidate either with the county or state. And of course, they must be openly LGBTQ. Because they are a new organization with limited funds, for an endorsed candidate to receive financial support, they must also be strong contenders in their races.
Thus far, the PAC has endorsed and is supporting four candidates: Cynthia Thornton (State Rep, 7th District), Kevin Kresch (State Rep, 27th District) and Jody LaMacchia (State Rep, 46th District) have each received $1,000 from the Unity Fund. Dave Coulter, candidate for Oakland County Executive, is another candidate who's been endorsed and will be receiving a donation. 60th House District State Rep. Jon Hoadley has been endorsed in his race for U.S. Congress as well.
As Renautt explained, "we are still in our early stages," so to be considered for endorsement, "We obviously rely on our network, our friends, obviously on professionals," he said. "We have a source at the LGBTQ Democratic Caucus that provided us with some recommendations… there's a lot of networking, currently, and we created a list and select the ones in our opinion that would make the biggest impact for the community."
In addition to financial assistance, there are other ways the Unity Fund aims to help its candidates. Because they have members who are experienced in the political field, they can be brought in to help with things like training, strategy and networking. In the future, Renautt said they'd like to be able to develop a list of LGBTQ professionals who can provide flyers, t-shirt printing and the like.
"If people want to get involved on a different level, they can also become members of our PAC," Renautt said. "They can come join us and be more active, because we are growing and we are going to be expanding and we'll be looking for people to offer to help us in different areas. An organization like ours is going to have social media outreach; we'll be doing a lot of fundraising … we probably will never have a building because we are trying to keep our expenses very low. We don't have day-to-day activities except to fundraise and meet once in a while."
Because the Unity Fund is entirely run by volunteers and has no overhead at present, 100 percent of donations currently go to the endorsed candidates.
In the future, Renautt simply wants to enable more LGBTQ candidates to seek office in Michigan.
"We would like to see more LGBTQ candidates running successful campaigns, stress-free, hopefully, or with reduced stress and … winning their campaigns," Renautt said. "And hopefully putting an end to LGBTQ civil rights issues, which is a goal and dream for all of us, I believe."
To learn more visit unityfundmi.com.