by Jessica Carreras
For the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, it seems that every year is a record year.
The national organization, which specializes in supporting and training LGBT leaders running for all levels of public office, keeps track of the number of openly LGBT elected and appointed officials throughout the world with a tracker that’s updated daily. And the numbers are looking good.
Currently, said Vice President for External Affairs Denis Dison, there are 736 appointed and elected officials in North America; and 445 elected officials in the U.S. currently, not including such selected positions as judges and President Barack Obama’s appointments.
Dison said that the Victory Fund’s endorsements totaled 78 for this year, and topped off at 111 in 2008 – up from 72 and 88 in 2007 and 2006, respectively. Though the organization only keeps official records of candidates they endorse – which comes out to just over 50 percent of those who apply – Dison maintained that the number of candidates is indeed going up, and the Victory Fund expects to break their record yet again in 2010.
“It tends to go down in odd years because those are non-federal election years,” he explained. “Most states follow that, so we always have a dip in odd years, but it’s always been an upward trajectory.”
Their records of officials in office, he added, have consistently risen throughout the years, and include any public office from “dog catcher up to president.”
Michigan currently has 18 openly gay or lesbian elected officials, including Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, Royal Oak City Commissioner Gary Lelito and Lansing Mental Health Commissioner Maxine Thome.
The Victory Fund is only endorsing three candidates in Michigan for the Nov. 3 election: Scott Klein, running for reelection to Hamtramck City Council; Charles Pugh, running for Detroit City Council; and Terry Kuseske, running for Kalamazoo City Commission.
The overall continual upswing in endorsements and public officials, said Dison, shows both that LGBT politicos are less fearful of running as an out candidate, and that the public is more accepting of them.
“There are a lot of people who for years, have wanted to get involved in leading their community in politics,” he said. “They have great ideas, they have the energy and drive but they thought twice about it because they’re gay and they didn’t know if they could win or how the community would respond. The more that they see people being elected while being true and honest about themselves, the more they say, ‘OK, I can do this.'”
And with the help of groups like the Victory Fund and the Arcus Foundation, Dison added, they expect the numbers to keep going up.