EXCLUSIVE: Victory Funds’ President, Annise Parker

Photo by Nate Gowdy

by MK Scott

Whenever the opportunity arises of interviewing an Icon in person, I always jump at the chance. When, upon hearing, the former Houston Mayor and current Victory Fund President, Annise Parker, was going to be in town for a reception last Thursday [July 18], I couldn’t pass it up. I arrived about fifteen minutes early, and met Ms. Parker when she arrived, we took at seat and it was awkward at first, but towards the middle, I noticed the passion coming from Parker.

MK Scott: Welcome to Seattle.

Annise Parker: Thank you.

MK: You are now the President/CEO of the Victory Fund. And I know Chuck Wolfe was the executive director for a very long time. Is there anything that he said, anything, any like words of encouragement?

Annise: Yeah, and Victory existed long before Chuck. And, hopefully, will exist long after I’m no longer leading it. But, and so, when I came in – it’s been several years since Chuck had been actively involved – but the work hasn’t really changed. It’s about our target audience. It is the candidates, because they have to believe that Victory has something of value to offer them. And it’s the donors who understand that when we vet candidates and provide information on candidates that those candidates are worthy of an investment. Now, what is really growing rapidly is the work that we do on the Institute side, not the Victory Fund side, but the Victory Institute side.

That’s our (c)(3). And that’s where we do our candidate campaign trainings, where we do the annual conference. Because it’s the only gathering, worldwide gathering, of LGBT elected official each year, and we have a number of other programs as well. And so it is about continuing to do what we were originally formed for, and we’re the only organization in our space. We’re the only national organization who focuses only on LGBTQ candidates. We don’t do allies. And we don’t do policy. Every other national organization is focused first on policy. We believe that if we put the right people in the right place the policy will take care of itself. And that a qualified LGBTQ candidate will be able to advocate for their constituents, but also for the broader community. And it’s not up to us to tell them what the issues are, they already know what the issues are.

MK: Now, speaking of endorsing candidates, you just recently endorsed Mayor Pete. And what has impressed you the most about him?

Annise: Well, first I will hasten to say that we didn’t endorse Mayor Pete because he was the only LGBTQ candidate. We didn’t endorse him when he announced that he was going to run. We didn’t endorse him when he formally entered the race. We waited until he had proven that he could compete on a level playing field with the other candidates, which is what we ask of every one of our candidates. That said I knew him as a fellow mayor. I’ve gotten to know him better since I’ve left office. We’ve been on a number of panels together.

We’ve had a number of conversations. He’s a gifted politician. He’s a very, very smart guy. He can connect to people from any background in any walk of life. The fact that he’s so gifted with languages is a huge help as well. And he’s – every day that he is in this race he’s a role model. He’s changing America’s perception of what a gay man is and can be. And he’s a great representative of not just our community, but a really excellent candidate for President of the United States. We’re very excited about it.

MK: And what do you think of President Trump’s current policies in regard to …

Annise: On just about anything? They’re atrocious! Well, again, we’re not a policy organization. So, but the only thing I can say, officially, for Victory, is that anyone who thinks that Trump has been good for the LGBT community is living in a fantasy land. He is actively targeting the trans community, both clearly in the military by forcing trans soldiers out. But his policies on transgender protections for students, his policies on protections for gay and lesbian students as well, or the rollback of those policies, is very detrimental.

And through his cabinet secretaries you also see an unwinding of general protections. When you then add to it that he’s an active supporter of the so called Riptor Bills, Religious and Restoration Act bills, that many of his appointees support things like conversion therapy, including his Vice President, you could see that he’s been not just indifferent to the LGBTQ community but actively hostile to the LGBTQ community.

MK: And so, you know, back to that again, what about … what is your take on all these people who are gay that are affiliated with Trump, who actually support him?

Annise: … gay Trump supporters. There’ll never be any lesbian Trump supporters. (Laugh)

MK: That is true. That is true. Yes.

Annise: That’s fine. They may choose to support Trump, but they cannot fool themselves to say that they are doing anything to support the LGBTQ community by doing that. And one of the victories in a non-partisan organization. And we endorse every Republican that we can. One of the challenges, though, is that we are a pro-choice organization because we believe, very fundamentally, in a right to privacy. And that was part of our founding documents. And we are also a fully inclusive organization.

And we have, unfortunately, not been able to endorse some of the Republican candidates who sought our endorsement because they don’t believe in trans inclusion. They will very explicitly say that they are gay, and they support, you know, protections for gays and lesbians, but that they don’t believe the trans issues, that gender identity should be part of the community – that it’s not something that we believe.

MK: Absolutely. And regards to the …

Annise: You know, there are folks from all communities. Trump has Latino supporters. Trump has African-American supporters. It doesn’t mean that Trump is good for either the Latin X community, or the African-African community. And people may fool themselves, and people have a lot of reasons for supporting candidates. They simply … no one who supports Trump from our community could stand up and say that they’re doing it because he’s good for our community.

MK: Now, are there any other LGBT candidates across the nation that you have your eyes on?

Annise: A lot of LGBT candidates. This year, this is a, we have a lot of the local elections in 2019, and we dubbed it the year of the lesbian mayor. We elected three or four lesbian mayors, big city mayors, who were contending. We are most particularly excited about Lori Lightfoot in Chicago. The largest city ever in America to have a lesbian mayor, and the largest city ever in America to have a woman mayor. Chicago is the third largest city, Houston was the fourth largest. Lori Lightfoot took both those titles.

We’re very excited about that, but when you look at her success in Chicago, Dan Castor’s success in Tampa, and Conway’s success in Madison, they – overwhelming victories. Just like a clear marker that they had much broader appeal than just from, you know, we get accused a lot of being involved in identity politics, and we do believe that identity matters, but we’ve never endorsed a candidate simply because they were from the community. And the most successful candidates we have, like Lori Lightfoot, who is 74% of the vote …

MK: Wow.

Annise: … shows that she had appeal much beyond our community. And she had a message that resonated with all the voters of Chicago.

MK: Because actually, as a Northwesterner, we have the pleasure, because I was around in Portland at the time that Sam Adams had his first year as mayor. And then, of course, I came back here, which is my permanent home, and then suddenly Ed Murray, who I have known for years and years and years, who was endorsed by the Victory Fund pretty much every single time that he ran for the legislature.

Annise: Well, this year – well, in 2018, we doubled the number of governors. We doubled the number of senators. And then we increased the number of members of Congress, other members, the members of the House of Representatives from six to eight. That number’s growing. But at Victory we care about the federal races. But our target race is at the statehouse level. We care about all the races. But what has more impact on peoples’ lives? A big city mayor, first and foremost. And where is the next place we really need to be? In the state legislatures. Where does most bad legislation start? In the statehouses.

Where can we, when we put somebody in the statehouse, we can tell, we’ve done a lot of analysis of this, if you put one person in a statehouse it slows the progress of bad bills. But if you put three people in you almost guarantee that the really anti-LGBTQ bills don’t pass. And if you put more than that in then you start getting the positive bills. And we are very excited about what happened in 2018 the number of state candidates who were elected. We think that 2020 will be just as robust in terms of the number of candidates running.

We have a tool, and it’s called the Alpha America Map. And if you do an internet search, it’s for Alpha America, it will take you to our map, and it will show you every current LGBT elected official. And the number goes up and down, but right now it’s approximately 700. There were more than 700 candidates who ran in 2018 alone. We identified more than 700. We actually touched in some way where they communicated with us approximately 400 candidates we endorsed in 274 races. And 64% of our candidates won. So we’re really, really excited about it.

MK: That’s fabulous. I have one last question, which is actually kind of interesting. I had just heard a rumor that Houston placed a bid to host WorldPride in 2023.

Annise: Really? I don’t know. If you’ve heard that rumor you’re ahead of me. And I would be really, really happy to see that. One of the things that chagrins me after three terms as Mayor of Houston is that Houston does not have a nondiscrimination policy for anyone. We actually had our comprehensive policy rescinded by the voters. And the State of Texas seems to be pretty anti-LBGT, well; Houston is fine, but …I’m a little surprised. All the big cities in Texas are progressive islands in the big toxic red sea.

MK: Especially Austin.

Annise: Austin’s way to the left of everything else.

MK: And one quick follow-up question. At the Seattle International Film Festival they showed the Beto O’Rourke documentary where just him running, and the way that he did so well, I think it was the first time that in I would say 20, 25 years, actually it was 25 years …

Annise: He came closer than anyone in the two decades, and he also had the highest voter turnout ever for a Democrat in the state of Texas. It was amazing. He ran an outstanding campaign. Now, part of it, Beto had a good plan. He did a statewide effort visiting every county. He is a gifted speaker, and he excited people, but he was also running against Ted Cruz, who even the Republicans dislike. He is … Ted Cruz doesn’t play nice in the sandbox with anyone. There was a lot of stuff to run on. And Beto did a great job of exploiting Ted’s vulnerabilities.

It’s not translated as well to the national stage. Because it’s a lot easier to run, you know, when you have a target. He was running against Ted Cruz and what Ted stood for. And, you know, as a presidential candidate it’s about what you stand for. So it’s a little bit different of an arena for him. But we were excited. Most of us in Texas wish he had stayed in the state and turned his sights to the current Senate seat which is open. But he made a different choice.

MK: Excellent. I think you deserve a lot of credit because you probably brought a lot of change to Texas when you got elected.

Annise: I did. And I was a target for a lot of folks on the right too. (Laugh) When you become part of Mike Huckabee’s dumb speech, and Ted Cruz’s dumb speech, it’s a mixed blessing.

MK: All right, well, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Annise: Oh, sure. Absolutely.

For more information on the Victory Fund, please check their site at victoryfund.org

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