The Victory Fund and Institute kicked off its 25th anniversary with a champagne reception Sept. 18 at Ignite Glass Studios in the West Loop.
Victory Fund Campaign and Institute Board Chair for the Midwest Region Eric Nelson welcomed the 150 people in attendance and spoke about Victory Fund and Institute President and CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills' vast political experience ahead of her remarks. He also noted they've endorsed 200 candidates nationwide this election cycle.
Moodie-Mills said that during a recent panel discussion she was asked what keeps her up at night. She explained that it's the false sense of power people ascribe toward the LGBT community which isn't true. Moodie-Mills indicated that in terms of LGBT elected officials ( about 500 nationwide ) there's been a plateau for the past 10 years and that's left the community extremely underrepresented in most parts of the country.
"The good news is we're now in a political environment where we're able to provide opportunities for LGBT candidates in parts of the country that seemed unviable just one or two election cycles ago," said Moodie-Mills.
Among the many LGBT candidates running across the country, Moodie-Mills singled out two state representative races of noteretired Navy Captain Jane Campbell, who's running for office in North Carolina, and Beth Tuura, who's running for the seat where Orlando's Pulse nightclub is located.
"Most states aren't as fortunate as Illinois," said Moodie-Mills. "You have an embarrassment of riches here. Whereas some states have few or no openly LGBT elected officials, Illinois has 28 … Illinois is one of only 14 states rated at a high level for LGBT equality, so congratulations to you for all the work you've done."
During his keynote address, Iowa state Sen. Matt McCoy spoke about his own coming out story and how the Victory Fund impacted his first political campaign 14 years ago.
"The Victory Fund has provided me with so many tools, so much support and so much training over the years," said McCoy.
McCoy noted that his presence at the table when legislators were discussing LGBT issues matters more than one can imagine in obtaining a positive legislative result. He said that LGBT victories can evaporate overnight if anti-LGBT people are elected to statewide or national offices or appointed to the federal courts including the Supreme Court.
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley ( vice-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus ) and Cradles to Crayons Executive Director and former Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov received the Champion of Equality Award. In addition, DOW Chemical Company received the Corporate Equality Award, with DOW USA President Pedro Suarez accepting on the company's behalf.
Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy was on hand to present Cherkasov with his award while Moodie-Mills presented Quigley and DOW Chemical/Suarez with their awards.
Cassidy spoke about the work Cherkasov did to ensure equality in the state and noted Illinois is one of only a handful of states to ban conversion-therapy practices on LGBT youth.
Cherkasov chronicled his family emigration to the United States from Azerbaijan, which had an anti-Semitic government. He said his parents saw the States as the land of fairness and equal opportunity.
"We have to be able to share our own stories and make our own case for equality," said Cherkasov. "This is part of the work the Victory Fund does."
Quigley explained that in order to obtain nationwide equality for the LGBT community, it's imperative to elect Hillary Clinton as president and shift both houses of Congress to Democratic control. He noted that with Democrats in control progressive legislation, including the Equality Act, will be able to pass through both houses of Congress and be signed into law.
"This recognition is very important to us," said Suarez. "I believe that an inclusive workplace, and for that matter society, that welcomes and respects everyone is one that enables citizens to thrive and economies to grow. Inclusion is the true catalyst for success."
Suarez noted that DOW will continue to work on state and federal LGBT issues because for them full inclusion is the endgame.
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner and Victory Institute board member Debra Shore received the first ever leadership award which has been named herthe Debra Shore Leadership Award. This award will be given to a person or entity each year who has demonstrated the kind of leadership Shore has done on behalf of LGBT equality. Mike Holloman, chair of the Victory Institute board, presented Shore with her award.
Shore noted that unlike other LGBT organizations, the Victory Fund has avoided mission creep by being lean and adapting as time marches on. She explained that every state that achieved marriage equality legislatively prior to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling had at least four openly LGBT people in their state legislatures. Shore praised the work Moodie-Mills has done this past year and called on attendees to join the Victory Cabinet.
Sponsors included Barnes and Thornburg, LLC, Center on Halsted, Christy Webber Landscapes, Clark Pellett and Robert Kohl, state Sen. Heather Steans, Ronna Stamm and Paul Lehman, Jon Lehman and Zach Huelsing, Sommers and Fahrenbach, Inc., Shore, Michael Grover and Nunzio Lupo and Louis A. Vega /The DOW Chemical Company.
Receptions will also be taking place in Palm Springs, Los Angeles, New York City and Nashville in the coming weeks and months.
See www.victoryfund.org/ for more information .