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Parker Settles In as Head of Victory Fund

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Former Houston mayor Annise Parker is now president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Former Houston mayor Annise Parker is now president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.  

Lesbian former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the new president and CEO of the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Victory Institute, is ready to get to work as the organization prepares to help LGBT candidates across the country in the November 2018 elections.

Parker, 61, who led the Texas city from 2010 to 2016, began her post at the Washington, D.C.-based Victory Fund Monday, December 11.

Asked about her first priority in the new job, Parker said, "I know the organization, and I know the issues, so the first job for me is to get to know the staff and to connect with the board members and our major donors across the country."

LGBTs made history in elections across the country this November. There were at least 71 openly LGBT candidates in 23 states. Of those, 55 percent won, 35 percent lost, and the results of 10 percent were not immediately available.

Among the winners was Danica Roem, who won election to the Virginia House of Delegates against a Republican incumbent who had made a name for himself trying to ban transgender people from public restrooms.

According to the Victory Fund, which supported 61 of the 72 LGBT candidates, Roem's win makes her the first out transgender person to win and serve in a state legislature and the only out transgender state legislator in the U.S.

However, in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Parker, whose own political career was aided by the Victory Fund, warned against getting complacent.

"2018 is not going to be easy simply because we have someone in the White House to run against," she said, referring to President Donald Trump. With past victories, many have said, "We're on the right track," and didn't see as much of a need to push as hard for LGBTQ rights. But as has been seen with the Trump administration, "hard fought rights can be swept away very, very quickly," she said.

She added, "The most important thing anyone can do is to be engaged" in the process, get registered, and vote in every election, among other steps.

Parker, whose salary is $300,000, replaces Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, who resigned. She will continue living in Houston, but she said, "I expect to do a lot of traveling next year."
She doesn't plan to focus on big cities on the coasts like San Francisco, either.

"I want to dispel the idea that any part of America is fly-over country," said Parker, adding that she plans to go to places like Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa.

"We are very interested in the local races," including at the levels of state legislatures, city councils, and school boards, she said. Among candidates of special interest are lesbian U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), who's running for re-election in 2018.

"We still have to sit down and look across the landscape and figure out which races we're really going to profile and make spotlight races, and we're in the midst of that process," said Parker.

With harassment and misconduct accusations roiling the political, entertainment, and media professions, Parker sees the opportunity for new candidates to emerge.

"We know that this is going to be an important year for women candidates ... and in my view, we need to be looking for places where we can build coalitions and leverage our support for candidates with other organizations," she said.

Several transgender candidates are running for office, and "there are so many on the right who are targeting this, it's important for transgender candidates to step up and speak for themselves. We'll certainly support that process," she said.

Parker added, "Ultimately, it's about winning the races. We start with recruiting and training candidates," and engaging LGBTQs across the country who are interested in running for office.

"Once candidates decide on a race and jump into the process, they contact the Victory Fund, and we put them through the paces," she said. Being LGBTQ isn't enough. "We want to make sure the candidates we do endorse are capable and qualified and can put together a winning campaign."


Praise

LGBTs around the country had high praise for Parker.

"I couldn't be more excited to have Annise Parker leading the Victory Fund as we continue our fight for freedom, fairness, and opportunity for all," Baldwin said in a statement. "The Victory Fund has long elevated and championed LGBTQ leaders and our mission is no longer just about the history we make when we win. It's now about the difference those leaders can make in people's lives."

One transgender woman who's been helped by the Victory Fund in the past is Mia Satya, who's currently running for the San Francisco Board of Education. Satya was a Victory Empowerment fellow in 2015 and has gone to several of the group's trainings and conferences.

"As a former Texan turned San Franciscan, I'm inspired by [Parker's] leadership," she said. "I know she will use her expertise as a candidate and as a mayor who was re-elected multiple times to really elevate the Victory Fund platform nationally in these tumultuous times."

Former San Francisco resident Laura Spanjian, a lesbian who once ran for the District 8 supervisor's seat and is a former co-chair of the local Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, left the city in 2010 to work under Parker as Houston's sustainability director. She also served for many years on the Victory Fund's board.

Parker is the "perfect" person to run the Victory Fund, said Spanjian, who now works for Airbnb.

"Her skillset is unmatched," she said. The organization needs a CEO who understands what it takes to run successful campaigns, can raise money from national donors, and can build coalitions with diverse stakeholders.

"She excels at all of that," said Spanjian.

David Feltman, who serves on the western caucus of the Victory Fund's Victory Campaign board, said in a Facebook message that Parker "is a seasoned politician, successful fundraiser, and the skilled manager of the fourth largest city in the nation. Her leadership skills and experience will advance the mission of the Victory Fund and Institute to elect LGBT candidates across the country. We are fortunate to have her as president and CEO."

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