LGBTQ advocates target new way to increase political power: redistribution

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“It’s about realizing that these communities exist, not just ignoring and rejecting them,” said State Representative Brianna Titone, Colorado’s first trans lawmaker, who signed a letter urging his state’s redistribution commission to keep gay neighborhoods. United. “We have a collective voice that we want to be heard.”

The Victory Fund’s campaign, “We Belong Together,” is unfolding this week with a two-pronged strategy: getting allied organizations to pressure cartographers to keep gay areas intact, a process that has already started in some states. , and start gathering data showing exactly where LGBTQ communities are located to speed up the process. The campaign’s launch coincides with the Census Bureau’s planned release Thursday of data that states will use to draw new political boundaries.

The group’s primary targets are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan and Montana – states where the redistribution is carried out by non-partisan commissions that have mechanisms in place to solicit and collect voter information. , as opposed to state legislators who draw the cards.

“Lawmakers can ignore public comment,” Titone said. “They do it all the time.”

This process could have its greatest impact at the municipal level, where it is easier for a concentrated LGBTQ community to achieve critical mass in a city council district. Project strategists have already identified several cities that could benefit from the effort.

Washington, DC, which has the highest percentage of the LGBTQ population in the country, currently has no openly gay members on its board. Philadelphia is one of the largest cities to never elect an openly LGBTQ person to its board, despite a vibrant community in the Gayborhood section of its downtown core.

“We all know how big a redistribution is for representation,” said Elliot Imse, spokesperson for the Victory Fund. “A line drawn in the middle of a neighborhood with a large LGBTQ population can make the difference between electing an LGBTQ person to city council or state legislature or having no people in those places.”

On the Florida state legislative map, the city of Wilton Manors, which in 2018 elected an all-gay municipal board, is separated from much of Fort Lauderdale, which also has a burgeoning gay population.

Greenwich Village, home to the Stonewall Inn, an iconic New York landmark of the gay rights movement, is consistently represented by an LGBTQ city councilor. But the strategic redistribution around Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea could give more gay allies to the council. Other potential LGBTQ hot spots: Decatur, northeast of Atlanta, has a high proportion of same-sex couples, and downtown Boise, Idaho, has a large gay community.

The educational component of the campaign will raise awareness of where past redistribution has divided LGBTQ communities, whether intended or not.

“In some cases they do it explicitly. In some places they do it by chance, but they just didn’t know it,” said Paul Mitchell, owner of Redistricting Partners, a consultancy on this project. “And even then, we should make an effort to let them know that the LGBT population has reason to be concerned about the redistribution.”

There are currently 986 LGBTQ elected officials in the country, according to data from the Victory Fund. This represents 0.19% of all elected officials, even though the LGBTQ community comprises at least 5.6% of the total population.

To achieve fair representation, the fund estimates that more than 28,000 additional LGBTQ people would be needed for elected office.

But even a small change in a local neighborhood can have a big impact. California, one of the first to embrace this kind of conscious LGBTQ redistribution, has demonstrated the value of creating a pipeline for gay leaders at the local level.

A prime example is San Diego, where allies and activists helped create a new municipal neighborhood that included the heart of the city’s gay community before the 1993 election.

Christine Kehoe became San Diego’s first openly gay elected official that year, before later becoming a member of the state legislature. This 3rd City Council District has been owned by a member of the LGBTQ community since being elected – and its occupants, including current San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and State Senate Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, have since risen to the top. of political power in California. .

“We’re proud of it,” Gloria said in an interview. “We have this 30-year history of continuous representation, and it’s not just that seat. We’ve all moved on to another office, breaking down barriers in the process.”

“It has ripple effects,” he added.

Gloria was a teenage intern during Kehoe’s first campaign for city council. His 1993 victory (and Milk’s victory in San Francisco) was made possible by the end of general elections in both cities, creating disparate districts instead of rewarding the best voters from a city-wide electorate. .

“Now we have an openly gay mayor in Todd Gloria,” Kehoe said in an interview. “But at the time it was considered a huge step forward when I won. The newspaper didn’t support me, and they pointed out my gay activism and just my gay references. “

Creating his eventual district took a tedious amount of data mining. Kehoe recalled that activists scattered around a living room flocked to Thomas Bros. maps and cards. with LGBTQ voters lists that had been painstakingly assembled from pride events over the years.

“It was really these volunteers who worked pretty much on paper that put together this map of District 3 council in time for the 1993 election,” Kehoe said, noting that they ultimately decided to regroup the Hillcrest neighborhoods. , Normal Heights and North Park. “I was able to win with huge support from the gay community.”

In 2021, cartographers will have more data than ever. The Census Bureau will eventually release information on same-sex couples who live in the same household. However, it does not follow gay men and women who are not living with a partner.

To fill in the gaps, the Victory Fund urged groups to take a piecemeal approach, combining the location of gay businesses, donor and member lists of allied political organizations, population registers and even tracking. the number and location of hate crimes.

Advocates say one of the main reasons for electing more LGBTQ leaders is because they are more aware of the issues their community faces. This includes everything from securing benefits for veterans released under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to developing legislation to help protect trans women from domestic violence to securing more contracts with LGBTQ professionals and businesses.

A small but symbolic example: As a lawmaker in the San Diego Military Army, Gloria was part of a successful effort to secure a US Navy ship named after Milk – some 70 years after Milk was fired for his sexual orientation.


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