The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund is among the largest LGBT political action committees in the U.S., and its sole focus is on developing political leaders to advance the cause of seeing our community “reflected in the political leadership at all levels of government.” Since 2003, Chuck Wolfe has served as President and CEO of the organization, so his announcement in September rates as one of the biggest shakeups in LGBT advocacy in recent memory.

In a letter posted on the Victory Fund’s site, Wolfe said, “My decision to step down at the end of this year after nearly 12 years as president and CEO comes at a time of great progress for our community, but also at a moment when the LGBT movement must step up the intensity of our work in places where equality is late in arriving. After much soul-searching, I concluded now is the right time for me to seek a new challenge and to hand the tiller to someone else.”

In mid-October, the Victory Fund held a Champagne Brunch in Nashville to raise funds for the cause and to update the community on Victory’s work and strategic planning. Shortly after the brunch, Wolfe sat down with Out and About to discuss the Victory Fund’s work, his decision to step down, and his hopes for the future.

 

Could you help familiarize our readers with the Victory Fund’s work in Tennessee, and Nashville?

Throughout Tennessee, whenever we have viable candidates we’re all over that! Tennessee is a big state for us. You have one of the worst legislatures in the United States for equality. And people seem to wear that as a badge of honor that are on the other side. We would like to take that badge away. In Tennessee, our major goal is finally getting someone elected to the Tennessee legislature. In Nashville specifically, we’re focused on winning seats on the city council. We have at least two candidates next year, maybe more. It would be great to see one of those win, and one day run for mayor.

 

You have a strong focus on the legislature. In a state as conservative as Tennessee, what’s the real import of an LGBT legislature? The votes will still be just as conservative, right?

It makes a world of difference. Patricia Todd in Alabama is your best example. She’s the only out LGBT elected official in not just the legislature but the whole state! Just her being there has changed the political climate in the legislature, and some of [her] colleagues’ viewpoints. They aren’t running around passing good stuff, but they have stopped passing bad stuff! We sure would like to see Tennessee stop doing that, too!

 

A lot of LGBT political advocacy groups spend less in the Southeast. Victory seems to have a big interest here. What’s the difference?

We’re proud of the fact that we spend more in places like Tennessee than we raise. We invest a lot of staff and training time, as well as support, in Tennessee and places like it. I’m proud of that. We had 350 people in the room at our brunch because people know we are actually investing in Tennessee candidates. Hearing Chris Anderson from Chattanooga talk about our support helps people understand the investment. And even though Nancy van Reece ran and lost, she knows we’ve been there with her and [it] helps people see that. Tennessee is important to us because its politicians are among the most regressive. If people everywhere truly knew how backwards some of the elected officials here are, it would really impact the economy. There are major businesses today who will not move to a place as unwelcoming as Tennessee. And, you know, eventually you’ll watch businesses go elsewhere because Tennessee doesn’t treat their employees fairly.

 

What do you consider some of your organization’s biggest ‘wins’ in Tennessee?

Once you announce you’re leaving a role like this after twelve years, you’re often asked to give this kind of reflection. Nationwide we’ve met with huge successes, but the hardest races are those most local races where you’re trying to break through a glass ceiling. We’ve supported Nancy van Reece in the past, and we’ve gotten so close! She’s such a genuine and sincere candidate, you really want for her to win. She hasn’t won that yet, but hopefully she will the next time. Chris Anderson’s race in Chattanooga, though, is probably one of our greatest success stories, because I don’t think anyone there thought it was possible, and we proved them wrong! I think the races where we prove people wrong are the ones I’ll remember for a long time.

 

How did this mission take over your life?

Interesting way of putting it, but accurate! The Fund was founded in 1991, so I took over after successful directors, and I came in at just the right time, frankly. There was a wave ready to be ridden, a culture change going on, and we were there and relevant. For me, Victory was personally relevant. I had worked as an out gay person in the Florida governor’s office at a time in the 1990s when that wasn’t done. I know the mission because I lived it. How did it take over my life? It weaves itself into everything you do! I have no vacation between Labor Day and Election Day. I look at all my friends’ Facebook pages, and I see the beautiful fall photos. They’re out riding bikes or horses, and I think, “I want to be there!” But at the same time you realize, “No, one more stop in Indiana or New Mexico means that one of our priority candidates could get some extra help.” You don’t want to pass up those chances, because we’re making history. It’s a remarkable thing to be part of.

 

That brings up the next logical question. Since we seem to be at the cusp of what may be a major change in culture and history, why now?

It’s hard to explain how much it’s interwoven into my life, but twelve years is a long time. You know I had some health challenges at the beginning of the year, and again in the middle of the year. That gives you all of this time to think and reflect. Labor Day weekend, I had the joy of taking care of my nieces, and you know I just realize that’s a part of life I don’t have. I don’t have weekends, I don’t have time to do those things with family and friends. And I want that! It’s hard to make personal decisions when you get into rolls like this. There’s no way to separate the job from your personal decisions, so when you finally get to the point of having to make a decision for the benefit of you and your family, it hurts. It is actually physically painful to realize that I’m taking this part of me—that has woven itself into me, that I have taken care of and deeply care about—and saying “Alright, down! You have to take second place.” There’s no perfect time to do it, but I think it’s now, for me. If I hadn’t had the challenges I had this year, there’s no way I could have made this decision. Frankly, I never would have had the chance to sit and reflect. I would have just kept doing what I was doing. But it’s easier knowing a great team will keep it going and growing. While I say victory has to take second place in making this personal decision, I know victory isn’t going to suffer, it’s going to grow even larger under the next leader.

 

What are the things you’d like to finish up before you leave?

Before announcing my decision, I already knew my big dream for this year: winning a governor’s office. Having won race from senate to mayor, now we have a chance to win a governor’s office! For me that’s a huge opportunity, because I came from a governor’s office. I know the difference a governor can and will make. So, my big hopes for November are winning the Governor of Maine, attorney general of Massachusetts, and getting state legislators in places like New Mexico, Idaho, and Michigan. Those are big deals. We have a great county council race in Lexington. Next year the Mississippi legislature is up. There I am thinking about next year. That’ll be for someone else!

 

Where do you think Victory Fund is headed, post Chuck?

Honestly, I have no idea! But our new strategic plan will probably have a different focus, less on marquis races and more on state legislatures that still have no representation. There’s so much policy and law made at that level—we need to focus on it.

 

 

 

For more information, or to get involved, visit https://www.victoryfund.org/

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