Winner takes all

Last November a record number of GLBT candidates---106---were elected to public office in the United States. The man who was instrumental in this watershed moment recently visited Nashville to discuss the city's political prospects.

Chuck Wolfe, the president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute since 2003, has played a significant role in shaping the political landscape over the last eight years. The Victory Fund is the nation's leading organization that identifies, trains and supports openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates, campaign staff and public officials. Since 1991, the Victory Fund has helped thousands of openly GLBT candidates win election to local, state and federal offices.

During his two-day stay in Nashville, Wolfe met with leaders from the Tennessee Equality Project, the HRC Nashville Steering Committee and the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce. These sessions were designed to develop strategies for future political campaigns and gently encourage people to pursue their civic ambitions.

"He's encouraging community leaders to set up political roundtable discussions in each of our cities," says Jim Schmidt, Nashville's representative on the Victory Fund Board of Directors. "The goal is to have discussion with the leaders in our community and talk about the future of GLBT politics. It's really more just a discussion about elections and the electoral process, as well as our efforts to get more GLBT candidates elected."

The Victory Fund has a holistic approach to potential political candidates. The three-step process of the program involves an application, entrance into a series of training seminars, and a full scouting report of potential rivals.

"Helping the GLBT community to have the confidence step up is our goal," Wolfe says. "We get them the training they need to be strong candidates and play a viable role in society."

According to Schmidt, Wolfe's brief cameo in Nashville is sure to stir involvement in the political discourse.

"It's not often that we're able to have someone from such a major organization here in Nashville," he says. "In the next year we'll be talking about the success in the last election cycle and looking at ways to improve."

Wolfe, a native of Florida, acknowledges there are varying degrees of acceptance within the United States. But he believes that fear shouldn't prevent these protogees from serving their communities, even in conservative locations.

"In the Deep South there's this latent internalized homophobia," Wolfe admits. "People grow up in the churches and into families where sexual orientation is talked about in a negative way, and we have to work to overcome that. It's painful that we are living in this time of discrimination, but change is possible. We're in a position to address those issues."

Armed with the necessary tools, Wolfe is confident that the candidates endorsed by Victory Fund will connect squarely with voters. He admits that winning might be difficult in some environments, but insists that a candidate's private life does not obscure the facts of their campaign. 

"A lot of GLBT candidates don't know that they can even run," Wolfe says. "They're under the impression that it's an uphill battle. We help them to see that they have a future and they can have a huge impact in their communities. It's important to talk publicly about their sexual orientation and be upfront about it. People don't really care if the candidate is gay. What's important are the pivotal issues and what type of race they run."


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