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Although many Republican leaders still hold hard-line stances on key LGBT issues, like marriage equality, polls show those views are shifting. It’s a trend particularly visible among young conservatives, and one not lost on Wolfe.
”You’re starting to see more and more conservatives acknowledge this is backwards from being a true conservative,” Wolfe states. ”A true conservative is not about government intervention in people’s bedrooms. It’s about less government, not more government. The more that conservative ideology is reminded to those on the right, then we’ll probably see some progress.”
Wolfe adds, ”I think the idea that all gays have to have the same belief on everything is just not realistic.”
What has made Victory Fund’s endorsement of Tisei particularly controversial is his opponent, Rep. John Tierney. Tierney has long been a friend to the LGBT community and supporter of key legislation during his nearly 15 years on Capitol Hill.
According to the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard, which grades members of Congress on their support for LGBT-rights, Tierney scored a 100 percent in the 108th and 109th sessions of Congress, and a 95 percent during the 110th.
HRC, which does not base endorsements on sexual orientation, has put the organization’s support behind Tierney.
”As part of our endorsement process, we stand up for people who have stood up for us in the past,” says HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz. ”Our endorsement criteria favors incumbency and gives an incentive for members to understand if they’re with us we’re going to get their back as well.”
Aside from HRC, Tierney has also garnered the support of one of the LGBT community’s most visible representatives, out gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
Frank, who made waves in August when he equated Log Cabin Republicans to ”Uncle Toms” and will retire at the end of his term, has been critical of Victory Fund’s endorsement and of Tisei’s candidacy.
”One of the biggest differences between the parties is on LGBT rights,” Frank told Metro Weekly. ”If the Republicans control the House we get nothing.”
Although supporters of Tisei have argued his views on gay issues could influence the Republican caucus, Frank thinks otherwise and says his election would do nothing more than block gay-rights legislation by securing a Republican majority. Moreover, he does not believe Tisei’s record as a state legislator in Massachusetts shows any signs that he will be able to influence the party.
”I know he said he’s going to talk to John Boehner — he can talk to the wind, it’s going to have the same effect,” Frank quipped.
Under different circumstances, like if the seat was open, Frank says he would be less vehemently opposed to Tisei’s candidacy. But in this case, Frank says supporting Tisei over Tierney is bad strategy that jeopardizes alliances with straight members of Congress.
”To go to someone who’s tried to be our friend in every case and say, ‘We’re going to try to defeat you, even though you’ve been very good because we don’t like who you have sex with,’ that seems to me to go beyond what we want to say. Sexual orientation shouldn’t be the only factor,” Frank adds.
For Wolfe, Tisei’s race in particular is about chipping away at preconceptions long built up in the Republican Party.
”I understand Congressman Frank’s point of view. We’ve endorsed him, we support him, we’ve raised him plenty of money. In a hyper-partisan conversation I think that people sometimes say things during elections that aren’t really what it takes to govern,” Wolfe says, adding that Tisei’s election has the power to change the conversation about LGBT-rights.
According to Wolfe, ”The conversation shouldn’t be a partisan one. And the more we try to make it partisan, I think we do ourselves a disservice. We shouldn’t put ourselves out there as our rights being a partisan football.”
Tisei’s race is one of 12 Victory Fund has declared will be very close. And talking to Wolfe, it’s clear it is one they believe could be very significant.
Already, Victory Fund knows out gay Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pocan will assume the House seat being vacated by Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Having secured his party’s nomination in a heavily Democratic district, Pocan’s election as the eighth out member of Congress in American history is all but guaranteed.
In November, Krysten Sinema of Arizona could be elected as the first out bisexual member of Congress and Mark Takano of California as the first out gay Asian-American member of Congress.
And in Wisconsin, Baldwin is pulling ahead of Thompson in many polls in a Senate campaign that has seen little focus on her sexual orientation.
For Wolfe, who came to Victory Fund at a time when it was not only inconceivable for a Republican Speaker of the House to campaign with a gay candidate, but when he was battling many state Democratic parties to put LGBT candidates on the ballot, the progress made in the past 10 years has been tremendous.
Says Wolfe, ”It makes you feel really good about the future knowing these are the people our community will look to for leadership in years to come.”