Metro Weekly

Path to Victory: Annise Parker on helping elect LGBTQ people across America

Annise Parker rose to become Houston's first LGBTQ mayor. Now leading the Victory Fund, she's helping others reach even higher.

Mayor Annise Parker

“I’m not old enough for Stonewall, but I’m not that much past it,” says Annise Parker. “I was a fly on the wall for virtually every significant LGBTQ event in Texas in the ’70s and ’80s.”

Activism has been a hallmark of Parker’s life, ever since the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute attended her first political organizing event — the Texas Gay Conference — during her sophomore year at Rice University in 1975. A founding member of Rice University’s LGBTQ student group in 1979, Parker would later work for several LGBTQ organizations, including the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, the Lesbian/Gay Democrats of Texas, and briefly, as a Victory Fund board member shortly after the organization’s founding in 1994.

A natural introvert and self-described loner who was raised in a conservative Republican household, nothing in Parker’s upbringing indicated that she would one day become one of the nation’s most prominent LGBTQ figures. But her parents and grandparents taught her the importance of civic engagement from a young age, a lesson she later incorporated into her own activism, much of which took place after regular work hours.

“I was an oil company employee by day, activist by night,” she says. “I was spending 40 hours a week at work, and 10 to 20 hours a week as an actively gay volunteer. Throughout the ’80s, I was arguably the most visible lesbian activist in Houston.”

In 1991, Parker ran for a Houston City Council seat, in hopes of providing political representation for the city’s LGBTQ community. Outraised financially and outmaneuvered strategically, she suffered one of her worst political defeats. Four years later, she ran for special election to an at-large seat, finishing third among 19 candidates. The early losses taught her valuable lessons about campaign organizing, messaging, the importance of fundraising, and creating political alliances — all of which she utilized in a successful bid for an at-large seat on the Council in 1997.

Parker would be elected by the citizens of Houston eight more times, serving as an at-large councilmember, the city controller, and ultimately, its mayor for three terms. When she assumed the mayoralty of the country’s fourth-largest city in January of 2010, she also became the first out LGBTQ mayor of a major American city.

In January 2018, Parker, who lives in Houston with her wife of 30 years, Kathy Hubbard, assumed the helm of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee that seeks to get LGBTQ people elected to public office, and Victory Institute, its educational nonprofit arm, which provides training and specialized programs to potential political office-seekers and support to LGBTQ officeholders to better ensure their success.

Parker’s oversight of the Victory Fund has come amid a surge in the number of LGBTQ individuals seeking political office, as well as an increase in the number of LGBTQ elected officials. In the United States, that number currently stands at 855, covering officeholders from both major political parties as well as nonpartisan elected leaders in local, legislative, and statewide offices in 47 of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“There are almost 900 openly LGBTQ candidates who are running across America this year,” she says. “Victory [Fund] has engaged, at least at a minimal level, with about half of them. And we’ll probably end up endorsing about 300 of them as the most viable candidates.”

While the Victory Fund doesn’t concern itself with the specifics of policy positions or partisan politics — instead leaving that up to individual candidates — Parker does note that President Donald Trump has served as a motivating factor for many LGBTQ people, particularly those who are Democrats, to pursue public office. But she largely eschews political handicapping and punditry in favor of an eagle-eyed focus on the organization’s larger goal of growing the number of LGBTQ officeholders.

“Our elected officials represent 0.17 percent of all elected positions,” she says. “So if we’re supposed to represent 4.5 percent of the population, we’d have to elect more than 22,000 officials across the country just to be at parity. That’s a long way to go.

“Our goal is to have representation in every state house, and then, ultimately, in every State Senate in America, and to grow that to that critical mass, which, in our definition, is about three officials,” she adds. “It makes a difference when we send one. It slows down the bad bills and changes the discussion. But it doesn’t really change the outcomes of bills. But three seems to be a magic number. Your allies can join you, and you can act in concert to advocate for certain causes.

“We’re also focusing a lot this year on state Senate races, because redistricting is coming up. There are a lot of places where the state Senate is just like the U.S. Senate, where they have a filibuster rule. You get one person in, and they actually can stop the bad stuff.”

Mayor Annise Parker

METRO WEEKLY: Let’s start with your childhood.

ANNISE PARKER: I grew up in Houston. I’m a Houstonian. And both my parents were born in Houston. And even though Houston’s a big, sprawling city, I grew up out in the rural outskirts of Houston. And so I had the best of both worlds. I had the opportunity to be near a big, vibrant city. But I grew up near cows and horse pastures.

MW: How many siblings do you have?

PARKER: I have one one sibling, who’s 15 months younger.

MW: What were your parents like?

PARKER: One of the blessings in my life is that both my mother and my grandmother were college graduates. Both my grandmother and my mother worked outside the home. So I was raised to be independent with the expectation that I would be able to support myself. I was born in 1956. So for a child of the fifties, that was an unusual expectation.

MW: What were you like as a child?

PARKER: I am an introvert. I was painfully shy. Very, very serious. And like most introverts, I was a loner. I was happiest when I was by myself, whether that was roaming around in the woods and pastures, or curled up with a book.

When I was in the sixth grade, so that would have been about 12, my family moved to Mississippi. Then we went to South Carolina and ultimately moved, for my Dad’s job, to an army base in Germany. I went to three middle schools and three high schools.

I graduated high school in Charleston, South Carolina, my second time through Charleston, and I came back to Houston to go to Rice University in Houston. I was a National Merit Scholar — I knew I could go anywhere. I wanted to go to Rice. I wanted to come back home.

MW: What did you study?

PARKER: I had a triple major in the social sciences: I finished degree work in psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

MW: Did you have any interest in politics back then?

PARKER: I never wanted to go into politics myself, because, remember, I was shy and introverted, and that was not my thing, but my parents were faithful voters. I have early memories of standing in line with my folks to vote back when it was a really big deal, when the voting machines were impressive. You walked in, and pulled this big red handle and the curtains closed behind you, and the fact that they would stand in line waiting to vote — it impressed me. My parents were active community volunteers, as were my grandparents. And so I was expected when I was growing up to be part of community activities or volunteer.

So I went to college. I was out. Actually, I came out when I was in high school in Germany. I was determined to be publicly out. So during my freshman orientation at Rice, I told my orientation group that I was lesbian and I was out throughout my college career. I attended my first LGBTQ political organizing event in 1975. It was still the very early days of the LGBTQ rights movement. And the funny little difference doing political organizing for the LGBTQ community then and now, is that we couldn’t communicate with each other. We were all on little islands. We shared telephone contact lists like they were made of platinum. And there were so many people who were so deeply, deeply closeted that you guarded your list of other gay people with your life. It was a very different way of organizing. And there weren’t a lot of us.

I was part of the lesbian group on campus that started in 1976. I didn’t start it, but there were a dozen of us who were involved in it. And I’m one of the founding members of my university’s LGBTQ student group, started in 1979, the year after I graduated. And for several years, I was the point of entry. They would publish — on campus, the beginning of each semster — an ad in a school paper that, if you’re gay and you want to be connected to the LGBTQ student group, here’s the number you call. And it was my home phone number. It didn’t have my name on it, but it was my own phone number. So, you know, I’d get the idiot prank calls for a while.

MW: You learned political engagement from your parents when you were younger. Did they ever talk about their political beliefs?

PARKER: Oh, they were all — my parents and my grandparents — they were all conservative Republicans. This is at a time when the state of Texas was conservative Democrats. They were contrarian. So they were all Republicans. I remember that. I do have an earlier memory, too, that absolutely made an impression. And that was when Kennedy was shot in Texas. I guess I was in the second grade, and my parents — who were absolute Goldwater supporters and very conservative — were horrified that something like this had happened in Texas.

I remember the TV set being on, the old black and white TV at home, and it was all about the shooting and Kennedy lying in state. And just miles of people coming through to view the casket. The whole world stopped, and my parents, who had nothing nice to say about Kennedy, were horrified and appalled at the shooting. But we weren’t a family that talked a lot about politics. It was like a civic duty. They were informed and they were engaged. My dad’s parents volunteered for political campaigns in later years, but my parents didn’t.

MW: You mentioned coming out in high school. What was the initial reaction of your family?

PARKER: I was about twelve, I guess, when I put a name to it. And at 15, we were living in an Army base in Germany. And I entered a relationship with a girl — I was 15, she was 16. Her parents walked in on us one day. And we were prevented from seeing each other.

My dad was in the Red Cross. He served in the military, but we were very close to military installations. And we were living on officer’s row. Her dad was a sergeant. So they didn’t travel in the same circles, they didn’t know each other. We were prevented from seeing each other. But my parents didn’t know. I was absolutely miserable. I started doing a lot of really stupid things. But I also started attending a Sunday school class with her on base so that we could see each other. And then her family relocated back to the States a year before mine did. So that was the end of that relationship.

It wasn’t until I was in college, my senior year in college, that I got a letter from my mom, and inside the letter from my mom was an eight-page letter from my current girlfriend’s mother. And it started off: “Mrs. Parker, last year, at Rice, your daughter and my daughter had a big love affair. And I tried to end it. They won’t stop it. You need to do something about it.” And she went on for eight pages. My mom just put it in an envelope and sent it to me. She didn’t want to talk about it. So did my parents know? Yes. Did they want to address it? No. And I wasn’t in any hurry to address it, either.

Mayor Annise Parker with Mayor Pete Buttigieg
(Chuck Kennedy /PFA)

MW: When did they finally get at least comfortable with addressing the idea?

PARKER: It was a long time. In the mid-eighties I became the president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. And my parents, at that point, were stationed in Italy. So I’d see them twice a year for a few days. I could keep secrets, I guess.

I remember picking my mom up from the airport — I don’t remember what year it was. She had stopped to visit friends in Charleston before she got to Houston. And she said, “Oh, so-and-so in Charleston says she saw you on a national news show.” And I almost drove off the road, I was so startled. Yeah. Like, what was I thinking? I thought, “Oh, she’d never see this in Italy.” I could be on the nightly news, the 6 o’clock news.

And so I took her home and I showed her the video I’d made of me being on the national news. And she looked at me, and said, “You look very pretty on TV.” I mean, I was talking about being openly gay and fighting bigots in Houston. But she just told me I looked nice on TV. We didn’t actually talk about it until I was well into my 30s. The woman I was with, my wife today, [we] had been living together for a year, and my 90-year-old grandparents moved in with us so we could take care of them. And that was the catalyst for all sorts of family conversations, because we just had to recognize that if they were going to be living with us, that we shared a bedroom. We shared all of these things, and the whole family needed to understand that we would take care of them, but that we would be doing it as a couple. It wasn’t my roommate, and let’s just get those things out of the way. And we did.

MW: You and your wife have been together for almost 30 years. What has family life been like?

PARKER: It’s been an interesting journey. We’d been together a year and my ninety-year-old grandparents moved in with us. And we took care of them. My grandfather died. My grandmother is in a nursing home. We took in a 16-year-old street kid who came to live with us. We never formally adopted him, but he’s our son and he’s 44 years old now. And so, we built the family organically. We adopted two girls, a seven-year-old and a twelve-year-old, from the State of Texas Children’s Services, out of foster care. And then later, our third daughter, a 15-year-old, joined us. And so we’ve been through the informal fostering process and the formal adoption process. It’s fortunate for me that I had a lot of schedule flexibility, and my wife has been self-employed throughout our time together. So we were the homeroom moms. We were the ones who came to all the school productions, and showed up at the activities. We were blessed to be able to do that.

MW: You worked in the oil industry prior to entering politics. How did you make that transition?

PARKER: Well, I was an active community volunteer. And at that point, I was no longer a fly on the wall. I was leading LGBTQ organizations in the mid-eighties and on. But it never occurred to me, why not run myself, because it was not my personality. But in 1991, I was recruited to run for a city council seat to represent the LGBTQ community. There was a major redistricting battle going on. We were to redistrict the city council and various communities of interest were putting forward candidates, and I was recruited to be the candidate for the LGBTQ community. I wasn’t really ready to run, wasn’t a good candidate, lost the race, got absolutely shellacked. I crawled into a fetal position for a while after losing.

I’d much rather be helping out other candidates, which I’d been doing for many years by that point, than running myself. But in 1995, this time on my own, I decided I wanted to run in a special election, a six-week campaign [for City Council]. I finished third out of 19 candidates. The first and second place finishers had both already been elected to other things. And one was a Democrat and one was a Republican, even though this was a nonpartisan race. So they had name I.D. They had networks. They knew how to do fundraising. I finished third. And what I realized was that I knew more about the city than they did. I was a better candidate than they were, but that I needed to do certain things to be successful if I was going to do it again. And so the next time I ran, two years later, I won my seat on the Houston City Council, the first of nine consecutive races.

The most important thing I had to do was figure out — in the first two races, every time my name was printed, it said, “Annise Parker, gay activist,” and occasionally, “Annise Parker, lesbian activist, running for Houston City Council.” And I couldn’t ever get past the perception, that everybody, if they got their information from the media, every time they saw it thought I was a single-issue candidate. I had to learn how to raise money. I had to upgrade my campaign team. And I had to master my own narrative about who I was. And in order to do that, I had to change the media coverage.

We had two newspapers and three TV stations back then. I made a portfolio of the coverage from those two races and I made appointments with the editorial boards or the editor of each of those entities, and I took the portfolio in. And that race where there were 19 candidates and I said to the newspaper, “Look, here’s your listing of everyone in this race. And here’s what we do for a living. You actually put what every one of their occupations is. Me? You say I’m a lesbian activist, or a gay activist. I’ve worked for Mosbacher Energy Company for, at his point, 18 years. I don’t see anywhere on here where you refer to anybody else by what they do as volunteers, or by their sexual orientation. I’d be perfectly happy, whichever way you decide to do it, just be fair.”

I kept having those conversations over and over again. And the third time I ran — you know, I could say I’m persuasive, but I think the world changed, too — they stopped. The newspapers would figure out a way to make reference to my sexual orientation, but it would always be after the jump. With all due respect, nobody reads after the jump. So if they could get you into it that far, you don’t care anymore, you’re already hooked. So the coverage changed. And I raised enough money in that race to go up on TV, control my own message in a way that I had never been able to do before. And that’s how I was able to be successful.

MW: Did your opponents make an issue of your sexuality?

PARKER: Every piece of literature I put out had some reference to the resume — “past president, Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus” — with the word gay and lesbian in every piece of literature I put out. But also “employee, Mosbacher Energy Company,” and, by that point, I was president of the largest civic association in Houston.

It meant people stopped talking about my sexual orientation. My opponents couldn’t talk about it because, “You know, she’s a lesbian.” “Well, duh. It says so right on her own literature.” So it changed the conversation. There were actually six other people in that race, and it became more like, “Well, it’s not a problem to me that she’s a lesbian, it shouldn’t matter to anybody.” They had to figure out some way to bring it up without looking like complete asses doing it.

The weekend of the runoff election, I was against a Republican businessman who had all the Downtown backing, and I had all but two of the minority-elected officials in the region who were with me because I had helped them with their campaigns over the years. He put out an attack piece, only to black households, and it was one of those comparison pieces: he was the family man, I was single. He belonged to his church, I had no known religious beliefs. This contrast, to say, basically, that I was a lesbian. And only to black households. I still got 75 percent of the black vote.

I’d already gathered the support of the leadership. But also, because of my work on housing issues and neighborhood issues as a volunteer, I had a network. My best volunteers in that race were senior citizens. I was a United Way volunteer in senior services, and I’d had lunch at every senior center in Houston. I sat there and played dominoes with those little old ladies. So they were with me. It was a nine-month campaign built upon a network and a resume built over 20 years.

MW: After you were elected to the Houston City Council, you eventually became controller and then mayor. What was the nature of your political battles during those years?

PARKER: City government is the most functional level of government, because it has to be. It’s about getting trash picked up. It’s about filling potholes. It’s about making sure that basic services are performed. I would submit that during my entire 18 years in full-time public life and three positions, that if you just followed the votes that were cast in city hall, it was impossible to tell how people lined up politically. There were philosophical divides and there were certain things like birth control in city clinics, or afterschool programs where there was never a pure Republican or Democratic divide, but where you could see conservative and more progressive divisions.

But I realized I had spent so long as an activist and as a spokesperson for the community, that I had to very consciously, when I assumed office, change my role and change my mindset — that I wasn’t going to be a spokesperson for the LGBTQ community. I was going to be open, but I wasn’t the spokesperson. My job was to represent my constituents.

I did engage whenever LGBTQ issues came up, like moving our Pride Parade from a daytime parade to a nighttime parade. We had to rewrite city ordinances to do it. Once the community made the decision to do what they wanted to do and came to me, then it was my responsibility to make it happen.

MW: What LGBTQ-specific issues did you engage with?

PARKER: Four times in my adult life, three times while I was in public office as an out lesbian, the citizens of Houston voted that we didn’t have equal civil rights. The first time was in the ’80s while I was still a leader in the movement. The city passed a nondiscrimination in city employment ordinance. It was repealed by the voters. Then we had a statewide marriage referendum that was passed by all voters in Texas, until, thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled on marriage. Then we had a preemptive referendum to prevent the city from ever offering domestic partner benefits, which passed. And then the fourth time was when in my last term in office, we passed the HERO ordinance, a nondiscrimination ordinance, that was repealed by the voters.

It was painful. It was hurtful. There’s a YouTube video out there, still, of the concession speech I made on behalf of all of those who asked to protect the HERO ordinance. And you can see how angry and hurt I am. But I have seen the changes. I’ve seen that difference from when I started in the ’70s working on these issues, to today. It’s not perfect, it’s not done. We can still be undermined. But it is so different. And I’ve seen the progress and I understand that as long as you can see incremental change, and that it does get better, you have to stay in the fight. If you just give up, nothing changes.

MW: Do you think a candidate would still be viable today if they ran on an overtly anti-LGBTQ platform in Houston?

PARKER: I don’t think so. The most noted anti-LGBTQ bigot in Houston since the ’80s is Dr. Stephen Hotze. He still funds lawsuits. He’s a right-wing nut job, but he’s still out there. He endorses candidates. And when I ran for mayor the first time, my opponent actually solicited and received his endorsement. And the outcry was so negative that he ended up having to repudiate it. There are members of city council who have voted wrong on LGBTQ issues every time they come up, but they’re never going to stand up and say they do it because they hate gay people. They don’t even do the “hate the sin, love the sinner” conversation anymore. They figure out some other rationale for doing it.

The HERO ordinance went down on bathroom issues, pure and simple. And in fact, the biggest opponents weren’t shy about that. They came to city council when we passed the ordinance, and stood in the council chamber and essentially said, “If you’ll just take the trans issues out, if you take gender identity out and just say sexual orientation, we will leave it alone.” I didn’t necessarily believe them, but they actually did that.

MW: There’s a train of thought, outlined by the Dallas Principles, that to achieve LGBTQ equality we can’t leave any part of the community behind.

PARKER: And I have always believed that. And in fact, when I won a council seat in ’97, when my best volunteers were little old ladies, my volunteer coordinator was a trans woman. And I had members of the Log Cabin Republicans tell me that they couldn’t support me if I insisted on having her as visible and public in that campaign. And I told them that I was sorry to hear that, and maybe we would have a conversation after I won. I have believed in full inclusion and have worked for that.

MW: I am struck by the leadership roles that mayors and city council members have had to assume amid the COVID-19 pandemic. From your own experience, if you had confronted something like this, how would you have protected Houstonians from COVID?

PARKER: There’s a lot of things I could complain about with the current mayor, but I could only hope that I would have been as strong and as decisive as he and our county judge have been in COVID-19. They have — particularly the county judge, but the mayor, as well — stepped up over and over again, made really hard decisions, focused always on public safety and not gotten enough credit for it, particularly in a state like Texas, or Florida, Arizona, places where the government at the governor’s level has made appallingly bad decisions. Local governments have had to pick up the pieces and, for the most part, local governments have been courageous and decisive.

Mayor Annise Parker

MW: What sort of tools does a mayor have at their disposal, particularly when, say, the governor or the president doesn’t step in?

PARKER: It depends on the state. I used to try to commiserate with my colleague mayors in the Northeast that receive a lot of their funding from the state. If they control the pursestrings, they can jerk you around. But cities in Texas are home rule cities and they have an independent taxing authority and taxing base, and virtually complete authority in an emergency, unless and except when the governor overrides it.

But mayors across the country have the ability to make public safety decisions and have been exercising it. They can do mask mandates. They can always shut down outdoor activities. They enforce whatever ordinances there are. Houston is a little more difficult because we’re the only major city in America that has no zoning and we’re also where the most lightly-regulated cities in America from a business standpoint. The tools are fewer. But mayors all across the country are stepping up and using their power.

MW: Where do you think the federal response went wrong?

PARKER: Starting at the White House. I think that the Trump administration started dismantling the CDC and the pandemic response units within it early on, and then tried to play games. Unfortunately, if you work for an agency like the CDC, you may know what you’ve done and you may know what’s wrong, but you also want your job and you want your pension, and if the president tells you to sit down and shut up, that’s what you do.

MW: Some political scientists point out that we’re seeing a lot more candidates for a city council and local office either attaching themselves to the president or running against him. And it’s destroying that sense of “all politics is local.”

PARKER: And that is certainly not what we teach them at Victory. Now, Donald Trump has been the best recruiter for Democratic candidates at every level of the ballot you could possibly hope for. They may have been inspired because they’re so appalled by him and his policies. But the ones who win are the ones who find the appropriate sort of local issues and offer a plan that voters can identify with.

In nonpartisan years, it’s a very different feel, but this is a very partisan year. If you’re running as a Democrat, you’re expected to be anti-Trump. And if you’re running as a Republican, I think you have to kiss up. But because of decades of partisan gerrymandering, we don’t have very many seats at the federal level, congressional seats, for example, that are in play. You can play along the margins, but because of the way we redistricted, there’s not a lot a candidate can do, which is [why] it’s big news when we flip a seat red to blue or blue to red.

MW: Is it harder nowadays to find LGBTQ Republicans who can meet those criteria? It seems there are fewer out Republicans attempting to run, and that more LGBTQ people are identifying with the Democratic Party in this current environment.

PARKER: Well, way more than 80 percent of our LGBTQ elected officials are Democrats. It’s an interesting fact. If you go to our website “Out for America,” where you can sort by party affiliation, there are more trans elected officials than there are openly LGBTQ Republican elected officials in America. And nearly all of our self-identified Republicans are elected in nonpartisan down-ballot races. Because as you mentioned, it is so difficult to get through Republican primaries. It was bad before Trump, but they have become absolutely toxic for LGBTQ candidates. So they’re not running. Or they’re not running openly.

We work hard to endorse Republicans. Our standards as an organization are that you have to be openly LGBT. Candidates have to believe in some level of a right to privacy, which includes the right to abortion. Some of our candidates only believe in it after rape and incest, all the way to others who support the full Planned Parenthood position. And they have to be fully trans-inclusive. We have declined to endorse some who do not believe that gender identity is their issue to care about.

It’s difficult for a lot of Republicans because we are pro-choice. We ask them in their hearts, “Can you find a place here where you can define yourself in a way that we can support you?” But that is a hurdle in terms of seeking our endorsement. We train them, whether or not they can ever sign our pledge and be an endorsed candidate. And we’ll do our best to sustain them because we believe that our democracy is better when we’re in both parties and we’re represented everywhere.

MW: What do you think accounts for the increase in the number of transgender candidates running for office?

PARKER: Well, I would say success breeds success. And it’s because the more we win, and the more we talk about the ones who win, the more they feel like they might have a chance. But the other factor is that the trans community has been under such attack by the right. You know, they still attack the gay and lesbian community. But really, a lot of the worst bills have been anti-trans bills. And the Trump administration is virulently anti-trans. And so if you have any self-respect and you’re under attack, you’re going to stand up for yourself.

MW: We’re also seeing a number of LGBTQ people of color being successful in their races this cycle.

PARKER: We were among the first people to get behind [congressional candidates] Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, as well as [New York State Senate candidate] Jabari Brisport, whose race still hasn’t been called, but we think he’ll be there, too. It is important to us that the candidates that we support are reflective of America. And interestingly, we have data going back quite a few years, in terms of who we’ve endorsed. Just in the last few years and since we’ve been publishing our “Out for America” report and stats on our endorsed candidates, the LGBTQ people who run — not just the ones who we support — are three times as diverse as the general pool of candidates.

Victory has specific programs to increase the number of candidates of color which are available on the Institute’s website. We work hard to increase that number. From the standpoint of Pete Buttigieg running for president, and everybody said, “Oh well, he’s doing really well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but black people in the South will never vote for someone who’s openly gay.” I’m here to tell you that’s not true, but what will make even more of a difference is that if we have more and more open candidates of color, officials of color at the highest levels, including Mondaire and Ritchie and advocates who will get out and dispel that myth.

MW: Obviously, it’s not an elected position, but will we see an out LGBTQ person in a presidential cabinet, as opposed to a “cabinet-level position”?

PARKER: We absolutely expect in a Biden administration there will be. And we fully expected that, had there been a Clinton administration, there would have been as well. There’s no doubt in our minds.

MW: What do you think is the next frontier in LGBTQ politics?

PARKER: Pete Buttigieg was a game changer in a lot of ways. He wasn’t the first LGBTQ candidate for president. That was Fred Karger, who ran eight years ago in Obama’s re-elect as a Republican. But he was more of an insurgent candidate and the party did everything they could to keep him out.

What was fascinating to watch in the Pete Buttigieg campaign — and we ultimately endorsed him, but we made him wait for it for six months, and he had to prove himself — is that he was treated like any other candidate by the party in the primary. Sure, I’m certain that there are people who would never have supported him and didn’t support him because he’s openly gay. But in terms of the party apparatus, it was completely available to him. And the next time someone runs from our community, that will be the expectation. And we’ll eventually get there on the Republican side as well.

One of our goals at Victory is to make sure that there is a deep pool, a bench, of candidates. Right now, we have two U.S. senators, two governors, two attorneys general, a handful of statewide elected officials. That’s not a deep enough bench to be presidential material, to be vice presidential candidates. So what is the next big milestone? To have a bench of 20 or 30 people, big city mayors, statewide elected officials with a national profile, who can really step up.

Pete did an amazing job. He’s actually got great political skills and was a phenomenal candidate. But he had to work really hard to go from a mayor of a mid-sized city with a kind of hard name to pronounce to a presidential contender. And so, one of our goals is to make sure that the next one to make that leap doesn’t have to work quite as hard.

Learn more about The Victory Fund by calling 202-VICTORY (842-8679) or visiting

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These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!