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Jesse's Journal | Electing our own

By JESSE MONTEAGUDO, jessemonteagudo@aol.com

LaFontaine The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund (www.VictoryFund.org) is a political action committee (PAC) created to elect openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to public office in the United States.  Since 1991, the Victory Fund - to quote the not always reliable but mostly useful Wikipedia –  “provides strategic, technical and financial support to openly gay and lesbian [and bi and trans] candidates and officials across the United States, helping them win elections at local, state and federal levels.”  In 2006, the Victory Fund endorsed 88 candidates, of which 67 won their respective elections.

According to the Fund’s Web site (stating the obvious), “It takes courage and determination [and money] to run for office and even more to run as an openly LGBT candidate. . . . At the Victory Fund, we understand these challenges, and we set the bar high, both for our candidates and for our organization.”  Candidates endorsed by the Fund receive “sophisticated, intensive candidate and campaign training;” “one-on-one strategic and technical support;” “vetted and highly qualified campaign consultants;” and, last but certainly not least, “financial support from both our PAC and our diverse network of LGBT donors.”  To qualify, a candidate must have a realistic chance of being elected and fill out at least two very detailed applications, which allows the Fund to determine whether or not s/he deserves its support.  Many applicants do not make it through this strenuous process.

In my own state of Florida, the Victory Fund has endorsed three openly GLBT candidates, all Democrats, for the 2008 elections.  Circuit Court Judge Victoria Sigler is running for re-election in Miami-Dade County.  Kevin Beckner is running for Hillsborough County Commissioner.  And Mark LaFontaine (pictured) is running for State Representative in District 92.  Of the three races, LaFonatine’s is the most significant.  Since Massachusetts Rep. Elaine Noble came out in 1974, 33 states and the territory of Guam have elected openly GLBT people to their legislatures.  Florida, which has one of the largest GLBT communities in the country, never has.  Not surprisingly, the Sunshine State has one of the most homophobic legislatures in the country.  And while the election of one openly gay man might do little to change that sad fact, his presence in Tallahassee will surely make a statement.  Even the most homophobic state official will have to deal with an openly gay lawmaker, whether s/he likes it or not.

LaFontaine realizes that he needs more than the “gay vote” to get elected: “People need to know that we are more than GLBT,” he told a meeting of the Florida Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Caucus.  “We bring more to the table than what meets the eye.  We have to outshine everybody else because we have the GLBT [label] attached to us.”  LaFontaine is uniquely qualified to make history.  A former Eagle Scout and member of the US Coast Guard, LaFontaine runs his own accounting firm.  We first heard of him when he led the fight against the Boy Scouts of America, challenging (alas, unsuccessfully) the BSA’s discriminatory policies against gay and atheist scouts.  For his efforts, the Scouts expelled LaFontaine from the National Eagle Scout Association.  LaFontaine is also national treasurer of American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER), a group that challenges our Armed Forces’s ridiculous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.  LaFontaine also serves on the Board of the Dolphin Democrats, Broward County’s oldest and largest GLBT political organization.

“I’m pleased to accept the endorsement of the Victory Fund, because their track record of supporting winning candidates underscores the momentum my campaign has achieved,” said LaFontaine.  “Florida has never elected an openly-GLBT representative to Tallahassee, and this endorsement, plus our strong petition drive, brings us one step closer to making history.”  In addition to the Victory Fund, LaFontaine was endorsed by the Florida AFL-CIO and by the dean of openly-gay politicians, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank.  District 92 includes many of east Broward County’s “gayborhoods,” including Wilton Manors and Oakland Park.  The primary election is on August 26 and the general election is on November 4

Mark LaFontaine is not the only out candidate running for public office in Broward County.  Justin Flippen, President of the Dolphin Democrats, is running for Wilton Manors City Commissioner.  Adriane Reesey, the Dolphins’ Vice President, is running for County Supervisor of Elections.  Anthony Niedwiecki is running for Oakland Park City Commissioner.  And the City of Fort Lauderdale, for too long disgraced by the presence of Mayor Jim Naugle, has two out gay men seeking Naugle’s job: Dean Trantalis and Earl Ryerson.  Flippen and Reesey will face the voters at the August 26 primary and, hopefully, the November 4 general election.  Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park will have their municipal elections in March.

All in all, this promises to be a banner year for openly GLBT candidates, in South Florida and elsewhere, no matter how many candidates are elected.  So I urge all of you, no matter where you live, to make yourselves heard and vote for supportive candidates, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Jesse Monteagudo, a Florida-based freelance writer and Gay American, is celebrating his 30th year writing for the GLBT press.  Reach him at jessemonteagudo@aol.com.

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