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Senator Tammy Baldwin headlines group’s Houston brunch.

By Ryan M. Leach

The theme for the eighth annual Houston Victory Fund Champagne Brunch should be, “New Brunch. Who Dis?”

Everything is new—from the venue, to the organization’s president and CEO (former Houston mayor Annise Parker), to the record-breaking slate of LGBTQ candidates in Texas.

The keynote speaker will be Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012 who is facing a tough re-election fight this year.

“Tammy is our sole LGBTQ voice in the U.S. Senate, and anti-LGBTQ forces are coming together to spend enormous amounts of money to defeat her,” Parker tells OutSmart. “It is critical for the LGBTQ community to step up to help ensure we do not lose this important LGBTQ leader in the Senate.”

The brunch is moving from its traditional date in April to May 6—just eight days before early voting for the primary runoffs in Texas. It is also moving from The Corinthian to the Ballroom at Bayou Place.

Although Parker is no stranger to the brunch, this will mark her first year as leader of the 27-year-old organization dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ candidates, which played a critical role in her successful City races. In 2009, Parker became the first openly LGBTQ person elected mayor of a major
U.S. city.

“Although I attend the Houston Champagne Brunch almost every year, unsurprisingly I am more excited about the 2018 brunch than any before,” Parker says. “Houston is my home, so standing before friends as the first former elected official to serve as Victory Fund president and CEO will be a proud moment for me.”

Houston activist Bryan Hlavinka, a Victory Fund board member of nine years, will co-chair the brunch with Jani Lopez for the second consecutive year. Lopez has participated in the brunch for the last five years.

Hlavinka says he believes Parker is “ready to take the organization to new heights. With our former mayor as the new Victory Fund president, the energy will bring new growth and scale that enables historic levels of LGBTQ representation at all levels of government in all 50 states,” Hlavinka says. “As we all know, representation is power. Representation is access. Representation is equality.”

Pastor Matt Russell will serve as honorary co-chair of the brunch, a title reserved for someone who has contributed to the advancement of LGBTQ people in Houston. Russell is the leader of projectCURATE (projectcurate.org), a public theology and racial-equity collaborative with a mission of working toward a more just society.

Houston has long played an outsized role in the success of the Victory Fund.

The enthusiasm around Parker’s Houston races created a base of support locally that has allowed the city to host the organization’s only large-scale fundraising brunch outside of Washington.

This year, local LGBTQ candidates are again vying to
make history. Judge Steven Kirkland hopes to become the first LGBTQ person elected to the Texas Supreme Court, while activist and attorney Fran Watson would be the first out Texas state senator.

Kirkland and Watson were among 10 Texas candidates endorsed by the Victory Fund in the March primaries. Eight of those endorsed candidates advanced to runoffs or the general election, including Kirkland, Watson, and Harris County judicial candidates Jim Kovach, Beau Miller, and Jerry Simoneaux.

On a national level, in addition to helping re-elect Baldwin, the organization is hoping that Arizona Democratic congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema will join her in the Senate. Sinema is vying to replace retiring GOP senator Jeff Flake.

Hlavinka says the Houston brunch is important to the success of the Victory Fund’s mission—especially in a critical election year.

“It allows us to showcase the work of the Victory Fund nationally, and the candidates that are endorsed and supported by the Victory Fund,” he says. “It also allows national candidates to come speak to the Houston LGBTQ community about the work they are doing on the national stage.”

What: Victory Fund Houston Champagne Brunch
When: Noon to 2 p.m., Sunday, May 6
Where: Ballroom at Bayou Place, 500 Texas Ave.
Tickets/sponsorships: VictoryFund.org

This article appears in the April 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
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