The Victory Fund was founded by activists and donors in 1991 to increase the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials. Recently, the group endorsed 19 out Texas politicians for office, including Democratic candidates Elias Diaz, Ann Johnson, Gina Ortiz Jones, and Madeline Eden, who are each running to make history and change the political landscape.
Victory Fund’s President and CEO Annise Parker says these elections are significant for many reasons—LGBTQ representation being one. “We have plenty of evidence [that] when we’re in the room, the conversation changes,” the out former Houston mayor says. “What is discussed changes, and the way it’s discussed changes, [and that’s with] just one of us in the room. When there are three or more of us, we can influence legislation.”
To secure Victory Fund’s campaigning, fundraising, and communications support, LGBTQ candidates must meet the group’s endorsement requirements. Individuals must be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and “demonstrate community support and a realistic plan to win,” according to the Victory Fund website. The candidates must also support efforts to protect privacy, reproduction freedom, and the advancement of LGBTQ civil rights through legislation or the regulatory process, unless they are judicial endorsements. This year, Victory Fund has endorsed over 300 out candidates across the United States.
For more information on the Victory Fund, visit victoryfund.org.
Elias Diaz, a gay Latinx man, has already made a difference in his community by becoming the first openly LGBTQ elected official of Eagle Pass, Texas. The new city councilman defeated opponent Elizabeth Chisum De La Garza in a runoff election on September 5.
As a newly elected official, Diaz vows to fight for the vulnerable and underserved. He plans to focus on COVID-19 financial recovery and address local health care needs by equipping emergency medical services and firefighters with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). He will also work to improve the community’s mental health as suicide rates rise during the pandemic.
Diaz says he ran to revolutionize local politics by galvanizing community members who had given up on voting. “I know what it feels like to be in a town full of barriers, with a lack of resources and a million reasons to stop you. [This is] a town that forces you to deal with letdowns and frustrations on a daily basis, and there’s a constant need to reinvent yourself. I felt that it was time to change that.”
Diaz has overcome countless challenges, including economic disadvantage, childhood domestic violence, and sexual abuse. His past experiences motivate him to fight for social justice and equality for others, especially in Eagle Pass.
The blue border town is home to many traditionally conservative residents, some of whom harassed Diaz during his run for office. To get through college in Los Angeles, Diaz starred in adult films. Photos and videos of his sex work circulated on social media and were used against him during his campaign. In spite of these attempts to demoralize him and question his ability to lead, Diaz remained transparent about his past. He used the attacks to connect to voters in his community and inspire them to rise up against injustice and inequality. In the end, he beat De La Garza by 517 votes, according to the Eagle Pass Business Journal.
“We don’t need a perfect candidate. We need a champion for change,” Diaz emphasizes. “This is our time, and I am determined to fight for it. It’s time for all of us to rise up to the challenge in our communities and revolutionize politics at the local, state, and federal level.”
Learn more about Elias Diaz at facebook.com/EliasDiazForEaglePassCityCouncilPlace2.
Houston native Ann Johnson is also vying to create change at the state level by running to unseat Texas House of Representatives District 134 incumbent Sarah Davis in the general election. While the November 3 presidential race is important, Johnson notes that the down-ballot races are equally critical. “In some ways, they are [even] more significant to people’s everyday lives.”
Johnson, an openly lesbian Democrat, is running for the same seat for the second time to change Texas politics through fair redistricting, affordable health care, and gun reforms. If elected, she will act on behalf of nearly 174,000 citizens in West Houston, according to the 2010 Census.
Johnson says she will also fight to end the Republican party’s racially discriminatory and unconstitutional gerrymandering by hiring an independent commission as the state prepares for the 2021 redistricting. Reorganizing areas into new legislative and school districts can determine how people are represented in our government.
According to Loyola Law School, redistricting, which happens every decade after the census, determines “which voters vote for which representative” and which bills and resolutions are passed. “This is the election cycle of this decade,” Johnson says.
While Johnson and her opponent are both cancer survivors and proponents of pro-choice policies, they differ on several topics, including health care.
Republican incumbent Davis says she believes Texas should expand Medicaid in the next legislative session, but Johnson remembers when Davis opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s implementation in 2010.
At the time, Johnson was a freelance attorney who offered her services to people who could not afford lawyers, which meant she went without health benefits. Despite surviving breast cancer and having papers from her doctors confirming her good health, Johnson was still denied insurance coverage due to her preexisting condition. These experiences, and Davis’ actions since 2010, motivated Johnson to campaign once again.
“Davis has proven over this last decade that she will fight the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, so I do not trust her to do anything,” Johnson says, referring to Davis’ support for the anti-Obamacare lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision that made Medicaid expansion optional for states.
The two candidates also differ on gun legislation. Davis received a C rating from the NRA in 2020 and was the only Republican to vote no on a 2019 bill that gave officers the right to carry on school property. She helped pass legislation in 2015 that allowed concealed carry of firearms on college campuses, and in 2013 she supported reducing the required hours of training to get a concealed-handgun license.
Johnson received an F from the NRA in 2020 because she supports background checks on gun purchasers. Unlike Davis, she is also backed by Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement created to protect people from gun violence.
Johnson has spent most of her life serving the vulnerable. As a former human-trafficking prosecutor and criminal justice system attorney, she has helped victims of sexual exploitation achieve justice. According to the Victory Fund, she worked with other Republican officials to create Survivors Acquiring Freedom and Empowerment Court, a program that helps those charged with prostitution between the ages of 17 and 25 “escape the revolving door of criminal justice.”
“I’ve spent my life and career in public service for women and children who have been victims of sexual exploitation, and I would do the same thing in the Texas Legislature,” she says. “I will be a voice for those who have been left behind, those who have been forgotten, those who have not been protected.”
To learn more about Johnson’s campaign, visit annjohnson.com.
Johnson is not the only out candidate running for the same seat for a second time. Gina Ortiz Jones wants to represent Texas’ 23rd Congressional District in the general election, and she could become the first openly LGBTQ Texan elected to the U.S. Congress.
In 2018, Jones, a Filipina American lesbian, lost her election to Congressman Will Hurd by only 926 votes. The TX-23 seat represents about 710,000 constituents between El Paso and San Antonio, and Jones says she’s ready to run against her new Republican opponent, Tony Gonzales.
As someone who relied on reduced-cost school lunches and subsidized housing while growing up, Jones is again campaigning to help the working families in her district who have been severely impacted by COVID-19. She’s also running to change the face of leadership.
“We need leaders who are going to fight for an inclusive economic recovery that prioritizes working families and small businesses, and that starts with listening to medical experts who are telling us that we need more testing, contact tracing, and adequate supplies of PPE so that we can get this crisis under control and safely get Texans back to work and our kids back to the classroom,” Jones says.
As a congresswoman, Jones will act on behalf of many rural counties in South and West Texas. Her desire to lead and give back to her district comes from her mother, who came to the U.S. as a domestic worker after graduating from the number-one university in the Philippines, according to Jones’ website.
“Growing up in San Antonio, my mom reminded [my sister and me] every day that we were lucky to be born in the United States, and that we had to give back to the country that had given us so much,” Jones says.
Her mother’s example also pushed Jones to serve in the Air Force and in the White House, where she worked under George W. Bush and Barack Obama before resigning in 2017 during President Trump’s administration.
“The type of people that [Trump] brought in to be public servants were interested in neither the public nor the service,” Jones told HuffPost. “That, to me, was a sign that I’m going to have to serve in a different way.”
She still wants to lead her community, especially when it comes to health care. According to Jones, access to health care is the biggest issue her district faces. Unlike Gonzales, who supports the elimination of the ACA, Jones says she will work to ensure that her constituents have access to quality, affordable health care.
She is running for Congress to fight for everyone’s right to grow up healthy, get an education, and serve our country. “Every family in this district deserves the same opportunities my family had,” she says.
Learn more about Jones and her positions at ginaortizjones.com.
Like Jones, Madeline Eden is campaigning to make history. She is running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives next month, when she could become the first openly transgender member of the Texas Legislature.
And like the other candidates, Eden has her eyes on the 2021 redistricting process. According to Eden, if voters don’t flip the Texas House, Republicans would have free rein to gerrymander the state for another decade. But she has hope, since the likelihood of turning the Texas House blue is high and could result in both a new governor and fairer statewide representation.
Her views on gerrymandering stem from her desire to end voter suppression. In 2018, she founded register2vote.org, a Texas nonprofit that has successfully registered over one million voters nationwide. The deputy voter registration law, which charges those who are not officially deputized as voter registrars with a felony for helping others register to vote, was one of the reasons she created the site.
“Voter suppression [is] death by a thousand cuts,” she says, referring to the deputy voter registration law, along with statewide efforts to both cut back on polling locations in minority areas and prevent those convicted of a felony crime from voting. “We can fix our government to make it more representative of its people, and the first step is facilitating everyone’s right to vote.”
In the Texas House of Representatives, Eden will fight to pass voting-rights legislation and implement online voter registration, same-day voter registration, and automatic registration, guaranteeing everyone’s right to participate equally in our government.
“There are people who want to participate in a democracy, and they’re unable to,” she says. “When everything is said and done, I know there are more progressively minded people out there. When we have a democracy that’s representative of the people, our state [legislators] will reflect that. But the first step in [making] that happen is [making sure] everyone can participate without being hindered.”
By securing everyone’s ability to vote, Eden says the U.S. could end the two-party system and the Electoral College. The country could also have a more representative government by imposing term limits and by appointing enough Supreme Court justices to prevent corruption from partisan politics.
“Our system of government has been around for hundreds of years, and it was originally designed as a system that [could be] modified to make it more representative,” she says. “That’s what the framers of the Constitution wanted, and we haven’t taken that far enough.”
She encourages folks to go out and convince others to register to vote before October 5 and then vote against the poor leadership that has led to our current state of affairs.
“Cut through the propaganda and disinformation, and vote,” she says. “That would make a huge difference.”
For more information on Madeline Eden, visit edenfortexas.com.
The Victory Fund has endorsed 15 other openly LGBTQ Texas candidates, including:
• Kim Ogg for Harris County District Attorney
• Kelli Johnson for Harris County Criminal Court, District 178
• Selena Alvarenga for Travis County District Court Judge
• Michelle Palmer for Texas State Board of Education, District 6
• Paty Baca for Judge of Texas’ District Court 346
• Jimmy Flannigan for Austin City Council, District 6
• Wesley Lawrence for El Paso City Council, District 4
• Jessica Gonzalez for Texas House of Representatives, District 104
• Mary Gonzalez for Texas House of Representatives, District 32
• Eric Holguin for Texas House of Representatives, District 32
• Celia Israel for Texas House of Representatives, District 50
• Julie Johnson for Texas House of Representatives, District 115
• Eliz Markowitz for Texas House of Representatives, District 28
• Lorenzo Sanchez for Texas House of Representatives, District 67
• Erin Zwiener for Texas House of Representatives, District 45
This article appears in the October 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.