Helping A Hometown Hero Win: 5 Strategies to Building LGBTQ Political Power

Dan Wall-DeSousa is a pioneer of sorts. He is running to be my hometown of Palm Bay, FL’s  first openly gay City Council Member, and he has a steep road ahead. As a newcomer, he faces incumbent Harry Santiago, Jr., who is responsible for spreading fear and misinformation about a desperately needed non-discrimination ordinance that would have protected LGBTQ people living in Palm Bay from pervasive discrimination, harassment, and violence. Unfortunately, due Santiago’s misinformation campaign, which received substantial funding from external anti-LGBTQ organizations, the ordinance failed in a crushing 4-1 defeat, denying LGBTQ Palm Bay residents their basic rights of having a fair shot at accessing employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations free from discrimination and violence.

Fortunately, openly LGBTQ leaders like Wall-DeSousa and many other LGBTQ candidates running for elected office in Congressional, statewide, and local municipal races have access to a number of national resources and organizations eager to ensure their electoral successes. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate what that level of support looks like, and to showcase how my consultancy offers proven strategies designed to support openly LGBTQ candidates and their allies, secure and maintain important public leadership positions. Here are five strategies to get started:

1.     Get EndorsedThe Victory Fund works tirelessly to elect openly LGBTQ leaders to public office for one simple reason – they transform national politics. When out LGBTQ candidates win, they have the opportunity to leverage their positons of power to challenge misinformation spread by extremists simply by speaking authentically about themselves, their families, and their communities.

It is for this reason that LGBTQ candidates running for the first time are eligible to be considered for a valuable Victory Fund endorsement. Those running in low-equality states are considered a top priority for endorsements given that the Victory Fund firmly believes that every state legislature should have at least one openly LGBTQ lawmaker. Candidates that are endorsed by the victory fund have the opportunity to work with experienced leaders who can offer valuable guidance leading to their electoral success. Candidates can apply for an endorsement by requesting an application here:

2. Do Your Homework. In the age of analytics, LGBTQ candidates have the ability to study their jurisdiction’s precinct maps examining how their constituents voted in major elections during the previous election cycle. While demographic information can be easily broken down by race, gender, and age, most political analysis fails to consider a constituent’s sexual orientation and gender identity – two important demographic categories for LGBTQ candidates to consider. Thanks to the Williams’ Institute’s analysis of the 2010 census data, a growing body of research is readily available determining where LGBTQ constituents are living, and how they are voting.

The Williams Institute also provides important analysis on legislation that impacts the lives of LGBTQ people, and recently published a study estimating the number of transgender people living in states that are restricting their access to public accommodations like restrooms, locker rooms, libraries, and hotels. Next month, the organization will be hosting an event featuring new analysis about the impact of openly LGBTQ elected officials, and their role in transforming politics to be more inclusive and fair for LGBTQ communities. To more effectively target political advertisements, LGBTQ candidates should consider reviewing their state’s profile, and request more specific census data for county or municipal campaigns.

3. Get Out the Vote (GOTV). Once a Victory Fund endorsement is secured, and you have studied your jurisdiction’s voting patterns, your campaign should begin (or continue) working in coalition with organizations dedicated to GOTV efforts. LGBTQ inclusive grassroots networks like PFLAG, the NAACPNOW, and a variety of open and affirming faith-based communities are a great starting point to raise awareness of how your candidacy aligns with issues central to these organizations, and to work collectively to build local community actions related to voter registration drives, volunteer phone banking, and other GOTV efforts.

When working in coalition with these networks, it’s important to remember that nonprofits can conduct voter registration provided that they are not biased for or against any candidate, political party, or voting position. Additionally, GOTV efforts are not permitted to collaborate with any political party, and should not target members of a particular party. GOTV efforts may only encourage people to register to vote, share hours and places to register to vote. They may also provide information on candidates as long as they list ALL candidates without favoring one candidate over another.

4. Alliances with Local Businesses. LGBTQ candidates are wise to reach out to the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to get a sense of local LGBTQ owned businesses, and other larger corporations that offer explicit protections and resources for their LGBTQ employees. One of the most valuable resources for LGBTQ candidates, especially those living in more conservative jurisdictions, is to identify larger businesses with established LGBTQ employee resource groups (ERG), and to explore ways to share information about their campaign, with an emphasis on issues that align with local business interests.

Visiting with existing LGBTQ ERG members in the area can help a candidate amplify their campaign, issues that matter most to their constituents, and basic voter registration information. Prior to speaking at local LGBTQ ERGs, it is important for each candidate to connect with business leaders to determine any company restrictions on political activities. A good practice is to encourage a LGBTQ ERG to consider hosting a debate between all candidates to talk specifically about their stances on business and LGBTQ interests relevant to the community. Such an event is a great way to highlight your pro-LGBTQ positions, and educate potential voters on how you will help improve their lives.

5. Mobilize Your Supporters. No matter how much campaigning was done in the months preceding election day, the most important task of any campaign is ensuring that voter turnout for those committed to support your campaign is high. The most effective way to ensure that supporters show up to the polls is through door-to-door, in person engagement. This action increases voter turnout on average of 8-10 percent, especially when it concerns younger voters. Volunteer phone banks are also quit effective.

In addition to traditional mobilization strategies, campaign managers definitely should consider social media strategies to target and mobilize committed voters on election day. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are three key platforms that can help campaigns more effectively target voters. Volunteers responsible for texting information to supporters offering details about local poll locations, wait times, and other timely news is also an effective strategy. Lastly, creating a volunteer buddy system to hold supporters accountable to showing up at the polls on election day is vital.

My consultancy is in the business of developing LGBTQ leaders, and is eager to support openly LGBTQ candidates like Dan Wall-DeSousa. If you are considering a run for office, and would like some campaign guidance, consider taking advantage of my 3 in 30 leadership series, where you will have 30 minutes to discuss three leadership questions of your choosing. This exclusive service provides an opportunity to discuss the tough questions that keep you awake at night. Space is limited for these session, so please be sure to sign-up today.


Rhodes Perry

Rhodes Perry is a nationally recognized expert on LGBTQ and social justice public policy matters, with two decades of leadership experience innovating strategy management, policy and program solutions for corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. At his core, Rhodes is an entrepreneur, where he most recently established Rhodes Perry Consulting, LLC, a national diversity and inclusion consulting firm that uses an intersectional approach to collaborate with leaders on creating solutions in the practice areas of strategy management, issue advocacy, and stakeholder engagement. Previously, Rhodes founded the Office of LGBTQ Policy & Practice at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, and prior to this assignment he served as the founding Director of Policy at PFLAG National where he led the policy strategy and advocacy efforts for the organization’s 350 chapters. He cut his teeth serving as a Program Examiner at the White House Office of Management & Budget, where he improved upon federal benefit programs designed to provide assistance to low-income communities. Rhodes earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Gender Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and obtained a Master of Public Administration from New York University.