Victory Institute’s Aisha C. Moodie-Mills on Mobilizing Millennials and LGBT Officials

GO sat down with Aisha to hear first hand how LGBTQ elected officials are preparing for the tough battle that will undoubtedly be a Trump presidency. All photos courtesy of YuniqueYunique.

This past weekend, the Victory Institute, an organization that works to achieve full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by building, supporting, and advancing a diverse network of LGBT public leaders, hosted a conference for more than 500 LGBTQ elected officials from all over the globe in Washington, D.C. The first panel I sat in on was “Trans-forming the Electorate: A Path to Victory for Transgender Elected Officials” with Lisa Middleton, Shane Ortega, and Council member Luisa Revilla speaking. Shane was able to discuss his experience as a trans man in the military, sharing he’s “not sure I would have had the same support had I been a trans feminine person.” Luisa, a trans woman, council member and fearless leader from Peru, spoke about her support of sex worker rights and how the only answer is to come together in unity.

Photo by: YuniqueYunique
Photo by: YuniqueYunique

Other topics discussed at the conference included immigration and the LGBTQ movement, empowering millennials to run for office, debriefing the 2016 election, and strategy planning for 2017. This intersectional conference comes from the work of Victory Institute led by Executive Director Aisha C. Moodie-Mills. I could feel the energy in the room uplift when Aisha took the stage. She empowered every person in that room to take action, saying, “Now is the time to flex your muscles. We’ve seen dark days, but we will always prevail.”

GO sat down with Aisha to hear first hand how LGBTQ elected officials are preparing for the tough battle that will undoubtedly be a Trump presidency.

GO Magazine: Can you tell GO readers a bit about the history of this event?

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills: Interestingly enough, this event is actually older than the organization itself. It’s the 32nd year of the conference for LGBTQ elected officials. Tammy Baldwin attended the second official conference, and she was speaking about it yesterday. She described the event as a support group, a space to mourn together, to plan together. It was isolating to be the only out person in public office for thousands of miles, so it started off as a way for leaders to come together to have a safe space and have community. Over the years, we have grown and merged it into a space where they can talk strategy together, come up with best practices, and plot the revolution together.

GO: What was the feeling in the office when Victory Institute realized Trump was winning and this conference was going to have a whole different feel than what was planned with a Clinton president-elect?

AM: I have to give it to my staff, they all got over the shock and moved through the stages of grief faster than I did. I sat in anger for a very long time. We never really did the what if scenario because we were just so sure where the nation was. So, we went back to our core and our roots. We asked ourselves “Who are we in service to?” What kept coming up was that everything we do needs to be in service to our LGBTQ elected officials. In this moment, all of our appointed officials are about to be out of office, leaving our elected officials as the first line of defense. Our greatest asset is to mobilize and ignite these elected officials so that they can draw strength from our cohort and go out and do the work we need them to do to mitigate the disaster that is going to come down on the federal level. Right now, we need to double down and invest in our elected officials because they’re going to need us.

GO: One of the big conversations being had at the conference this year is how to get millennials thinking about going into public office. How can we ensure that all of the intersections of the LGBTQ community are being brought to the forefront in this effort?

AM: I am so inspired by the diversity of young people who come up to me and want to get involved with public office. The generation before me very much looked like white, gay men as a monolith of the community. We talked about this yesterday because we had a panel discussion featuring some ambassadors from the Obama administration and all six of the panelists were white men. So, I brought up the elephant in the room, and I asked them what they thought about the image this portrays about who the community is. They started to talk about how they know that, but what is coming after them is a much more diverse representation of queer people. You can look around this conference and see that.

We have an initiative at the Victory Institute to encourage trans and POC young people to get involved in public office; it’s a specific fellowship for them. What’s interesting about the data is that POC are more likely to identify as LGBTQ than white people are — this data comes from Gallop. And we are seeing this in that younger people care deeply about intersectionality. In the next 10 years, we’re going to see a very different bench of LGBTQ leaders than we do now.

GO: How does your personal experience push you to continue this work?

AM: I was raised by Black people from South Carolina, who fled S.C. because of Jim Crow during the Great Migration. My grandfather went to the Navy to get out of there, because there weren’t many other options when you’re poor, and haven’t even completely High School. My family was very much a beneficiary of government institutions being their way out of poverty, their saving grace to get out of harm’s way. My grandfather actually told me the other day that he doesn’t think he would have survived the South in that time if he hadn’t joined the Navy.

The military brought them out of poverty to the middle class, to a place where they could settle their family in New Jersey, buy a home, raise six children even though they only biologically only had three. And even to look around and see other members of our family be able to benefit in times of need, from different social safety net programs always gave me a sense of appreciation for what the public sector can do when it works. It can uplift people to give them their own agency with these little stepping stones. My families experience was being a part of social systems that worked for them. This all has brought me to a place where I could be the first person in my family to go to college, then grad school, and then to be the first Black person to run a National LGBTQ organization. In my bones, I believe so much in government and public sector because it works when it works.

GO: Can you tell us about any new programs Victory Institute is working on in 2017 to mobilize and support LGBTQ elected officials?

AM: For 2017, we are going to be building our infrastructure to be a much more robust association for LGBTQ elected officials. This means, building up the association aspect of our organization. We don’t want them to waste time reinventing the wheel; our role is to aggregate policy building techniques that work and best practices so we can share them. This is something we haven’t done in recent years, and we are working to get back to that. Everything that I’ve heard from elected officials is that they know there’s a model policy around banning conversion therapy from other states, and it would help to talk to those folks to see what worked and what didn’t. We see the need to fill this gap, so Victory Institute is going to fill it. We want to be a resource guide for these elected officials to coalesce around similar goals and drive common agenda.

Photo by: YuniqueYunique