On Nov. 15, the Victory Fund Midwest Chapter held its annual fundraiser and gala, "Victory in the Midwest," at Venue West. 221 N. Paulina St. The event honored Jim Bennett (formerly Lambda Legal's Chicago office manager and who is now director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights); Mona Noriega (who is the former Chicago Human Relations Commissioner and is currently Chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission); Arkansas State House of Representatives Minority Leader Tippi McCullough; and Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation Commissioner Precious Brady-Davis with achievement awards for their efforts in the LGBTQ+ community. S
Speakers also included former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot; actor/activist/entrepreneur Angelica Ross; state Sen. Mike Simmons; and Victory Fund CEO Annise Parker.
The Victory Fund is the only national organization focused on electing LGBTQ people who further equality at all levels. According to the organization website, "The organization provides campaign, fundraising, and communications support to LGBTQ candidates to increase the number of out LGBTQ elected officials." The Victory Institute, an offshoot of the Fund, offers programs, as well as strategic and technical support for LGBTQ+ candidates and elected officials.
In his remarks, Simmons spoke about how his late mother inspired his activism.
"When I was 11 years old in school in Chicago I was assaulted for being a gay youth," Simmons recalled. "A security guard pulled me aside and told me I walked like a faggot and if I kept walking like that he would punch me in my face. When I told my teacher, she said, 'Maybe you are a faggot.' My mother, who passed away three years ago, told me, if I found something unjust, even as an 11-year-old, I had her permission to do something about it. Her legacy shapes how I approach my role as Illinois' first gay senator."
Onstage Bennett said, "I really believe Chicago is one of the best places in the worldclearly one of the most awesome places to be queer. It's a city that takes you in...I came from Springfield, which is the city where I grew up. In Chicago you can find your space here. I could be my full self, be accepted, find a community...this community with so many of you here. It allowed me to play a very small part, with all of you fighting for our rights and our freedoms. I think it's important to recognize that Illinois is not just a dark blue oasis by coincidence. We all work together with careful intent ... It's hard work. It's protecting and drafting, recruiting amazing candidates to be at the table, because we have to be sure we're at the table. We have to be at the table while we're outside protesting."
Bennett also said, "This is a time when democracy is completely on the line, and I support the Victory Fund because it is a key player in us surviving this time."
Noriega discussed her work for Lambda Legal (she helped found the Midwest office and, like Bennett, managed it for a time as well), at which time the state's LGBTQ+ community was pushing for marriage-equality: "At the time I didn't think that change was possible. I clearly did not have the imagination to envision a change so large. Actually, we won that case to challenge the state constitution to all marriage equality and I grew through that change, and I recognize that we (as a community) are changing still."
In her introduction for McCullough, Lightfoot said, "Being an out and elected official in the south is no small feat. Being a leader in the state legislature in the South is pretty extraordinary and almost unheard of. … For a leader like Tippi to be able to stand tall, to do everything that she can to make sure our voices are heard and to sew back together the fraying fabric of democracy, is nothing short of heroic."
After recalling being ousted from her career as a schoolteacher 45 minutes after marrying her partner in another state, McCullough said, "I am the only LGBTQ representative in the Arkansas legislature. I am a caucus of one. As many of you know, it's not easy being the only one in the room anywhere. I am thankful for my support systems, and I try harder to bring more voices and more representation into those rooms. In Arkansas, to be a queer person you need resiliency…we face extreme bills that target and dehumanize us."
Introducing Ross, Brady-Davis said, "I am at the age where, if you live long enough you get to tell stories...it was a little over a decade ago when two Black trans girls were working at the Kit Kat Lounge. Even then Angelica has always been fierce about serving those who are most marginalized, and she is passionate about raising her voice unapologetically."
Ross said, "I stand with you today with a sense of urgency but also hope, and I am absolutely ready to address a few critical issues that are of paramount importance in our political landscape, and the imperative for LGBTQ individuals to run for office in 2024particularly at a time when our country faces hundreds of anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans bills being introduced across the country." (Ross recently indicated that she plans to seek political office in Georgia).
She also said, "In recent years we've seen a surge in anti-LGBTQ legislation across the United Starts. From discriminatory bathroom bills, to bans on transgender healthcare, our community is under attack like we've never seen before. These bills are often fueled by fear and ignorance. They are also a direct assault on the fundamental principles of equality and justice that this nation was founded on. In this crisis, it is so important for LGBTQ individuals to run for office because representation matters. When we have diverse voices in the halls of power, we can shape policies and ensure that the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people are upheld, and we can absolutely be the change makers that dismantle the oppressive systems that have haunted us for so long. But it's not just about running for those offices...it's about winning those seats."
Ross closed by saying, "I want you to know...we can come together, we can overcome adversity, we can create change, and we can build a future that makes it safe for all LGBTQ people."