Scaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach

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Scaled-back activities during Pride Month are posing a challenge for LGBTQ groups that were hoping to boost fundraising and voter outreach in the lead-up to Election Day.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of Pride parades and related events in cities across the U.S. where much of the political activity is now focused on racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis.

That means much of this month’s events will be held online, a shift that comes with more minuses than pluses in terms of showcasing LGBTQ candidates and getting voters energized about down-ballot races.

“Pride Month is typically an excellent opportunity for our candidates to get before LGBTQ voters in their community. Not having these pride events certainly makes it more difficult, although a lot of these events will be replaced with digital pride events,” Elliot Imse, senior director of communications at the LGBTQ Victory Fund, told The Hill.

“These digital Pride events are unlikely to bring in the same numbers [and] it will hurt the visibility of these candidates,” said Imse, who acknowledged that fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts in June will be an uphill battle.

“We are facing twin crises [and] the best way to address these issues is through real leadership,” he said.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund was established in 1991 to help elect LGBTQ candidates for Congress and state offices.

More than 850 openly LGBTQ candidates are running for public office this year.

Among them is Democrat Pat Hackett, who won Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District primary on Tuesday to run against Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) in the general election. If Hackett wins, she would be the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Indiana.

But she faces long odds. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists the congressional district as “solid Republican.”

For now, the tone of Pride Month has been altered in part by the nationwide protests against police brutality.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Alphonso David said in an interview with MSNBC this week that the community is celebrating Pride Month but also recognizing the message behind the Floyd protests.

“We have to also remember Pride Month has its roots in the struggle, in protest,” he said. “People were stricken at Stonewall. Because of police brutality we now have the LGBTQ civil rights movement.”

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a progressive organization, also tied both messages to a common goal.

“It is important right now to follow black leadership and follow black voices but at the same time we can also listen to the voices of black queer and trans folks who have been a part of this fight,” said Executive Director Chris Melody Fields Figueredo. “If you look throughout history from Stonewall to Selma, the biggest change that has happened within this country has been very connected to the power of protests and the power of people to push and drive an agenda.”

Despite Pride Month’s new format and tone, political organizers are hopeful they can maintain much of the momentum from earlier in the 2020 election cycle, when former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s historic presidential campaign energized LGBTQ allies and mobilized new voters and donors.

“Him being the first openly LGBTQ person running for the Democratic ticket certainly brought out more LGBTQ people both in terms of their excitement about the 2020 election and their investment both from a financial perspective and their time perspective,” Imse said.

LGBTQ Victory Fund raised more than $500,000 for Buttigieg throughout the course of his race and nearly all of it was from LGBTQ donors.

“Pete engaged LGBTQ people who were loosely invested in politics but had never donated before and got them to donate to a presidential campaign for the first time,” Imse said. “We also know that the LGBTQ people that we’re excited about Pete and will vote for the first time in November will also likely vote for the Democratic congressional candidates.”

Buttigieg dropped out of the presidential race in March and quickly endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s now the presumptive nominee. Buttigieg’s PAC, dubbed Win the Era, later endorsed candidates like Gina Ortiz Jones (D), an Air Force veteran running for retiring Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-Texas) seat; Jaime Harrison, a Democrat running to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); and Cal Cunningham, a Democrat running to unseat Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

“Mayor Pete understood what’s at stake in this election. I think it was very politically wise for him to endorse as quickly as he did, as thoughtfully as he did, but more important than that, turning it into action for his supporters,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC senior vice president for policy and public affairs.

The Biden Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee, is hosting a virtual Pride Month event on June 11 with Barbra Streisand and John Legend. It costs $2,800 for guests, $5,600 for supporters, $41,100 for sponsors, and $100,000 for hosts to join the video call.

“Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy inspired LGBTQ folks who weren’t previously politically engaged to vote (and contribute) for the first time. That Pete endorsed Biden, and Biden spoke so eloquently about the historic nature of Pete’s run, will keep a lot of these newly engaged LGBTQ voters and donors paying attention through November,” said David Reid, senior policy adviser at the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, in an email to The Hill.

Reid, who serves on the governing boards of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and LGBTQ Victory Institute, was the political action committee finance director for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Nearly 9 million LGBTQ adults are registered to vote for the 2020 general election, according to figures from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund is hoping those numbers lead to record turnout in November.

“It is very possible we will see historic turnout for Biden among the LGBTQ community,” Reid said.

Tags Barbra Streisand Coronavirus demonstrations Fundraising Hillary Clinton Human Rights Campaign Indiana Jackie Walorski Joe Biden LGBTQ Lindsey Graham Pandemic Pete Buttigieg pride month Protests Stonewall Thom Tillis voter outreach Will Hurd

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