Why you should care

Because everyone should ask what they can do for their country.

It is a movement born by protest — shattered glass bottles, slashed car tires and chants of “gay power.” Abusive police raids led to a revolt by patrons at the Stonewall Inn, and days of riots and protests gave birth to an organized effort to advance equality for LGBTQ people. It was on the one-year commemoration of those riots that the first Pride march was held, in New York City, in 1970. There were no floats, no rainbows and no corporate sponsors — just courageous people who refused to endure marginalization, discrimination and arrest and demanded freedom and equality.

This Sunday in Washington, D.C., and throughout the month around the country, a new generation of LGBTQ people will return to the streets, along with many of those who have marched before. Not to celebrate Pride but to return to its roots — protesting a hostile political environment and government that threatens our progress and aims to undermine our equality. But unlike that first Pride parade in Manhattan, marchers nationwide will be joined by hundreds of out and proud LGBTQ elected officials who are their direct voice to every level of government. What was imaginable but still a dream in 1970 — LGBTQ representation in government — will be a powerful presence and a symbol of hope at marches large and small.

In states with few or no openly LGBTQ state legislators, we are seeing hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills being introduced.

These elected LGBTQ officials are the antidote to the anti-equality efforts we are protesting this Sunday. The presidential election has emboldened our opponents, and their attacks are relentless. But when LGBTQ officials are in the room, it humanizes our lives, changes legislative debates and influences straight lawmakers to vote for equality. In states with few or no openly LGBTQ state legislators, we are seeing hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills being introduced — like the so-called “religious freedom” bills in Arkansas, South Dakota and Texas that allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. But in state legislatures with strong LGBTQ representation, attacks on our community are rare.

And these leaders are not one-trick ponies. Elected LGBTQ officials are women, people of color, immigrants and people with disabilities. This diversity, combined with experiences of marginalization, makes them fierce fighters against injustice for all — and they are leading the resistance.

In New Mexico, LGBTQ Mayor Javier Gonzales was one of the first mayors in the country to declare that Santa Fe would remain a sanctuary city for immigrants, despite threats from President Trump to block the city’s funding. In California, LGBTQ State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced a single-payer health-care bill that just passed the Senate and would guarantee coverage to all Californians, including those most vulnerable. And in Massachusetts, the nation’s only LGBTQ attorney general, Maura Healey, is suing the president to block his travel ban targeting Muslims.

The influence of LGBTQ officials on American politics is strong, but their numbers are not. They make up just a small fraction of 1 percent of all elected positions, and there are only six openly transgender elected officials in the entire country. Growing our ranks and building LGBTQ political power is the necessary response to the political divisiveness and vitriol targeting our community. It’s time to invest in a new generation of LGBTQ people who can lead on equality on school boards, in state legislatures and in Congress.

When our community fought back at Stonewall, it had the foresight to ask what was next. As we march united this month, we must ask ourselves the same. Running for office is the best way to counter a hostile political climate and to keep the spirit of the march alive. Increasing LGBTQ representation is our best defense against the legislative attacks targeting our people and the best offense in securing a legislative agenda that benefits all Americans.

As the posters come down and the chants fade, we need our future leaders to stand up and ensure their voices are heard. We need to encourage our LGBTQ friends and family to run for office and become the difference-makers our country desperately needs. We must harness the energy of the marches and channel it into building a diverse pipeline of leaders who can create lasting LGBTQ political power. We need to unite, march and then tell our people: Don’t just march … RUN!

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills is president and CEO of Victory Institute, which works to build, train and support a diverse pipeline of LGBTQ leaders who can advance equality in public office.

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