Redistricting, like judicial appointments, is one of those things that only political junkies seem to care about. But drawing up legislative district maps based on census data is not just an exercise in back-room wonkiness. Redistricting affects who can get elected and what they are likely to do once in office.
That’s why the LGBTQ Victory Fund has undertaken a lobbying effort to increase the community’s political clout through redistricting. The effort, named “We Belong Together,” aims to ensure that neighborhoods where there are large populations of LGBTQ people remain concentrated in single districts.
“The drawing of district lines is enormously consequential to LGBTQ representation, yet historically our community has been largely absent from discussions on redistricting,” said Annise Parker, the President & CEO of the Victory Fund.
“A line drawn in the middle of a neighborhood with a large LGBTQ population – or even a line drawn to cut off a corner of that neighborhood – can be the difference between electing an LGBTQ person or having zero LGBTQ representation.”
Increasing the number of LGBTQ elected officials has been the goal of the Victory Fund since it was founded 20 years ago, so it makes sense that the group is trying to influence the maps that dictate the odds of success.
While the tactic is new to LGBTQ communities, it’s been employed for decades in others. Black, Hispanic and other marginalized communities have long identified as “communities of interest” in redistricting.
By asking redistricting groups to think of LGBTQ people the same way, the Victory Fund is pushing to expand an already existing definition.
The lobbying effort is focusing on states with independent redistricting commissions. In states like Michigan, Colorado and Arizona, nonpartisan entities are called to draw up legislative maps. In most other states, the process is controlled by the majority party in the state legislature. (Republicans currently control 29 state legislatures.)
While much redistricting work focuses on redrawing Congressional district maps, the greatest opportunity for growing LGBTQ representation is at the municipal level, at least to start.
Surprisingly, Washington, D.C., with its huge LGBTQ community, doesn’t have an out elected official on the city council. New York City has had representation with an LGBTQ council member from Greenwich Village for a while (currently represented by City Speaker Corey Johnson), but other LGBTQ stronghold areas in the city have not.
The template for this kind of redistricting awareness is California. The state, which has a nonpartisan commission, adopted the principle of the LGBTQ people as a community of interest years ago. It’s not hard to see the impact there. District lines that have put areas such as San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood in one district, has led to the creation of a kind of de facto LGBTQ community seat, which has been held by an out official since 1993.
From the Victory Fund’s perspective, these kind of seats also create a pipeline for candidates to prepare for even higher offices. San Diego’s current mayor Todd Gloria (D) and California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D) each held the seat representing Hillcrest.
“We have this 30-year history of continuous representation, and it’s not just that seat,” Gloria told Politico. “All of us have gone on to another office, breaking barriers in the process.”
Data from last year’s census will help identify how many same-sex couples live in a potential district. However, the data has its limits. It doesn’t identify LGBTQ people not in a relationship. The Victory Fund is identifying other potential sources of information, including donor lists of LGBTQ organizations, to fill in the gaps.
The Victory Fund effort is more than a reminder of the importance of redistricting. It’s also an antidote to the partisan ends to which the GOP have used such processes in service of their Congressional goals. Having given up on trying to win votes fairly, Republicans are intent on gerrymandering their way into a majority.
The Victory Fund project shows that when redistricting has the right principles behind it, it can also be a beneficial mechanism for power.