State treasurer Erick Russell is making history… and helping you get free money

State treasurer Erick Russell is making history… and helping you get free money
Connecticut State Treasurer Erick Russell Photo: Erick Russell for CT

Connecticut State Treasurer Erick Russell took office in January 2023 and became the first out gay Black man to be elected and serve in statewide office in the United States. He was just 34 years old.

Before his own election, Russell spent three years working to elect Democrats as vice chair of both the Connecticut Democratic Party and the Association of State Democratic Chairs.

He picked up his finance experience as an associate and partner at the law firm Pullman & Comley in their public and private financing department. He earned his JD at the University of Connecticut in 2012.

Born and raised in New Haven, Russell spent time working in his parents’ convenience store and deli, along with his two siblings. He still calls New Haven home and now lives there with his husband.

Connecticut’s 84th state treasurer spoke with LGBTQ Nation from there, wearing a crisp white dress shirt and often a broad smile.

LGBTQ NATION: You were raised in a household with a Black father and a white mother. Was there anything about that experience that prepared you for being openly gay? And which was more challenging, if either was?

ERICK RUSSELL: I don’t know that being biracial, that there was anything specific that made coming out easier. I think what was a benefit to me is with my mother, not only being white, but being from Germany, and my dad being from Tennessee, I’d always had experience with a lot of different people, and I think that helped me throughout my life.

But it was always certainly more difficult being Black than being gay. The reality is that folks can meet me and not necessarily know my sexual orientation. But people have preconceived notions that they bring to the table based on race and it being, obviously, one of the first things that people see. But I love all the many communities that I belong to and being able to represent all those communities authentically.

You were the first person in your family to graduate from college and then from law school, and now you’ve been elected to statewide office in the state where you grew up. What’s the most memorable reaction from your parents to your success?

I would say probably being sworn in. My parents sacrificed so much for me and my siblings to have opportunities that they themselves didn’t have. And that certainly was an experience that I don’t think, growing up, my parents could have ever imagined.

So it was nice to be able, not only for them to see it, but for me to actually be able to give them credit in front of an audience. It was really a special moment.

Erick Russell
Erick Russell for CT A still from Russell’s Treasurer campaign video in 2022

You’ve cited breaking the racial and generational wealth gap as a priority. With billionaires flaunting their money everywhere you look, and the wealth gap so wide among all groups, is that even remotely possible?

We need to do the work. We know we can’t continue down the path that we have and expect that there’s going to be a different result. And while there’s nothing wrong with people being successful in our economy, my goal is to make sure that people here in Connecticut have a fair shake and have a real opportunity to lift themselves up and to participate in our economy in a meaningful way and right a lot of the wrongs of our past.

Bringing perspective to the table and making sure that we’re advocating and implementing policy for working people is my goal.

The top income tax rate in the U.S. reached above 90% from 1944 to 1963, a period that coincided with explosive growth in the middle class. Is it time to tax the country’s top 1% like we mean it?

That accumulation of wealth at the top is not benefiting anyone other than those at the top, and this wealth gap has continued to widen over time. We need to invest in children and working families in our country. Tax policy is a huge part of that.

Your husband, Christopher Lyddy, is a former Connecticut state rep and now works in education. How did you meet?

We actually met through politics. I was in law school. I was working in then-Gov. Malloy’s General Counsel’s Office. And my husband was a state rep from Newtown at the time. We actually met at a bar after work randomly on St. Patrick’s Day and were introduced to each other, and neither one of us was out at the time, actually. So we didn’t meet with a plan of dating and ended up grabbing a drink after work one day, and that turned into doing it again. And now 13 years later, we’re still together and married going on seven years.

When did you come out?

I was out to some friends, but I wasn’t out in a professional capacity until after we started dating.

Did you come out together? That would be very romantic.

(laughing) It wasn’t a big announcement. I mean, it kind of happened over time. We both came out to our families at right around the same time, and then, you know, went a little bit more public with the relationship. We moved in together in 2013.

Did your parents have any advice for you as a mixed-race couple?

There wasn’t any specific advice for us as a couple. I’ve always gotten a lot of advice from my father just about navigating the world as a person of color, for sure. And I’ve always carried that with me.

Who proposed to whom and how did it go down?

I proposed to Chris. Actually, I surprised him with a birthday trip out to Breckinridge. We had a bunch of our friends and Chris’s brother and some cousins and stuff all waiting at the airport. We rented a house in the guise of this birthday trip, with skiing and hanging out, and then I proposed the next day. So, we had a good time.

As Connecticut’s Treasurer, a big part of your job is helping run the state’s finances. Who takes care of the bills at home?

(laughing) We both take care of the bills. We divide and conquer on everything really at home. I probably take the lead on a lot of it, but Chris is very on top of the bills, as well.

Erick Russell and husband Christopher Liddy
Erick Russell for CT Russell and his husband Christopher Lyddy

You’ve served as a mentor to Black and LGBTQ+ youth. Can you share an example of how you’ve impacted one of your mentee’s lives?

One is a woman who grew up right around the corner from my parents’ store that I grew up working in, and she is just an incredible young woman who worked really hard and battled some really challenging circumstances. We reconnected when she started law school at UConn, where I graduated, and a lot of it was just advice and how to navigate the space.

It obviously hit home for me being the first person in my family to navigate a lot of those rooms. I didn’t have that built-in knowledge.

For me, as a gay man navigating the professional track, I found folks that you could go to and ask those questions and know that they’re looking out for your best interests. That was always really invaluable to me. And so I hope that the little things that I’m able to do in supporting folks, that they get some value out of that, as well.

Do you and your husband have any desire or plans to have kids?

We’re still figuring it out. We certainly would love to have kids. We were planning on probably having a more definitive conversation about that in the last couple of years, but I wasn’t expecting to run for office, so that kind of threw everything up in the air a little bit. If we decide not to have kids of our own, we have tons of nieces and nephews that we love spoiling.

Dogs with human names always make me laugh, and you have one named Eleanor. What breed is she, and who is she named after?

(laughing) Our little Rottweiler, Eleanor, is about two-and-a-half. And certainly, Eleanor Roosevelt was in the picture as we were having the conversation, but I think we picked that name even prior. We just thought it was cool, and to your point, we love dogs that have human names.

As treasurer, you manage investments for Connecticut’s pension funds, as well as academic programs, grants, and initiatives throughout the state. From that perspective, what’s the single most important thing the world can do to address climate change?

Reducing carbon emissions. But I think we need to look at it holistically and hit it from every angle possible.

The Office of the Treasurer administers the state’s Unclaimed Property Division. What’s the biggest unclaimed property you’re aware of, and how often do you check for your own?

(laughing) I had unclaimed property of 25 cents and was able to cash my check there, but you could have folks that are owed tens of thousands of dollars.

Being a national publication, I would encourage everyone to check out missingmoney.com, which actually pulls all of the states’ unclaimed property programs together so you can find out if you have any unclaimed property across the country.

You chaired the LGBTQ+ section of the Connecticut Bar Association. Is that as white and boring as it sounds?

(laughing) Yeah, so unfortunately, the bar across the country is not as diverse as they should be. And that was certainly reflected here in Connecticut, as well. I was one of the founding members with a great group of attorneys that founded the LGBT section of the Bar Association here in Connecticut, and we made sure that we combined substantive programming and networking opportunities for LGBTQ attorneys so that we could support each other, but also tying that in with having a good time and making sure that we weren’t taking ourselves or the work too seriously. I think just like everything in life, it’s about balance.

As an attorney who works in finance, how true is the following joke? “What’s the difference between an accountant and a lawyer? The accountant knows he’s boring.”

(laughing) There’s some truth to that, depending on who you’re talking to.  

The very first treasurer of Connecticut, Thomas Welles (1639-1641) also served as magistrate during the American colonies’ first witch trials. Which Connecticut resident would you rather put on trial for sheer annoyance? Laura Ingraham or Candace Owens?

Oh, God. I’m probably going to go with Candace Owens, for a host of different reasons but I am sure you can imagine why.

Would you rather be called “articulate and bright and clean” by Joe Biden, or “super-hot” by George Santos?

(laughing) You’re not — this is tough. I’ll take the compliment from the president of the United States. I’d rather keep my distance from George Santos.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott just got engaged a few weeks ago, which immediately put him in contention as a possible Trump running mate. How long before Lindsey Graham does the same?

(laughing) I’ll leave the speculation to others, but if that’s where we’re going in terms of a presidential ticket, it’s one more reason to double down on the work to reelect Joe Biden.

Should California Governor Gavin Newsom choose another Black woman as his running mate at the Democratic National Convention in August, or should he consider a gay Black man, maybe from Connecticut?

(laughing) My focus is getting Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris reelected in this election cycle. I think that’s where everyone’s focus should be right now. And I think Gavin Newsom will be fully on board with making sure that happens, as well.

Which would be more satisfying? A forensic audit of Donald Trump or a failed campaign autopsy?

I’ll take the failed campaign autopsy because that means everyone across the country is benefiting from him losing this election.

What’s the best part of your job as Connecticut state treasurer?

Working with just the incredible team that I have in the office and with a lot of committed public servants across the state. We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we’re at an exciting time. We have some incredible young leaders that have stepped up and are really investing in the future of the state, so I’m very happy to be a part of that.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece misspelled Christopher Lyddy‘s last name. We regret the error.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Republicans to parents: Let us peep at your kid’s vagina before we let them play sports

Previous article

AOC pays tribute to trailblazing trans icon Cecilia Gentili on House floor

Next article