Will New Jersey LGBTQ community gain political clout?

Rainbow map of New Jersey

LGBTQ Victory Fund is urging creation of districts that help large LGBTQ populations gain representation

LGBTQ Victory Fund is launching a first-of-its-kind national effort to lobby redistricting authorities in different states to consider LGBTQ populations as “communities of interest” in map-drawing, the same status given to Black and Latino voters, and other racial and ethnic groups. That means mapmakers draw some districts so those groups can elect their candidate of choice in local, state or federal races.

Those “opportunity districts” have contributed to explosive growth of people of color in elected office. And even four decades later, Harvey Milk’s story illustrates the potentially transformative power of redistricting. The famed LGBTQ rights icon lost two previous campaigns in San Francisco before the creation of a new district that didn’t dilute the electoral power of LGBTQ voters. This is critical as New Jersey currently has no LGBTQ representation at the federal or state level.

It’s about the awareness that these communities exist in New Jersey, and not to just ignore them and to dismiss them. The LGBTQ community wants to be heard especially in areas such as Asbury Park, Jersey City, Plainfield, Collingswood, Trenton, and Lambertville to name a few.

Victory Fund’s campaign, “We Belong Together,” is rolling out this week with a strategy: get allied organizations to lobby mapmakers to keep LGBTQ areas intact, a process that has already begun in some states, and start assembling data showing exactly where LGBTQ communities are located to speed the process along. The campaign launch coincides with the Census Bureau’s release of the data that states will use to draw new political boundaries.

The effort is in large part modeled after work done by Equality California in the last redistricting process. Equality California and One Colorado are state-based partners in the “We Belong Together” project.

“We all know how consequential redistricting is for representation,” said Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the Victory Fund. “A line drawn in the middle of a neighborhood with a large LGBTQ population can be the difference between electing an LGBTQ person to city council or state legislature or having zero people in these places.”

There are currently 986 LGBTQ elected officials in the country

The education component of the campaign will bring awareness to places where past redistricting divided LGBTQ communities, whether that was intended or not.

There are currently 986 LGBTQ elected officials in the country, according to the Victory Fund’s data. That’s 0.19 percent of all elected officials, even though the LGBTQ community comprises at least 5.6 percent of the total population. To achieve equitable representation, the fund estimates that there would need to be over 28,000 more LGBTQ people in elected office.

Thousands of redistricting authorities will draw new districts for school boards, city councils, state legislatures and the U.S. Congress in 2021 and 2022—and the rules and officials involved vary enormously. Yet to ensure these authorities build district maps that keep LGBTQ neighborhoods and community together, the community needs to leverage more political power.

To do this, Victory Fund says LGBTQ’s convince these authorities to:

  • Identify concentrations of LGBTQ people through census and population data, locations of LGBTQ neighborhoods and businesses, and even hate crime reports, among other data.

Define the LGBTQ community as a “community of interest” for redistricting—much like many racial, economic and cultural groups—and therefore ensure our interests are considered and respected during the map-making process.

We Belong Together is embarking on a first-of-its-kind effort

To achieve that, We Belong Together is embarking on a first-of-its-kind effort for the LGBTQ community, with four primary objectives:

  • Educate allied organizations, elected officials and redistricting authorities on why LGBTQ people are a legitimate “community of interest”;
  • Provide resources and information to advocates and organizations ready to engage redistricting authorities;
  • Partner with local and state-based organizations on testimony to redistricting authorities; and
  • Gather and provide the LGBTQ population data necessary to assist mapmakers.

Visit and share the “We Belong Together” website for additional information and resources—including an in-depth toolkit for LGBTQ redistricting efforts—at LGBTQredistricting.com.

Joe Forte is a Victory Fund National Campaign Board Member. This article is also available online at InsiderNJ.com