Each week, The Texas Signal profiles progressive leaders in Texas, including Royce Brooks, Lillie Schechter, and Taral Patel.
Not too long ago, Richard Holt was a junior board member at LGBTQ Victory Fund, a well-known political action committee dedicated to electing LGBTQ candidates across the country. Following the election of Barack Obama that ushered in an era of progress, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and full nationwide marriage equality, Holt recalls a conservation the board had about whether the group’s mission had been fulfilled.
“That’s kind of laughable now,” Holt said referring to today’s reality.
Today, Holt chairs the One Victory board, one of the many duties he holds outside his day-to-day work as a business consultant.
Far from being satisfied with the gains the group has made, Victory Fund has raised a record amount of money that goes toward recruiting and training top candidates for elected office. The group has endorsed six candidates from Texas this election cycle, five running for City Council and one, Gina Ortiz Jones, running for Congress to replace retiring San Antonio Republican Will Hurd. (Election forecasters have switched this seat from “tossup” to “lean Democratic.”)
Victory Fund has endorsed Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Democratic presidential primary, in hopes of electing the first gay president.
Throughout his career Holt has provided business strategy and management counsel to Fortune 1000 clients. He is currently managing director at Alvarez and Marsal.
“Business gets a bad rap a lot of times for being harsh and profit-driven, which is true, but so much of what I do is with the lens of value and productivity focusing on people and quality of life, and how to create opportunities for people to succeed and grow.”
Holt said he’s taken that philosophy to the Democratic National Committee, where he serves as a member of the national finance committee, and as an advisor to the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a nonprofit that works to support democratic institutions abroad.
“I have pushed that organization [NDI] to include business in the work we’re doing because no one can truly be equal until they have a paycheck, put food in their mouths, and pay for housing,” Holt said. “And so we talk about rights and equal access, and that’s all fine and dandy if a government puts a law out for that, but if no one is hiring you because of your ethnic background or gender identification, it doesn’t matter. We have to have a holistic view of equality.”
Holt learned that vital lesson at a young age when growing up in Denton in the 1980s. He grew up in a poor working class family. His father worked multiple jobs including delivering the Dallas Morning News, working at a discount retail store and also a factory. “This sounds so extreme,” Holt said, “but there were times we would run out of food on a Wednesday and my dad didn’t get paid until Friday and we just went to school hungry and figured it out.”
When his father was promoted to a supervisor position at the factory, he stopped working multiple jobs. But the good times didn’t last. The factory eventually was restructured after Michael Milken, a well-known corporate raider of the 1980s who later served time for securities fraud, took over the company, stripped worker’s pensions and bled the factory dry until bankruptcy. His father kept working but lost his pension.
Holt eventually graduated high school and made his way to Texas A&M University where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in finance while working 50 hours a week. Such intense work allowed him to graduate with only $10,000 in student loan debt. In college, Holt said he began getting more involved in politics, but said he didn’t begin his advocacy in earnest until coming out.
Holt said coming out was a lengthy process, partly because he was focused on economic stability and because he was worried he would be fired for being gay, stunting his career. (Texas still doesn’t have a statewide anti-discrimination law that could prevent that.) Holt was married to a woman he met at Sunday school in Houston.
“It doesn’t gets any juicer, does it?” Holt said jokingly while reflecting. “I kid you not, it hit me like a ton of bricks on our honeymoon, the first three couples we met on our honeymoon were gay couples, and I was like ‘oh lord, what have I done.’”
After splitting with his wife, whom he now maintains a good friendship with, Holt said he began his new life of LGBTQ politics in Houston with Victory Fund.
More than ten years later, Holt is proud of how the organization has grown and now booming under CEO Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston.
“Our candidates aren’t just LGBTQ; they’re a progressive problem-solving people,” Holt said. “I’m proud that they’re some of the best candidates and best public servants out there. They’re literally leading and forcing conversations on real issues.”
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org