DNC political director: ‘Coming out was an advantage for me in my job’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

At only 36, Raul Alvillar — national political director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and an openly gay man — has built an impressive resume with the Democratic Party.

Before joining the DNC last March, Alvillar worked as a senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He previously worked in the White House for Vice President Joe Biden and as the interim LGBT liaison.

He recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk to PinkNews about politics, the LGBT community, and coming out to his mother.

PN: You’ve previously held positions that were LGBT specific, how much of that LGBT mindset do you bring to your new position at the DNC?

RA: “I don’t think that it is possible not to have the fact that you are LGBT be a part of your daily life and be part of the decisions that you are making. But I will say that it’s not the only determining factor on what I make the basis of my decisions on. But it definitely is a factor and something that I do take into consideration.”

Can you tell us a little bit about coming out and whether or not you were you already out when you started your career?

“I was out to some friends, but not out to all of my friends. I definitely was not out to my family. I grew up in a very small town in New Mexico. There weren’t very many LGBT folks where I grew up. So I grew up very closeted, and I carried that all the way to college where I finally came out when I was 23, to a select group of people.

“I had already started getting involved in politics at that point and I got involved when I was closeted, and that was just a personal choice, not having to do with politics. It was just me and my own doing and how I came out. Pretty much everybody knew I was gay, except  for me. So it was part of me dealing with my own personal issues. Once I did come out to folks they were like, ‘Well, we already know. We love you for who you are and you’re still the same Raul.’ It wasn’t any surprise for anybody.

“I didn’t come out to my mother until I was 27. We [my mother and I] sat down and did the whole routine. I said: ‘You know I want to be honest with you and let you know what is going on in my life. There is something that I need to tell you.’

“She looked at me and said, ‘Oh OK, I thought you were going to tell me you were sick or something.’ So for her, it wasn’t an issue. And then she proceeded to tell me, and mind you we were in a very small town, she said, ‘Oh, yeah I have lots of gay friends.’ So I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’

“I think for me, coming out was an advantage for me [in my job]. I think that the Democratic Party embraces diversity and is looking for that diversity. It was something that was advantageous to me. Not to say that it was the only reason why I’m in the positions I’m in. I’ve always said in the past that I’m Raul, I’m not gay Raul and I’m not Hispanic Raul. I’m just Raul. I’m here, I’m doing my job and we’re doing our jobs to get Democrats elected, whatever ethnicity or whatever sexual preference you might be.”

In regards to marriage equality, how much has the DNC played a part in the shifting attitudes towards same-sex marriage?

“I think it played a big role. I think that Democrats as a whole played a big role in this, and in working with some of our partners — like the HRCs of the world —  and understanding that marriage equality is an issue that affects everybody.

“Everybody knows somebody who’s gay. So I think working along with all these other groups, we were able to change the view of what it is to be LGBT in America and in the country. It’s a human rights issue, and I think that people realise that and embrace that.

“If you look at the the demographics from the younger age group, being an LGBT person is not important to them, because they don’t see it as gay or straight. I think people see it as everybody’s human, everybody’s here for a reason and that people need to be treated with dignity and pride. So I think that is how we were able to help move it along.”

How can the DNC encourage more members of the LGBT community to run for public office?

“We need to keep reminding people that there are still folks that are in elected positions that don’t necessarily advocate for LGBT people and that we need to make sure that we get candidates that are LGBT or are sympathetic to the fact that people are LGBT and that everybody deserves basic human rights.

“Another way that we can get people motivated is through the good work that this administration has actually done to promote LGBT individuals. Whether it’s making sure that your partner can go with you into the hospital and make a decision based upon your relationship, to making sure that those types of things are still implemented and continue to be a part of the fabric of this country. Making sure that we let people know that we have to do this because there still might be people out there that don’t want to see that happen. I think that’s a good indicator and a good motivator for people to ensure that we’re getting people out there to vote.”

What will be the key factors in the midterm elections and what part does the LGBT community play in that?

“Some of the key factors I think are going to be local issues. There are going to be issues that people care about on the ground. In Michigan for example, one of the biggest motivating factors for people to go out to vote is roads and fixing the roads and the infrastructure. So I think the midterms are going to be focused on a lot of the local issues that are going to affect people immediately and directly.

“Also, I think it’s going to be an economic choice for people. ‘How does that affect my family and how am I able to provide for my family?’ I think that some types of issues, when people really get down to the nitty gritty of it all, people will look at those types of things and assess what will be best for them on an economic level. That will make them decide to vote.

“As it relates to the LGBT community I think … Look, the word LGBT community is everywhere, right? We’re the one minority group that’s a cross section of people. We’re black, we’re Hispanic, we’re Asian, we’re all kinds of demographics. We’re female, we’re transgender. So, all of those folks kind of fit into that same electorate. I think we’re all a voting block. I think that the issues that we are trying to protect and that we need to ensure for the LGBT community, to be a functioning group within society, will [make people] go out and vote their conscience as how it relates to the LGBT community itself.”

You mentioned the intersections of the LGBT community and how we are a vast demographic. Can you talk a little bit about that intersection for yourself and how you’re Hispanic and gay and how that plays out in your work?

“One of the things that I came into this job saying, is that I really want to make sure that I make our community proud. And that’s both the LGBT community and the Latino community, Hispanic community. I believe I’m the first Hispanic political director that the DNC has had to date. And so I take that with high regard and I take that with a great amount of humility as well. It would be hard for me not to take those two parts of my life and take those two facts into decisions that I make, or decision that will be helpful for the community or for the country as a whole. But I do also believe that I am here as the political director. I’m the national political director regardless of whether or not I’m Hispanic or whether or not I’m gay. So I take that also very seriously. I was hired to be the national political director and that’s exactly how I view the role and being in this position.”

Lastly, what do you think is the number one issue that the LGBT community as a whole is facing in the US?

“That’s a good question, I think that making sure that we achieve equality for everybody. Making sure that we’re getting candidates elected that will work with us and make sure that we achieve that goal. We still have some work to do with the folks in Congress to get some stuff done. So I think that when people think about that when they’re going to the ballot boxes, they need to think about who is that person that will be able to help us get to our end game, get to our goal, and to make sure that there is equality for all. And that includes the transgender community and anybody who needs equal representation.”