The Joe Biden-Kamala Harris presidential campaign has one of the most inclusive and diverse teams for a general election candidate in modern history with a high number of LGBTQ+ folks. Many of those leaders are people of color including national press secretary Jamal Brown, Kamala Harris’s chief of staff Karine Jean-Pierre, and LGBTQ+ engagement director Reggie Brown. That is intentional.
“This is an incredibly diverse campaign and it's an incredibly queer campaign,” Olivia Raisner, Biden's traveling digital director, tells Out nearly a week before election day. The lesbian campaigner, who seldom gives interviews, has called in from Biden's hometown of Wilmington, Delaware where the candidate and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, had just placed their own votes.
“We have people on the road from all different backgrounds. Biden always quotes what his mom told him, which is, ‘You're not better than anyone, but everyone is equal,'" she says. "And you can feel that on the road with him. Whether you're the youngest person on the road or the senior experienced person, everyone has a voice on this campaign.”
Raisner, who helps to articulate the campaign's message online, asserts the team is a reflection of Biden’s ideologies and values. After all, he is running on the most pro-LGBTQ+ platform in the history of America. Not only has he promised to pass the Equality Act during his first 100 days as president, which would eliminate discrimination for LGBTQ+ people in most walks of life, but he also vowed to reverse the transgender military ban. He’s called transgender equality the civil rights issue of our time and he’s vowed to address violence against trans women of color, head on, while also ending the misuse of religious-based discrimination, and much more. It's only right that those set to be impacted by these policies are helping to lead the charge.
Raisner first met Biden when she was a 19-year-old intern in 2013 while working in the Office of the Vice President in the speech-writing department. Now, she's back on his team helping to craft the presidential candidate's message digitally. And though the ongoing lockdown certainly rattled some of their earliest action plans, it’s also come with its fair share of advantages.
“It was challenging when [the pandemic] first hit,” she explains. “We thought, how is Joe Biden going to continue to be able to connect with voters and get out his message about advancing equality for everyone? But there was a moment very soon after [the pandemic] hit that made me feel like this is going to be OK.”
One of those moments came when Raisner was with Biden during a Zoom call with a trans teen named Adi, who told Biden point blank, “I am really scared. I don't think my rights are being protected in the Trump administration." They went on, asking a question similar to one raised at a televised town hall: “How are they going to be protected in your administration?”
“Joe Biden looked at them and said, ‘Adi, transgender rights is the Civil Rights fight of our lifetime. Your rights are being protected, period.’" recalls Raisner. "And Adi looked back at him and said, ‘I'm just a normal teenager like anyone else,’ and Joe Biden said ‘Yeah but you have a lot more courage.' And that interaction is an interaction he’s had countless times in person on a rope line [pre-pandemic. Since lockdown], we just had to think through like, OK, now engagements are going to look a little different. But the message is is always going to be the same because that's who Joe Biden is.”
Every day is different when you’re on the road, especially as we get closer to election day. For this campaign, Raisner says it can be getting on a train and traveling through six cities in Pennsylvania and Ohio, all in one day, as she and Biden did the morning after his first debate with Trump. A few days ago, they were in Georgia at a drive-in mobilization rally where people could hear Biden’s speech from a safe distance. That particular rally was opened by rappers Offset and Common.
“We try to do the same thing, which we've been doing this whole time, which is listen to voters’ stories and meet them where they are,” says Raisner.
"Olivia is a critical part of the Biden team,” Ron Klain, longtime senior advisor to Vice President Biden, tells Out. “She's been on this journey for a long time, and brings her talent and creativity to introducing Joe Biden to a young audience of digital natives. Her lived experience as an LQBTQ+ person also plays a role in how she sees what's going on in the country, and how she helps the Biden campaign communicate effectively. It's hard to translate complex policy matters into the kind of catchy, compelling content that succeeds in social media — but Olivia has a unique ability to do just that. She works in a pressure filled situation — on the road, tight deadlines, and all the complications of staying [pandemic-safe.] Even with all that, she has succeeded beyond our greatest expectations, and has played a key role in making the Biden campaign the most successful digital campaign in American history."
"Olivia is a writer at heart,” adds Drew Heskett, Biden’s traveling video director. “She is wildly creative, fiercely independent, and hilariously self-aware. Deep down, she's a people person — constantly trying to stitch together patterns of the world and the interactions of its many players. When it comes to crafting digital strategy for the Vice President, she consistently works to frame concepts that will leave audiences feeling like they've heard Joe Biden speak in his truest, most authentic voice. And I think the view counts she's garnered are really a testament to the success of that strategy."
Annie Tomasini, Biden's traveling Chief of Staff, adds, "Olivia has the innate ability to direct and channel the campaign’s online content from the road in a creatively impactful way. The result illustrates the intimate connection between Vice President Biden and Americans in communities across the country.”
When pressed on how the Vice President is handling the endless hours on the road, Raisner says he “has more energy than anyone else” and that “he ends each day by thanking all of us. I think that keeps us all motivated. He talks about this in his speeches about going out of your way to thank people and express gratitude. It’s this kind of knowledge that this fight is about so much more than him or our team. It's about communities across this country who are looking for a leader and looking for some light and hope.”
The light and hope is in stark contrast to Trump’s often divisive message. In fact, it was his passive aggressive attack on the LGBTQ+ community that inspired Raisner, who’s been a storyteller and queer activist all her life, to join the fight.
“I worked on the Hillary Clinton campaign and I remember when our current president was about to take office. I thought to myself, like President Obama said and did, let's give this guy a chance. Let's give him a chance,” she remembers. “And within a couple weeks of him being inaugurated, I remember the LGBTQ+ equality webpage being taken down from whitehouse.gov. That was a gut punch.” That has of course been followed by an unrelenting slew of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community from this administration.
She adds, “I told myself in that moment, ‘When 2020 campaign season rolls around, I'm going to do whatever I can to take down this candidate and work for someone who has our community at the forefront of their minds.’ And that, to me, is Joe Biden through and through. When I got this job, it took me back to that moment in January 2017. Like, this is the moment, with Joe Biden as our leader, that we're going to say no to hatred and division and focusing on people's differences. And instead, we're going to fight for bringing people together and advancing the dignity and respect of everyone in our community.”
In an era where communications and the ways in which we’re connecting and telling stories is evolving, argues that while “the forum might look different, the way you're communicating with someone might look different, the length of the story you tell might look different, what shines through is authenticity. It's telling authentic stories... from your heart.”
As far as her history-making work on the Biden-Harris campaign and the future of queer people running for office and leading campaigns (over 1,000 LGBTQ+ candidates ran in the last year, according to the Victory Fund), Raisner echoes the words of her boss.
“You have a lot more courage than you think,’” she quotes from Biden. “And not only is there a place for you in politics in general, but there's a place for you on the Biden-Harris ticket and in a Biden-Harris administration. It is full of people who wake up every day with a simple priority, which is advancing equality and respect for everyone. I mean, that's why we're on this campaign. I'm just one of countless LGBTQ+ people on the road. This is a campaign and this is a movement for all of you.”