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America's first Black gay statewide elected official on being authentic and confident

Erick Russell
Courtesy Connecticut Treasurer's office

Don't make yourself small, says Connecticut Treasurer Erick Russell.

In an age when conservative politicians are making “diversity” a dirty word and using it to divide Americans, the nation’s first Black gay statewide elected official is seeking to provide an example of why we should embrace it.

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“We’re stronger as a government when all of our identities are reflected,” says Connecticut Treasurer Erick Russell. Diversity is important in all institutions, he says, but particularly in government, “to make sure we’re representing the interests of all our citizens.”

“I’ve always been incredibly proud of all the differences and identities that I bring to the table,” he adds.

Russell, a Democrat, was elected treasurer in November 2022, beating Republican Harry Arora along with an independent candidate and a Libertarian, and assumed office in January 2023. He decided to run for treasurer after his predecessor, Democrat Shawn Wooden, announced in March 2022 that he wouldn’t seek another term. The state’s Democratic convention was in April, so Russell had a quick turnaround in deciding to mount a campaign.

“I called my husband right away, and we were kind of bouncing things around and then decided that I wanted to move forward,” he recalls. Russell is married to Christopher Lyddy, a former Connecticut state representative who now works in philanthropy.

It was a big move to leave a job he loved — Russell was a partner in Pullman & Comley, a Connecticut law firm, where he assisted municipalities and the state with financial matters. Also, running for office puts a person in a vulnerable position, something that’s amplified for people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community, he notes.

“But I grew more confident as I was going through the campaign and was getting support from people across the state,” says Russell, a native of New Haven, where he still lives. “Here in Connecticut, people really embrace those differences as long as you are qualified and are bringing good ideas to the table.”

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After a year in office, Russell can point to some notable accomplishments. In May, he reached an agreement with Gov. Ned Lamont to fund a first-in-the-nation program called Baby Bonds, in which the state will deposit $3,200 into a trust account for each child born into poverty. The money will grow through investments, and account holders can access it when they’re between 18 and 30 and use the funds buy a home, invest in a business, go to college, or roll into a retirement account.

“I’m really proud of that work and proud of Connecticut for leading the way on this effort to address cycles of generational poverty,” Russell says. The program started last July, and so far 7,200 eligible children have been born.

Other accomplishments include improving the management of the state’s public employee pension fund and work on getting unclaimed property to its rightful owners.

Russell’s responsibilities also extend to overseeing Connecticut’s debt management, infrastructure investments, college savings programs, and more. The treasurer’s office has a staff of more than 130 people.

When Russell was deciding on a career, he wanted one that was practical but that would allow him to be of service. Working in public finance with the law firm, he says, helped him see the good that could come from investing in communities, and becoming state treasurer offered a great opportunity to continue doing that.

He and Lyddy have been married for six and a half years. They met on St. Patrick’s Day of 2011, having drinks with friends, and neither was out at the time. But there was an attraction, and they started dating. Russell decided it was important “to make sure I was living authentically” and came out to family, coworkers, and everyone else. It all went smoothly, he says.

Being authentic hasn’t hurt him professionally. His advice to other LGBTQ+ people, especially people of color, considering a run for office is “Do it.”

“We need more people stepping up and serving, particularly folks who are underrepresented in government right now,” he says. “Be confident in yourself and understand that you’re right where you’re supposed to be, and don’t hesitate to take up space, and don’t feel like you need to make yourself small to fit in somebody else’s.”

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