By Joe Jones
In the United States, there are currently 577 openly LGBTQ elected officials nationwide, according to the Victory Institute. That number makes up less than one percent of all elected officials. But, that all could change in the upcoming election cycle. According to date from Victory Fund, an organization that endorses viable LGBTQ candidates, there are 610 members of the LGBTQ community who ran for office at all levels of government, with at least 392 openly LGBTQ candidates still in the running and will appear on general election ballots in November.
So far LGBTQ candidates have seen fair amounts of success in their campaigns. According to Victory Fund’s September 2018 research brief, “Twenty-two openly LGBTQ candidates won primaries for U.S. Senate or U.S. House this year – more than at any other time in U.S. history. The unprecedented number of nominees marks a 29.4 percent increase when compared to the 2016 election cycle and a 340 percent increase since 2010.” The report went on to say “The number of LGBTQ women-identified nominees skyrocketed 160 percent since 2016, the year which held the previous record. There are 13 LGBTQ women-identified Congressional nominees this year – outnumbering the number of men-identified nominees – including both U.S. Senate nominees who are women.”
Victory Institute and Victory Fund President and CEO, and formerly openly gay mayor of Houston, Annise Parker wrote a statement in favor of these candidates and what they hope to accomplish. “A wave of enthusiasm among Democratic primary voters for openly LGBTQ candidates has unleashed a Rainbow Wave that can transform the U.S. Congress and our governors’ mansions come November. It represents an evolution in American politics — with voters choosing out LGBTQ candidates as the solution to the divisiveness and dysfunction we see in Washington and in many of our state capitals.”
With none of the 25 candidates who will be on the ballot next month running as Republicans, the Democrats are hoping openly LGBTQ candidates can help them flip the House and the Senate. Currently Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate. If both of the two LGBTQ candidates running win their races, they could help tip the scales in favor of the Democrats. Those candidates are Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema. Baldwin is an incumbent from Wisconsin running for reelection against Republican challenger Leah Vukmir. Baldwin made history when she became the first openly LGBTQ person to hold office in the Senate. An NBC News/Marist poll currently has Baldwin ahead of her opponent with a 54-40 point lead. If Sinema wins her race in Arizona against Martha McSally for Sen. Jeff Flakes vacant Senate seat, she will become the first bisexual person elected to the Senate. It’s a tight race, with some polls favoring Sinema and others favoring McSally.
The House race is just as dire for Democrats as the Senate race. NBC News says “Republicans have a 235-193 majority in the House (with seven vacancies due to retirement or death). The Democrats need to hold five contested seats and pick up 23 overall in order to take control of the House, and they hope LGBTQ candidates can help them do so.” There are several different openly LGBTQ candidates attempting to claim those spots. Some of those names include Chris Pappas running in New Hampshire, Lauren Baer in Florida, Sharice Davids in Kansas, and Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas.
There are also four openly LGBTQ candidates running in gubernatorial races across the country: the first openly LGBT governor in history, Kate Brown, is running for reelection in Oregon, Lupe Valdez in Texas, Jared Polis in Colorado, and Christine Hallquist in Vermont, a transgender woman hoping to become the first ever openly transgender governor. While polling favors Polis, Valdez trails her opponent, and Hallquists chances are uncertain. The data makes UNC-Chapel Hill Political Science Professor, Andrew Reynolds, question the strategy the Democrats are employing. “The whole rainbow wave is a little bit of a false narrative. Candidates are running but not always being put in places where they can always win and jump those hurdles."
The rise of these candidates comes at a time of particular hostility towards the LGBTQ community, such as the Trump administration rolling back protections for gay and transgender people, attempting to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military, and the Justice Department saying that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect gay workers. Brett Kavanaughs’s nomination to the Supreme Court to replace Anthony Kenny, writer of many landmark gay civil rights cases, and the fact that 129 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 2017 is also cause for concern for the LGBTQ community.
Sharice Davids believes more LGBTQ people in office could make a tremendous difference. Having L.G.B.T. people sitting in the room while decisions are being made, and sitting there as peers, will shift the conversation. I think it’s important that the lived experiences and the point of view of L.G.B.T. folks be included in conversations that affect all of us.” Jessica Gonzalez, a candidate running unopposed for a seat on the Texas House of Representatives reiterated that point saying, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Members of the LGBTQ community serving in government means that the voices of that community will be heard, and issues directly related to their well-being will be addressed. More LGBTQ representation could ensure that no bills or laws would be passed which would infringe on the rights, freedoms of liberties of the LGBTQ community.