In ‘Rainbow Wave,’ LGBT Candidates Are Elected in Record Numbers
Posted November 7, 2018 5:49 p.m. EST
More openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were elected Tuesday night than in any previous election, signaling a shift in cultural attitudes even as the Trump administration has chipped away at LGBT rights.
The results are still rolling in, but at least 153 have won so far, said Elliot Imse, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, a nonpartisan political action committee devoted to electing LGBT candidates. The group endorsed 225 candidates in this election cycle, nearly all of whom were Democrats.
LGBT candidates ran for office in record numbers this year. “Success breeds success,” said Annise Parker, the president and chief executive of the Victory Fund and former mayor of Houston.
“We’re not going out and pleading with people to run,” she added. “These are people who say, ‘I want to go out and do this and bring my whole self to the campaign.'”
The candidates not only won open seats but also made a strong showing as incumbents and challengers Tuesday in what became a day of firsts for groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in political office.
And in Massachusetts, voters chose to uphold a 2-year-old state law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places like bathrooms, locker rooms and hotels. The law, which was signed in 2016, was challenged by conservative activists who collected enough signatures to put a repeal measure on the ballot.
The referendum was the first time a law prohibiting gender discrimination was put to a statewide vote, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
In Kansas, Sharice Davids won a seat in the House of Representatives, becoming the first lesbian congresswoman from the state and one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. In addition, Brandon Woodard, who identifies as gay, and Susan Ruiz, a lesbian, were elected state representatives.
Until now, Kansas was one of seven states that had never elected an openly LGBT state legislator, according to the Victory Fund.
“Kansas is going to change,” Parker said, noting that the state had also elected a Democratic governor. “It’s astounding.”
In Colorado, Jared Polis defeated a Republican opponent to become the first openly gay man elected governor in any state.
LGBT people of color won several seats in state legislatures. They included Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Colorado, who is Latina; Shevrin Jones of Florida, who is black; and Malcolm Kenyatta, who is black and the first openly LGBT person of color elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature.
Parker said she was particularly focused on victories like these because laws passed on the state level can have long-lasting ramifications for LGBT people.
“If you look at where most of the anti-LGBT legislation originates across the country, it originates in our state legislatures,” Parker said, citing the approximately 300 bills proposed over the last legislative cycle that would have hurt the LGBT community.
A least 399 LGBT candidates at all levels of government — including 22 for Congress and four for governor — appeared on the ballot, the highest number recorded in the Victory Fund’s 27-year history. Most were Democrats, though there were 18 Republicans and seven independents. The full list of winners is being tallied online.
Among the notable incumbents who were re-elected were Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, who is bisexual, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a lesbian who was the first openly LGBT person elected to the U.S. Senate.
But the path to Election Day was not without difficulties. Many candidates faced threats and bias.
Gina Ortiz Jones, a Democratic candidate in the 23rd Congressional District in Texas, was asked onstage by an opponent to tell voters that she was a lesbian so it would not be “revealed later.” Her race has not been called yet.
And in Kansas, a Republican official called Davids a “radical socialist kickboxing lesbian Indian” who should be “sent back packing to the reservation.”
The vitriol could be especially toxic for transgender candidates.
Christine Hallquist, the Democratic nominee for governor of Vermont and the first transgender person nominated for governor by a major party, received death threats. She stayed in the race but stopped publicizing her campaign schedule and eventually lost to the incumbent, Phil Scott, a Republican.
Amelia Marquez, who could become the first openly transgender state legislator in Montana, was referred to as “he” by her Republican opponent, who also called her by her birth name. Her race has not been called yet.
Despite the difficulties, transgender candidates are making inroads. Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates last year, while this year Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker won seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.