The rainbow wave: Openly LGBTQ+ candidates run for office in record numbers

The record-breaking numbers are in, and over 1,000 openly LGBTQ+ people from across the country ran for office during this election cycle. Of those running, over 220 LGBTQ+ candidates claimed victory at the local, state and federal levels.

According to Victory Fund’s Out on the Trail report, there was a 33% increase of LBGTQ+ candidates on the November ballot from 2018 to 2020 with 31% of the LGBTQ+ candidates who ran in 2020 identifying as people of color. California, along with Texas and Florida, had the greatest numbers of LGBTQ+ candidates. California had the highest number of LGBTQ+ candidates running with 2 mayoral candidates, 6 federal candidates,10 judicial candidates, 18 state legislature candidates, and 93 local race candidates.

While rates of lesbian and gay candidates continued to increase, bisexual, queer and pansexual candidates saw the most growth. Though, the number of transgender candidates decreased from 48 to 34, the rate of genderqueer/non-binary/gender nonconforming candidates increased by 325% from 6 to 25.

Emely Vanegas, a fourth-year political science student and secretary for the CPP Political ScienceClub, is inspired as a Latinx lesbian by the growing amount of queer representation in the electoral field.

“It speaks to the fact that both Republicans and career Democrats need to accept that people want to see themselves represented,” said Vanegas. “They no longer want to see cis white males or cis white women represent us.”

Many historical firsts were seen across different states. Sarah McBride of Delaware became the first out transgender person to be elected to a state senate seat. Mauree Turner is the first nonbinary Muslim to serve in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives. Roger Montoya of New Mexico is the first out LGBTQ+ member of the state’s house who is also living with HIV. Two out LGBTQ+ state legislators, Torrey Harris and Eddie Mannis, were elected in Tennessee.

Pride Center Coordinator Bri Serano is optimistic that this shift will continue and believes the “rainbow wave” sends a message to cis heterosexual politicians to consider what they are doing for the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think that this creates more of a need for a conversation on how politicians can serve LGBTQ+ folks,” said Serano. “Biden mentioned transgender people in his speech in talking about how he won the election and I think this signifies going beyond just mentioning people in a speech. It puts into question how they will create environments where people can thrive in this country.”

LGBTQ+ candidates were significantly more racially and ethnically diverse than the overall candidate pool. Black LGBTQ+ candidates, specifically, celebrate many victories.

Former sex-ed teacher, Tiara Mack, became the first Black LGBTQ+ state legislator in Rhode Island. Ritchie Torres is the first LGBTQ+ congressman to come out of the Bronx. Also from New York, Jabari Brisport is the first Black LGBTQ+ member of the state senate. Malcolm Kenyatta from Pennsylvania was reelected to the state House of Representatives, in 2018 he was the youngest and first out LGBTQ+ person of color in the state legislature.

CPP graduate Oli Loeffler (political science, ‘20) believes these historic wins prove that politics is no longer a cisgender, white man’s game.

“We are moving away from the Reagan era of not addressing AIDs into a world where we accept that there are systemic differences between the white abled experience of being a queer individual and the experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of color or disabled individuals,” Loeffler said. “Quite often, we don’t even have the ability to step up to the table or begin those discussions that allow us to move toward policy that is informed by experience and not pragmatic policy approaches that don’t actually solve the root causes of those issues.”

California had the highest number of LGBTQ+ candidates running with 2 mayoral candidates, 6 federal candidates,10 judicial candidates, 18 state legislature candidates, and 93 local race candidates. Both mayoral candidates won their races: Todd Gloria of San Diego and Christy Holstege of Palm Springs. Alex Lee is the first out bisexual member of the California State Assembly, representing the 25th district. Scott Wiener was reelected to the state senate, just as Mark Takano was reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives for California’s 41st district.

Though the number of LGBTQ+ candidates that ran this year broke records, Loeffler encouraged folks to stay engaged.

“The conversation doesn’t end here, there is always something you can do to hold your politicians accountable,” Loeffler said. “There are so many ways you can protest, petition and put your money toward good causes. Remember, the personal is political and there is no way we can get out of that.”

(Feature image courtesy of Aneese.)

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