Female candidates made historic gains in the 2018 midterm elections. And another demographic group also made historic gains: LGBTQ candidates. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) was declared the winner in her Arizona Senate race on Tuesday, a victory that put an exclamation point on those gains.
“The high-profile wins in Arizona, Kansas and Wisconsin this cycle make clear that an LGBTQ candidate who listens to voters and prioritizes their issues can win elected office anywhere — blue state or red state,” Elliot Imse, of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, told The Fix. The fund is an organization focused on electing openly LGBTQ candidates. “That is a significant evolution in American politics.”
Sinema, the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress, made history again nearly a week after the election when she became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona. She’s only the second openly LGBT person elected to the Senate, joining Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin and a lesbian, who won her second term.
Sharice Davids, a lesbian, won a seat in Kansas. She and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) are the first Native American women elected to Congress
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) became the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States. He will lead a state that was once deemed the “hate state” after a 1992 law legalizing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents sparked international backlash and boycotts.
If Gina Ortiz Jones, who is in a close race in Texas against Rep. Will Hurd (R), becomes the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress from this state, that would bring the total number of openly LGBT members of Congress to 11. Regardless of the outcome of her race, this will be the first time that number has been in the double digits.
The LGBTQ community also saw wins at the state level and is awaiting results from other races, but to many activists, the message was clear. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the wins were a rejection of the Trump administration.
“The days of attacking LGBTQ people for political gain are over, and the American people will not stand for lawmakers who try to drum up votes by trafficking in hate,” Griffin said of Trump and Vice President Pence.
It isn’t shocking given the current political climate that more gay politicians are headed to Washington.
Gay Americans have previously expressed frustration with the Trump administration and its polices and proposals, including a Health and Human Services Department proposal to require that people identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, not the one with which they identify, and Trump’s declared ban on transgender people serving in the military. Members of the LGBT community have repeatedly felt slighted by Trump after he failed to acknowledge LGBT Pride Month, World AIDS Day and other events that were marked by previous administrations. And several LGBT-rights organizations fear that an executive order Trump signed that is popular with conservative Christians could open the doors for more discrimination against gay Americans.
But these members shouldn’t focus merely on LGBT-rights issues, said activist Keith Boykin, who served in President Bill Clinton’s administration.
“LGBTQ elected officials should focus on the same issues that got them elected. For most of them, that’s bread-and-butter issues like health care, jobs and education. That doesn’t mean they should avoid LGBT issues, but they should focus on all issues that affect their constituents,” Boykin said.
While the gay community has made gains in cultural acceptance — most Americans today support same-sex marriage — activists argue that there is more to be done, including fighting to make sexual orientation a federally protected class against discrimination. Even if those issues aren’t the main focus of new lawmakers, the fact that gay Americans will now be more represented in Congress means these issues will probably have better odds of being addressed.