If that happens, the LGBTQ caucus itself will be the most diverse, including more women and people of color than ever before. Those increases follow some successful and high-profile LGBTQ candidacies in recent years, including former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg’s primary run to be Democratic presidential nominee; Lori Lightfoot’s election as Chicago mayor; Danica Roem’s election to the Virginia General Assembly; and Sharice Davids’s election to represent Kansas’s 3rd District in Congress. All those campaigns sent a clear message: LGBTQ candidates can win — or at least, compete at the highest level.
LGBTQ candidates are running in record numbers
There are seven LGBTQ incumbents in the U.S. House who will almost certainly be reelected: David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and Angie Craig (D-Minn.).
Among the new LGBTQ candidates, two are Democrats running in safe Democratic districts: Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who won an open primary against Rubén Díaz Sr., a New York city council member with a long history of anti-gay remarks. Democrat Beth Doglio, now a Washington state legislator, takes on another Democrat after emerging in a top-two primary in a Democratic-leaning district in Western Washington.
Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones is running for an open seat in a Republican-leaning Texas district, after losing the 2018 race by fewer than 1,000 votes against now-retiring incumbent Will Hurd. Democrat Jon Hoadley in Michigan is mounting a strong challenge to a long-term Republican incumbent, and Georgette Gomez is up against another Democrat in a top-two race in California. Democrats Pat Hackett in Indiana and Tracy Mitrano in Upstate New York are longer shots against Republican incumbents in Republican-leaning districts.
Mondaire Jones, if elected, would be the first openly gay Black Congress member; Ritchie Torres the first Afro-Latinx; and Ortiz Jones and Gomez the first out LGBTQ Latina congresswomen. If Beth Doglio wins, she would be only the third openly bisexual U.S. House member in history, and the only one since Katie Hill’s resignation in 2019.
LGBTQ candidates are running in state elections
Openly LGBTQ candidates are also running in state and local elections in every state except Alabama. Many of the 150 LGBTQ incumbents in state legislatures’ lower houses are up for reelection; another 67 new candidates are running for state assemblies as well. While the group’s demographics are more diverse than ever, they do not yet fully reflect the diversity of the U.S. LGBTQ population, as far as we know. The UCLA Williams Institute estimates, based on self-disclosures to the Gallup Daily tracking poll, that the U.S. LGBT population is 58 percent women and 42 percent people of color, although the number of people of color willing to identify as LGBT has been increasing over the past decade.
Since the 1970s, openly LGBTQ people elected to state legislatures have been two-thirds male and 80 percent White. Women have made significant gains, with 46 percent of LGBTQ state incumbents today identifying as lesbians. Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women make up the majority of LGBTQ officials elected to state legislatures. Eight transgender women are running for state House seats in November. Of those, Democrat Sarah McBride in Delaware, Democratic and Progressive Party candidate Taylor Small in Vermont and Democrat Stephanie Byers in Kansas look likely to join the four trans women now in state offices. In addition, three nonbinary and gender-nonconforming candidates are running.
Among the 148 openly LGBTQ candidates on the ballot for state legislative seats, 20 are African Americans (13 percent), 25 Latinx (17 percent) and six Asian-Pacific Islanders (4 percent). That may slightly increase the numbers who are queer people of color in those spots, now 12 percent Latinx, 9 percent Black and 2 percent Asian-Pacific.
Why are so many openly LGBTQ candidates running?
In every election cycle since the 1990s, increasing numbers of LGBTQ candidates have run — and often won — in highly visible races, as noted earlier. That inspires others to run. Our research has found that LGBTQ candidates’ biggest obstacle is that primary voters worry whether they could win a general election. Each election cycle’s LGBTQ wins reassures more voters that their ballots won’t be wasted.
What’s more, openly LGBTQ candidates have also gained political experience, which voters value. And increasingly, voters see LGBTQ candidates as more strongly committed to liberal values — something especially valuable for candidates in “blue” districts.
Andrew Reynolds (@AndyReynoldsPU) is a faculty member in the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University