In the 2020 election, a record number of LGBTQ candidates ran at every level. The Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ leaders, endorsed a record 574 candidates. LPAC, which aims to increase the representation of LGBTQ women, endorsed a record 71 candidates.
If we look specifically at those running for Congress, more LGBTQ candidates had a serious shot at winning than at any time before. Of the 19 out LGBTQ candidates who survived their primaries for the House, there were 18 Democrats and one Republican. Nine were elected, including all seven incumbents: 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.). The two new LGBTQ members of the House will be the first openly gay African American and Afro-Latino Congress members: Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who has been selected leader of the freshman delegation; and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who will be among the youngest members of Congress.
Openly LGBTQ representatives will make up 2 percent of the House, putting the United States at 10th in the world in proportions. In addition to Jones and Torres, the LGBTQ House delegation to the House will include five White members, one Asian American and one Native American. All identify as either gay or lesbian. These House members join two LGBTQ senators who were not on the ballot in 2020, bringing the total number of LGBTQ Congress members to 11: Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who identifies as lesbian, and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who identifies as bisexual.
LGBTQ candidates for state legislatures
Based on our count, at least 317 openly LGBTQ candidates were running for state legislatures, including 114 incumbents, in 45 states. Of these, 298 were Democrats, 12 were Republicans, and seven were independents or members of third parties. Of these, 78 candidates didn’t make it past the primary election. Of the 237 LGBTQ candidates on the ballot in November, 63 percent, or 149, won their races.
Of the 2020 winners, 71 are cis women, 70 are cis men, six are trans women and two are gender nonconforming. By sexual orientation, 64 identify as gay, 56 as lesbian, 14 as bisexual, 11 as queer, and four as pansexual. Of the 149 winners, 98 identify as White, 20 as Latino/Hispanic, 19 as Black/African American, five as Asian American/Pacific Islander, two as Native American, and five as mixed or multiracial.
Fully 27 trans women and one trans man ran in the 2020 primaries; 15 made it onto the ballot for the general election, and six won election. Of those winners, three were incumbents who held their seats. As a result, the number of trans state legislators has almost doubled from four to seven, including Danica Roem (D-Va.), who was not on the ballot this year. Other notable victories include Sarah McBride (D-Del.), who will be the first openly trans state senator in U.S. history; Stephanie Byers (D-Kan.), the first out trans person of color elected to a state legislature; and Mauree Turner (D-Okla.), who is Black and Muslim, and Joshua Query (D-N.H.), the first gender nonconforming/nonbinary state legislators. Openly gay Tony Labranche, who at 18 won a seat in the New Hampshire House, will be among the youngest elected officials in the country.
The number of out LGBTQ state legislators increased from 161 in 2020 to 175 who will be in office in 2021, an almost 9 percent increase, raising the LGBTQ proportion of state legislators from 2.2 to 2.4 percent. Of these, 90 will be women, 83 men and two nonbinary. While LGBTQ people of color have made important gains in recent years, the large majority of LGBTQ state legislators remain White. LGBTQ elected officials are still not fully representative of the larger LGBTQ community. Racial and ethnic minorities remain underrepresented among LGBTQ elected officials, and so do bisexual individuals.
LGBTQ local elected officials
At the municipal level, Todd Gloria was elected mayor of San Diego. Gloria will be the first openly LGBTQ person and first person of color elected mayor of San Diego. He joins other LGBTQ people of color who are mayors of big cities, including Lori Lightfoot in Chicago and Robert Garcia in Long Beach, Calif. Christy Holstege will become the new mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., making her the first out bisexual mayor in the United States.
LGBTQ elected officials and future developments
Research by two of us, Gabriele Magni and Andrew Reynolds, finds that LGBTQ candidates’ biggest obstacle is that primary voters worry whether they could win a general election. By showing that they can win, LGBTQ candidates are debunking the idea that such candidates are especially vulnerable. Their growing success will potentially boost the political ambitions of other LGBTQ people. Earlier research by Reynolds also shows that serving with openly LGBTQ elected officials tends to transform their non-LGBTQ colleagues’ attitudes and votes. This, in turn, increases the LGBTQ community’s legal protections, which itself increases social acceptance.
Charles Gossett is emeritus professor of political science and public policy and administration at California State University, Sacramento.
Grace Lutat, Hiram College senior, assisted with research.