Tuesday’s election was a night of dramatic upsets, with Democrats winning the Kentucky Governor’s race and claiming control of the Virginia legislature. It also marked a wave of openly queer candidates winning public office. The LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization that provides fundraising support for queer candidates at each level of government, had endorsed 111 candidates this election cycle. Eighty of those candidates won in Tuesday night’s election.
While 46 of the candidates were cisgender gay men, there were also candidates who identified as lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or queer. Five of the winning candidates were transgender women, and one openly identified as nonbinary.
One of those transgender candidates was Danica Roem, who became the first openly transgender person to be reelected to a state legislature. Roem made waves when she was elected to represent Virginia’s 13th House District back in 2017, beating an incumbent GOP delegate who was known for his anti-trans policies. While she was widely reported to be the first transgender person elected to a state legislature at the time, Snopes reports that the claim isn’t completely true—but of the two trans women elected before her, one wasn’t out as trans during her candidacy, and the other resigned before taking office.
It’s easy to understand why so many queer people are now running for office. Under Donald Trump’s presidency, the LGBTQ community has faced dozens of attacks on their rights to access healthcare, receive protection from workplace and housing discrimination, adopt children, and much more. The majority of these new candidates are running for local offices, where they will be able to implement inclusive policies and enact protections for other queer members of their communities.
Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston, Texas, and LGBTQ Victory Fund President and CEO, said in a statement, “Americans are understandably focused on the 2020 presidential and congressional elections, but the LGBTQ candidates who won tonight will arguably have a greater impact on the everyday lives of their constituents. The LGBTQ candidates who were elected to school boards are our future state legislators. And those who won state legislative races are our future U.S. Congressmembers and our future governors. We are building a pipeline of out LGBTQ leaders at every level of government so we can advance equality today, and so we are positioned to run for higher-level offices in greater numbers tomorrow.”
Throughout the course of 2019, the Fund endorsed a total of 176 candidates, 29 of whom won races earlier this year. All in all, 108 LGBTQ candidates were elected across the country this year, which the Fund says is the highest number ever in an odd-numbered election year.
This year’s victories follow the “rainbow wave” of 2018, when a whopping 610 queer candidates ran for office across the US at all levels of government, with 164 of them winning. Last year brought eight LGBTQ leaders to the House and two to the Senate. The incoming freshman class of House Democrats was nearly 10% LGBTQ—much more in line with the proportion of queer people in the general population, which has been estimated at anywhere from 4.5% to 12%. The race also saw Jared Polis of Colorado become the second openly queer governor ever elected in the U.S. Kate Brown of Oregon was the first, in 2015.
There are now 765 openly LGBTQ elected officials serving nationwide. While this may seem like an encouraging number, only 0.15% of elected officials in the US are LGBTQ, showing that there is still work to be done before our government truly reflects the diversity of gender and sexual identity within our country.