With an unprecedented 627 openly LGBTQ candidates running for elected office this election cycle and more than 400 on the ballot this Tuesday, media throughout the country and around the world have reported on the Rainbow Wave and its potential impact on equality in America. Twenty-two LGBTQ people are the party nominees for U.S. Congressional seats — a 340 percent increase since 2010 — and there are four LGBTQ candidates for governor representing the L, G, B and the T. This wave of enthusiasm for LGBTQ candidates can transform the U.S. Congress and governors’ mansions and lead to more inclusive policies and legislation, but to focus attention exclusively on these high-profile races obscures a broader and equally exciting narrative about this year’s Rainbow Wave.
On Election Day, we have an opportunity to shatter an astounding number of lavender ceilings in state legislative races that receive scant attention in a political world distracted by Donald Trump. Nearly 195 LGBTQ candidates are running for state legislative seats in 43 states — 26 of those states having low levels of equality for LGBTQ people. While Trump continues to take a sledgehammer to the gains our community made over the past couple decades, it is in state legislatures where we face the most horrific attacks. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills are put forward each year — preventing trans people from using restrooms, removing protections for LGBTQ students and putting up roadblocks for same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses. The states are the frontlines in the movement for equality and on Tuesday we can add new voices who will champion our community.
We are poised for groundbreaking wins in Alaska, Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska. They are four of just seven states that have never elected an openly LGBTQ person to their state legislatures. Lyn Franks is in Anchorage fighting to become the first out Alaska state legislator. JD Ford is running to be the first LGBTQ person in the Indiana General Assembly — a legislature that passed one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” laws in the nation just three years ago, which was signed enthusiastically by then-Governor Mike Pence. In both Kansas and Nebraska we can elect not one, but two openly LGBTQ state legislators. Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard would be the firsts in Kansas and Megan Hunt and Scott Winkler the firsts in Nebraska. Both states have abhorrent records on LGBTQ equality.
Our trans state legislative candidates are equally ready to make momentous gains. It was just last year that Virginia Delegate Danica Roem became the first out trans person to win and serve in a state legislature, but voters in Colorado, Montana, and New Hampshire can help quintuple that number. Out trans candidate Brianna Titone is ready to win in Colorado and Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker are both positioned for victory in New Hampshire. Amelia Marquez is facing down an anti-LGBTQ opponent in Montana — who targets her with blistering transphobic attacks, purposely misgenders her, and consistently uses her deadname.
The opportunities for historic pickups go on and on. Cody Thompson can restore representation to the West Virginia state legislature and Tippi McCullough to the state legislature in Arkansas. Jennifer Webb can become the first LGBTQ woman in the Florida state House, Neil Rafferty the first gay man in the Alabama legislature, and Jeremy Moss the first LGBTQ person in the Michigan state Senate. In Pennsylvania, Malcolm Kenyatta can become the first LGBTQ state legislator of color and Kristin Seale the first LGBTQ woman. And this list of trailblazers is far from exhaustive.
In 2018, LGBTQ Victory Fund endorsed more LGBTQ candidates than at any time in our 27-year-history. While our Congressional and gubernatorial candidates receive the most attention, it is arguably the state legislative candidates that will have a greater impact on the lives of their constituents. Our research shows that out LGBTQ state legislators significantly influence the equality votes of their colleagues, because in these legislative chambers personal relationships matter. Openly LGBTQ elected officials humanize LGBTQ lives, change the legislative debates and lead to more inclusive legislation. These out leaders are oftentimes the only LGBTQ people their colleagues know — and that makes them game changers.
A Rainbow Wave is on the horizon. If equality voters know their LGBTQ candidates and get out to the polls, it will touch down in state capitals throughout the nation.
Visit victoryfund.org/ourcandidates and choose your state to find the LGBTQ candidates near you.
ANNISE PARKER is the president and CEO of the Victory Fund and the former mayor of Houston.