As I write, ballots are still being counted, recounts have launched, and a flicker of hope remains alive in high-profile statewide races in Florida.
But we need not await those outcomes to celebrate the incredible breakthroughs in Florida and nationwide. The Rainbow Wave is real and it has altered the playing field for LGBTQ rights significantly. We emerge from the midterms with more support for statewide LGBTQ protections; more pro-equality lawmakers in the capitol and more out elected leaders in local and state office than ever before.
First, voters secured a critical check to the Trump administration's attack on our community by putting Democrats in control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The net gain of about 30 seats will help protect access to healthcare and real progress on an LGBTQ non-discrimination bill is now possible.
Second, women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and various faith communities all made historic gains. More openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people were elected Tuesday night than in any previous election. At least 153 candidates have won so far with more victories possible as close races are still being tallied.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin won re-election and Jared Polis in Colorado became the nation's first openly gay governor and Kate Brown, who is openly bisexual, was reelected governor in Oregon. In Massachusetts, voters passed a pro-trans equality ballot measure by a wide margin.
In ballot initiatives, Florida had perhaps the most prominent development with the passage of Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences and overturning a state law passed for the purpose of disenfranchising black voters. The change has the potential to add 1.5 million voters back onto the rolls by 2020. In states across the country, women ran in historic numbers -- in fact, more than 100 women were elected to Congress, the largest number in a single year in U.S. history.
In Florida, the two Congressional seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat were won by women -- Donna Shalala and Debbie Murcasel-Powell -- making a significant contribution to putting the U.S. House of Representatives under Democratic control.
At the state level, Jennifer Webb (pictured) became the first out lesbian elected to the Florida legislature, raising the number of out lawmakers in the Senate and House to three. She now joins State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith who won by huge margins in Orlando and Rep. Shevrin Jones who won reelection unopposed as the largest out delegation in Florida's history.
On the local level, Teri Johnston became the first out lesbian elected mayor of iconic Key West, and Sarah Fortney notched a win in Polk County as the first out LGBTQ person elected to a Florida school board. And Cheryl Grieb was re-elected. Wilton Manors now has Florida's first all-LGBTQ commission.
Our allies won, too: Eighty-two of Equality Florida Action PAC's 111 endorsed candidates won -- a 74 percent success rate. Pro-equality candidates practically swept the Orange County School Board races while two pro-equality candidates won seats on the once notoriously anti-LGBTQ Hillsborough County Commission, flipping it to a pro-LGBTQ Democratic majority.
Pro-equality Democratic candidates in the Florida House picked up a net gain of between five and seven seats (two seats remain in recount) making the Democratic caucus in Florida's lower chamber the largest since 1998. The 2018 election ends with the largest bipartisan majorities in our history supporting statewide protections for Florida's LGBTQ community. The call for leadership in both chambers to agenda the Florida Competitive Workforce Act has never been stronger.
The Rainbow wave along with the surge of women, POC and young voters is transforming our state and our country. This wasn't a single wave. It has been many. And the waves haven't crested, they are building and pushing our state closer to equality, justice and respect for diversity.
NADINE SMITH is the executive director of Equality Florida and the Equality Florida Institute.