Colman Domingo
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Kathy Kozachenko Proved It in '74—America Will Embrace Out Candidates

Kathy

For many in 1974, world events were spiraling out of control and the government increasingly failing ordinary Americans. Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, extraordinary inflation led to high prices on fuel and consumer goods, and India detonated its first nuclear weapon. It was in this context that Kathy Kozachenko decided to run for City Council in Ann Arbor, Mich. — running on a platform of social revolution in a college town, within a college ward where progressives reigned. After a discussion with her fellow Human Rights Party members, she decided to run as an out lesbian, and not long after she became the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected in the United States, if not the world.

Yet there were no major headlines. Social conservatives didn’t mobilize. Twitter didn’t exist.  Few LGBTQ people took notice. The significance of the moment was unrecognized, despite it marking the start of a new political movement. Her place in history was a quiet one, and it largely remained that way for 45 years. 

But no longer.

At LGBTQ Victory Institute, we are bringing new life to her breakthrough victory through National Out to Win Day, which increases awareness about the underrepresentation of LGBTQ people and inspires more of us to run for office. Held each April 2 on the anniversary of Kathy’s win, it aims to reach LGBTQ people who may not have considered a run for office so they give it the consideration it deserves.

LGBTQ people — like people of color and women — tend to believe they are less qualified than white straight cisgender men and therefore need to be asked more times before they take the leap. National Out to Win Day can be one of those asks, one more nudge toward someone believing “it could be me.”

Our community desperately needs more asks, more nudges and more believers. While progress toward representation is steady, there are only 855 openly LGBTQ elected officials in the United States — just 0.17 percent of all elected officials nationwide. That means America must elect 22,529 more to achieve equitable representation in government — a daunting gap that could take generations to close if we don’t invest in a political moonshot now.

There are signs this is happening.

Pete Buttigieg transformed perceptions of electability for LGBTQ candidates and proved America is ready to elect us at every level of government. His candidacy will inspire others to run. Danica Roem claimed victory as the first out trans state legislator just three years ago. Now we have four out trans state legislators and two candidates on-track to become our first out trans state senators as well. The Rainbow Wave of 2018 led to 244 out LGBTQ candidates winning on Election Day and all indications are we will surpass that number in 2020.

It is a virtuous cycle. As more of us run, more consider it themselves. But we need an unprecedented surge in LGBTQ candidates over the next couple of cycles to begin closing this representation gap. Equitable representation in the next few decades is possible if we consistently and persistently encourage those around us to make the move and run. 

Whether the LGBTQ trailblazers of today knew Kathy was the first to claim victory is uncertain, but she paved the way for what was to come. She ran not to be a lesbian activist but because she saw corrupt government, social injustices and other world threats and believed there were solutions. It is the same inspiration that is fueling the Rainbow Revolution we see this year, with more LGBTQ candidates running than ever before. Climate instability, inhumane immigration enforcement and an epidemic of gun violence, among a multitude of local issues, are inspiring LGBTQ candidates to run. That inspiration, along with a newly found belief in the electability of LGBTQ candidates, may just allow us to close that representation gap sooner than we think. 

Mayor Annise Parker is the former mayor of Houston and the current President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and LGBTQ Victory Institute. Victory Institute’s National Out to Win Day, held each April 2, aims to increase awareness about the severe underrepresentation of LGBTQ people in elected office and encourage more LGBTQ people to run. People can take the pledge to run at outtowin.org.

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