April 2 is LGBTQ Victory Institute’s National Out to Win Day – an annual event to encourage LGBTQ people to run for office. More about the day, including video messages from 17 LGBTQ elected officials encouraging people to run, is available at outtowin.org.
More LGBTQ people ran for office in 2020 than ever before, with historic victories securing headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres became the first two Black out LGBTQ members of Congress, and Torres the first out Afro-Latinx member. Sarah McBride became the first out trans state senator in the U.S. and Mauree Turner the first out non-binary state legislator. Todd Gloria won and became the first out person elected mayor of San Diego. And Pete Buttigieg became the first out LGBTQ person to win a state presidential primary. The victories were evidence of the progress our community is making at the polls, and a reminder that good people still choose public service. That for all the chaos and conflict, politics remains one of the best avenues for making positive social change.
Yet the lavender ceilings shattered throughout America obscured a darker reality. Despite high-profile victories, LGBTQ people remain severely underrepresented at every level of government. And by a lot. The LGBTQ community is estimated at 5.6 percent of the U.S. population, but holds just 0.19 percent of elected positions nationwide. There are 979 out elected officials currently serving – the most ever – but we still need to elect 28,123 more to achieve equitable representation in government. This enormous disparity is about more than numbers. It influences the nation’s politics and policy in profound ways.
When an LGBTQ person is in a position of political power, every paragraph of every bill is drafted with our community in mind. They consider the unique effects of health care regulations on LGBTQ people, education policy on trans students, and criminal justice reform on incarcerated LGBTQ people. LGBTQ elected officials take leadership in defeating anti-LGBTQ bills and are champions of equality legislation. Right now, Kansas Representative Stephanie Byers is leading the fight to prevent state lawmakers from banning trans athletes and Scranton City Councilmember Jessica Rothchild is proposing a conversion therapy ban. And they lead on so many other issues critical to our lives: climate policy, police reform, immigrant rights and more.
Allies are essential and appreciated, but it is LGBTQ elected officials who prioritize our issues – and we desperately need more of them. For many, launching a campaign seems understandably daunting. Yet more than 1,000 LGBTQ people did so in 2020, most running for local offices like city council, school board or neighborhood commissions. These positions typically require less fundraising and more door-knocking. They are seats where understanding your community is more important than whether the district is red or blue. They are seats that can positively impact the everyday lives of constituents and be springboards to higher-level office if desired. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, for example, began her career as a county supervisor and inched her way up the political ladder to become the first out U.S. senator – making that impact and history along the way.
She is one of many who led us to where we are today. It was 47 years ago on April 2 that another trailblazer made history. Kathy Kozachenko became the first out LGBTQ person elected to office in the U.S. – the roots of our ever-growing political power. It is on April 2 that we now celebrate National Out to Win Day, both to honor her legacy and urge other LGBTQ people to run. We need a moonshot effort to achieve equitable representation, which requires every LGBTQ person to consider a run or urge other LGBTQ friends or family to do it. And it is possible, if more out people are asked.
Most of the groundbreaking candidates of 2020 share a common story: they once thought politics out of reach. They were educators, advocates, lawyers, pastors and physical therapists. They were not born into political dynasties or wealth, but decided elected office was the best opportunity to serve their communities and make transformational change. Politics can be ugly, but that is why we need good people from our community to step-up and serve. On this National Out to Win Day, I urge you to join the nearly 1,000 LGBTQ leaders already in elected office and fight for equality in the halls of power. If not you, who?
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.