In my home state of Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton recently called members of the LGBTQ community “predators.” Governor Greg Abbott attempted to criminalize parents of trans kids as “child abusers” when seeking physician-guided care, going as far as to send Child Protective Services to these kids’ homes.
This week, Florida Governor Ron Desantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill to ban teachers from discussing the LGBTQ community in schools, including simply acknowledging a child may have two moms or dads. When Florida’s kids showed immense courage and stood up to the bullies in Tallahassee, Governor DeSantis quickly doubled down and painted our community as child “groomers.”
Unfortunately, these are just the tip of the iceberg. After pressure testing these bills in states with little or no LGBTQ representation in government, anti-LGBTQ laws are now spreading like wildfire across the country. According to the ACLU, there are now almost 240 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year alone.
“Don’t Say Gay” bills, criminalization of gender-affirming health care for trans kids, bathroom bans, sports bans, and other anti-LGBTQ bills are not harmless political tactics in a so-called “culture war.” They have serious consequences and are a matter of life and death for our kids.
The sick reality is that these bills will cost lives.
The Trevor Project tracks mental health among LGBTQ youth and found that queer and trans children are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 because of “how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.” This onslaught of attacks does not just perpetuate this stigma, it empowers and emboldens anti-LGBTQ hate.
Enough is enough. When our kids’ lives are on the line, we have no choice but to punch back.
I have been incredibly proud to see LGBTQ lawmakers use every tool in their arsenal to speak up and fight these bills — from impassioned speeches on House and Senate floors, to organizing student protests and walkouts, to meeting with impacted constituents and families. But at the end of the day, the most important way to fight back against these laws is to be present and numerous in the decision-making room. And right now, we are vastly outnumbered.
With just over 1,000 out LGBTQ elected officials nationwide, we represent only 0.2 percent of elected officials. And in states with some of the most egregious laws moving through the legislature, our numbers are even lower. Despite punching far above their weight, in the Texas state legislature, there are only six LGBTQ lawmakers and in Florida there are just three. In South Dakota, where an anti-trans sports ban was just signed into law, and in Louisiana, where legislators are pushing through a ban on health care for trans kids, there is zero LGBTQ representation.
That must change. The stakes are way too high.
When I first ran for office, I had to be told over and over again to run because I had never seen someone like me in the upper echelons of government. Countless other LGBTQ people have felt, and still feel, similarly. National Out to Win Day, held every April 2, was created by LGBTQ Victory Institute to help alleviate this uncertainty and motivate LGBTQ people to run for office by providing tools, resources, and inspirational messages from LGBTQ elected officials who have run for office and won. It’s time for us to get fired up and empower LGBTQ people in our lives to think about running for office, or to think hard about running ourselves.
We certainly have our work cut out for us. To reach equitable representation, we need to come together and elect over 35,000 more LGBTQ people to public office. Luckily for us, history is on our side, Americans’ hearts and minds are on our side, and most importantly, voters’ enthusiasm is on our side. With historic numbers of LGBTQ candidates running for office, we can break this ultimate Lavender Ceiling. But we have to do it together.
Annise Parker is President and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, the only national organization dedicated to building a pipeline of LGBTQ public leaders. She is the former Mayor of Houston and was the first out LGBTQ mayor of a major American city.