One of the key races in Tuesday’s midterm election offers one of the biggest contrasts – a young bisexual woman trying to unseat one of the most anti-LGBTQ members of Congress.
That woman is Katie Hill, 31, a former nonprofit executive, who’s the Democratic candidate running against Steve Knight, the Republican who currently represents California’s 25th District in the U.S. House.
The district is the only one in Los Angeles County that’s represented by a Republican. It covers the northern portion of L.A. County, including the area locals know as the Antelope Valley, and a bit of neighboring Ventura County.
Hill, like many who are either running for office or working for candidates in the midterms, was motivated by the election of Donald Trump as president. As executive director of People Assisting the Homeless, a nonprofit she helped build into California’s largest homeless services provider, she was working on a 2016 ballot initiative aimed at providing more housing for the homeless. It passed overwhelmingly, but the jubilation Hill and her colleagues should have been feeling was undermined by the Electoral College results.
“Everyone was in my office the next day, crying, saying what are we going to do,” she recalls.
The next year, during a campaign for another ballot initiative to fund services for the homeless, she learned that the 25th District would be key to flipping the House to Democratic control. A trusted friend suggested that she run for the seat, and so she decided that if the measure passed, she would run. It did, and the day after the vote, which happened to be International Women’s Day, she became a candidate.
In the primary election in June, she won the nomination. California has a “top two” primary system, in which the two top finishers in the primary advance to the general election, regardless of party. The system has sometimes resulted in two candidates from the same party facing off in the general election, although not in Hill’s case.
Knight received 51.8 percent of the vote in the primary, Hill 20.7 percent. But there were four other Democrats in the primary, and since then Democratic support has coalesced around Hill. Polls show her neck and neck with Knight.
Knight has a famous, some would say infamous, political name – his father, the late Pete Knight, was a California state senator who wrote the ban on same-sex marriage known as the Knight Initiative, passed by voters in 2000. It was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2008, although same-sex marriage was banned again by the constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8, which was finally struck down in 2013.
Steve Knight has followed his father’s example, compiling a largely anti-LGBTQ and generally ultraconservative record. Hill seems uniquely positioned to challenge him.
Her priority issues, she says, are expanding health care, rebuilding the middle class, and making sure government represents all the people, including LGBTQ people. “Having true equality is just something that I think should be a given,” she says.
As a bisexual woman married to a man, she has faced some pressure to be closeted, along with biphobia. Being out “was a huge decision early on,” she says, as many people urged her to hide her bi identity. But, she says, “I’ve been out as being bi since I was a teenager, right after high school.” She decided that remaining out was part of being “an honest, transparent politician.”
During the primary, she notes, she was accused of pretending to be bi in order to get endorsements from LGBTQ organizations (she has the backing of several, such as Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign). In the general election campaign, she’s heard some biphobic comments, with people saying she’s making her sexuality an issue. “I’m not making it an issue,” she says. “It’s just who I am.”
Hill is also out about being a survivor of sexual assault. In response to the hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of perpetrating assaults, she held meetings with other assault survivors. “We need to be talking about it,” she says. “We need to have a real, honest dialogue” if the nation is to change the culture that allows so many assaults to take place.
From young women who attended, she learned that “there’s no conversation around consent” in sex education. “What they hear is authority figures saying girls shouldn’t dress a certain way because they’ll tempt boys,” she notes. The conversation about consent needs to start early, as soon as children start school, she says.
She remains deeply distressed by Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “It’s going to be incredibly difficult for us to recover,” she says. “It’s going to be very hard for us to restore faith in the Supreme Court, and as a woman, I’m going to be particularly fearful.”
But Hill intends to do her part to at least make Congress work better for all people. She says she’s making promises that can be kept – she’s not promising miracles, but instead vowing to do better than her predecessor.
And the candidate, who’s stepped down from her job because of the campaign, has devoted herself to outreach throughout the district, where she grew up. She estimates that she and her campaign workers have knocked on more than 150,000 doors there in the primary and general election campaigns. She’s seen the midterm effort empower young people, people of color, and many others. “It’s a movement that’s so much bigger than just our race,” she says.
Going into Election Day, she’s confident. “We’re definitely going to flip the House,” she says. “The question is how many seats we’re going to do that by.”