Races to Watch: Groundbreaking LGBT Candidates and Allies
By Trudy Ring
Danica Roem, Virginia House of Delegates
Danica Roem is seeking to make history in Virginia by becoming the first out transgender person elected to the state legislature – and by defeating incumbent Bob Marshall, the body’s most outrageously anti-LGBT member. She’s running for the House of Delegates from District 13, centered on Prince William County in northern Virginia. A former journalist, she bested three rivals in the Democratic primary in June to advance to Tuesday's general election. Her priorities include improving the area’s roads and mass transit, matters she says Marshall has neglected in his 26 years in the legislature to instead focus on trying to ban same-sex marriage and restrict where transgender people go to the restroom. Marshall, a Republican, has made transphobic remarks during the campaign, at one point asking a reporter, “Why do you call Danica a woman? Did Danica’s DNA change?” And just last week he told religious right radio host Sandy Rios that transgender people are living a fantasy and defy the laws of nature. Roem has hit back strongly against Marshall, including with an ad in which she says, “There are millions of transgender people in this country and we all deserve representation in government. So when I stand up on the Statehouse floor and the speaker says ‘the gentlewoman from Manassas,’ LGBTQ kids everywhere will know they can succeed because of who they are, not despite it.” She has some high-profile endorsers, such as Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Jenny Durkan, Seattle Mayor
Jenny Durkan has a shot at becoming Seattle’s first out lesbian mayor ever and its first woman mayor since the 1920s. She and another woman, urban planner Cary Moon, emerged as the top two candidates in an August primary, so they’re facing each other in Tuesday’s general election; municipal elections in Seattle are nonpartisan. The incumbent, Ed Murray, decided not to run again after being accused of sexually abusing younger men, allegations that he denies. Durkan, formerly a federal prosecutor (appointed by President Obama), plans to fight for more affordable housing, assist the city’s homeless population, and seek a municipal income tax. Seattle’s fabled progressive values, she said, are “a rebuke to what Donald Trump stands for.” Polls show her likely to best Moon, but she recently noted, “The only poll I trust is the one that voters deliver.” She’s endorsed by Victory Fund, HRC, and a host of high-profile public officials from Washington State, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Gov. Jay Inslee, former Gov. Chris Gregoire, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Cathy Woolard, Atlanta Mayor
Atlanta could get an out lesbian mayor too – City Council President Cathy Woolard is one of eight candidates seeking to replace Kasim Reed, who’s not running again. She ranked fourth in a recent poll, favored by 9.2 percent of respondents, trailing Keisha Lance Bottoms with 25.4 percent, Mary Norwood with 23.4 percent, and Peter Aman with 12 percent. Still, anything can happen, and if no candidate wins a majority Tuesday, the top two will advance to a runoff December 5. Woolard is a Democrat, but the election is nonpartisan. On the City Council, she’s worked to improve neglected neighborhoods and transform abandoned rail lines into mixed-use recreational trails. She’s endorsed by HRC and Victory Fund, among others. There are also three LGBT candidates running for Atlanta City Council: Liliana Bakhtiari, who would be the first LGBT Muslim elected to office in the U.S.; Alex Wan, who would succeed Woolard as council president; and Kirk Rich. All have Victory Fund’s endorsement.
Luis Lopez, California Assembly
California is holding a special election this year in the state Assembly’s 51st District, as that seat was left vacant when Xavier Becerra became California attorney general, succeeding Kamala Harris after she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Luis Lopez, who is gay, and Wendy Carrillo were the top two vote recipients in a crowded primary field in October, and under the state’s top-two system, they will face each other in the general election December 5 even though both are Democrats; the district, in east Los Angeles, is heavily Democratic anyway. Lopez, endorsed by Victory Fund, is cofounder of Honor PAC, the nation’s first Latino/a LGBT political action committee, and has served on the board of Planned Parenthood-Los Angeles for seven years. He’s a longtime activist for affordable housing, parks, and transportation in L.A.
Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs City Council
Lisa Middleton, running for City Council in Palm Springs, Calif., in Tuesday's election, would make history as the first openly transgender person elected to a nonjudicial office in the state. Middleton, who is retired from the California State Compensation Insurance Fund, is a member of the Palm Springs Planning Commission and chairwoman of the Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs, and a member of the boards of directors of the Desert Horticulture Society and the Desert LGBTQ Center. In 2014 she was the center’s interim executive director. On the planning commission she has advocated for downtown renewal, increased use of solar energy, and cooperation between developers and neighborhoods. There are two open seats on the council, to which members are elected on a nonpartisan, citywide basis, and six candidates. One of the other candidates is cisgender bisexual woman Christy Gilbert Holstege, an attorney who focuses on assisting underserved communities in the area, including people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, homeless individuals, injured workers, personal injury victims, and victims of discrimination and violence. She and Middleton are both endorsed by Victory Fund.
Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham, Minneapolis City Council
In what may be the year of the transgender candidate, in Tuesday's election two trans people are running for City Council in the progressive city of Minneapolis. Andrea Jenkins (right) is running in the Eighth Ward and Phillipe Cunningham (left) in the Fourth. Either would be the first openly trans candidate elected to a major metropolitan council. Jenkins, a Democrat who has been an aide to departing Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden, is the first choice of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which noted that she is highly qualified and will assure a smooth transition. She has opponents from the Green and Libertarian parties; city elections are officially nonpartisan, but candidates can identify themselves with a party on the ballot. Jenkins is endorsed by Victory Fund, as is Cunningham, running against City Council President and fellow Democrat Barb Johnson in the Fourth Ward, in addition to two other candidates. The Star Tribune endorsed Johnson, although it praised Cunningham’s service as a senior policy aide to Mayor Betsy Hodges, and as a special education teacher and youth advocate, making him its second choice for the position. There’s also a cisgender lesbian, Jillia Pessenda, running for City Council in Minneapolis’s First Ward. Endorsed by Victory Fund, she’s a strong advocate for food access, LGBT rights, and other progressive causes, but the Star Tribune has endorsed the ward’s incumbent council member, Kevin Reich.
Sophia Hawes-Tingey, Midvale, Utah, Mayor
Sophia Hawes-Tingey stands to be another history-maker this year, as she hopes to become the first transgender elected official in Utah. She’s running for mayor of Midvale, a town of about 30,000 that is a suburb of Salt Lake City. She placed second to City Council member Robert Hale in a five-way nonpartisan primary in August, so the two will face off Tuesday. Hawes-Tingey is a Navy veteran, software engineer, and longtime community activist. She has been vice chair of the Community Council of Midvale and a member of the Women’s State Legislative Council. She vows to work for LGBT equality in addition to other social justice causes, such as addressing homelessness and human trafficking, and to work for economic development that will benefit all Midvale residents. She’s endorsed by Victory Fund.
Ralph Northam, Virginia Governor
One of the most closely watched races in the nation is the contest for Virginia governor, and while both major-party candidates are straight, it's definitely of interest to LGBT people.. Democrat Ralph Northam, a former physician and current lieutenant governor, is seeking to succeed his boss, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who’s leaving office. Northam, endorsed by HRC, is a strong LGBT rights supporter and holds generally progressive positions; his website promises, “Ralph will be a brick wall against the discrimination of the Trump Administration.” He’s gotten some criticism lately, though, for saying he’d sign a bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia. He’s still far more progressive than Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, who’s been trying to portray himself as a moderate but actually has a strong anti-LGBT record, having opposed same-sex marriage and advocated restricting trans people’s restroom access. He’s a former chair of the Republican National Committee and helped craft Newt Gingrich’s far-right “Contract With America” in the 1990s. An averaging of recent polls shows Northam with a lead of 46 percent to 43 percent over Gillespie going into Tuesday’s election, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. HRC has also endorsed the Democratic candidates for Virginia lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, and attorney general, Mark Herring.
Phil Murphy, New Jersey Governor
Another gubernatorial election happening this year is in New Jersey, where Republican Chris Christie is exiting office (bye!) and Democrat Phil Murphy is running against GOPer Kim Guadagno. With Christie’s approval ratings in the basement, New Jersey voters appear to want to replace him with a Democrat; Murphy has a big lead in the polls going into Tuesday. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, is a staunch supporter of LGBT rights and other progressive causes. He’s endorsed by HRC, and political and showbiz luminaries have campaigned for him, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Jon Bon Jovi.
Doug Jones, U.S. Senator From Alabama
Last but by no means least in a special election taking place December 12 for U.S. senator from Alabama. Anti-LGBT and general religious right extremist Roy Moore is seeking to fill the position vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became U.S. attorney general; Moore bested the interim senator, Luther Strange, in the Republican primary and a subsequent runoff. Moore was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, where he was chief justice, for ethics violations related to his efforts to block marriage equality in Alabama; he contended that state officials didn’t have to obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling, which was not the case. He has a long history of demonizing LGBT people, having said that transgender people are mentally ill, that homosexual “acts” should be illegal, and that marriage equality would doom civilization. He’s also deeply opposed to abortion, wants to cut taxes sharply, and hates anything resembling “socialized” medicine. While Alabamians haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than 20 years, there’s a chance that Moore will prove too extreme for them, as he and the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, are neck-and-neck in the polls. Jones is a former federal prosecutor best known for obtaining the convictions of two of the racists who bombed a church in Birmingham in 1963, killing four young African-American girls, and had evaded justice for nearly 40 years. Jones is in favor of expanding health care and environmental protections, a living wage, and civil rights for all. His website doesn’t mention LGBT rights specifically, but he has made supportive comments in the past. He has the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign.
There may be an election happening in your area this year that isn't covered here. Victory Fund, which backs qualified openly LGBT candidates, has a long list of endorsees on its website, encompassing candidates from Newton, Mass., to Anchorage, Alaska. Find out about them here.