Most LGBTQ Americans and their allies are hoping for a blue wave Tuesday, which may also be a rainbow wave, given the record number of out candidates running at all levels of government. A by-product of that can be the defeat of some of the nation's leading homophobes, either booting them from office or preventing them from reaching higher office. In addition to California Republican Congressman Steve Knight, who may well lose to bisexual challenger Katie Hill (see our interview with her here), there are several other phobes who are vulnerable, including (pictured, from left) Jim Jordan, Ted Cruz, and Dana Rohrabacher. Read on for info on their races and others.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that one of the marquee races of the midterms is for U.S. senator from Texas. The ultraconservative, anti-LGBTQ incumbent Republican Ted Cruz. Cruz has called marriage equality "one of the greatest threats to our democracy we have seen in modern times" and has pushed for legislation to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of "religious freedom." And that's the tip of the iceberg for the man who was The Advocate's Phobie of the Year in 2014. His charismatic Democratic challenger, Beto O'Rourke, currently a U.S. House member from El Paso, has received high scores on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard and voiced his support for all LGBTQ people. And he actually has a chance of unseating Cruz. An average of polls gives Cruz a lead of 6.5 percentage points, but the race is close enough that a surge in Democratic voting could carry O'Rourke to victory Tuesday.
This Texas race is more of a long shot, but we're not giving up hope. Gov. Greg Abbott has fought marriage equality and championed an anti-transgender "bathroom bill" (he says he won't make such a bill a priority in the next legislative session, but do we believe him?). His Democratic challenger, Lupe Valdez, is an out and proud Latina lesbian with a background in the military and law enforcement -- she was formerly sheriff of Dallas County, the first out LGBTQ person to hold that post. Abbott has a double-digit lead in the polls, but upsets have happened before, and this is definitely a race to watch closely.
If Democrat Stacey Abrams is elected governor of Georgia, she would be the first black woman to be governor of any U.S. state. She's highly qualified and an LGBTQ ally who marched in Atlanta's Pride paradem the first major-party Georgia gubernatorial nominee to do so. Her opponent, Brian Kemp, is currently secretary of state and has been involved in attempts at voter suppression -- plus he backs "license to discriminate" legislation. Oddly, an ad for his campaign turned up on the gay hookup app Grindr, probably because of technology that allows ads to follow users around cyberspace, but it's still pretty funny.
"Georgians have a clear choice: continue to move forward on equal rights, protections, and dignity for the LGBTQ community, or lose business and respect by turning back the clock and licensing discrimination," HRC president Chad Griffin wrote in a recent Advocate commentary. "Georgia needs a leader who will affirm the inherent worth and humanity of every Georgian, no matter their identity or background. This November, for our youth, for our health, and for our lives, Georgia must hand the governor’s pen to Stacey Abrams."
Real Clear Politics rates the race a toss-up. Abrams has big-name support from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, which could put her over the top.
Republican Dana Rohrabacher has represented a Southern California district in the U.S. House for 15 terms -- 30 years -- and he's been consistently anti-LGBTQ, earning low scores, mostly zeroes, on HRC's Congressional Scorecard. He hasn't evolved in the least -- just this year, he told a real estate group he supported the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people in housing. His district, the 48th, is in Orange County, traditionally a conservative stronghold, but it's changing; it went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Rohrabacher's Democratic opponent, businessman Harley Rouda, has the endorsement of Equality California and has highlighted Rohrabacher's homophobia in his TV ads. The prognosticators at Real Clear Politics call the race a toss-up.
Steve King (left) has long been one of the leading homophobes in Congress. The House member from Iowa's Fourth District has suggested that federal courts shouldn't be allowed to rule on marriage (because they made same-sex marriage legal) and that Congress should denounce the Supreme Court's 2015 marriage equality decision. He has likened transgender military members to "castrated slaves" and asserted that they enlist only to get gender-confirmation surgery. He's also a pretty up-front racist, with his not-so-veiled comments about "Western civilization," and this year he met with a far-right political party in Austria that has historical ties to the Nazis -- during a trip designed to educate lawmakers about the Holocaust, no less. A fervent gun rights supporter, he has attacked gun control activist Emma Gonzalez, who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, as well as survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Somehow the people of western Iowa keep reelecting him, but this year he has a strong challenger in J.D. Scholten. Scholten is a paralegal and former minor-league baseball player who endorses, among other things, a higher minimum wage, expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and LGBTQ rights. "I stand for equality and civil rights for ALL, without hesitation and without caveats," his website states. "No one should be discriminated against because of who they are when it has no impact of the lives or well-being of others. That is not what this country stands for." King remains a few points ahead in the polls, but Scholten could pull off a win.
Marsha Blackburn, a veteran U.S. House member from Tennessee who has a string of zeroes on the HRC scorecard and denounced the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling, is seeking elevation to the Senate now that fellow Republican Bob Corker is retiring. Her Democratic opponent, Phil Bredesen, is a popular former mayor of Nashville and governor of Tennessee, and he was the last Democrat to win statewide office in the Volunteer State. Bredesen isn't an ideal candidate -- he expressed support for Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation as a Supreme Court justice (not being a senator, he couldn't vote on it), but he's a darn sight better than Blackburn. One of the most famous people to come to that conclusion is Taylor Swift. Blackburn holds a slight lead in the polls, but Bredesen could overcome that.
If you recognize the name of Mark Green (left), a Republican Tennessee state senator, it's because Donald Trump nominated him to be secretary of the Army last year, and he withdrew after creating an uproar by calling transgender people evil. (He claimed he was talking about terrorists, but he mentioned trans people in the same breath.) Now Green is running for the U.S. House from Tennessee's Seventh District (Marsha Blackburn's old seat). He has a strong opponent in Democrat Justin Kanew, who has worked in the entertainment industry as a writer and producer, and was twice a contestant on The Amazing Race. On his campaign website, Kanew expresses unequivocal support for LGBTQ eqaulity. "No one should have to live in fear of being fired or discriminated against because of who they are or who they love." the site states. "It shouldn’t matter which state they live in." Green's favored to win, but progressive groups are working hard for Kanew, so he could get to the finish line before the Republican.
Peter Roskam (left), the Republican who represents the Sixth District of Illinois in the U.S. House, doesn't tend to make headlines with outrageous anti-LGBTQ statements, but he's racked up a series of zeroes on the HRC scorecard since his first election in 2006. He's vulnerable this year to Democratic opponent Sean Casten, a political newcomer (he's a clean energy entrepreneur) and a strong supporter of equality. Casten makes LGBTQ rights a signature issue, going into much detail on his website with promises to support the Equality Act, promote equality overseas as well as at home, address homelessness among LGBTQ youth, and more. Casten has a slight lead in the polls, so this suburban Chicago district is definitely one that could flip.
Steve Stivers, the Republican who represents Ohio's 15th District in the U.S. House, has an "abysmal" record on LGBTQ rights, as the Human Rights Campaign puts it -- and he has the zeroes on the HRC scorecard to prove it. This year he's facing a challenge from Democrat Rick Neal, an out gay man. Stivers tried to portray himself as a supporter of LGBTQ rights in a recent debate, but Neal pointed out his poor record as documented by the HRC. "Stivers is lying about his anti-LGBTQ record and has no business representing the people of Ohio's 15th district,” said HRC Ohio state director Shawn Copeland. Stivers is favored to win, but getting the word out on his dishonesty could help Neal.
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio's Fourth District is one of the most anti-LGBTQ members of Congress. He opposes marriage equality, wants to bring back "don't ask, don't tell," and famously arranged for antigay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis to attend President Obama's 2016 State of the Union address. (He said his staff offered her the tickets after receiving a request from the Family Research Council.) This year, Jordan has been beset by a scandal involving sexual abuse by a doctor who worked for Ohio State University's wrestling team, where Jordan was once a coach. Jordan has denied any knowledge of the doctor's alleged abuse of student athletes, but some alums contend he did know. The scandal could hurt him, and Democratic candidate Janet Garrett, who had a long career as a public-school teacher and once served in the Peace Corps, is making the race competitive. Jordan has painted her as a radical, but Deadspin reports, "Garrett is a moderate who only comes off as a strong liberal because it’s pretty damn hard to match Jordan’s conservatism on any issue. She supports investment in renewable energy, Medicare for all, higher taxes on the wealthy, strong unions, and queer rights." Sounds reasonable, not radical, to us.