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Out Candidates Advance in Washington, Kansas, and Michigan Primaries

Liias Byers Hoadley

In November, Washington could elect an out lieutenant governor, Kansas its first trans state legislator, and Michigan its first out member of Congress.

From left: Marko Liias, Stephanie Byers, and Jon Hoadley

There were significant successes for LGBTQ+ candidates in Tuesday's primary elections around the nation.

Marko Liias, a gay man, appears to have advanced to the general election for lieutenant governor in Washington State. Transgender woman Stephanie Byers was unopposed in her primary for a state representative post in Kansas and is likely to become the state's first trans legislator. Gay man Jon Hoadley won a U.S. House nomination in Michigan and, if elected in November, will be the first out member of the state's congressional delegation. All are Democrats.

Liias, currently a state senator, finished second to fellow Democrat Denny Heck in Washington, which has a top-two primary system; the two top vote recipients in the primary face each other in the general election regardless of party. Heck is currently a member of the U.S. House, representing the Olympia-area 10th District.

After votes were counted Tuesday night, Heck had 27.7 percent and Liias 16.6 percent, with nine other candidates far out of the running, The Seattle Times reports. More ballots are still to be counted. The current lieutenant governor, Cyrus Habib, is leaving office to join the Society of Jesus religious order.

If Liias becomes lieutenant governor, he would be Washington's first out statewide executive (Washington's only other out statewide official is lesbian Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu) and only the second out lieutenant governor elected in the nation, after Josh Tenorio in the U.S. territory of Guam, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed Liias.

"Washington voters chose a champion for equality to move forward to the general election, and now Marko is well-positioned to become just the second openly LGBTQ lieutenant governor in U.S. history," Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a press release. "With just eight LGBTQ statewide executives in the entire country, his election would inspire more LGBTQ people to run for higher-level office and become change-makers for their communities."

Liias's legislative achievements include advocating for a ban on conversion therapy for minors, which became law in 2018.

In Kansas, Wichita resident Byers moves on to the November general election, where she'll face Republican Cyndi Howerton, The Washington Post reports. Her district's longtime representative, Democrat Jim Ward, is leaving the seat to run for the state's Senate. The district leans Democratic.

Byers, who retired last year, came out as trans six years ago, while still working as band and orchestra director at Wichita North High School. She encountered much acceptance and little criticism after the school's principal, Sherman Padgett, announced her transition in 2014.

"He announced who I was and who I would be from now on, and the response was overwhelming from my colleagues," she told The Wichita Eagle in 2018, when GLSEN named her Teacher of the Year. "People that I have never spoken to in this building came up and wrapped their arms around me to tell me how much they care for me and love me and were proud of me. It was very, very affirming."

Since then, Byers has often spoken out on LGBTQ+ issues, including proposed "bathroom bills" that would restrict restroom access for trans people. She is also of Native American heritage, being a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and has recalled seeing her family denied access to gas station restrooms because of their identity.

She has served as communications director for Wichita Pride, and it was during the 2019 Pride parade that Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers suggested she run for office. She started her campaign three weeks later.

She was also endorsed by Victory Fund. "Stephanie has shattered a long-standing political barrier in Kansas and is poised to join a small but growing number of out trans state legislators across the country," Parker said. "At a time when trans people are targeted with hateful policies and legislation by the Trump administration and in so many state legislatures, Stephanie's race is a powerful reminder of where our country is headed. Stephanie's victory, like every victory for a trans candidate, will inspire more trans leaders to run for office in their communities and that will be transformative."

There are only four out transgender state legislators in the nation and 26 openly trans people serving in elected office at any level of government, according to Victory Fund.

In Michigan's Sixth Congressional District, in the southwestern part of the state, Hoadley defeated Jen Richardson in the Democratic primary by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, The Detroit News reports. Hoadley, currently a state representative, had been favored to win, but Richardson led through most of Tuesday night. Votes in Hoadley's home area of Kalamazoo County finally put him over the top, the News notes.

In November, Hoadley will face incumbent Republican Fred Upton, who is considered vulnerable. Upton is a moderate conservative who sometimes opposes legislation backed by Donald Trump.

"Fred Upton should be running scared," the Human Rights Campaign's Michigan state director, Amritha Venkataraman, said in a prepared statement. "After decades of failed anti-equality leadership from Upton, Michigan's 6th is ready for fresh, bold new leadership. While Upton claims to oppose discrimination against the LGBTQ community, he has regularly voted against legislation to protect LGBTQ people including essential non-discrimination measures like the Equality Act that would make real change. Jon Hoadley will not only help build the pro-equality majority in the U.S. House but give a voice to the over 300,000 LGBTQ people across the state of Michigan. Hoadley is the only candidate who will fight for working families over special interests, pass the Equality Act and ensure people with pre-existing conditions have access to health care. Over the next 90 days, HRC will continue to digitally barnstorm the state and help make sure Michigan sends Jon Hoadley to Congress."

In addition to HRC, Hoadley is backed by Victory Fund and some high-profile elected officials, including Michigan's out attorney general, Dana Nessel; its governor, Gretchen Whitmer; and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California. He won despite a report in the New York Post that several years ago, before entering politics, that he had written blog posts that referred to learning about crystal meth and mentioned "a four year old wearing a thong." His campaign dismissed the posts as "bad college poetry," and the blog has been deleted.

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