Amid some bad news that came in June (Supreme Court decisions, for one), there were some LGBTQ+ political candidates who did us proud in Pride Month. Here we focus on nine who won significant victories in primary races from coast to coast during the month. They include candidates who stand to become the first out congressman from Illinois, the first gay immigrant in Congress, the first Black gay member of the D.C. City Council, the successor to the longest-serving member of the New York State Assembly, the first transgender and nonbinary legislators in Montana, and the first out mayor of North Las Vegas, Nev.
All were endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect qualified out candidates at all levels of government. It has endorsed 314 so far this year. Victories in 2021 pushed the number of out elected officials in the U.S. to more than 1,000, but there is still not proportional representation of LGBTQ+ people.
“Pride Month is a time to take stock of our community’s history so that we can get organized and fired up about the work we still have ahead of us,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a June statement announcing the latest round of endorsements. From Congress to school boards, LGBTQ people remain woefully underrepresented in government — we must still elect over 35,000 out LGBTQ people to office to achieve equitable representation. With the current rise in anti-LGBTQ vitriol, we are witnessing firsthand the impact this lack of representation has on our community and LGBTQ kids in particular. We are proud to continue supporting highly-qualified leaders ready to tackle these issues head on and be our voice in the halls of power. LGBTQ candidates represent the best of us — they are determined, tough and ready to devote themselves to a life of service. We are confident they will be strong legislators and inspire other LGBTQ people to run for office.”
The candidates who advanced in major races during Pride Month provide a good start, along with the many others running this year, which include nearly 100 racially and ethnically diverse out candidates running for Congress. For more about June's nine groundbreakers, read on.
From left: Pat Spearman, Tony Simone, and Zachary Parker
Robert Garcia has been mayor of Long Beach, Calif., since 2014, and now he’s running for U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 42nd Congressional District. California has an unusual primary system in which candidates from all parties run against each other, and the top two advance to the general election, regardless of party. Garcia, a Democrat, received about 47 percent of the vote in the primary, while Republican John Briscoe, a businessman, received 27 percent. So they will face off in November; because of redistricting, there was no incumbent in the race. Garcia, a native of Peru, immigrated to the United States with his family at age 5. He was the youngest mayor of Long Beach, the first out gay one, and the first immigrant to hold the office. If he prevails in the House election in November, he’ll be the first immigrant from the LGBTQ+ community in Congress.
Will Rollins was another Democrat who advanced in a California congressional district primary. Rollins, who is gay, came in second to anti-LGBTQ+ Republican Ken Calvert in the newly drawn 41st District; under the previous district setup, Calvert had represented the 42nd. Among the five candidates in the primary, Calvert had 44 percent of the vote and Rollins 36 percent. Because of the California primary system, as the top two finishers, Rollins and Calvert will face off in the general election. The district encompasses several Southern California desert communities, including the heavily LGBTQ+ city of Palm Springs.
Zachary Parker stands to become the first Black member of the LGBTQ+ community on the D.C. City Council after winning the Democratic primary in Ward 5. He has a Republican opponent, Clarence Lee Jr., in the general election in November, but the city’s voters tend to favor Democrats. There is no incumbent in the race. Parker, a gay man, is a former teacher who has been on the District of Columbia State Board of Education since 2018 and was elected its president in 2021. If he’s elected to the City Council, his priorities include improving public safety, boosting economic development, and promoting clean energy.
Illinois may get its first out member of Congress this year now that Eric Sorensen, a gay man who has long worked as a TV weathercaster, has won the Democratic nomination in the 17th Congressional District. Sorensen bested five other candidates in the Democratic primary, finishing with 38 percent of the vote. The district covers portions of central, western, and northwestern Illinois and leans Democratic. It is currently represented by a Democrat, Cheri Bustos, who did not seek reelection. Sorensen’s Republican opponent in November will be Esther Joy King, a lawyer who ran against Bustos in 2020. “I got into this race because to me, being the meteorologist on TV was about protecting my community,” he said in a statement after his win. It was about being a trusted communicator who could be relied on to tell the truth. … I am honored to be the Democratic nominee to go communicate our challenges and values to Congress.”
Liz Bennett, who is bisexual, is a longtime member of Iowa’s House of Representatives, first elected in 2014. Now she’s won the Democratic primary for the state’s Senate in District 39, in the Cedar Rapids area, defeating Joe Zahorik. She was the first woman from the LGBTQ+ community to serve in the House, and if she wins in November, she will have that distinction in the Senate as well. The current senator from the district, Democrat Rob Hogg, did not seek reelection, and in November Bennett will face Republican Edward “Bernie” Hayes.
Pat Spearman advanced to a runoff in November in the mayoral election in North Las Vegas, coming in second in the June primary to Pamela Goynes-Brown. Either would be the first Black mayor of the city, but Spearman, a same-gender-loving woman, would be the first member of the LGBTQ+ community to hold the post. The election is nonpartisan, and the incumbent, John Lee, did not seek reelection, running for governor instead. Spearman is finishing her third term as a Nevada state senator. She is a military veteran, having retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel, and an ordained minister who serves on the board of on the global social justice ministry team of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.
Tony Simone, a gay man, is poised to succeed the longest-serving member of the New York State Assembly, Dick Gottfried, who is retiring after 52 years. Simone, who had Gottfried’s backing, won the Democratic primary in the 75th Assembly District on the west side of Manhattan; it includes the heavily LGBTQ+ neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, which Simone calls home. He will face Republican Joseph A. Maffia in November, but the district is largely Democratic. Simone has been a community leader and organizer in both the public and private sectors and has led fights for tenant and immigrant rights, marriage equality, and accessible green space. “My grandfather taught me the importance of never thinking you’re better than anybody else and the importance of public service, and giving back to your community,” he said after being declared the winner, according to local news site W42St. “And my grandfather — who was a union delegate — also taught me the most important lesson ever — that you do nothing in life alone. That only through broad, diverse coalitions in collective action do you come up with creative solutions to the most complex problems.”
SJ Howell is making history in Montana, likely to become the state’s first nonbinary legislator. Howell was unopposed in the Democratic primary for House District 95, where incumbent Danny Tenenbaum did not seek reelection. Howell will be up against Republican Lauren Subith and Libertarian J.C. Windmueller in November, but their district, in Missoula, is considered a shoo-in for Democrats.
“One reason I decided to run for office this year is that I believe that representation matters and that conversations about LGBTQ communities should not happen without LGBTQ people in the room,” Howell, who is also queer and trans, told The Advocate upon being named one of this year’s Champions of Pride. “Being an out queer and trans state representative might not stop anti-LGBTQ legislation from being introduced in Montana, but it will change the shape of the debate and let queer and trans Montanans know that they are represented in the rooms where decisions about their lives are being made.”
Zooey Zephyr, a bisexual transgender woman, won the Democratic primary in Montana House of Representatives District 100, besting Dave Severson. She will face Republican Sean McCoy and Libertarian Michael Vanacek in November’s general election, but the district, located in the university town of Missoula, is considered safely Democratic, so she is likely to become Montana’s first trans woman lawmaker.
“Montanans’ voices rang loud and clear tonight: They are ready for a leader ready to disrupt the status quo and fight for real change,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed Zephyr, said in a press release upon Zephyr's win. “From tackling the housing crisis to securing affordable health care to fighting back against attacks on human rights, Zooey has a persuasive vision for the future that voters are clearly enthusiastic about. Her win tonight is a deafening rebuke to the anti-trans bigotry plaguing the Montana state legislature and our country. We are confident she will be a skilled, powerful legislator and an inspiration for trans people across the country.”