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The Rainbow Wave Settles In: What New LGBTQ+ Politicians Are Facing

The Rainbow Wave Settles In: What New LGBTQ+ Politicians Are Facing

The nation's new out governors, treasurers, and congressmembers are staring down inflation, climate change, and gun violence.

The 2022 midterm election didn’t bring the red (Republican) wave that was predicted, but it did bring a rainbow wave, with at least 436 out LGBTQ+ candidates, almost all Democrats, winning their races; 100 more than in 2020. Out candidates had a 60 percent win rate, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

Despite the gains, LGBTQ+ Americans are still far from proportional representation — that would take 35,000 more being elected. “This Rainbow Wave was fueled by a record number of LGBTQ candidates who defied the odds by running — and winning — in the face of extraordinary anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and attacks,” said a statement from Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker.

“Bigots underestimated our power and determination as they’ve done throughout history. While this election has given us much to be optimistic about, such as a historic number of victorious trans and nonbinary candidates, we still have a long way to go before we achieve equitable representation in government. LGBTQ people have never been fully represented in government and until that day, we will not stop organizing, we will not stop fighting and we will not stop running for office. Because when we run, we win.”

Now, with 2023 upon us, the new generation of out political leaders are sworn in and ready for business. Here's what they've been up to.

Tina Kotek of Oregon and Maura Healey of Massachusetts were elected as the nation’s first out lesbian governors. Both are Democrats. Kotek, former speaker of the Oregon House, prevailed in a tough race over Republican Christine Drazan and independent Betsy Johnson. Healey, Massachusetts’s attorney general, beat Republican Geoff Diehl by a wide margin.

After Kotek was sworn in earlier this month, she swiftly signed three executive orders intended to address homelessness and general housing insecurity. She also ordered state flags at half-staff following the mass shootings in nearby California.

Similar to Kotek, Healey has taken action on housing issues, as her state as some of the highest rents in the nation. The governor signed an executive order to establish a new housing secretary who will be tasked with dealing with exploding housing costs. Healey also established a state climate chief as one of her first acts as governor.

Illinois elected its first out congressman, gay Democrat Eric Sorensen. Sorensen, a TV weatherman, will represent the 17th Congressional District, covering a mix of urban and rural areas in western Illinois. He bested far-right Republican Esther Joy King for the open seat. Sorensen recently gave his first speech in Congress, vowing to work towards lowering housing and energy costs, and pledging to cross the aisle and work with Republicans if needed.

Vermont has its first out congressional representative, lesbian Becca Balint, who’s also the first woman the state will send to the U.S. House. And Vermont elected gay man Michael Pieciak as treasurer. Both Democrats, they are Vermont’s first out statewide elected officials (the state has only one congressional district, so Balint’s post is statewide).

In Balint's first public appearance since being sworn in, the congresswoman said she is prioritizing housing costs in her state.

Connecticut voters chose Democrat Erick Russell as state treasurer, making him the first Black gay man (or Black LGBTQ+ person in general) to be elected to a statewide office. At 34, Russell is the youngest state constitutional officer in Connecticut's modern era. Russell inherited a mini-scandal over how to pay for "Baby Bonds," a proposed state initiative to offer low-income children bonds that would be available to them when they turn 18.

Alaska and South Dakota, which lacked any out state legislators, now have elected them, all Democrats. Jennie Armstrong, Ashley Carrick, and Andrew Gray won their races for the Alaska House, making them the state’s first out lawmakers. South Dakota restored LGBTQ+ representation to its legislature by electing gay man Kameron Nelson to the state House; it hadn’t had an out legislator since Angie Buhl O’Donnell, a bisexual woman, left the South Dakota Senate in 2015.

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