The number of LGBTQ elected officials increased by nearly 6% last year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which trains and advocates for queer political candidates and elected officials. Since 2017, when the organization began publishing data, the number has nearly doubled, from 448 LGBTQ lawmakers that year to 1,043 in 2022, according to the group’s annual Out in America report.
Even with the dramatic increase in representation, LGBTQ elected officials represent only 0.2 percent of all elected officials in the United States, according to the report, while lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people make up about 7, 1% of the US population. To achieve fair representation, voters would need to elect an additional 35,854 LGBTQ people, including 27 to Congress, according to the Victory Institute.
“Despite the fact that the LGBTQ community has never had fair representation in government — and we still have a long way to go — there are clear signs of progress,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute and former mayor of Houston. , said in a statement. “They represent the strength and diversity of not only who we are as a society today, but also of the America we aspire to build for future generations.”
Next election season could mean more historic firsts in Congress and in states, where anti-LGBTQ legislation has gained traction in many states, but uncertain prospects for the Democratic Party – to which most LGBTQ candidates belong – could also hurt their chances.
Big wins for people of color and the trans community
A notable increase in representation, according to the report, was seen among LGBTQ leaders of color, whose numbers increased 12.3% from June 2021 to June, compared to 1.3% for white elected officials. Since 2017, elected officials of color have increased by 238%, but remain underrepresented compared to white elected officials, whose representation has increased by 102% during the same period.
Lancaster City Council President Izzy Smith-Wade-El is running for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He said he hoped to bring “black and gay voices to the Pennsylvania legislature.”
If elected in November, Smith-Wade-El would be Pennsylvania’s first non-binary state legislator and the first black person to represent Lancaster County in the State House.
According to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, elected officials like Smith-Wade-El, who identify as something other than cisgender — including transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming — have increased tenfold since 2017.
“The rigid categories we’ve created around gender don’t work for me, and they don’t work for a lot of my constituents, but that’s what they identify with,” Smith-Wade-El said. “Applying these rigid categories is part and parcel of what makes our society weaker, not stronger.”
Transgender elected officials increased by almost 10% between 2021 and 2022, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute report.
“Part of it has to do with the success of the examples we’ve had in power,” Gabriele Magni, an assistant professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, told NBC News. He cited the example of Virginia delegate Danica Roem, who made history in 2018 by becoming the first transgender person to serve in a US state legislature. In May, Roem announced his candidacy for the Virginia State Senate.
“These candidates are capable of winning,” Magni said. “It’s a signal for voters.”
Leigh Finke, who is running for a Minnesota House seat, could follow in Roem’s footsteps this fall. If elected, Finke would be the first trans person in the Minnesota Legislature.
Finke said she made the decision to run in part because of the lack of transgender representation in government and because of the “coordinated attack” on trans people in state legislatures.
State lawmakers have introduced more than 340 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group. Many of these bills specifically target transgender people, limiting trans people’s ability to play sports, use bathrooms that match their gender identity, and receive gender-affirming health care.
“I know how gay people can be demonized,” she said. “Someone absolutely has to be in the room.”
The presence of LGBTQ elected officials can reduce the likelihood that these bills will be introduced and passed, according to Magni.
“LGBTQ candidates in office have a significant impact on LGBTQ-related laws and policies that are passed,” he said.
For instance, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., one of two openly LGBTQ people in the Senate, has reached out to Republicans to drum up support for the Honoring Marriage Act, which would codify same-sex marriage rights. The bill passed the House but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate, where at least five Republicans appeared certain or ready to oppose their party and vote for the measure.
Parker, of the Victory Institute, said that in the current political environment — citing anti-LGBTQ bills and censorship efforts in schools and libraries across the country — LGBTQ elected officials “are on the front line advocating for our rights and freedoms”.
Even with the big jumps in the number of LGBTQ elected officials, LGBTQ people remain underrepresented.
“We’re catching up very, very slowly,” Magni said. “There are huge percentage increases because the numbers we’re starting from are so low.”
Currently, there are only nine LGBTQ members in the House and two in the Senate, all of whom are Democrats.
“We are underrepresented,” said Robert Garcia, the mayor of Long Beach, Calif. “We need to elect people from diverse communities. We have a richer conversation when we have different perspectives at the table.
Garcia makes a bid to represent California’s 42nd congressional district. If elected, he will be the first LGBTQ Latino elected to Congress from California and the first LGBTQ immigrant elected to Congress.
“The point of being first is not to be last,” Garcia said. “Being a first is good, but what’s more important is delivering results to the community.”
The number of LGBTQ women elected to public office continues to rise, from 183 in 2017 to 419 in 2022, a gain of nearly 230%, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute. However, all women, regardless of their LGBTQ status, remain underrepresented. This is especially true in Congress, where the record increase in women’s representation in recent elections only allowed about a quarter of the seats to be held by women.
“Right now, Congress doesn’t look like or represent America as a whole, and that’s a real problem,” Vermont State Rep. Becca Balint, a Democrat, told NBC News.
Balint, the first woman and the first gay person to serve as acting president of the Vermont Senate, is running for Congress and, if elected, she would be the first LGBTQ person and the first woman elected to Congress from Vermont.
With Balint heavily favored to win in November, election forecasters are predicting a tough election season for Democrats as a whole, which could curb the trend of rising LGBTQ representation.
“Over 95% of LGBTQ candidates are running as Democrats,” Magni said. “If voters do not support the party for which these candidates are running, they will certainly pay the price.”
At the same time, LGBTQ contestants might be able to weather the storm, Magni added.
“LGBTQ candidates tend to be extremely qualified,” he said, noting that gay candidates face additional hurdles when choosing to run for office and are often deeply rooted in their communities. “It is possible that they can balance out the negative electoral environment.”
Finke, who easily won her Democratic primary race last week, said she was well-qualified and well-placed to defend her constituents and the trans community once in office.
“Electing trans people isn’t going out of your way to do something gracious,” the Minnesotan said. “We are anchored in the world. We deserve an equal voice.
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