This month’s midterm election results saw an unprecedented number of openly LGBTQ candidates elected to local, state, and federal office across the United States. While the voter turnout was the largest and queerest for a midterm election in U.S. history with 6 percent of voters identifying as LGBTQ, enemies of equality continue to employ anti-democratic tactics to stifle and silence queer voices.
It is well-documented that Republicans do not fight fair when it comes to elections. From Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Era and continuing through the 2018 election, conservatives have utilized voter suppression to keep marginalized voices from being fully heard. Arguably, the GOP’s favorite anti-democracy tool is gerrymandering, or the drawing of voting districts – typically on the basis of race – to advantage Republicans over Democrats. And while not all LGBTQ people are Democrats, all LGBTQ people stand to lose big if the majority of queer votes and voices are disenfranchised.
Since the 2016 Presidential election, the opposition to LGBTQ civil rights has watched as queer people and their allies worked tirelessly to mobilize both LGBTQ voters and candidates for the midterm election. The strength and resilience of the queer community did not inspire the GOP – it only furthered their fear, hatred, and resolve to win at all costs. Republicans will happily undercut democracy by redrawing voting district lines to neutralize the many victories of the Rainbow Wave as a part of their larger plan to disenfranchise LGBTQ people and our allies’ votes in 2020 and beyond.
Perhaps most distressingly, LGBTQ people of color stand to bear the brunt of this GOP-led voter disenfranchisement plan. LGBTQ communities of color have long dealt with GOP gerrymandering, where Republican legislatures have drawn district lines down the middle of Black and Brown communities, sending homogenous voting blocks off to pointlessly vote in majority white and Republican districts.
The GOP gerrymandering plan will aim to break up districts of newly energized LGBTQ voters in Republican-controlled states like Arkansas, Indiana, and West Virginia, where voters elected queer Democratic candidates in the most recent Midterm election.
After the 2020 Census, Republican majority legislatures of these states could draw dividing lines right through districts of pro-LGBTQ voters, sending them to new districts that are predominantly white, Republican or hostile to LGBTQ equality. The census comes at a crucial time for LGBTQ voters, and unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has already tried to undermine it by attempting to add a question that would ask “Is this person a U.S. citizen?” Such a blatant anti-immigrant slant to federal data collection could deter millions of people living in pro-LGBTQ states and cities from completing the Census. If the population results are significantly lowered, it could mean that LGBTQ voters lose congressional representation altogether, further diminishing the representation of queer voices on Capitol Hill.
The GOP has also not shied away from explicit anti-LGBTQ attacks on the Census or incredibly important federal data collection. In May 2017, an initial draft of Census questions was published online, including questions about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The draft was quickly taken down and republished later, with the SOGI questions mysteriously absent. The Census Bureau claimed the SOGI questions were never under serious consideration to be included. Even if that’s true, there is a well-documented pattern in the Trump administration of erasing LGBTQ people from federal data collection. The approach seems to be that if LGBTQ people don’t exist in data collection, then they don’t need representation.
The larger GOP effort to erase queer people’s lives could also impact newly elected queer candidates in Republican-controlled states. LGBTQ candidates like Tippi McCullough, a lesbian teacher and state senator-elect from Arkansas representing the only reliably liberal district in the state; J.D. Ford, a gay Indiana state senator-elect dedicated to public service; and Cody Thompson, a gay teacher from West Virginia could all see their state districts sliced and diced out of existence by anti-LGBTQ gerrymandering. The LGBTQ community knows all too well that losing seats at the table means queer people will be on the menu.
So where does this leave LGBTQ voters? In danger of erasure by the GOP in 2020 and every election thereafter. The stark reality is that our current government is rigged against democracy and is never going to fully represent LGBTQ people unless we make it.
As it stands, the Senate is a fundamentally undemocratic relic that ensures queer people’s interests are never accurately represented. When all states regardless of population size receive the exact same number of senators, sparsely populated areas with anti-LGBTQ voices get an outsized voice in the decision-making process.
The electoral college is another GOP tool of voter disenfranchisement created to appease Southern interests because vast numbers of people enslaved in Southern states could not vote. Currently, this system ignores millions of LGBTQ voters if their votes do not fall for the majority candidate in a given state. For the millions of LGBTQ people living in majority red states, their votes remain utterly meaningless under an electoral college system, ensuring future absurd outcomes where a candidate can win the popular vote by a landslide and still lose the election.
Though LGBTQ advocates and their allies will look to the federal courts to strike down illegal Republican gerrymandering, the Supreme Court is unlikely to do so. In June, the Court reviewed a challenge to five of Texas’ racially gerrymandered voting districts and said that “states can do what they want.” Additionally, Junior Justice Neil Gorsuch (along with Justice Thomas of course) doesn’t think the Voting Rights Act prohibits racial gerrymandering. (It does.) The Supreme Court also agreed this month to hear a Republican challenge to a lower court decision that Virginia voting districts must be redrawn to correct racial gerrymandering. The Supreme Court’s ideological sea change is underway, and queer voters and candidates would do well to focus on local and state-based solutions to stop gerrymandering and other LGBTQ voter suppression tactics before it’s too late.
LGBTQ people must channel the midterms’ energy and momentum into fighting against the GOP’s plan to disenfranchise millions of queer votes and limit LGBTQ representation. Queer communities stand to lose not just the gains of the Rainbow Wave, but also future elections if we don’t resist the GOP at every opportunity. Until one LGBTQ vote means one vote in any election, all of our queer votes, and our democracy, are in grave danger.
Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images