LGBTQ Candidates Ran For Office in All 50 States For the First Time Ever

Queer and trans candidates made history yet again in 2018, according to a new report. The midterm election marks the first time in history an LGBTQ politician ran in every single U.S. state.

According to the Victory Fund, California boasted the largest number of LGBTQ political hopefuls in this year’s election cycle. At least 81 queer and trans Californians campaigned in the midterms and 57 of those candidates will compete on the November ballot, which puts California well ahead of any other U.S. state.

As the most populous U.S. state also had the largest pool of 2018 nominees, the other states in the top five largely correlated with overall demographics.

For instance, the third-place finisher was also the third largest state in terms of population: Florida, with 28 LGBTQ candidates who declared in 2018. New York and Maryland, the fourth and fifth most populous states, repeated those rankings in the Victory Fund report. Respectively, they had 26 and 25 contenders run this year.

One surprise, however, came out of the south. In Texas, an estimated 61 LGBTQ candidates threw their hats in the ring.

This crop includes Lupe Valdez, who could be the first Latina lesbian to be elected governor of a U.S. state. Valdez, the former Dallas county sheriff, is running against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Other nominees include U.S. House candidate Gina Ortiz Jones and Texas Senate hopeful Mark Phariss, who would be the first queer woman of color and the first gay man in their respective seats.

These candidates are part of the record-breaking class of politicians referred to as the “Rainbow Wave.” As INTO previously reported, more than 600 LGBTQ individuals opted to run for office during a particularly pivotal election year.

However, the Victory Fund noted that the Rainbow Wave did not reach every U.S. state with the same intensity this year. Some states barely felt its impact at all.

In two different states, just one LGBTQ candidate contended in the midterms: Mississippi and South Dakota. Openly gay Michael Aycox lost to State House Rep. Michael Evans in the race for the July Democratic primary for Mississippi’s Third Congressional District. Brett Ries, who was unopposed in the primaries, will compete for the South Dakota House of Representatives next month.

Aycox’s race illustrated many of the challenges queer and trans politicians face in conservative states which — in many ways — have yet to benefit from the successes of the larger LGBTQ rights movement.

When Aycox spoke to INTO in June, he claimed local Democratic party officials told him Mississippi would “never” elect an openly gay representative to U.S. Congress. The Navy vet and former police officer alleged that Bobby Moak of the State Executive Committee tried to stop him from running at all.

“We’re still struggling pretty hard and fighting an uphill battle in a state that has legal discrimination laws for the LGBTQ community and I welcome that,” Aycox said.

Many of the other states near the bottom of the list are Republican-majority states located in the South or Mountain West: Idaho and Wyoming had two LGBTQ candidates in 2018; Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia had three; and Alabama, Indiana, and Nebraska had four.

Two states it might be surprising to see near the back of the pack, however, are Delaware and New Mexico. They claimed three and two LGBTQ candidates in 2018, respectively.

None made it out of the primaries.

Advocates remain optimistic about the future of LGBTQ-inclusive politics in right-leaning areas of the country. In a press statement, Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said 2018’s historic successes are “already inspiring more LGBTQ people to run in the near future.”

“This rainbow wave of candidates is certainly concentrated in blue states and districts, but LGBTQ leaders in conservative parts of the nation are standing up and determined to become public servants while remaining true to who they are,” she said. “The struggles and experiences of LGBTQ candidates provide a unique perspective that makes them authentic [and] values-driven leaders.”

Noting that more than half of the 618 LGBTQ politicians who declared their candidacy this year survived the primaries, Parker added that their message is “increasingly resonating with voters.”

The Human Rights Campaign further pointed to the current administration as motivating LGBTQ folks from across the country to step up to the plate.

“In response to the daily attacks on LGBTQ people from the Trump-Pence administration, we’ve seen an encouraging new wave of LGBTQ and pro-equality candidates step up to fight the harmful policies coming from Washington and beyond,” said HRC southern states press secretary Nick Morrow in a statement to INTO.

A year after Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, Virginia’s Danica Roem became the first trans woman to win be elected at the state level. She beat incumbent Bob Marshall, who refused to refer to her by female pronouns, by eight points.

Christine Hallquist hopes to follow in her footsteps next month in Vermont’s gubernatorial race. If elected, Hallquist would be the first trans governor of a U.S. state.

The report illustrates that LGBTQ candidates still have a great deal of work ahead if they hope to make America’s democracy truly representative. Four states — Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Dakota — have no queer or trans politicians currently in office. Alabama, South Carolina, and West Virginia only have one.

The Human Rights Campaign said this year’s landmark momentum shows further progress is on its way.

“[T]hese exciting new voices have created a strong bench of new candidates that will help to push pro-equality policies on the local, statewide and federal level for years to come,” Morrow claimed. “HRC has been proud to invest in many of these races in key states and districts — and we will continue to — so that all LGBTQ Americans can be protected and supported by their elected officials.”

You can access the full report here.

Image via Victory Fund


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.

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