The wave of Democratic upsets that began with the 2018 midterm elections a year ago and put more openly LGBTQ people in Congress than ever before continued in Tuesday's off-year election. In addition to flipping the governorship of Kentucky and the entire Virginia state legislature Democratic, the historic election put nearly 100 new LGBTQ candidates into office nationwide in state and local seats.
More openly LGBTQ candidates won elected office in 2019 than in any other odd-numbered election year in U.S. history with a total of 144 wins as of Nov. 6 and 99 of those in Tuesday's elections.
Among the LGBTQ wins are six openly trans candidates, including four incumbents. In January 2020, there will be 23 out trans elected officials nationwide. Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, the first out trans person to win and serve in a state legislature, defeated her anti-LGBTQ opponent whose allies launched an anti-trans attack ad in the final weeks of the campaign. These victories for trans candidates are crucial as the Trump administration and their Republican cohort have been pushing an anti-trans agenda, which has included Trump's trans military ban, religious freedom policies that discriminate against trans and gay people and punitive restrictions on the rights of trans and gay students as promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
"While bigoted political operatives are planning to use trans people as a wedge issue for 2020, voters across the country are rejecting the scare tactics and electing trans people to represent them in office," said Mayor Annise Parker, President and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund.
The Victory Fund works to achieve equality for LGBTQ Americans by increasing the number of openly LGBTQ officials at all levels of government through endorsements and fundraising.
Parker said, "Nothing disrupts [the Trump administration's] hateful narrative more than out trans elected officials working hard on behalf of their constituents. The success of trans candidates this Election Night — in states red and blue — is a warning to those using cynical campaign tactics to divide communities for their own political gain."
Vice President Mike Pence has a history of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation in both Congress and as governor of Indiana. Pence's efforts made LGBTQ wins in the vice president's home state particularly exciting for Indiana queers. Indianapolis voters tripled LGBTQ representation on its City-County Council, reelecting Zach Adamson and electing first-time council candidates Alison Brown and Keith Potts. Brown, who is now the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to the council, was victimized by an anti-gay attack ad by her Republican challenger.
These wins are notable as Indiana currently has only nine openly LGBTQ elected officials. The Victory Fund's Parker spoke directly to Pence in her comments on the Indianapolis wins, saying, "A rainbow wave came crashing into Mike Pence's backyard Tuesday night, with voters sending three openly LGBTQ candidates to the Indianapolis City-County Council. While LGBTQ people continue to be severely underrepresented in the state, these victories will inspire more LGBTQ Hoosiers to consider a run for office and make change in a state that lags much of the country in LGBTQ protections."
Parker also addressed the attacks on Brown, adding, "For too long, openly LGBTQ candidates were defeated by opponents who appealed to bigotry in a desperate attempt to win tight races. But Indianapolis voters have rejected the personal attacks in favor of a bisexual leader who put forward a positive vision for her community, ensuring future candidates think twice before targeting an opponent's sexual orientation or gender identity."
LGBTQ people are vastly underrepresented nationally in every area of political office.
Among the LGBTQ wins, significant is the large percentage of people of color who were elected as well as women candidates. While men represented the majority of LGBTQ candidates who ran for office, women won more of their races. Nearly 30 percent of LGBTQ candidates who ran were people of color, and of those, 35 percent won — a critical expansion of diversity.
Parker contextualized the import of the wins, saying in a statement on Nov. 6, "Americans are understandably focused on the 2020 presidential and congressional elections, but the LGBTQ candidates who won will arguably have a greater impact on the everyday lives of their constituents."
Parker noted that local elections propel candidates into higher office later. She said, "The LGBTQ candidates who were elected to school boards are our future state legislators. And those who won state legislative races are our future U.S. Congressmembers and our future governors. We are building a pipeline of out LGBTQ leaders at every level of government so we can advance equality today, and so we are positioned to run for higher-level offices in greater numbers tomorrow."
Another key issue in the election was the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, an effort that has been revived in recent years and which has received increased efforts since the 2016 election. The Democratic win in Virginia is seen as key to facilitating the ratification — Virginia can become the final state to ratify the ERA in January.
The battle to pass the ERA has been ongoing for nearly a century but ramped up in the 1970s, when it was attacked by the right with anti-gay narratives.
The wording of the ERA is simple: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." The ERA would be a legal preventative to all sex discrimination for all genders.