It’s been a year since the presidential election, and while many are still reeling it’s Election Day again, and thousands of candidates are running for state legislatures, governorships, judge’s seats and more.
Traditionally off-year elections are a low priority for voters. But the fight for LGBT equality is almost always fought on the local level—it’s in school boards, city councils, and statehouses that religious freedom laws, bathroom bills and anti-LGBT policies are cooked up. (Harvey Milk didn’t run for president, he ran for city supervisor.)
Below, we take a look at five races that impact the LGBT community, in some cases on the national level. Check back on NewNowNext for ongoing Election Day coverage. Oh, and don’t forget to vote!
Danica Roem v. Bob Marshall (Virginia House of Delegates)Danica Roem/Facebook
Roem snatched victory in a heavily contested Democratic primary in the Virginia House of Delegates and if she wins today, will become the first trans candidate ever elected to a state legislature.
She’s one of a record number of transgender people running for office this year, and many believe she has the best shot of winning. Roem’s clear about her support for LGBT equality—she’s known to wear a rainbow scarf as she knocks on doors—but her campaign is focused on jobs, infrastructure, and other bread-and-butter issues.
Her opponent, Republican Bob Marshall, seems fixated on the LGBT community, though—and not in a good way: The author of Virginia’s marriage-equality ban, Marshall demanded Attorney General Mark Herring be impeached for supporting “sodomy marriage.” He’s tried to oust gays people from the National Guard, to force teachers to out closeted students to parents, and to introduce a North Carolina-style bathroom bill in Virginia.
Marshall’s refused to debate Roem before the election and repeatedly (and intentionally) misgenders her: “Why do you call Danica a female?” he asked a reporter in August. “Did Danica’s DNA change?”
“He’s more concerned with where I go to the bathroom than where his constituents go to work,” Roem told The Washington Post. “I’m running a race on improving transportation rather than ensuring discrimination.”
Other trans candidates to watch include Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham, who are running for Minneapolis City Council; Lisa Middleton, running for Palm Springs City Council; Kristen Browde, running for Town Supervisor in New Castle, New York; Tyler Titus, running for School Board Member in Erie, Pennsylvania; Shannon Cuttle, running for a seat on the Board of Education in South Orange, New Jersey; and Sophia Hawes-Tingey, running for Mayor of Midvale. Utah.
Ralph Northam vs. Ed Gillespie (Governor of Virginia)Ralph Northham
There’s only two governors races today: Democrat Phil Murphy is heavily favored to win in New Jersey, but Lt. Governor Ralph Northam has only a small lead over Republican Gillespie, who has a lengthy anti-LGBT record, including opposing “the government sanction of same-sex marriage.”
“The Republican Party platform is clear,” he insisted. “We believe marriage is the legal union of one man and one woman. We must pursue whatever policy is necessary to protect this institution, including a Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Gillespie endorsed a transphobic bathroom bill and insists Christian were victims of intolerance by the LGBT community. “I accept people for who they are—and love them. That doesn’t mean I have to agree or turn my back on the tenets of my faith when it comes to homosexuality,” he explained. “When people say, ‘Well, no. That’s not enough that you accept me for who I am, you have to agree with—and condone—my choice,’ that, to me, is religious bigotry, and I believe that’s intolerant.”
HRC President Chad Griffin, meanwhile, praised Northam as “a proven champion for equality.” An Army vet and pediatric neurologist, he supports workplace protections and adoption rights. Last year he praised outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe for vetoing for a so-called “religious freedom” bill.
Virginia went to Hillary Clinton last year, but the governor’s race could be a referendum on support for Trump’s presidency. It could also influence how Dems and Republicans approach the midterm elections next year.
Cathy Woolard v. Mary Norwood, Keisha Lance Bottoms, et al (mayor of Atlanta)Marcus Ingram/Getty Images
Atlanta’s mayoral race is pretty wide open, with more than 10 candidates running. But if Woolard wins, she’ll become the first openly LGBT mayor of Atlanta—and of any major city in the Deep South.
Woolard’s already set some records: When she was elected to Atlanta’s city council in 1997, she became the first openly gay elected official in Georgia history. Later she became the first gay (and the first female) City Council president.
Outgoing Mayor Kasim Reed was once an alley but they’ve had a falling out: She’s criticized the $140 million going into renovating Philips Arena as “a giveaway to billionaires,” he’s called Woolard a “quitter” and “failed” candidate.
But Woolard, 60, told Project Q her experience in city government, infrastructure and social justice, “makes me uniquely qualified at this point and time to lead our city into the future.”
Working against Woolard is that fact that she’s been out of the spotlight for years: She resigned from City Council in 2004 to launch a failed bid for Congress.) Atlanta magazine handicaps her odds of winning at 1 in 8.
Liliana Bakhtiari v. David Orland Brown (City Council):
Atlanta is home to another LGBT candidate: Liliana Bakhtiari, who’s running for city council, could be the first queer Muslim to win elected office in the U.S.
“I was bullied a majority of my life. I was bullied for being brown, for being Muslim, for my non-English speaking family members, for being different,” the 29-year-old wrote on Facebook. “A family member once told me to keep my head down, stay quiet, and to not draw attention to myself… But today, I woke up to find that everything that makes me different, everything that makes me who I am is being celebrated instead of diminished.”
Her background is in activism: She’s studied genocide and sex trafficking in Cambodia, worked with refugees in Thailand and Vietnam, and served on the board of Lost-n-Found Youth, Atlanta’s homeless LGBT youth center.
Bakhtiari just being on the ballot is a victory for intersectionality—a victory or even a good showing today would send a message to the those dividing our nation.
“Everything that Trump represents is a direct attack on who I am, and my family,” Bakhtiari told Teen Vogue. “Trump is anti-woman, he’s anti-gay, he’s anti-Islam. I mean, everything that I represent, everything that makes me who I am, he goes directly against.”
Bakhtiari not being part of Atlanta’s political machine could work in her favor. “I’ve lived through most of the challenges this community faces,” she adds. “I’ve dealt with homelessness, lived a paycheck away from the street, been pushed from one home to the next… I have a finger on the pulse of this community and I will always work to listen to the voices that are rarely heard.”
Manka Dhingra v. Jinyoung Lee Englund (Washington State Senate)Campaign of Manka Dhingra
A special election in Washington State’s 45th district illustrates the impact seemingly small races can have. If Dhingra defeats Republican incumbent Englund it will tilt the statehouse toward Democrats and make the state one of only seven where Dems control both the legislature and the governorship.
It would also create a Democratic trifecta in the Pacific states, enabling Washington, California and Oregon to address climate change unilaterally.
Both national parties have poured resources into the race, even as Englund tries to distance herself from President Trump. Dhingra is leading in polls of the blue-leaning district, and has received endorsements from Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
While she hasn’t said much publicly about LGBT rights, Dhingra has supported inclusivity and a strong response to hate crimes. She’s also signaled support for needle-exchange programs, which are proven to lower HIV infection rates.