The Victory Institute recently compiled data from elections between 2007–2016 and found that LGBT women candidates are more likely to win than their gay male counterparts. More than 1,160 out LGBT politicians ran for office over the last decade, and it turns out women won their races 70.3% of the time, compared to 60.9% of men. However, LGBT women also do not run for office as frequently, and Victory Fund President and CEO Aisha C. Moodie-Mills said it’s likely because these candidates “tend to wait until we are exceptionally qualified before entering a race,” ensuring a win because they are “typically better prepared and more qualified.”
A press release from the Victory Institute cites the elections of U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Oregon Governor Kate Brown as high-profile proof of this kind of progress. and the numbers themselves help, too: In the 2010 midterms, LGBT women candidates won 81% of their races, compared to just 57% for LGBT men. And in 2014, LGBT women won 70%; men, 47.
In his New York Times column over the weekend, Frank Bruni posited that the increase of out women politicians (currently at an all-time high of 44 “openly lesbian lawmakers in state legislatures”) is because, former Houston Mayor Annise Partner noted, gay women are “less threatening” than gay men, who thinks voters can still see as “sexual predators.” (Still, gay men outnumber queer women in state legislatures–there are 61, currently, down from 72 in 2014.)
But LGBT women have something else to contend with when it comes to running for office—misogyny. Even when they are the most qualified candidates running for their respective positions, they don’t only face possible homophobia from constituents, but straight up sexism, the same kind Hillary Clinton had to deal with during the last presidential election. Bruni spoke with Nevada State Senator Pat Spearman about the issue of intersectionality.
“I’m African-American and a woman and a lesbian. I can’t catch a break,” she said. “You know what I’m saying?” But added that her openness allowed people to “relate” and “respect…that I embraced all of these [identities]: African-American, woman, lesbian,” and Parker echoed that this kind of honesty alerts voters to the notion “you’ll be honest about everything.”
Still, being an openly LGBT woman is not necessarily an advantage in the political realm—just ask Christine Quinn. The New York City mayoral candidate was a frontrunner for several years, ultimately losing to current mayor, Bill de Blasio. Some chalked it up her simply having been a woman, New York Magazine writing “She may be qualified, but she’s bossy and brash. She has an annoying voice, weird hair, and ill-fitting clothes. She wants what she wants, and she wants it too much.” But they also noted that Quinn’s “sexual orientation and her domestic arrangement may have hurt her, too, but only in that they put her squarely in society’s most reviled demographic category: middle-aged women without children—the jealous queens and kidnappers of Disney movies. Quinn’s devastating loss stands as proof that in the privacy of the voting booth we are even less post-chauvinist than we are post-racial in our preferences.”
Even Gloria Steinem chimed in, telling The New York Times, “If you’re tough enough to run New York City, you’re too tough to be considered acceptably feminine,” and that, she believes, contributed to the rough-and-tumble politician’s downfall. Other critics agreed, although some voters outwardly told the Times they did not approve of her lesbianism.
Quinn detailed her own feelings about the loss for Vogue, which spoke to how running as a woman and a lesbian can also make a loss more difficult:
“Losing in private is hard. Losing in public is harder. And I think women lose and fall harder than men. To outsiders, the stakes seem different, and the conversation is skewed; to me, being a woman—and being gay—meant a different recovery process. When I lost, I felt as though I’d disappointed thousands of people I’d never met who had pinned their hopes on me.”
Perhaps it’s possible that LGBT women are winning more because of the simple fact they are running more than ever. Women in general are running more, and winning, too. Still, winning is dependent on many factors–locations, opponents, stances on specific issues that are relevant to their respective regions–but misogyny factors in as heavily as homophobia, if not more so. It’s great news that statistically, we have more LGBT women in office than ever before, but it seems premature to announce, as Bruni did in the title of his column, “Voters Love Lesbians!” It erroneously leaves out bisexual women (who make up a good portion of the out women in office, including Brown and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, and also projects an image that LGBT women are winning precisely because they are LGBT, when it seems the article itself, at times, is projecting that they might, in fact, win in spite of their LGBT identity. It’s also worth noting that the “T” is fairly absent, as there are zero out trans lawmakers in state legislature positions–men or women.
So while, truly, more lesbian and bi women (and women in general) are winning elections, it’s because more of them are running every year than the year before, and many times, they are successful. Hopefully, these kinds of studies can amplify the idea that it’s possible, despite homophobia and sexism and other factors like racism and ageism, for queer women to win. It’s just never going to be easy.