LGBTQ Voters and Midterms: What’s at Stake?

It's no exaggeration to say this election will have decades-long consequences for LGBTQ people.

As Americans prepare to head to the polls next month for the 2018 midterm elections, activists and organizers of all backgrounds are sounding the alarm on the overwhelming significance of this election cycle.

With critical, potentially history-shaping races taking place in states all across the country and a new, highly controversial Supreme Court justice on the federal bench, LGBTQ Americans have a wide breadth of issues to be concerned about over the coming weeks.

“This coming November, we are approaching one of the most pivotal elections in our lifetime,” Human Rights Campaign Press Secretary and transgender activist Sarah McBride tells NewNowNext. “At the end of the day, decisions are made by those who show up. It is critical for all of us to not just vote in Presidential elections, but in the Midterms as well.”

Desiree Navarro/Getty Images
Sarah McBride (left), Gabby Rivera, and Wade Davis discuss ’The LGBTQ Movement in Focus: Where Do We Go From Here?’ in New York City

Over the past two years, LGBTQ people have experienced explicit attacks on their rights and livelihoods by the Trump administration. From appointing anti-LGBTQ extremists to the federal bench, to the transgender community facing ongoing attacks from our current administration, to banning transgender people from serving in the military, queer people have been at the receiving end of institutionalized discrimination by the federal government since this administration came to power.

From McBride’s perspective, this historical framework of the last two years should guide LGBTQ voters. The queer community also needs to align themselves with issues affecting all marginalized groups.

“And as Audre Lorde said, ‘There is no such thing as a single-issue cause because no one lives single-issue lives,’” she continued. “I think that our community is concerned with Republican efforts to rip healthcare away from millions of people. I think they are outraged by the targeting of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers living in America today and by the heartless separation of families. And I think this community, which has disproportionately high rates of survivors of sexual violence and sexual assault, finds the way this administration has handled the Kavanaugh nomination to be egregious.”

Chris Weeks/Getty Images for Annenberg Foundation
Chase Strangio

Lawyer and trans activist Chase Strangio echoed many of McBride’s thoughts about the current front-of-mind issues for LGBTQ voters, and underscored the need to concentrate on Republican efforts to undermine criminal justice reform—and also races that could flip the makeup of state legislative bodies.

“[At the state level] is where we see a lot of anti-LGBTQ legislation, particularly anti-trans legislation,” he said. “On the substantive issues, I am following not just a candidate’s stated position on LGBTQ issues but also on the criminal legal system and mass incarceration, on voter identification laws and other voter suppression tactics, on reproductive justice issues and health care more broadly since these are all issues that impact our communities.”

Flipping congress would also certainly have a huge impact on LGBTQ people, not just in terms of moving and blocking legislation but also in terms of the federal judiciary. “As we saw with Kavanaugh,” Strangio noted.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Apart from big picture issues, there are also a number of races with particular historic significance for LGBTQ people this election cycle. The reelection of leaders like Tammy Baldwin and the election of candidates like openly bisexual candidate Kyrsten Sinema obviously hold immense significance. But many eyes are also focused on the potential election of Christine Hallquist as governor of Vermont—a victory that would make her the first openly transgender governor in United States History. LGBTQ candidates are also running for governor in Texas, Colorado, and Oregon—collectively representing every letter in the “LGBT” acronym.

“There are only 570 openly LGBTQ elected officials in the entire United States at any level of government,” Sean Meloy, Political Director at Victory Fund, tells NewNowNext. “That’s 0.1% of all elected offices in the United States. So, to have a baseline level of parity in government we would need to have another 22,800 offices elected. And that’s obviously just any office. Some of the more key races of this year, they start to march us toward that parity.”

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin

While the number of significant races and LGBTQ candidates are expansive, the key to moving America forward when it comes to LGBTQ rights and protections comes down to the election of pro-equality legislators from the top to the bottom of the ballot. This is particularly true in states that are currently lacking non-discrimination protections for queer people.

“I know it’s easy to lose sight of how far we’ve come – it’s easy to be consumed by the challenges we face,” McBride tells NewNowNext. “But I think that the moment we disengage, the moment we say none of this matters or that there’s nothing we can do is the moment—definitively—that’s the moment the forces of hate win.”

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Click the graphic above to learn about LGBTQ candidates running for office nationwide.

James Michael Nichols is a writer, storyteller and the former editor of HuffPost Queer Voices.
@jmn