Above: Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
The 2019 Rainbow Wave is already here.
A new report from the LGBTQ Victory Fund shows the number of out elected officials has increased by nearly a quarter over the past year. According to the political advocacy organization, there are now 698 queer and trans politicians serving in office in the United States. That represents a striking 24.8% increase in the last 12 months.
LGBTQ politicians increased their representation across the spectrum. For instance, the number of out bisexual officials skyrocketed by a 126% margin, while the share of out trans politicians shot up by 53.8%.
Meanwhile, there are 36% more LGBTQ people of color serving in public office today than there were this time last year.
These findings are included in a new report from the Victory Fund released on Monday, entitled “2019 Out for America.” Annise Parker, CEO and president of the Victory Fund, believes the results are a “call to action for our community.”
“LGBTQ candidates face obstacles and inequities that many who run for office do not face, yet voters are ready to elect us if we run,” Parker claims in a statement shared with NewNowNext. “It is our responsibility to encourage leaders in our community to run for office and be our voice in the halls of power.”
This sharp uptick in representation is part of what many called the “Rainbow Wave.” In 2018, a historic number of LGBTQ candidates were elected to office, including America’s first openly gay governor, Jared Polis of Colorado.
After candidates like Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), Angie Craig (D-Minnesota), and Katie Hill (D-California) won their races, it brought the total number of out Congresspeople up to 10. Arizona’s Krysten Sinema, already the first out bisexual woman in the U.S. House, was elected to the Senate. Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, the first openly LGBTQ Senator, won a tough reelection campaign.
In total, more than 160 of the candidates endorsed by the Victory Fund won their races in 2018. Not every LGBTQ hopeful was backed by the organization, however, which puts candidates through a rigorous vetting process before issuing its stamp of approval.
“Our endorsement isn’t exactly easy to get,” Sean Meloy, political director at both the Victory Fund and its C3, the Victory Institute, tells NewNowNext. “It asks a lot of questions about their campaign plan, their numbers, how they plan to win, what kinds of fundraising they’re doing, and what’s in their budget.”
The Victory Fund claims its endorsement works. Of the candidates the organization endorsed in 2018, more than half—54%—went on to win their races. Meanwhile, just 2% of LGBTQ candidates who weren’t endorsed by the Victory Fund were elected to office.
The LGBTQ nonprofit is prepared to repeat that success in 2019. So far this year, three out women have already been elected mayor: Lori Lightfoot in Chicago; Satya Rhodes-Conway in Madison, Wisconsin; and Jane Castor in Tampa, Florida. Lightfoot’s election made her just the second black lesbian to serve as mayor of a U.S. city, following E. Denise Simmons of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2008.
Parker believes these victories are critical. While openly gay Pete Buttgieg’s historic presidential candidacy has garnered much attention, she says mayors have a profound impact on the everyday lives of the community they serve.
“Mayors make laws,” Parker tells NewNowNext. “They are responsible for how police officers are trained and how EMTs respond to a trans person in an emergency. They have a direct impact on things like nondiscrimination ordinances and hiring policies of the city.”
Parker is perhaps slightly biased in this assessment. In November 2009, she defeated challenger Gene Locke in a runoff election to replace incumbent Houston Mayor Bill White, who was term-limited from seeking reelection. At the time, her seven-point victory made the Texas city the largest to tap an openly LGBTQ executive. After Lightfoot’s win, Chicago now claims that benchmark.
As a longtime LGBTQ activist, Parker (pictured below) says she wouldn’t have believed 40 years ago that stories like hers were possible.
“I threw my first LGBTQ organizing event in 1975,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time. If you’d asked me back then whether we’d have same-sex marriage or openly LGBTQ members of Congress, I would have said, ‘Of course not, can’t happen.’”
While LGBTQ politicians have made significant gains in the four decades since Kathy Kozachenko, a city councillor in Ann Arbor, Michigan, became America’s first out elected official, advocacy groups still have a lot of work to do. While openly LGBTQ candidates ran in every state in the U.S. last year, four states have still never had a queer or transgender person serve in office: Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
And, according to the Victory Fund’s recent report, the community is a long way from boasting equal representation in local, state, and federal government. Although Gallup estimates that LGBTQ people make up 4.5% of the general population in the U.S., less than 1% of elected officials are openly queer or trans.
To achieve parity, the Victory Fund says that America must elect 22,688 more openly LGBTQ representatives to office.
#PridePartner Since 1991, @VictoryFund has carried on Stonewall’s legacy by electing hundreds of LGBTQ candidates to office. We’ve come a long way in 50 years, but LGBTQ people still hold just 0.1% of all offices nationwide. Considering a run? Visit: https://t.co/qLxEhrdcjq pic.twitter.com/fU72uYf8B3
— New York City Pride (@NYCPride) May 26, 2019
According to Meloy, the organization hopes to continue gaining ground in 2019. Last year, the Victory Fund endorsed 274 candidates, which marked an organizational record. He says it has already rubber-stamped 97 candidates in this year’s races and expects to top 100 endorsements by the time ballots are cast.
The group is already off to a good start, too. In May, Nebraska’s James Michael Bowers won a seat on the Lincoln City Council by a margin of more than five points. A month later, Brian Knudsen was elected to the Las Vegas City Council.
Both of these men—each backed by the Victory Fund—were the first openly LGBTQ members of their respective bodies.
But there’s a reason that the Victory Fund’s motto is “Making Historic Firsts History.” As advocacy groups work to claim equal representation in the halls of Congress and state houses across the U.S., Parker looks forward to the day when there are no longer any glass ceilings left for LGBTQ politicians to shatter.
“If you don’t run, you don’t win,” she says. “We can win anywhere in any kind of race if we have the candidates.”