You Can Now Register to Vote at 50 Pride Events Across the U.S.

NextGen's "Take Pride in Your Vote” effort is targeted at 10 battleground states.

This year the vote isn’t just getting turned out. It’s getting turnt up.

Throughout the summer, volunteers with NextGen America, a nationwide youth voter registration campaign, will be signing up people to vote at 50 LGBTQ Pride events across the United States. The “Take Pride in Your Vote” effort is targeted at 10 battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Last year, NextGen claims it successfully signed up 257,000 young people to vote in the midterm elections.

But according to NextGen Youth Vote Director Ben Wessel, the campaign grew out of its organizing in this April’s Supreme Court elections in Wisconsin. The nonprofit reached out to local gay bars and encouraged them to urge patrons to vote by posting about the elections on their social media accounts.

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“These are the places where we gather,” Wessel tells NewNowNext. “You don’t have to be on some political blog in order to care about the election. One of the things we have to do as an organization is inject politics into every social space where people are gathering. Sometimes that’s a bar, and that’s totally okay. In fact, I’m going to trust the people who go to the bar that I go to more than some advertisement that I see on TV.”

NextGen’s advocacy in Wisconsin was ultimately unsuccessful: Anti-LGBTQ candidate Brian Hagedorn defeated progressive challenger Lisa Neubauer, giving conservatives a 5-2 majority on the court until 2023. Hagedorn opposes the Supreme Court’s decision decriminalizing sodomy and has compared homosexuality to bestiality.

However, the contest was a close race, one decided by less than 6,000 votes. NextGen hopes they can close that gap in 2020, as well as during the 2019 special elections.

“There really is no such thing as an off-year in politics,” Olivia Bercow, communications director in the Rising Program at NextGen, tells NewNowNext. “There are a bunch of states facing legislative elections this year. It could determine whether those states pass an abortion ban or they don’t.”

“One of the things that is a sad truth is that LGBTQ rights are at stake in nearly every election at this point,” Wessel adds.

One state they will be heavily focused on is North Carolina, where Republican Dan Bishop will be on the ballot for the 9th Congressional District for the U.S. House. Bishop, a state senator who bested nine other GOP hopefuls in the May primary to replace Mark Harris on the ballot, was the author of North Carolina’s infamous anti-trans bathroom bill.

As Bishop prepares to face off against Democrat Dan McCready in November, NextGen will be canvassing voters at nine Pride events in six North Carolina cities: Carrboro, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Outer Banks.

In doing so, their team hopes to apply the same tactic that worked so well in Wisconsin: mobilizing LGBTQ people to engage members of their community.

“We found that far more effective than any sort of mailer or digital ad was having a trusted validator speak about the reasons [LGBTQ voters] might want to get involved,” Wessel says. “Now we’re just taking that and democratizing it—letting any volunteer act as an influencer for their own community.”

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There are a number of reasons LGBTQ young people are key to NextGen’s “get out the vote” efforts. A survey conducted by Gallup in 2018 shows that millennials, who already make up the largest bloc of U.S. voters, are also part of the “queerest generation.” More than 8% of individuals born between the years of 1980 and 1999 identify as a member of the LGBTQ community.

In addition, Wessel says that LGBTQ individuals they approach at Pride events are more likely than cisgender and heterosexual people to reach out to friends and family members and get them signed up to vote.

“That’s why our volunteer base is so built up of queer young people,” he says. “It feels personal to them.”

If the LGBTQ movement has long argued that the “personal is political,” NextGen hopes its Pride campaign illustrates the political can also be a space for joy. One of Wessel’s favorite moments as an organizer was seeing an 18-year-old volunteer canvass at Wilton Manors Pride in Florida while wearing drag for the first time.

“It was a seminal experience for him in his life, and having these big beary men just lining up to register to vote with this first-time queen just filled my heart with joy,” Wessel claims. “It’s a part of politics that doesn’t feel so doom and gloom, and instead it feels like a celebration. When all electoral work feels like a celebration, that’s when we’ll win all the elections.”

You can learn more about NextGen America’s voter registration efforts on its website. You can also register to vote or check your registration status at USA.gov.

Nico Lang is an award-winning journalist and editor. His work has been featured in INTO, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Esquire, and the L.A. Times.
@Nico_Lang