At least 678 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) candidates will appear on ballots across the United States during the upcoming midterm elections, a historic number that comes as advocates say a flood of state legislation has attacked gay and transgender rights. .
Candidates running in the November general election include a total of 1,065 LGBTQ people running for office in 2022, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
Voters will go to the polls on November 8 to decide the partisan makeup of the US House of Representatives and Senate, as well as state officials and legislators.
Victory Fund President Annise Parker said the number of LGBTQ candidates in the general election, which represents an 18.1 percent increase from the 2020 election, creates an opportunity to “elect more LGBTQ people to office than ever before.”
“Bigots want us to stay home and stay quiet, but their attacks are backfiring and instead motivating a new wave of LGBTQ leaders to run for office,” she said in a statement. “Sitting on the sidelines is not an option when our rights are on the chopping block.”
Across the country, many LGBTQ candidates have been motivated by the recent flood of bills considered anti-LGBTQ, with transgender rights especially “exploited in recent years as a wedge issue used to mobilize voters in the most conservative base of the Republican Party” , according to Gabriele Magni, assistant professor of science politics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
“When we asked LGBTQ candidates why they were running for office, many said they felt compelled to run to protect LGBTQ rights,” Magni told Al Jazeera.
“They know they have to be in office at every level, including the school board, to make decisions about children and potentially disenfranchise trans youth,” Magni said.
Notable candidates include Democrats Maura Healey and Tina Kotek, who are running for governor of Massachusetts and Oregon, respectively, and could become the first lesbian state governor in US history.
Becca Belint is also set to become the first LGBTQ person, and the first woman, to occupy Vermont’s only Congressional seat, while North Carolina, Oregon, Maryland and Illinois are among the states that can elect their first LGBTQ candidates to Congress.
In California, former Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who immigrated to the United States from Peru as a child, is running to become the first LGTBQ immigrant elected to Congress in history. In Alaska, Andrew Gray is running to become the country’s first LGBTQ state legislator.
All told, at least 119 LGBTQ candidates ran for Congress during the midterm season, 416 ran for state legislatures, 41 ran for statewide offices, and 412 ran for local posts and school boards, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
In another political first in the country, two openly gay men in New York – Democrat Robert Zimmerman and Republican George Santos – are vying for open seats in the US House. Nearly 90 percent of all LGBTQ candidates in the midterm season are running as Democrats and about 4.5 percent of LGBTQ candidates are running as Republicans, according to the Victory Fund.
In an interview with the Washington Blade in September, Zimmerman said his experience as a gay man in the US shaped his political ideology, while Santos said his sexual orientation has no bearing on issues Americans care about, including the economy and crime.
“It’s good to see the same opportunities as everyone in this country,” Santos told the news site, adding: “I think it’s a distraction, it’s really about the real problems that are bothering our country today. I’d rather talk about it all day than talk about it my sexual preferences.
We are less than ONE week away from Election Day. We need the LGBTQ community and our allies to show up to the polls and #VoteWithPride! A lot is at stake for our community during this election, and we can make a difference if we use our power together. https://t.co/ftGWlWBAP5
– Sarah Kate Ellis (@sarahkateellis) November 2, 2022
Still, the uptick in candidates comes amid a surge in recent years in overwhelmingly Republican-backed state legislation that advocates have restricted LGBTQ rights.
That includes 238 bills proposed by state lawmakers in the first three months of 2022, according to an NBC News analysis of data maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Freedom for All Americans. The number represents a large increase from 2018 when only 41 bills were introduced. At least 191 bills were introduced in all of 2021, according to the analysis.
As of August, about 180 bills introduced in 2022 have targeted the transgender community, according to the advocacy group GLAAD. The bill mostly seeks to limit gender-affirming youth health care, which the American Academy of Pediatrics calls “medically necessary and appropriate” and, in some cases, “life-saving.” Other legislation seeks to prohibit transgender youth from playing in sports teams of the gender they identify with.
Jay and I got married on this day in 2015 thanks to #SCOTUS #obergefellvhodges. Due to the AK 1998 amendment, if Obergefell falls, our marriage will be abolished. The concern is not academic. Clarence Thomas wants to re-examine Obergefell. Lottery. #AKpilih #AKleg pic.twitter.com/HSGEcSXI2H
– Andrew Timothy Gray (@AndrewGrayAK) November 3, 2022
Other legislation includes Florida’s so-called “don’t talk gay” law, which prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Four other states have passed similar laws, which the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention organization, has said “disarms young LGBTQ students” and conducted research showing open discussion of LGBTQ issues led to reported suicide attempts.
Urgency has increased amid fears the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade, which stripped federal abortion protections, could lead to a rollback in federal gay rights protections. In his opinion in that case, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Obergefell v. Hodges, which federally legalized gay marriage, was among several cases that should be revisited based on the reasons used to overturn Roe.
The decision, he wrote in a non-legally binding opinion, “was the wrong decision.”
Meanwhile, voters who identify as LGBTQ are expected to make up a larger proportion of the electorate in the coming years, rising from just over 11.3 percent nationwide in 2022 to 14 percent in 2030 and then an estimated 18 percent by 2040, according to a study (PDF) released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Bowling Green State University in Ohio in October.
This trend is more pronounced in some influential states, including Georgia, Texas and Arizona.
In another shift, research showed that, in recent years, gay candidates have fared as well as straight candidates in the general election, while lesbian candidates have outperformed straight candidates, according to Magni.
“I think this is a big change,” he told Al Jazeera. “Because conventional wisdom has been protecting LGBTQ candidates for a long time, they will be penalized because maybe moderate voters will not feel comfortable supporting this candidate.”