A Big Year for LGBTQ+ Candidates
As we kick off Pride Month, it is worth reflecting on how much political progress the LGBTQ+ community has made—and how much work is ahead. LGBTQ+ candidates are surging in 2022.
When Tina Kotek won the Democratic primary for governor in Oregon last month, she opened the door to possibilities. Kotek was the first openly lesbian Speaker of the House in America before her gubernatorial run. If she wins in November, she will be the first openly lesbian governor in U.S. history. We are likely to see a lot of “firsts” in this year’s election.
As we kick off Pride Month, it is worth reflecting on how much political progress the LGBTQ+ community has made—and how much work is ahead.
Congress has more openly LGBTQ+ members than ever before, with 9 serving in the House and two in the Senate. But those numbers are still far from equal representation. At a time when the LGBTQ+ population in America is estimated at 7% to 8%, LGBTQ+ lawmakers make up only about 2% of the 535 voting members of Congress.
That percentage is likely to climb in this year’s election, which has seen a surge in LGBTQ+ candidates, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. The organization reported in February that 101 LGBTQ candidates launched congressional campaigns, a 16% increase over 2020, and that a majority are still active.
While not all those campaigns will be successful, the chances are good that the next Congress could see LGBTQ+ representation increase. As the organization put it, “More LGBTQ people are running for U.S. Congress in 2022 than in any other election cycle in U.S. history.”
Working for Equal Representation
The number of LGBTQ+ Americans is hard to pin down, because the U.S. Census does not track sexual orientation and gender identity in its dicennial survey. That means a precise number for what indicates equal representation is also elusive.
Because there are few official numbers, and not everyone wants to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity, the most accurate population estimates come from polls and research, and those numbers are evolving each year.
For example, Gallup polling released this year said that 7.1% of Americans self-identified as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something other than heterosexual,” up from 5.6% in 2020. A report by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation late last year put the number at 8%
Interestingly, The Gallup numbers show that younger Americans are far more likely to identify as LGBTQ+. Fully 21% of Generation Z adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to the poll. That’s double the percentage of Millennials and far more than older generations.
By those numbers, political representation is still extremely low. The LGBTQ Victory’s Fund’s Victory Institute reports that there are 1,037 openly LGBTQ+ people holding elected office at all levels of government nationwide. That includes 11 members of Congress, two governors, 57 mayors, 192 state lawmakers, 643 local office holders and 124 people serving in the judicial branch.
According to the Victory Fund, American voters will need to elect roughly 35,000 LGBTQ+ candidates in order to achieve equal representation. And so the work will continue, in this election and beyond.
What Your Program Can Do
Many organizations will support LGBTQ+ candidates in November’s election, which will decide which party controls Congress and serve as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential race. Others, particularly those who traditionally back Republicans or support conservative policies, may find that difficult because most LGBTQ+ candidates and officeholders are Democrats.
However, few organizations would stand against equal representation—it is a cornerstone of American democracy—and there is much that a thoughtful and strategic government affairs team can do to support the LGBTQ+ community without changing positions or partisan allegiance. Here are some ideas:
- Recognize Pride Month. Many organizations support Pride Month, including dozens of well-known brands. Some raise money for LGBTQ+ causes. Others release special products. Your organization can develop its own unique way to recognize Pride, whether that’s a simple statement of support, a campaign to raise money or sign a petition, or something totally new.
- Continue DEI Initiatives. Including LGBTQ+ voices on your team will ensure that the community is represented when you make decisions. Diversity, equity and inclusion go beyond race and ethnicity. Sexual orientation and gender identity are an important part of a diverse team.
- Stay Aware of LGBTQ+ Issues. One reason that the number of LGBTQ+ candidates is rising may be that discriminatory initiatives continue, particularly before state legislatures. The ACLU, which tracks these bills, found there are dozens of initiatives that would exclude transgender youth from sports and other school activities; prevent LGBTQ+ Americans from participating in healthcare plans, adopting children or serving as foster parents; and eliminate protections against discrimination. Every organization needs to understand how its policy positions impact the LGBTQ+ community.
- Support Your LGBTQ+ Candidates. Not every LGBTQ+ candidate is a Democrat. A report by the Williams Institute at UCLA in 2020 found that among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults registered to vote, 50% were Democrats, 22% were independents, 15% were Republicans and 13% identified with another party or had no affiliation. Every organization can attract LGBTQ+ supporters who share your views on policy.
Whatever your approach, factoring the LGBTQ+ community into your advocacy and GOTV efforts is important. Well-known brands have long known that the LGBTQ+ community represents an important market. That community, which has a strong history of activism, is becoming even more politically active, and those efforts will be one of the major storylines in this year’s election. 2022 could be a big year for LGBTQ+ candidates.