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‘Urgency to run’: LGBTQ candidates make history in US midterms

At least 678 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) candidates will appear on the ballot in the United States during the upcoming midterm elections, a historic figure that comes as advocates say a spate of state legislation has attacked the gay and transgender rights. .

The candidates who ran in the November general election were among a total of 1,065 publicly LGBTQ people who cast elections 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 lawmakers.

Victory Fund President Annise Parker said the number of LGBTQ candidates in the general election, an 18.1% increase from the 2020 election, creates an opportunity to “elect more LGBTQ people to the charge than ever.”

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“Fans want us to stay home and keep quiet, but their attacks are failing and have instead motivated a new wave of LGBTQ leaders to run for office,” he said in a statement. “Staying on the sidelines is not an option when our rights are on the chopping block.”

Across the country, many LGBTQ candidates have been spurred on by a recent spate of bills seen as anti-LGBTQ, with transgender rights particularly “exploited in recent years as a key issue being used to mobilize voters. in the most conservative base of the Republican Party. , according to Gabriele Magni, an assistant professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

“When we ask LGBTQ candidates why they are running for office, many say they feel an urgency to run to protect LGBTQ rights,” Magni told Al Jazeera.

Massachusetts Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey [File: Mary Schwalm/The Associated Press]

“They know they need to be in charge at all levels, including school boards, to make decisions about children and the potential loss of trans youth rights,” Magni said.

Featured candidates include Democrats Maura Healey and Tina Kotek, who are running for governor of Massachusetts and Oregon, respectively, and could be the first lesbian female governors in US history.

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Becca Belint will also be the first LGBTQ person and the first woman to hold Vermont’s only congressional seat, while North Carolina, Oregon, Maryland and Illinois are among the states that could elect their first LGBTQ candidates to Congress.

In California, former Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who immigrated to the US from Peru as a child, is running to be the first LGBTQ immigrant elected to Congress in history. In Alaska, Andrew Gray is running to be the state’s first LGBTQ state legislator.

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In all, at least 119 LGBTQ candidates ran for Congress during the midterm season, with 416 running for state legislatures, 41 running for state office and 412 running for local publications and school boards, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

Robert Garcia is running to become the first LGBTQ immigrant in the US Congress. [Ashley Landis/The Associated Press]

In another political first in the country, two openly gay men in New York, Democrat Robert Zimmerman and Republican George Santos, are vying for a vacant seat in the US House of Representatives. Nearly 90 percent of all LGBTQ candidates in the midseason ran as Democrats and about 4.5 percent of LGBTQ candidates ran as Republicans, according to the Victory Fund.

In interviews 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 is unrelated to issues Americans care about, including economy and crime.

“It’s great to see that the opportunities are equal for everyone in this country,” Santos told the news site, adding, “I think it’s a distraction, really about the real issues that affect our country right now. I’d rather talk about those things all day than talk about my sexual preference.”

Still, the surge in candidates came amid a surge in recent years in state legislation overwhelmingly backed by Republicans that advocates say restricts LGBTQ rights.

That included 238 bills introduced 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 represented a massive increase from 2018 when only 41 bills were introduced. According to the analysis, at least 191 bills were introduced in all of 2021.

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As of August, about 180 bills introduced in 2022 have targeted the transgender community, according to advocacy group GLAAD. Those bills typically seek to restrict youth gender-affirming health care, which the American Academy of Pediatrics calls “medically necessary and appropriate” and, in some cases, “life-saving.” Other legislation sought to ban transgender youth from playing on sports teams of the gender with which they identify.

Other legislation included Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” law, which has prohibited 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 “erases young LGBTQ students” and opposes research showing open discussions of LGBTQ issues lead to fewer suicide attempts. reported suicide.

The urgency has further increased amid fears that the Supreme Court’s strikedown of Roe v Wade, which struck down federal anti-abortion protections, could lead to rollbacks of federal gay rights protections. In his opinion in the case, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Obergefell v Hodges, which legalized gay marriage at the federal level, was among several cases that should be reviewed based on the reasoning used to overturn Roe.

The rulings, he wrote in the legally non-binding opinion, “were demonstrably wrong decisions.”

Florida 'don't say gay' bill
Protesters gather at the Florida State Capitol to protest the ‘don’t say gay’ law [File: Wilfredo Lee/The Associated Press]

Meanwhile, voters who identify as LGBTQ are expected to make up an even larger share of the electorate in the years to come, rising from just over 11.3% nationwide in 2022 to 14% in 2030 and then 18%. Estimated % by 2040, according to a study (PDF) published by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Bowling Green State University in Ohio in October.

The trend is even more pronounced in several influential states, including Georgia, Texas and Arizona.

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In another shift, the research showed that, in recent years, gay candidates have done as well as straight candidates in general elections, 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 long held that LGBTQ candidates would be penalized because moderate voters might not feel comfortable supporting these candidates.”

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