The number of LGBTQ elected officials grew by nearly 6 percent last year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which trains and advocates for queer candidates and political office. Since 2017, when the organization began releasing data, the number has nearly doubled, from 448 LGBTQ elected officials that year to 1,043 in 2022, the group’s annual Out in America party. report Found.
Even with the dramatic increase in representation, LGBTQ elected officials make up just 0.2 percent of all elected officials in the US, the report found, while lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people make up an estimate 7.1% of the US population. To achieve equal representation, voters would need to elect 35,854 more LGBTQ people, including 27 to Congress, according to the Victory Institute.
“While the LGBTQ community has never had equal representation in government, and we still have a long way to go, there are clear signs of progress,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute and former mayor of Houston. , he said in a statement. “They represent the strength and diversity not only of who we are as a society now, but also of the America we aspire to build for generations to come.”
The upcoming election season could mean more historic firsts in Congress and in the states, where anti-LGBTQ legislation has gained traction in many states, but the uncertain outlook for the Democratic Party, to which most LGBTQ candidates belong, could also hurt their possibilities.
Big wins for people of color and the trans community
A notable increase in representation, according to the report, was among LGBTQ officials of color, whose numbers increased by 12.3% from June 2021 to this June, compared to 1.3 % of white elected officials. Since 2017, elected officials of color have increased by 238 percent, but they still remain underrepresented compared to white officials, whose representation has increased by 102 percent over the same time period.
Lancaster City Council President Izzy Smith-Wade-El runs for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He said he hopes to bring the “voices of black people and queer people to the Pennsylvania legislature.”
If elected in November, Smith-Wade-El would be Pennsylvania’s first non-binary state legislator and the first black person to represent Lancaster County in the state House.
Elected officials like Smith-Wade-El who identify as something other than cisgender, including transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming, have increased tenfold since 2017, according to the Victory Institute LGBTQ.
“The rigid categories that we’ve created around gender don’t work for me, and they don’t work for many of my constituents, but they identify with it,” Smith-Wade-El said. “The application of these rigid categories is part of what makes our society weaker, not stronger.”
Transgender elected officials are up nearly 10 percent between 2021 and 2022, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute report.
“Part of it has to do with the success of the examples we’ve had in office,” Gabriele Magni, an assistant professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, told NBC News. He cited the example of Virginia delegate Danica Roem, who made history in 2018 by becoming the first transgender person to sit in a US state legislature. In May, Roem announced his candidacy for the Virginia state Senate.
“These candidates are capable of winning,” Magni said. “This is a signal to voters.”
Leigh Finke, who is running for a seat in the Minnesota House, could follow in Roem’s footsteps this fall. If elected, Finke would be the first trans person to come out to the Minnesota legislature.
Finke said she made the decision to run in part because of the lack of transgender representation in government and the “coordinated attack” against trans people in state legislatures.
State lawmakers have introduced more than 340 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group. Many of these bills specifically target transgender people, limiting their ability to play sports, use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, and receive gender-affirming health care.
“I know how you can demonize queer people,” she said. “It’s absolutely necessary for someone to be in the room.”
The presence of LGBTQ elected officials can make it less likely that these bills will be introduced and passed, according to Magni.
“LGBTQ candidates for office have a significant impact on the LGBTQ-related laws and policies that are passed,” he said.
For example, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., one of two openly LGBTQ people in the Senate, reached out to Republicans for support for the Law respecting marriage, which would codify same-sex marriage rights. The bill passed the House but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate, where at least five Republicans said they were confident or willing to buck their party and vote for the measure.
The Victory Institute’s Parker said that in the current political environment, citing proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation and censorship efforts in schools and libraries across the country, LGBTQ elected officials “are on the front lines of defense of our rights and freedoms”.
Even with the big jumps in the number of LGBTQ elected officials, LGBTQ people remain underrepresented.
“We’re catching up very, very slowly,” Magni said. “There are huge percentage increases, because the numbers we’re starting from are very low.”
Currently, there are only nine LGBTQ members in the House and two in the Senate, all Democrats.
“We are underrepresented,” said Robert Garcia, mayor of Long Beach, California. “We need to choose people from diverse communities. We have a richer conversation when we have different perspectives at the table.”
Garcia is running to represent California’s 42nd congressional district. If elected, he will be the first LGBTQ Latino elected to Congress from California and the first LGBTQ immigrant elected to Congress.
“The goal of being first is not to be last,” Garcia said. “Being first is great, but what’s more important is delivering results to the community.”
The number of LGBTQ women elected to public office continues to rise, from 183 in 2017 to 419 in 2022, a gain of nearly 230 percent, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute. However, all women, regardless of LGBTQ status, remain underrepresented. This is especially true in Congress, where there has been a record increase in women’s representation in recent elections it only resulted in about a quarter of the seats being taken by women.
“Congress right now doesn’t look like or represent America as a whole, and that’s a real problem,” Vermont state representative Becca Balint, a Democrat, told NBC News.
Balint, the first woman and first gay person to come out as president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, is running for Congress and, if elected, would be the first LGBTQ person to come out and the first woman elected to Congress from Vermont.
Although Balint is heavily favored to win in November, election forecasters are predicting a tough election season for Democrats overall, which could slow the upward trend in LGBTQ representation.
“Over 95% of LGBTQ candidates are running as Democrats,” Magni said. “If voters don’t support the party these candidates are running for, they will certainly pay a price.”
At the same time, LGBTQ candidates may be able to weather the storm, Magni added.
“LGBTQ candidates tend to be extremely qualified,” she said, noting that queer candidates face additional barriers when choosing to run for office and are often deeply embedded in their communities. “There is a possibility that they can balance the negative electoral environment.”
Finke, who easily won her race in the Democratic primary last week, said she is well-qualified and well-positioned to advocate for her constituents and the trans community once in office.
“Choosing trans people is not doing something kind,” the Minnesotan said. “We are embedded in the world. We deserve an equal voice.”