Queering the Midterms2018’s Barrier-Breaking LGBTQ Candidates

Susan Ruiz, Jared Polis, and Sharice Davids (Facebook/Susan Ruiz for Kansas, Jeffrey Beall/Flickr/2.0, and the Sharice Davids’ Campaign)

The 2018 midterm elections were historic for several reasons, including a record number of progressive women being elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley will be Massachusetts’ first Black congresswoman. And 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. An unprecedented number of LGBTQ candidates also ran in the midterms—and won. While Democrats’ failed to regain the Senate, this certainly feels like a rainbow wave.

Tomorrow, I’ll begrudgingly return to my usual state of political anxiety, but today, I’m celebrating the LGBTQ candidates that broke barriers.

Jared Polis, the First Openly Gay Male Governor

Jared Polis (Jeffrey Beall/Flickr/2.0)

In a statement released the night of the election, Human Rights Campaign’s President Chad Griffin praised Polis for rejecting “the Trump-Pence administration’s politics of bigotry and fear.” Colorado’s new governor-elect has fought to advance LGBTQ rights in the state for nearly a decade. He was instrumental in launching the LGBTQ Equality Caucus in 2008 and the Congressional Transgender Equality Task Force in 2015. It’s also worth noting that Polis has received a perfect score on every HRC Congressional Scorecard—a tool used to measure candidates’ support for LGBTQ equality—since he took office in 2008.

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Sharice Davids, the First Lesbian Woman Elected to Congress from Kansas

Sharice Davids (Sharice Davids/Flickr/2.0)

Sharice Davids’s victory is historic for many reasons: Not only is she Kansas’ first LGBTQ congressperson, but as a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, she joined New Mexico’s Deb Haaland as the first Native American woman elected to Congress. Davids’s election comes on the heels of a Kansas law allowing religious adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ parents while still receiving state funding. Davis Hammett, a Topeka-based queer-rights activist, said that Davids will ensure that LGBTQ Kansans are “finally going to have a seat at the table.” He continued: “Having figures like Sharice Davids literally saves lives.”

Chris Pappas, New Hampshire’s First Openly Gay Congressperson

Chris Pappas visits North Conway, New Hampshire on August 17, 2018 (Jamie Gemmiti)

While not easily quantifiable, many political commentators are attributing Chris Pappas’s win to his promise to confront and challenge Trump. “The America we know is more kind, tolerant, and more decent than the America that Donald Trump is seeking to create,” Pappas said. While he downplayed the significance of his sexual orientation on the campaign trail, Pappas has made LGBTQ healthcare a key component of his political platform by advocating for Planned Parenthood and Equality Health Center. In 2017, he secured funding for these organizations to provide counseling and STI testing. However, he believes that much more work needs to be done, and pledged to pass legislation to protect against LGBTQ discrimination, ban conversion therapy, and stop the Trump administration’s denial of visas for same-sex partners of diplomats.

Lisa Bunker and Gerri Cannon, the first openly trans people elected to New Hampshire’s State Legislature

From left to right: Lisa Bunker and Gerri Cannon (Peter Biello and Deb Cram/Fosters.com)

While the Trump administration continuously attacks the transgender community, a record number of trans candidates ran for office. On November 6, Lisa Bunker and Gerri Cannon joined Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem as the first openly trans candidates elected to a state legislature. Prior to her campaign, Bunker was an activist and author, and she cites the 2016 presidential election as the catalyst for running. Cannon has fought for the rights of trans and marginalized people as an independent lobbyist since 2008. She’s dedicated her life to improving safety for the trans community in New Hampshire and has fought against LGBTQ workplace discrimination.

Angie Craig, the first openly lesbian women elected to Congress from Minnesota

Angie Craig (Photo courtesy of Angie Craig)

Angie Craig’s victory is likely a sigh of relief for many LGBTQ Minnesotans. Craig’s Republican opponent Jason Lewis, who narrowly defeated her when she ran against him in 2016, opposes same-sex marriage. In 2013, Lewis compared gay people to “rapists” and “criminals” on his radio show, the Jason Lewis Show. (Why do these homophobic dudes always have radio shows?) He’s also said that he’s “not convinced” that it’s a “great idea” for queer couples to have children because it could be harmful. Craig fought for years to adopt her son, and her landmark case helped set precedent for other LGBTQ couples trying to adopt. She was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, and described as “a proven champion of equality.”

Malcolm Kenyatta, the first gay Black man elected to Pennsylvania’s state legislature

Malcolm Kenyatta (Photo courtesy of the Malcolm Kenyatta Campaign)

Though Kenyatta is not the first LGBTQ person elected to Pennsylvania state legislature—that distinction belongs to Brian Sims, who was just re-elected—he’s the first gay person of color elected to the state legislator. Their victories are particularly significant because it’s the first time two openly gay lawmakers will sit in the state’s House of Representatives. Frustrated by the support of hate groups and bigotry by many members within his Pennsylvania community, Kenyatta aims to pass expansive anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ and marginalized people and increase penalties for hate crimes.

Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard, Kansas’ First LGBTQ State Legislators

Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard (Facebook/Susan Ruiz for Kansas and Imgur)

In support of Ruiz and Woodard’s respective election wins, Matt McDermott, a board member for the pro-LGBTQ group Victory Fund Campaign tweeted, “Before this year Kansas has NEVER had an LGBT member of the state legislature.” Ruiz and Woodard changed that. While there’s limited information about either candidate online, Ruiz previously served vulnerable populations as a social worker and vows to stand up to rightwing extremism. Woodard plans to implement a statewide nondiscrimination act to protect the Kansas LGBTQ community from job, housing, and business discrimination and bullying.

Honorable Mentions

  • We have to mention the passing of Massachusetts Question 3, which upheld Senate Bill 2407. 2407 prohibits discrimination against trans people in public spaces, such as stores, schools, and bathrooms. It overwhelmingly passed with 67.2 percent of the electorate voting to protect trans individuals.
     
  • You may remember Kim Davis as the Kentucky county clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign marriage licenses for gay couples. Davis, a.k.a. the Literal Worst, just lost her bid for re-election to Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr. We don’t necessarily support Caudill, who’d been ironically accused of being homophobic toward a gay man who was denied a marriage license by Davis. However, Caudill promises that he won’t discriminate against gay couples seeking marriage licenses.
     
  • Bisexual candidate Katie Hill defeated her incumbent opponent Steve Knight, flipping California’s historically red 25th district. Homophobia runs deeply in Knight’s family. His late father, Senator Pete Knight, created the infamous California ban on same-sex marriage in 2000. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree for Steve, who pushed a provision allowing federal agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Go, Katie!

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