2018 has more LGBT candidates than ever
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sharice Davids, a leading Democrat in a key congressional primary election Tuesday, finished a White House fellowship in the early months of the Trump administration. As a lesbian and a Native American, she became convinced that hard-won progress on issues such as gay rights and the environment would erode under President Donald Trump and thought people in her district might support her as a counterforce to the president.
“We had to focus on getting more people elected to decisionmaking positions because that’s the way that we offset someone who wants to destroy the EPA being appointed to run the EPA,” she said, referring to Scott Pruitt, Trump’s now-departed agency administrator.
Davids is among more than 400 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender candidates running for office this year — a record number, according to groups that track such data. Most are Democrats, and several are mounting anti-Trump congressional bids with a message broader than gay rights. Davids says she talks mostly about issues such as health care and only had one exchange with a voter who questioned whether a gay person could win.
Around half these candidates are running for state offices, a priority for activists who say many of the most important civil rights battles are happening close to home. Last year, more than 120 bills described as “antiLGBT” were introduced across 30 states, including adoption laws and so-called bathroom bills, according to the Human Rights Campaign. By January, 12 of them had become law.
“We have seen a clear correlation between the presence of our legislators and passage of that legislation,” said Annise Parker, a former mayor of Houston and the CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, a bipartisan group that tracks and supports gay and transgender candidates.
Davids and other candidates are also pursuing a new kind of political strategy that treats sexuality, race and gender as campaign assets that intersect with their criticism of Trump, their warnings about lost progress on civil rights, and their policy ideas.
Like many racial minority or female hopefuls this year, many LGBT candidates are aiming to appeal to broader audiences than campaigns of the past, when gay candidates often ran in predominantly gay areas and tailored their pitches to those communities. Today, LGBT candidates might tout a law enforcement background to appeal to the political center or campaign with their spouses and children to underscore an interest in policy issues important to parents.
“I am sure there are going to be older people who are concerned about my being out or being a woman or being a prochoice candidate or something,” said Davids, who is running in a six-way primary. “But I wouldn’t be running if I thought that number was so high that it was unrealistic to be electable.”
The rising number of LGBT candidates comes at a time when the Trump administration has moved to roll back protections for gay and transgender people. Its actions have included an attempt to ban transgender people from serving in the military and a Justice Department decision to argue that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect gay workers.