LGBTQ candidates poised to make history

Clockwise from top left: Robert Garcia, Maura Healey, Eric Sorensen, Celia Israel, Erick Russell, and Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

Representation is power, especially in politics. So says the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the national organization which works to increase the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels.

Victory Fund told PGN that an unprecedented number of LGBTQ people are running in the midterm elections for a wide range of positions. Among those are some high profile candidates who would make history nationally if they were to be elected.

More than 600 LGBTQ candidates will be on the ballot Nov. 8, an increase from 432 candidates during the last midterm elections in 2018. Victory Fund has now endorsed 464 candidates running in the 2022 midterms, the most in the organization’s 31-year history.

Among the high-profile candidacies are two lesbians running for governor:  Maura Healey in Massachusetts and Tina Kotek in Oregon. If elected, they would become the first out lesbian governors in the U.S.

Healey and Kotek have already made history. In 2014 Healey became the first out lesbian attorney general and in 2013 Kotek became the country’s first out lesbian speaker of a state house of representatives. 

Healy is expected to win against former state GOP representative Geoff Diehl, a Trump endorsee. Kotek, a progressive Democrat, has a tougher race with two opponents: Republican Christine Drazan, the former minority leader of the Oregon House and Betsy Johnson, a former centrist Democratic legislator who changed to independent third-party status to run in the gubernatorial. 

Johnson is siphoning votes from Kotek, who is a well-known progressive, while Drazan has strong ties to the logging industry in the state. Kotek has also faced GOP anti-gay talking points from Drazan’s campaign. If Drazan wins, she will be Oregon’s first GOP governor in 26 years.

Becca Balint is a Democrat running for Vermont’s single at-large U.S. Congressional seat. If elected, Balint would be the first woman and first out LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Vermont. In 2020, Balint became the first woman and first openly LGBTQ person to serve as the Vermont Senate president. Vermont is the only U.S. state to have never had a woman in Congress.

Robert Garcia is running for the U.S. House from California’s 42nd Congressional District. If elected, Garcia would be the first LGBTQ immigrant elected to Congress. In 2014, Garcia became the first LGBTQ and first Latinx person to be elected mayor of Long Beach, California, a position he still holds.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, from Oregon’s 5th congressional district, is also running for a House seat. If elected, she’d be the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Oregon. Like other high-profile progressive Democrats in recent years, including Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, McLeod-Skinner defeated a long-term Democratic incumbent, Rep. Kurt Schrader, in the primary. Schrader, a centrist, had also called the impeachment against Donald Trump “a lynching.”

Annise Parker, president of the Victory Fund, said in a statement following McLeod-Skinner’s primary win, “For far too long, Oregon’s LGBTQ community has not had a voice in Congress.” 

Parker said, “With anti-LGBTQ attacks spreading like wildfire and lawmakers in Congress bent on outlawing abortion and reproductive health care, her election could not come at a more critical moment in our nation’s history.”

Eric Sorensen is running for the House seat from Illinois’ 17th Congressional District. If elected, Sorensen would be the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Illinois. Sorensen spent 22 years as a meteorologist in Illinois, and his campaign notes how crucial his knowledge and voice would be as the climate crisis remains an increasingly integral issue for Democrats.

The House race in New York’s 3rd Congressional District is itself historic. For the first time in U.S. political history, two openly gay candidates are competing for a congressional seat that could be a game-changer in the House when Democrats are trying to maintain their narrow advantage.

Robert Zimmerman, a communications executive and Democrat, and George Santos, a Wall Street investor and Republican, are battling for an open seat in the district covering Long Island’s Oyster Bay, Glen Cove, North Hempstead and part of northeastern Queens. The seat opened when Democratic incumbent Rep. Tom Suozzi declined to seek reelection and ran for governor. Whoever is elected would be the first out gay House member from that district.

No matter who wins the election, the race adds one more gay vote to the House. But as Cesar Toledo, Political Director for the Victory Fund, which has endorsed Zimmerman, told PGN, Santos’s candidacy is problematic for LGBTQ people. 

Toledo said, “Santos said abortion is barbaric. He praised [Florida governor] Ron DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which is antithetical to our freedom.  He’s an election denier who bragged about supporting insurrectionists.” 

Toledo said, “So much is at stake this November. We need Zimmerman, who values our community, equality and choice. The future of marriage equality hangs in the balance.” 

Erick Russell, an attorney in New Haven, is running for Connecticut Treasurer. If elected, Russell would be the first Black LGBTQ statewide elected official in the U.S.

Celia Israel is running for mayor of Austin, Texas, and if elected she would be the first LGBTQ mayor of Austin and the first Latina mayor of a major U.S. city. Israel currently represents District 50 in the Texas House of Representatives. During her eight years as a state representative, Israel helped found the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus.

Toledo noted that 2022 highlights strong LGBTQ candidates — “Diverse, intersectional candidacies that includes people of all walks of life who have stepped up to run.” 

And while Toledo said the record number of candidates running for office is exciting and promising, “We still have a long way to go. We are seven percent of the population” and it would take thousands more LGBTQ candidates being elected to give LGBTQ people full representation throughout all levels of elected office and governance. 

Parker emphasized how crucial every race is in these midterms. In a statement, Parker said, “The stakes of this election could not be higher for the LGBTQ community and our allies, with anti-LGBTQ legislation and attacks on our right to privacy moving through legislatures across the country, including the U.S. Congress.” 

She said, “The good news is that with a Rainbow Wave of candidates running like never before, it is also clear the LGBTQ community’s political power is stronger than ever. We must do everything in our power to ensure these highly qualified LGBTQ candidates win on Election Day. This is a moment for action. We are fired up, we are motivated and we are unified.”

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