First lesbian governors among history making LGBTQ candidates

Tina Kotek won her race to be the next governor of Oregon. (Photo: Tina Kotek / Twitter)

It was a history-making midterm election for Democrats and for LGBTQ candidates. While virulently anti-LGBTQ GOP governors Ron DeSantis (FL)  and Greg Abbott (TX) won re-election easily, LGBTQ candidates won elected office across the country, including the first two lesbians to be elected governor.

Maura Healey won her election and will become the first out lesbian governor and the first woman governor in Massachusetts. If Representation is power, as the LGBTQ Victory Fund says, then Healey’s win has expanded LGBTQ political power in the state and nationally. 

In Oregon, former Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek was elected as the country’s second out lesbian governor less than a day after Healey. After maintaining a consistent lead over Republican challenger Christine Drazan and after Independent candidate Betsy Johnson conceded, The Oregonian called the race for Kotek late Wednesday afternoon. The remaining votes would favor Kotek heavily in Oregon’s most populous county. 

Healey, who has served as Massachusetts Attorney General since 2014, trounced her Republican opponent, former state Rep. Geoff Diehl in a 63.3 to 35.1 win. Healy’s decisive win also flipped the governorship Democratic after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker declined to seek a third term.

Diehl was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and is an election denier. Healey said that being Attorney General and suing Donald Trump repeatedly was her favorite job ever. Healey had initiated or been signatory to dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration, including challenging his Muslim travel ban, protecting the Affordable Care Act, protecting immigrant rights, and suing the EPA for delaying or rolling back environmental regulations. 

“I’m proud of who I am,” Healey told Boston’s WBUR. “Kids need to understand and believe that they are loved, they are seen and that they can be whoever they are,” she said. “I’m going to do everything I can to protect the right to abortion and also to protect the rights of LGBTQ community members.”

Kotek is a progressive Democrat and the longest-serving House Speaker in Oregon history. She has promised proactive but compassionate policy for Oregon’s homeless crisis. “On day one, I will get people the help they need to move off the streets,” she said. 

Kotek promised to improve on the work of her Democratic predecessor, Gov. Kate Brown, who was herself the first out bisexual governor, but has been highly unpopular among Oregonians.

In Colorado, the nation’s first openly gay governor, Jared Polis, was re-elected, trouncing Republican Heidi Ganahl 57.6% to 40.3%. Ganahl had run on an anti-LGBTQ platform and had made news prior to the election with claims of litter boxes in schools, which GOP politicians nationally have insisted are to address students who are identifying as cats. In 2021, Polis became the first U.S. governor in a same-sex marriage.

In Michigan, Democratic attorney general and out lesbian Dana Nessel was re-elected, defeating GOP challenger Matthew DePerno. The AP called the race Wednesday morning. “For all the LGBTQ kids out there who were demonized and whose lives were weaponized by sad and broken adults during this election cycle: You are good enough. Your lives and stories matter. God loves you just as you are. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise,” Nessel wrote on Twitter.

Erick Russell won his bid to become Connecticut Treasurer. Russell makes history as the first Black LGBTQ statewide elected official in the U.S. Russell is an attorney in New Haven, where he lives with his husband, Chris. 

There were 678 LGBTQ candidates on the ballot Nov. 8, an increase from 432 candidates during the last midterm elections in 2018, according to the Victory Fund, a political action committee focused on electing LGBTQ candidates. 

At least 340 LGBTQ candidates had won their elections as of Wednesday, with many races yet to be decided. The previous record was 336 elected candidates, set in 2020.

In the U.S. House, Democrat and out lesbian Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota was in a tight race, but won re-election. Sharice Davids won re-election in a very competitive race in a red district in Kansas. Davids was the first Native American elected to Congress and is one of only a handful of out lesbians in the House. In Vermont, Democrat Becca Balint was elected with 62% of the vote. Balint came out as a lesbian in the sixth grade and is the first woman and openly LGBTQ person to represent Vermont in Congress. 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, who ran in California’s 42nd Congressional District, won his race and became 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 will hold till January.

With 93% of the votes counted, Eric Sorensen is poised to win the seat in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District against Republican Esther Joy King. Sorensen would be the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Illinois. 

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, from Oregon’s 5th congressional district, is in a tight race with Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer that is too close to call, with fewer than 9,000 votes separating the two candidates.

New York’s 3rd congressional district saw history made with two gay men running, Democrat Robert Zimmerman and Republican George Santos. With 94% of the vote in on Wednesday, Santos appears to have won the race, with 54.2% of the vote over Zimmerman’s 45.8%. Santos is an election denier and supporter of Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. He has also called abortion “barbaric.” Santos winning also flips the seat, previously held by Democrat Rep. Tom Suozzi, red.

Democrat James Roesener, a bisexual transgender man, was elected to New Hampshire House of Representatives, District 22 Ward 8. He is the first openly transgender man to win in any state legislature election.

One big loss for LGBTQ House members was the defeat of incumbent and five-term House rep Sean Patrick Maloney. Maloney, who is openly gay, is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair (DCCC). Maloney is another victim of New York redistricting.

Maloney’s status as DCCC Chair, which put him in charge of winning House elections for Democrats and made him a senior member of the party’s leadership, makes the loss a significant blow to the House Democratic Caucus. Maloney lost by only a point to GOP state lawmaker Mike Lawler, who attacked Maloney over crime and inflation.

Maloney said Democrats should be proud of the midterms. “We were disciplined and focused. And we did the work.”

“We are already calling this year a ‘Rainbow Wave’ – with more wins to come,” Albert Fujii, Victory Fund press secretary, told USA TODAY Wednesday.

“This Rainbow Wave is a clear rebuke to the increased homophobia and transphobia sweeping our communities – and proves voters want to elect qualified LGBTQ leaders,” Fujii said. “With so much at stake this election, from the future of marriage equality to abortion, LGBTQ candidates’ grit and exceptional grassroots support is paying off.”

Joni Madison, the interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Wednesday, “Those gears of progress continued turning, as LGBTQ+ voters turned out in larger numbers than ever before for a nonpresidential election — and as LGBTQ+ candidates for the first time appeared on ballots in every state across the country.”