As the new Congress convened this week, a historic number of LGBTQ people will make up the U.S. House. Nine openly LGBTQ candidates were elected this past November, seven of whom were incumbents. According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization that trains, supports and advocates for queer candidates, it’s also the most diverse class in history with four people of color.
These nine are just a small fraction of the LGBTQ candidates that won elections across the country in 2020. From city councils to state assemblies, over 300 out LGBTQ candidates have taken office in the past two months. “In one of the most vitriolic and unprecedented election cycles of our time, LGBTQ candidates continue winning elections in numbers and in parts of the country thought unthinkable a decade or two ago,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
Parker made history herself as the first openly LGBTQ mayor of a major city, when she was elected mayor of Houston in 2009.
She went on to say, “LGBTQ people span every community — we are people of color, women, immigrants, and people with disabilities — and we are able to use that life experience to connect with voters from many backgrounds. This beautiful diversity provides an opportunity to connect on some level with every single voter in America.”
Former presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg was not the first openly gay presidential candidate in a major political party. That honor, surprisingly, sits with a Republican, Fred Karger, who was unsuccessful in his bid for the presidency in 2012. Buttigieg was, however, the first openly gay candidate to earn presidential primary delegates toward a major party’s nomination this past year. He made history winning the Iowa Caucus in February and in December was nominated to head the Department of Transportation by President-Elect Joe Biden. If confirmed, he will be the first openly gay cabinet secretary approved by the U.S. Senate.
Transgender candidates made history in 2020 as well. Delaware Sen. Sarah McBride, who helped pass gender identity protections and hate crimes legislation in the state, now assumes office in the capitol, making her the first transgender state senator in the country. According to LGBTQ Victory Fund, there are just four out transgender people currently serving in state legislatures.
“Sarah’s overwhelming victory is a powerful testament to the growing influence of transgender leaders in our politics and gives hope to countless trans people looking toward a brighter future,” said Parker.
Other major news on election night included that of Rep. Stephanie Byers, who just became the first out transgender person to serve in the Kansas state House and the first out transgender person of color ever elected to a state legislature. In total, six transgender candidates won state offices helping to bring the total of openly transgender elected officials nationwide to 32 this past year.
“Throughout the election cycle, Donald Trump and other cynical politicians attempted to use trans people as a political weapon, believing they could gain popularity by stoking fear and hate,” continued Parker. Speaking of the candidates, she said for them to “shatter a lavender ceiling in such a polarizing year is a powerful reminder that voters are increasingly rejecting the politics of bigotry in favor of candidates who stand for fairness and equality.”
Rep. Mauree Turner was elected to the Oklahoma legislature, making her the first non-binary person elected to a statewide position. According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Turner will add to the four out genderqueer or non-binary-identified elected officials serving in the entire country. “There has never been a more important time for the next generation to see themselves in our government,” said Turner in a statement on her campaign website.
U.S. Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) became the first two openly LGBTQ Black members of Congress this month. Thirty-one percent of LGBTQ candidates who ran in 2020 identified as people of color, compared to just 10 percent of all candidates who ran in 2018. In October, PBS News wrote that “the impending election has the potential to bring about a tectonic shift of power in America if more Black leaders are elected to represent areas dominated by white voters.” The positive shift in more diverse candidates started in the 2018 midterms.
In North Carolina, eight LGBTQ candidates won in 2020 bringing the state’s total to 28 openly LGBTQ elected officials. Kevin Mundy won a spot on the Winston-Salem City Council, becoming the first openly gay person in the role. The other candidates included: Rep. Vernetta Alston (NC House 29), who was previously appointed to MaryAnn Black’s position in the N.C. House after her death in March; Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (Buncombe County Commission); Cecil Brockman (NC House 60), who became the first bisexual person elected in North Carolina in 2014; Deb Butler (NC House 18); Allison Dahle (NC House 11); Whit Davis (Forsyth County District Court); and Marcia Morey (NC House 30).
Mundy began working for Sara Lee, now Hanesbrands, starting in 1987. He was recruited to work in community relations for the company and points to that as his start in local government work. “At the time, Hanes was one of the largest employers in North Carolina,” says Mundy. “I started working with community leaders and learning who these folks were, why they were trying to do what they were trying to do.”
As a representative of the company, Mundy was doing things that he enjoyed. At 58 years old, he says he is now close to retirement. He has been working with Leadership Winston-Salem the past several years and has been involved in what it takes for city leadership to be successful.
Winston-Salem recently made national news when The Warehouse on Ivy, a wedding venue, denied a lesbian couple the right to rent its space for their 2022 wedding. “I was praying that we would flip the (N.C.) House and Senate and as long as Phil Berger (R-District 44) and Tim Moore (R – District 111) are calling the shots, nothing is going to change,” says Mundy. “Which makes it even more important at the municipal level, that LGBTQ community members have representation.”
A Year for Change
We all hope that 2021 brings better everything — time with friends and family again, nights out on the town and even the basic need for hugs. For politics, an increased LGBTQ representation brings promising hope for our future.
“I think the generation behind us, as they are looking for places to live and work, they’re not going to be satisfied with a small southern town that has that ‘good-ole boy’ mentality,” says Mundy. With the sunsetting of HB142 and the wedding venue case, he hopes to work with city leaders and attorneys on how to move the needle on non-discrimination ordinances in both Winston-Salem and statewide.
For Julia Olson-Boseman, she realizes the level at which LGBTQ people continue to be discriminated against in the state. “It doesn’t stop with one of us — it has to continue,” she says. “If you want to have a voice, you’ve got to have a seat at the table.”
Olson-Boseman was the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the North Carolina General Assembly serving from 2005 to 2011. She previously served on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and returned to that post in 2018. “At the time when I entered into politics, the county commission were five older white guys,” says Olson-Boseman. “I didn’t feel that it was representative of the county.” When she first ran in 2000, people saw that the LGBTQ Victory Fund had given her money, virtually outing her publicly in the race. She heard the horrible things that people said about the LGBTQ community. “They let us onto the porch, there’s still a lot of people that are not going to let us in the house,” she says. She continues to fight against bullying and LGBTQ visibility in local politics which she says is the place where it all happens. “We have to keep standing up for ourselves,” says Olson-Boseman. “Everybody doing that thing that they can — everybody doing their part and moving forward and not thinking it’s over, because it’s not.”
Note: qnotes attempted to interview other elected officials for this story, including Rep. Alston and Rep. Brockman.
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