The 2022 midterm election made history with the most wins for openly LGBTQ candidates. At least 340 candidates have won their races, beating the prior record of 336 in 2020. This year also saw 678 out LGBTQ candidates – the most ever – on the general election ballot.
Since the organization Victory Fund began in 1991, it has supported LGBTQ candidates running for office – from helping train people how to campaign and what to do after winning, to offering a network of fellow LGBTQ elected representatives to learn from.
This election, the fund endorsed more than 500 candidates, Victory's Vice President of Political Programs Sean Meloy told NPR. The most it had endorsed previously was around 300.
"Normally, when someone gets in [office], they don't pull the ladder up after," he said about the LGBTQ community. "They're going to say, 'Hey, who's next? Who's going to take over for me? Who else can I get to join me?' I don't think it's a coincidence that we have more LGBTQ candidates running than ever at the same time we have the most LGBTQ people in office," a number which he said is a little over 1,000.
This year saw many candidates running who are underrepresented within the already underrepresented LGBTQ community. "People of color, trans people and non binary people," he said. "And in places where we need those voices, and the mere fact that an LGBTQ person steps forward to run – and then hopefully win – helps change hearts and minds."
There were notable firsts in these elections
There were a number of notable firsts in the winners of the midterms. The country elected its first openly lesbian governors, with Maura Healey in Massachusetts and Tina Kotek in Oregon. In Connecticut, Erick Russell has become the first Black LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in U.S. history. New Hampshire's James Roesener is now the first trans man ever elected to any U.S. state legislature.
Zooey Zephyr, who ran for the Montana House of Representatives, will be the first openly trans person in the state's legislature. She won with almost 80% of the votes, according to Ballotpedia.org.
"I always hesitate to call an election historic, because the attacks on human rights, education, healthcare, public lands, unions, etc. feel perpetual," Zephyr told NPR. "Every election requires our attention because there is always something important worth fighting for, and if we fail to fight to our fullest, there are always groups waiting to strip our rights away."
"I do think given the way in which attacks on lgbtq people have ramped up over the last year has served as a reminder that lgbtq people need to be in the room where the laws are being written," she continued. "300+ anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation introduced last year, over half of which targeted trans people specifically."
Zephyr said that not to be cliché, "but representation matters." Meloy also described the importance of members of the queer community being in the room where decisions are made.
"Until folks in Montana and so many other places see LGBTQ people in office, they're gonna keep beating us up, and they're gonna keep [...] attacking us legislatively," he said. "We're just going to be an amorphous enemy, as opposed to a smiling face that's sitting next to them."
Meloy said their candidates have stepped up because there's never been an LGBTQ person to directly look in the eye of someone who, for example, might be passing a piece of legislation that cuts support for homeless people, who are disproportionately LGBTQ youth.
Alaska voted in its first three LGBTQ politicians to the state legislature: Ashley Carrick for House District 35, Jennie Armstrong for House District 16, and Andrew Gray for District 20.
Ashley Carrick, a bisexual woman, told NPR that she didn't run because she's LGBT, but she is LGBT, and that type of representation is long overdue in Alaska.
"That's a perspective I carry with me as I look towards a future for our state where we promote the long-term best interests of Alaska and its people," she said.
"I'm proud that Alaska went from being one of three states that had never elected an out LGBTQ+ state representative to now having three of us elected at once," Armstrong told NPR. "I feel incredibly encouraged that my fellow Alaskans backed so many candidates that will fight to protect reproductive health care, push back against attacks on LGBTQ+ youth, and support building an inclusive economy where everyone has the opportunity to thrive."
She also expressed her gratitude for the late state Sen. Johnny Ellis, and honored the sacrifice he made by remaining closeted for decades in the state legislature — a reminder of how acceptance in America has changed.
They're well qualified to represent their constituents
Members of the LGBTQ community are uniquely qualified to represent their constituents, Meloy said.
"We intersect with every single other community," he said. "We have millennials, we have scientists, we have union members, we have teachers and we've got folks from every age bracket and every demographic."
He described that LGBTQ people bring a new and unique angle to help make our government look like the people it's meant to represent, and their belief in the fundamental right to privacy carries through all they pursue.
"They have to know when to, you know, when it's safe for them to be themselves in so many places," he said. "I think that that brings an understanding of their community, and I also think it brings a level of empathy for other folks who have been forgotten or actively attacked by the government."
The road ahead
To reach equitable representation, the U.S. needs to elect more than 35,000 additional out LGBTQ people to office, according to Victory Fund.
Meloy said that Millennials and especially Gen Z are identifying as LGBTQ at levels never seen before. He thinks that fact may mean some of the gap will naturally be filled as younger generations run for office.
When LGBTQ people win elections, more members of the community follow them, Meloy added. He hopes that the election of New Hampshire's James Roesener, who just became the first trans man ever elected to a state legislature, will inspire other trans men to run for office. He cited the uptick in trans women candidates after Virginia State Delegate Danica Roem won her race in 2017.
"I think it shows that it's possible, right? And so many underrepresented people in government – women, young people, people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people – they're always told, 'Oh, you can't do it [...] because it hasn't been done,'" he said. "So breaking that barrier makes that argument – 'No.' Which is a huge starting point."
Evidence that anti-trans platforms often don't succeed
Erin Reed, a content creator and queer legislature researcher who shares LGBTQ news, noted that not only were many LGBTQ candidates elected, but many voters rejected anti-trans sentiments.
"The loss of anti-transgender candidates from the school board level up to the state level sends a clear message that basing your candidacy on hate does is not a winning strategy," Reed told NPR. "So many candidates thought they could rely on beating up on transgender people for an easy victory and they left election night disappointed."
Reed said this won't stop attacks on transgender people. "I anticipate 2023 will be the worst year for anti-trans legislation ever," Reed said. "But it does send a clear message that voters are not moved by anti-trans laws."