By Chris Johnson
While attention is focused on the upcoming presidential election, candidates for Congress, including LGBTQ hopefuls, are making their case to ride the coattails of Joe Biden into office — and LGBTQ political organizers are working to ensure that LGBTQ representation is not only expanded, but more diverse.
In addition to working in Michigan to elect Jon Hoadley to a U.S. House seat, efforts are underway to ensure the LGBTQ Equality Caucus is bolstered with the addition of Gina Ortiz Jones, who’d be the first out lesbian to represent Texas in Congress, and Georgette Gomez in California, who’d be the first openly lesbian Latina in Congress.
Leaders in this effort — which has at times included fending off anti-LGBTQ attacks — are the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which seeks to elect openly LGBTQ people to political office.
Geoff Wetrosky, campaign director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in an interview with the Washington Blade, “we’re working really hard to ensure that we’re not only expanding the pro-equality caucus in Congress but also expanding the number of LGBTQ members.”
“We have staff working on the ground virtually organizing and mobilizing folks in all of these districts to ensure that we are turning out LGBTQ voters and equality voters to ensure that they’re victorious on Election Day,” Wetrosky said.
Efforts to influence these competitive races with LGBTQ candidates complement ongoing races where openly gay challengers won victories in their Democratic primaries and are shoe-ins for the “blue” district, including Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres in New York, both of whom are set to become the first openly gay Black members of Congress.
Torres, who told the Blade last month he wants to see FDR-style changes amid the coronavirus crisis, would also be the first openly gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund issued its inaugural “Out on the Trail” report, which details the diversity of LGBTQ candidates who ran for office in 2020. According to the report, at least 1,006 out LGBTQ people ran or are running for offices across the board in 2020 – a historic number – and a 41 percent increase since the 2018 midterm elections.
The report also found LGBTQ candidates in 2020 are substantially more racially and ethnically diverse than the U.S. candidate population overall and more bisexual and queer candidates are running than ever before.
Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement “a historic number of openly LGBTQ people are running for office this year,” but efforts must continue to make sure that the body of candidates is diverse.
“While LGBTQ candidates are significantly more diverse than U.S. candidates overall, we must continue to break down the barriers LGBTQ people of color, women and trans people face when considering a run for office,” Parker said. “Our government must reflect the diversity of America.”
According to the report, 31 percent of LGBTQ candidates running in 2020 are people of color, which is significantly more diverse than the body of general candidates at large, which stands at just 10 percent people of color. Moreover, GBTQ men of color are seeking office in numbers proportional to men of color in the overall U.S. population at 19 percent, although LBTQ women of color are running at rates of 10 percent just half their proportion in the U.S. population of 20 percent.
Wetrosky, as the coronavirus pandemic continues, said efforts consist of virtual and traditional methods to identify the estimated 57 million equality voters and get them to the polls. The Human Rights Campaign estimates 57 million such voters have identified LGBTQ issues as a major factor in their voting decisions.
“We’re doing the traditional phone banking, texting, relational voter programs where people are being asked to reach out to their own networks, through our app called Team to activate them, make sure that they understand the differences between the two candidates,” Wetrosky said. “And beyond that … we’ve got additional air cover in terms of social media and digital advertising. It’s the full gamut.”
Electing additional openly gay members of the U.S. House, Wetrosky said, is part of the Human Rights Campaign’s election effort to expand the overall majority in the chamber that supports LGBTQ rights, which consists of focusing on 23 of the 56 House races deemed competitive in the 2020 election where zeroing in on equality voters would make a difference.
The races for Hoadley, Jones, and Gomez are considered competitive. Although Gomez is running against a fellow Democrat in the election to represent California’s 53rd congressional district, Hoadley is running against Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Jones is running for an open seat against a Republican candidate in Texas’ 23rd congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border — and two races have gotten ugly as their opponents have resorted to tactics deemed anti-LGBTQ.
In Michigan, TV ads by the Congressional Leadership Fund are running against Hoadley on blog posts he wrote in his youth referring to straight people as “breeders,” talked about wanting to learn about crystal meth, and wrote about a four-year-old wearing a thong. The ad has been shown to take the satirical blog posts, which Hoadley wrote in his youth in the early 2000s, out of context. (The reference to a four-year-old wearing a thong was invoked in reference to a friend who said he had no desire to see that.)
As a result, the LGBTQ Victory Fund has declared the Michigan race the most homophobic in the country and called on Upton to denounce the ad. The Congressional Leadership Fund didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the criticism.
In Texas, the National Republican Congressional Committee put on a website for potential lines of attack against Democrats a picture of Jones and her partner holding champagne glasses,” an attempt to paint her as a Washington political insider in contrast to her opponent Tony Gonzalez, a Navy veteran. (In fact, both Gonzales and Jones have served in the military.) Initially, the post included an explicit reference to Jones having a same-sex partner, but that has since been removed.
More recently, the NRCC has begun airing an ad that says Jones “doesn’t care about Texas” and slams her for wanting to “divert military money for transgender re-assignment surgeries,” a reference to Jones’ opposition to President Trump’s transgender military ban.
Parker said in a statement Monday the Republican Party has resorted to anti-LGBTQ tactics against gay congressional candidates and condemned their Republican opponents for refusing to condemn them.
“The national fundraising arm of the Republican Party has declared war on LGBTQ candidates this election cycle – and homophobia and transphobia are their weapons of choice,” Parker said. “It is despicable that Republicans would attack a military veteran simply because she believes the trans soldiers who risked their lives beside her deserve fair treatment when they return home. Their appeals to bigotry – especially when aimed at LGBTQ people who fought for America – is the ultimate evidence that winning elections is more important to them than the values most Americans hold.”
In the House, efforts to elect new openly LGBTQ lawmakers would expand the existing group of out members, which consists of Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.). In the Senate, LGBTQ representation consists of Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first out lesbian elected to Congress, and Kyrsten Cinema (D-Ariz.), the first out bisexual.
Efforts to elect new LGBTQ members of Congress are underscored by the recent release of the Human Rights Campaign’s biennial congressional scorecard, for which a record number of 228 members of Congress earned a perfect “100” score. However, they were all Democrats; no Republicans obtained a perfect score. Critics, however, have said the congressional scorecard is based on the Democratic Party’s agenda, including a vote for Trump’s impeachment, and not focused on LGBTQ rights.
At the end of the day, Wetrosky said an expanded and more diverse LGBTQ caucus in Congress, in addition to having a majority in both chambers that support LGBTQ rights, will send a powerful signal in support of pro-LGBTQ legislation, such as the Equality Act, and show LGBTQ people “look like America all across the country.”
“It’s important in the short term, to have LGBTQ people in the room where decisions are being made,” Wetrosky said. “And in the longer term, it’s incredibly important for particularly LGBT youth to see themselves represented in the halls of Congress — or in state legislatures or in city halls — and know that they too can do whatever they want in their future and that their sexual orientation or gender identity is not a barrier to their future success.”