Record number of LGBTQ+ candidates run for US Congress in wake of attacks

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Octavio Jones/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

The supreme court’s landmark abortion ruling immediately wiped away abortion rights for millions of Americans, but tucked away in Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion on the case was another threat: to the rights of LGBTQ+ people across the US.

In his opinion, written to accompany the Roe v Wade decision, Thomas, part of the controlling cabal of rightwing justices, suggested that the court should “reconsider” the right to same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, which was legalized nationwide in 2015.

Related: Republican-run US states move to immediately ban abortion after court overturns Roe v Wade

But in the face of fears that the court will now lead a charge against LGBTQ+ rights – and growing far-right violence against LGBTQ+ targets – a record number of LGBTQ+ candidates are running for US Congress in 2022.

At least 101 LGBTQ+ people ran for US Congress in 2022, according to LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ+ people to all levels of government.

Some 57 candidates are still in their races, with advocates hoping greater representation could bring tangible change in Washington, after a year when gay and trans people have been increasingly persecuted by rightwing politicians in the US.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner is one of the LGBTQ+ candidates hoping to make a difference in the US House of Representatives. A former mayor, McLeod-Skinner defeated Kurt Schrader, a moderate Democrat who has spent 12 years in the House as congressman, in Oregon’s primary and will face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the November midterm elections.

If she can win, McLeod-Skinner would be the first out LGBTQ+ person ever elected to Congress from Oregon.

Becca Balint is seeking to break two barriers in Vermont. If she wins the Democratic primary in August, then defeats her opponent in November, she would be the first woman and the first LGBTQ+ person ever elected to Congress from Vermont – which is the only US state to have never sent a woman to Congress.

“When I first was sworn in as state senator [in 2015] I served alongside people who voted against my right to marry my spouse,” Balint told the Valley Reporter this week.

“I still had to sit down and do budgeting with them, and pass laws because that’s what my constituents sent me there to do. I didn’t let that get in the way of doing the work. I will honestly work with anyone.”

Balint, a former leader of the Vermont senate, supports universal healthcare and says she would push for the passage of the Equality Act, which would place a federal ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public spaces and federal programs.

Robert Garcia, who is running in California, would also break new ground: as the first openly gay immigrant elected to Congress. Garcia, who was born in Peru, won the Democratic primary in June, and has a strong chance of being elected in November.

The wave of LGBTQ+ candidates comes as Republicans have pushed, and passed, bills targeting gay and transgender people.

Those who support equal rights for LGBTQ+ people will have their work cut out if Republicans do aim their fire at same-sex marriage.

Despite 71% of Americans supporting same-sex marriage, it is clear that plenty of Republicans do not think the same. This week Texas Republicans unveiled their 2022 party platform, which defines homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and says the party would “oppose all efforts to validate transgender identity”.

It’s a Republican campaign that has amounted to an alarming rise in anti-trans and anti-gay speech over the past year, with three hate-filled incidents occurring just over the past weekend.

In March Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who is considered a frontrunner for the Republican party’s presidential nomination in 2024, signed a controversial “don’t say gay” bill that prevents teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. This month DeSantis moved to ban transition care for transgender youth, and this week suggested he may order Florida’s child protective services to investigate parents who take their children to drag shows.

Other politicians and rightwing media figures have spread lies and misinformation about gay and trans people attempting to groom schoolchildren.

In this climate, the supreme court’s suggestion that the Obergefell case, which enshrined the right to same-sex marriage, be revisited, has advocates for equal rights on edge.

“Forcing people to carry pregnancies against their will is just the beginning,” the ACLU said in a statement on Friday.

“The same politicians seeking to control the bodies of women and pregnant people will stop at nothing to challenge our right to use birth control, the right to marry whom you love, and even the right to vote. No right or liberty is secure in the face of a supreme court that would reverse Roe.”

By electing more LGBTQ+ candidates, Victory Fund hopes to thwart those efforts.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, won the Democratic primary for North Carolina’s 11th district earlier this year, and would be the first out LGBTQ+ person elected to any federal position from the state.

“I can’t stop thinking about how so many of us have relied on the courts to protect our constitutional rights, and how those rights are under threat,” she said after the supreme court decision on Friday.

“We cannot go backwards. Every race on the ballot matters more than ever now.”

Heather Mizeur, who faces a Democratic primary in July, would become the first out LGBTQ+ member of Congress from Maryland if she is elected to the House.

These candidates, if successful, would join nine openly LGBTQ+ members of the House and two senators, all of whom are Democrats, and could bolster gay and trans rights at a time when they are under severe threat.

“The 11 LGBTQ+ members of Congress currently serving punch way above their weight and have delivered meaningful results for our community time and time again, despite being woefully outnumbered,” said Albert Fujii, a spokesperson for the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

“But with a supreme court hellbent on choosing politics over precedent, our congressional champions desperately need backup to ensure our fundamental human rights are not rolled back to a time when bigotry was the law of the land.

“Gaining equitable representation in Congress would not only increase our political power and increase the odds our rights are finally codified into federal law, it would send a crystal-clear message that anti-LGBTQ vitriol will not prevail.”

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