Respect Equality

A ‘rainbow wave’ of openly queer and transgender candidates just made political history

Story at a glance

  • Records were shattered last night as nearly 600 openly LGBTQ+ candidates appeared on ballots.
  • Many historic wins have already been called for out incumbents and new challengers across the nation.
  • Among those newly elected are transgender identifying and BIPOC candidates in typically conservative states such as Kansas and Tennessee.

While the race to the Oval Office remains a nail-biter, election results have already begun to roll in as of Tuesday for those running for Senate and House seats — both parties hoping to flip as many as they can in an everlasting game of power tug of war. 

Those who have already come out as winners are a “rainbow wave” of openly LGBTQ+ candidates now representing states throughout the country, including five transgender candidates who have now made history with their successful runs. According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the number of openly transgender state legislators could more than double by the end of the week.

Nearly 600 LGBTQ+ candidates could be found on Tuesday’s ballot, with dozens winning their respective races. Notably, there were a historic number of wins among transgender identifying candidates and BIPOCs, helping to usher in what may be a new era of diversifying representation at all levels of government. 

“Tonight’s wins for LGBTQ people of colour and transgender Americans across the country are historic and long overdue,” said GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “Their victories represent a leap forward for LGBTQ acceptance and a demand for more of the progress and equality that their very presence demonstrates. We can’t wait to see them shine in their new roles.”

A win for diversity

One of Tuesday night’s winning candidates was Stephanie Byers, who won her election for the Kansas House of Representatives — making her not only the first openly transgender official elected in the state but also the first Native American transgender person elected to any state legislature. 

When we spoke with Byers back in August after the state primary, she told us about her backstory as a high school educator of nearly 30 years and how it has informed her values today as a politician. Her primary focus is expanding support for education, as well as widening access to health care and creating more local jobs. 

“For a lot of folks, if Kansas, the big red Republican state, can elect a trans person to a state legislator, the doors open up in a lot of other places for people,” said Byers. “And it helps those people who are transgender to reinforce that they are people who matter, they are people who are important and they’re people who can be successful in their lives.”

Until now, only four transgender people had ever been elected to serve in state legislatures.

Byers joins Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, who became the first out trans person to win a state legislative seat just a few years ago in 2017, as well as the newly elected Taylor Small of Vermont. Last night Small became the first openly transgender candidate to land the title of state legislator in the progressive state.

“The impact of Taylor’s groundbreaking victory cannot be overstated,” Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “There are so few transgender people in elected office that nearly every win is a historic one, yet with each barrier broken comes more trans people inspired to do the same. Even pro-equality states like Vermont need trans voices in government to ensure the priorities and concerns of the community are heard. Taylor will bring that perspective to the state House and Vermont can be a leader on trans equality because of it.”

Other superlatives were earned by candidates like Jabari Brisport, the first Black LGBTQ+ member of the New York State legislature, and Torrey Harris, who has become the first openly LGBTQ+ member of the Tennessee state legislature after being elected to the State House. Meanwhile, Oklahoma gained the first nonbinary legislator in the country’s history after Mauree Turner won their election for State House in Oklahoma’s 88th district on Tuesday.

Now “the real work” begins

This week’s victories come at a pivotal time for the rights of all LGBTQ+ United States citizens, as marriage equality has recently come under threat, advocates say. Last month, Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito suggested that the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal across the United States, should be overturned.

The Justices’ statements have only become more concerning for the LGBTQ+ community as Amy Coney Barrett was recently confirmed to the bench, known for her conservative views and ties to private schools and legal groups that are known to be anti-gay.

“The real work begins tomorrow,” tweeted Delaware’s Sarah McBride, who became the first-ever openly trans person elected as a state senator in the history of the country. 

“I am hopeful that tonight’s result can send a potentially lifesaving message to a young trans kid,” McBride told Buzzfeed News after her win. “They can go to sleep knowing that their dreams and their truths are not mutually exclusive.”