During the midterm elections, Democrats girded themselves against a potential “red wave” of Trump-supporting Republican candidates seeking elected office. Instead, a “rainbow wave” of mostly Democratic LGBTQ+ candidates lapped upon the shores of every level of government.
Although previous rainbow waves brought milestone wins for LGBTQ+ candidates, this particular one marked the first time queer candidates were on the ballot in all 50 states, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to increase the number of LGBTQ+ public officials in office. In addition, more than 350 LGBTQ+ people won their respective elections in midterm elections across state and federal legislatures as well as on school boards and city councils.
The election was also a win for visibility and a staunch rebuke against campaigns supporting homophobic and transphobic legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” state law in Florida. Once these newly elected leaders take the oath of office, they’ll be more likely to further in-depth discussions and support powerful legislation on the crucial issues that matter most to our communities. Here are a few that feel most pressing, and how having a queer person in office could shift the tide.
LGBTQ+ officials clearly need to stay at the forefront of the ongoing fight for marriage equality. Although same-sex marriage became legal across all 50 states in 2015, justices on today’s conservative-led Supreme Court have explicitly suggested they could and possibly should revisit same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry. To prevent this, LGBTQ+ officials need to push for the codification of marriage equality into federal law. In fact, a bipartisan group of senators have already reached an agreement on a revised bill that would protect marriage equality at the federal level. Today’s crop of local and state-level officials have the potential to hold political leaders accountable until the legislation has become law.
“Our elected officials are what we need to make progress,” said Annise Parker, current president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, former mayor of Houston, Texas, and former fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. “We’re always going to depend on allies to achieve equality, but it matters that we’re in the room too and we can talk about our own lives and our own lived experience.”
Our newly elected officials will influence abortion rights at a critical moment. While most of these leaders are pro-choice, their motivation goes beyond a right to choose: It’s also about a right to privacy. Many LGBTQ+ people have supported bodily autonomy in relation to their sexual orientation and gender identity – and the fight to be themselves, in general.
“[LGBTQ+ people] see it in a broader contract than a woman’s right to make this decision,” Parker said, citing a 2003 case where the Supreme Court ruled that criminal punishment for consensual sexual acts was unconstitutional. “The right to privacy is bigger than that. The Supreme Court knocked down sodomy statutes, next we should look at Griswold [v. Connecticut]. That’s why a vast majority of LGBT folks believe a right to privacy is crucial.”
Making a difference when it comes to climate change may depend more on officials at the city level. Given her experience as mayor of Texas, Parker sees LGBTQ+ officials at these levels of government as the key to making strides in climate protection. Since the Senate and House are often so gridlocked on climate change that there’s no legislation or fruitful discussions on the matter, it’s up to local branches of government — and the LGBTQ+ officials there — to do the heavy lifting that will have a cumulative, growing impact city by city.
“Cities are actually at the vanguard on climate issues,” she said. “Legislatures pass bills on the energy mix in your state, but cities can take direct action.”
What Will The Rainbow Wave Actually Get Done?
A lot, hopefully. But LGBTQ+ elected officials will also need to contend with differences in their own political parties. In fact, George Santos is a gay Republican who ran and won his race in New York’s Third District against another gay candidate, Robert Zimmerman, becoming the first openly gay Republican elected to a first congressional term. Through all of the obstacles of the political landscape, the rainbow wave of LGBTQ+ officials will need to stay the course.
“There are very few places where people can flip a seat and make a difference,” Parker said. “This is about being in a chamber and working long term to build the kind of trust where you can have professional conversations with people you disagree on serious issues.”