Wednesday, November 9, 2011

LGBT Candidates Win Legislative Seats Nationwide

Today the future of LGBT equality at the local level is looking bright as a record number of newly-appointed openly LGBT candidates across America are elected into office. According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, at least 53 of their 75 endorsed candidates won their elections this year. Highlights from these elections include:

  • Texas: Openly lesbian Mayor Annise D. Parker has been re-elected for a second-term in Houston.
  • Massachusetts: Alex Morse is now the youngest Mayor of Holyoke, Mass. This openly gay 22-year old won the position over incumbent Elaine Pluta.
  • Connecticut: Openly gay Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio is the first elected mayor of New London in nearly nine decades. Previous majors had been elected by city councilmembers, not by public vote.
  • Virginia: Adam Ebbin was elected to the state Senate as its first openly gay senator.
  • Texas: Mike Laster became the first openly gay man on the Houston City Council.
  • North Carolina: LaWana Mayfield became the first openly lesbian woman on the Charlotte City Council.
  • Indiana: Zach Adamson is now the first openly gay Indianapolis City Councilmember.
  • Montana: Caitlin Copple has been elected as an openly lesbian councilmember in Missoula.
  • Ohio: Chris Seelback is the first openly LGBT councilmember in Cincinnati’s history.
  • Colorado: Robin Kneich was elected as the first openly LGBT Denver councilmember.
  • Michigan: In Traverse City, legislators chose to keep non-discrimination ordinances in effect, prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in employment and housing.

The presence of LGBT legislators increases the likelihood that their states will adopt anti-discrimination policies and support LGBT equal rights legislation at the local level. Having LGBT political leaders also helps to re-shape the stereotypes some officials may have about LGBT people. Openly bisexual state Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona elaborates on how she and other LGBT members have helped shift fellow legislators’ approach to LGBT issues: “I haven’t changed [the other members’] minds about gay people and policies, but it’s really changed the way they talk about it. And to be honest…that makes a difference.” [USA Today]

Tony Perkins, President of the LGBT opposition group the Family Research Council, worries that LGBT elected officials will “redefine marriage and support special rights for people based on their sexual behavior.” Perkins says he is not alone in this fear: “[L]ike minded voters wouldn’t support them.”

However, a recent Gallup Poll from June 2011 shows that 67% of voters would be willing to vote for a gay or lesbian president. This has increased tremendously from 2007 when 55% were willing, and from 1978 when only 25% would consider voting for a gay or lesbian president. Even those who are 65 years old and above are showing increased acceptance of gay and lesbian political leaders—52% of senior citizens would consider voting for a lesbian or gay president compared to 38% in 2007.

Though the successes of LGB people in the political world are growing, we have seen limited representation of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in our nation’s elected political positions. With increased visibility and acceptance, we are confident that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals will be able to celebrate many more victories in the future. For now, supporters of LGBT equality legislation have reason to celebrate a definitive step forward for openly LGBT politicians. “The election of gay and lesbian candidates in places where they have never won before is a major step forward,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund. “All of the openly LGBT candidates who stepped up to run for office this year are true leaders who deserve our profound thanks.”

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