Riding the Rainbow Wave


For two years, those who care deeply about LGBT rights (not to mention many other issues of equity and freedom) have been looking to the2018 midterm elections as an opportunity for change. The months leading up toNovember’s election were ­filled with political commentators speculating about a “blue wave.” At the same time, our President doubled-down on his divisive, fear-mongering, and often prevaricating tactics. As I write this, the dust is still settling on some of the races, but it appears to me that both sides have victories to tout and lessons to learn.

First the good news. One of our most important victories was the resounding defeat in Massachusetts of efforts to rescind protections for transgender people. By an impressive margin of 68 percent to 32 percent, voters affirmed their desire to prohibit discrimination in public places based on gender identity. This represents extraordinary progress.

While the extent to which a blue wave occurred is being debated, there was certainly a “rainbow wave.” In fact, this was the ­first time in history that at least one openly LGBT candidate was running in every state. The winners (all Democrats) made a lot of history. Just a few examples include:

• In Colorado Jared Polis became the nation’s ­first openly gay man elected governor (Kate Brown, elected the nation’s ­first openly bisexual governor in a 2016 Oregon special election, was reelected).

• Openly LGBT candidates picked up three new seats in theU.S. House, pioneering “­firsts” for their states: lesbian Angie Craig inMinnesota, gay man Chris Pappas in New Hampshire (which also sent two transgender women to the state’s House), and Native American lesbian Sharice Davids in Kansas. The four incumbent LGBT U.S. Representatives running for reelection all won: David Cicilline in Rhode Island, Sean Maloney in New York,Mark Pocan in Wisconsin, and Mark Takano in California.

• Right here in California, openly bisexual Katie Hill won her race for the U.S. House, sending the notoriously anti-LGBT Steve Knight packing. And, in a very close race, it appears that openly gay man Ricardo Larais poised to become the state’s Insurance Commissioner.

• We now have TWO lesbian state attorneys general: marriage equality lawyer Dana Nessel in Michigan (the ­first openly LGBT person to hold statewide office there), who kissed her wife in front of the media as an explicit message to her anti-LGBT detractors, and Maura Healey in Massachusetts(who became the ­first openly LGBT AG when she was ­first elected in 2014).

• Indiana elected its ­first openly LGBT person (a gay man) to the state legislature.

• In Texas 14 of the 35 openly LGBT candidates who appeared on the ballot won their races. Five out Democrats—all women—were elected or reelected to the Texas House, more than doubling the size of the state’s LGBT delegation, which will be the largest in history when the legislature convenes in January.

• Jennifer Webb secured a seat in the Florida House, becoming the ­first lesbian elected to higher office in state history. • The ­first two openly LGBT members, Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz, were elected to theKansas House.

• Three new lesbian mayors were elected in Key West; Flemington, N.J.; and Lambertville, N.J.

• Guam elected its ­first openly gay Lieutenant Governor.

• While neither won, the Democratic candidates running for governor in Texas and Vermont were, respectively, a Latina lesbian (yes, in Texas!) and a transgender woman.

• One ally especially worth mentioning… remember that teenage son of two lesbians who, in 2011, gave a remarkable speech in front of an Iowa legislative committee against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned marriage equality? His video went viral, amassing almost two million views in two weeks. Well, at the ripe old age of 26, he was just elected to the Iowa Senate.

• I certainly breathed a huge sigh of relief when out lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin soundly rebuffed efforts by the Koch brothers and others on the right to unseat her. (In January such forces had already spent seven times more money in the race against Baldwin than was spent against all other incumbent senate Democrats combined.)

• Out bisexual Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona will join Baldwin as the second LGBT member of the U.S. Senate.

• Finally, a record number of women will serve in Congress, with several making history due to their race, religion, or sexual orientation. Some 95 women have won—or at press time were projected to win—their House races, which is up from the current 84 women in the House. In addition, at least 14 women won Senate seats. That’s on top of the 10 female senators who were not up for reelection this year.

What about the LGBT Republicans? This was the ­first election since 2010 that the number of openly LGBT Republican congressional nominees did not increase. In 2012 there was one. In 2014, two. In 2016, three.But this year there were none who emerged victorious in the primaries.

In fact, the GOP has yet to elect an openly LGBT federal lawmaker (the handful of openly LGBT Republicans who have served in Congress have either been outed or have come out sometime after they were ­first elected). There is a rising number of openly LGBT Republicans in state legislative races, but I could not ­find any reports of an openly LGBTRepublican in such a race being elected on November 6.

Even Republican allies had a tough time of it at the federal level. Of the four Congressional candidates (non-incumbents) endorsed by the national Log Cabin Republicans, three of whom were in California, none prevailed. Out of 35 Senate and 435 House races,the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed only 14 incumbents (one of whom was a senator, Nevada’s Dean Heller, who was defeated). That de­finitely says something about the LGBT-unfriendly nature of congressional candidates currently being ­fielded by the Republican party.

The bad news, of course, is that many anti-LGBT candidates got elected. And in this environment where moderate Republicans holding congressional office have almost become extinct, the greater margin of Republican control of the Senate means trouble for LGBT people and our allies. In my judgment the greatest danger is posed by the continued appointment of anti-LGBT federal judges. Democratic control of the House cannot impact such appointments, and their damaging effect could persist for many decades.

Pundits will spend volumes interpreting the results of the elections and what they mean for both parties going forward, particularly for the 2020 presidential election.

I believe that several lessons for LGBT people and our allies are clear:

• Openly LGBT people can clearly be elected to any office in the land. If we can be U.S. senators and representatives, governors, attorneys general, and state office holders in predominantly red states, the time is soon coming (if it’s not already here) when no political offices are beyond our reach.

• The polarization of our nation did not improve in this election, and polarization hurts us. When not a single LGBT Republican makes it past the primaries, that’s a bad sign. We need openly LGBT Republicans running in far greater numbers. The same applies to pro-LGBT Republican allies. Imagine the different dialogue if a majority of all Republicans running were pro-LGBT!That would likely put an end to horri­fic Republican platforms like the one in2016, which took anti-LGBT positions on everything from the freedom to marry and transgender restroom rights to adoption and conversion therapy.

And the most important lesson of all is that when it comes to our freedom and other issues of particular importance to LGBT people and our allies: our work is far from done. As long as any president or cabinet member,or any political party, believes that they should—or can—implement programs and policies that discriminate against us, we must continue the ­fight. We must not rest until we have achieved full and complete equality.

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