U.S. Reaches All-Time High in Out Elected Officials, and They’re Ready to Fight Back
At a time of record anti-LGBTQ+ legislation at the state level and attacks from other government officials, there’s also some good news: LGBTQ+ people are serving in elected office in record numbers, and they’re helping to counter the hate.
The number of out LGBTQ+ elected officials in the U.S. increased by 68 percent over the past five years, rising from 698 to 1,174, according to a new report from the LGBTQ Victory Institute, the educational and training arm of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. This was helped along by rainbow waves in recent elections.
“In 2018, LGBTQ+ people hit the campaign trail in record-breaking numbers — and with their victories, ensured 2019 saw the highest levels of LGBTQ+ representation in U.S. government at that time,” says the report, “Leading Out Loud.” “The numbers have only risen since this inaugural Rainbow Wave. More out candidates have hit the campaign trail since. And they’ve kept winning, shattering rainbow ceilings across the country.” At least 436 out candidates,almost all Democrats, won their races in the 2022 midterm election.
“Not only are more LGBTQ+ people serving in office than ever before, they are more unified, determined and diverse than ever,” the report notes. They are indeed diverse in many ways.
LGBTQ+ elected officials are more racially diverse than ever. The proportion of LGBTQ+ people of color serving in the U.S. increased from 22 percent in 2019 to 32 percent in 2023, according to Victory Institute. Examples, pictured above, include 2022 winners U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (far left), who was born in Peru and is the first out gay immigrant in Congress; Connecticut Treasurer Erick Russell (second from left), a gay man who is the first Black LGBTQ+ person to be elected to a statewide office in the U.S.; and Minnesota State Rep. Alicia Kozlowski (third from left), a Two-Spirit person who is of Indigenous and Latinx heritage.
Women from the LGBTQ+ community have made great progress as well. They saw a saw a 60 percent increase in representation, rising in number from 287 to 459 over the period covered by the report. Among those elected in 2022 are U.S. Rep. Becca Balint (pictured, far right), a lesbian who is the first woman to represent Vermont in Congress, and the nation’s first two out lesbian governors, Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Tina Kotek of Oregon.
LGBTQ+ elected officials are more gender-diverse than ever. Representation for nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people increased by 300 percent over the past five years, according to the report. Representation for transgender women increased by 173 percent and for trans men by 80 percent. Examples include Kozlowski, who is nonbinary, and Minnesota House colleague Leigh Finke, a trans woman who was also elected in 2022, making them the first nonbinary and trans people in Minnesota’s legislature. Montana also elected its first trans and nonbinary state representatives in 2022 — Zooey Zephyr and SJ Howell, respectively.
LGBTQ+ elected officials are more diverse in terms of sexual orientation too, with queer, bisexual, and pansexual representation growing more than 200 percent since 2019.
The increase in representation goes across all levels of government. There are 13 out LGBTQ+ members of Congress now, the most ever, and many of them are countering the far right’s attack on the LGBTQ+ community and all things progressive. Garcia, for instance, is making good on his promise to be a thorn in the side of Republican Congresswomen Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert.
State legislatures saw historic increases too. The number of out LGBTQ+ state lawmakers increased by 55 percent, from 147 in 2019 to a record 228 in 2023. They are fighting back against anti-LGBTQ+ moves as well. Minnesota’s Finke, for example, is behind legislation to make the state a sanctuary for trans youth seeking gender-affirming care that they can’t get in their home states. Among states banning such care is neighboring South Dakota, but its first out gay male legislator, Kameron Nelson, spoke out against it, calling it “reprehensible.”
LGBTQ+ representation in local government saw the greatest increase since 2019. It increased by 83 percent, from 394 to 721.
“The momentum of the LGBTQ+ community’s political power has not gone untested,” the report notes “Bigoted legislators, who detest growing LGBTQ+ acceptance and representation, are unleashing an agenda of hate that would push our community backwards. These attacks, however, have lit a fire under the LGBTQ+ community, inspiring more LGBTQ+ people to run.
“These record-breaking numbers signify progress is still very much possible, and LGBTQ+ Victory Institute remains committed to supporting LGBTQ+ leaders called to public service. Because we will not — cannot — stop until we achieve equitable representation. Our rights depend on it.”