There is a surge of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer candidates vying for political office in 2018.
Early last week, Fort Lauderdale voters gave a sweeping victory to attorney Dean Trantalis, 64, to succeed Mayor Jack Seiler. He led the polls with about 65 percent of the vote, The Sun-Sentinel reported.
The attorney’s win makes him the city’s first openly gay mayor, following mayors who at times collided with the community’s LGBTQ groups and residents.
The city’s former mayor, Jack Seiler, had a relatively positive relationship with the LGBTQ community, but he came under scrutiny in 2014 when he voted against a symbolic resolution supporting marriage equality, and again last year when he hosted a prayer breakfast featuring an organization known for opposing LGBTQ rights. Seiler’s predecessor, Jim Naugle, has been blasted as a “homophobe” for his infamous anti-gay message and fervent attacks on the LGBTQ community.
Mayor-elect Trantalis told Salon that his election victory indicates a shift in the city’s attitudes. “I think Florida has already changed, and I’m just a reflection of that change,” he said. “The city of Fort Lauderdale has always needed time to evolve on that issue, and I think we’ve now been able to do that.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) congratulated Trantalis, tweeting, “Mayor-Elect Trantalis has a true passion for public service and fighting for civil rights. This is a massive victory for Broward County and the LGBT community nationwide.”
Trantalis is the latest openly-out individual to ascend to political office — and given the number of LGBTQ candidates who are seeking local, state and national office this year, he likely won’t be the last.
In January, Chelsea Manning, the transgender former Army intelligence analyst who was found guilty of leaking classified military documents, announced she would run for a US Senate seat in Maryland. She is running as a Democrat and will likely face off against two-term Senator Ben Cardin, who elevated his profile this year by investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election on the chamber’s foreign affairs committee.
Annise Parker — the CEO of Victory fund, a political action committee dedicated to increasing the number of LGBTQ officials in the US, and Houston’s first gay mayor — told Salon that the growing number of LGBTQ candidates is “a natural progression.”
“LGBTQ candidates are running for the same reason so many women are running,” Parker said, referring the surge of female candidates running for office in 2018. “They are frustrated or concerned. They see hard won rights being under attack at the federal level and in many of the states, and they want to do something about it.”
While Victory Fund has endorsed more than 70 openly gay candidates across various office levels so far this election cycle, the organization expects that number to grow to more than 150 before Election Day. And the group’s endorsement slate does not include the total number of LGBTQ candidates who will be on ballots this year.
The Connection Between the Rise in LGBTQ and Women Candidates
Donald Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas and author of “Out and Running: Gay and Lesbian Candidates, Elections and Policy Representation,” told Salon that the rise of LGBTQ candidates for national office can be traced back to the earlier successes of out candidates in state and local elections.
“The [LGBTQ] community is finally sort of reaching a level where they’re been really successful with local level offices, with state level offices,” he said. “They’ve created a deep bench of potential candidates for national office, and you’re seeing now more national candidates than ever before for the House and for the Senate than there has ever been in any election cycle.”
Like Mayor Parker, Haider-Markel also sees a connection between the increase in the number of women running for office and the rise of LGBTQ candidates.
“I think what you’re seeing in the LGBT community is similar to what you’re seeing with other minority communities and with women,” he explained. “In that their reaction to this administration is basically to get off the couch and run for office.”
Despite the possible connection between the rise in LGBTQ and female candidates, Haider-Markel acknowledged that LGBTQ representation is still male heavy — but added that could change this election year.
Haider-Markel pointed to Tammy Baldwin, the first openly-gay candidate elected to the US Senate, as a testament to that fact. He said, Baldwin “tells the story right there, in the sense that there haven’t been as many women running for office overall, so it makes sense there would be fewer LGBT women running for office as well.”
Electoral data reviewed by the Victory Fund reveals that LGBTQ women running for office win their elections at a higher rate than LGBTQ men, suggesting the political landscape could look a lot different — and a lot more representative for women — in 2018.
LGBTQ Candidates and the Blue Wave: Will It Help?
Why now? Haider-Markel pointed to the outcome of the 2016 election and to the number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced over the last two years, including HB 2 in North Carolina. Often referred to as the “bathroom bill,” it sought to restrict transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. HB2 is included in the more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills that were introduced across 29 states in 2017, according to a report published by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). In addition, FBI hate crime statistics from 2016 show an increase in the number of reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.
Late Friday night, President Trump announced a new policy for the military that would ban most transgender people from serving in the armed forces.
Haider-Markel pointed out that LGBTQ candidates are energized, and his findings show that their prospects look promising.
“These candidates that run, they’re not Donald Trump candidates,” he said. “These are people that are connected politically. They have experience in politics, either through interest groups or working on campaigns, and they’re better than the average candidate running for the offices they’re running for. The evidence I have suggests the candidates do better than a comparable heterosexual candidate.”
However, Haider-Markel notes that “saying that an LGBTQ candidate can win in any district in the country would be a fairly strict statement,” and that it’s important to acknowledge “the vast majority of [LGBTQ candidates] are running as Democrats. It’s going to be to their advantage.”
He also stressed that candidates “have to be strategic about when and where they run,” and that “they have to run in districts that are going to tend to lean more liberal, be better educated and more urban,” but that “even in a red state [a victory for an out candidate] is possible.”
And given Democrats are winning in unlikely places, including Kentucky, Wisconsin and Florida, it’s possible that a blue wave is forming ahead of the midterm elections — and LGBTQ candidates could ride it to victory.
Nevertheless, Haider-Markel referenced his findings and said, “Sexual orientation and LGBT status is not a major hurdle for them to cross. Candidates who are open about who they are, are going to be more successful, whether they’re LGBT or not.”
The trend of LGBTQ candidates has come to New York, too. Cynthia Nixon, the bisexual activist and Emmy Award winning actress, perhaps best known as “Miranda” from “Sex and the City,” recently announced she would be challenging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the state’s Democratic primary in 2018 — and New Yorkers can’t help but wonder, “Does Nixon have a shot?” Only time will tell.