Just three decades ago, only a handful of openly gay candidates ran for election because being an out candidate in the United States, even in a local campaign for city council, could mean national attention and scrutiny, with media and opponents sometimes using the move vile terms.
By 2022, more than a thousand LGBT+ people ran for office in the United States and four out of ten of them were elected. The record-breaking 1,065 out LGBT+ people ran for offices from school board seats in rural towns to toss-up congressional districts and even gubernatorial races in some of the nation’s most progressive states.
A large majority faced bigoted attacks, including homophobic or transphobic slurs, threats on social media, and hateful emails – but when they ran, they won. In 2022 alone, more than 430 LGBT+ candidates were successful on Election Day.
While these LGBT+ candidates are gaining electoral success, they continue to face unique experiences and challenges many other candidates do not.
“Whether they’re running to fight bigotry or simply to serve their community, LGBTQ+ candidates are the best antidote against the homophobia and transphobia that’s increasingly present in the public square,” said Mayor Annise Parker, who served as the 61st Mayor of Houston, Texas, from 2010 until 2016, and is now president of LGBTQ+ Victory Institute.
“When We Run shows us what we know is true of LGBTQ+ candidates: they remain highly motivated to run and improve their communities despite ongoing obstacles,” said Parker. “Voters are increasingly demanding a government more reflective of America, and LGBTQ+ leaders are stepping up to meet the challenge.”
“While we must elect over 36,000 more out officials in the U.S. to reach parity, it’s heartening to see the high levels of motivation and an increasing number of candidates running year over year,” said Parker.
With estimates that say five to ten percent of the US population consists of LGBT+ people, there is room for growth but a number of current elected officials may be exercising their right to privacy, .
From fear of harassment on the campaign trail to voters arbitrarily questioning a person’s electability and not infrequently being subjected to bigoted attacks, LGBT+ candidates must navigate a constellation of obstacles in making the choice to run and in securing the most votes at the ballot box.
A first-of-its-kind report published by the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, a non-partisan political action committee that was founded in 1991 and has since become a 501 (c)3 organization, and Loyola Marymount University examines those realities.
When We Run is the largest-ever survey of LGBT+ candidates for public office in the U.S.
The survey – which was conducted in April and May of 2023 – asked LGBTQ+ candidates about their motivations for running, the challenges they faced, and how their identities affected their campaigns.
LGBTQ+ candidates were motivated to run for office for a variety of reasons, including a desire to increase LGBTQ+ representation (45.8%), to oppose anti-LGBTQ legislation (14.3% for trans women and 10.3% for gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and non-binary candidates), and to bring their unique perspectives to government.
Many LGBTQ+ candidates reported facing challenges during their campaigns, including prejudice because of their sexual orientation (26.4%) or gender identity (17.5%), and a lack of support from their local political party (37.1%).
Despite these challenges, LGBTQ+ candidates continue to run for office in record numbers, and their presence in government is making a difference for all Americans.
The full report can be viewed at victoryinstitute.org/whenwerun.