• Claire Kern

Pride in Politics: Opportunities for Growing LGBTQ Representation During Pride and Beyond


Source: New York 1


This Pride Month, we’re celebrating progress made to date in addressing the underrepresentation of LGBTQ elected officials, while continuing to identify barriers to future growth.


Underrepresentation of LGBTQ Elected Officials


LGBTQ women made significant headway in recent years with barrier breaking candidates like Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS) winning historic campaigns. However, LGBTQ women remain significantly underrepresented in elected office. LGBTQ women make up 6.4% of the population, but they account for only 0.08% of elected officials nationwide. [1] And while 41% more LGBTQ women ran for office in 2020 than in 2018 and LGBTQ women win at higher rates than LGBTQ men, women accounted for only 39% of LGBTQ candidates. [2] We must continue to increase the number of LGBTQ candidates - women in particular - running for office to reach political parity. [3]


The Ascend Fund is proud to support LGBTQ Victory Institute in their work to achieve and sustain global equality through leadership development, training, and convening to increase the number, expand the diversity, and ensure the success of openly LGBTQ elected and appointed officials at all levels of government. Victory Institute’s recent report, “The Decision to Run: Uncovering Barriers and Motivators for LGBTQ Women Running for Office,” revealed unique concerns for LGBTQ women when either making the decision to run for office or on the campaign trail. These included encountering threats and violence around their gender (identity), race, and/or sexual orientation; concerns about financial stability and viability; and questioning one’s qualifications due to a lack of visible role models. Fortunately, the Victory Institute found strategies for overcoming these barriers and motivating more LGBTQ women to run, such as networking, fundraising, and inspirational recruitment.

Bigotry, Threats, and Violence

LGBTQ women, particularly trans women, are frequently scrutinized in political ads, on social media, and by voters for their sexual orientation and gender expression, which often leads to more aggressive criticism and even threats. According to Victory Institute, 56% of candidates surveyed reported being somewhat concerned to very concerned about verbal attacks on the campaign trail. [4]



Brianna Titone, the first openly transgender person elected to the Colorado Legislature, experienced firsthand hateful political advertisements. Her opponent, then-incumbent State Representative Stephen Humphrey, voiced a robocall attacking Titone’s gender identity. The call said Titone was “dangerous” and sponsored a “radical sexual agenda” that would “force your wives and daughters” to “share bathrooms with biological males” and advocated for “taxpayer-funded sex change treatments for children.” [5]


Titone responded:

“[It’s] particularly disheartening that the attack came from my colleague and focused on my gender identity, which is irrelevant to how I perform my job…These kinds of attacks only serve to embroil people who have bought into the myths and tropes around trans people” and “I've seen an increase in transphobic comments and slurs since the attack was sent out.” [6]

– Colorado State Representative Brianna Titone

Undoubtedly, the fear of bigotry and threats of physical violence can discourage LGBTQ women from running for office. That’s why the Victory Institute’s training programs include lessons in addressing women’s common safety concerns. By increasing this type of training and overall representation of the LGBTQ community in government, we can decrease stigma and violence, further condemn these types of threats and bigotry, and show LGBTQ women that they should run for office.


Lack of Role Models

The ability to see someone like yourself in a public position is a powerful inspiration. Given the underrepresentation of the LGBTQ community in elected office, it's no surprise that almost 40% of potential LGBTQ women candidates expressed hesitation about running because of the lack of LGBTQ political role models. [7]

In general, women are more likely than men to question their qualifications to run for office. These feelings are exacerbated when a woman identifies as LGBTQ. A study done by the Victory Institute found that 66% of LGBTQ women candidates were somewhat or very concerned an LGBTQ person could not win the seat they were running for. This percentage goes down when respondents were asked about their hesitations to fill a seat already held by an LGBTQ person, and even further when asked about winning a seat previously held by a woman. [8] Getting LGBTQ women to run will only encourage others to feel confident in their ability to win.


Representation is on the rise, with LGBTQ candidates making history in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Just last year there were 221 newly out LGBTQ officials, and 39% of LGBTQ 2020 candidates won their races. [9] In 2018, 62 of the 84 candidates trained by Victory Institute won their races. [10]



Rep. Stephanie Byers made history in 2020 as the first trans Native American to win elected office in the United States.


“Representation matters. Period. …. Many of us who have been elected weren’t able to see those role models as we grew up. We know the importance of that representation and will work extraordinarily hard to not just earn the respect of our LGBTQ siblings, but of all of our constituents. We understand that we’re not just achieving something unique when we are elected to office, we are also holding the door open for the next generation.” [11]

– Kansas State Representative Stephanie Byers


Financial Burden


Running for office can be an expensive endeavor. Candidates must raise a substantial amount of money to fund their race, and many must also take time off work or quit their jobs entirely to campaign. Nearly 60% of LGBTQ women surveyed voiced hesitancy to run because of financial concerns. The average base salary for a state legislator is $38,370, making the decision to run a pay cut for many. [12]


Victory Institute’s campaign trainings help LGBTQ candidates develop the skills to raise the money necessary to run a successful campaign. Additionally, Victory Institute’s sister organization, Victory Fund, endorses LGBTQ candidates and connects candidates with a network of donors passionate about supporting LGBTQ candidates. Having solid endorsements can make or break the ability of LGBTQ women to win their races. In the 2018 election 67% of LGBTQ women Victory Fund endorsed candidates won their elections, while only 32.9% of non-endorsed women LGBTQ candidates won their races. [13]


Former Air Force Capt. Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian who ran for Congress in 2018 and 2020, is all too familiar with financial difficulties. In her early days on the campaign trail, a member of the Democratic Party once asked her whether she could raise $300,000 in 90 days. [14]


“You learn very quickly that it can be difficult to run if you do not personally or professionally come from wealth….That’s a deterrent.” [15]

-Gina Ortiz Jones, Candidate for Congress (TX-23)



Importance of Electing LGBTQ Women

Electing LGBTQ women to office is instrumental in ensuring LGBTQ legislation is prioritized. A study done by Victory Institute found that LGBTQ women candidates reported a common desire to make systemic change and fight for LGBTQ equality, and that their interest in running for office emerged from a personal connection to an issue they wanted to change if elected. [16]



For Town Constable Jordan Evans of Charlton, Massachusetts, her conservative background didn’t stop her from prioritizing transgender equality. As a transgender woman, she leverages her role as an elected official to urge Gov. Charlie Baker to support non-discriminatory protections for the transgender community and sign trans-protective legislation. [17]

“Full LGBTQIA equality is an American value – not something that should be reserved for political capital. That should be a motivator to stay and keep fighting, because the more of us that there are and the louder that we are, that’s when things will begin to change.” [18]

–Jordan Evans, Town Constable, Charlton, MA


In order to uplift voices of the LGBTQ community and advocate for public policy, we need more LGBTQ women in office. This year we’ve seen several anti-LGBTQ bills, including multiple bills passed across the nation prohibiting transgender women from participating in sports activities. [19] Striking down these discriminatory bills starts with increasing LGBTQ representation of in public office. Additionally, getting LGBTQ women into these positions can be pivotal in offering valuable perspectives to a group of legislators who have lacked diversity and experiences surrounding the difficulties this community faces.


Summary

As an outcome of their report, Victory Institute launched Women Out to Win. Women Out to Win equips candidates to face campaign challenges, particularly those unique to LGBTQ women, head-on. Participants receive advanced campaign training and are matched with mentors who are past and current LGBTQ elected officials for personalized coaching.


The Ascend Fund is proud to support Victory Institute’s year-round work ensuring more LGBTQ candidates have the tools, resources, and support to successfully run for office and reach political parity. We hope you will encourage the LGBTQ women in your life to run for office and share with them these resources, and work with others in your community to eliminate barriers to more just and equitable representation.



[1] Gallup - LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate / Victory Institute – Out for America

[2] The Victory Institute - The Decision to Run

[3] The Victory Institute - The Decision to Run

[4] The Victory Institute - The Decision to Run

[5] NBC News - Anti-LGBT Attack Ads Ramp Ahead of Election Day

[6] NBC News - Anti-LGBT Attack Ads Ramp Ahead of Election Day

[7] NBC News - LGBTQ Women, Running for Office Ranges from Difficult to Threatening

[8] The Victory Institute - The Decision to Run

[9] Fresh Fruit Mag- Breaking the Lavender Ceiling

[10] The Victory Institute - About

[11] Fresh Fruit Mag- Breaking the Lavender Ceiling

[12] The Ascend Fund - Full-Time Job, Part-Time Salary

[13] Victory Fund Annual Report

[14] NBC News - LGBTQ Women, Running for Office Ranges from Difficult to Threatening

[15] NBC News - LGBTQ Women, Running for Office Ranges from Difficult to Threatening

[16] The Victory Institute - The Decision to Run

[17] Freedom for All Americans - Massachusetts elected official: Being Transgender and Republican are compatible

[18] Freedom for All Americans - Massachusetts elected official: Being Transgender and Republican are compatible

[19] them. - Anti-Trans Sports Bills Are a “Solution” to a Problem That Doesn’t Exist

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