“There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are.” ~ Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay U.S. senator
In some ways, the tale of the struggle for LGBTQ+ representation in government is the story of all marginalized communities who fight for fairness and equality. Read on as we provide an overview of the importance and impact of LGBTQ+ representation in politics, acknowledging the progress that’s been made and the challenges that remain.
The history of LGBTQ+ representation in politics is a narrative of struggle, resilience, and progressive change. For decades, the LGBTQ+ community faced systemic exclusion and marginalization from mainstream political discourse and decision-making processes.
It wasn't until the late 20th century that significant breakthroughs began to occur. The Stonewall Riots of 1969, often regarded as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, marked a turning point that set the stage for increased political activism and representation.
In the United States, the journey towards LGBTQ+ representation in politics has seen numerous milestones. One of the earliest openly gay elected officials was Harvey Milk, who became a San Francisco city supervisor in 1977. His election was not just a personal triumph, but a symbol of hope for the LGBTQ+ community. Milk's advocacy for gay rights and his tragic assassination highlighted the need for more LGBTQ+ voices in political spheres.
Following his legacy, various LGBTQ+ politicians have emerged on the national stage. For example, Tammy Baldwin, elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, became the first openly gay U.S. Senator. Her election was a monumental step in LGBTQ+ political representation, proving that sexual orientation was not a barrier to holding high political office.
In recent years, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, became the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major party in the United States when he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. His campaign brought LGBTQ+ issues to the forefront of national political discourse, demonstrating the growing acceptance and influence of the LGBTQ+ community in politics.
Bringing hope to the promise of Senator Baldwin’s quote at the beginning of this post, the 118th Congress boasts a record number of LGBTQ+ members in the House and Senate, with openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual members numbering 11 in each chamber.
However, LGBTQ+ representation in government still has a way to go.
This demographic accounts for just over 2% of the 534 voting members of the U.S. Congress, though 6.5% of the population identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States.
Although acceptance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals is growing, one segment of this marginalized group continues to experience discrimination, slander, and violence. Hopefully, this will change with greater representation of the transgender community in public life, including in the world of politics.
Over the past several years, openly trans lawmakers have begun making history. Consider the impact of these three trailblazers:
In 2020, Sarah McBride was elected to the Delaware State Senate, making her the highest-ranking openly transgender official in U.S. history. Her election marked a monumental moment for transgender representation in politics.
Elected in 2017, Danica Roem served in the Virginia House of Delegates. She made history as the first openly transgender person to be elected and serve in a U.S. state legislature.
Although she ran against an opponent who tried to make her identity the main issue of the election, Roem’s focus on problems like traffic congestion and local infrastructure has been praised, demonstrating that transgender politicians bring diverse and practical perspectives to various issues.
On November 7, 2023, Roem made history again by winning her election to the Virginia State Senate, a first in Virginia history and only the second time a trans woman was elected to a state senate since the election of Sarah McBride.
In Kansas, Stephanie Byers became the state's first transgender lawmaker after winning her election to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2020. She is also the first trans representative from the Native American community. Her victory is significant in a state not typically known for progressive LGBTQ+ politics, indicating a broader cultural shift.
Although she declined to run for a second term to focus on her family, Byers has vowed to continue the fight for greater understanding of and representation for the trans community from her new home in Texas.
These victories, among others, represent not just personal triumphs for the individuals involved but also progress in the fight for broader LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. They are instrumental in shaping policies that address the specific needs and challenges of the transgender community.
The presence of LGBTQ+ representatives in politics has had a profound impact on government policies and legislation. Their unique perspectives and experiences bring much-needed diversity to policy discussions, leading to more inclusive and comprehensive laws.
For example, the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. was significantly influenced by the advocacy and support of LGBTQ+ politicians and their allies.
LGBTQ+ politicians have also played pivotal roles in the formulation of anti-discrimination laws, policies promoting equal rights in employment, education, and healthcare, and initiatives to address the specific needs of the LGBTQ+ community, such as HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
However, the looming danger of overturning marriage equality in the Supreme Court and continued threats from lawmakers at all levels of government highlight the continued need for LGBTQ+ advocacy and representation.
Representation matters in a democratic society. It ensures that the diverse voices and experiences of the citizenry are reflected in the corridors of power. For the LGBTQ+ community, political representation is not just about having a seat at the table; it's about reshaping that table to be more inclusive and equitable.
LGBTQ+ representation in politics serves several critical functions, including:
Voice and Visibility: Adequate representation provides a platform for members of the LGBTQ+ community to voice their concerns, challenges, and aspirations. This visibility is crucial in combating stereotypes, prejudices, and misinformation.
Policy Influence: LGBTQ+ politicians are often at the forefront of advocating for policies that directly benefit the queer community, leading to more equitable and just legislation.
Inspiration and Empowerment: Seeing LGBTQ+ individuals in positions of power inspires and empowers young people and other members of the community. It sends a powerful message that one's sexual orientation or gender identity is not a barrier to achieving their goals.
Cultural Shift: The presence of LGBTQ+ individuals in politics contributes to a broader cultural shift towards acceptance and normalization of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
Recent years have seen significant victories in LGBTQ+ representation in American politics, particularly as transgender individuals have been elected to various public offices. This progress not only symbolizes greater acceptance but also ensures diverse perspectives in policy making.
Although acceptance and representation are improving, the establishment parties are still not doing enough to secure LGBTQ+ rights. Instead, they seem caught up in semantics that further muddy the waters and inhibit progress.
Independent candidates, who are not affiliated with major political parties, can play a unique role in LGBTQ+ representation by:
Diversifying Perspectives: Independent candidates often bring perspectives that are not bound by traditional party lines. This can be particularly beneficial for LGBTQ+ representation as it allows for more nuanced and diverse views on issues affecting the community.
Challenging the Status Quo: By not being tied to the policies or ideologies of established parties, independents can challenge existing norms and advocate for change more freely. This can be crucial in pushing for LGBTQ+ rights in regions or contexts where major parties avoid prioritizing these issues.
Taking a Constituency-Focused Approach: Independents often focus on local or specific constituency issues, allowing them to address the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals in their areas more directly. This grassroots approach can lead to more effective and targeted policies.
Breaking Down Barriers: The success of independent LGBTQ+ candidates can inspire others from the community to enter politics, showing that party affiliation is not a prerequisite for making a significant impact in your community.
While significant progress has been made, the journey towards full LGBTQ+ representation and equality in politics continues. Challenges such as discrimination, underrepresentation, and a lack of comprehensive legal protections still exist. The queer community and its allies must remain vigilant by continuing to advocate for greater representation and equality.
LGBTQ+ representation in politics is vital for a truly democratic and inclusive society. It ensures that all voices are heard, all rights are protected, and all individuals have the opportunity to contribute to the political discourse, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The progress made thus far is a testament to the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, and a reminder of the work that still lies ahead.
Good Party is on a mission to find and empower independent candidates at all levels of government — so Americans of all backgrounds can be truly represented in government. We’re not a political party; we’re part of a growing movement to break the establishment stranglehold on our democracy and create a more inclusive and representative government.
You can become part of the change you’d like to see in the world by joining our growing network of candidates and volunteers pushing for greater representation and reform in politics.