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Despite Historic High, LGBTQ Still Underrepresented in Elected Office

There are more lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans politicians than ever before, but they only make up .1 percent of elected officials.

Pete Buttigieg speaking at the Capital City Pride Fest in Des Moines, Iowa.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first mainstream LGBTQ candidate for president, speaking during the Capital City Pride Fest in Des Moines, Iowa.
(AP/Charlie Neibergall)

SPEED READ:

  • Openly LGBTQ people hold 698 out of America's 520,000 elected offices, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
  • More than 300 LGBTQ candidates were elected in a "Rainbow Wave" during the 2018 midterms.
  • 10 congressmembers, two governors, 147 state legislators, 34 mayors and 394 other local officials are openly LGBTQ. 
 
The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots arrives this Friday, and the LGBTQ community has something to celebrate: More openly LGBTQ people in elected office than at any time in U.S. history.

The modern LGBTQ movement began in 1969 with a violent uprising against a police raid of the popular New York City gay bar Stonewall Inn. Five decades later, LGBTQ people hold 698 elected offices in 2019, according to a report released this month by the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which supports LGBTQ candidates.

“We are achieving higher-level offices, building representation in state legislatures and winning in pockets of the country where we never have before,” the group’s president, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, wrote in the report. “[It's] people of color and trans people who are making the biggest strides.”

The report describes a “Rainbow Wave” washing over the country in 2018 when more than 700 LGBTQ candidates ran for office and over 300 won. As of the beginning of this month, LGBTQ elected officials included 10 congressmembers, two governors (Colorado's Jared Polis and Oregon's Kate Brown), 147 state legislators, 34 mayors (including Chicago's Lori Lightfoot, the first openly gay leader of one of the nation's three largest cities) and 394 other local officials. 

The vast majority of LGBTQ officials are Democrats. One of the highest-profile leaders is Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., who is making history this year as the first mainstream LGBTQ candidate for president. 

But the Victory Institute believes there’s more work to do.

“Although great strides were made in the past year,” the report states, “LGBTQ people of color, bisexual, transgender and queer people, and LGBTQ cisgender women are still severely underrepresented among LGBTQ elected officials. Diversifying the pipeline of upcoming LGBTQ leaders must remain a priority in the effort to elect the 22,688 LGBTQ people necessary to achieve equitable representation for the community as a whole.”

More than 4 percent of Americans identify as LGBTQ, but they make up just .1 percent of elected officials at all levels of government -- 698 out of nearly 520,000, according to the report.

Stonewall’s 50th anniversary comes three years after President Barack Obama designated a national monument outside the inn -- the first national monument ever to honor the LGBTQ rights movement. Obama also made history by invoking the uprising in his second inaugural address in 2013.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still,” he said on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, “just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Obama was the first president to support same-sex marriage, and his tenure coincided with a massive cultural embrace of the LGBTQ community, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in 2015.

President Donald Trump, in contrast, has appointed anti-LGBTQ judges, banned transgender Americans from the military and supported businesses' rights to deny services to LGBTQ patrons if they cite religious objections. This week, E&E News published emails showing Trump administration officials unhappy with a rainbow pride flag on federal land outside the Stonewall Inn.   

 
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this miscalculated the percent of elected officials who are LGBTQ.

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