Big Wins for LGBTQ Local Candidates Balance Prominent Losses on Election Day 2021

By Mary Emily O’Hara, Rapid Response Manager | November 3, 2021

This week’s Election Day results brought dismay to some, but there are bright spots among the significant losses. As Glenn Youngkin (whose record includes opposition to both marriage equality and protections for transgender students) was elected governor of Virginia last night, LGBTQ advocates also noted dozens of wins for out LGBTQ candidates around the country—including in Virginia. And even as Tyler Titus lost his bid to oversee Erie County, Pennsylvania (considered a swing vote bellwether), other nonbinary candidates and transgender men won history-making elections in nearby Pittsburgh and Ohio. 

So many LGBTQ candidates won their elections, in fact, that there will now be over 1000 out LGBTQ elected officials in the U.S. for the first time in history. These advances in elected representation at the local level come as new GLAAD research out today shows a growing awareness among Americans of the diversity of the LGBTQ community.

In Montana, Kansas, Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina, LGBTQ candidates won elections and “firsts” of all kinds on Tuesday. The LGBTQ Victory Fund was still live-tracking results on Wednesday, but showed at least 80 wins by midday. Just a few of the most impactful wins were:

  • Montana elected the first Black LGBTQ official in state history when Christopher Coburn was elected to the Bozeman City Commission.
  • Ohio elected its first-ever transgender official when Dion Manley won a position on the Gahanna Jefferson School Board.
  • New York City added a historic six out LGBTQ officials to its City Council: Crystal Hudson, Kristin Richardson Jordan, Lynn Schulman, Tiffany Cabán, Chi Ossé, and Erik Bottcher. Hudson and Jordan also became the first Black LGBTQ women to serve on the council.
  • Pennsylvania elected the first nonbinary judge in the U.S., Xander Orenstein.
  • Massachusetts elected the first nonbinary official in state history when Thu Nguyen won a seat on the Worcestor City Council.
  • Utah elected two new LGBTQ members to the Salt Lake City Council. Four out of the six seats are now held by LGBTQ people, making it one of the largest U.S. cities with a majority LGBTQ council leadership.

As the Victory Fund’s 2021 Out On The Trail report highlighted in October, at least 410 LGBTQ people ran for office in 2021, with increased diversity and representation in every region of the country. Over the course of the year, LGBTQ candidates ran for office in 39 states, including the majority of the South. Diversity of candidates increased overall, with the number of Black and Asian and Pacific Islander candidates increasing, as well as significant increases in the number of trans men and nonbinary people running for office.

The breadth of this year’s “rainbow wave,” which shows increasing diversity of LGBTQ candidates and increased representation in every region of the country, is a symbol of the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in American culture. On Wednesday, GLAAD released the 2021 Accelerating Acceptance report, which measures awareness and acceptance among non-LGBTQ Americans. According to the findings, 81% of non-LGBTQ people expect that nonbinary and transgender people will become a more familiar part of life just as gay and lesbian people have. And 43% of non-LGBTQ people believe that gender is not limited to female and male, an increase from 38% in 2020. These two findings support the many electoral wins among transgender and nonbinary candidates this November. As more Americans understand that there are more than two genders, more nonbinary and genderqueer candidates are being elected.

Several already-serving LGBTQ leaders won reelection on Tuesday as well, including five members of the Virginia House of Delegates—a hopeful sign for the Commonwealth amid its election of Youngkin. Among those reelected: Danica Roem, who made history as the first out transgender person elected to a state legislature and now becomes the longest-serving transgender official as she embarks on her third term. Another history-making trans official, Andrea Jenkins, was reelected to the Minneapolis City Council.

But it’s the election of new LGBTQ candidates to local positions in smaller cities and towns across America that is most news-making this year. Out LGBTQ people were elected mayor in Broomfield, Colorado (Guyleen Castriotta); Lambertville, New Jersey (Andrew Nowick); Milford, Pennsylvania (Sean Strub); Carrboro, North Carolina (Damon Seils); and Somersworth, New Hampshire (Dana Hilliard).

The number of LGBTQ elected officials serving in office is still not sufficient to represent the community. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, the number of out LGBTQ people is increasing not just overall, but also with each new generation. This year, Gallup found that 5.6% of the U.S. population overall is LGBTQ, but that number rises to 15.9% among Generation Z (and 9.1% among millennials.) Comparatively, only 0.19% of elected officials currently serving in the U.S. are LGBTQ people—the vast majority serving in local offices.

GLAAD measures visibility and representation in several areas, from film and television to advertising and news media. While inclusion is increasing, with more (and more diverse) LGBTQ characters appearing in media and more LGBTQ officials winning elections, there is still a long way to go before LGBTQ people have equal representation in government. Even more LGBTQ candidates will likely run for the 2022 midterm elections, and it’s important that all LGBTQ people and their allies vote for representatives who pledge to protect and advance LGBTQ equality.

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