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LGBTQ political representation jumped 21 percent in past year, data shows

At least 843 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people currently serve in elected offices across the U.S., according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
Image: Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a news conference in Chicago on April 10, 2020.Nam Y. Huh / AP file

At least 843 LGBTQ people currently serve in elected offices across the United States, constituting a 21 percent increase since June 2019, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute’s “Out for America 2020” census of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer elected officials.

Particularly pronounced increases were seen in the number of LGBTQ mayors, with a 35 percent year-over-year jump; the number of bisexual and queer-identified people, with increases of 53 percent and 71 percent, respectively; and the number of transgender women serving in elected office, with a 40 percent year-over-year rise.

“In a world where our civil rights are under attack, and many are questioning their place in the world, the affirming power of such representation cannot be overstated,” said Mondaire Jones, who recently won the Democratic nomination in New York’s 17th Congressional District and, if elected in November, could be the first openly gay Black man elected to Congress.

Much of this increase was driven by what Victory called a “rainbow wave” — a surge in LGBTQ wins in the 2018 and 2019 elections. Victory hopes that 2020 will usher even more LGBTQ people into elected office.

“While LGBTQ people are running for office in historic numbers, we remain severely underrepresented at every level of government — and that must change,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement.

According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, roughly 5 percent of U.S. adults say they are LGBTQ. According to the Victory Institute, just 0.17 percent of roughly a half million elected officials are known to be LGBTQ. The Victory Institute says that in order for LGBTQ people to achieve “equitable representation,” there would need to be 22,544 more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in elected office.

But LGBTQ political gains are not evenly distributed. In some types of political office, LGBTQ people are near equity, which Victory defines as having the percentage of elected positions held by openly LGBTQ elected officials equal to the percentage of LGBTQ people in the U.S. adult population (currently 4.5 percent). At the governor level, there would need to be one more LGBTQ person elected to reach that goal (total of 3 governors). In the U.S. Senate, three more LGBTQ elected officials would achieve equity (5 senators total).

State legislatures, on the other hand, lag behind: One-hundred-and-seventy-three LGBTQ people would need to be elected in order to achieve equity, according to Victory’s tally.

The majority of the 843 LGBTQ officials — 54 percent — are gay men, followed by 30 percent lesbians, 6 percent bisexuals and 5 percent queer officials.

The vast majority of all LGBTQ officials are cisgender — 94 percent. Roughly 2 percent are trans women and a half of 1 percent are trans men. Less than 1 percent of elected officials identify as intersex, two-spirit, gender-nonconforming or nonbinary.

America’s LGBTQ elected officials are mostly white — 77 percent — followed by 10 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Black, 2 percent multiracial, 2 percent Asian or Pacific Islander and less than 1 percent each for indigenous and Middle Eastern.

This breakdown may soon change, as two Black gay men running for Congress move closer to victory, including Jones.

“One of the most energizing features of this campaign is the sheer volume of messages I have received from members of the LGBTQ community, young and old, saying that my candidacy as an openly gay, Black person has inspired them to accept their own identities and live authentic lives,” Jones said in a text message to NBC News.

“I’m so humbled to be in a position to provide representation that I never had growing up,” Jones said.

The other openly gay Black man running for Congress is Ritchie Torres, currently the youngest member of the New York City Council, who has a strong lead in vote returns for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 15th Congressional District, which is also overwhelmingly Democratic. (The New York City Board of Elections began counting absentee ballots in the second week of July, and NBC News has not yet officially called the NY-15 election.)

While both Jones and Torres would be the House's first openly gay Black members, they apparently would not be the body’s first gay Black members.

That honor is thought to belong to Barbara Jordan of Texas, who in 1972 became the first Black woman to represent the South in Congress, and in 1976 became the first Black woman to be a keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention. It was only after her death in 1996 that her lesbian identity, hidden out of fear of political ramifications, was finally revealed.

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