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8 LGBTQ candidates who could make history in November

Victory on Election Day could bring a number of LGBTQ firsts — from the first nonbinary member of the U.S. judiciary to the first queer Black woman on the New York City Council.
Image: Liliana Bakhtiari, Christopher Coburn, Crystal Hudson, Nick Kor, Jae Moyer, Sheila Nezhad, Xander Orenstein and Gabriela Santiago-Romero.
Political hopefuls Liliana Bakhtiari, Christopher Coburn, Crystal Hudson, Nick Kor, Jae Moyer, Sheila Nezhad, Xander Orenstein and Gabriela Santiago-Romero.Michael A. Schwarz; Leanna Joy Photography; Katrina Hajagos; Jonathan Heu; Cate Eighmey; Maxwell Collyard; Bex Tasker / Michael A. Schwarz; Leanna Joy Photography; Katrina Hajagos; Jonathan Heu; Cate Eighmey; Maxwell Collyard; Bex Tasker

Even though it’s an off year for elections, there are still plenty of people heading to the polls across the U.S. this November — and some of them will have the option to cast their vote for a historic LGBTQ candidate.

At least 237 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer candidates will be on the ballot on Nov. 2, 18.5 percent more than in the last off-year election in 2019, according to the political action committee LGBTQ Victory Fund

At least eight of these political hopefuls, highlighted below, will have the opportunity to be a historic first.

Liliana Bakhtiari (she/they)

Image: Liliana Bakhtiari.
Liliana Bakhtiari.Michael A. Schwarz

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Running for: Atlanta City Council, District 5

If elected, would be the first out: Queer Muslim elected official in Georgia

In their 2017 run for Atlanta City Council, Liliana Bakhtiari came within just 252 votes of beating a 16-year incumbent. This year they’ll try again to win a seat in a wide-open field of five candidates with no incumbent.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Bakhtiari lives with their partner Kris, German shepherd Pepe and their “many” rescue cats. Their previous work in 26 countries inspired their activism on affordable housing, sustainable infrastructure and government transparency. They are also involved in many nonprofit organizations including Georgia Equality and Black Futures Matter.

Christopher Coburn (he/him)

Christopher Coburn.
Christopher Coburn.Leanna Joy Photography

Location: Bozeman, Montana

Running for: Bozeman City Commission

If elected, would be the first out: Queer Black elected official in Montana 

Christopher Coburn’s interest in public health grew, in part, out of his upbringing: He said his mother used public programs to help raise him, like Head Start and WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children. He now holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Montana, serves on the Gallatin City-County Board of Health and works for local nonprofit health care system Bozeman Health. 

Coburn was appointed to the Bozeman City Commission in April to fill a vacant seat but now needs to win one of two spots in a three-way race in the Nov. 2 election to earn a four-year term. 

“It’s always been incredibly important to me to make sure that I use my voice to amplify the needs of folks like me who are usually not represented in decision-making spaces in Montana,” Coburn told NBC News. “As a city commissioner, I’ll fight to make Bozeman the type of equitable and inclusive community that we all deserve.”

Crystal Hudson (she/her)

Crystal Hudson.
Crystal Hudson.Katrina Hajagos

Location: New York, New York

Running for: New York City Council, District 35

If elected, would be the first out: Queer Black woman on the New York City Council

Crystal Hudson, an “unapologetically pro-Black, pro-queer, pro-justice” candidate, hopes to bring sweeping change to the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. From education to climate justice to senior care, Hudson’s vision includes a “Black Agenda for New York City,” because “when Black New Yorkers thrive, all New Yorkers thrive.” 

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in her area, Hudson, a third-generation Prospect Heights resident, created Greater Prospect Heights Mutual Aid, a group of neighbors helping neighbors access food and other resources.

Nick Kor (he/him)

Nick Kor.
Nick Kor.Jonathan Heu

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Running for: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 7

If elected, would be the first out: Queer Asian American on the Minneapolis City Council

Minneapolis residents will vote on city leadership on Nov. 2 for the first time since the killing of George Floyd shook the country last year. Nick Kor is one of three candidates challenging 23-year incumbent Lisa Goodman to represent Ward 7.

Restructuring public safety is a key element of his platform, and, unlike Goodman, Kor supports the city charter amendment Minneapolis voters will decide on next week about whether to replace the city’s police force with a Department of Public Safety, calling it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.” 

“All eyes are on Minneapolis in this pivotal moment after the murder of George Floyd. I’m running because I believe we must take this opportunity to make our community safer and more equitable for everyone by expanding our approach to public safety. It will take courageous leaders who listen,” he told NBC News in an email. “As a queer, Asian American organizer who has dedicated his career to racial and LGBTQ+ justice, and as a former Director at the MN Department of Human Rights, I know Minneapolitans can build that future, together.”

Jae Moyer (they/them)

Jae Moyer.
Jae Moyer.Cate Eighmey

Location: Johnson County, Kansas

Running for: Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

If elected, would be the first out: Nonbinary elected official in Kansas

Jae Moyer, 22, is pursuing a political science degree at Johnson County Community College. They previously studied musical theater performance at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. Moyer, who is openly gay and gender-nonconforming, hopes their representation will help other students “grow and understand themselves and each other.”

“My platform is ‘Equality, Education, Opportunity,’” Moyer told NBC News in an email. “It is my goal to remove every roadblock possible when it comes to accessibility to higher education here in Johnson County. I want to focus on doing things like creating a multicultural center on campus, and also making sure that educators feel as though their voices are being heard and that they feel respected on campus so they are best prepared to provide a quality education. If elected, I hope to be a voice that represents my generation, and my community.”

Sheila Nezhad (she/her)

Sheila Nezhad.
Sheila Nezhad.Maxwell Collyard

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Running for: Mayor of Minneapolis

If elected, would be the first out: LGBTQ mayor in Minnesota

Sheila Nezhad said she became inspired to run for office after the unprecedented year of 2020 changed her and her city. She hopes to put what she’s learned over years of organizing and activism for LGBTQ rights, a $15 minimum wage and alternatives to policing to use as mayor of Minneapolis. She is one of the top contenders in a crowded field seeking to oust incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey.

Nezhad said even her name started her off with “a life of cross-cultural movement-building.” Her first and middle names, Sheila June, come from her dad’s Persian side and her American mom’s Anishinaabe-Swedish-Norwegian heritage, while her last name, Nezhad, means “the people.” A self-proclaimed “proud nerd,” her personal motto is: “From the streets to the spreadsheets!

Xander Orenstein (they/them)

Xander Orenstein.
Xander Orenstein.Bex Tasker

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Running for: Magisterial District Judge, 05-03-10

If elected, would be the first out: Nonbinary member of the U.S. judiciary

Xander Orenstein was raised in Maryland in an Orthodox Jewish community, where they said they were taught the value of helping others from an early age by watching their parents give free medical care to community members. Orenstein said their family always prioritized relationships over material things after three of their grandparents survived the Holocaust.

Orenstein became a scientist and organizer but lost their job when the pandemic hit. The pandemic highlighted so many issues with the justice system that Orenstein said they decided, following the suggestion of a judge, to run for district judge, realizing that being a lawyer is not a requirement. They believe in “restorative justice, not summary punishment” and bail reform.

“The justice system has the potential to uphold equality and ensure everyone has access to fair treatment under the law,” Orenstein told NBC News in an email. “In reality, laws tend to be enforced and upheld in ways that inflict harm upon the most vulnerable. It is common that those with resources have greater access to the parts of the system that give them the most benefit, while those without resources must work far harder and risk much more in order to have a chance at a similar result.”

“As magistrate, I hope to mitigate the harm done to those for whom the system was not intentionally built, and to center justice around restoration, community building, and compassion rather than around punishment,” Orenstein said. “By having the long term good of both the individual and community in mind, rather than just short term stopgaps to problems, we can work towards sustainable solutions that do more than just maintain the status quo.”

Gabriela Santiago-Romero (she/her)

Gabriela Santiago-Romero.
Gabriela Santiago-Romero.Eric Thomas

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Running for: Detroit City Council, District 6

If elected, would be the first out: LGBTQ councilwoman in Detroit

“Growing up an immigrant in poverty in Southwest Detroit has forced me to see and learn things the hard way,” organizer Gabriela Santiago-Romero stated on her campaign website.

An immigrant from Mexico, her platform includes supporting residents over investing in punitive measures, standing with workers for fair wages and increasing access to affordable housing.

Santiago-Romero has earned several key endorsements in the race against her opponent, Hector Santiago (no relation), including those of the retiring incumbent councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

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