It was election night 2016. I was watching the results roll in among a crowd of queer peers. Electricity silently flowed between us as we sat at the edge of our seats. During a lull in results, I mingled with some new faces in the crowd. That’s when I realized: Although I was in a room full of politically-minded queer people, a fair number of them had admitted to not voting. “I obviously didn’t vote for Trump, but I couldn’t vote for Clinton either,” many of them echoed.
While it was surprising to me to find that many people I knew had abstained from voting, it wasn’t that uncommon of a phenomenon. According to LPAC, 23% of LGBTQ+ women did not vote in 2016. And while not an overwhelming majority, that number is still surprisingly high.
That 23% statistic comes from a major set of data regarding the upcoming 2020 Presidential election that dives into the general voting demographics conducted by LPAC, a political action organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ women candidates and helping them get elected. Through candidate endorsements and direct campaign investments, LPAC gives to the queer women they feel best represent their values of LGBTQ+ equality, women’s health, and social justice. As their website says, the organization’s mission is simply to “build the political power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer women.”
LPAC also conducts research to understand the LGBTQ+ women voting body and help unite queer women as a truly powerful and driven political demographic, such as the recently released dataset. Working with Lake Research Partners, LPAC designed and administered the online survey for eight days in June of 2020, during which it was completed by 800 LGBTQ+-identified women.
“We wanted to take a look last year about differences and similarities — if there’s things that we can actually point out,” says Lisa Turner, LPAC’s National Political Director. “The key findings from the survey, although we didn’t [intend] for it to be, is that it is a follow-up to the 2019 work that we did making sure that people — the general population, politicians, candidates, people that work in a community organizing — understand that LGBTQ women are actually a force to be reckoned with. They’re also a community that is worth working with and motivating to get involved in various causes, including campaigns.”
One of the most important things that LPAC hopes to get across with this research is that LGBTQ+ women are not a monolith, just as all marginalized voting populations aren’t. Within our community, there is such a vast range of thoughts, values, and opinions that “LGBTQ+ women general data” would never go into the nuance necessary to accurately understand what is important to queer women voters. “These distinct groups of LGBTQ women respond differently to voting by mail, and have unique issue agendas, top values, and motivations to take political action,” reads the dataset.
Among the 800 women who replied to the survey, LPAC and Lake Research Partners found three distinct groups: non-registered voters, registered voters who are committed to Biden, and registered voters without any specific candidate commitment. And while this breakdown is important for specific questions, there are a few general inquiries that found commonality among them.
For one, most queer women are four times more likely (read: not necessarily committed) to vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election over Trump. That might sound like an obvious statement; of course queer women would choose the candidate who will hopefully push forward progressive policies that not only acknowledge their community but support it. However, considering the political landscape we currently live in and the support from 2016, it’s not far-fetched to assume that the number would be smaller in favor of potentially not voting (which only received 8% of results).
Actual LGBTQ+ women voters are mirroring this result in droves, though. Kara, a teacher from Massachusetts, says that, as a lesbian, it’s a no brainer to throw her support behind Biden instead of Trump considering the current President’s anti-LGBTQ+ track record. While she doesn’t fully support Biden or agree with all of his choices, she says that he’s the candidate that will give the most chance to the LGBTQ+ population and other marginalized communities.
“I think growing up with a queer identity shaped me to have a greater awareness not only for myself and my own feelings and experiences but also makes me extra sensitive to the lived experiences of other people,” says Kara. “While I know Joe Biden is not the most progressive candidate, I do trust that he will be a president for all Americans, not just white, able-bodied, straight Americans.”
And that reluctant but determined spirit is what’s on many LGBTQ+ voters’ minds. While 55% of the survey respondents noted they were committed to voting for Biden, that still leaves a whopping 45% of voters non-committed. It’s an issue that could possibly lead to a repeat of the 2016 election if those voters don’t commit or commit to an opposing candidate (Trump or a third-party candidate).
Of course, the voters aren’t not committed to voting for no reason; in fact, LPAC asked respondents about the lack of allegiance. For that 45%, the top two reasons behind their attitude were a belief that the American political system is rigged and a strong dislike of both candidates. And these are sentiments echoed even by those who have wholly thrown their support behind Biden. For them, it’s more about trying to create an inclusive and for-the-people country — and Trump just won’t do that.
“I don’t feel particularly motivated to vote for Joe Biden, because he is such a glaring example of a mediocre white guy making his way to the top by just being nice and decent and nothing special; there is nothing about Joe Biden to be excited about,” notes Kara. “However, I am motivated to vote against the current president. I do not believe someone who makes overtly racist remarks, panders to white supremacists, mocks people with disabilities, and clearly has no regard for human life should be our president.”
Unlike Kara, Victoria, a bisexual young professional, isn’t quite sure that Biden would even be much better for the American people, considering there is only so much change that can be done under one administration working within the confines of an entire political system. For her, though, it’s less about voting for change and more about voting for the candidate who is both not Trump and who won’t further plunge the country into social and economic chaos over the course of the next four years.
“I have committed to voting for Joe Biden. In all honesty, he is not my favorite person,” says Victoria. “I could think of a lot of other democrats that would be better suited for the job. I am fully aware that the issues with racism and white supremacy will still exist if he is elected. That being said, having a democrat in office puts us in a much better position to provide real, meaningful change.”
Not all unmotivated voters are willing to back Biden, though. LPAC’s research found that 30% of LGBTQ+ women who aren’t currently motivated to vote say there’s nothing that could possibly change their minds. Comparing that to the 23% of LGBTQ+ women who didn’t vote in 2016, it’s easy to assume that we could see a repeat of that statistic in 2020. Matt Fouracre, the Political Operations Manager for LPAC, disagrees, noting that the environment now seems to naturally require more involvement — which we will most likely see more of the closer we get to the election.
“I think the turnout in 2016 was down across all demographic groups from previous elections, and I think there was kind of a general lack of enthusiasm inside basically everyone,” notes Fouracre. “I think this year we might see a little more engagement just because the political environment, in general, is a little bit more charged and people seem to be more enthusiastic.”
Turner says that the unmotivated voters may respond well to seeing more representation and care for the LGBTQ+ community from the candidates themselves, as “75% of them said Biden was better, and 14% said that they were both equally fine,” she says. While Trump has a clear track record with anti-LGBTQ+ policy, Biden has had his own issues in regards to the queer community, and seeing a candidate devote time, energy, and resources to including the community could be majorly beneficial. “I think [this] presents an opportunity for campaigns to provide more information about the work that they’re doing around LGBTQ issues,” Turner says.
And while we as political spectators have to wait and see if candidates do start reaching out more to the LGBTQ+ population, what’s most on people’s minds is how the candidates will support marginalized communities — specifically Black people. Across all three key groups — non-registered voters; registered Biden voters; and registered, non-committed voters — the biggest issue was racism. It’s not hard to see why, either. In a country where Black people are regularly discriminated against for being who they are — often to the point of violence — it’s on other communities to support and do what’s best for the most vulnerable.
“We are really in a moment in this country where we have to decide if we really mean ‘justice for all,’” notes Kara. “Growing up with a marginalized identity of being queer and being a woman has made me sensitive to any issue of injustice. I believe racism is our gravest injustice in this country. Racism also affects so many other issues, from childcare to housing, the economy, et cetera. We need to have a collective reckoning and we need to see policy change that honestly addresses the history of racism in America.”
It’s also crucial to remember that the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t exist by itself; it’s a part of so many people’s intersectionality that supporting the Black community is, by default, supporting the queer community. And that unity is what is really going to come into play in the upcoming election. If we care about our LGBTQ+ community, if we care about Americans as people, we must do our part to vote.
Out of the 800 women surveyed, 23% said they would be more motivated to vote if there were better candidates. I’m here to tell you that that’s not going to happen. We’re less than two months from having to cast a ballot for the office of president, and a new candidate is not going to materialize out of thin air. Instead, what we need to do is understand the two paths that are in front of us and choose the one that will be easiest for everyone to walk. It’s the difference between having another four years of a corrupt, racist, homophobic, and all-around bad president and having four years of someone who will listen, learn, and help the country move in a direction that is inclusive for all.
As queer women, it’s our responsibility to use our voice — the one that our Black trans elders fought for — to fight for everyone else. An informed and passionate vote is a step in the right direction.
“It is incredibly daunting to think we could experience another four years with such a terrible man running our country,” notes Victoria. “But every vote counts, and if the queer population doesn’t show up and do what’s right, it only makes the odds of that happening higher.”