According to a report from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a record-breaking 610 openly LGBTQ people ran for office across all levels of government for the midterm elections. At least 392 of them are still in the race and will be on the ballots on Election Day, which is this Tuesday, November 6. That includes exactly 22 U.S. congressional candidates and four gubernatorial candidates. They’re almost exclusively Democrats; the report tracked down exactly one known LGBTQ Republican congressional nominee on the federal level, who ran unopposed in his primary.
That’s not to say all LGBTQ politicians see eye-to-eye on the issues. I spoke to eight of them about their perspectives on the state of American politics, their projects for the future of LGBTQ rights and representation, and their personal priorities when it comes to policy. While they all denounced the current administration’s attacks on this community, not a single one of them described LGBTQ issues as being their number one reason for running. Some talked about America’s failing healthcare system as their top concern; others talked about climate change or cybersecurity as the country’s most pressing issue. Even each candidate’s view on how to handle the growing hyper-partisanship in America differed; some advocated for a renewed progressive wave, while others saw a revival of the political center as the only way forward.
In all the talk of the “rainbow wave,” it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that being queer isn’t a personality trait nor does it translate into a single worldview or political ideology. So what do LGBTQ politicians have in common? The most unifying factor was their experiences of discrimination, isolation, and uphill battles shared by anyone who’s grown up with a queer identity in an exceedingly cis-heteronormative culture. Perhaps more than any other group of people, LGBTQ politicians are fighters.
Here’s a brief glimpse into the diverse viewpoints of this eclectic roster of leaders.
Former foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration and candidate for Florida’s 18th congressional district (D)
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On being an LGBTQ politician: “For LGBT Americans, our cause is common cause with every other group that has been discriminated against by Donald Trump and his administration, and we need to go forward and fight together. When I talk to my constituents, they want to talk about the issues. They don’t want to talk about my sexuality. They want to talk about health care and Medicare and social security and education and the environment. But of course my sexuality plays a role in who I am as a candidate because it’s a defining feature—I know what it feels like to have had to have fought hard for equality and rights, and therefore I think that makes me even more of a fighter for equality as a candidate. I’ve been very open on the campaign trail about who I am because I am running as my authentic self, my full self, in order that young people in our community and around the country can be their full selves. Every time that someone comes up to me and tells me that they are inspired by my candidacy because they are a queer kid or because they have two moms or because they have two dads, I know even more why I’m fighting.”
The country’s most pressing dilemma right now: “Big picture, I think we are at a moment of incredible divisiveness and division in our country—such hyper-partisanship on the right and on the left. Congress isn’t legislating anymore, and people are losing faith in our government. I think we are at a moment now where we need to be electing the kind of leaders who can be consensus builders, who can show that our government can actually deliver, that it can actually pass laws, that it can act in a way that is consistent with the best of American values.
I think these days there are too many people with a “my way or the highway” attitude, and the result of that is a Congress that is better known for what it doesn’t do than what it does do. The American people are electing representatives to serve them in Washington to make their government work for them. If you’re going to that, you have to be a consensus maker, you have to be a bridge builder, and you have to be the kind of person who gets things done.”
Her top priorities: “Healthcare and the environment. We are dealing with environmental crisis in our community right now. We have red tide on the east coast of Florida. We have toxic algae covering 90 percent of Lake Okeechobee. This is an environmental crisis for us. It is a public health crisis, and it’s also an economic crisis for us. And for too long we’ve been suffering under a congressperson who votes in the interest of the corporate polluters who line his campaign coffers instead of in the interest of our community here. So the environmental crisis here is a top priority, as well as healthcare, where we have a congressperson who has been voting to strip protections for those in our community with preexisting conditions to sabotage and undermine the Affordable Care Act to take healthcare away from those who need it most instead of expanding access.”
Candidate for Texas’s 3rd congressional district (D)
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On being an LGBTQ politician: “I really was taken aback—I heard it several times but particularly from a young man who is not gay, when he found that out about me, he thought, “You know what? Lorie knows what it’s like to have had to fight for herself, so I know she will fight for me.” And that just really resonated with me.
Everybody—they may not be gay—but everybody knows what it’s like to not feel seen or heard or worthy. We all have these personal struggles and these journeys, and to be able to have somebody who embraces that, who wants to listen to other people even though they may not identify with them or even agree with them but to get them to respect and honor their experience, I think there’s so much power in that. I think at a fundamental human level that’s what we’re all looking for. I think we crave it to see in our leaders now more than ever.”
This country’s most pressing dilemma at this point in time: “The process of who is getting elected and how they’re getting elected. One of my biggest platforms, I guess you can say, is that I’m not taking any PAC or special interest donations because I think campaign finance reform is a critical thing to address so that it’s not just special interests and big donors that are getting people elected. I think that’s why people are disengaged and not voting. […] I think this disgust in our elected leaders and the extreme partisanship is just killing us.”
On how to reconcile the deep divide in our country: “I realize I won’t get everybody’s vote, but when I’m elected, even if I didn’t earn your vote, I will work every day to earn your trust. And I think once people can actually see that no matter where people are coming from, who they are and what they’re about, it’s a lot harder to hate or discriminate against somebody you know. It’s a great battle, but I think that there is way more that brings us together than divides us, but we don’t have leaders that are encouraging that and bringing that together. There’s so much distrust in our politics that I really believe that what is going to save us is getting everyday people elected. I heard another candidate use the expression that we need to elect leaders that ride the same bus that we do. I think that’s such a great metaphor for what we need. There’s always going to be hate, there’s always going to be discrimination, but we need to be more powerful and overpower that and just realize that not everybody’s going to come together and be on board, but we’re better than this. Our leaders aren’t, so let’s get new people in place.”
Candidate for Utah’s 1st congressional district (D)
On being an LGBTQ politician: “I think people have just kind of been seeing it as, you know, that’s just part of who he is. As far as for me, when I was young, I think my father knew I was gay before I knew I was gay. And then I came out and [was subjected to his] actions and his words and mistreatment, and I was asked to leave the home. Kicked out early. And I remember what it felt like feeling like no one cared about me, feeling that aching pain that nobody loved me. It was terrible, and it was that moment that I later would pull from. I still do with my actions. I want to make sure that people, if I can help it, don’t have to feel that way.”
On being a gay Christian: “For me, not to Bible bash people, but I know that God loves me just as I am, and I wanted to make sure that other people knew that they have a relationship with God. Nobody else can define that for you. It’s up to you. No matter what people say, you have that relationship with God. Nobody else can take that away from you.”
On the conflict between LGBTQ rights and religious rights: “When I take office, I’m going to be Bible bashing them back. I would love the opportunity to because God hates a hypocrite. They can’t pick and choose what they want to read and to follow. I look forward to the opportunity to defend my people. […] What Jesus Christ said was to love thy neighbor. To love God first and to love thy neighbor.”
Candidate for governor of Vermont (D)
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On being a transgender politician: “My experiences are definitely different than those of my opponent and those of Vermont’s past governors. This is important—elected officials should represent and understand the broad variety of experiences that their constituents have, not simply a narrow subset. The adversity I’ve faced as a trans woman informs the way I prioritize and approach inclusion. While my experiences have influenced my views, I’m not running to be the first transgender governor—I’m running to fight climate change, get Vermonters connected to the internet, and develop our rural economies.”
The country’s most pressing dilemma: “We have to fight to solve climate change. This is something I’ve dedicated my life to, and today the fight is more urgent than ever. If we commit ourselves to getting carbon out of our energy sources in the next several years we have a chance, and I believe Vermont can lead the country in this fight.”
On how state-level initiatives can provide protections for vulnerable communities: “They can provide protections for vulnerable communities even as they are rolled back at the federal level. Vermont has robust protections for LGBTQ people. I want to maintain and expand those laws to ensure that the Trump administration can’t hurt LGBT Vermonters and that our state can be a place where everyone is safe and welcomed.”
Candidate for California’s 25th congressional district (D)
On being an LGBTQ politician: “It’s who I am. I came out about it when I was, gosh, 18 I think. I feel like to hide something like that, to shy away from it, is doing damage. I felt like as someone who identifies within the community, it’s in large part my job to be a voice and to say that, yes, this is who I am. And I’m running, and it just is what it is. I decided that I wanted to be out about it early on and just make it not a big deal. This isn’t why I’m running. This isn’t why you should vote for me or anything like that. It’s just a part of who I am.”
On having your bisexuality erased, even as a politician: “I feel particularly strongly as a bisexual woman, [there’s] less understanding and acceptance of bisexuality, especially when people are in committed relationships. Especially lately, I get some kind of a question from an older donor or somebody: “What does this mean? Does it mean that you cheat on your husband?” I had another one—she said to me, “Just two days before the primary, you tweeted about being bisexual. Why would you do that?” Or I had people say that I claimed to be bisexual because I wanted the endorsement from the LGBTQ groups in my primary. So I think there’s just a lot of weirdness around it that needs to be normalized.”
On how to reconcile the deep divide in our country: “Frankly I think that there’s representation among the extremes that is not really reflective of the vast majority of Americans. […] I think what we see overall is we’ve got this representation on the right of a total extreme that’s in large part due to gerrymandering and to this rhetoric on the right that’s completely inflammatory and dangerous. I think it’s on all the rest of us to normalize a more middle position as much as possible and say this is unacceptable. This isn’t who we are as a country. These aren’t our values. When you talk about Christian values—I was raised as a Christian—Christian values are in no way about discrimination or about imposing your own beliefs onto somebody else. That’s something we really have to have a counter-narrative to as much as we can.
We have far more in common than we do apart. The narrative around—especially in a purple district like ours—we have some people who are in the far extremes, but that’s not most. That’s not even most Republicans. So am I going to represent that extreme position? No, I never will. But people who are typically Republican but also care about having a safe community and care about having good health care and about having affordable housing, those are things that I represent no matter what. We’re not always going to agree on exactly how we approach something, but the fundamental values are shared and are there.”
Candidate for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district (R)
On being a gay Republican: “I believe in the Second Amendment. As the son of a former police chief, I know the importance in the ability to protect yourself. However, we need to make sure that those who obtain guns are properly vetted, and that is where changes to HIPAA come into this situation. We protect the privacy of potential maniacs more than we do the lives of future victims. I believe in repealing The Jones Act, which cost many lives in Puerto Rico and has increased the cost of living in Hawaii in a ridiculous way.
Listen… I’m different. I can hold Republican values and not agree with everything the Republican Party believes. The difference between me and [my opponent] Tulsi Gabbard is, I don’t hide behind a “D” for Democrat when she’s more Republican than I am.”
The country’s most pressing dilemma right now: “The fact that 250,000 to 440,000 Americans are dying a year due to medical errors, and no one is talking about it. In fact, you will not find one single death certificate in the United States that says: “Cause of Death: Medical Error,” because the insurance companies all pull the strings. They fight the loved ones, rather than help the families that lost a loved one due to their mistakes. They never admit anything. Then we have hospital “rating” organizations who rate hospitals they never have walked into, and then the hospitals have the audacity to use that rating in their advertising as if it means anything. Leap Frog Group, for example, sends out a questionnaire that the hospital answers themselves, unchecked, with no person actually ever walking into the hospital to verify the information. This is a national crisis.”
On how our country became so divided: “Get rid of Donald Trump. He’s not a Republican. He’s not a Democrat. He’s not an Independent. People wanted to see “what would happen” if they elected him. Now you know! John McCain was the kind of Republican that worked for both parties. Everyone respected him for this. He hated on no one. What we are in the middle of now, thankfully, we are literally coming to the middle of. In two years, people can change this situation if they want to, and it could happen sooner if others take charge next week.”
Candidate for Arizona’s 5th congressional district (D)
On how to reconcile the deep divide in our country: “Country before party.”
All these issues that we’re talking about, healthcare, education, jobs—these aren’t partisan issues. These are family issues. Diversity, inclusion. It’s very rare that you don’t know a family member or a friend who has an LGBTQ member in it.”
The country’s most pressing dilemma: “Corruption. Because everything that’s happened now, whether it’s Kavanaugh, whether it’s healthcare, pick a subject—it’s because of the corruption that’s going on. If we can get a handle on that, that would be terrific.
There’s already a law in the book supposedly, legislation that says you’re not supposed to line your pockets. So when these people are making laws or deciding certain things, they know which medical company, which Big Pharma is going to rise quickly, so they’re buying the stock. Or if they know if somethings going to tank, they’re going to sell the stock. They know about real estate. […] So we must have [a law] in place that not only may you not do that but you may not make a law, support a law, vote on a law that enriches you or your family. And that can go on both sides—this is an everybody issue.”
On what Congress should be doing for LGBTQ rights: “We need to strengthen the nondiscrimination laws. […] If we can flip the House or stay with moderate Republicans, with like-minded Republicans who understand that this is not a partisan issue—this is an issue of fairness and morality and values and family—then we need to make these laws.”
Candidate for New York’s 23rd congressional district (D)
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On being an LGBTQ politician: “I think identity informs my perspective on citizenship and democracy. I think it has informed a drive for fairness and justice throughout my life. I don’t think it’s the only one, however. I have a brother who is developmentally disabled, and from a very young age, I became aware of everything from cruelty to discrimination, so it’s part and parcel of who I am. And it’s very much part and parcel of how I see the world. But in the context of the needs of people in this district, it is not a central compass. I have always been a supporter of civil rights.”
The country’s most pressing dilemma: “Cyber-insecurity. Cybersecurity is national security, and we not only have not had the national conversation and understanding of that issue that we need to have, but we are now very immediately under a strategy developed by the Trump administration to offensively and preemptively strike. I believe that is not the best direction for this country. In fact, I believe that direction puts us at risk. The United States instead should be engaged in a diplomacy to establish global internet governance rather than saying my toys are better than yours and we’re going to hit you first” and believing and assuming that out of the sheer force of that kind of military mindset that we will succeed. That is not what I expect of the United States, the United States that came out of the second world war as generous and humane to our enemies in that conflict and helped to create a world order that while not perfect could and should sustain us.”
On bridging the divide: “I think that it is in part manufactured to stoke a paranoid style of politics. So this notion of Democrats and Republicans—well, there are plenty of examples on both sides—but this notion that they are equally engaged in it, I don’t buy entirely. I think it is a notion contrived for the benefit of stoking a Republican paranoid interpretation in order to maintain their base actively in regenerating that kind of divide. But I think most people abhor that kind of politics, and most reasonable people understand that while there may be differences, the center should hold and that those differences should be the kind to be negotiated on the Congress floor.”
(Editor’s note: Interviews have been edited and condensed.)