Breaking Barriers: LGBTQIA+ Politicians on the Path to the Power

Breaking Barriers: LGBTQIA+ Politicians on the Path to the Power

The road to political power has historically been very difficult for the members of the marginalized communities, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied (LGBTQIA+). However, in recent years, openly LGBTQIA+ politicians have begun breaking down many barriers as they advocate for the equal rights and work to give a voice to the underrepresented groups.

One major milestone came in 2012 when Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay politician to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Her win was considered groundbreaking for the LGBTQIA+ visibility in national politics. Since then, the number of openly LGBTQIA+ elected officials has steadily risen. In 2022, there were over 1,000 out elected officials across all levels of government, from the local school boards to the U.S. Congress.

Many credit this increase to the tireless work of the activists and advocates who have pushed for inclusion, as well as the growing societal acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community. Organizations like the LGBTQ Victory Fund have provided a lot of training and support to help potential LGBTQIA+ candidates launch their campaigns. High-profile openly gay politicians like Baldwin and the former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg have also inspired many others to run.

The increase in the representation has had many tangible policy impacts. LGBTQIA+ legislators have been very instrumental in passing the non-discrimination laws to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and also transgender people in employment, housing and public spaces. They have also helped to expand access to the healthcare and fought against bills targeting the transgender youth. Their firsthand perspectives on the issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community have brought much-needed diverse viewpoints to the legislative debates.

While celebrating the progress made, advocates note there is still a lot of work left to attain true equity in the political representation. Though over 1,000 out elected officials currently serve, LGBTQIA+ people are still underrepresented relative to their share of the overall population. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of the current LGBTQIA+ elected officials are white and also cisgender. Very few openly intersex, asexual or transgender politicians have been elected, pointing to a need for greater inclusion of the marginalized identities within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

To help address these gaps, many organizations are making concerted efforts to recruit and support the LGBTQIA+ candidates who also represent other marginalized communities. For example, the Victory Institute's Rising Stars program specifically works with the young LGBTQIA+ elected officials of color to help them advance professionally. Building political power across the intersections of identity remains very critical for more fully representing America's diversity.

While many barriers persist, the increase of openly LGBTQIA+ representation gives hope for the future possibilities. Some even dream that an LGBTQIA+ candidate may one day compete very seriously for the U.S. presidency. For now, activists urge the citizens to continue supporting LGBTQIA+ leaders in the lower-level offices to help develop a pipeline of qualified candidates prepared for the higher statewide or national positions.

No matter what levels of government they currently occupy, today's LGBTQIA+ elected officials are already making the history through their authentic presence in the political sphere. They are breaking long-standing barriers and clearing the way for the others to follow in their footsteps without any fear of discrimination or need to hide their identities. By boldly serving as their true selves, this new generation of LGBTQIA+ politicians sets an empowering example of the equality in action. Their visibility and policy achievements are slowly but surely transforming the politics into a more inclusive space that reflects the full diversity of the communities it serves.

Presented by SHAVA, this article is part of our commitment to embracing the diversity within the transgender community. SHAVA stands in solidarity with transgender people of color, advocating for acceptance and allyship that recognize and celebrate the richness of their diverse experiences.

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