Making America Gay Again

As the dust of the US presidential election settles and the clearing of the debris begins, it’s time we pay attention to the hundreds of other celebrations awaiting their turn. For Biden and Trump were far from the only candidates on the ballot.

 Following what has otherwise been a bleak and dark year, a record number of LGBTQ+ candidates elected to office are carrying with them a rainbow wave, a flood of optimism and hope.

What is most special… are the sheer number of untrodden paths being forged with every victory.

 In a nation where approximately 5% of the population are LGBTQ+, standing in stark contrast to just 0.17% of elected officials, is this a sign of clear change at an institutional level? Or is this largely irrelevant in a system still reeling from four years of the Trump administration? 

50 years since its first openly LGBTQ+ official was elected in 1974, America’s progress is astounding. More lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer candidates ran for office this election than ever before in the US. 

With only more to follow in the coming weeks, at least 220 have already claimed victory. This in itself is awe-inspiring  a 42% increase from the 2018 midtermsit is an upwards trend that shows no sign of slowing.  

What is most special, however, are the sheer number of untrodden paths being forged with every victory. LGBTQ+ candidates are winning in states and chambers they never have before, representing voices never heard before.

 Superlative after superlative is breaking the status quo: the first openly trans state senator, the first Native American senator (both go to Sarah McBride), the first non-binary state legislator (Mauree Turner), the first out gay Afro-Latino and Black congressmen (Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones). 

The list goes on and on. Just three years after Danicia Roem broke records as the first openly transgender legislator in the country’s historythat number has more than doubled to a total of 9. Almost every single state seems to be finding a rainbow ceiling to shatter and doing so with all forces at hand.  

In many ways, these momentous victories are a direct response to Trump, a chance to finally fight back against his four-year, yet seemingly never-ending, tirade. A lot can be accomplished in 48 months; a lot, equally, can be destroyed. Trump has unequivocally opted for the latter.

 With attempts to strip away LGBTQ+ protections in the military, healthcare, employment, school, and housing, the rights of millions of individuals across America have continuously been threatened by an increasingly hostile environment in every aspect of their lives since 2016.

Ignoring Pride Month three times and blocking questions regarding sexual orientation from even mere consideration for the census only further contributes to Trump’s erasure of the LGTBTQ+ community. 

Even certain rights which now feel so natural and obvious are in danger. In early October, Supreme Court Justices, who serve for life, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito suggested the 2015 marriage equality act be overturned. Two of the amendment’s supporters, in what was a 5-4 decision, no longer serve on the court, casting a shadow of doubt over the majority it held. 

It reminds LGBTQ+ individuals that they are people who matter, who are allowed to take up space in the world, at any level of government. 

Amy Coney Barrett’s recent appointment to the court, a woman known for her conservative views and ties to anti-gay organisations, makes this fear an almost chillingly tangible reality. Marriage equality’s utter vulnerability has been exposed. Overturning the amendment in the near future is a very real and frightening possibility, a move which would undo decades worth of progress and acceptance. 

Having political representation, therefore, is absolutely essential for the LGBTQ+ community. With a louder voice than ever, LGBTQ+ people across the country will refuse to let their demands be drowned outThey will, many for the first time, feel represented and seen, and with this comes feeling of validity nothing else can bring.

 There are so few representative office-holders that nearly every win is a historic one, nearly every win breaks a new barrier, and nearly every win changes lives. Said so aptly by McBride, “kids can go to sleep knowing that their dreams and their truths are not mutually exclusive,” that America’s “democracy is big enough for them, too.”

It reminds LGBTQ+ individuals that they are people who matter, who are allowed to take up space in the world, at any level of government. 

Yet the permanency of what Trump has done is hard to ignore. Amy Coney Barrett likely won’t leave until we are well into our 50s, if not later. Republicans have a strong chance of continued control of the Senate, meaning that, even with a Democratic president, significant progressive policy changes will be hard to pass.

This “rainbow wave” is a glorious and much appreciated moment of respite but, as McBride tweeted, “the real work begins tomorrow.” So much more must be done – there is no time to relax. 

The rainbow wave must continue to shine. The door must be pushed open wider and wider to let more LGBTQ individuals into politics, to continue the fight with strength in numbers.

LGBTQ voters are finally being seen as a key rising constituency that politicians cannot ignore; their voices are being heard. 250 years after its birth and America is still experiencing many of its firsts. Here’s to many, many more in the coming years.