Midterms Preview: 6 Big Election Stories to Watch That Could Impact LGBTQ Equality

By Adam Polaski • November 5, 2018 • 11:12 am

The 2018 midterm elections could yield historic results for LGBTQ Americans – both in terms of pro-LGBTQ policies affirmed and LGBTQ representation in government at the local, state, and federal levels. There’s so much to keep track of – that’s why we’ve outlined six big stories concerning LGBTQ Americans so you know what to watch for as polling returns come in tomorrow night. Take a look:

Massachusetts Voters Could Be the First to Uphold Protections for Transgender People at the Ballot

One of the biggest races for the LGBTQ community is in Massachusetts, where voters are weighing in on the Bay State’s law protecting transgender people from discrimination. The measure was signed into law two years ago by Republican Governor Charlie Baker.

Since 2015 the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign has built a sweeping coalition in support of the law. It’s the largest bipartisan effort in U.S. history to engage voters about what it means to be transgender and what transgender nondiscrimination protections do and don’t do. The campaign has brought together more than 1,500 stakeholders from businesses large and small, labor unions, people of faith, parents, teachers, sexual assault prevention experts, conservatives, and independents. Freedom for All Americans (FFAA) has served as a national lead partner over the course of the effort, playing a lead role in the successful push to enact the law in 2016 and in the current campaign to defend the measure.

Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, has been on the ground for several days in Massachusetts, joining many FFAA staffers working to get out the vote. Davis said this week:

“A victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday night is a victory for transgender Americans nationwide. Right now, so many members of our community are afraid and uncertain about what the future holds – largely because of the rhetoric coming from the Trump administration. But we know that a majority of Americans from all walks of life support treating transgender people fairly and equally under the law. We’re confident that we’ve executed a campaign playbook that makes the case for upholding nondiscrimination protections, and we’re incredibly thankful to all of the transgender folks who have come forward to share their personal stories as part of this campaign.”

The Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign has centered the voices and stories of transgender Americans – and has not shied away from tackling the deceitful messages of anti-LGBTQ opponents head-on. That campaign strategy proved successful earlier this year in Anchorage and New Hampshire – but tomorrow will be the first time voters will be weighing in at the ballot on transgender nondiscrimination at the state level.

LGBTQ-Supportive State Lawmakers Could Reignite State Pushes for Nondiscrimination

Races for a number of state legislatures could determine whether there is a path forward for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination legislation in those states in the near-term. More than half of the states in the country lack comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, so it’s vital that more LGBTQ-supportive lawmakers come together and stand up for basic dignity and freedom for all.

One state where we could see positive momentum is Ohio. The election could make it more realistic for lawmakers to advance the Ohio Fairness Act through the State Senate and bring Ohio one step closer to becoming the 20th state in the nation that explicitly protects LGBTQ people from discrimination.

Davis said today:

“Making progress in state legislatures is one of the most important ways we can generate lasting momentum for action at the federal level. When we build networks of supporters in key states who understand the importance of enacting comprehensive nondiscrimination laws, we’re doing two things: We’re creating the conditions to pass urgently needed legislation at the state level, and we’re ensuring that lawmakers in Congress understand the strong and bipartisan support they have at home to back a comprehensive federal bill. Tomorrow’s results could very well hypercharge a national conversation around nondiscrimination protections at both the state and federal levels.”

Governors With Strong Support for LGBTQ Equality Could Be Elected or Reelected

From Left: Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, Gretchen Whitmer

In Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, and Arizona, pro-equality gubernatorial candidates have made LGBTQ equality a cornerstone of their campaigns.

In Florida – where FFAA supports efforts to pass the Competitive Workforce Act – Andrew Gillum could become the first governor in 20 years to win election on a record of supporting LGBTQ nondiscrimination. And in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, who became the first major party candidate in the state to march in Atlanta Pride, could triumph over Brian Kemp. Kemp has said he would sign some version of the anti-LGBTQ legislation that current governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed in 2016.

Michigan gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette defended the state’s ban on marriage equality that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, joined a 2016 lawsuit challenging federal guidance meant to protect transgender students, and recently issued a controversial legal opinion opposing the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s ability to apply existing anti-discrimination law to gay or transgender residents. Schuette’s opponent – former State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer – is a longtime supporter of equality, who has spoken out in favor of updating the state’s civil rights act to include LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

We’re also watching the gubernatorial races in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In both states, incumbent Republican governors who signed into law full protections for transgender people, are up for reelection. If they are reelected, we’ll see just the latest example that conservatives and Republicans can do the right thing on LGBTQ nondiscrimination without risking their seats.

Out LGBTQ People Could Make History in Gubernatorial Races

From Top Left: Christine Hallquist, Lupe Valdez, Kate Brown, Jared Polis

Major party gubernatorial candidates in four states are a part of the LGBTQ community and could break barriers as the first out LGBTQ governors elected to full terms.

  • Christine Hallquist is a transgender woman vying for the governorship in Vermont.
  • Kate Brown, who is bisexual, won a special election two years ago and is now running for her first full term.
  • Jared Polis, a gay man who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2009, is running for governor in Colorado.
  • Lupe Valdez, who served as the Sheriff of Dallas County for more than ten years and is a lesbian, could make history in Texas.

Arizona Could Elect the First Out Bisexual U.S. Senator

Kyrsten Sinema made history in 2012 when she became the first out bisexual person elected to the United States Congress. And now, she could break barriers again if she wins her race for Senate in Arizona. She would also be the youngest female lawmaker in the Senate.

“Growing up LGBT is often to be tried by fire and to wrestle with the fundamental question of who you are,” Sinema told The Advocate this year. “Virtually all of us have faced bullying, discrimination, exclusion, or worse. When you grow up like this, working to find common ground with people you sometimes disagree with is all you’ve ever known. That’s why LGBT leaders are some of the hardest-working, most effective leaders you’ll find.”

The Rainbow Wave Could See Historic Gains for LGBTQ Candidates from Coast to Coast

Learn more about the Rainbow Wave in The Victory Fund’s tracker.

According to The Victory Fund, 2018 was the first election ever that out LGBTQ candidates ran for elected office in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. A total of 618 LGBTQ candidates ran, and nearly 400 will appear on the ballot tomorrow. The surge of candidates has been referred to across the media as the “Rainbow Wave.”

Representation matters – and every time an LGBTQ person is elected to represent their communities, it’s important. It’s important because LGBTQ people are a part of the country and have unique needs and challenges that should be represented by federal lawmakers. But it’s also important because it demonstrates growing momentum for LGBTQ equality in these communities and beyond. We’ll need that momentum in our continued work to illustrate to federal decision-makers that it’s time for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections nationwide.

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