A historic number of LGBTQ candidates are running for office this year, according to new data from LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to helping elect LGBTQ candidates.
At least 1,008 LGBTQ people are running for office – of all levels – so far in 2022, according to the group’s data, shared first with CNN. The organization, which only endorses candidates who back abortion rights, has seen an uptick in LGBTQ candidates of color, transgender candidates and gender non-conforming candidates.
The record-breaking number of candidates, which includes those who have already won or lost primaries or local special elections, coincides with a more sobering statistic: 2022 has already set a record for anti-LGBTQ state bills, with lawmakers around the country having introduced at least 162 through July 1, according to a CNN analysis of data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union. The record number of LGBTQ candidates also comes amid fears that the conservative-majority Supreme Court could target same-sex marriage in the future after overturning Roe v. Wade last month.
“The writing is on the wall for the LGBTQ community and our allies: our rights are on the ballot this year. The people we elect this cycle will make decisions about what our kids are allowed to learn and say in the classroom, what health care choices people will be allowed to make about their own bodies and possibly, whether we will continue to be allowed to marry those we love,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and the former mayor of Houston, said in a statement shared with CNN.
The data, which runs through July 7, comes from LGBTQ Victory Fund’s endorsement application process and partnerships with state and local LGBTQ organizations. The group tracks all LGBTQ candidates regardless of party affiliation. It does endorse Republicans, and this year backed GOP Idaho state House candidate Dom Gelsomino, though he lost in the primary.
The group has kept data on everyone who has asked for its endorsement since its founding in 1991 and started maintaining a comprehensive database from partner organizations in 2018, which it calls the “rainbow wave” because of the sharp uptick in LGBTQ candidates that year.
Since 2020, there has been a 73% increase in LGBTQ people running for federal office, according to the group. There are currently 11 LGBTQ members of Congress, according to data from sister organization LGBTQ Victory Institute.
The Democrat-led House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to pass a bill that would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law, with party leadership citing the high court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade as a reason to try to codify other precedents. Senators said on Wednesday that they expect the bill to eventually win the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the chamber.
By far, the most LGBTQ people – more than 400 – are running for state legislature, compared to other offices, according to LGBTQ Victory Fund.
Democrat Leigh Finke, who, if elected, would be the first out trans person in the Minnesota state legislature, according the group’s data, told CNN she started talking about running for office “because of the coordinated national attacks against trans people.”
Most of the state bills introduced this year target transgender and nonbinary people, with a particular emphasis on trans youth. Republicans have seized on the issue in the run-up to the midterm elections, predominantly in red states, while Democrats have made their opposition to those bills part of their candidacies.
“Things are escalating in a very concerning way. And it was happening across the country, but we started to see very targeted, draconian anti-trans bills introduced into the Minnesota legislature,” said Finke, who’s running to replace a retiring Democratic state representative. Minnesota is among a slew of states that have tried in recent years to ban trans women at public colleges in the state from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity.
“We have a divided legislature, so it wasn’t that these bills were going to pass, but the conversation itself damages my community. It hurts trans kids. It just became very important for me to have a trans person in the room where these conversations are taking place,” she said.
Though a number of candidates have made clear they’re not just running to make history, they’ve noted that their identities plays a key role in their candidacies.
“I’m not running to be the first,” former Oregon state House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat running for governor, said in a statement to CNN. “But, let me say this: I’m really proud to be running, openly and authentically, at a moment where the extreme right is once again going after the LGBTQ+ community, especially our kids.”
If elected, Kotek could become the first out lesbian governor in the United States, according to the group. That first could also be secured by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Massachusetts Democrat.
In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year signed legislation banning certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, which critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, Janelle Perez says her state Senate candidacy was not inspired by the controversial law but that she will always be a vocal advocate against anything that targets her community.
“Given the political climate that we’re in, what a better way to stick it to the legislature [than] by sending the first LGBTQ parent to the legislature after having this atrocious bill, ‘the don’t say gay,’ where they dubbed it ‘the parental rights bill,’ but they completely ignore my rights as a parent as well and the rights of my children, and the rights of so many children,” said Perez, who, if elected, would be the first out woman from the LGBTQ community in the Florida state Senate and the first LGBTQ parent in the state legislature, according to the group’s data.
“I hope that with my candidacy a lot of people that come after me can see that they can have this too,” she added.
Meanwhile, in Connecticut, state Treasurer candidate Erick Russell commended those stepping up to run, even amidst an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ state bills. If elected, Russell would be the first out Black LGBTQ statewide elected official in the country, according the group’s data.
“I think people realize more now than ever that there is no time to sit on the sidelines, that we all need to step up and really do our part. And I think that that representation, particularly when so many of our communities are under attack right now, is really important,” Russell said.