News & Politics

Record Number of Openly Gay Candidates Running for Congress

From Tammy Baldwin's race to become the first openly gay senator to a Massachusetts Republican, this year could be a historic one for LGBTQ politicians.

Photo Credit: studio08denver via Flickr

Thus far in Barack Obama's administration, we've seen the ban on openly gay military servicepeople overturned (without the collapse of the modern military that Republicans predicted) and just this year, watched the President change his mind and come out in favor of marriage equality.

But perhaps the strongest indicator that Americans have evolved on the issue of LGBTQ equality is the fact that there is a record number of openly gay and lesbian candidates running for office this year, including one Republican—and in most races, it isn't even an issue.

Political scientist Charles Ferguson pointed out in a 2011 paper that same-sex marriage is an issue on which most Americans are growing sharply more progressive. And while the GOP, in several states, has reverted to a classic culture-war strategy on abortion and backed regressive candidates like Todd Akin, the four states where marriage equality is on the ballot have gotten much less attention this campaign cycle, perhaps underlining the fact that it's simply no longer as powerful as a wedge issue. (Bruce Springsteen, beloved of Republicans and Democrats alike, is the face of a new campaign calling for votes on those ballot initiatives.)

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

There are eight openly gay candidates from the major parties running for Congress, including two incumbents, Colorado's Jared Polis and Rhode Island's David Cicilline, expected to retain their seats.

Mark Takano, who would be Congress's first gay Asian-American, is a high-school teacher who ran for Congress back in 1992 and 1994, where his opponent sent mailers on pink paper to highlight his sexuality.

"That became front-page news," Takano told Yahoo News. "Today, it's just an interesting part of my background as opposed to being a sensational story... People look back at what happened 18 years ago and say, 'I can't believe we ever did those things.'"

It hasn't all been easy going, of course. Tammy Baldwin, who would be the nation's first openly gay senator, faced gay-baiting from a staffer for her opponent Tommy Thompson. Brian Nemoir, identifying himself as “Senior Advisor/Communications” for Thompson's campaign, emailed a video of Baldwin dancing at a Pride rally to media outlets before her speech at the Democratic National Convention on the theme of “Heartland Values.” (Thompson quickly denied that this was an official communication from his campaign.) But despite the attack, Baldwin has opened up a lead in the polls in Wisconsin, showing that perhaps Wisconsinites care more about her support for working people and union rights than they fear her sexuality.

Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona state legislator, would be Congress's first openly bisexual member, faced attacks during her primary campaign from her Democratic opponent, who told a labor union (which wound up endorsing Sinema anyway) that she was a bad choice because she was bisexual and single.

Sinema, who won her primary anyway, told the Washington Blade: "It's true that I'm openly bisexual. I have been my entire adult life, and I've managed to win four elections, and, meanwhile, he's lost two, so perhaps it was being straight that was the problem here."

While we're not at that point yet, it's nice to know that some things do change.




Sarah Jaffe is a former staff writer at In These Times and author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, which Robin D.G. Kelley called “The most compelling social and political portrait of our age.” You can follow her on Twitter @sarahljaffe.