Civics For Change: Queer People In Politics
In case you haven’t heard: the future’s here, and it’s queer! While homophobia has yet to be weeded out of politics, following recent trends and election outcomes, there is a call for celebration in how far we have come regarding queer representation among those in office. This Civics For Change blog installment seeks to recognize and uplift the place of queer people in politics from Stonewall to today’s political landscape.
By the late sixties, Stonewall Inn had become one of New York City’s most popular gay bars. Due to homosexuality being a criminal offense in New York State, many gay bars operated without a liquor license, leaving them vulnerable to police brutality and frequent raids. In June of 1969, following the second raid in one week, bar patrons and neighbors fought back, resulting in an uprising that lasted for six days. Stonewall was not the first time the police had raided a gay bar or the first time that the queer community had fought back, but it did shift the national discourse surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights. It’s important to note how Stonewall marked a shift mainly for queer people who were white, as Black and Brown people could never conceal their marginalized identities to then partake in the privileges that come with whiteness. The first Pride march in New York City was held on June 28th, 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. As pride marches and parades became a more prevalent piece of American culture, so has the general acceptance of queer people in the United States.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans generally feel that the legality of same-sex marriage is a good thing for society, and again, more than half view gay & lesbian couples raising children together to be acceptable. Due to this rising acceptance over decades, being queer is less of a barrier to entry for those looking to lead their communities in political office. The number of openly queer people holding office from 2017 to May of 2023 has doubled to nearly 14%. Out of that 14%, more than 8% of the elected officials are transgender or nonbinary, up from almost 7% in 2022.
While these milestones should be celebrated, we still have quite a bit of work to do to create a fully equitable representation of queer people in our government. In addition to a still mainly white, straight pool of leaders, homophobia and transphobia continue to sweep our communities in the forms of bullying, harassment, hate crimes, and hundreds of pieces of legislation (590 introduced in 2023 alone). In 2022, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 62 anti-LGBTQ hate groups across the United States. Transphobia’s recent resurgence has resulted in legislation banning gender-affirming care, preventing more than 144,000 trans youth and adults from getting the care they need and deserve. Reactionary anti-student inclusion groups are working to remove any books related to non-white or heteronormative families or experiences out of schools. The need for more queer people in office to advocate for and protect queer youth and adults has never been greater.
In the face of such adversity, numerous queer activists and organizations have contributed to garnering the queer political representation we have currently. The LGBTQ+ Victory Fund’s mission is to elect queer people “who can further equality at all levels of government.” More than 200 queer people won their seats in the 2023 U.S. Elections, with multiple historic firsts in blue and red states alike: Philadelphia elected Rue Landau, its first queer city councilor; Mississippi voters confirmed Fabian Nelson, the state’s first out LGBTQ+ lawmaker (leaving Louisiana to be the only state yet to elect a queer person to state office); and Danica Roem became Virginia’s first transgender state senator (the second out trans person to become a state senator anywhere in the United States).
Queer people serving in all levels of government should be a norm, reflective of the way queer culture has been normalized, accepted, and celebrated in American media, music, corporate pride campaigns, and beyond. Continued allyship and advocacy for queer politicians and the organizations uplifting them is necessary for creating an equitable, representative government. With over 7% of Americans identifying as queer in some way, with higher percentages in younger generations, it’s increasingly clear how we need more young, queer voices to represent the people.
Widely known or not, queer people have always been part of and have influenced our nation’s political landscape. If you’re queer and interested in running for office, let this be your sign! It’s due time to ensure our government represents the will and addresses the needs of all people today and in the future. To learn more about some of the issues driving young people to the polls, including LGBTQ+ justice, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications and storytelling surrounding their work. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.