More than 400 LGBT candidates are running for office this year – a record number, according to groups that track such data. Most are Democrats, and several are mounting anti-Trump congressional bids with a message broader than gay rights.
Around half of these candidates are running for state offices, a priority for activists who say many of the most important civil rights battles are happening close to home. In 2017, more than 120 bills described as “anti-LGBT” were introduced across 30 states, including adoption laws and so-called bathroom bills, according to the Human Rights Campaign. By January, 12 of them had become law.
“We have seen a clear correlation between the presence of our legislators and passage of that legislation,” said Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston and the chief executive of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, a bipartisan group that tracks and supports gay and transgender candidates.
Candidates are also pursuing a new kind of political strategy that treats sexuality, race and gender as campaign assets that intersect with their criticism of Mr. Trump, their warnings about lost progress on civil rights, and their policy ideas.
Rick Neal – a former humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan and Liberia and current stay-at-home dad in Columbus, Ohio – won the Democratic primary in the 15th District of Ohio and will compete in November against Representative Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Mr. Neal said some voters were “naturally curious” about how he would appeal to people who “may not be comfortable” with his sexuality.
Mr. Neal said his campaign had gone smoothly, except for the day someone put a sticker for a white supremacist group on a lawn sign in front of his home. He has two African-American daughters, ages six and nine, and called the incident “pretty unsettling.”
“I guess at the end of the day a gay guy with an interracial family running for Congress is a little bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull for some folks,” he said. “I felt like they were trying to intimidate us and that’s just not going to work.”
photo via Mike Stempler/Rick Neal for Congress