Here's What's at Stake for LGBTQ+ People in the Midterm Elections

Advocates believe issues from marriage equality to trans rights could hinge on this election.

Hungry for more midterms reading? We’ve got you covered. Ahead of the November 8, 2022 election, we’ve got voter guides covering state and local races in 16 cities plus details on everything from everywhere issues like abortion access and climate change action are on the ballot to how to ensure you are registered to vote. Head to Thrillist’s midterm elections hub page for more.

Every two to four years, we're faced with "the most consequential election of our lives," but this year's midterm election just might be. Many hot-button issues, including reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, gun control, and voting rights, are hanging in the balance.

Depending on which way this year's midterm election swings, Democrats could lose their razor-thin majorities in the US House and Senate, which could potentially spell disaster for advocates of the aforementioned causes.

It's Not Just Marriage

For LGBTQ+ communities, this year's election is especially pertinent, and not just at the federal level. 2021 was a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation at the statehouse level, and 2022 has been on track to exceed that record. More than 290 bills targeting the LGBTQ community were introduced over the past two years, and 25 were enacted.

The newly signed laws vary in their discriminatory practices, but most either restrict trans students from participating in women's sports or forbid them from using gender-affirming bathrooms. Some of them limit speech surrounding LGBTQ issues in the classroom altogether.

Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill, for example, forbids K-3 students and teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Not only that, but teachers can choose to out students to their parents if a child is heard openly discussing their identity.

Other states have borrowed a page from Florida's book. Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz introduced her version of Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill in late September. The new measure takes matters a step further by expanding said restrictions up to the fifth grade. Borowicz said in a press conference that she believed the law, and others like it, should apply to students up to the 12th grade.

Meanwhile, on a federal level, the race to codify marriage equality has hit a bump in the road. In September, a bipartisan group of negotiators in the Senate announced that a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act would be held off until after the midterm elections. If passed, the act would protect the right to marry for same-sex and interracial couples. If it is not, advocates fear that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court could threaten those federal protections, just as it already has with abortion access.

"So many of our freedoms and rights are on the line, the majority of states still have trigger bans on marriage equality, most of which are at the state legislative level, meaning that if Obergefell were to fall, similar to what happened after Roe, those trigger bans would go into effect pretty quickly," Albert Fujii, press secretary of the Victory Fund, a nonprofit focused on helping openly LGBTQ people win elections, said in an interview with Thrillist.

A Seat at the Table

In 2019, the US Census Bureau estimated there were 568,110 same-sex married couple households and 412,116 households with same-sex unmarried partners living together. Even considering the US Census Bureau has historically undercounted LGBTQ people, that's a lot of Americans who deserve representation, and one of the primary lines of defense for LGBTQ rights is electing individuals who are openly LGBTQ to public office. 

"The good news is there's a historic number of LGBTQ candidates running in this midterms cycle, which is exciting, the rainbow wave continues to grow," Fuji continued. "This is also the most diverse cohort in history, both in terms of race and ethnicity, but as well as gender, which is really exciting and sort of a testament to how far we've come."

At least 101 out LGBTQ candidates ran or are currently running for a US Senate seat or House seat this year, which is a 16% increase over the 2020 election cycle, when 87 people ran, according to the Victory Fund.

"I think that we're seeing this historic uptick in [LGBTQ] folks running for office, in part, because [our] rights have been front and center for the last few years," Fuji said.

As it stands now, there are only two only LGBTQ members in the Senate, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). Meanwhile, in the House, several LGBTQ incumbents are in close reelection races this year, including Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minnesota), Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), and Rep. Chris Pappas (D-New Hampshire).

This year's midterm cycle could see some historic wins for the LGBTQ community. Tina Kotek could potentially become the first out lesbian governor in the US if she wins her race in Oregon. Maura Healey, who already made history as the nation's first openly gay attorney general, could secure another first in history books if she wins her race for governor in Massachusetts.

While representation is essential, Fuji believes it's just as important to recognize and support elected officials that might not identify as LGBTQ but remain committed to supporting a pro-LGBTQ political agenda.

"It's not just enough to be against something, in order to build true coalitions we need to stand for something together," he continued. "California is a great example, under the leadership of Senator Toni Atkins. They're introducing pro-LGBTQ political priorities that have had great impact for the state's LGBTQ community. I think that serves as a great example of what we can accomplish when we elect pro-LGBTQ lawmakers."

    Westend61/Getty Images

    Get to the Polls

    One of the most important ways to stand together, according to Fuji, is to turn out in droves to vote. Fortunately, LGBTQ voter participation is at an all-time high. According to GLAAD's 2020 Post-Election Poll, 93% of registered LGBTQ voters participated, with 25% being first-time voters.

    "I think that when so many of our rights are on the ballot, you know, sitting on the sidelines really isn't a choice right now for our community," Fuji continued. "In addition to so many LGBTQ rights on the line, abortion, immigration rights… there's so much more that may not impact every single voter, but it impacts our collective community."

    If you plan to go to the polls this year, be sure to read up on the candidates you're voting for beforehand. In addition to doing your own research, you can look at their voting history on LGBTQ issues here.

    For more information on your state's specific races, most states are home to a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization that also shares endorsements of candidates who support LGBTQ rights. You can visit the Equality Federation website to view a list of member organizations throughout the country and click through to view their 2022 midterms endorsements. For example, here is a list of the Equality Illinois-endorsed candidates this election cycle.

    Other than that, find out where your polling place is here. And before you post a picture of your ballot to social media, you might want to see if that's legal in your state. Maybe play it safe and upload a pic wearing that "I Voted" sticker instead.

    Finally, advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights doesn't—and, honestly, shouldn't—have to end at the polling place every two or four years. There are plenty of other ways you can stay involved beyond the midterms:

    Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

    Jeremy Porr is a News Writer at Thrillist. Follow Jeremy on Instagram.