SACRAMENTO, Calif. — While LGBTQ candidates and their supporters celebrated several milestone victories nationwide in this year’s midterm election, California quietly achieved its own: At least 10% of its state legislatures publicly identify as LGBTQ, in what is believed to be a first for any U.S. legislature .
California lawmakers, all Democrats, are proud of their success but say it underscores the hard work that remains in their own state and elsewhere, such as dealing with the fallout of measures like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” -Law banning some classes on sexual orientation and gender identity or laws in other states restricting transgender students’ participation in sports or blocking gender-affirming medical care for youth.
The milestone was further obscured by Saturday night’s shooting at a Colorado gay nightclub that killed five and injured many more. The suspect was charged with murder and hate crimes. Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who has just won a second term, became the first openly gay man to be elected governor of a state when he won in 2018.
“When it comes to LGBTQ people, we’re on two tracks: One track is that we win socially. People are by and large okay with LGBTQ people, they support us, they accept and are willing to vote for LGBTQ candidates,” California Senator Scott Wiener, a member of the LGBTQ caucus, said Monday.
However, he said: “Despite the fact that we are winning the battle in society at large, you have a very vocal, dangerous minority of extremists who are constantly attacking and demonizing our community.”
At least 519 of our LGBTQ candidates won elected office this year, in positions ranging from school board to congressional and governor, said LGBTQ Victory Fund press secretary Albert Fujii. That’s a record since 2020, when 336 LGBTQ candidates won, according to the group, which worked with Equality California to calculate, making California the first state to cross the 10 percent threshold.
Of the 12 current or future members of the California Legislature, eight have been part of their LGBTQ caucus, including the Senate leader and three other senators whose terms run through 2024. Four current Assembly members won re-election on November 8, with two new Assembly members and two new Senators joining them, increasing the faction’s ranks by 50%. The AP has yet to name a remaining race that could add an additional LGBTQ lawmaker.
Lawmakers will be sworn in for their new terms on December 5; between the two chambers there are a total of 120 legislators.
The U.S. Census showed that 9.1% of Californians identified as LGBT — compared to 7.9% nationwide — so the legislature will have roughly achieved equality in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, according to statistics from the California State Library, the legislature has yet to achieve gender equality or race and ethnicity equality.
New Hampshire and Vermont each had more LGBTQ legislators, according to the institute, but their legislatures are larger than California’s and therefore did not reach the 10 percent threshold.
The 2022 election is a landscape of firsts for LGBTQ people, including Corey Jackson, the first gay black man in the California legislature, who noted that African Americans — particularly black trans people — are particularly marginalized.
“I think this is an opportunity to just say that we’re here, we have something to contribute, and we can lead and represent with the best of them,” said Jackson, a Riverside County school board member.
Alaska and South Dakota elected their first LGBTQ legislators, and Montana and Minnesota elected their first transgender legislators, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In New Hampshire, 26-year-old Democrat James Roesener became the first trans man elected to a US state.
He said he was motivated to pursue a state bill that would have required schools to educate parents about developments in their children’s gender identity and expression, which narrowly failed. Opponents of such requirements say they can invade children’s privacy and put them at risk of abuse in the home.
Leigh Finke, who was elected in Minnesota, was also fueled by growing anti-transgender rhetoric.
Finke hopes to ban so-called conversion therapy in Minnesota and make the state, like California, a sanctuary for children and their parents who don’t have access to gender-affirming health care elsewhere.
“I just thought, ‘This can’t stand.’ “We need to have trans people in these spaces. If we lose our rights, they need to at least look us in the eye while we’re doing it,” she said.
Massachusetts and Oregon elected the nation’s first lesbian governors.
Charlotte Perri, a 23-year-old election organizer in Portland, Oregon, said she was emotionally touched when she spoke to governor-elect Tina Kotek at a campaign event about young people thanking her for running.
“It’s hard as a young queer person to be optimistic about everything that’s going on,” Perri said.
Although the newly elected LGBTQ officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, at least one gay Republican — George Santos, a supporter of former President Donald Trump — won a seat in the US House of Representatives in New York by defeating another gay man, a Democrat.
The rise of LGBTQ lawmakers contrasts with efforts in some states led by members of the Santos party to limit the influence, visibility and rights of LGBTQ people.
In Tennessee, leaders of the state’s Republican legislature said the first bill of the 2023 session would aim to ban gender-affirming childcare. Tennessee has one LGTBQ congressman, Democrat Torrey Harris.
The state has already banned transgender athletes from participating in middle and high school girls’ sports and restricted which bathrooms transgender students and employees can use.
The human rights campaign tracked what it identified as anti-LGTBQ laws introduced in 23 states this year and said they became law in 13 states: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Louisiana.
In contrast, “As the California LGBTQ legislative caucus has grown, the state has led the nation in passing groundbreaking legislation protecting LGBTQ+ civil rights,” said Equality California spokesman Samuel Garrett-Pate.
Wiener carried California’s Transgender Youth Protection Act, which has been copied by Democratic lawmakers in other states. He and a colleague from the congregation teamed up in 2019 to expand access to HIV prevention drugs. Other legislation pushed by LGBTQ lawmakers over the years gave foster children the right to gender-affirming care and allowed non-binary gender markers in state identification.
It’s too early to have a solid roadmap for new legislation, the California caucus members said, but Wiener noted that areas to consider include employment resources for transgender people; Homelessness and Crime Among Vulnerable LGTBQ Youth; and sexual health services.
Jackson said he found hope in the election results not just in California but across the country.
“We now have US senators, we now have governors, we actually have trans legislators in this country now,” Jackson said. “So amid stories of hate and demonization, you still see rainbows of hope across our nation.”
Associated Press contributors to this report were Kathy McCormack in Concord, NH, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon, and Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee.