2020 is shaping up to be the mother of all election years, and not just because there is a political awakening happening all across the nation. The sheer number of LGBTQ candidates running for office at all levels of government is unprecedented in American history.
With literally hundreds of queer candidates on ballots and even more working behind the scenes, it would be impossible to include them all in our Pride 50 roundup. So we’ve done our best to select a mix of people to highlight, knowing full well that there are many, many others who are just as deserving and worthy of honor this pride season.
Regardless of what happens in November, these politicos are taking up the challenge to run for office, raise funds, and to organize and strategize behind the scenes, all helping to pave the way for the future of equality.
1. Lori Lightfoot
Lori Lightfoot made history in 2019 when she became Chicago’s first Black female mayor and first lesbian mayor. Since taking office, she’s been a powerful voice for the disenfranchised, standing up to everyone from homophobic police officers to ignorant city council members to Donald Trump himself.
Lightfoot began her career in city government in 2002 when she was appointed chief administrator of the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards, a police oversight committee.
In 2010 she was named president of the Chicago Police Board, where she made recommendations about disciplinary action in police misconduct cases. A year later, she was named chair of a special Police Accountability Task Force, where she criticized the police union’s “code of silence” and advocated for police reform. And this, remember, was a decade before police violence became a dominant issue in American politics.
In May 2018, Lightfoot announced a long-shot candidacy for Mayor of Chicago, her first-ever run for public office. After a dramatic campaign that included a runoff election, she won more than 73% of the vote and all 50 wards of the city.
In recent weeks, Lightfoot has emerged as one of the loudest national voices speaking out against systemic racism and calling for police reform in the wake of George Floyd‘s murder and the protests around the country.
Police misconduct, from harming residents to covering badges to using homophobic language, will not be tolerated. Period. If you believe a police officer has committed an act of misconduct, please call 311 to report it. pic.twitter.com/hvi4UUZuOh
— Mayor Lori Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) June 6, 2020
Speaking at a City Council meeting earlier this year, Lightfoot announced:
When I was coming out in my 20s, similarly I was worried about how I would be perceived, and I let people say terrible things about gays and lesbians in my presence and I was silent. I will be silent no more on any issue. When people say and do things that are offensive and racist, I feel I have an obligation to speak, and so I am.
2. Tammy Baldwin
Tammy Baldwin is the junior Senator from Wisconsin whose electoral success has been marked with a number of historic firsts.
In 1993, she became the first openly lesbian member of the Wisconsin Assembly. During her six-year tenure, she took on President Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and proposed legalizing same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships in Wisconsin.
In 1998, Baldwin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first woman elected to Congress from Wisconsin, as well as the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the House of Representatives, and the first open lesbian elected to Congress.
In 2012, she achieved yet another first when she became the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the U.S. Senate. That year, she was quoted by Time magazine as saying “I didn’t run to make history” on her historic win despite having done just that. It is her combination of progressive politics and human decency that makes her the most popular politician in a swing state. In 2018, she was re-elected to a second term with over 55% of the vote, handily defeating her Republican opponent by 11 points despite a generally divided electorate.
To top it off, she’s on the shortlist of potential VP picks for Joe Biden. Now that would be the first of all firsts.
Baldwin said in 2019:
We need strong, articulate, bright, passionate people in all levels of government. I started on the county board and served at the state level and now I’m humbled to serve at the national level, but our unique voices matter at all levels.
3. Alex Lee
Alex Lee is running the District 25 seat in the California Assembly, representing Alameda and Santa Clara counties. If elected in November, he will become the youngest Asian-American, first openly bisexual person, and first Gen-Zer elected to the California State Assembly at the age of 24.
Lee is very much at the beginning of his political career, but he has already built up an impressive resume. While studying at UC Davis, he served as student president and oversaw a $13 million annual budget while closing a $250,000 deficit. He also interned at the district office of former Congressman Mike Honda and with several California state legislators.
After college, Lee worked a short stint as district intern for California State Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curr before moving on to legislative aide for California State Senator Henry Stern and later Assembly field representative for California State Assembly member Evan Low.
Then, in June 2019, he announced he was running office himself and set about raisings tens of thousands and securing endorsements from the California Democratic Party, LGBTQ Victory Fund, and Equality California.
Lee told Queerty:
There are ignorant people who will try to judge your identity for you. This is one of the biggest challenges of publicly expressing myself, and if I am elected and able to champion that more, I want to bring more awareness and visibility to our community.
4. Annise Parker
As President of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Annise Parker oversees efforts to get openly queer candidates across the nation elected to all levels of government. But her advocacy work goes back decades.
In fact, her first organizing event was the Texas Gay Conference in 1975. A few years after that, she served as a founding member of the Rice University Gay and Lesbian Support Group in 1979.
Parker went on to serve with dozens of organizations, including serving as president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, co-chair of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, and the Lesbian and Gay Democrats of Texas, to name a few.
In the 1990s, she was elected to the Houston City Council in 1998, where she served for six years before becoming controller, which she did for another six years.
In 2010, Parker made history, elected mayor of Houston, making history as the first openly LGBTQ mayor of a major city in America. That same year, Time magazine declared her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. And in 2014, she was named top U.S. mayor and seventh-ranked mayor in the world by the City Mayors Foundation.
In 2017, Parker was named to the Victory Fund post, where she led the organization in electing 166 openly queer candidates to public office, the most ever in U.S. history during an odd-numbered election year. This year, she is likely to break that record.
As Parker has said:
It’s a little astounding that we’ve made so much progress in a short amount of time. I’ve put a lot of years into making that progress happen.
5. Mondaire Jones
The Harvard Law School grad and Obama Justice Department alum is running to represent New York’s 17th congressional district. If elected in November, he will become America’s first openly gay Black U.S. congressman.
It will not have happened overnight, however. In high school, Jones revived his local NAACP Youth Council and led an effort to register new voters. And at 19, he was elected chair of a committee on the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.
While attending Stanford University, Jones led a number of progressive causes on campus, from improving faculty and graduate student diversity to securing a living wage for dining hall and maintenance workers. He also spoke out against police racial profiling, resulting in the police chief’s resignation and reforms within the Palo Alto Police Department.
After college, Jones served in the Obama Administration, working in the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice, where he helped facilitate a number of judicial confirmations, including that of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
White kids used to spit on my grandfather while he walked to school in the Jim Crow South.
— Mondaire Jones (@MondaireJones) November 14, 2019
Jones won his primary on June 23 with 44% of the vote. He will face off with Republican Maureen McArdle Schulman in November.
Speaking to CBS News about the prospect of being the first openly gay Black member elected to Congress, Jones said:
I’m happy to be providing that kind of representation for so many young people and older people all throughout my district and all throughout this country who have reached out to me and said, ‘I’m so inspired by what you’re doing. You give me hope and I can be my authentic self in a world filled with so much injustice,’ and it’s really an honor to be able to do that.
6. Gina Ortiz Jones
Gina Ortiz Jones is running for Congress in Texas’ 23rd district, a mostly rural area that encompasses parts of San Antonio, along with 800 miles of U.S./Mexico border communities. If elected in November, she will be the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from her state.
A first-generation American and veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Iraq War, Jones served as an intelligence officer under the military’s discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. She has spent almost fifteen years working in national security, including serving as the director for investment at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative under President Obama.
After running for Texas’s 23rd congressional district in 2018, she was very narrowly defeated by incumbent Republican Will Hurd. Now, in her second go, Jones has racked up a number of impressive endorsements, including from Parker’s Victory Fund.
As Jones told LGBTQ Nation:
I always say I am running very simply to protect the opportunities that allowed me to grow up healthy, get an education, and serve our country. I’m living what’s possible as a result of investing in vulnerable folks.
7. John Blair
John Blair is running to represent New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional district. If elected in November, he will become the first out gay member of Congress from his state.
Blair has over two decades of experience working in politics at both the state and federal levels. He began his career working for New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez. Since then, he has labored in the office of former Senator Jeff Bingaman, then-Rep. Martin Heinrich, and as the Department of the Interior’s director of intergovernmental affairs during the Obama Administration.
But what makes Blair especially inspiring is not his resume alone. In his bid for Congress, he’s made his gay identity a key part of his campaign and with great humor, often poking fun at himself. In the past, queer candidates have often had to downplay their sexual orientations to appeal to voters. Blair, on the other hand, gave his husband, Billy, a co-starring role in his very first campaign video, and he regularly shares posts of the couple and their dog, C.J., to social media. He has also been open about his coming out story.
Blair told LGBTQ Nation:
We know LGBTQ Americans are more likely to be living in poverty. We still don’t have full equality when it comes to housing. You name it, there’s much to be done. And so to be in a position to help bring that change is particularly meaningful to me and my family.
8. Alphonso David
Alphonso David was named president of the Human Rights Campaign in August 2019, making him the first civil rights lawyer and first person of color ever to head the organization in its nearly 40-year history.
Prior to that, David was at the forefront of the movement for over a decade. He started as a staff attorney at the Lambda Legal Defense and Educational Fund before being named first-ever Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.
While announcing his new role within the HRC last year, David said:
If we want to win full equality, that’s going to require us to come together, to dig deep, to be resilient, to embrace our differences, to tenaciously defend the most vulnerable among us, to fight with every ounce of determination we have. I promise you this, I will fight for each and every one of us.
9. Lauren Groh-Wargo
Former campaign manager to Stacey Abrams, and leader of Fair Fight Action, Lauren Groh-Wargo is perhaps the key player in the Democrat’s southern strategy, which is aiming to turn states like Georgia blue as early as 2020.
Prior to heading up Fair Fight Action, Groh-Wargo spent nearly two decades leading or advising political campaigns and progressive organizations across the country, which is where she met the dynamic Abrams, who narrowly lost a bid to become the first Black governor of Georgia in 2018 and is now under consideration as Joe Biden’s running mate.
In 2014, Groh-Wargo launched and served as the first executive director of the New Georgia Project, working to register new voters across, particularly young voters, in the Peach State.
This year, Groh-Wargo published a New York Times op-ed detailing how Democrats can use Abrams’ historic campaign as a roadmap for taking back the White House in November: by paying meaningful attention to Black voters and, of course, actually delivering on the promises made to them.
We are facing an extraordinary election. It’s going to take more outreach, more voter education and more conversations about tough issues. This is the year to invest in Black voters as never before. And if we do so, we will win.