November 7, 2018 / 7:59 PM / 12 days ago

LGBT+ candidates make gains in U.S. elections

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More LGBT+ candidates won in the U.S. midterm elections than ever before - and gender or sexual orientation was less of an issue than ever before, too, experts said.

Six new gay legislators joined the U.S. House of Representatives taking the total to seven; Jared Polis became the nation’s first openly gay governor in Colorado, and Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, was re-elected.

But their sexual identities played less of a role than more traditional political factors like their party affiliation or their stand on hot issues such as immigration, taxes and the polices of President Donald Trump, experts said.

“These candidates are increasingly being viewed the same as any other candidate for the most part,” said Daniel Lewis, an associate professor of political science at Siena College who has studied the issue.

One race still up in the air, a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, is not likely to be decided by voters’ feelings about Democrat Kyrsten Sinema’s openness about her bisexuality, said longtime Arizona political consultant Stan Barnes.

“It never came up. I never heard it in a coffee shop. I never saw it online,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Whatever there used to be in terms of oxygen in the room for this kind of thing, it seems to have disappeared in Arizona, and we’re all for the better because of it.”

Still, in some races, especially in conservative states, candidates – transgender ones in particular - faced attacks because of their gender or sexual orientation, Sean Meloy, senior political director of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said.

“It wasn’t an issue unless their opponents made it an issue,” said Meloy, whose nonpartisan group supports openly gay candidates.

“Voters find the candidates’ openness to be refreshing.”

Altogether, 132 of the 225 candidates the Victory Fund endorsed won their races, including one Republican state legislator. The rest were Democrats

Transgender candidates also had a big night, even if Christine Hallquist failed in her high-profile bid to become governor of Vermont.

Voters in about half the U.S. states also held referendums on election day, with neighboring Massachusetts becoming the first state to vote to support of a law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places.

In another sign of change, County Clerk Kim Davis, who gained notoriety for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses in a deeply conservative part of Kentucky, lost to Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr.

“Kim Davis shows how far the country has come on same sex marriage particularly,” Lewis said.

Reporting By Jason Fields; Editing by Katy Migiro and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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