Democrats Are Overlooking a Key Demographic: LGBTQ Women

“LGBTQ women are volunteers, donors, activists and voters. We’re the engine of the progressive movement.” 

So why are they still so underrepresented in government?

Community leaders, parents, kids, doctors, lawyers, assemble in front of the White House to protest the non-science based policy of segregating LGBTQ children in public schools based on the schools’ determination of their gender identity. (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

Lisa Turner is political director of LPAC, the only national organization working to elect LGBTQ women to political office.

And she knows how to make that happen. A longtime Democratic organizer, Turner’s had a hand in electing some of America’s most prominent LGBTQ women including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. 

Now, she and LPAC are leading the fight to make 2020 the year more LGBTQ women are elected than ever before.

Among the candidates they’re backing are:

Gina Ortiz Jones. (Twitter)
  • Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democrat for the U.S. House from Texas’s 23rd Congressional District;
  • Democrat Michele Rayner, an attorney and community activist who’s running to win a seat in the Florida House of Representatives from the 70th District; and 
  • Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat who’s running for a seat in the New Hampshire State Senate.

Two years ago, Jones ran for the same Texas seat against an incumbent Republican and came within 1,000 votes of winning. 

Rebecca Perkins Kwoka. (Facebook)

Kwoka, if elected, will be the New Hampshire Senate’s first openly LGBTQ woman member.

There are many other women like them. But even if all of them win, LGBTQ women will still hold far fewer offices than their population share would indicate.

Though 2.6 percent of Americans are LGBTQ women, they comprise only 0.04 of the country’s elected officials. One of the biggest reasons why, Turner said, is the lack of interest within the different campaign committees of the Democratic Party.

“Democrats are supposed to be ‘big tent’ people,” Turner said, “but now we’re on the outside looking in.”

This, despite the fact that, if organized and mobilized, LGBTQ women voters could be a decisive factor in electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

There are roughly 6.4 million LGBTQ women in the U.S. In the great scheme of things, that isn’t very many, but it can be enough to tip the scales for the Democrats in key battleground states

Based on data collected by Lake Research Partners (LRP) and UCLA’s Williams Institute, it’s estimated that Biden and Harris have the support of roughly some 221,000 LGBTQ women voters in Florida, 107,000 in North Carolina, and 264,000 in Texas. The list goes on. And their commitment to electing the Democrats is almost off the charts. 

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LRP found that LBGTQ women are more likely than straight women to vote for Biden and Harris by a 20-point margin (73 percent vs. 53 percent).

What’s more, LGBTQ women are fired up for the elections in a way that straight women aren’t: Overall, 80 percent of LGBTQ women are motivated to cast their ballot in this year’s election; 62 percent are very motivated.

“You hear all the time about the enthusiasm gap,” said LRP President Celinda Lake, “but there’s not an enthusiasm gap among LGBTQ women. None. The LGBTQ (women’s) vote is really the secret sauce if you want to gain more women voters.” 

By virtue of their commitment and their strength in numbers, many would assume that Democratic leaders see LGBTQ women as a vital constituency. But Turner said that too often, the reality is that they don’t see them at all.

“The party doesn’t look at LGBTQ women as a unique constituency. Instead they glom us in with gay men, even though the gay male experience is fundamentally different from our own,” she said.

The political differences between LGBTQ women and men were starkly apparent during the presidential bid of Pete Buttigieg, the center-left mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Though he drew plaudits for being the first out LGBTQ person to become a major party contender, his candidacy wasn’t embraced by LGBTQ women activists. Like straight women activists, they were more likely to become involved in the campaigns of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

As one woman put it, Buttigieg’s base of support was “gay professionals”— pausing, she added, “gay white professionals.”  The term is shorthand for men who are more politically influential than their numbers would suggest, in large part because of their deep pockets. Although it’s not that LGBTQ women don’t make campaign contributions, too.

Delegate Anne Kaiser, who chairs the Maryland legislature’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, has seen it for years.

“When I’ve attended an event for the Victory Fund, it felt like 80 percent of the crowd were men, and I’m thinking, ‘Hmm. The LGBTQ population is more split 50-50.’” (The Victory Fund is a top contributor to LGBTQ candidates)

But a gain in their political power isn’t in the interest of LGBTQ women alone. As Turner points out, they lean to the left on a raft of concerns beyond attaining equality. On issues ranging from combating racism to safeguarding abortion rights to stopping global warming, LGBTQ women activists are dependable, even indispensable allies in making social change happen. They could build the strength of the Democratic Party, too, if only they were allowed to.

That’s something Valeria Carranza knows well. At 32, Carranza is a seasoned political pro. A familiar face on Capitol Hill, she was executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She now serves as chief of staff to a member of the Montgomery Co., Md., County Council.

“I identify as a queer woman of color and daughter of immigrants, and so the political for me is very personal,” Carranza said. “What other choice do we have but to be politically active? My identity, my rights, and sometimes even my safety is predicated on who is in power.”

“The Democratic Party is overlooking a key demographic in LGBTQ women,” she added. 

“The constituency is already there. We just need to be engaged.”

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Jim Grossfeld is a writer living a Bethesda, Maryland. He previously covered the women bolstering Michigan's Democratic wins at The American Prospect.