On Election Night 2018, there are more LGBT-related storylines to follow than just the sheer number of out candidates—almost 250, according to recent estimates. Tuesday’s vote could also deliver the first transgender governor, the first openly bisexual Senator, and the first body of Congress to pass the long-anticipated Equality Act.
Indeed, underneath what LGBT advocates have dubbed a “rainbow wave” is a midterm that could prove monumental in myriad ways for a community that has seen many of its rights fights stall under the Trump administration. Here are five stories to watch—and what they would mean for LGBT people.
Christine Hallquist Could Become the First Transgender Governor
Former energy company CEO and openly transgender woman Christine Hallquist won the Democratic primary in the Vermont gubernatorial race back in August, but she has to overcome steep odds Tuesday against Republican incumbent Phil Scott, who recently posted a 14-point lead in a poll conducted by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS.
Hallquist herself joked in an interview with The Daily Beast that she is more interested in becoming the first Vermont governor to unseat an incumbent since 1962 than she is in becoming the first transgender governor in United States history.
If she wins Tuesday, Hallquist would also be the highest-ranking transgender elected official in the country because, to date, there has never been a transgender person in the Congress. Still, as Hallquist previously told The Daily Beast, she’s campaigning not on national precedents but on local issues: “In Vermont, I’m going to get elected because of what I do for Vermonters,” she said.
She’s not the only LGBT gubernatorial candidate who could make history Tuesday night, either. LGBT advocacy group Freedom for All Americans told The Daily Beast in an email that, in effect, every letter of the acronym will be covered in a gubernatorial race this year: Jared Polis, who is openly gay, is running for Colorado governor; Oregon governor Kate Brown, who is bisexual, is up for reelection; and Texas’ Lupe Valdez would be the first out lesbian governor in the country.
Massachusetts—Yes, Massachusetts—May Side Against Transgender Rights
Pay no mind to the fact that Massachusetts is a blue state. So is California, and LGBT advocates still grimace at the memory of Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that made same-sex marriage illegal in the Golden State.
On Tuesday night, Massachusetts could set a very different sort of precedent than the one it set 14 years ago when it became the first state to permit same-sex marriage: Thanks to a ballot measure known as Question 3, it could become the first state to roll back transgender protections through a public vote.
The protections in question prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations like restrooms—and they were signed into law by Republican Governor Charlie Baker in 2016.
But a concerted effort from anti-transgender groups has put the question on the ballot in what’s been seen as a political test for the viability of such measures: If you can roll back transgender rights in LGBT-friendly Massachusetts, the logic goes, you can roll them back anywhere.
A more recent poll by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe, however, suggests that LGBT rights groups may have successfully made their case: 68 percent said they would vote “Yes” to keep the protections while only 28 percent said they would vote “No.”
The Number of Openly LGBT Members of Congress Could Get a Boost
LGBT advocates like to quote a common saying: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” In this context, that means that if LGBT people aren’t holding elected office, their rights are more endangered.
Election Night 2018 could see several LGBT people pulling seats up to that most coveted of figurative political tables: the U.S. Congress.
Today, there are only seven openly LGBT people in Congress. This year, advocacy group Victory Fund has endorsed 14 LGBT people running for either the House or the Senate—some of them running for re-election, but many of them relative newcomers.
To date, for example, there have only been two openly lesbian or bisexual women in Congress: Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin and Arizona congresswoman Krysten Sinema, who is now running for Senate.
Depending on Tuesday night’s results, they could be joined by Lauren Baer from Florida, Iraq War veteran Gina Ortiz Jones from Texas, openly bisexual woman Katie Hill from California, Tracy Mitrano from New York, Angie Craig from Minnesota, and Sharice Davis from Kansas.
The Chances of Passing the Equality Act Might Increase
One important LGBT moment that might happen Tuesday night has more to do with general control over the House than it does with electing LGBT candidates specifically.
In 2015 and 2017, Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate introduced the Equality Act, a federal bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity at the federal level.
Legislatively speaking, this is the brass ring for the LGBT community: a simple law that would apply in all 50 states, regardless of existing local laws or previous court rulings. Many fights would be won overnight. Of course, without control of Congress, the Equality Act has failed both years—and there will still likely be years to come before it becomes law.
But if Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives as projected in many polling analyses, party leadership has promised to make passing the Equality Act a major priority, as The Daily Beast noted.
If Republicans maintain control over the Senate as expected, however, the bill would likely fail there—and President Trump would almost certainly veto it anyway.
Still, though, the Equality Act clearing a body of Congress for the first time would mark an important step forward for the bill, which will likely be introduced many more times before making it to a president’s desk.
In the short term, voting on the Equality Act in a Democratic House and sending it to a GOP-controlled Senate would help keep LGBT rights in the national political conversation at a time when support for LGBT people is growing among voters.
States May Become More LGBT-Friendly
In the absence of the Equality Act—and in the presence of a White House that has rolled back many key LGBT protections—the state-level fight for LGBT rights has never been more crucial.
Only 20 states and D.C. have laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, leaving wide swaths of the country unprotected.
Advocacy group Freedom for All Americans says that they are focused this election cycle on gubernatorial races in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, and Arizona that could help determine whether non-discrimination laws get passed, with CEO Masen Davis saying in a statement that this would be “one of the most important ways we can generate momentum for action at the federal level.”
According to the Movement Advancement Project, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Arizona do not have any laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although they are in some cases bound by federal court rulings that would ban such discrimination.
There are also a large number of LGBT candidates running for state legislature on Tuesday—and that table/menu saying would apply at this level as well.
According to Victory Fund, there are 213 out LGBT people who made the ballot for statewide office this year—a staggering number given current levels of representation. There are, the group noted, “more LGBTQ people … running for statewide office this cycle than at any other time in U.S. history.”
According to a December 2017 report from the Victory Institute, there are currently a little over 100 openly LGBT state legislators nationwide. The effects of boosting that number, even by a little bit, would be no substitute for more sweeping federal-level LGBT protections—but it could help get new state laws passed in the meantime.