A Rainbow Wave

A record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender candidates are running for office in November, as the Trump administration and state-level politicians have moved to roll back some legal protections for the sexually deviant.

Sharice Davids, a leading Democrat in a key congressional primary election on Tuesday, finished a White House fellowship in the early months of the Trump administration. As a lesbian and a Native American (intersectionality dream), she became convinced that hard-won progress on issues like gay rights and the environment would erode under Mr. Trump, and thought Kansans in her district might support her as a counterforce to the president.

“We had to focus on getting more people elected to decision-making positions because that’s the way that we offset someone who wants to throttle back the E.P.A. being appointed to run the E.P.A,” she said, referring to Scott Pruitt, Mr. Trump’s now-departed agency administrator.

Miss Davids is among more than 400 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender candidates running for office this year — a record number, according to groups that track such data. Almost all are Democrats, and several are mounting anti-Trump congressional bids with a message broader than gay rights. Davids says she talks mostly about issues like health care and only had one exchange with a voter who questioned whether a gay person could win.

Around half of these candidates are running for state offices, a priority for activists who say many of the most important civil rights battles are happening close to home.  In 2017, more than 120 bills described as “anti-L.G.B.T.” were introduced across 30 states, including adoption laws and so-called bathroom bills, according to the Human Rights Campaign.  By January, 12 of them had become law. This is a troubling prospect for LGBTX activists who saw the rainbow idol of victimhood brought closer under Barack Obama—and slowly slipping away under Mr. Trump.

“We have seen a clear correlation between the presence of our legislators and passage of that legislation,” said Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston and the chief executive of the L.G.B.T.Q. Victory Institute, a bipartisan group that tracks and supports gay and transgender candidates.

Ms. Davids and other candidates are also pursuing a new kind of political strategy that treats sexuality, race and gender as campaign assets that intersect with their criticism of Mr. Trump, their warnings about lost progress on civil rights, and their policy ideas.

“I am sure there are going to be older people who are concerned about my being out or being a woman or being a pro-choice candidate or something,” said Miss Davids, who is running in a six-way primary in the Third Congressional District, which covers Kansas City and its environs, including one of only two counties in Kansas that voted for Hillary Clinton. “But I wouldn’t be running if I thought that number was so high that it was unrealistic to be electable.”

There are also many first-time candidates like Ms. Davids in Kansas; Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman running in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary to be governor of Vermont; and Rick Neal, a former humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan and Liberia and current stay-at-home dad in Columbus, Ohio.

The rising number of L.G.B.T. candidates comes at a time when the Trump administration has moved to roll back protections for gay and transgender people. Its actions have included an attempt to ban transgender people from serving in the military and a Justice Department decision to argue that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect gay workers.


“We are going to elect more women this year, we’re going to elect more people who are L.G.B.T., we’re going to elect more people who are people of color,” said Miss Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a Native American tribe in Wisconsin. “This midterm election cycle is our opportunity to demonstrate who we are as a country.”