Something remarkable is happening in queer politics. Despite the unraveling of American governance that followed the 2016 election, more LGBTQ candidates are running for office than ever before — including big names like Chelsea Manning and Ashlee Marie Preston. And following a series of stunning victories in 2017, this year is shaping up to be the queerest election ever.
Nowhere is that trend more apparent than in Texas, where over 40 LGBTQ candidates are running for office — including two for governor. Most of the Texas candidates have never run for office before.
It’s a particularly crucial time for those queer candidates to run. At the national level, the Trump administration has been systematically rolling back rights for LGBTQ Americans. From the Department of Justice to the Department of Education, Republicans have been eliminating protections in schools, housing, businesses, and more. And at the state level, Texas officials have been complicit in those efforts, with Republican Governor Greg Abbott going to extreme measures in an attempt to circumvent marriage equality.
One of Governor Abbott’s great obsessions is toilets. He spent 2017 pushing the legislature to ban transgender people from using public bathrooms, and called an expensive special session in a desperate attempt to pass a bill to that effect. (He failed.) Other Republicans have been busy trying to ban queer people from adopting, and creating new obstacles to getting legal recognition for relationships — a crucial protection, particularly during times of health or financial difficulty.
The gubernatorial election will be particularly hard-fought. It’s crucial that Greg Abbott be defeated — as governor, he’s maintained a single-minded determination to attack LGBTQ families. There are two qualified queer people running against him: Lupe Valdez is currently Dallas Sheriff, the first openly queer latinx Sheriff in American history. The second is Jeffrey Payne, a former Mr. Leather who runs a gay bar.
Perhaps tired of being constantly victimized by callous politicians, record numbers of openly queer people jumped into politics in the past year. They were bolstered by progressive organizations that have redoubled the organizing efforts; following Trump’s assumption of the presidency, numerous progressive groups have extended their outreach into underprivileged communities.
The surge in queer political ambition isn’t limited to Texas. In 2017, two trans politicians were elected to office, one in Virginia and another in Minnesota. Seattle got its first lesbian mayor and first openly gay school board member; and four queer people were elected to local office in Utah.
In Texas, the queer candidates include numerous women and just under half identify as people of color. Five are openly transgender. Whereas queer people have long written Texas off as too hostile and dangerous to be worth considering, the next election will prove a crucial litmus test as to whether attitudes towards LGBTQs has turned a corner.
We’re close to getting our first indication of how the 2018 elections will go. Texas holds its primary election on March 6. Many other southern states are watching the Texas elections — if queer people can succeed there, they can succeed anywhere. And that could finally spell the end of the Trump administration’s stranglehold on policy.
Featured image via Ashlee Marie Preston’s Facebook