The number of openly LGBT Republican congressional nominees has increased every election cycle since 2010–until now.
In 2012, there was one. In 2014, two. The number inched up to three in 2016.
But in 2018, according to a new report from the nonpartisan LGBT advocacy group Victory Fund, there are zero openly GOP candidates who are nominated for seats in either the United States Senate or the House of Representatives.
To date, the handful of openly gay Republicans who have served in Congress have either been outed or have come out sometime after they were elected—either during or after their time in office. That means the GOP has yet to successfully elect an openly LGBT federal lawmaker—and with no nominees this cycle who fit that description, that precedent remains out of reach.
Meanwhile, there are currently 21 LGBT Democratic nominees for Congress who could add to the seven openly LGBT Democrats now serving in the House and Senate.
Victory Fund president Annise Parker, an out lesbian who served as the mayor of Houston, lays the blame for this disparity squarely at the feet of Donald Trump, stating in the report that the “anti-LGBTQ policies pursued by the White House and in extreme-right state legislatures has led to few openly LGBTQ people running in a Republican primary”—and that out Republicans who do run are “too often sidelined by homophobic or transphobic political forces.”
“Instead of a Rainbow Wave that should be celebrated by all Americans who believe in the wisdom of a truly representative government, we have a historic moment that is almost entirely partisan,” said Parker. “This story will not change until the party of Lincoln rejects the divisive rhetoric and policies too many of its leaders rely on.”
LGBT Republican groups, however, reject this framing, saying that the change currently underway can’t be adequately measured by the number of out nominees for federal office.
Log Cabin Republicans president Gregory T. Angelo told the Washington Blade that “there were a number of gay Republicans running for federal office this year” even though “none emerged victorious in their primaries.”
As the New York Times recently reported, a total of 20 LGBT Republicans have run for office this year, six of them in Connecticut. (Asked for comment, Angelo referred The Daily Beast back to the statement he gave to the Blade.)
Tyler Deaton, senior advisor for the LGBT conservative group American Unity Fund, pointed to the rising number of openly LGBT Republicans in state legislative offices: Dan Innis, who is openly gay, became a New Hampshire state senator in 2016–and then helped pass the state’s transgender protections earlier this year.
Openly gay South Carolina legislator Jason Elliott won his race in 2016, too. And openly gay Wisconsin Assemblyman Todd Novak has been serving since 2015.
“There was a time just three years ago that Todd Novak was the only elected state official—Republican and gay—in the country,” Deaton told The Daily Beast. “So to go from one to three shows that we’ve had some success.”
It is American Unity Fund’s hope that these victories in the states will one day translate into success on Capitol Hill. Said Deaton, “We’ve been building the ranks of LGBTQ elected officials at the state level, hoping that they can establish a stronger footing, build a fundraising base, and then build on that base to eventually run for Congress successfully.”
As for federal races, AUF is currently supporting straight and cisgender Republican allies in Congress who have opposed the transgender troop ban and who recently helped defeat an anti-LGBT adoption amendment.
“Some of those Republicans are running in the toughest re-elections in the country—and so at the federal level, those are the races that we’ve been really focused on,” Deaton told The Daily Beast.
Of course, one reason why there might be fewer LGBT Republicans running for Congress is that there are fewer LGBT Republicans, period. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, nearly 80 percent of LGBT adults either identified as Democrats or leaned to the left—as compared to a mere 18 percent who identified as Republican or leaning right.
In 2016, those numbers all but held steady, suggesting that the Republican Party still has a long way to go to win over LGBT voters.
“I think the Republican Party is making it harder and harder for mainstream, fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidates to get elected,” Parker told the Blade.
But what might not be apparent from the Trump administration’s anti-LGBT actions—or from the anti-LGBT bills being proposed by far-right lawmakers in statehouse around the country—is the fact that Republican views on LGBT issues are indeed progressing.
Pew Research Center surveys show that 54 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters now believe homosexuality should be accepted, as compared to only 35 percent who said the same in 2006.
However, as Gallup noted earlier this year, the GOP still “has yet to reach majority support” for same-sex marriage, with only 44 percent of the party supporting it. GOP views on transgender issues are even further behind, as Pew Research Center data demonstrates.
Whatever those surveys show, Parker says that it is Trump who has dominated primary season: “While Americans—including mainstream Republicans—are increasingly supportive of LGBTQ candidates and equality,” she told The Daily Beast, “those motivated by Trump’s social divisiveness were the ones turning out in Republican primaries.”
Parker acknowledged that although there are “fewer openly LGBTQ Republicans [who] are running overall” in 2018, there have also been “down-ballot candidates where local issues prevail [who] have had some success.”
When that success will reach the highest levels of government, though, remains to be seen. Democrats began electing LGBT candidates when the left was much less accepting of same-sex relationships than it is today, so it would not be unexpected for Republican voters to send their first openly gay or bisexual or transgender representative to the Hill within the next few years.
Case in point: current Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin became the first out lesbian elected to the House of Representatives back in 1999 when Democratic support for the societal acceptance of homosexuality was comparable to 2018 levels of Republican support for homosexuality, as Pew Research Center data shows.
And Democrats did indeed start electing LGBT candidates to state legislatures long before they broke their own federal-level glass ceiling. Elaine Noble, an openly lesbian candidate, was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1974–a full two and a half decades before Baldwin set her precedent in the House.
Deaton, for one, expects things to play out similarly for LGBT conservative candidates: state wins now, federal wins later.
“Ideally, if our strategy pans out, some of these individuals who are winning at the state and local level are going to be the successful congressional candidates of tomorrow,” he told The Daily Beast.