Don Thompson | Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — While LGBTQ candidates and their supporters celebrated several landmark victories across the country in this year’s midterm elections, California quietly achieved its own: At least 10% of state lawmakers publicly identify as LGBTQ, believed to be the first of any U.S. legislator.

California lawmakers, all Democrats, are proud of their success but say it highlights the hard work that remains in their own state and elsewhere, such as dealing with the fallout of measures like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that bans some classes on s*xual orientation and gender identity, and other countries’ laws limiting the participation of transgender students in sports or blocking gender-affirming medical care for youth.

The milestone was further marked by Saturday’s shooting at a Colorado gay nightclub that left five people dead and many others injured. The suspect was charged with m*rder and hate crimes. Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who had just won a second term, was the first openly gay man elected governor of the state when he won in 2018.

“When it comes to LGBTQ people, we are on two paths: one path is that we win socially. Overall, people are totally okay with LGBTQ people, they support us, they accept us and they want to vote for LGBTQ candidates,” California State Senator Scott Wiener, a member of the LGBTQ caucus, said on Monday.

However, he said, “despite the fact that we are winning the battle across society, you have a very vocal, dangerous minority of extremists who consistently att*ck and demonize our community.”

At least 519 LGBTQ candidates have won elected office this year, ranging from school board to Congress and governor, said LGBTQ Victory Fund press secretary Albert Fujii. That’s a record, much higher than 2020, when 336 LGBTQ candidates won, according to the group, which along with Equality California calculated that California is the first state to cross the 10% threshold.

Of the 12 current or future members of the California Legislature, eight were already members of its LGBTQ caucus, including the president of the Senate and three other senators, whose terms run until 2024. The four current members of the Assembly won re-election on November 8, joined by two new members of the Assembly and two new senators, increasing the ranks of the club by 50%. The AP has yet to name one race that could add an additional LGBTQ lawmaker.

Lawmakers will be sworn in for new terms on December 5; there are a total of 120 legislators between the two houses.

The U.S. census showed that 9.1% of Californians identified as LGBT — up from 7.9% nationwide — so the legislature will roughly achieve parity in s*xual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, according to statistics from the California State Library, the legislature has yet to achieve gender, race and ethnicity parity.

New Hampshire and Vermont had more LGBTQ legislators, but their legislatures are larger than California’s, so they didn’t reach the 10% threshold, according to the institute.

The 2022 election is a first for LGBTQ people, including Corey Jackson, the first black gay man in the California legislature, who noted that African Americans — especially black transs*xuals — are particularly marginalized.

“I think this is an opportunity to just say we’re here, we have something to contribute and we can lead and represent the best of them,” said Jackson, a member of the Riverside County school board.

Alaska and South Dakota elected their first LGBTQ legislators, and Montana and Minnesota elected their first transgender legislators, according to the Campaign for Human Rights. In New Hampshire, 26-year-old Democrat James Roesener became the first transgender man elected to the state legislature.

He said he was motivated to seek a state bill that would require schools to notify parents of changes in their children’s gender identity and expression, but only to a limited extent. Opponents of such requirements say they violate children’s privacy and could expose them to abuse at home.

Leigh Finke, who was elected in Minnesota, was also driven by rising anti-transgender rhetoric.

Finke hopes to ban so-called conversion therapy in Minnesota and, like California, make the state a sanctuary for children and their parents who don’t have access to gender-affirming health care elsewhere.

“I just thought, ‘This can’t stand.’ We need to have transgender people in these rooms. If we are to lose our rights, they must at least look us in the eye when they do,” she said.
Massachusetts and Oregon elected the nation’s first lesbian governors.

Charlotte Perri, a 23-year-old ballot organizer in Portland, Oregon, said she was moved to hear Governor-elect Tina Kotek speak during the election campaign, in which young people thanked her for running.
“It’s hard to be optimistic as a young queer person with everything that’s going on,” Perri said.

Although newly elected LGBTQ officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, at least one gay Republican – George Santos, a supporter of former President Donald Trump – won a seat in the US House of Representatives in New York City, defeating another gay Democrat.

The rise of LGBTQ lawmakers contrasts with efforts in some states led by members of Santos’ party to limit the influence, visibility and rights of LGBTQ people.

In Tennessee, state Republican Majority Leaders of the state legislature said the first bill of the 2023 session would seek to ban minors from gender-affirming custody. Tennessee has one LGTBQ lawmaker, Democratic Representative Torrey Harris.

The state has already banned transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports in middle and high schools and restricted which bathrooms transgender students and staff can use.
The Human Rights Campaign tracked what it identified as anti-LGBTQ laws introduced in 23 states this year and said they had become law in 13: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Louisiana.

On the other hand, “as California’s Legislative LGBTQ Caucus has grown, the state has led the nation in passing groundbreaking legislation to protect LGBTQ+ civil rights,” said Equality California spokesman Samuel Garrett-Pate.

Wiener carried California’s Transgender Youth Sanctuary Act, which was copied by Democratic lawmakers in other states. He and another member of the Assembly teamed up in 2019 to expand access to HIV prevention dr*gs. Other laws pushed by LGBTQ legislators over the years have given foster children rights to gender-confirmed custody and allowed non-binary gender designations for state identification.

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