2024 to be record year for CA LGBTQ legislative candidates

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 28, 2023
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State Assembly candidates Jovanka Beckles, left, and Kathryn Lybarger are running for an East Bay state Senate seat, while Sasha Renée Pérez is running for a Southern California Senate seat and Joseph Rocha is running for Assembly. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns<br><br>
State Assembly candidates Jovanka Beckles, left, and Kathryn Lybarger are running for an East Bay state Senate seat, while Sasha Renée Pérez is running for a Southern California Senate seat and Joseph Rocha is running for Assembly. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns

The 2024 legislative races are shaping up to be a record year for LGBTQ candidates in California, with at least 24 out contenders already pulling papers to seek Assembly or Senate seats in the Statehouse. It is one more than the 23 LGBTQ legislative candidates known by the Bay Area Reporter to have run in 2020.

As the B.A.R. has been reporting, next year could finally see the first transgender and queer members be elected to the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. The affinity group for out legislators in Sacramento currently stands at a historic 12 members following the results of the 2022 election cycle, four of whom are lesbian, seven are gay men, and one is bisexual. Six are running for reelection next year and one is seeking election to a different chamber.

A seventh could depart next year if they end up running for Congress instead of reelection to their legislative seat, while two of the caucus' lesbian members will be termed out at the end of 2024. Both Senators Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), the current senate president pro tempore, are in their last legislative terms.

Thus, depending on the outcomes of next year's races, there is the possibility of seeing the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus nearly double in size during the 2025 legislative session. With two pairs of out candidates running for the same seat next year, and one a Republican with little chance of winning, the affinity group could number 23 members should there be a rainbow sweep in all but one of the 2024 legislative races with out candidates.

Since 2008, when a then-record nine known out candidates sought legislative office in the state, the B.A.R. has been keeping track of LGBTQ contenders for the Statehouse in the Golden State. The nine out female candidates who are already seeking to join the Legislature next year is just shy of the record 11 women from the LGBTQ community who ran in 2020.

"It's important to note as well that we aren't just running we are winning. We celebrated 10% LGBTQ+ representation in the state Capitol this year," noted Eggman, the LGBTQ caucus chair, in an emailed reply to the B.A.R. "I think the reason we are winning more often than not is that LGBTQ+ elected officials have a track record of getting things done for every member of our constituencies, including individuals who work to deny us basic rights and dignity. Because we know the Gay Agenda is rooted in radical love for all people."

Among the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus members seeking reelection next year are gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) and bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose). Also running for their current seats are gay Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-Cupertino), Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood), Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris), and Chris Ward (D-San Diego).

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has also pulled papers to run for reelection next year. But he is expected to seek to succeed Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) should she opt not to run again in 2024, and if that happens, it could lead to seeing one or two LGBTQ leaders in San Francisco launch legislative campaigns.

They are likely, though, to run to succeed Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco). He is expected to run for Wiener's Senate seat, as the B.A.R.'s Political Notebook column noted in early June, leaving his 17th Assembly District seat up for grabs. (As of now it does not appear an out candidate will seek next year to succeed termed out Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting in San Francisco's 19th Assembly District.)

When the B.A.R. spoke with Eggman last year about her taking over leadership of the LGBTQ caucus, she had said recruiting out candidates was top of mind. Asked this month about the record number eyeing legislative seats in 2024, Eggman said she was "thrilled" that so many LGBTQ people were interested in seeking public office at a time when the LGBTQ community has come under increased attacks from Republican lawmakers and conservative groups.

"This has been a historic year for the LGBTQ+ community for better and worse. While we have seen a historic amount of attacks and violence to our community this year, our community has not been idle nor complacent in the face of this aggression. We have been busy," stated Eggman. "I am thrilled to see a historic amount of out LGBTQ+ elected officials running for office. It used to be a huge lift to get one or two out candidates to run, and now we are looking at 24 amazing members of our community who have decided to lead with love and compassion."

Trans, bi candidates

In recent interviews with the B.A.R. the two trans women seeking legislative seats in 2024 both said rather than being deterred by the rise in anti-trans political attacks, the pushback to trans rights has instead spurred them to stand for public office. Justine Gonzalez, who is also bisexual, is running for the open 52nd Assembly District seat in Los Angeles, while Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton is seeking the open 19th Senate District seat.

Her colleague, bisexual Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege, is again seeking the 47th Assembly District seat after losing to the incumbent, Assemblymember Greg Wallis (R-Palm Springs), by 85 votes last November. She and Gonzalez are among the record number of bisexual candidates running in 2024.

Lee, whose election in 2020 marked the first time a bisexual legislator had joined the LGBTQ caucus, is seeking reelection to his 24th Assembly District seat that straddles Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Earlier this month he hosted a fundraiser in Los Angeles for 25th Senate District candidate Sasha Renée Pérez, vying to become the first bisexual elected to the Legislature's upper chamber.

Two other bisexual candidates are running for Assembly seats. Dulce Vasquez, a Mexican immigrant, is seeking to represent the 57th Assembly District in Los Angeles. In Riverside County, Clarissa Cervantes, who also identifies as queer, is running to succeed her sister in the 58th Assembly District.

As for lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), she is seeking election to the 31st Senate District seat. Should the sisters both win their races, they would be the first set of out siblings to serve together in the Statehouse.

There are currently 10 legislative districts that include parts of Riverside County, with three now held by out legislators: Padilla, Cervantes, and Jackson. Come next year a majority, six, could be represented by LGBTQ leaders should Holstege, Middleton, and both Cervantes sisters be elected.

"I think, overall, what you will begin to see is we are respected in our own right for the heavy lifting we have been doing in our communities," said Jackson of seeing LGBTQ candidates, and those who are also people of color, break through politically in a region of the state that has historically tended to elect Republicans. "Meaning if you look at the numbers of voters, none of us should have been elected if you look at the populations we represent. We found a way to do it somewhere that has been one of the top breeding grounds for conservatism or white supremacy. To see a majority of the ticket in Riverside County be LGBTQ people is something to take note of."

Further west along the Southern California coastal region gay Lynwood City Councilmember José Luis Solache is running to succeed Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who is termed out of his District 62 seat, while gay veteran Joseph C. Rocha is vying to succeed Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego), who is termed out of his District 76 seat. Solache and Rocha lost their previous campaigns for legislative seats but are seen as stronger contenders in their respective races next year.

Southern California

Four other gay male candidates are running in Southern California for open seats. Alex Mohajer, profiled in this week's Political Notebook column, is seeking the 17th Senate District seat. If elected, the Iranian Democratic Party leader would be the first LGBTQ state legislator from Orange County.

Running for Los Angeles County seats are Mark Gonzalez in Assembly District 54, Ari Ruiz in Assembly District 52, and Javier Hernandez in Assembly District 53, which stretches into San Bernardino County.

Bay Area

In the Bay Area three out candidates are looking to become the first LGBTQ lawmakers to represent East Bay counties. Gay former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon is running for the open District 3 Senate seat that includes parts of the Bay Area counties of Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma and Napa, as well as sections of Yolo and Sacramento counties.

Two queer women are seeking the East Bay's open 7th Senate District seat that spans western Contra Costa and Alameda counties from Rodeo south to the San Leandro border. Former Richmond city councilmember Jovanka Beckles, now an elected member of the board that oversees the AC Transit public transportation agency, and California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger, who lives with her wife in Berkeley, are among a number of Democrats in the race hoping to survive the 2024 primary to advance to the general election ballot in the fall.

Due to it being a presidential election year, the primary will take place Tuesday, March 5. Under California's open primary system, the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation will move on to the November 5 election.

While the deadline for candidates to file for next year's legislative races is in early December, the LGBTQ caucus has already endorsed nine of the out non-incumbent candidates running in 2024. Among the female candidates, they are the Cervantes sisters, Middleton, Holstege, and Pérez.

The out male candidates endorsed by the LGBTQ caucus, so far, are Solache, Rocha, Hernandez, and Cabaldon. The caucus isn't expected to announce another round of endorsements for LGBTQ candidates until mid-July at the earliest.

"I am deeply honored and humbled to receive the endorsement of the CA State Legislative LGBTQ Caucus," stated Cabaldon. "This endorsement is a testament to the collective strength and resilience of our LGBTQ+ community. In the face of escalating threats and hostility nationwide, it is clear that our fight for equality and justice is far from over."

Gay Republican

So far the only gay GOPer running in 2024 that the B.A.R. is aware of is Anthony Macias, who plans to run against Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) in the South Bay's 15th Senate District. For years Macias has vied for legislative seats but has either failed to make the ballot or fallen short when he has due to running in predominantly Democratic-leaning districts.

A spokesperson for the LGBTQ caucus told the B.A.R. that it is unaware of any other LGBTQ candidates who have already launched legislative bids. One gay Democrat who had announced a state Senate bid in 2024 was Los Angeles resident Darryn Harris. But the Black political aide announced in May he was suspending his campaign for the 35th Senate District seat.

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