Off-year elections bode well for LGBTQ candidates

  • by Lisa Keen
  • Wednesday November 8, 2023
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Virginia state Senator-elect Danica Roem and Mississippi state Representative-elect Fabian Nelson were successful in their elections November 7. Photos: Roem, courtesy LGBTQ Victory Fund; Nelson, AP
Virginia state Senator-elect Danica Roem and Mississippi state Representative-elect Fabian Nelson were successful in their elections November 7. Photos: Roem, courtesy LGBTQ Victory Fund; Nelson, AP

Off-year elections are typically dull — with no presidential, congressional, or other big spotlight races on the ballot. But Tuesday night's off-year election results had many moments for LGBTQ people to celebrate.

Much of that success came in Virginia where Danica Roem, a transgender member of the House of Delegates, won election to a state Senate seat from the northern part of the state, helping keep the body under Democratic control. Roem was up against a Republican opponent endorsed by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R). By about three points, she becomes only the second transgender woman in the U.S. to be elected to a state senate. (Sarah McBride was the first, winning her seat in Delaware in 2020; she is running for Congress next year.)

"You attack trans kids in my district at your own political peril," said Roem in an interview with The Hill newspaper.

Bisexual African American state Delegate candidate Joshua Cole was the dramatic 51st win late Tuesday night, when his victory gave Democrats the one-seat majority they needed to gain control of the Virginia House of Delegates. Polls and commentators had widely suggested Republicans might take control of the House and Senate, giving Youngkin the rubber stamp he needed to push an agenda restricting abortion, banning LGBTQ-related books, and allowing parent groups to take control of public school curricula.

All seven LGBTQ candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates won their seats Tuesday night, and only three of those were incumbents. In addition to Cole, they are: Laura Jane Cohen, Rozia Henson, Adele McClure, and incumbents Kelly Convirs-Fowler, Marcia Price, and Mark Sickles.

LGBTQ Victory Fund President Annise Parker praised Roem, noting that she faced "an unprecedented deluge of anti-trans hate on the campaign trail."

"Her win tonight will make national headlines and serve as a deafening rebuke to bigots who continue to try and silence the LGBTQ+ community and trans people in particular," Parker stated.

Roem will join gay state Senator Adam Ebbin (D), who has served in the Virginia Senate for 11 years, after serving eight years in the House. Ebbin handily won reelection, 78% to 22%.

In Minneapolis, Black trans City Councilmember Andrea Jenkins, who currently serves as council president, won a hard fought reelection to the Ward 8 seat.

In Mississippi, gay candidate Fabian Nelson won his primary in August and was unopposed Tuesday for the state House of Representatives. Nelson becomes the first openly LGBTQ state legislator in Mississippi history.

And in Miami Beach, Florida, which includes the popular LGBTQ destination South Beach, gay candidate Michael Gongora has won the right to face another top contender in a runoff to become mayor. Gongora has been serving on the Miami Beach City Commission. The runoff will take place November 21.

Portland, Maine gay mayoral candidate Andrew Zarro appeared Tuesday night to have forced the race's leading candidate into a ranked choice tabulation of the votes. Zarro has been serving on the Portland City Council. Results are not expected before Wednesday morning.

Overall, openly LGBTQ candidates won 12 out of 14 statewide races and seven of 12 mayoral races (with an additional two races going to runoff and one race (Cromwell, Connecticut) not yet called. Out of at least 141 LGBTQ candidates running for various local seats in 21 states, data so far indicates 73 won, 14 lost, 3 advance to a runoff, and 51 races are yet to be determined.

Other important elections

Mainstream media outlets had identified a few races they considered especially interesting in the off-year voting. One was the aforementioned legislative races in Virginia.

There were two gubernatorial races Tuesday night that many commentators thought might gauge support for former Republican President Donald Trump. One of the biggest of those contests was in Kentucky, where incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear's Republican challenger, Daniel Cameron, had the support of Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Beshear, who won reelection in the ruby red state, has not been shy about expressing support for transgender people and, this year, he vetoed a bill that sought to deny gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth. In 2020, he was the first sitting Kentucky governor to attend an LGBTQ rally at the Capitol.

In Mississippi, it appeared incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves would survive a fierce challenge from Democrat Brandon Presley. Reeves has taken a highly visible position against transgender females participating in girls sports. He also tried to make transgender athletes and transition surgery campaign issues by claiming, apparently without evidence, that Presley supported those issues. Presley's position was actually somewhat guarded: He said he trusts parents to make the best decision for their children about gender-affirming and other medical care.

Ohio voters overturn ban on abortions

Only one state had an abortion measure on its ballot November 7: Ohio. Its Issue 1, or the "Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative," sought to amend the state constitution to ensure that individuals had the right to make reproductive decisions — including abortion, fertility treatment, and contraception — for themselves. The measure passed 56.6% to 43.4%

Last year, seven states passed ballot measures that upheld the right to choose abortion, including California. Next year, during the presidential election, 13 states will have similar measures on the ballot.

Alabama mayor outed, dies by suicide

And in the somewhat obscure reaches of a small town in Alabama, an incumbent mayor died by suicide November 3, just two days after a private internet news service reported the mayor, Fred Copeland, who was also a Baptist preacher, had a "secret life" as a "transgender woman." Copeland, 49, was married to a woman and had three children. As mayor for seven years, he dubbed his little town of Smiths Station as "Mayberry 2023."

But on November 1, an internet site called 1819news ran a story with photos that appear to be of Copeland dressed as a woman. According to local news reports, authorities were asked to do a wellness check on Copeland and finally found him driving around. When they pulled him over, Copeland got out of the car, pulled a gun, and shot himself.

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