West Coast could see LGBTQ Congress members from all 3 states

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday November 17, 2023
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Emily Randall, a state senator in Washington state, announced November 16 that she is running for Congress after the Democratic incumbent said he would not seek reelection. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Emily Randall, a state senator in Washington state, announced November 16 that she is running for Congress after the Democratic incumbent said he would not seek reelection. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

With the entrance this week of a queer Washington state senator into an open House race in 2024, all three states along the West Coast could see the election of LGBTQ Congress members for the first time next year. To date, only California has sent out members of its congressional delegation to Capitol Hill.

After Congressmember Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) announced last week that he would not seek reelection to Washington state's 6th Congressional District, attention immediately turned to if queer Latina state Senator Emily Randall (D) would seek to succeed him. Born and raised in the district, she won election last year to a second term in her state Legislature.

She made her House candidacy official a week later on November 16. Should she win the seat, Randall would be the first out LGBTQ member of Congress from the Evergreen State.

"My story is just like the stories of my neighbors. We've all worked hard to cover the rising costs of health care, housing, groceries, and gas. I'm running for Congress because this is the best way I can give back and get results for the community that has given me so much," stated Randall on her campaign website.

As the Bay Area Reporter's online Political Notes column noted last year in a story about her reelection bid, Randall has strong ties to the Bay Area. She managed institutional partnerships for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 2015 and 2016, and her partner of 18 years, Alison Leahey, has family on the Peninsula whom they will be celebrating Thanksgiving with this year.

Another House candidate with Bay Area ties running next year is lesbian former Santa Clara city councilmember Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who is once again seeking Oregon's 5th Congressional District seat. She would be the Beaver State's first LGBTQ member of Congress if she wins her race.

After defeating moderate congressmember Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary last year, McLeod-Skinner lost by roughly 2% to Republican Congressmember Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Happy Valley) in the November general election. This is McLeod-Skinner's fourth attempt to be elected to Congress. She failed to survive her Democratic primary race in 2020, two years after she had advanced to the November ballot in 2018 but lost to the Republican incumbent.

As the B.A.R. noted in July, McLeod-Skinner has drawn significant party support this year. Early endorsing her campaign were the national LGBTQ Victory Fund; Equality PAC, the political action committee for the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus; and LPAC, which works to elect LGBTQ women and nonbinary candidates.

"Election Day is just one year away, and our opponent has elected an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ extremist to be the next Speaker of the House," noted McLeod-Skinner in a November 12 emailed fundraising pitch. "There's no doubt she will continue to follow her radical colleagues in Congress as they aim to roll back fundamental rights for working families in Oregon."

Also endorsing McLeod-Skinner when she launched her candidacy in July was gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside). He is running for reelection in 2024, as is California's other gay member of the House, Congressmember Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach.)

Southern California

A number of Southern California LGBTQ leaders are aiming to join them come the 2025 congressional session. Mounting another bid to oust Congressmember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) from his 34th Congressional District seat is fellow Democrat David Kim.

The gay progressive lawyer would be the first out Korean American elected to Congress should he win. Kim lost to Gomez 51% to 49% in their contest last November but significantly narrowed Gomez's margin of victory from when he lost to him by 6% in their 2020 race.

Two other gay Democratic congressional candidates in California are mounting rematches against the Republican congressmembers they lost to in 2022. Progressive activist Derek Marshall is again running against Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) in the state's 23rd Congressional District.

Earlier this week Marshall picked up the endorsement of Equality California. The statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization has also endorsed Takano and Garcia in their 2024 races.

EQCA has also endorsed gay attorney Will Rollins in his rematch next year against Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona) in the 41st Congressional District that includes the LGBTQ resort and retirement mecca Palm Springs where Rollins now lives. The first-time candidate posted a strong showing in last November's election and has drawn far more significant support from the Democratic Party for his 2024 candidacy.

Several out candidates are vying to succeed Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who is favored to survive the March primary for the U.S. Senate seat held until September by the late Dianne Feinstein. Maebe A. Girl, a nonbinary drag queen elected in 2019 as the at-large representative for the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles, is mounting her third bid for Schiff's 30th District seat.

Also vying for it is West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne, a former resident of Cupertino in the South Bay who would be the first queer Iranian woman to serve in Congress. Gay Armenian Americans Jirair Ratevosian, Ph.D., and Dr. Alex Balekian, an ICU physician, are also seeking the seat.

Ratevosian formerly served as a legislative director for Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who is also seeking Feinstein's U.S. Senate seat. Black lesbian U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-California), appointed to the vacant seat by Governor Gavin Newsom, opted not to seek a full term.

With Lee stepping down from her 12th Congressional District seat centered in Oakland to seek the Senate seat, the race to succeed her in the House has drawn Jennifer Kim-Anh Tran, Ph.D., a leader within the state's Vietnamese American community and the partner of Oakland sex shop owner and nightlife venue operator Nenna Joiner, who lost a bid last year for an Oakland City Council seat.

Also in the contest are fellow Democrats BART board member Lateefah Simon, a straight ally who has drawn significant party support for her campaign, and business owner Tim Sanchez, a U.S. Navy Reserves veteran who served in Afghanistan.

Queer Black woman Dom Jones, who was a former contestant on the reality TV game show "The Amazing Race," ended her bid for the 47th Congressional District seat in Orange County. She is now running for the state's Assembly District 72 seat held by Assemblymember Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach).

On Monday, November 20, LPAC, the Victory Fund and Equality PAC jointly endorsed Randall's House candidacy.

"LPAC was honored to stand with Emily in her previous campaigns and we are thrilled to put our full support behind her as she embarks upon this historic campaign to become the first out LGBTQ Latina ever elected to Congress," stated LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner. "Emily has fought for LGBTQ equality, women's rights, and social justice throughout her career, even before serving in elected office, and we know that she will continue to be a champion for our community in the halls of Congress."

In addition to Randall and McLeod-Skinner, LPAC has endorsed Shyne and Tran in their respective House races. Other than McLeod-Skinner and Randall, the Victory Fund has so far endorsed only one other West Coast House candidate, Rollins.

Meanwhile, Equality PAC has also endorsed Takano, Garcia, and Rollins in addition to Randall and McLeod-Skinner.

UPDATED 11/20/23 with Randall's endorsements from the trio of national LGBTQ groups.

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