Deciding to Run as an LGBTQIA+ Candidate - National Democratic Training Committee

If you are considering running for office as an out LGBTQIA+ candidate, you most likely have a lot on your mind. Common thoughts for running might include… 

  • “Do I have a chance to win?”
  • “Will I be pigeonholed as the ‘LGBTQIA+’ candidate?”
  • “Is it even safe for me to run?” 

These questions are understandable and important to consider. Our job at NDTC is to help you navigate this big decision. 

First, start with why you want to run for office. It would be awesome to win an election, but that is not enough to keep you going when the going gets tough. What are the issues you want to fight for? Why do you care about these issues? Think about the specific issues you relate to most. 

As an LGBTQIA+ candidate, you might feel drawn to issues such as fighting discrimination and civil rights. You might also want to consider what issues you care about that are not related to being LGBTQIA+. This thinking engages voters outside of that specific voting block, and is especially important if you are running in a red district. Once you have decided what your platform is and what type of office you want to run for, you can get going.

Out LGBTQIA+ Candidates Experience Unprecedented Success

Every year, there continue to be more out LGBTQIA+ candidates running for office. In 2021, there were at least 410 out LGBTQIA+ candidates, a 7% increase since 2019. And these folks aren’t just running; they are winning! 300 out LGBTQIA+ candidates won elections in 2018 and 334 won in 2020.  

One of the contributing factors behind the success of out LGBTQIA+ candidates is the Victory Fund. This national organization strives to help LGBTQIA+ candidates get elected by providing campaign, fundraising, and communications support. The Victory Fund has been around since 1991, helping elect thousands of LGBTQIA+ people to positions at all levels of government. According to the Victory Fund, proportional representation across all levels of government would mean over 35,000+ out LGBTQIA+ officeholders.

LGBTQIA+ candidates around the country are defying the odds, winning elections while proudly, outwardly themselves. However, the lack of out candidates and officeholders is the result of violence and aggression towards LGBTQIA+ people. There have always been exceptional LGBTQIA+ people who would be great for office, but it wasn’t always safe for them to come out and run in favor of LGBTQIA+ equality. It is quite likely there were even more LGBTQIA+ officeholders who were sadly unaccounted for throughout history due to social stigmas surrounding queerness. Although far from perfect, things have thankfully gotten better, which has led to the increase in out LGBTQIA+ candidates.

Areas For Consideration

Running for office is a huge commitment. As an LGBTQIA+ candidate, it can also be scary. It takes time, finances, energy, and commuting from place to place. It won’t just take a toll on you, but on your family as well.

  • What are you willing to put up with? 
  • How supportive will your family be? This will be a critical conversation to have before you get started. Specifically for out LGBTQIA+ politicians, you will likely have many people who do not support you. The opposition can get brutal and sometimes get personal. 
  • What will you do when you hear attacks made against you or your family?
  •  Are you in a place where your mental health can handle this?

These are tough questions, but don’t be discouraged! Instead, consider these queries as a part of your initial plan. If someone says something cruel, what will you do? Having a plan in place for how to manage your emotions, including a self-care practice, and having a support team can really go a long way in dealing with these issues. 

In addition to these questions, you likely have your own pros and cons to consider. Take some time to write out a list. Get as specific as possible. How far will you have to commute and how often? Do you have the time and money for this? If not, how can you acquire it? What other priorities do you have to consider?

Start With Your Support Network

Although things are getting better and more LGBTQIA+ candidates are winning than ever, it is still difficult. Microaggressions, stories you hear on the news, and doubts from others can really hold you back from feeling confident in winning. If you want to run, an important first step is to build up your support network so that you have others to lean on throughout the process.  

Community is a huge aspect of running, especially for local office, which is where most first-time candidates start. Making personal connections within your community is a great way to gain support, as it provides a lens through which you can understand your voters’ priorities. Remember to greet every person you meet and do your best to remember names. The more people feel like you see them, the better. 

Assemble Your Kitchen Cabinet

Your kitchen cabinet describes your team: your inner circle. Here is a resource on building your kitchen cabinet. 

As an LGBTQIA+ candidate, it is crucial that you are supported in your journey. Your support team will need a foundational understanding of the community, including competencies that will enhance conversations with voters. Topics like pronouns and how to describe various identities with relevant terminology will come up when talking to voters. People will have questions and the media will write about it. It is vital that your team is prepared to handle this and everyone on your team is on the same page. 

Community Support

Winning an election requires a team of people. If this is your first time running, especially for a local office, you likely do not have the budget to hire a staff. This means your team will consist of volunteers. Building meaningful relationships with people in the community is a great way to find supporters who might be interested in volunteering their time for you. 

Go For It

If this is resonating with you, then go for it! It is normal to feel hesitant. So while taking that first step can be challenging, it is so worth it. NDTC offers several free courses to help you on your journey. One of the first courses you should take is So, You Think You Want to Run? There is also a Facebook group for community support. The more you learn, the more you know, the more confident you will feel. 

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