The Intersection of Race and the LGBTQ Community in Politics
June 30, 2021
The 2020 election cycle was a historic one for numerous reasons. The United States experienced record voter turnout. Democrats took control of the White House and Senate while maintaining their House majority. And, this past election represented a huge step forward for an underrepresented, yet impactful slice of the Democratic party – the LGBTQ community, particularly trans and queer people of color (QPOC).
This is how QPOC representation increased in 2020, and how we can continue to support LGBTQ candidates, staff, and leaders going forward.
Victories for LGBTQ Candidates of Color
November 2020 saw record-breaking victories for trans and queer candidates of color, across mutliple levels of government. LGBTQ state legislators of color increased by 33 percent in 2020 according to a report by The Victory Fund. More than 40 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of color won elections, and 16 of those candidates defeated incumbents. Their wins bring the number of overall LGBTQ representation in state legislatures to more than 150.
QPOC representation at the national level hit similar record breaking numbers. Nine LGBTQ candidates won their races for the U.S. Congress, the most ever in an election cycle. But it was the victories won in New York by Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones that created the most headlines. The pair of candidates made history, as Torres became the first LGBTQ Afro-Latinx member of the U.S. House. He was followed shortly thereafter by Jones, another out, Black, and queer candidate.
Tonight, we made history.
It is the honor of a lifetime to represent the essential borough, the Bronx. pic.twitter.com/9ykMiWgYk3
— Ritchie Torres (@RitchieTorres) November 4, 2020
The power of these victories must not be forgotten, as the promotion of racial justice hinges on increasing POC representation in government. Without direct advocates in office, the unique obstacles affecting non-white and racial communities will never be sufficiently addressed. The same is true of LGBTQ communities. Confronting issues of sexual and gender equality requires the empowerment of LGBTQ candidates and movements.
The Importance of Intersectional Representation
In addition to the symbolic victories won by these communities individually, the growing coalition of QPOC lawmakers emphasizes the importance of intersectional representation in office. After all, someone who is queer and Black is going to have different experiences from someone who is queer and Latina. And both of those people have different experiences than someone who is queer and white.
Strides toward progress must be taken with every member of a community in mind. This is done more effectively when our leaders come from an intersection of underrepresented identities.
It’s important to continue creating opportunities for QPOC leadership in politics. Equally vital, as these representatives enter the political landscape, allies must do their part to support them and the communities they represent.
Treatment of QPOC
QPOC have had an outsized impact on the U.S. equal rights movement for the LGBTQ community, as well as people of color. Pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, Jose Saria, and Sylvia Rivera put themselves at the front of fights for equality. Yet these same groups are often denied the benefits of the revolution they sparked. Instead, QPOC continue to face layered bias, taking the brunt of systemic injustices.
Confronting a History of Racism, Homophobia, and Transphobia
It’s no secret, there are power imbalances in the U.S., and these imbalances perpetuate inequality. Systemic racism in the form of police brutality, mass incarceration, redlining, and voter suppression negatively impacts people of color, presenting life-long barriers to economic security and political participation. Similar barriers are created for queer and trans people. These groups historically lack access to adequate health care and employment protection. In addition, they are often the victims of physical violence and abuse.
This is not an exhaustive list of the obstacles non-white and LGBTQ communities continue to face. But it paints a picture of the unequal treatment of both groups. It also indicates the ways in which these different biases might overlap, creating compounded issues for queer and trans people of color.
For example, researchers say that while gay and bisexual men have experienced the same rates of poverty as heterosexual men, trans and same-sex couples of color have been 3 to 4 times more likely to live in poverty than their white and straight counterparts. Transgender people, gay, and lesbian minorities also experience higher levels of H.I.V. and sexual violence. And a particularly alarming fact – the life expectancy for trans women of color sits at only 35 years old.
QPOC must deal with racism from other members of the LGBTQ community, as well as cissexism and heterosexism from racial and ethnic communities. It may be surprising, but racism is a daily occurrence in the LGBTQ community. In fact, these biases often reflect what’s going on in the general community.
The same is true of ethnic and racial minority communities. Whether on behalf of religious practices, cultural beliefs, or strict traditional familial structures, many communities of color can display transphobia and homophobia.
Showing Up For the LGBTQ Community
So, let’s consider again the importance of the victories during the 2020 election. There is something uniquely empowering about the presence of queer people of color within the Democratic community.
The Power of LGBTQ Visibility
For the individual, empowerment stems from representation. Having leaders, advocates, and role models that look like you is a vitally important part of our democratic system.
In order to promote inclusion of QPOC in political spaces, those communities must have inclusive spaces. As more QPOC candidates and leaders make themselves visible, regardless of electoral victory, they inspire others to take the space they deserve. Mondaire Jones used his victory as an opportunity to echo this point, saying his and Ritchie Torres’ victories gives each of them a chance to be, “the role model [they] looked for growing up — for queer youth and especially queer youth of color.”
Increased visibility also sends a message about the direction of the country. As more QPOC show up in politics, it signals a more robust and diverse Democratic coalition.
Visibility is power. The more space QPOC claim for themselves, the stronger the momentum behind progressive movements.
Learn more about engaging with LGBTQIA+ and QPOC voters in NDTC’s blog, “How Your Campaign Can Engage LGBTQIA+ Voters.”
The Power of LGBTQ Representation
Certainly, increased QPOC visibility alone can empower trans and queer communities of color. But, there’s no denying it’s better when QPOC show up and win.
Trans and queer people of color face unique barriers and prejudices when navigating the world. They deserve representatives who understand those issues first-hand.
For this reason, QPOC representation, power, and influence are important at all levels of government. Many QPOC electoral victories, beyond legislators, were won in November and should be celebrated.
One victory at the local level was that of Todd Gloria, who became the first person of color and the first LGBTQ person elected mayor of San Diego. On Mayor Gloria’s victory, the CEO of the Victory Fund, Annise Parker, said, “his voice and his impact on critical issues — and especially civil rights — will extend far beyond the boundaries of his city and state.”
How to Support the LGBTQ Community
In order for QPOC leaders to continue claiming space and winning elections, there must be support available for them. These candidates, staffers, and leaders often face barriers to active participation. Allies must actively work to build awareness and open the door for these folx.
The easiest way to support QPOC is to educate yourself on the different experiences and issues they face. Read books by QPOC authors. Discuss these topics with friends and family. Create opportunities for campaign staff and volunteers to learn about these issues. These are some ways to educate yourself and your community on the lives of QPOC.
Learn about creating an inclusive campaign culture with NDTC’s Medium article, “How to Create an Inclusive Campaign.”
Check in with QPOC and Support Them
QPOC need to know political spaces are safe for their participation. Check in with QPOC friends, staff, and loved ones. Ask them about issues that matter to them. Advocate for them whenever possible. And, most importantly, encourage their participation.
It’s also helpful to know various resources QPOC can turn to if they need additional support. We recommend the LGBTQ+ Center’s resource page for queer and trans people of color.
QPOC deserve space and allyship in all spheres of life. Supporting these folx should become a daily practice.
NDTC’s course, “Foundations of Inclusive Practice,” helps you understand different frameworks for advocating for diversity and inclusion in your life. You’ll learn how individual activism can drive systemic change for the LGBTQ population, as well as other marginalized groups in your community.
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