How LGBTQ Women Have Become America's Progressive Engine

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 28, 2020

How LGBTQ Women Have Become America's Progressive Engine
  (Source:Getty Images)

Lisa Turner believes that "voter turnout will be epic."

As Senior Director of Research and Political Engagement of LPAC (formerly known as the Lesbian Political Action Committee), Turner's forecast is founded in facts, trends, research, and expertise on voter behaviors, specifically that of LGBTQ women.

She knows that 207.1 million Americans are registered to vote, and that all can vote by mail this year. As of late September, roughly 80 million mail-in ballots are estimated to roll in, and the tally's expected to shatter existing records.

They'll total drastically more than the 46 million that were cast outside of the traditional polling place in 2016. By October 2, four million early, absentee, and mail-in ballots were already cast.

Digging deeper, UCLA's Williams Institute reports that out of America's 11.3 million LGBTQ residents, nearly nine million are registered to vote in the 2020 general election.

At LPAC, Turner and team focus on women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning. The PAC surveyed 800 LGBTQ women in June 2020, collecting invaluable data on a specific demographic that many statisticians find elusive.

The survey was conducted at a critical moment: three months into the COVID-19 crisis; and just two weeks after George Floyd's death, and the nationwide civil unrest and Black Lives Matter protests that followed.

LPAC survey's unique timing revealed vital information about LGBTQ women voters, 81 percent of whom are registered to vote. Already in June, eight in 10 LGBTQ women were motivated to vote in 2020, with 75 percent either decided or leaning towards Biden (compared with 14 percent for Trump and 10 percent undecided or planning to vote on another candidate).

"The good news is that we have a community whose members are making a voting plan, despite the challenges of COVID or other barriers like long lines," says Turner. "LGBTQ and trans women are more likely to vote by mail than straight women, and more LGBTQ women plan to vote overall."

If you wonder how important LGBTQ women are to the presidential outcome, Turner explains, "LGBTQ women play a critical role in our democracy. They are the progressive engine in this electorate. They are activists, advocates, donors, and voters at a very high level for progressive issues and causes."

But do LGBTQ women have the numbers to swing the election?

"If you think about 2016, 23 percent of LGBTQ women who we surveyed did not even vote," says Turner. "We estimate that there are five to six million eligible LGBTQ women voters out there — that's a lot. And when you think about the margins in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Minnesota, that's a big deal."

LPAC's endorsement roster is a unique assemblage of LGBTQ women running for office, something Turner calls "building the bench" for the future. Their endorsements grew from 10 candidates in 2012 (the year LPAC was founded), to 79 this year, 11 of whom are trans women.

"Since Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, there has been a surge of women running for office," says Turner. "But what isn't talked about is that there's also a surge of LGBTQ women. Most of them are not recruited by any national partner or anything like that. They're just stepping up to go ahead and run for that seat because they're qualified. That is a renewed sense of enthusiasm that we just have not seen at this level."

Among LPAC's endorsed candidates is Kimberly Walker, a first-time candidate for U.S. Congress from Florida's 12th district, north of Tampa.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Florida Air National Guard, Walker took it upon herself to run for office to help fight for affordable healthcare, lower the cost of prescription drugs, and address income inequality. Her election has been an uphill battle against longtime Republican incumbent Gus Bilirakis, but a win would make Walker the first Black LGBTQ woman elected to Congress in U.S. history.

"I'm a member of the LGBTQ community, so I definitely understand our struggles, and I know how it is to be discriminated against," says Walker. "Before I got married, I took it upon myself to ask every vendor if they'd have an issue servicing a lesbian wedding. And in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, 'Why do I have to ask this question? I'm an American, I'm a veteran, and I still feel like I'm a second-class citizen.' So I've definitely been there, I understand. My goal is to make sure that we are all treated equally."

Along with fundraising, online events, and other support, LPAC collaborates with key partners to amplify candidates' voices.

In September, the committee even held an exclusive, high-profile conversation between Mary L. Trump, the president's niece, and LPAC Board member Hilary Rosen.

Trump says, "In the run-up to the most important election of our lives, I'm proud to be supporting LPAC because it's doing the vital work of uplifting fellow LGBTQ women as both candidates and voters."

Stephanie Byers  (Source: Byers for Kansas)

Other nonprofits, such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), help ensure that candidates and voters are protected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, socioeconomic status, or party affiliation. They also legally advocate for LGBTQ issues and individuals, this year working to ensure that all Americans can vote safely and freely.

"Continuing to fight voter suppression tactics that greatly affect people of color and transgender individuals based on oppressive voter I.D. laws is also significantly important," says NCLR Communications Director Christopher Vasquez. "We need to ensure that every American who is legally able is afforded the same right to safely vote as every other citizen."

Such voter-rights protections extend to LGBTQ candidates, many of whom campaign on the diversity that queer leadership can bring to the table.

For Kansas House of Representatives candidate Stephanie Byers, running openly is an asset. Byers says that her House District 86 in Wichita has voted strongly Democratic for more 20 years, with her predecessor (Democrat Jim Ward) typically winning by 60 to 70 percent in the general election.

"This campaign is about more than just my being a trans woman, but the fact that I am trans won't be covered or hidden," says Byers. "My election may be the point where we finally break through the 'lavender ceiling,' and show that our identities as members of the LGBTQ+ community is just one factor that makes us who we are, and simply adds to the richness of factors that make us fully human."

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.


This story is part of our special report titled EDGE-i. Want to read more? Here's the full list.